I've been wanting to go to Alinea since it opened in 2005. Then, last Christmas, my sister and brother-in-law got us a gift certificate. When I finally got around to attempting to make reservations, they were fully booked through July — in April. Then, they announced they were switching from traditional reservations to tickets, and I thought it would be even more difficult to get in. Luckily, I just happened to be on Facebook when they announced that August tickets were on sale. After struggling to decipher several captchas, I got a two-top for 23 August at 2130h. It was the most amazing dining experience of my life.
I don't know how to explain entering the restaurant adequately. You step inside and there's a cool breeze, deep blue light, windchimes, and real grass in place of hardwood or carpeting. We each took a small glass of lemonade swirling around in a small pool near the door, and proceeded down the hallway. Then a door I didn't know was there slid open (which startled me), revealing the restaurant and about 3 – 4 men standing in front of us. We were greeted, and led upstairs to our seats.
All of the staff were men. Attractive men with a sense of humor, too, which I was really happy about. There could have been women in the kitchen, but we didn't see it so I can't say. There were about 6 different guys presenting courses, explaining them, pouring water and wine, and leading us to the restroom when we needed to pee. The bathroom was the one thing I was underwhelmed with. No talking Toto toilets, or bizzare lighting; just a clean, nice bathroom.
As for the food: we had 15 courses. Overall, everything was very refreshing and clean tasting, and I found myself several times saying how I'd never tasted anything like this. It's hard to describe without sounding like a pompous, foodie ass. That was another thing I was impressed with about the staff. Not once did we hear the words "artisan/artisinal" "rustic" "bright" "organic" anything referring to "the pallate"; or any of those other god-awful buzz words. It was just fucking amazing. The wonderful smells of many of the courses is such an important part of their flavour: campfire, burning cinnamon, the ocean. Some of my favourites: lobster, king crab, and razor clam (presented on seaweed-covered driftwood); hot potato-cold potato and black truffle explosion (unbelievable, intense truffle flavours); a bunch of hot rocks on a piece of wood with mushrooms, ramps, and smoked dates; lamb with 60 condiments; crazy corn artwork; and of course — the white chocolate dessert finale. The presentation is a little gimicky, but it's so fun I just didn't care.
I love Alinea, and I'll be back as soon as I have another extra $700.
I also think I need to mention that I hate their logo and website. Both are very amateurish-ly designed. I don't understand why. We were also presented with a printed vellum menu before we left (and got in our cab that was waiting at the door!). The "bubble menu" was explained to us: farther to left = more savory; farther to the right = more sweet; and that the bubble size corresponds to the size of the course. I really appreciate that they didn't overlook anything, and it's a great idea — just not well executed.