Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Afternoon Tea at the Ritz

Nearly every year, at around the same time, my bestie and I go for afternoon tea. We do this to celebrate our (made-up) mid-year holiday, which falls on June 27. We've been to the King Eddy, the Four Seasons (old location on Avenue Road), the Royal York, and the Windsor Arms. This year, we celebrated at The Ritz-Carlton in Toronto, and we had a marathon tea session filled with delicious nibbles and lively chatter.

We were provided with a selection of teas from Tealeaves. I love the Aged Earl Grey that Tammy sent me in my care package so I excitedly chose the Lavender Earl Grey. I wasn't a huge fan of this tea as I didn't taste the lavender or the bergamot. Instead, it tasted a little like chocolate. I checked the tea bag and it was the right one so I dunno... perhaps my taste buds were a little off that day. My friend chose the Monsoon Chai, which smelled really nice!

While I wasn't a huge fan of the modern, dark decor (I prefer a traditional, ornate, bright tea room), I really liked this non-traditional tiered stand. Instead of everything coming out at once, we received our savouries first.

This bacon, spinach, and mushroom quiche tartlet was my favourite savoury treat... which amazed me because I don't really like mushrooms.

Two little sandwiches (cucumber and egg) - I usually love miniature sandwiches, but these were just ok. I thought they were super pretty though. Hubs and I went for afternoon tea at the Ritz in London during our honeymoon in 2009 and the sandwiches were surprisingly plain and boring (not tasty either).

Mmmmm, smoked salmon croissantwich!

I never guessed how much I would like clotted cream until I tried it for the first time years ago at afternoon tea at the King Eddy. Scones, I've always loved thee.

The sweets tray wasn't as pretty, but I'm glad we got two of everything. It drives me crazy when some afternoon tea services only give one of each and we have to split them all. My friend and I have actually asked for duplicates in the past and been given a hard time about it.

I don't remember what this was but likely an apple spice cake...

Cute little berry tart with custard.

Caramel profiterole... think there was a coffee custard inside?

As much as I love chocolate, I don't really like chocolate desserts. This mini piece of cake was gorgeous though!

Chocolate madeleine. :)

Lemon meringue tart! I love lemon desserts.

What I liked most about afternoon tea at the Ritz was that it didn't feel rushed... we were there for 4+ hours! And just in case you're wondering, I'm one of those rare people who can polish off the entire set of afternoon tea snackies in one sitting. I've done it every single time! :)

Outfit! I wore my Target dress with my sky high blue Zara peep toes.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Nail Art... Sorta

One of the items on my 101 in 1001 was to give nail art a try... this was my first attempt! Please don't laugh... I did an accent nail in polka dots and I was very proud of myself! :) I used a dotting tool for the first time and it was easier than I thought it would be to do my left hand but harder than I thought it would be to do my right hand. The polka dots on my right hand are double the size of the ones on my left hand. Whoops! All in all, I am happy with the way it looks and got a few compliments at work too. Hooray!

(Sally Hansen Mint Sorbet & Essie Blanc)

Friday, July 19, 2013

June Beauty Box 5 - Unboxing and Review

As I mentioned in my May review, the June Beauty Box 5 is, once again, full of repeat brands. I wasn't very excited about this box.

Here are the items I received (in order of appearance in the video):

1. Coolway Daily Moisture Shampoo and Conditioner

I've used this shampoo and conditioner 3 times now and I am surprised by how much I like it. I'm not crazy about the scent but it's not as strong (chemical-wise) as the other Coolway products. The shampoo and conditioner work very well together. While I find the shampoo a little drying, it does a great job at cleaning my hair. The conditioner makes my hair feel soft and silky. I add a tiny bit of dry shampoo in the morning and my hair feels comfortable all day... no grease despite the humid weather of late!

Full size // 8.4 oz // $25
Sample size // 1 oz // approx. $2.98

Full size // 8.4 oz // $25
Sample size // 1 oz // approx. $2.98

2. Just Being Sexy Body Bronzer

I haven't tried these products yet as I'm wary of self tanners. They seem like a lot of work.

Sample size // 8 ml x 2 // $6

3. Brazen Cosmetics Organic Mineral Eyeshadow in Gunshot

I really enjoyed the mineral eyeshadow I received in my April Beauty Box 5 so I was happy to receive another sample... even though this is a repeat brand. Gunshot is a beautiful, shimmery gun metal shade. While it's not an everyday colour for me, I tend to gravitate towards these types of shades when I want a more dramatic eye. This eyeshadow is extremely pigmented. I'm not sure what is going on with the Brazen Cosmetics eyeshadow line as the website has been hinting at a new launch for a few months now.

