Wondering where to eat in Chicago on your birthday? It’s actually quite an easy choice.
Guys I’m 40!
Can you freaking believe it.
It feels not so long ago that I was celebrating my 33rd birthday in Nicaragua with a hamburger the size of my head. Seven years passes by so quickly.
I’m not one of those people who worries about turning a certain age. I loved my thirties and all my friends in their forties are amazing.
I decided five years ago on my birthday I would not have children and perhaps it’s because I don’t have children but my life hasn’t changed much. It feels like I stay the same age. Although whenever I say that it reminds me on the infamous Matthew MacConanahey quote from Dazed and Confused.
But I’m not going to lie. Thirty-nine sucked. I spent most of it unhappy – at least the last half of it. Too many tears…too much uncertainty…too much wondering what I was doing with my life.
So I’m ready to symbolically start fresh with a new decade. 40 will be great. I refuse to have another year that was as bad as 39 and I wanted to kick it off with an extreme indulgence.
This year my birthday was on a Sunday but that was perfect. Dave works 6 days a week at Loka but has Sunday off. I planned everything so that my birthday would be as I wanted it. I wanted it to be in Chicago.
Where to Eat in Chicago on Your Birthday?
I wanted to eat at Alinea.
Alinea is a three-star Michelin restaurant in Chicago and graces every “best restaurant in the world” list. I first heard about chef Grant Achatz years ago on a podcast.
He shared his story of dealing with stage 4 tongue cancer and losing his sense of taste – the worst thing that could happen to a chef. But also that he only had a 50% chance of survival within 2 years.
Alinea is known as an experience, on its homepage it begins with saying Alinea is not a restaurant…at least, not in the conventional sense. I’ve been craving some unconventional inspiration so I booked the 18 course tasting menu.
Chicago is only two hours away and using Porter Airlines at the city island airport makes it’s a realistic overnight trip. It’s a quick holiday but a memorable one.
We hadn’t traveled internationally in a while, our meatcation in Italy was so long ago. I wanted to get out of the country with Dave, if only for one day. Chicago was close enough to travel but felt far away.
Many people in Toronto lament that Chicago is the city that Toronto could have been if we hadn’t constructed our ugly Gardiner expressway separating the downtown core from the waterfront.
I have to agree it was a huge mistake. But Toronto also had two great fires, the first in 1849 and the second in 1904. Most of our buildings are newer (and ugly) and we don’t have the same beautiful architecture that Chicago has.
Graciously, the Hyatt Centric Miracle Mile invited us to stay for the night to celebrate my birthday in a suite. Probably the largest suite I’ve stayed in, with a separate room large enough to host a birthday party in our room.
They also helped us find a walkable but not-too-touristy place to eat Chicago deep dish pizza – something new for us.
Chicago Deep Dish Pizza
I’ll leave the location unnamed because we realized we don’t like deep dish pizza and it’s likely not the fault of the establishment. It should be called a greasy tomato and cheese pie – not pizza.
Maybe we went to the wrong place but I think I’ll tick this off the “Eat this before you die” list and never try it again. Instead I’d recommending following Lisa’s advice for Chicago’s best non-deep dish pizza. It sounds much better.
Although if I’m wrong please let me know where to go in the comments below.
Chicago deep dish pizza sits in your stomach like a load of bricks. We tried to walk it off by wandering the streets of Chicago as we needed to make room for the upcoming 18 course meal at Alinea. But walking wasn’t enough, so we had a long Chicago-style pizza nap just up to the brink of our reservation.
As a side note, here’s what did live up to the hype in the States: 29 Awesome Items on the In-n-Out Burger secret menu.
My Birthday Dinner at Alinea
As I posted some of the dinner on Instagram stories I started to receive a flood of messages asking for my reviews of Alinea. Was it worth it? Is it the best food I’ve had? Would I recommend it?
After building Loka for the last two years I’ve really started to question the necessity of any critical review from the New York Times to a local food blogger (actually, many times I trust the local food blogger more).
There are too many personal preferences and bias so what one person may love another person could think is only ok. And how can any one critic be an expert in every type of cuisine. It’s not possible.
I’ve also found that in the rise of social media it appears critics feel threatened with relevance and the need to attract traffic. Reviews have become unnecessarily savage and cruel in order to stay relevant.
Food journalism has changed and unfortunately a lot of traditional media resorts to click-bait headlines and reviews. But that is another rant for another day…
But I will say this, Alinea is definitely an experience.
From the moment you arrive you know you’re there for something special. Service is surprisingly casual but on point. Many people, like me, are there for a special occasion and you are treated so well. There are theatrics and pageantry and timing which is so precise.
You begin at a communal table, head to the kitchen for a cocktail (very nice touch so you can see the kitchen) and return for a lengthy dinner of modernist cuisine.
At any tasting menu you’ll find you love some things and hate some things. Somewhere in the middle I was confused by the progression of the food and felt it started to falter with Korean and Thai flavours or the mastery of illusion of making something look like a rock but in fact it was edible.
But those were only a few courses, which were capped by a grand finale where they crank the music and the kitchen serves the final course. I don’t want to say too much as it’s a great ending that shouldn’t be spoiled.
It’s wasn’t the best food I’ve ever had but I didn’t go for just the food. I wanted the experience. But it was the right experience for my birthday. I was surprised by dishes and inspired by their unconventional approach.
So should you go there? I don’t know. But I don’t think I could have chosen a better place.
So…back to turning 40.
Chicago was a whirlwind 24 hours but I’ve left feeling hopeful. I shed the last bit of misery of 39 and was ready for a fresh start.
But in the end I don’t believe life happens to you. You choose how your life will be.
In 2010 I didn’t like where my life was going so I sold all my possessions, left my job and bought a one-way ticket to Mexico. Perhaps it doesn’t need to be that drastic now.
But on my birthday I committed to one thing – happiness. I won’t allow another year of tears. If I don’t like what is happening I will change it.
You can hold me to that.
Where We Stayed
We liked the location and found it was great for walking around during the day as it was central. Alinea is a bit of a walk from all hotels so you’ll need a taxi regardless. Staff here were really lovely and we joked that me not liking deep dish wasn’t their fault.
Note: There are two Hyatt’s in Chicago and our taxi driver dropped us off at the wrong one so make sure you give them the address. Unlike in Toronto, Chicago cab drivers don’t seem to know major hotels or restaurants so be prepared to provide the address anywhere you go.
Hyatt Centric Miracle Mile
633 North Saint Clair Street, Chicago, Illinois, USA, 60611
Photos of our hotel are (c) Hyatt Centric Miracle Mile.