And Now for Something Completely Different - Next

I knew when I started this blog that it was going to be a Travelogue. It was going to be a place where I rambled aimlessly about where I wanted to go and what happened when I got there. I also envisioned it as being a place where the three things I love come together. I've got the Travel part covered. Food. Love the food. I love cooking and I love eating. And TV. I looooooooove TV. The problem with TV is that I've been so freaking bored by TV this season. The Upfront is coming up soon though...I'll have plenty to say then. But back to Food...

The food world in Chicago is all abuzz about the opening of Next. It's the new restaurant by Grant Achatz. The restaurant is a high end concept as not only will the entire menu change after three months, but the only way to get in is to get a ticket for a specific seating. In the last year (YEAR!!), over 19,000 people signed up in advance to get tickets. It's not really an understatement to say that these are now the biggest tickets in town.

Tickets went on sale on April 6. Or they were supposed to. There were some glitches, but eventually, people who signed up in advance started to get e-mails saying they could start to book the tables. I didn't think I signed up that early, but around 245p, both Adele and I had the e-mail. We both started the process of getting tickets while on the phone. "Ooh...there are the prices." "Look!!" "There are seats available." "We could go tonight!!" "Nah...I'm not dressed for it." "Maybe June??" "Hey, what about next week??" "I could do next week." "Should we do next week??"

By 3p last Wednesday, we had our tickets for last night. 6p showtime. Paris 1906.

The past week has been spent reading about Next. Planning for Next. Fantasizing about Next. We've planned outfits (black pencil skirt, polka dot cardigan, feathered headband and pink shoes). We've discussed strategy (how much wine can we consume without losing the ability to function - aka Don't be "That Girl"). I'd been waffling between bringing my good camera to the restaurant versus just using my iPhone (ended up with the iPhone). It's probably a good thing we didn't have longer than one week to wait :)

The event began the minute we both stepped out of Michigan Plaza. We were gussied up and ready for the big night.

We walked in to the restaurant and were greeted by a woman who asked our name (or Adele's name), took our coats and ushered us to our seats. As we walked to our seats, Adele said, "Congratulations on your opening." Her response, "Congratulations on getting in." We were the first to arrive. Our server (one of many) came by to explain what Next is trying to accomplish with Paris 1906. Below, is the detail from the "menu" we were given...

"Cesar Ritz and Auguste Escoffier opened the Ritz Hotel Paris in 1906. A new upper class thrived; visiting the Ritz, along with restaurants such as Maxim's, became something more than just dinner. Part fashion show and part social scene, the restaurant was now the entertainment."

"Paris, 1906 - Escoffier at the Ritz was an easy choice as our opening menu at Next"

"Escoffier's life was framed by La Belle Epoque; it was a period of political stability, technological innovation, and a thriving economy before the chaos and horror of World War I. His seminal Le Guide Culinaire established dishes and techniques that became the bedrock of Western cuisine. His kitchen organization and methods are still taught today."

"The main liberty we have taken with the presentation is to 'plate' most of the courses. At the Ritz, this menu would have been presented as a part of a grand buffet, or served upon great platters set amongst the guests at large tables. While Escoffier gave precise details on how these should be arranged, the visual feast occurred before the food arrived on a guest's plate."

"We have followed many of these guidelines, but have done so on a personal scale. Bon Appetit"

Hors d'Oeuvres

The server arrived with the platter. Two of each item (obviously). There was the quail egg topped with an anchovy. The pig face on a cracker. Then the "vegetarian" one. We don't remember what it was, but we don't care. They were all fantastic. Utterly fantastic. But that wasn't all. The foie gras filled slice of brioche topped with an apricot spread (jam??) and sea salt?? Amazing.

But the egg. The EGG!! I love eggs. And this one was one for the ages. Three layers inside the egg. There was the custard layer, the creamy/foamy layer and the truffle layer. The egg was to be consumed with the demitasse spoon. I won't deny, I think this is the first time I've ever eaten with a demitasse spoon. I did drop the egg near the end of the course, but that was because I was trying to dig every last drop out of the shell. Overall I tried hard not to lick plates clean. I didn't always succeed. This course was paired with a sparkling wine. Not Champagne, as it was not from the Champagne regon. But bubbles are bubbles. And these bubbles were wonderful.

Turtle Consomme - Potage a la Tortue Claire

One server brought out a soup bowl with several small cut up vegetables (mirepoix - carrots, parsnips and onion). Another server came right behind with a pitcher filled with the turtle consomme and poured it into each of our bowls. Gold star for presentation!! I love when soup is poured at the table!!
The consomme was not what I expected. When I originally read this as "Turtle Soup" I thought I'd be getting chunks of turtle in a broth. Nope. Escoffier was big on sauces and stocks. This is of the stock family. And very good. The term Adele came up with (and I agreed with) was clean. This was a pure taste. A clean taste. Paired with the sweetness of the vegetables, it was a nice and light course. The wine for this course was very odd as well. It smelled like wine, but tasted more like a sherry. I will admit, this wasn't my favorite wine. But it was nice to try.

Seafood Course - Filet de Sole Daumont

Before the seafood course arrived, we had our Moment of Zen. That's when the bread and butter showed up. It was a small roll of bread that was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.
We were told it was very good for dipping in the sauce of the seafood course. Well, being the carb girl that I am, I couldn't wait to try just a small amount of the bread with the butter. The phrase "This is Umami" was used. And was it ever. I could have just eaten the bread and butter and been wholly satisified with my meal. But the next course was arriving. And the sauce...oh, the sauce...