Full size // 5 g // $7.49
Sample size // 3 g // approx. $4.49

4. Aveeno Active Naturals Sunscreen Lotion with SPF 30

I really love this sunscreen lotion! It absorbs extremely quickly and does not feel greasy at all. This product rivals the Neutrogena Dry Touch sunscreen for me.

Full size // 3 oz // $9.99
Sample size // 0.5 oz // approx. $1.67

Despite liking the Brazen eyeshadow, I was disappointed in the June Beauty Box 5. Not only were there a slew of repeat brands, the samples themselves were not that exciting and this was one of the lowest value boxes I've received since starting my subscription. As mentioned last month, I still like this service, especially considering this is the least expensive box out there if you buy the one year subscription ($100 so it only works out to $8.33 per box). However, in light of the frequent repeat brands as of late, if you are thinking of subscribing month-to-month at $12 per month, I think there are better subscription services out there for a slightly higher price.

// Approximate value of the products in the June 2013 Beauty Box 5: $18.12 //

Beauty Box 5 is a monthly subscription service that promises 4-5 beauty samples in each box. It ships out of Austin, Texas. The samples are shipped in relatively small cardboard shipping box. The current dimensions of the box are approximately 6.5 inches x 4 inches x 2 inches and the box fits easily in my tiny condo mailbox.

If you wish to join Beauty Box 5 through my invitation, I will earn a credit and send heaps of good karma your way!

Note: I paid for this subscription with my own money.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

June 2013 Empties

Lots and lots of empties in June! :)

* = Disliked the product - would not repurchase
** = Liked the product - might or might not repurchase
*** = Loved the product - would repurchase

1. Bumble and Bumble Thickening Shampoo x 2 & Conditioner x 2
Source: Samples received with Sephora purchase
Thoughts: I have mixed feelings about these products. On the one hand, they actually do help to thicken my hair! However, they make my hair feel very dry, coarse, and straw-like.
Rating: **

2. WEN Sweet Almond Mint Re Moist Intensive Hair Treatment
Source: Denyse from QueencessQuality sent this to me... thanks Denyse!
Thoughts: I love this treatment! You have to leave it in your hair a long time (20 to 30 minutes), but it worked so well at making my hair super soft and silky.
Rating: ***

3. Vidal Sassoon Pro Series Repair Shampoo
Source: P&G sample pack
Thoughts: I liked the scent of this shampoo; however, the formulation did not work for me at all. It was horrible at cleaning my hair... my roots became greasy the next morning and seemed to stay that way despite using dry shampoo.
Rating: *

4. EVOLVh UltraShine Moisture Conditioner
Source: Purchased by me
Thoughts: I really like this conditioner - one of my favourites aside from deep treatments or masks!
Rating: ***

5. COW Beauty Bar
Source: Thank you to Lisa for sending this to me!
Thoughts: I loved this bar soap - the scent was a lovely floral with a hint of fruitiness. The lather was very soft and the beauty bar lasted a long time. I also loved the packaging. This soap is made in Japan.
Rating: ***

6. Filthy Farmgirl Filthy Bohemian Hawaiian Lavender Rose Soap
Source: Purchased by me
Thoughts: I love the Filthy Farmgirl line of soaps - they all lather so well and I absolutely love the artwork on the wrapper. This scent did not really do it for me though - it was a little too light. I checked the Filthy Farmgirl website and did not see this "flavor" so it's either discontinued or only available in Hawaii.
Rating: **

7. Bambu Earth Salt Glow Sugar Cookie Body Polish
Source: February 2013 SeasonsBox
Thoughts: This is one of my favourite scents ever! Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy using this product because it stung all my little wounds that I didn't know I had. I don't really like salt scrubs for this reason.
Rating: ** (because I love the scent so much)

8. ZEN-ful All Natural Bath Bomb in Fresh Roses
Source: May 2013 SeasonsBox
Thoughts: I really enjoyed this bath bomb! It was a great size and fizzed very nicely in the bath tub. I liked the light scent as well.
Rating: **

