Adventurous foodies revere Alinea, the Chicago restaurant famous for its avant garde "molecular gastronomy" — dishes that are part haute cuisine, part science project. Because short ribs are never just short ribs at Alinea, owner/chef Grant Achatz decided to give guests a bit of help understanding what ends up on their plates by designing the menu itself as an infographic.
Soothing bubble shapes map the culinary philosophy behind each menu item: "the farther right, the more sweet; the farther left, the more savory," says co-owner Nick Kokonas. The size of each bubble also corresponds to the relative size of the course, "from a single bite to a more substantial plate." Achatz and Kokonas created the menu with their longtime design collaborator Martin Kastner of Crucial Detail, who also created Alinea's website, graphic identity, and front hall sculpture.
Viewed in detail or as a whole, the visualizations display the incredible precision of Achatz's culinary powers: the bubbles ebb and flow into each other, complementing subtle differences in taste and portion size without any jarring changes. The bubbles representing the large, savory rabbit and short rib courses literally overlap ever so slightly, just as their tastes would; the transition from main courses into dessert accelerates to the right (into sweet territory) slowly but surely like a movie reaching its climax. And the final, surprisingly large course of chocolate follows the previous, subtler item like a crowd-pleasing encore.
The most interesting thing about Alinea's graphical menu is that guests receive it after the meal, as a keepsake. After all, at a restaurant where every dish is an adventure, you wouldn't want to know exactly where you were going before you started, would you?