World’s Top 50 Restaurants

Alinea & Charlie Trotter's

Sunday, November 18, 2007 – Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Alinea - Executive Chef Grant Achatz and General Manager Joe Catterson charlie trotter's - Executive Chef Charlie Trotter


2007 World’s Top 50 Restaurants ~ Alinea and Charlie Trotter’s

By Jane Tracy, Bailli de Chicago

Following the publication of the 2007 World’s Top 50 Restaurants and the fact that two of them were in our culinary playground, it seemed as the world’s oldest gastronomic society that the Chicago Chapter should make a November visit to these two Chicago shrines part of our 2007/2008 program of dinners.

Here is an analysis of these two top restaurants – one being 20 years old, the other a mere 2 years old.  Both dinners were held within two days of each other and many of the same members attended both dinners.  The experience was certainly one of contrast between two very different styles, two different personalities and two very different ways of treating and presenting food. 

We started at Alinea, Chef/Owner Grant Achatz’s sensual laboratory of food science, deftly managed by Joe Catterson, General Manager and Wine Director.  Here we were treated to twelve courses of exacting and abstract foods that had been subjected to procedures inducing chemical reactions and other scientific experiments, amusingly known as Nouvelle Chimie.  This resulted in various “explosions”, heightened olfactory sensations and sheer laboratory-like contortions on the plate and palate.  Each dish revolved around essences and the concentration of flavors, playing on temperature and unconventional expectations. This forced us to abandon traditional methods of appreciating what was set before us and to anticipate eccentric.  The possible pairing permutations were endless.  The flavors were pure.  Wines were paired by Alinea themselves and, for example, a Moscato d’Asti was poured to accompany a self-encapsulated skin which was somehow sealed around brown sugar and rum!  Metal sculptures had been created to gently act as a repository for the food making it part of the artform; part of the sculpture.  Some of the courses were fleeting and small, leaving us saying “I want another one of those!”.  “Too late!” was the cry.  The dish was whipped away and onto the next head-spinning creation.  Small branches of cedar were laid across one shallow bowl hiding what was to be eaten underneath them.  The moist aromas evoked memories of other experiences in our lives.  Alinea forced us to concentrate on each component of a dish.  It became an adventure of tasting.  Eating became secondary.

Charlie Trotter’s, however, provided us with the opportunity to return to the source of where contemporary American cuisine all began 20 years ago.  The culinary world was inspired by the reverberations of his creativity.  So many minds were opened about a subject that had not been contemplated so deeply before here in the U.S.  He truly created a corridor from palate to brain.  We submitted our list of wines around which unique, never-before-served dishes were crafted by his dynamic, young team in conjunction with Sommelier Conrad Reddick.  Each chef, standing next to Charlie, explained the concept of his/her dish, how it had been prepared and invited questions into the bargain.  It was not about Charlie.  It was about the young ones.  It was about their enormous talent and working under the Charlie Trotter tutelage.

Twenty years is a long time for any restaurant, but we should not be concerned because the energy and vibrancy that Charlie is passing on to his young chefs ensures that the creativity and high levels of service will continue.  Trotter’s is different from Alinea but the energy and creativity are abundantly present at both.