9. Molton Brown Heavenly Gingerlily Moisture Bath & Shower
Source: Holts Spring 2013 Beauty Bag
Thoughts: The more I use this Molton Brown product, the more I like it. I've tried a few of these samples before (from a hotel) and the scent has really grown on me. It helps that my hubby speaks highly of this scent too. :)
Rating: **

10. Asira Body Wash
Source: Hotel sample
Thoughts: I don't know why we have so many Asira samples - we must have stayed at one hotel a very long time to accumulate all these samples. I'm not a huge fan of these products so I wish we didn't have so many.
Rating: *

11. Villainess Soaps Scintillating Whipped Body Creme
Source: Purchased by me
Thoughts: I love the formulation of this whipped body creme - it's soft and creamy yet fast absorbing and non-greasy. The scent is very decadent (like chocolate cupcakes perhaps?) - while I do like the scent, I generally prefer fruity scents.
Rating: ** (because I prefer a different scent)

12. 360 Skincare Lavender Mint DMAE Firming Serum
Source: January 2013 Glymm Bag
Thoughts: This is my favourite eye cream. I'm not sure why it is called a serum because the texture is a thick cream. I noticed a difference in firmness in my under eye area the morning after using this cream. Yay for products that actually work!
Rating: ***

13. Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry Touch Sunscreen with SPF 55
Source: June 2012 Glossybox - eeps, I probably had this product too long!
Thoughts: Out of the sunscreens I've tried, this is my favourite formulation. It definitely has a "dry touch" and feels very matte and non-greasy. When I purchase a full size of this, however, I will probably buy the SPF 45 (I looked for SPF 30 but only found the mist formulation - which I actually have in my stockpile!). I also liked that it got a "Good" rating on the Paula's Choice Beautypedia - this website is my new obsession. Be sure to check out the Ingredient Dictionary too if you haven't already!
Rating: ** (because I prefer a lower SPF)

14. Coronado Soap Co. Apricot Freesia Hand & Body Cream
Source: Thank you to Lisa for sending this to me!
Thoughts: I love everything about this cream! The texture is a medium weight but fast absorbing and non-greasy. My favourite aspect of this product is the scent - it is that perfect mix of fruity and floral.
Rating: ***

15. Aveeno Positively Ageless Tinted Moisturizer with SPF 30 in Light to Medium
Source: December 2012 Glossybox
Thoughts: I liked the texture of this product - it was lightweight and provided just a touch of coverage (almost none) that was fine for my daily use for work. Unfortunately, this product is full of shimmer! I didn't notice it on my face but it was all over my hands. That is a deal breaker for me as I prefer non-shimmery face products. I feel like this product lasted forever (I was sure I had it for over a year), but it looks like I only received it in December 2012.
Rating: **

16. Algenist Overnight Restorative Cream
Source: Sephora bonus
Thoughts: I thought this cream was ok (medium weight, non-greasy), but there are other night creams I prefer - namely, the Perricone MD Face Finishing Moisturizer and the Befine Night Cream (website is down).
Rating: **

17. Tarte Maracuja C-Brightener Eye Treatment
Source: Sent to me by Lisa - thank you!
Thoughts: I liked trying this sample but didn't notice that it did anything for my eye area.
Rating: **

18. Clarisonic Refreshing Gel Cleanser
Source: This travel size cleanser was included with my Clarisonic Mia 2
Thoughts: This cleanser was ok for me. It is a very thick and viscous formulation. It was also very gentle. The only thing I didn't like about this was the flavour! For some reason, this cleanser got in my mouth every single time I used it - I haven't noticed that with any other cleansers before.
Rating: **

19. Make Up For Ever Sens'Eyes Waterproof Sensitive Eye Cleanser
Source: March 2012 Topbox
Thoughts: I really enjoyed trying this eye makeup remover! The cream formulation is very gentle yet effective. The only thing I don't like about this product is the high price.
Rating: **

20. Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micelle Solution
Source: Murale Bonus
Thoughts: This makeup remover is very gentle, but I found it did not do a good job at removing my eye makeup when I had on heavy eyeliner and mascara. I liked this makeup remover, but it doesn't really have a place in my skincare routine. The only cleansers I need are (1) an eye makeup remover and (2) a non-abrasive cleanser to use with my Clarisonic Mia 2... which is alright because I find this product expensive for what it is.
Rating: **

