For the first time since March 2020, Chicago’s famous Alinea will serve diners from its Lincoln Park dining room. Dining room service will resume on March 17, exactly a year since Gov. J.B. Pritzker halted on-premise service to curb the spread of COVID-19. In the months that have passed, Alinea started selling takeout meals for the first time in the three-Michelin-starred restaurant’s history. Chef Grant Achatz and company also popped up over the summer on a Fulton Market patio for what would be an eventful outdoor residence.
Alinea’s dining room, renovated in 2016, had sustained some wear and tear over the last year. Instead of serving as a site for elegant meals, workers began crowding tables with takeout bags making Alinea look like Chicago’s fanciest ghost kitchen. Alinea co-founder Nick Kokonas tells Eater that crews have since spruced the space up, making minor repairs and touching up areas with paint: “It will not look materially different than before,” Kokonas writes via email. “It just had gotten beat up and needed repairs.”
Achatz offers a preview of the menu on Instagram. There’s a Chinese-inspired crab dish and a spin on savory British pies using Japanese wagyu beef. Fine dining restaurants like Alinea have an advantage in social distancing as they have more control of the flow of customers and pace of a meal. Restaurants are finding ways to simplify operations during the pandemic where they’ve had to quickly learn new rules. For example, at Ever in Fulton Market, chef Curtis Duffy’s team reopened with one tasting menu instead of two.
Kokonas writes that Alinea’s tables, which were already spaced out under normal circumstances, with be given additional separation and placed at least eight feet from each other. The restaurant will also seat fewer customers — half of the covers it did last year before shutting down, Kokonas adds.
Alinea temporarily closed on March 16, 2020, a day before Pritzker’s original order went into effect. That initial mandate was to last until March 30, 2020, but the governor repeatedly extended it until June 26, 2020, the date on-premise dining resumed in Chicago (until October when the state halted operations once more). Alinea’s rooftop patio residence began in August with plans to pop up inside the Ace Hotel Chicago that it cancelled due to the government’s order.
After Alinea Group announced its reopening on Wednesday, diners snatched up reservations through March 31 via Tock, the reservation and ordering platform Kokonos co-founded.