The school year ended for me and the next morning Bob and I headed for Chicago for a little vacation. We planned this for a few months – I’ve spent less time planning our trips to Europe – so we were very excited about this. I’ve never been to Chicago and since it has some amazing restaurants I just could not wait.
The trip did not start well. I think I texted something about hating United Airlines more than a few times as we were traveling. From a mess up with seating (Bob and I were not seated together despite the email confirmation that said we were … but we could purchase an upgrade if we wanted to sit together) to the horrible boarding process to the minuscule seats (could not have my arms next to my body at the same time without hitting the poor lady next to me) that we had to wait in since there was a delay (that they knew about before we boarded) to the half hour waiting for a gate in Chicago, it was a rather bad trip. I could deal with a lot of this – the delay, bad weather and the gate issue were not United’s fault necessarily – but the way the treated customers and the very “we don’t care” attitude made everything worse. Good customer service could have made this trip ok if not good, but poor customer service made it horrible.
Adding to my stress (as this ended up being a two hour delay in total) … dinner reservations. I have read about and wondered about Alinea for a while and Bob and I decided to go for it. I read every review I could find (and I do mean every) and one review made up my mind to spend the money. “Alinea will ruin you for five star dining.” With that I had to try it.
We should have had more than enough time to land, check into the hotel, relax, change and get to dinner. Instead we raced off the plane, changed in a stall in the airport bathrooms, hailed a cab and went straight to Alinea. You can probably picture me trying to get my dress and heels out of the suitcase in the stall while getting out of my jeans and top and into the dress. I did brush my hair but went without the make up to save time. We got a great cab driver and a little lucky with traffic and arrived 13 minutes late.
From the moment we walked in, it was incredible. The maître’d simply took our bags, told us to relax, got our name for the reservation and led us to our table. He asked where we were coming from, said they were glad we were there and started everything on a great note. He could have commented on our late arrival, made a big deal about the bags or been stuffy or unpleasant but he wasn’t. This foreshadowed the rest of the evening. The wait staff was relaxing, engaging and fun. The food was not just beautiful it was perfection. Each course was unique and made me smile, but nothing more than when I realized Bob was getting seafood (caviar, skate and lobster) while I had alternatives to the seafood. For anyone who does not do tasting menus, this is highly unusual; in most restaurants everyone at the table has the same dish, so Bob does not get seafood since I don’t.
But not at Alinea. There we each got our own versions of the dish and it was just perfect. I can say I had probably the best meal, start to finish, of my life. Was it expensive? Yes. More than I am comfortable paying, but I would do it again. It was worth ever penny and if I ever have the opportunity to do it again, I will. The food was that good, but the service made the experience.
The final detail. When we were seated the maitre’d asked if we would need a cab after dinner; we said yes. So after the meal ended we were brought downstairs, thanked for coming, given our bags and walked out to a waiting cab. Not one we had to wait for, but one that was waiting for us. It was details like that really show what good service can do for an experience. It really is all about the service.