At this point, we're on our third course (and type of wine...a Bourdeaux...liked MUCH more than the last one) and I don't entirely know/remember what each of the fish selections were.
There was the crawfish stuffed head (a very custardy texture). There was the stuffed mushroom (nom nom nom). There was the pillow of sole. All, very good. But then there was the fried roe. Yes. Sushi Roe. Fried. I'm sure I will never eat another fried roe again and that makes me sad. It was crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside. It was glorious. Fried Roe. Sigh. As for the sauce. There's a reason they provide bread. That's some good sauce...

Chicken Course - Supremes de Poussin

I've had chicken before. Obviously. Everyone has. But I've never eaten chicken like this.

The piece of chicken on the right was poached in butter...and probably many other things. It was amazing. And as we discussed during the consumption of this course, the chicken was more along the lines of medium to medium rare. As many years of watching Food Network and Travel Channel have taught us, if you know where your meat comes from, you don't have to cook it well done. This chicken came from a farm in New York. If Next says it doesn't need to be cooked well done, I don't need to tell them otherwise. Fabulous. The chicken on the left was "pickled" as it had a cucumber around a chicken paste (around the cucumber was pork fat, if I remember correctly...keep in mind the wine intake...some details will be fuzzier...especially as I go along). Now I don't care for pickles. So this dish was mostly lost on me. Though I still ate every morsel off of the plate.

Wine Glass Interlude

Each course had a new wine glass and new wine. The glassware was spotless and gorgeous. I love glassware. And I wanted to take this all home with me. But alas, it was not meant to be.

The Duck Course - Caneton Rouennais a la Presse

The Duck Course is what everyone has been talking about. There's a reason they talk about this course. The server brought out the duck and the potatoes. The potatoes...meh...I'm not a potato person
(though like the pickled chicken, I ate every bite), but these were thinly sliced and layered with cream and gruyere cheese, then topped with breadcrumbs.

As for the duck. We read earlier in the day that there would be one duck leg and that we had to share. Thank you, Metromix!! Cause share, we did. The duck was medium rare to rare and it was such a treat. It melted in your mouth.
It came with a gravy boat, which meant that bread would have been super nice. Luckily, a server came by to see how we were enjoying everything. When one of us remarked that the bread and butter was fantastic (and I might have mentioned licking the rest of the butter out of the dish...ok, I'm pretty sure I mentioned that), he asked if we wanted more bread. Ummm...yes, please!! The bread came directly out of the oven (it hurt to pick up, it was so hot) and between the remainder of the butter and the gravy for the duck, our eyes were rolling in the back of our heads. Good stuff. So good. We ate all of the duck. We ate all of the potatoes. The gravy was gone. So was the bread and butter. By this time, I was feeling full(er) and I was feeling the wine. I was also completely in love with this restaurant.

Salad - Salade Irma

Apparently, it's very French to have the salad after the meal. Maybe because it is light and you have a few pounds of duck in your belly?? Sounds right to me. This salad was very, very light and had a beautiful edible flower. I don't remember if there was a specific wine attached to this meal (see above regarding wine vs hazy memories), but the salad was delightful. Very lemony. The flower tasted good too!!

Dessert - Bombe Ceylan

Oh, dessert. I've been waiting for you. This was an ice cream bomb. Cookie bottom, coffee ice cream on the inside, covered in cocoa powder with a creme anglaise and raspberry puree and poached cherries.

I'm definitely a dessert girl. And this dessert didn't disappoint. I don't like coffee, but the ice cream was good. And somewhere there was a rum flavor (might have also been the ice cream). I guess I'm saying, this is not a dessert I would have chosen to end a meal. But it was very good. Plus, they had me a creme anglaise. And with my obsession with cherries, I squealed a little (inside my head) when I saw the dessert had cherries. Good stuff.

But Wait!! There's More!! Now Presenting, Mignardises

I thought that was it. I didn't expect anything else. I mean, dessert is the end. Unless you're at Next. The head waiter came by to ask if we wanted any coffee or tea. Well, I'm now obsessed with tea (with cream and sugar, thank you very much) and we're in no hurry to end our experience, so bring it on, fine sir!!

The tea was lovely. And then they sat a two tiered plate in front of us. Mignardise!! The bottom level had a creamy pistachio bite and a salted caramel bite.

The top level was a beet gelatin covered in sugar. I started with the pistachio (YUM!!) and the beet (hmmm...but sweet, so yay!!) and then lingered with the tea.

At a certain point, it was obvious that we needed to eat the last bite and start the journey home. My last bite...salted caramel. Salted caramel being one of my favorite things ever. Divine. And a great end. The tray was taken away and the head server asked the important question...would we like to tour the kitchen?? Would we ever!!

The Kitchen Tour

We walked to the kichen and hung out in the "designated area." I've never seen a kitchen so spotless. And quiet. Usually there are people talking and moving and swearing (though, it could just be what I see on TV). There's a commotion. But at Next?? Not a lot of talking. Not a lot of noise. It seemed that people had a job to do and they were doing it. Cool. We met the person in charge of the kitchen and he showed us our ticket. It took us 2:11 to get through the entire meal (average is 2:20) and they showed specifically at what time we got our food and when the plates were taken away. It is already a well oiled machine. And it's only 1 week old. We also met with the head chef (not Grant) and we complimented him on the whole show.

By then, the hostess had our coats, taxis had been hailed and we were leaving the restaurant full and completely satisfied with everything.

The food was out of this world. The service was top notch. The experience was one of a kind. I loved it all. I wouldn't need to go back to experience Paris 1906 again, but when they change their menu, we'll be jockeying for position again. Adele has already talked about getting "Season Tickets" when they're released at the end of the year. I'll be right there with her. Cause you can't not be a part of what Next is doing. I want to go along on the ride. And it's a great ride.


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