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Alinea Expensive? The Hell You Say!

By Erin in Food on Oct 17, 2005 3:05PM

2005_10_grant_achatz.jpgIt's probably not a surprise to anyone that Alinea made Forbes' list of the 10 Most Expensive Restaurants in the US. Forbes estimates that on average, a person will spend $192 on a dinner at Grant Achatz's restaurant/laboratory, which includes one drink and tip.

Some of us believe that the experience at Alinea is worth every penny and then some.

What might be surprising is that despite the pricey meals, Achatz -- who Forbes recently named one of the most influential chefs in the country -- lists his estimated earnings at "under $100,000" according to Forbes. How is that possible?

A few reasons:

1) Achatz just opened Alinea.
2005_10_alineakitchen.jpg2) Ginormous staff. Take a look at the picture of a typical night in the Alinea kitchen. Achatz has to pay all of those people and you can bet that those people are the best-of-the-best, and talent doesn't come cheap. Chicagoist guesses that no one pictured here came straight off the grill at Wendy's and into the Alinea kitchen.
3) Quality product. When Chicagoist dined at Alinea in June, the coffee we drank was from Yemen. It was explained to us that Alinea was the only place in the United States to serve this coffee. Can you imagine how much Achatz spends on produce if his coffee is that exclusive? It boggles the mind but at the same time, that's what you go to Alinea for and Achatz certainly isn't going to serve up anything but the best.
4) Limited seating. Admittedly we have no idea how many seats are in Alinea but we know there aren't many. While the tables are full each night, it's not as though turnover for each is high. If a group chooses the 24-course option, they're at that table for five hours or more.
4) Incidentals. Just about everything in the Alinea dining room is custom made for Alinea, and that includes the tableware. Achatz told Chicagoist that his favorite custom piece was the "squid (see right)," the tool used for presenting the infamous PB+J course, a peeled grape coated in peanut butter and wrapped in micro-thin toasted brioche ...

... and that course is no longer being served. Just like that. Chicagoist wonders if Achatz will find another use for the piece down the line but we doubt it.

We've no doubt that eventually Achatz will see more cash, though that's largely dependant on how long Alinea remains relevant. People are fickle, no matter how talented and fantastic the chef. However, Chicagoist knows that many chefs make their real money on the retail end of things -- ask Charlie Trotter and Rick Bayless -- as well as expansion and we wonder how Alinea could translate in such capacities. More importantly, does Achatz want to?

Probably too soon to tell and it's just as well. For as much success as we wish Achatz, we'd rather not see his handsome face in the Jewel anytime soon.

[Images: eGullet and Eric Rolph]