Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Chicago: Table 33 - Alinea

This is the second part of a three part series on my Alinea experience. The first installment was called "Arriving at Alinea" and the final post will focus on the food ("The Tasting"). In this post, I will walk you though the shock and awe I went through once I opened the doors to Alinea. With no signage out front and no way of knowing where to go and what to do, at least I can help prepare yourself before looking like a complete idiot when arriving here.

Once you open the front doors, you are NOT greeted by a reception desk or foyer. Instead you see this, the entry vestibule. What to do? Walk down this space until you can go no further. To the left, the solid opague doors will slide open, similar to what you'll see from Star Trek. I'm pretty sure it's triggered by a motion sensor.

When you walk through the doors, you are greeted by several staffers in Ermenegildo Zegna suits. One will ask the most important question, "May we have the name of your reservation?" It seemed the staffers memorized my name and reservation time because a reception desk was no where in sight or maybe I was distracted by the uber modern staircase. Apparently, their event host will Google every guest who makes a reservation hoping to learn something about them and anticipate their service needs accordingly.

After walking up two flights of stairs, I arrive at a corner table, Table 33. The table had one chair facing the room which I already knew was meant for me. The staffers are quite attentive and some of them would strike up a brief conversation since I was dining alone.

[Image by Bo]

As I am seated, the first thing I notice was the tablecloth. Alinea doesn't use tableclothes. To keep water from dripping off the glasses and ruining the dark mahogany tables, the staffers check the dewpoint every day and calibrate the drinking water temperature to prevent any form of condensation. At each place setting, there is a single white napkin embroidered with it's "Alinea" mark. The story behind the name and symbol can be found here.

[Image by Alinea]

Since my reservation was set for 5:30pm, I was the first guest in the restaurant. This gave me some time to admire its interior design, which depicts a grand modern home. The luscious chairs were designed by Tom Stringer and can be found here. The capacity of the restaurant is limited to 65 seats which equates to 16,900 diners a year (double the number of spots at elBulli). From my table, I can see what goes on at each of the other tables since each tasting menu is catered to each table. This is similar to what is done at elBulli.

At this point the sommelier arrives with the wine list (more like a book) and so the adventure begins. Look for my final installment called "The Tasting".

1723 North Halsted
Chicago, Illinois 60614

Monday, June 22, 2009

Kansas City: Dean & Deluca

Steve (my boss) and I were traveling together to visit our offices in Leawood, KS. I had one request. It was to visit the Dean & Deluca store which was about a mile away from our hotel. This place was better than I thought. I can spend a whole lot of time and $$$ at this store. This is not your typical grocery store. When you walk in, there is a candy/chocolate area to the left and the sandwich station in front of you. All of the grocery products are stacked on stainless steel shelves than the usual row and aisle layout. You can also find upscale kitchenware and other specialty foods you wouldn't find at a Ralph's or even Whole Foods. I wouldn't even characterize this place as a grocery store. More like a high-end gourmet boutique. The staff was also friendly and knowledgeable.

One of the goodies we both brought home was artisanal chocolate by Christopher Elbow. Christopher Elbow is a local Chef that opened up his own chocolate company after perfecting his chocolate-making skills at American Restaurant. A member of the D&D's staff, Angie, helped us select the chocolate since there was so much to choose from. We settled for the No. 6 Dark Rocks (see below). Food & Wine magazine gave this chocolate a #1 ranking of their top 10 chocolates. Pretty impressive to say the least. A shout out to Angie for helping us bring home a foodie goodie!

Christopher Elbow No. 6 Dark Rocks - $7.00

I can't wait for Dean & Deluca to open their latest West Coast flag ship store later this Fall. You can count on me to be one of their loyal customers. Click here for more details on their latest addition in Newport Beach at Fashion Island.

Update: Looks like they're opening the new store in Fashion Island in the first half of 2010 (boo!!)

Things to know:
  • Everything here is pretty darn expensive. The chocolate bars alone was $7.00 a piece.
  • Don't leave this place without picking up their Food & Wine cookbook (Gift $37.50 or Regular $35).
  • This is a stand-alone store located at the intersection of Roe and 119th Street.
  • What makes the No. 6 Dark Rocks special? It contains Pop Rocks (you know the candy that pops in your mouth).
Kansas City Store
4700 West 119th Street
Leawood, Kansas

Hours: Monday - Sunday: 10am-8pm

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Chicago: Arriving at Alinea

Last Thursday night, I had the opportunity to dine at one of the world's best restaurants. In 2009, Alinea ranked 10th in the world according to a listing by S.Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants. This annual listing is a worldwide poll of 806 chefs, critics and other experts. A restaurant's ranking is decided purely by the votes of a large panel and well respected international judges called the Nespresso World's 50 Best Restaurants Academy. Basically this list is equivalent to winning an Academy award in Food & Wine.

Anyways, I've been trying to get a reservation to this place since last year. Once I knew I would be traveling to Chicago for work, I called Alinea right away (about a month in advance). I didn't even book my travel arrangements until I attempted to get a reservation at this place. When I called, it was about 3pm PST (5pm CST). My call went through right away. At that moment, I knew I had to land the reservation. I requested to have a reservation on any day & time during the week of June 15th. Apparently, the restaurant is closed on Monday and Tuesday and my options were reduced to Wednesday to Friday. Since I knew I would be in Kansas City on Wednesday, I opted for Thursday night. Keep in mind, I haven't even booked my flight or other travel arrangements! I landed the first time I could get which was 5:30pm. Once I hung up the phone, I wanted to scream. Unfortunately, I was still at work but deep down inside, I wanted to run up and down the cube aisles screaming, "I'm going to Alinea!".

