SPOILER ALERT

If you are planning on attending Alinea: The Progression, please read this afterwards. It will be a richer experience if you don’t know what lies ahead. This is NOT the new Alinea, but a FUN, temporary, Alinea dinner series they are doing before the original Alinea reopens.


Alinea restaurant has been closed during their remodel. In the meantime, the staff has been busy and kept employed by holding pop-up dinners in Spain and Miami, working at Alinea Group’s other establishments, and opening another restaurant called Roister.

On April Fools’s Day, Alinea released tickets for the first in a series of highly experimental “extremely limited” dinners promising nothing but “something unedited and spontaneous.”

ADDED 1:42PM April 11, 2016
From the Alinea Website: 
“A highly experimental dinner hosted by the Alinea team, The Progression is an informal evening of food and beverage highlighting concepts and ideas that we simply cannot produce anywhere else. Created over the course of only a few weeks in collaboration with the visual artist Adam Siegel, The Progression is unedited and spontaneous, an improv version of dining.

We hope that stripping away the constraints of formal dining will allow our team to conjure new concepts and ideas that will, once edited, make their way to the new Alinea.”

Sold only in pairs, my friend and I were among 20 people experiencing the first of these dinners titled, “Alinea: The Progression” which was held in the former Moto restaurant space in Fulton Market District, Chicago.

 

2016_04_08 alinea- the progression 001
Fulton Market Street. Chicago. Today’s weather report. Today it rained, sleeted, hailed, snowed, got bright and sunny and then gray and cloudy, all in a matter of hours. Tonight’s dinner. Highly experimental.
Group selfie
Group selfie
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While we waited to begin, we were each handed a black bag filled with various items including vials, glass bottles, matches, a key, a glove, and a squeeze tube of bronzer.
Contents of our drink purse or murse for the men.
Contents of our drink purse, or murse for the men.

 

Art for Food’s Sake

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We walked over to dinner as a group, hung up our own coats and entered a room filled with colorful art by Chicago artist and photographer, Adam Siegel.
Thinking stage pieces by Adam Siegel
Thinking stage pieces by Adam Siegel
Adam asked guests to put on some music.
Adam asked guests to put on some music.

Click on the collage then swipe through the photos to read about our first beverage of the night, a communal champagne punch.

Nori and roe
Nori and roe
Passion fruit glass with foie gras.
Passion fruit glass with foie gras
Wagyu on puffed onion toast
Wagyu on puffed onion toast

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The Senses

Heading downstairs to start dinner
Heading downstairs to start dinner
The next room for the next few courses.
The room for the next few courses.
Our table.
Our table.
Art by Adam Siegel
Art by Adam Siegel
Frozen pineapple
Frozen pineapple
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We were asked to take out the baggie that was in our black bag. Inside were matches, a glove and a key to open our next drink.
Using the matches to light our candle.
Using the matches to light our candle.
Pouring the bottle with the white sticker on the cap into our shot glass.
Pouring the bottle with the white sticker on the cap into our shot glass.
Soft-shell crab in clear gazpacho
Soft-shell crab in clear gazpacho

The Quieter You Become, The More You Can Hear

How do your senses shift when one of your other senses is interrupted? For this next course, the music was turned off abruptly as the lights were brightened which immediately silenced the room.

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Servers came out in white hazmat suits and placed a white card on our table.

Click on the collage, then swipe through the photos to find out what we weren’t allowed to do during this course.

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Almond, white asparagus, white mushroom.

We continued to eat in silence, paying attention to textures, temperature, taste. How does the stimuli of conversation, music, taking photos or other diners affect your dining experience?

Somebody at my table was unable to hold their silence.
Somebody at my table was unable to hold their silence.

 

What We See Is What We Look For

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For the next course, we were told to snuff out our candle. The entire room went dark and “Paint It Black” by The Rolling Stones came on.

We ate this next course in complete darkness with the song “Paint It Black” by The Rolling Stones at a fairly loud level There was nothing to look at and it was too loud to chat, so I focused more on the flavors and the textures. Was the dish intensely flavored or was my sense of taste heightened by the darkness which made it seem more intensely flavored? Does seeing your food affect how it tastes?

Black tea bread
Black tea bread
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Black duck stew

 

Kitchen Course

Next we were whisked into the kitchen and stood around the center counter.
We were whisked into the kitchen and stood around the center counter.
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Mike Bagale, executive chef of Alinea, tells us the ingredients of our boilermaker drink which contained Grand Marnier and Japanese beer.
Romaine, shaved dried tuna, miso dressing, pepper
Romaine, shaved dried tuna, miso dressing, pepper

2016_04_08 alinea- the progression 0562016_04_08 alinea- the progression 058


 

The Final Destination

We headed upstairs for our final destination of the evening.
We headed upstairs for our final destination of the evening.

