Alinea, Chicago

Ever since reading an excellent New Yorker piece on Grant Achatz, well maybe even before, I have dreamed of trying Alinea. But travel to Chicago, reservations, and the ticket price made it just that – a dream. Now that we live in the area it has been a real possibility but we needed a proper occasion to celebrate. Lucky for me, I am celebrating a major birthday this month and G surprised me with a reservation!

You arrive to an unmarked doorway and walk down a darkened hall, just as you begin to wonder where you are going a door opens to your left and you are greeted by a host. The man in a dark suit welcomed us rather and wished me a ‘Happy Birthday!’ I was distracted watching the flurry of activity in the kitchen, which is to the right as you enter. There were about 30 people working in the pristine and sparkling glass walled area. We were seated upstairs in a space for about 12 people. The restaurant was larger than expected but nicely divided up into smaller rooms with a small army of people staffing each room and waiting on guests hand and foot!

The décor is modern, sleek, minimalist, and dark. The bare black wooden tables are paired with ivory leather chairs. The room is back lit with lighting coming from behind the black banquet seating. The artwork and decorations are similarly clean lined and minimalist.

We sat for a minute or two taking in the ambience and décor before our waiter came by to greet us. He explained that they wanted to surprise us with each dish of the 18 course tasting menu so we would only receive a list of courses at the end of the meal. He also mentioned that the offer wine pairings, a regular and reserve option, and, off course, a complete wine list. We opted to go for the regular pairings so that we didn’t have to bother making any decisions and were completely in the hands of the Alinea staff.

The sommelier came over and said we would start with champagne and asked if that would be ok with us, if it wasn’t, he joked, we might not enjoy the rest of our meal! I appreciated his comfortable, jovial tone. We started with a Pierre Paillard Grand Cru Blanc de Noirs Bouzy NV. As we sipped, our first course of osetra caviar garnished with brioche foam, egg custard, and a clear aspic of capers and onions arrived. It was such a wonderful sensory experience with the smell and taste of brioche and the creamy texture of the custard.

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Girl and the Goat, Chicago

When a restaurant has 4.5 stars with over 3500 reviews on Yelp (a discussion for another day) and the chef is a Bravo’s Top Chef winner you really have to find out what it is all about! Girl and the Goat books up way in advance so we had a 4:45pm reservation on a Friday night, which worked out perfectly.

The surprisingly large space is rustic and warm with lots of wood and neutral colors. We were seated at a small two-top facing the open kitchen. The menu is a small plates concept divided into vegetarian, fish, meats, breads, oysters, and goat categories. We started with cocktails and I had one which I still dream about. It was called ‘The Earhart’ and was made with ceres vodka, yellow chartreuse, maraschino, lemon, and lavender bitters. The herbal undertones of the yellow chartreuse were enhanced by the lemon and aromatics of the lavender bitters. It was perfect!

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é by Jose Andres, Las Vegas

No, I haven’t fallen off the planet! Let’s just say that life and laziness have gotten in the way of blogging. But, I am back and, of course, have had many wonderful meals to tell you about.

First off, an amazing meal at é in Las Vegas. We met some friends of ours there in December and were able to make a reservation for the intimate 8 seat dining experience at é, by José Andrés. The space is located inside Jaleo in the Cosmopolitan. When you arrive all the guests are seated in the bar and explained the drink options before being taken into the separate space as a group. They offer a couple of pairings with the meal at different price points as well as a complete drink and wine menu. We opted to share one of the pairings as we have found these types of pairings can translate into a lot of drinks!

Inside the space is intimate and the décor eclectic. The space is dimly lit but bright with jewel tones and metallic surfaces. The eight guests are seated at a semi-circle allowing us to see everything as the chefs’ plate each dish of the 21 course set menu. Below are pictures and a brief description, with my thoughts, of each course.

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Blackbird, Chicago

A few weeks ago G surprised me with a night in the city. We started with a drink at our hotel and then we headed out to Blackbird for dinner. The space is small but relaxed and comfortable. The closely packed tables are covered with white linens and have dark wooden chairs. The back of the restaurant is an open kitchen with a beautiful wooden counter. I did notice that the lighting was fantastic; it offered a lovely glow without being too dim to see the menu or food. Very nicely done!

We were seated near the open kitchen which was nice and a bit quiet from the din of the room. We read over the lovely menu and debated whether to go for go for the tasting menu. We decided that we would just order off of the menu as the tasting menus are always just too much food. Our waitress was friendly, helpful and informative with a nice relaxed style as we debated the various dishes.

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Yamazushi, Durham

I must admit, we have been lucky to enjoy some amazing meals in wonderful locals but I really didn’t expect one of the best meals of my life to be in a nondescript strip mall in Durham.

Yamazushi is located in the Woodcroft Shopping center in Durham. When you step into the restaurant you are immediately transported to restaurant in Japan. As we learnt on our trip to Japan, in traditional eateries the dining area is separated from the entry. When you walk into Yamazushi there is a narrow walkway created by a screen on your left which hides the dining area behind it. At the end of the narrow walk is a small welcoming water fountain.

As we entered, we were greeted warmly by Mayumi, the wife in the husband and wife team that run the restaurant. She immediately knew who we were as they stagger the reservations so that every guest can be welcomed and seated with personal attention. She seated us and explained the kaiseki menu. Kaiseki is a traditional Japanese muticourse dining experience which is rooted in the Buddhist culture.

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Vin Rouge, Durham

One of our new favorite places is Vin Rouge in Durham.  I know, as usual, it took us awhile to ‘discover’ it even after all the wonderful press and reviews.  But, recently we have been there for dinner three times which is quite frequent for us to re-visit a place.  Our first experience with Vin Rouge was brunch a little over a year ago.  While our bunch meals were good, we weren’t wowed and weren’t feeling compelled to go back for dinner.  But, with all of the great great buzz on the place we finally tried it again for dinner in February and had a wonderful experience and have been back a few times since!
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Carolina Crossroads, Chapel Hill

The Carolina Inn is a beautiful, historic inn in the center of Chapel Hill on UNC’s campus.  In the summer they have a lovely tradition of ‘Fridays on the Front Porch’ in which they have a local bluegrass band playing outside and offer food and drinks for purchase.  It is such a fun, relaxing afternoon.  I have wanted to go all summer long and between the ridiculous heat, the thunderstorms, and our own travel we finally managed to go a couple of Fridays ago.  We decided to make an evening out of it and enjoy dinner at the inn’s restaurant, Carolina Crossroads.  We headed to the inn around 6:30pm and enjoyed the music for about an hour and then made our way to the restaurant.  It is an intimate, charming space with French country decor.  The light yellow walls are accented by crisp white table clothes and tarheel blue upholstered chairs and banquettes.

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