21. Jack Black Pure Clean Daily Facial Cleanser
Source: Sample received with Sephora purchase
Thoughts: I thought this cleanser was ok - there wasn't really enough included in this sample for me to form an opinion on it. I didn't really like the scent of this product - it may have been the sage leaf but I found it a little too earthy/medicinal. Perhaps it is a more masculine scent than I am used to?
Rating: **

22. Shiseido Facial Cotton
Source: Purchased by me
Thoughts: These cotton pads are a staple in my beauty regimen. I like that they are soft and do not break apart. I currently purchase these at Shoppers Drug Mart for $9 a pack; however, if they increased in price, I would probably switch to a less expensive facial cotton as these are at my upper limit of what I would be willing to pay for cotton pads.
Rating: ***

23. Becca Radiant Skin Satin Finish Foundation in Medium
Source: Sample received with Sephora purchase
Thoughts: I received 6 shades in my set of medium samples; however, they were all too dark for my skin tone. I wanted to use these anyway so I mixed each one with my Revlon foundation (which is, incidentally, too light for me). Unfortunately, because I mixed the product, I wasn't able to really test out the texture or formulation.
Rating: **

24. Perfumies Solid Perfume Stick in Femme Fatale
Source: January 2013 Beauty Box 5
Thoughts: I loved everything about this perfume stick - it was soft and easy to apply. The scent was very floral, but I still liked it - the website identifies the components as roses, magnolia, gardenia, tuberose, and arris blossom. The stick format was very convenient to pop into my makeup bag so I was able to reapply this on the go. Based on my love for this product, I purchased a whole box of Perfumies sticks. I recently opened Buttercup but the texture is harder and more waxy. I'll have to test out a few more so I can report back on the "true" texture.
Rating: ***

25. Beauty So Clean Cosmetic Sanitizer Wipe
Source: Glossy Party TO
Thoughts: I like using these sanitizer wipes to clean my tweezers and my makeup.
Rating: **

26. Montagne Jeunesse Prickly Pear Peel Off Face Mask
Source: Montagne Jeunesse event
Thoughts: I haven't tried a peel off mask in a long time so I really enjoyed this product. The mask itself is a translucent pink colour and is very sticky like Elmer's glue. I think I put on too thick of a layer in places because certain sections never dried but I still liked this mask. It was fun to use and it left my skin feeling very soft.
Rating: **

27. Montagne Jeunesse Glacial Clay Spa
Source: Montagne Jeunesse event
Thoughts: I thought I would love this mask because it is a sheet mask infused in clay. Not only that but this product contains Glacial Clay - sourced from Canada’s Northwest Coast! The first thing I noticed when I opened this mask was the scent - unfortunately, I could not stand it as I found it nauseating. Hopefully, the other variations of the clay infused sheet masks are more to my liking as keeping this one on for 5-10 minutes was not easy and definitely not very spa-like.
Rating: *

28. Suncoat Soy-Corn Based Natural Nail Polish Remover
Source: December 2012 Glymm Bag
Thoughts: I was very intrigued by this product and was actually planning to buy it so I was thrilled when I received this in my Glymm bag. The first time I used it, I was sorely disappointed because this product did not take off my nail polish. Turns out I was using it incorrectly. To use this effectively, you have to leave the product on your nail for the oils to start working. I simply soaked a cotton pad and rubbed it quickly over each nail once. By the time I was done all 10 nails, I could go back to the first nail and start rubbing - it then worked very well at taking off my polish. I basically only used this for cream and slight shimmer polish as it is too gentle for chunkier glitter. Because this is an oil based remover, it leaves your hands very oily. I didn't like the scent of this product - still very harsh even though it is a natural product. This product is also very expensive for the amount you get.
Rating: **

29. MedLine Acetone Free Nail Polish Remover Pads x 4
Source: unknown
Thoughts: These nail polish remover pads work very well, but one is definitely not enough for all 10 nails as the website claims! I found I could use one pad for only 2 nails - the pads are tiny (and thin) so the nail polish remover evaporates very quickly.
Rating: **

30. beautyblender
Source: Purchased by me
Thoughts: I love my beautyblender. It works so well at applying tinted moisturizer, BB cream, foundation, etc. The tip of mine broke off and it was starting to break down so I figured it was time to say goodbye. I have another beautyblender (mine came in a set of 2 with the cleanser) and I also purchased an imitation from Winners so I'm going to compare the two before I decide whether I would repurchase the original beautyblender.
Rating: **

