To finish up our trip to Chicago last week, Rocky and I had our first visit to Next for The Hunt menu. We arrived for dinner remarkably early and were told we could stand and wait in the small, somewhat crowded entrance way(where a small older lady on her way out almost threw up on Rocky but thankfully made it out the door before letting go) or we could head somewhere else for a drink(they suggested a hip place across the street). So we skipped across the street and enjoyed some bubbles and lively music until dinner time.
Arriving back at the restaurant we waited another few minutes then were escorted to a table adorned with a deer hide and a note to get us amped up for The Hunt. We got our first pairings(we ordered the reserve wine and the non-alcoholic) and let the game begin(haha..game..get it?)
Hen of the Woods. A little mushroom two-ways to begin. We were told to first ‘forage’ through the terrarium then sip the broth. A fantastic meaty little maitake followed by an amazingly savory and lightly earthy broth.
Catch of the Great Lakes. Some Lake Superior fish. The n/a pairing of grapefruit juice with smoked spruce and pepperberry was fantastic with the smoked cold trout. I thought the pickled kohlrabi was great for a crispy palate cleanser. The toast sticks for the lake fish rillettes had a perfect crunch without being hard.
And then..a flask of Pere Magloire VSOP, Calvados Pays d’Auge for the next pairing. That’s pretty bad ass.
Charcu-Tree. A piece of tree with a meat flight. Rabbit terrine with ‘purple condiment’ grape must. A superb smoky elk jerky with subtle sweet and spice. A cut of wild boar salumi, soft textured with good heat. Deer heart tartare. And blood sausage with jasmine and mustard.
Cellar Aged Carrots & Onions. A carrot grown by Peter Klein in Michigan, preserved and dried in sawdust. With dehydrated carrot, fried carrot tops, fried onion, and carrot & veal jus. The featured carrot was soft and sweet, set off by the richness of the sauce and the crispy textures of the tops and onions.
Duck Tongue, Cider Vinegar. Pitched as ‘Bacon & Eggs’. Soft scrambled duck eggs, crispy puffed duck tongue, apples, radicchio, rainbow sorrel, pink tip parsley. A nice peppery breakfast of eggs balanced with the racy acidity of the sorrel and the super bitter radicchio.
Sturgeon & Caviar. Damn. Butter poached sturgeon, smashed and fried sunchokes, spruce oil, and caviar beurre blanc. Tender, buttery fish. Ultra-decadent sauce. Rich, opulent, old world perfection.
Woodcock Jolie. A roulade of wild woodcock and napa cabbage with shaved 99% bitter chocolate, berry, black truffle, hazelnut, and gold leaf. The bird was bangingly gamey. Some nice earth from the chocolate and truffle.
Pressed Squab. Squab breast, leg, brain with breadcrumb served in a split head, an offal filled wonton, and squab presse with cognac. On the side, steel cut oats with squab jus and bacon fat, and roasted back & wing. This was damn delicious. I’m not sure how long it took me, but I cleaned up both our plates pretty solidly, including all the toes and beaks in their entirety, and everything I could get off the skeleton. Again..this was damn delicious.
Fallen Leaves & Kidney. A nature scene inspired by charcuterie flavors served on birch bark. Some nice salsify, fried parsnip, brussels sprouts, dehydrated purple cauliflower, seaweed, with a veal kidney mustard sauce.
Bison & Béarnaise. In the center of the table, a big hot rock. Arriving on a piece of slate, thin slices of bison to be cooked on the big hot rock. And a ‘béarnaise’ condiment: leek and burnt leek liqueur. A sublime little snack.
Marrow Brûlée. Bone marrow and sassafras bruleed with sugar, sprinkled with sea salt, and served in a split bone. Really rich, but dynamite. The sweet/savory balance was great.
Maris Otter. First, a small tray of condiments: English toffee, basil and mint, pecan, tart cherry jam, and brown sugar butter with cinnamon. Then a cast iron pan of Maris Otter barley risotto pudding. Mixed all together, it was a tasty little pan of porridge.
Tire D’erable. First some sticks showed up. Followed by a trough of crushed ice. Then a pitcher of warm maple syrup mixed with bourbon was poured over the ice. We used the sticks to roll up the syrup, resulting in a bourbon maple taffy on a stick. Sugary, slightly toasty, and a lot of fun(as evidenced by Rocky’s enthusiasm, shown above).
And to finish out the meal, Passion House Nicaragua Las Brisas. A pretty decent cup of delicate single origin coffee roasted by Passion House in Chicago.
After dinner we were taken on a brief tour of the kitchen, after which we saw Chef Beran sitting alone at the kitchen table with some paperwork. As we walked by I said ‘Thank you Chef’ and he seemed pretty upset and bothered because of it. Our tour guide told us he was stressing because he had to do a tasting for the upcoming ‘vegan’ menu with Chef Achatz the next morning. If I make it back for that menu, I’ll make sure to reserve my gratitude.
There are certainly some clever minds at work at Next. Our dinner was very creative and a lot of fun. The non-alcoholic drinks were remarkable at times. Two standouts(in addition to the one I mentioned with the Great Lakes fish)were: beet, prune, blood orange, cola nut, and pomegranate, made to look like a blood drink; and quince, satsuma, black walnut, black pepper, and bay leaf, which was a super rockin beverage.
Some wines we were served:
Date of visit: April 10, 2013
Next. 953 W Fulton Market. Chicago, IL www.nextrestaurant.com