Actress and comedian Ali Wong is no stranger to Chicago’s restaurant scene and on Thursday night she made an Instagram post extolling the virtues of the city’s only full three-Michelin-starred restaurant. Wong was at Alinea in Lincoln Park and shared a bit of a revelation: Her 2019 rom-com Always Be My Maybe, which she co-wrote and co-starred in, included a restaurant scene that heavily influenced by the Chicago restaurant.
The scene at a “high-end restaurant” stars Wong, Keanu Reeves, Randall Park, and Vivian Bang. Park’s character, who pulled out his velvet-lapel high school prom tux for the occasion, laments being overdressed. Wong’s character replies: “Rich people are done with fancy clothes, now it’s a thousand dollar T-shirts that were stolen off the homeless.”
In her Thursday post, Wong writes: “The fancy dinner scene from Always Be My Maybe was heavily inspired by Alinea. So happy I finally got to eat there and experience the most magical, exquisite and unexpected dishes. I’m way grateful they fed me even though I kinda mocked them on a major streaming platform.”
Wong has shown a private interest in food before, often crowdsourcing dining suggestions on social media. She employed the tactic in 2019, asking for tips on Vietnamese restaurants in Chicago. The Tribune attempted to help.
Netflix’s Always Be My Maybe is set in San Francisco and the restaurant’s dining room featured is much brighter and larger than Alinea’s salon. It appears to be Wong’s first visit to the pioneering restaurant from chef Grant Achatz.
This isn’t the first time an Alinea Group restaurant has seen itself parodied onscreen. One of the most memorable allusions is a 2013 episode of Amy Poehler’s Parks and Recreation: a bachelor party stops in a bar seemingly based on the Aviary, the fancy cocktail bar in Fulton Market. After ordering a Scotch at Essence, a posh “molecular mixology” bar, Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) receives a squirt of infused lotion, which greatly angers the character.
Alinea Group co-founder Nick Kokonas emails that both instances made him laugh and that they’ve “always trained our team to make sure that Alinea is not snooty or overly serious.”
“It is always this: fun and delicious — first and above all else,” Kokonas writes. “So if you cannot laugh at yourself, then you fall into pretentious bullshit.”
He adds the only time he was disappointed was when Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm creator Larry David visited the Aviary pronouncing everything, “amazing and wonderful.”
“I was literally begging to get him on tape going, ‘yeah, this place sucks’ or ‘who the hell thinks this is any good?’ or at least a ‘pretty pretty pretty good,’” Kokonas writes.