Because there’s no good way to trump Alinea

Grant Achatz, shot slyly with my phone as he made dessert at the next table.

A year ago this coming weekend, Tim and I were celebrating 10 years of marriage. We marked the hard-earned decade by taking an unexpected sum of online poker winnings and spending every last dime of it on a dinner for two.

But not just any dinner. We dined at Alinea, in Chicago, a 3-star Michelin restaurant (there are only about 80 in the world) — home of progressive, tongue-cancer-surviving chef Grant Achatz (who just won a James Beard Award for his newest restaurant, Next). It was, by giant leaps and bounds, the most expensive meal we had ever eaten (or likely will ever eat again).

I never wrote about that dinner.

The words just never came to me. I tried a few draft posts, passed my laptop with hope to Tim to read and tell me I’d done the evening justice. But he (rightfully, thankfully) never gave his approval — my mind, vocabulary, word-crafting-skills just couldn’t adequately paint a picture of what it was like to spend an evening at Alinea.

When I think about it now, it feels other-wordly, like I dreamt it all. From the moment we entered a dark, red-lit, low-ceiling hallway, our eyes adjusting from early-evening sunlight as a Star-Trek-like pocket door hissed open to a group of four well-dressed servers waiting for our arrival, to the moment during our final dessert course when Grant Achatz stood at our table and painted chocolate and blueberry sauces in a balanced asymmetrical composition directly onto the silicone tablecloth placed specifically for this purpose (we scraped the table clean with our dessert spoons) — it felt as though we were the only patrons in a dining room with 10 other guests. The serving staff was impeccable, simultaneously professional and approachable, meeting our every need before we knew we had it.

It was like the first time you go to Paris. Or the first time you see, in person, a work of art you’ve only seen in textbooks. Or your first trip to the mountains. It was, for three hours (and 22 courses) a place in time and space that we could have never imagined. So out of my realm of what’s normal, I cannot begin to communicate it.

But I can communicate our new conundrum: unless you are a person of such means as to eat like this on a regular basis (I’m thankful we’re not, or else the magic might fade), it’s hard to follow that up when it comes time to celebrate year eleven.

But, when you think about it, we sort of set up all of marriage to be that way. We have a big party, and invite all of our friends, and do this whole pomp and circumstance thing with a ceremony. And then we go on a well-constructed vacation for a week (ours was low-key, jaunts to two delightful cities within driving distance of our wedding and home). And then, you get home, and real life begins. The life that has two people trying to live together, love each other, even when you can no longer agree to disagree. When eventual sick babies have you both sleepless. Even as you grow older, and your bodies change, and your interests change, and things aren’t the way you thought they’d be (and when are they ever?).

So it’s eleven years this Saturday, though I could swear it was just last week. And since we are not Alinea people, we plan to celebrate by having a good friend come keep our kids (babysitters are a luxury) while we go for dinner and a movie. This year we’re hitting up a local place we’ve enjoyed before and qualifies as a “special” dinner out. And then we’re going to see Avengers (before you scoff — I’ve not set foot in a movie theater since moving to Indiana almost three years ago, so in watching something other than Friday Night Lights or Madmen on a very large screen while wearing something other than pajamas, I’ll be doing something exotic).

It’s funny for me to think that in our stage of life, dinner and a movie is momentous-event-worthy. But just like Alinea isn’t what eating out is always supposed to be, whirlwind trips alone to Chicago isn’t what marriage and anniversaries are always supposed to be. Eleven might only be momentous in that it is 365 days past 10 — but it’s still another year in a life we are continuously building, tearing down, and rebuilding together. Another year worth marking.

Just me and my man. With plenty of support from Iron Man, the Hulk, and Captain America.


23 thoughts on “Because there’s no good way to trump Alinea

  1. katy, you are continually adorable. sneaking celebrity photos of people i didn’t even know where celebrities!

    also, i’m not scoffing at the avengers; i heard it was excellent. i plan on seeing it at some point. hey, maybe i could come with you guys! ya think….? 😀

  2. oh! when did you read rebecca? let me know what you think of it.

    (maybe i should save all these comments for when i next see you, instead of congesting your blog with frivolous nonsense…)

    1. See you at the theater, right? ; ) (I promise, we won’t make out on the back row)
      Reading Rebecca right now — though I read it for the first time about 15 years ago. Loved it then, am enjoying it now (and thankfully forgot almost all of it!)

      1. the thing is, i actually *was* considering seeing it on saturday. if i go now and somehow end up at the same theater as you, for the same showing, i will be incredibly embarrassed. perhaps i’ll try to go to a matinee….

        yes, i read rebecca for the first time maybe 3 years ago? it greatly exceeded all my expectations, and i quite liked it. my main complaint is that the most common cover (the one pictured on your little widgety thing) makes it look like some sort of tawdry danielle steele novel or something, which it is most definitely not.

