Alinea – Chicago

“The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources”   -Albert Einstein-

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This place is all about magic and surprises. One gets a mysterious feeling as when one is about to enter into a magic show or an unpredictable event.

The experience begins when one is trying to book online; it has to be done with at least two-three months of anticipation, and the seats are sold-out within 5-10 minutes, just like for a U2 concert.

The enchantment begins upon arrival to the restaurant (which is located in a pretty neighborhood, a small house-like entrance). One does not receive a menu, and is only asked whether one has any allergies. In essence, you are in the hands of the chef, ready for a hodge-podge of flavors, textures and aromas.

As one waits for the courses to start coming, the waiter hands out an alphabet soup which lets you know bits and pieces of the menu, but only if one is able to solve it; you only know what you ate at the end of the meal as they give you an envelope with the names of the actual dishes.

Given the rareness of this place, one can only expect an unusual type of dishware – a bowl made of pure ice (from which one needs to eat quickly before it melts), a coconut shell, a tree trunk base, a green apple diffuser. Among others, these different and amazing bases will blow your mind.

One of my favorite dishes was the: “Thai coconut, pompano, shellfish and kuzu”. It actually tasted like the perfect mix of Bali’s freshness and Tokyo’s gourmet touch.

Along this ride, you will feel as if the waitresses were your confidants (perhaps the booze has something to do with it). They are there to guide you along and share your amusement.

Chef Grant Achatz stretches his imagination and lets you have some meals in ways you’ve never tried them before. A great example of this is the lobster. Instead of giving you the regular piece of lobster, he offers lobster paper (you read it right). Such paper turns into exquisite lobster meat when you pour it in hot soup. Uniqueness is the term that stands for this chef.

As you may have noticed, I have a sweet tooth, thus I really appreciate an original and tasty dessert, and Alinea certainly would not let me down. I tasted the outstanding banana/apple balloon… yes, an edible balloon!!! You have to aspire all the helium that’s inside, and then eat the chewy part.

Beside the uniqueness of the flavor and the originality of the dessert, it’s impossible not to laugh when your partner sounds like a chipmunk talking. Such a blast!

I highly recommend the wine pairing. There are three categories for it, depending on your budget, but all three are amazing and they really put a lot of effort to find the perfect match for all of your courses.

Whether you want to experience something outside the box, impress yourself, or try something new, you have to come to Alinea. Trust me, it’s worth it.

Vandal- NYC

There’s no sincerer love, than the love of food”. –George Bernard Shaw-

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The name of this place speaks for itself, albeit not in a negative way. Expect the unexpected…

Located on Bowery Street in NYC, this restaurant-bar is frequented by plenty of fashion and trendsetters; you will find the hosting area packed of either models or famous people wearing the latest Gucci outfits.

Upon entering Vandal, there’s a convenient flower studio for those wanting to buy some flowers for their significant others, thus making the perfect entrance for the evening. At the reception you will find an enormous pink bunny sculpture, which everyone shares in IG; it’s really funny!

This place is huge considering it is in Manhattan. It is divided in a bar, three dinner salons, and a lounge upstairs, each of them decorated in a different way yet always respecting the concept of the place: “street meets art”.

At the bar, you’ll find yourself in this amazing old/ classic style lounge, with walls all covered in graffiti art, and above them the classic yellow light that goes along with the mood.

One can ask for a nice drink while waiting for a table to be ready. I asked for the “rio de frose”; it may seem a girly drink, but believe me, it’s not light at all. My husband had a “lost and found” and was delicious.

Once seated, the menu is adapted to the the place’s conceptualization, and stay’s in the street standard food, you will come across the likes of a –New York Hot Pretzel Steak tartare- an amazing pretzel used as base for a French style tartare, or the Yellow Tail Sashimi, a nicely presented dish, among others.

You can’t cut back on the desserts, as the options are amazing. We ordered the almond pops- small dark chocolate popsicles filled with almond and amarena cherries, and the vandal’s smore, a vandalized American classic.

Overall, the food is ok. You have to go to this place once to check out its architecture and decoration, but don’t expect to have an amazing dinner. I do give credit for their authentic cuisine and adventurous food presentation, but not the best flavors or ingredients.

It’s a perfect place to hang out with your friends or couple, just make sure to have an early reservation as it is usually overbooked.