31. Cottonelle Cleansing Cloths
Source: Purchased by me
Thoughts: I'm not sure which cleansing cloths these are because I can't seem to find the pink container online. These wipes were ok - nothing too special. They did dry out a little bit but were still slightly moist despite me forgetting about them for a really long time. I like that you can buy refills for the container, but I likely will not be repurchasing this product.
Rating: **

32. Wet Ones Sensitive Skin Hand & Face Wipes
Source: Purchased by me
Thoughts: These are my favourite wipes! I use them for lots of different things like spot cleaning my makeup brushes, cleaning my shoes, cleaning my desk, wiping off my kitchen counter. The only thing I don't like about these wipes is that the dispenser doesn't work very well so I often just open up the tube and tear off a wipe. Despite opening the container all the time, I've never had these wipes dry out on me.
Rating: ***

33. David's Tea Kenyan Tinderet
Source: Purchased by me
Thoughts: One of my favourite black teas! I've finished so many of these...
Rating: ***

34. Lupicia Decaf Muscat Loose Leaf
Source: Sent to me by Lisa - thank you!
Thoughts: This is a new favourite for me! I love this tea so much that I immediately ordered another bag (along with a bunch of other flavours) and had it shipped to my hotel in Chicago (unfortunately, Lupicia does not currently ship to Canada). This tea tastes so good with a little milk and honey - it tastes just like grape bubble tea but better, if that's even possible. I'm not sure if "flavours" in the ingredient list means natural or artificial, but I will try to find out and report back.
Rating: ***

35. Simply Food Jasmine Green Tea
Source: Tammy included this for me in a care package - thank you Tammy!
Thoughts: I liked this tea as it was very light but wish that the jasmine flavour was more present.
Rating: **

36. Yogi Pure Green Organic Green Tea
Source: Tammy included this for me in a care package - thank you Tammy!
Thoughts: I remember thinking this tea was alright but don't remember much else about it... I should have taken notes! This was also a light tea, but I don't recall the flavour.
Rating: **

Another marathon blog post!! I feel so accomplished when I finish one of these. :)

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Our First Experience at Alinea!

It’s been a long road to Alinea... both literally and figuratively! I first heard about this restaurant around 7 or 8 years ago but I didn’t think too much about going there until around 3 years ago. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get us a reservation the last time we went to Chicago... previously, you had to call on a certain date a few months in advance and I missed the date. However, the booking process has since changed to an online system so it was much easier to secure a table this time around. Hurrah! You have to pay in advance for the tasting menu plus the applicable taxes and service charge. The price of the meal depends on the seating you choose and beverages are not included.

Hubs and I drove to Chicago last weekend pretty much specifically to dine at Alinea. This was our first time trying a 10+ course tasting menu and I was a little apprehensive that hubs wouldn’t like it... thankfully, despite a few hiccups (which I’ll discuss throughout the post), we enjoyed both the food and the experience! If you are planning to dine at Alinea down the road, I suggest not reading this blog post any further. The element of surprise is wonderful and while the menu changes frequently, there are a few “permanent” creations on the menu that should be discovered only once you are sitting in the restaurant. That being said, I’d like to remember the evening as best I can so this is going to be a long and detailed blog entry.

One last note before I get into it. A few of the courses are “time sensitive” – meaning that you should eat them immediately after being served due to the temperature of the food. I’ve read that Chef Grant Achatz (pronounced like “jackets” but without the J) has commented on patrons spending so much time taking photos that it compromises the integrity of the food. I find it’s often a delicate balance among enjoying the moment, being respectful with your camera, and documenting the experience.

Anyway, the meal was so expensive that I wanted to make sure I enjoyed the food as it was intended, but at the same time, I would have deeply regretted it if I hadn’t taken any photos. We got the best of both worlds by taking our photos quickly... that way, we could enjoy the food and have a visual record of what we ate. I brought my DSLR in my purse as I had planned to take some better photos, but I felt the shutter would have been disruptive to our fellow diners so we instead used our point-and-shoot cameras. In the end, I thought our photos turned out pretty well so I’m a happy (shutter) bug. All photos were taken by either my hubby (mostly) or me (a few) with no flash and no beeping. As an aside, if you use a digital camera in public frequently, I highly recommend turning off the beeping sound!

Now let’s get to the meat of the post. Warning: this is going to be a very detailed description of our meal. While we really enjoyed our evening (and are hoping to return for another visit in the future), I do feel there were some areas that could be improved so I will include in my commentary where I felt the experience fell short.


