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.
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.
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.
It has taken you quite some time to appreciate Alinea, and, in many ways, it still confounds you as a restaurant. You will admit that you long harbored a slight grudge against the establishment…
CLAUDIA offers Chicago’s newest tasting menu, and, at $185 for a 10-course menu, the restaurant is clearly competing with “big dogs” like Smyth and Acadia.