I'm by no stretch of the imagination a "foodie" - someone that adores fine dining, wine and the snobbery that seems to go with it. However, I do like to read about what is going on in Chicago's exciting world of food and restaurants and when possible give a new restaurant a try. Several years ago I even managed to check off one of my "Things To Do Before I Die" items and I ate at the chef's table at Charlie Trotter's. A wonderful experience, but sadly Chef Trotter left for the second seating that evening so we didn't get to see him at work - I couldn't believe my bad luck :-(
There are other great restaurants that I have tried like Frontera Grill (Rick Bayless) and Naha (Carrie Nahabedian) and enjoyed very much. Lucky for me those two are close enough to my office that I was able to go to each of them for lunch during the work week. Somehow having two little ones at home makes it hard to get into the city for dinner out. Go figure.
Two more that are on my to-try list are Alinea and Graham Elliott. These restaurants are both owned by young chefs that have paid their dues and worked their way up in other acclaimed restaurants. Alinea (owned by Grant Achatz) has been open for a few years and has received critical acclaim. Graham Elliott just opened and the menu sounds intriguing. You can check it out at www.grahamelliott.com
Another reason I want to try Alinea has nothing to do with the food. Chef Achatz has been fighting an awful, life-threatening illness - oral cancer. Of all illness to strike a chef - oral cancer. The irony of it felt like a smack right in the head and I was stunned. I couldn't help thinking "but he's so young, so talented - he has so much going for him" (not to mention two young sons) all the things that run through your head when you hear this kind of news about someone so young.
The good news is that almost one year after he was diagnosed he is now in remission - you can read about his recent James Beard Award win at the link below as well as read a recap about the illness and his choice of treatment which ended up keeping his tongue intact and may allow him to regain his taste. His bravery in opting for a unconventional treatment of the cancer as well as his determination to continue working and creating wonderful dishes at Alinea is remarkable, to say the least, and makes Alinea one of my "must try" restaurants.