Alinea is located in a non-descript building with a grey facade at 1723 North Halsted Street. The building is numbered prominently and there is also a sign for valet parking right outside the restaurant so you can’t miss it. The cost for valet parking was $12 excluding tip as of June 2013. When you enter the restaurant, there is a short hallway that is extremely dark, especially since we had just come inside from the sunny outdoors. Entering the hall, you are immediately enveloped in some wonderful aromatherapy. This is where your experience begins! Apparently, there has on occasion been a course that you discover in the hallway, but I don’t think it was present the night we dined there... if it was, we missed it.

The hallway was lit with minimal fuchsia lighting and there were hanging bud vases on both sides of the corridor. There were fresh flowers in the vases... I believe there were also some dried flowers hanging close to the ceiling. The floor is carpeted with earth and moss but my heels did not sink into it. The “décor” in the hallway changes with the season - for example, last winter, it was lined with pine trees. There is no one to greet you in the hallway. You slowly make your way to the end and a set of stainless steel doors open automatically to reveal the modern, minimalist restaurant.

At this point, you are greeted by a host/server. If you used the valet parking, let the host know as your car will then be ready for you as you are leaving. The kitchen is immediately to your right once you exit the hallway. There are dining rooms to your left and stairs leading up to the second story directly in front of you. The restaurant is in a two story building with multiple “rooms” – we sat on the second floor and the room we were in had a table of 4, three other tables of 2, and us. The tables are spaced out nicely so you don’t feel crowded. The seating times are also spaced out – we had an early seating at 5:30pm and we were the 3rd table to be seated, but towards the middle of our meal, the room was full. I liked that there was no music being played, but it was very quiet when we first arrived. Thankfully, the room became more energetic as the night wore on.

The service at Alinea is incredibly fast and efficient. There are multiple people serving courses, removing dishes, replacing cutlery, filling water, etc., and while I loved the efficiency, I found the pacing of the meal a bit too fast. Some of the servers were very warm and friendly, while others were less so but still polite. The main downside to having multiple servers was that the descriptions of each course varied in the amount of detail – I learned a lot about some courses hearing servers describe them to adjacent tables and wish that there was more consistency in that area.

Since my hubby was driving, he had some non-alcoholic apple cider – it was fancy cider from Normandy and tasted delicious! I elected not to do a wine pairing as I had read mixed reviews about it. I believe the standard wine pairing is $150 per person and the reserve wine pairing (when available) is $250 per person. I read that you can share the wine pairing between 2 people and each receive half pours. There is no wine list but the sommelier will recommend wines depending on the course and your preferences. He showed me the bottles of the wines he served me but I can’t remember any of them.

Alinea does not show you the menu in advance but someone from the restaurant e-mailed me a few days before our reservation to ask about any dietary restrictions or allergies. I replied that we had none, but I did have a preference for no coriander or cilantro. They were respectful of this. We received a menu at the end of our meal as a keepsake; however, since it is not very detailed, this blog post is just going to contain a brief summary of each course along with any tidbits I can remember.

Course 1 of 14 // Osetra – classical
This was a little caviar amuse bouche and our server described it to us as simply “caviar” – later, I heard another table receive a very long description of this course with all the ingredients and how they work together. That made me feel a little slighted that we didn’t receive the same level of detail. The server has this block thing-a-ma-jig with the handle of spoons tucked inside and you are supposed to pull out your spoon yourself. Sure enough, I could not for the life of me get my spoon out. Eventually, I got it... without spilling anything I might add! This was a very delicious start to our meal.

Course 2 of 14 // Rabbit – cherry blossom, smoke, wasabi
We received a much more detailed description of this course, which was nice... but somehow I did not hear, or the server did not say, that this was a rabbit dish. I thought this was a beautiful (vegetarian) salad until I came to the bit of meat at the end. I ate it and asked my hubby if he knew what it was, but he did not. Later, we heard another server describe this course as rabbit. Oopsie, having a pet bunny, I am now suffering from a bit of a guilty conscience.

Course 3 of 14 // Scallop – citrus aroma, fourteen textures
This course was really neat because it was served in a bowl containing a giant frozen clam shell. The dry ice used in the presentation resulted in vapours spilling out from the bowl onto the table. I loved this dish! It’s a little interactive because you are guided to open the clam shell yourself to reveal the scallop inside. The fourteen textures (I guess it was thirteen for me since I didn’t want the coriander) were assembled beautifully like a work of art. This dish smelled like lemongrass and tasted divine – the flavours worked perfectly together and did not compete or overwhelm one another.

