Full disclosure: My account of the best meal I ate all year makes me sound like the biggest food snob on earth. No matter how well I defend myself, it's bound to come across as pinkie-out boasting and just plain holier-than-thou. But don't judge me until you hop on a plane to Chicago, squeeze in a late one-top ressie, and actually eat at Alinea yourself.
Money an issue? I saved for about a year to eat at Alinea, and paid more for that meal than I had for probably the previous twenty combined. But I would go again -- and pay double.
Twenty-four courses, and I remember each bite. The way an anxious me made nutmeg glass fall apart with just a glance during course one. Or how a much more inebriated me, about twelve wine pairings later, sniffed the Earl Grey tea smoke billowing out of a pillow as the 23rd course was set on top of it.
Everybody will agree that their best meal of the year was contingent on a variety of factors: who was around, the setting, the service, their mood and so on. The food isn't the only thing that matters -- unless you're eating at Alinea, and then every course is a work of art.
I do feel slightly ashamed that my best meal this year wasn't a rare time when my mom and I got to cook for our whole family, or when I desperately raced to Tacos y Salsas from Boulder because I needed some food therapy. I had so many incredible dining experiences this past year, but for those who truly love food -- and not just in the foodie "I love this because I think I should" way -- an experience like Alinea is unparalleled. A fifty on a scale of one to ten.
When I'm down, I start flipping through my crude pictures of the courses I ate -- and my spirits rise as I remember how happy that night made me. That's what a great meal does. I even smile when I remember how I contemplated yelling at the cab driver to pull over so that I could vomit 24 courses and thirteen wines -- because, yes, that's a lot for a body to consume. But somehow, I held on.
I hope everybody had one meal this past year whose memories they can cherish in the year to come. Because we do not rely on food just for sustenance. We attach emotion to it as well. And if that makes us sound food-snobbish, maybe that's not a bad thing.