08/12/2010 02:15 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011


The corner table right behind me called for the maitre'd after their second course and wanted to leave. Very politely, he came over and said, "There will be no charge for your dinner." Of course, everyone heard him in the room. Apparently this couple did not understand the concept.

The third time that I got up during my three and a half hour feast to visit the men's room I told the waiter it was not necessary to keep changing my napkin. This was not your ordinary napkin. It was almost the size of a tablecloth, perfectly pressed and folded linen like those prepared for a state dinner. He again answered, very politely, "Sir, that's why we are four stars."

This was my experience at what many others and I consider the best restaurant in this country. There is nothing else even close to it.

Alinea: Grant Achatz's modern masterpiece in the windy city.

The first time that I visited was for my birthday and what a birthday it was. My wife and I ordered the complete tasting menu of over twenty courses with wine pairing and it was the most amazing dinner, outside of El Bulli in Spain, that I've had in my life.

In Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood, Alinea is a hidden gem. From the outside I was not very impressed but once I walked in the door I quickly changed my mind. The understated elegance of this modern setting was extremely inviting. The tables are separated in groups of four or six in different rooms and set against the walls. This allows the staff who, by the way, are dressed like bankers, to move around freely.

Lobster with popcorn, mango, curry; wagyu beef with potato chips, pear with olive oil, and eucalyptus; black truffle explosion; transparency of raspberry, bubble gum long pepper, and hibiscus, this was part of the more than twenty dishes that were presented at our table. Each one of them resembling something out of the MoMA. By the way, some of these dishes come with special utensils and an explanation. Other utensils could be more familiar to a NASCAR mechanic, like the large linen pillow filled with lavender scented air. I didn't know if this was a joke, but they explained that as I ate the dish the lavender scent complemented it, and it worked. Wow, I was impressed. This alone was worth the almost $1,000 tab for two with tip and wines.

By the way, what could be one the best chefs in the world had a battle with stage 4 tongue cancer three years ago. He lost his sense of taste while in treatment with aggressive chemotherapy and radiation but came out of it with flying colors.

To foodies, Alinea is a bargain, compared to flying across the Atlantic to El Bulli in Spain or The Fat Duck in England.