Course 4 of 14 // Dungeness Crab – squash blossom, cardamom, saffron
This is a relatively new course and had only been on the menu for a few weeks so we felt very lucky to be able to try it! I love crab and this preparation was wonderful. Again, there were a lot of flavours, but they all worked in tandem. I loved the shaved celery and the huge squash blossom. Everything on the plate was edible and of course I ate it all. After reviewing our photos, I noticed the top plate was resting on what I assume is a bed of salt and herbs and spices. I didn’t notice this detail in the restaurant so I’m glad we have our photos. Also, oddly enough, while I loved this dish, I had no memory of it after the meal... so again, I’m glad we have our photos. :)

Course 5 of 14 // Binchotan – Tokyo inspiration
This course was inspired by the Chef’s visit to Tokyo. Binchotan is a type of Japanese white charcoal that is supposed to be chemical free and relatively smoke free. The fire on the plate was just for show with the edible portion of this dish being 4 “bites” to be eaten in the order they were described to us.

1. The shrimp head was filled with some sort of deliciousness... sorry, this course was described to us very well but I can’t remember! The entire head is edible like a crispy chip and is meant to be eaten with your fingers.
2. The small morsel of tuna was perfectly seared – fresh and tasty.
3. The pork belly was a surprising favourite for me as I don’t typically like pork belly. This was done so well and it was the perfect bite-size portion.
4. The Wagyu beef melts in your mouth and could almost rival the Wagyu and Kobe beef we had in Kobe in 2010. This was hubby’s favourite of the 4 bites... he probably could have eaten 100 more pieces.

Course 6 of 14 // Veal Cheeks – spring bounty
This was a sizeable course and I immediately noticed the unique plating. Alinea has some of its dishes custom made for specific courses and this was one of them. Again, there were a lot of different flavours included in this dish, but they did not overwhelm the palate. Besides veal cheeks, there were sweetbreads included as an additional protein. This was my first time trying sweetbreads as I’m normally not a fan of offal. It was pretty tasty, but I also did not mind that it was a small piece.

Course 7 of 14 // Hot Potato – cold potato, black truffle, butter
This is one of those time sensitive courses I mentioned at the beginning of my blog post. It was also one of my favourites. The little dish (fits in the palm of your hand) is made of paraffin wax (I think I heard a server describe the bowl this way to another table) and contains a small portion of cold potato soup. On the pin inserted in the side of the dish, there are a bunch of ingredients with the round sphere at the end being a piece of hot potato. There is a delectable shaving of black truffle on top. This being another interactive dish, you carefully pull out the pin releasing the ingredients into the soup and slurp the contents like an oyster. I snapped this photo while the server was explaining the dish to ensure that my hot potato-cold potato did not become "warm potato-warm potato".

Course 8 of 14 // Duck – …….?????........!!!!!!!!!!!!
As you can see, I was very intrigued by this next course… and it was not only beautiful but also fun! This was probably one of my favourites as well.

We each received 5 preparations of duck – from right to left in the below photo: fois gras, some kind of rillettes, breast, neck, and confit (leg). In the middle of the table, the server placed a huge platter with 60 different garnishes. Each garnish is supposed to pair well with duck but is intended to be enough for only one person... so my hubby and I would each experience a different flavour profile. The server purposely does not tell you what each of the garnishes is, although some of course are obvious. He just told us to pair 1-2 garnishes for each piece (or bite) of duck. I found the five preparations of duck were large enough that I was able to cut each of them into 5-8 pieces. My hubby did the same so we ended up trying most of the garnishes!

Course 9 of 14 // Black Truffle – explosion, romaine, parmesan
Another amazing course! This dish is shaped like a little donut – the black you see in the bottom of the dish is actually the table underneath. The black truffle ravioli is resting on top of the spoon and is intended to be eaten in one bite, with your mouth firmly closed. There is a good reason for this – as you bite into the ravioli, it quite literally explodes and the black truffle "tea" is immediately released into your month. This was another favourite of mine - it was bursting with flavour hehe. With the exception of the duck experience, I think I generally preferred the one bite (or close to one bite) courses.

