I must admit that a part of me was relieved when I failed to get a reservation at Alinea initially. Not only would my bank account be more robust for it, but the awesome memories that I had of the restaurant from my first meal there would remain intact.
Less than 24 hours before boarding our flight to Chicago, I received a phone call from Alinea’s reservationist offering a table for two the following evening. It’s not every day that the opportunity to dine at one of the world’s best restaurants presents itself, so I took a deep breath and went for gold.
Just as soon as we arrived in the city, The Astronomer and I jammed it to our hotel, changed into prettier clothes, and headed off to Alinea. Upon walking through the restaurant’s fuschia-lit entrance, we were greeted by the hostess, who freed us from our winter coats and led us upstairs to our table.
Before I go on any further about the food and fun we had this evening, it must be said that the service at Alinea isn’t the warmest. Not every front-of-the-house team can strike the perfect balance between polished and inviting a la Eleven Madison Park, but Alinea’s all-male waitstaff left a lot to be desired. As these black suited gents presented each course, it felt like they had grown tired of and jaded by the theatrics Alinea is known for. As a result, our interactions were often awkward and sometimes humorless. Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, on to the food and fun…
Even though the service left me wanting, the food mostly dazzled. This intriguing ice block was the first of three centerpieces to grace the table. I knew from previous experience that it would play a role in a future course, but in what capacity remained to be seen. I was hoping for an ice luge of some sort
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An irresistible invite from Bellagio brought The Astronomer and me to Las Vegas for a weekend of dynamite wining and dining. After arriving at the hotel, checking into our room, and dropping off our bags, we strolled over to Sirio Maccioni‘s famed Le Cirque for a late-night supper.
Le Cirque, which opened 38 years ago in New York City, made its Las Vegas debut at the Bellagio in 1998. The restaurant is the recipient of the AAA Five Diamond rating, as well as one Michelin star.
Set under a plush circus tent, Le Cirque’s elegant and lively dining room felt miles away from the din of slot machines. In a city where bigger is generally regarded as better, this intimate space felt like a real treat.
Whereas New York’s Le Cirque is set among skyscrapers, this location is perched lakeside, overlooking the hotel’s famous fountains. Every fifteen minutes, The Astronomer and I were entranced by the dancing water and shimmering lights. It felt quintessentially Vegas, and maybe a little cheesy, but we loved it anyway.
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My grandma once remarked (in Vietnamese, of course) that in New York City, money is spent as freely as water. From dining to shopping to transportation to entertainment, it’s dangerously easy to drop some serious change exploring and reveling in everything the city has to offer. While bargains may not be the norm in these here parts, there are still some great values to be had.
Take for instance lunch at Del Posto, Chef Mario Batali and restauranteur Joseph Bastianich‘s four-star Italian restaurant. Dinner here starts at $115, but a three-course lunch complete with amuses and mignardises can be had for just $29. Now, that’s a deal that even my penny pinching Bà Ngoại would approve.
The Astronomer and I lunched here the afternoon following our feast at Eleven Madison Park. We were seated at a table fit for four in the center of the dining room. The crowd of lunching ladies and powwowing business types spoke mostly in hushed tones, adding to the formal ambiance that I found too stuffy for this time of day.
After placing our orders, a server brought over a trio of amuse bouches. There were lobster and caviar finger sandwiches, a tomato soup with bread crumbs around the rim, and small bundles of sauerkraut wrapped in speck ham. All three bites were perfectly nice, but none were particularly wow inducing.
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Following our wonderful travels in Montréal, The Astronomer and I headed stateside to New York City! The moment we stepped off the train at Penn Station, we booked it to Eleven Madison Park for dinner. I would’ve preferred a later reservation in order to freshen up at the hotel, but the first seating was all I could snag a few weeks in advance. We arrived at the restaurant slightly sweaty from the heat, but ready to be swept away by one of the city’s finest establishments.
Opened in 1998, Eleven Madison Park is owned by restauranteur extraordinaire Danny Meyer. Chef Daniel Humm was brought on board in 2006, and under his care, the restaurant received four stars from The New York Times in 2009. Chef Humm was named “Best Chef: NYC” by the James Beard Foundation in 2010.
We were seated promptly upon our arrival along the row of tables situated toward the back of the restaurant. Our seat offered lovely views of the room’s grand windows and larger than life floral arrangements.
At Eleven Madison Park, diners can choose either four courses ($125) or a tasting menu ($195). Since I had to fit into a bridesmaid dress at the end of the week, we played it safe and went for four courses.
In place of a traditional menu, diners are presented with a 4×4 grid containing 16 ingredients. Each row represents a different course, and diners are asked to choose the ingredient that fancies them most. After years of eating tasting menus where my preferences were never considered, I appreciated this innovation greatly.
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After The Astronomer and I left the sunny shores of Valencia, we hopped a train to Girona, where our only order of business was to dine at El Celler De Can Roca. Even though this was our third three-star Michelin meal in the span of two weeks, I eagerly anticipated it as if it were the first.
Founded in 1986, El Celler de Can Roca gives new meaning to the term “family restaurant.” The place is run by three brothers [Joan Roca heads up the kitchen, Josep Roca is the maitre d’ and head sommelier, and Jordi Roca is the pastry chef], but the food is far from homey, and the space is decidedly modern.
In 2007, the restaurant relocated a hundred meters from the original grounds. Here, the chefs work in a state-of-the-art kitchen cum lab, while the sommelier manages a wine cellar that offers customers an audio-visual journey through five key wine regions.
In the custom-built space, diners are treated to a gorgeous dining room with an abundance of natural light pouring in. The miniature arboretum in the center offers a tranquil and understated view. As The Astronomer and I settled into our table and perused the menu, we were served complimentary glasses of Cava (Finca Viladellops 08 D.O. Penedes).
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