  3. Katy,

    I was just thinking the other day–**I wonder why Katy never wrote about Alinea.** It is an interesting experience once for sure and we probably wouldn’t do it again (We went on our 10th too).

      1. you could always try for the French Laundry on your 20th. 😉 Also, one of these other anniversaries, you guys should really try Joseph Decuis. Nice little road trip, not so crazy expensive.

      2. and oops, just read the rest of your comments and saw this is an idea already in your head (French Laundry.) You should do it. But start saving now.

  4. Happy Anniversary! I, too, heard The Avengers was really good. I think Jerry and I will probably still wait for it to come on In Demand, mainly because we’re still at the stage where we would much rather sit and watch things on the couch in our pjs than do just about anything else. =)

  5. also, i just spent an arguably unethical amount of work time (confession: it’s not really that arguable) reading through your blog archives, specifically the ones that center around your move to indy and your first months here. it’s really fascinating to me as someone who is from indiana–and is unashamedly biased and fiercely loyal–to see how someone else would view moving here. part of me thinks, “why *wouldn’t* you want to move here; we’re so clearly awesome!” but the rest of me knows that were i from athens, ga (or south carolina or wherever–geez, how many places have you guys lived?), i would be entirely devoted to that place and very skeptical of any other city). thankfully, you seem to be much more open-minded than i am and have given us a very fair shot. :]
    it vaguely reminds me of how brady said he sometimes forgets where we are on the map because “indiana was such a random place to move to!” what? no, it’s not! we’re clearly the best ones! see? completely unobjective.
    anyway, here’s to hoping that, almost 3 years later, you’re happy here! *i’m* certainly so happy that you’re here, although i suspect that i am exactly one of those “food chainy” indianapolitans (is that what we are? let’s just go with it.) that you mentioned. when i want good food, i think, “yats! can we please go to yats!?” this is bad, right? after reading your blog, i feel like it’s probably bad. oh, but i also love to go to indian restaurants…is that a little bit better?
    also, i sincerely hope that you eventually found local milk for less than $9 a gallon. and also that you found out what a hoosier was. note: in my junior year of college, a new yorker asked me the same question. amusingly, she was under the impression that it was slang for “poor person,” as she had seen someone use a food stamps card which had “hoosier works” on the front. mm-hmm, mm-hmm, yes, the state of indiana did indeed decide to use disparaging slang terms on their government-issued debit cards. second choice was “ghetto dollars.” sigh.

    1. Oh, you are funny, for real.

      So we have actually loved Indiana from the moment we arrived ($9 milk and all) — though, I have to go with Brady, it did seem like a very random place to move to.

      But that has way more to do with the fact that, as an entire region, I’d never given the Midwest much thought. But now I love it! Really!

      And on Yatz — we ate there every weekend for the first 3 months we lived in Indy ; )


  6. I hope to see the Avengers soon, too. And, when Matthew and I went away a few weeks ago, for the first time since our honeymoon, one of the nights we saw The Hunger Games. So…yeah. Whatever. It’s nice to never see movies in theater, because when you do, it’s special! Even if you’re watching a movie for teenagers because your wife has been watching the trailer obsessively for six months. (He said he liked it too, and for record, I thought it was a decent book to movie adaptation. Of, once again, a book for teenagers. I am unashamed.)

    1. Well, we’ll see if Avengers pays off. I’ve no expectations — don’t even know the storyline, and had to google which superheros are in it. But at least we’ll be in a theater, with comfy seats and surround-sound. So romantic!

  7. Great post Katie. Alinea is on my list of restaurants as is the city of Chicago, where I have yet to step a foot! But since we already did the ridiculously expensive French Laundry visit (before I blogged), it’s going to be tough to justify it again, but I’ll find a way 🙂

    You have such a great attitude and perspective about life and marriage. I think stepping foot in a movie theatre and eating out with your honey sounds simply fantastic. Can I come? NOT!

    1. Oh, Beth — Chicago is one of my all-time favorite cities. Of course, I *don’t* live in the Bay Area, so I’m not spoiled by the awesomeness that is northern CA ; )

      And, French Laundry is on my list. Maybe that for our 20th?

  8. Ha! Avengers sounds awesome. Justin and I celebrated our 10th in March by going to Hunger Games (it actually opened on our anniversary). We followed it up with Speakeasy, and despite it being sorority formal night, the food was awesome. The day was great – and so us.

    1. Wow, it seems Hunger Games is the anniversary-movie-of-choice! Maybe we should reconsider our plans… (and perhaps HG is already at the dollar theater!)

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