Food Travel America

My Journey to Alinea

Call Me a Food Lover has become a record of my personal journey to eat well. I rarely tell people about it, and cringe when people refer to it as my “food blog”. Just like I came to loathe the term “foodie”, because I didn’t like its negative connotations,  I also feel like the preconceived notions of what a “food blogger” is, doesn’t describe what Call Me a Food Lover is to me.

It’s true that I go to restaurants, take photos and then share my experiences through posts, but selfishly, the only audience I cater to through my writing is myself. I am cognisant that people read these posts, and sometimes I know I need to try to write about my peak experiences with others in mind. Amongst my friends, my experience at Alinea has been one of the most anticipated posts of all time. So with others in mind, I feel a proper set-up is necessary in order to do the experience justice.

I was given the book “Life on the Line: A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death and Redefining the Way We Eat” written by Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas, for Christmas last year and even though I knew about Chef Grant Achatz, I can’t say his restaurant Alinea was very high on my “must list”. I’m not sure why. With 3 Michelin stars and up to #7 in the World’s Best list, Alinea should have been right up there in my mind. But other than coming to see a Cubs game, Chicago has never been high on my list of places I wanted to travel to until I read the book.

On my week-long getaway to Manzanillo earlier this year, I voraciously read “Life on the Line”. I flipped through pages faster than I wanted, because I didn’t want the story to end. It was a fascinating read and when I was finished, I knew that I had to make it a priority to have a meal at Alinea. It actually shot to #1 on my list of restaurants I wanted to visit.

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Just like reading Ferran Adria’s book led me to Barcelona, “Life on the Line” led me to booking a weekend in Chicago.

Contrary to popular belief, getting a reservation at Alinea was not that difficult. I have determined that with proper planning to gain knowledge of process and procedure, that even the hardest reservations are securable. But even with that knowledge, it still felt like I’d won the lottery when I was able to secure a booking at Alinea. It’s funny, my reservation to Alinea was confirmed even before I booked my plane ticket to Chicago.

In “Life on the Line”, I learned about Chef Grant Achatz’s story. It wasn’t just a compelling story about food, it was a compelling story about passion, determination, creativity and the will to fight through adversity. Through the story I could feel Chef’s intensity and love, and through his business partner Nick’s voice, I understood that Grant’s food not only conveyed his passion, but brought the diner into the experience as well.

It’s been a while since I’ve entered into a meal with such anticipation and expectation.

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On the day of my dinner, I walked around Chicago, taking in the sights. What does one eat on the day of what is definitely my most anticipated meal of the year?

"Portillos Chicago hot dog"

Chicago dog is one of my favourite versions of a hot dog. The onions, tomato, sport peppers and pickle make you feel like you’re getting your vegetables.

"Portillos beef sandwich"

I was turned off that the Italian beef sandwich dipped with mozzerella looked messy (I don’t like messy). Thank goodness I got over that, because this was amazing.

Probably not what most would put into their bodies before a 3* Michelin meal, but that’s how I roll.

Leading up to the evening, I started to get quiet, trying to steady my senses to be ready for the experience. When I stepped out of the cab in front of Alinea, I was completely prepared to be blown away.

Unlike any other pre-planned restaurant visits, I did not scour the internet beforehand to look at photos and read up about what to expect throughout the meal. Everything I knew about Alinea was from “Life on the Line”. That was the only story I wanted in my mind to guide me through my journey.

I knew that the entrance to Alinea is meant to be shocking. You enter through the front door to a dark hallway leading back to what feels like a dead-end. Even though I knew of this dramatic effect and that somewhere along the wall there’d be a door leading me to the restaurant, I still couldn’t help but be surprised at its execution.

When we found the door and stepped through to the restaurant we were greeted warmly.  They welcomed us like they already knew who we were, took our coats and never asked our name. I quickly peeked into the kitchen and saw it in a fury of action.

We were whisked upstairs into a beautiful room to our seats.  Along the way, as we were chatting with the manager, he dropped the line to me “we’ve looked you up”. To me this meant they knew about Call Me a Food Lover. I should have known, because I read in the book that they googled every customer’s name that reserves. This was a first for me. My eager anticipation about the meal quickly morphed into nervous giddiness from being “known as a food blogger” before the meal. I know Alinea appreciates bloggers, and I was known to them as one. Just as I had expectations from this meal, there were expectations of me as well.

My Alinea Experience will follow shortly.

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