It starts with a walk down a long, dark hallway lined with suspended flower vases (some filled with cotton candy bouquets). While diners don’t see a paper copy of the menu until after they’re done eating – it’s all about the element of surprise, you know – on it, one dish, the duck, is described with punctuation only “………?????…….!!!!!!!!!!” There’s a helium balloon for one course, black truffle explosion for another.
The Chicago restaurant Alinea isn’t exactly your typical dining experience, but when you’re paying about $300 a head including tax and tip before drinks, you don’t really want it to be. Just named to the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list for the seventh time and Bon Appetit’s fourth most important restaurant in the U.S., Alinea is weird, fun, and irreverent – just the kind of dining experience you’d expect in the town that just won the 2nd annual Munchie for best food city — with all kinds of distilled ingredients in forms you’d never think of: ginger with five other flavours is five miniscule bites on metal sticks arranged in a starburst; “hot potato” – the soup course – comes in a clamshell of paraffin wax that you’re instructed not to set down. Dessert is literally a work of art on the table.
Is it food? Is it art? Theatre? The magic of Alinea is that it somehow manages to combine all three. Watch the trailer for their latest menu (yes, there’s a trailer) and see for yourself.
Quick facts about Chicago
Best time to visit Summer, when the city comes alive
Worst time to visit Winter, when chilly temps mean you’ll miss out on rooftops and enjoying the outdoor art
Average hotel rate $174
Do Take a historic tour of the spectacular Intercontinental Chicago, which was built as the Medinah Athletic Club by the Shriners just before the Depression and has all kinds of neat features and halls
Don’t Order your hot dog with ketchup. It’s a combination the locals shun
Top 5 experiences in Chicago for foodies
1. Taste the city’s two most iconic foods, hot dogs and pizza
2. Venture out of the downtown core to areas such as Logan Square and Wicker Park for cool cocktail bars and indie restaurants
3. Check out former Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard’s cool new diner Little Goat (and don’t miss the adjacent bakery!)
4. Dine at Grace, Chicago Magazine’s pick for best new restaurant of the year, and another unique play on fine dining
5. Grab a candied maple-bacon donut from artisanal Do-Rite Donuts in the Loop (get there early!)
Closer to home
For the tasting menu everyone here is talking about, visit Momofuku Shoto at Toronto’s Shangri-La hotel. Situated in a glass cube, the restaurant seats just 24 diners who each pay $150 a pop for a 10-course extravaganza by executive chef Sam Gelman and chef de cuisine Mitchell Bates.