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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Toro, South End

For my birthday, in April, we went to Toro in the South End.  The room is just what I envision a Spanish tapas bar to be.  It is a cozy and comfortable with long wooden communal tables.  As with most of the places in the South End it was packed on a Saturday night as early as 6pm.  We put our name on the list and took a walk around the area and came back and were seated just before 7pm.

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Birthday dinner

My husband and I went to Mistral for the first time on Saturday to celebrate my birthday with a gift certificate. It is a lovely space with high ceilings and a nice long bar. We were promptly seated for our 7:30pm reservation. The wine list had a fair selection in all price ranges. We decided on a 2000 Château Paveil de Luze, which was well balanced but a little tannic and light for my taste. We decided to share two appetizers and an entree. We started with the Maine Crab Ravioli with Thyme-Tomato Broth and the Classic Escargots, Burgundy Style with Grilled Semolina Toasts. The ravioli were perfect texture and the sauce was very flavorful. However, overall they were a little light on the crab. The escargots were wonderful! The sauce was rich and earthy and the escargots themselves perfectly well cooked. For the entree we shared the Syrah Braised Lamb Osso Buco with Soft Corn Polenta, “Printaniere Style”. The lamb was fork tender and very flavorful. The vegetables too were well prepared however, I felt the peas were a little undercooked. For dessert we shared the Vanilla Crème Brulée, Fresh Raspberries, Ginger Cookie. The creme brulee was prefect! Luxuriously smooth and full of deep vanilla flavor. This was the best part of the meal for me!! The service was flawless. Overall this was a lovely meal. However, if we didn’t have a gift certificate which covered all the costs I am not sure I would have wanted to spend my own money. The food was very good but not amazing and I believe it was the space and the great service which puts Mistral in category of destination restaurant in Boston.

223 Columbus Ave
Boston, MA 02116
(617) 867-9300