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in Lincoln Park or North/Clybourn on the Red line

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View Map1723 N. Halsted St., Chicago
Tel: (312) 867-0110
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Editorial Review of Alinea

Alinea's David Lynch-esque entrance, saturated with lavender LED lights, is missing only a midget in the foreshortened corner beside its creepy-crawly sculpture. Chris Gerber, the maitre-d, emphasizes its importance as the sounds of clinking dishes and convivial voices waft to the forefront, the only reminders that this is a restaurant.

Visible from the weathered slate foyer, Chef Grant Achatz places the finishing touches on a dish before sending it out of the white, sterile kitchen framed by a pistachio plant, food-related flora being one of the many curios of the restaurant. The dining room, dotted by blooming kiwis, features mahogany tables spaced far enough apart that eavesdropping would be impossible. With only 20 tables, every Saturday night for the next year is booked solid. Achatz's multiple courses can take hours to eat, making the menu a slalom of dishes marked for their intensity and sweetness.

Up the industrial-size staircase (an Achatz design), past a pond of floating candles and into what Gerber calls, "uber elegance," the main room, slightly more rollicking than downstairs, is bordered on all sides by abstract expressionist art. Ever attune to people's personalities, Gerber might seat the more somber of guests in the back room, where diners speak in hushed tones.

All the food, though, is served in a dramatic fashion. Dehydrated bacon is strung across a miniature torture rack, while a heart of palm stuffed with prunes arrives on a pedestal. Everything from the Chilewich runners to the edible centerpieces flaunts originality and craftsmanship; even the 600 or so wines are individually tailored to each course.

Since all Alinea's checks are written by hand, the only new technology you'll find is in the kitchen. With each dish requiring an hour of prep time, Achatz employs the latest gadgets to aid in his precision: an induction burner that conducts heat through magnetism, never wavering from its frying temperature, and a cold plate chilled at 48 degrees to create crunchy olive oil. Still, a row of fresh herbs grows on the kitchen windowsill. The pretensions are only skin deep. After a 13-hour day, Achatz likes to hang out on his staircase, which only a few months ago was just "dirt and framework."

Average cost: $31+

Centerstage Reviewer: David Rosenstock

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5:30-9:30 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday; 48-hour cancellation policy

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chicago, metromix