Course 10 of 14 // Ginger – five other flavors
This was a palate cleanser before the dessert so I’m not sure if this was counted as a course – likely not because one of our servers described the meal as 13 courses when we were initially seated. Besides 5 different flavours, I believe the thin skewers featured 5 different types of ginger. I didn’t recognize any other the other flavours. The 2nd and 4th pieces were both very spicy – I love ginger and those were my favourite. To eat this course, you pull out each needle from the silver base. Once you’re done, you place each needle in a dish in the middle of the table.

Course 11 of 14 // Balloon – helium, green apple
This was my favourite course of the entire evening. It was so much fun and so different from anything I have seen... or could even imagine! The server brings you a helium filled balloon on a piece of “string” – both the balloon and the string are edible. The only portion you cannot eat is a little silver pin tied to the end of the string. You basically put your lips up to the balloon and suck in all the helium. The balloon itself is incredibly sticky and will cling to anything. Hubs got it all over his nose and I got it in my hair. Ah well, it was fun! The string is made of green apple taffy. YUM!! We only said a few words to each other during this course but I noticed our voices were slightly more chipmunk-like. Hubs didn't notice any difference so maybe I always sound somewhat like a chipmunk to him.

Course 12 of 14 // Strawberry – sorrel, sassafras, pine nut
I’m sure this is reading terribly repetitive but this course was so tasty!! If it wasn’t for the balloon (and perhaps the next course), this would have been my favourite dessert course. The strawberries were sweet and fresh – I think they were being held together by some meringue. My hubby loves strawberries so he really enjoyed this dish too.

Course 13 of 14 // Raspberry – infused with rose
This was another interesting and delicious course. The glass bottle contains a thick raspberry soda (almost like a smoothie but slightly fizzy). You drink it through a glass straw, which contains a rose scented substance. Super tasty and refreshing.

Course 14 of 14 // Milk Chocolate – pâte sucrée, violet, hazelnut
I really liked this course because someone from the kitchen comes out to assemble this on your table. First, your table is covered with a thin latex sheet. Then some of the ingredients are placed on the edge of the table. Then a cook/chef comes to the table and starts putting together a dessert that ends up looking like a work of art. Temperature sensitive ingredients magically appear when he is ready for them, like the big pot of decadent melted milk chocolate. Hubs and I didn’t even notice it come out but later saw it appear in the corner of our video just in time to be poured. This dessert was the grand finale. It was very delicious, but it was also a huge portion and incredibly rich. I was a little worried that my hubby wouldn’t be full after this meal... let’s just say that fear was unfounded. He was full and I was bursting at the seams.

We had a coffee (hubs) and a decaf espresso (me) with our final course. After our meal, we settled the bill for our drinks and were escorted out of the restaurant to our car waiting directly outside the door. That completed our first Alinea experience! Overall, we thought the food was amazing. I found a few of the courses quite salty, but it wasn’t a big deal... in fact, I don’t even remember which ones they were. My hubby has a high tolerance for salt so he didn’t have the same impression.

While we really enjoyed our meal, I do think there are a couple of areas in terms of service that could be improved. As I mentioned above, I wish there had been more consistency with the detail included in the description of each course. The other thing I noticed is when my hubby finished his drink, he was not asked if he would like something else... the glass was simply taken away. This happened to me as well – I was offered another drink after my first but not after my second. While this might not bother a lot of people, I do like to be asked. It makes me feel “well taken care of” and it also makes sense from a business perspective since it's a good opportunity for the restaurant to upsell. Lastly, I found the pacing a little too fast as I would have liked to have some more time between courses. I found the pacing slowed down towards the middle of the meal but the first few courses made my head spin. Overall, we were at Alinea for around 2.5 hours from start to finish.

I loved that we received the menu (“certificate of completion”) at the end of our meal as a little souvenir. It was at this time we learned we had eaten rabbit. The server who presented us with the menu was very nice (probably my favourite server), but he did not tell us about the little bubbles on the menu... apparently, the size of the bubble corresponds to the size of the course. We learned this when I overheard the menu being presented to an adjacent table. Sigh.

Despite the little hiccups, hubs and I both enjoyed our meal tremendously. It was not only delicious - it was also fun and interactive. The dishes were highly inventive and well thought out. I thought I would find the experience a little gimmicky but it ended up being very interesting. The variety in flavour and presentation was incredible. We hope to make a repeat visit one day.

Here is my Chicago vlog - if you are interested in seeing some of the courses in action, our Alinea experience starts at the 12:43 mark. :)

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