Milk Bar, in its current, dysfunctional state, is nothing but a scourge to the American food system. It snares consumers with style over substance, fails to educate them in any manner of pastry appreciation, and, ultimately, leaves them high and dry with neither cake nor money. You hope you have given some voice and sense of permanence to the many complaints of consumers whom have been wronged by Tosi’s lust for profits.
The dark days of the pandemic–a reality managed, throughout the meal, unerringly by Alinea’s team–have led the restaurant back towards the fountainhead of its inspiration. No “smoke and mirrors,” just creative cooking–just the drama of the table. Alinea “3.0” is the return to the source from which Achatz–during the decade he helmed Alinea 1.0–made his name.
You cannot say you have eaten at Le Francais or Charlie Trotter’s in their prime, but you feel no fear in saying Smyth is the greatest restaurant Chicago has ever seen. And, by all accounts, the Shieldses are only getting started.
Sadly, Kim’s attacks work to slow the process of cultural exchange by which the next generation–standing on the shoulders of all those who have struggled before them–finds the acceptance he sorely lacked. The real shame is that Chicago’s food press has indulged in Kim’s narrative of victimhood, incentivizing the sort of tantrum that seeks to suffocate the generation of new recipes–without inhibition–in utero.
Like children staring up at Rainforest Cafe’s artificial night sky (or shaking from the booms and quakes of its fake thunderstorms), Alinea’s customers are served an illusion. They are led to believe that a food’s trappings are valuable even when divorced from satisfying flavors, from nature, or from nostalgia. They are tricked into thinking that a restaurant which denies dining’s transcendent, human dimension has any value as a conjurer of culinary gibberish. They are, ultimately, suckers who are being sold a future where a restaurant’s quality grows with how “Instagrammable” the experience is.
The “enlightened” fine diner’s goal, when all is said and done, has little to do with fulfilling personal pleasure. Their goal should be an appreciation of an establishment’s distinction–relative to any other place in the world–through understanding what is done and why.
Reviewing restaurants with respect to “reality” rather than “hyperreality” means enveloping oneself in the insecurities of an audience that has little to no experience with “fine dining.” It means preserving the magic, educating the consumer when necessary, but never letting one’s cynicism infect the experience (let alone the political axes one has to grind). A critic should challenge their reader without ever blowing smoke up their ass.
Kyōten is one of few restaurants you have ever visited that feels unmistakably “alive.” Phan and friends invite you to become a part of their story, to write your own chapter with them. You can trust that they will do everything possible to please you in your time together, and they succeed at doing so in a manner that Chicago has never quite seen before.
In the age of airborne viral transmission, the relationship between “server” and “served” has never been more consequential and, ironically, impersonal.
In the final analysis, it is hard not to look back at all four events you attended as a mere cash grab, driven by branding Alinea as the “sort of group” that puts on “wine dinners” in a weak market where they, as usual, will escape any meaningful criticism.