Fast forward to this week, I finally arrived at Alinea. As you can see below, there is no signage for this place. Just the numbers "1723" posted on the dark gray brick building. I actually arrived in the area at 4:50pm, but the valet person wasn't available until 5:15pm. I circled around the block several times until the cars in front of the building were cleared away for valet parking. As I got out of the car, I couldn't wait to walk inside. Unfortunately, the doors were still locked.

The valet guy said the doors wouldn't open until 5:30pm. So I stood in front of the building taking some pictures of the surrounding area. I was in the heart of Lincoln Park. I have arrived and will embark on a once-in-a-lifetime dining experience. If you have the opportunity to travel to the Chicago area, I would highly recommend landing a reservation at Alinea. This is definitely a place that should be on every Foodie's dining wish list.

Things to know:
  • To make reservations, call 312-867-0110 between 10am CST to 6pm CST from Tuesday to Sunday (office hours). Save the number on your phone, because if you don't get through the first time, you will need to put the number on auto redial.
  • Alinea is only open for dinner from Wednesday through Sunday. The earliest reservation you can make is at 5:30pm.
  • Reservation difficulty: Moderate. Not French Laundry insane. They open the book on the first of the month for the next two months. Call in early for weekend reservations.
  • Before hand, you should decide on possible reservation times. They will not provide you a listing of available times. If the first available time is 5:30pm, take it. I think it's easier to book a reservation for a party of 1 than 2.
  • Decide on a tasting menu: 12 course tasting or 24 course tour. You will be asked if you have any specific dietary needs and if you can walk up a flight of stairs.
  • If possible, take a cab. There is no street parking or a parking structure available on Halsted. Valet parking is $10 and the attendant does not arrive until 5:15pm.
  • There is no signage for the restaurant. Look for a dark gray brick building with the numbers "1723". It is a few buildings before the stop light at Willow St.
  • Attire: Dressy. Jackets are required for men.
  • Price Range: $$$$. 12 course Tasting is $149 and the 24 course Tour is $225. The wine pairing is 1/3 of the menu price. The menu changes periodically.
1723 North Halsted
Chicago, Illinois 60614

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Delano: Sno Fun Shaved Ice

Delano is a small town located in the Central Valley of California, north of Bakersfield. Yes, it's in the boonies. Marc grew up here so we come here once in awhile to visit his family. This is a very small town. For example, a Starbucks recently opened and Walmart hasn't invaded this place (as of yet).

To recover from the 100 degree heat during the summer months, we always visit a local joint called Sno Fun that serves shaved ice. If you've been to Matsumoto's at Northshore in Oahu, this place is even better. While Matsumoto has a little over 20 flavors, Sno Fun has well over 80. OMG! Plus they serve other things like soft-serve ice cream, halo-halo, milk shakes, root beer floats, smoothies, sundaes and more. Why settle for two sizes where you can have over 5. From kiddie to jumbo, tall or flat, this place has it all.

If you are ever driving up or down Hwy 99, exit Cecil Ave and be sure to take a pit stop at Sno Fun. We highly recommended this place. Best shaved ice in the golden state.

1329 Main St
Delano, CA 93215

What to order:
  • Our favorite flavors are strawberry cheesecake, cantaloupe, cherry, honeydew, and peaches & cream. There are tons of flavors to choose from.
  • Ask to have liquid cream added to your shaved ice. Liquid cream is essentially the cream used to make soft-serve ice cream. A medium flat shaved ice with liquid cream costs around $2.25.
  • I-C Ice is shaved ice served with soft serve ice cream.
  • Halo Halo has two sizes, medium ($3.30) and large ($3.80).
  • Shave ice prices range from $0.75 (kiddie) to $3.50 (jumbo).
Things to know:
  • Aside from the shaved ice and ice cream, this place sells some fast food items such as chili dogs, chili cheese fries, burritos, nachos, corn dogs, etc. Prices range from $1.00 to $3.25
  • During the winter season, the flavors are limited to over a dozen.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Orlando: Aloha Isle Refreshments @ Magic Kingdom

During our first leg of our honeymoon, we visited the Magic Kingdom since we've never been there before and I always wanted to go there when I was a little girl. I was a little annoyed that I had to hunt down my fav Disney snacks all over the park. For example, If I wanted a frozen lemonade, we had to walk all the way to Toon Town to get it. All of that walking just makes you thirsty.

In Adventureland, there is a little refreshment stand called Aloha Isle Refreshments. They serve Dole Whips (soft-serve ice cream) and Dole Whip Floats which is pineapple juice topped with pineapple soft-serve ice cream. YUM MO! The float is a refreshing drink to beat the Florida heat, especially after walking the park for several hours. If pineapples are not your thing, the soft-serve ice cream also comes in other flavors such as orange, vanilla, chocolate and swirl.

Apparently, Dole Whip is available at individual ice cream parlors across the U.S. most notably at Disneyland, Walt Disney World, Dole Plantation in Hawaii, and Ala Moana Center Food Center to name a few. If you ever come across signage for "Dole Whip", it's a must have and well worth the wait in line.

Where to find Dole Whip (in Hawaii and the West Coast):
  • Dole Plantation, Oahu
  • Ala Moana Center, Honolulu: Food court
  • Magic Kingdom: Aloha Isle Refreshments, Adventureland
  • Disney Polynesian Resort, Orlando
  • Disneyland: Tiki Juice Bar at Adventureland
  • Lappert's Ice Cream: Hawaii, San Diego (I'm not sure if the other Mainland locations carry Dole Whip)
  • Tutu's Hawaiian Ice Cream Shack, Simi Valley, Ca
  • Great America, Santa Clara, Ca
Rather make it yourself, here's a video: