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Alinea and my 40th

A couple of weeks ago, I turned 40. 40! It hardly seems possible, since most of the time I feel more like I’m 39.

The occasion had to be marked properly, and therefore, I bought tickets for The Unicorn and I to dine at Alinea on my birthday night. I had been dreaming of eating at this Chicago temple of molecular gastronomy for years, and finally the stars were aligning: Big celebration that happened to fall on a Saturday night and finally someone in my life who would appreciate it as much as I would? It had to happen.

I chose not to report a plate-by-plate description of the meal. First of all, it would have been too distracting to take the notes required to do that. I wanted to enjoy the meal as it was. That’s not to say that I didn’t take some photos, but beyond those and our copies of the menus, I would have had to rely totally on memory.


And the fact is, though I’ll always remember many of the dishes—some in more exquisite detail than others—I’ll remember the emotions of the dinner much longer. Here’s a taste of the story:

I’m not kidding when I say I walked in with high expectations. I’d spent hours combing through websites to read others’ experiences. I’d read the memoir co-written by Alinea’s chef, Grant Achatz, and his business partner, Nick Kokonas, Life, On The Line, which documented their incredible commitment to every detail of creating one of the best restaurants in the world. I’d replayed that meal at minibar and my one dinner at The French Laundry (which is not modernist, but is a truly stellar experience) in my head, trying to prepare myself to once again experience food as art.

The payoff came with the first bite. The dish, called “Osetra, classical,” was a spoon coated in creme fraiche, with brioche crumbs pressed to the bottom tip of the utensil. Resting in the spoon’s bowl was some Osetra caviar and a select few ingredients including a small ball of butter that, when you touched it with your tongue, exploded in pure flavor and melded with the other flavors perfectly. I would rank this as one of the most exquisite things I have ever eaten, and as soon as I put it in my mouth, I started to cry.

Read the rest of the story on

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