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Alinea Set to Overhaul Its Dining Room—and Its Dining Experience

Superchef Grant Achatz explains the upcoming changes, and also leaks more details about Roister, his first à la carte restaurant, scheduled to open in the spring.

Grant Achatz in the Alinea kitchen.   Photo: Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune

On May 5, 2015, Alinea (1723 N. Halsted St., Lincoln Park, 312-867-0110) turns 10 years old. Before the pace-setting luxury restaurant has a chance to turn stale, however, chef/owner/guru Grant Achatz and his business partner, Nick Kokonas, have planned a major overhaul. “We’re now committed to a six-week shutdown to do a major renovation,” Achatz says, and they’re overhauling the experience of dining out while they’re at it.

The key innovation Achatz and Kokonas plan sees diners moving from place to place in the restaurant as the meal progresses. “It’s not something where you just walk in and are ushered to your table,” Achatz says. “It has multiple parts. Like moving through space. [The space] becomes a tasting menu in and of itself.” The downstairs dining room will transform into a salon where diners begin. The room might evoke a dolled-up gala or your living room. From there, diners will go upstairs to continue their meal, which will still be presented as a tasting menu.

The shutdown will take place over six weeks this summer, with exact dates still to be determined.

Adam Tihany (Per Se, Daniel, Aureole—all in New York) will contribute design. “We want to make it dramatic. We want to give it a new personality,” Achatz says. Although Achatz and Kokonas feel like it ain’t broke, they’re fixing it preemptively. “That was our thing from the beginning: Don’t become a museum of yourself. Be new and refreshing,” Achatz says.

Alinea will pop up in New York and possibly on the West Coast during the shutdown, similar to its trading places with Eleven Madison Park in 2012, so that the staff of 78 can continue receiving paychecks.

Achatz also provided an update on Roister (951 W. Fulton Mkt., West Loop), the upcoming à la carte restaurant—the team’s first—in the space that formerly housed ING, next to Next and Aviary. The two-story restaurant will seat 60 on the main level and 20 downstairs, and the “rustic refined” cuisine will feature food cooked in a firepot over an open fire. Achatz cites Promontory and San Francisco’s Saison as restaurants already cooking over open fires, but adds that they hope to partner with farmers to acquire vegetable byproducts to use as fuels. For example, Seedling Farms produces apples for cider, leaving a lot of apple pulp. Achatz says they hope to burn it, similarly to how the Irish burn peat. “It’s sustainable and gives a flavor profile,” he says.

Noah Sandoval, whose underappreciated tasting-menu spot Senza just closed this month, has signed on to help aid in daily operations in general. Sandoval and Achatz worked together at Trio in the pre-Alinea days.

Construction is underway; they hope to open in May.

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