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But first a walk down a textile-wrapped corridor.
But first a walk down a textile-wrapped corridor.
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Our wrists were stamped earlier in the evening which indicated which of three palate refresher drinks we would be served.
The entrance to the final room of the evening.
The entrance to the final room of the evening.
A picnic party!
A picnic party!
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No instructions on what to do or what order to follow. The room was filled with picnic tables, lawn chairs, milk crates, a blanket laid out on the Astroturf  real grass that is alive, drink, food and dessert stations.
The butterfly in its entirety.
The butterfly in its entirety.

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2016_04_08 alinea- the progression 071
“Ice Tea” was the second to last beverage of the evening. The last one involved a smoothie machine and adding “bronzer” from the squeezable tube, the final item in our bag which I forgot to take a photo of.
Veal cheek
Veal cheek

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Udon noodles
Udon noodles
Udon noodles, XO sauce, white soy cured, orange tempura crisps, pickled plum
Udon noodles, XO sauce, white soy cured, orange tempura crisps, pickled plum
Udon noodles, XO sauce, white soy cured, orange tempura crisps, pickled plum
Udon noodles, XO sauce, white soy cured, orange tempura crisps, pickled plum
Adam Siegel
Artist Adam Siegel
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Spring pea soup, dill, liquid orange sphere, carrot fruit paste cube, solidified parmesan cream
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Spring pea soup, dill, liquid orange sphere, carrot fruit paste cube, solidified parmesan cream
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Spring pea soup, dill, liquid orange sphere, carrot fruit paste cube, solidified parmesan cream

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Last item in our bag. The glove!
Last item in our bag. The glove!

Click though the collage to see dessert.


 

The Goodbye

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We headed through one more corridor, this one draped with sheets.
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We began writing messages on the sheets. There were the usual notes of thanks mixed in with the occasional silly bathroom wall messages. Even as adults, someone is always trying for a snicker. I hate saying goodbye and I wanted to run back to all the different rooms and see it all again and talk about dinner with everyone. Oh well!
Final bite. Rhubarb served on the anti-griddle
Final bite. Rhubarb served on the anti-griddle

 

Food for Thought

This was unlike any dining experience I ever had before. It was bold, innovative, risky, overstimulating, and fun. I loved every minute of it but admittedly, some of it not until the following day. It was new for me to move from room to room with each area having different environments and sensory levels.

I was a late bloomer to the Alinea dining scene but from my initial visit, I decided I would return every chance I could. I always feel very relaxed and comfortable at Alinea because I trust everything they do. It’s not easy for me to be anywhere with a quiet mind, but somehow it happens when I dine at Alinea and it tastes better than doing yoga.

Alinea: The Progression served as a good transition until the new Alinea is reborn. I am enthusiastic and (finally) open to the changes, no matter what they may be.

Alinea: The Progression
Alinea: The Progression

We strive for synchronicity as givers or recipients. Once it is achieved at both ends, how do we know when and if it’s time to grow and move beyond something that has finally reached a level of comfort with predictable results? In order to innovate, is it better to proceed with analytical caution or is it better to remove and break the barriers?

2016_04_08 alinea- the progression 101

The only way to know is to try.

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Posted by:Lou Stejskal

Introverted extrovert.

8 replies on “Alinea: The Progression

  1. Thank you for chronicling this journey. I am thrilled to be able to revisit the experience through these pictures in a much clearer way than my poor, faulty memory would allow.

    Like

  2. Great account. We were there the next night, Saturday, with 8PM reservation. We will save this post and pics to help etch this amazing night into memory. Our kitchen drink was different (Tecate beer with hot sauce), and maybe a diiferent black meal (not sure, as we couldn’t get a good look at it 😊 ). Our experience and reaction was otherwise pretty similar – overwhelming and amazing. We went to Roister immediately after for fois gras candy bar and then descended into food coma.

    Thanks for sharing,

    @EJSMD

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thank you! we walked into roister afterwards too, but were overstimulated and I just needed/wanted to process everything so we didn’t stay for a bite. unique experience! and you’re welcome! those foie gras candy bars are phenomenal.

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      1. We only realized after we were done, that the whole whimsy of carrying our bags full of booze was undoubtably a response to the limitation that the Moto space doesn’t have a liquor license. We bought our drinks at Aviary, and then it was essentially a BYOB event. So clever, and so much in keeping with the Alinea mystique that they hid this fact.

        It’s nice to be able to share impressions of this crazy experience. Right now, the Progression veterans club is a pretty small and exclusive group. Thanks for providing this forum. I hope others will chime in.

        @EJSMD

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Great write up, and thanks for chronicling. I loved it experience!

    I see you are in Bay Area, I am going in June for anniversary. Top recommendations?

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    1. Thank you Seamus. I used to live in the Bay Area but am based out of Chicago. For a very special occasion dinner in the Bay Area, Saison or Quince and if in the Napa Valley region, The Restaurant at Meadowood. I would even go as far as recommending the Spa at Meadowood, as I was there last week.

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