Next- Finally!… And Holy Crap!

Yeah… Did I say “holy crap” yet?  Holy crap.  What an experience!  Dinner at Next was soooo much more than dinner out.  I’m not even sure if it was dinner.  Well, yes, I was ridiculously full when I left the restaurants so apparently this science project/time traveling journey did actually contain food.

Was it the best food I’ve ever had?  I don’t know.  And I don’t care, either.  There was so much more going on than just how it tasted for the brief moment when it encountered my mouth.  One cannot possibly judge the experience at Next with any other restaurant because it is completely unlike any other restaurant.  We’re talkin’ apples and oranges here…if you will.

The note inside the otherwise blank menu said that “childhood” could have very well been named “Michigan, 1985”.  Well, I wasn’t in Michigan in 1985 but from the stories I’ve heard, they hit the nail on the head.  With every new course came a memory or a story from my dining partner who did happen to be present in the same time and place as the two mad scientists…um… I mean, chefs… who composed this ever-so-intricate menu.

Next Restaurant, Chicago

Let’s start from the top, shall we?  First to arrive was a little box.  Oooo!  I love surprises!

Next Restaurant, ChicagoInside it was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Kind of.  It was really a fried bignet-like ball that exploded its PB&J liquid center immediately upon biting.  Luckily, we’d been forewarned about the necessity of consuming this morsel in a single go.

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Chicken noodle soup may have been my favorite course, flavor-wise.  The explanation was that they meant ‘chicken noodle’ quite literally… like, they’d made noodles out of chicken.  Hmmm… interesting.  Yes, the chicken was made into a forcemeat of sorts, and piped into a simmering broth to create noodles.  On top was a chicken hollandaise (made from chicken butter, of course!) that was aerated to lighten it up.  The deep chicken broth was poured over these two components as well as some beautiful, strangely unaltered, veg & herbs and what it made was a rich, fabulous soup so good I wanted to swim in it.

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One of the most fun courses to play with was the Refrigerator Art Fish & Chips.  All of the components of Fish & Chips were present in the child-like drawing of ‘goin’ fishin’’.  The batter was the sand on the beach, the chips were in the form of a net resting on the very flavorful fish that was hiding under a malt vinegar sea foam.  A meyer lemon sauce became the sun and some lightly pickled cucumbers played the roll of the water.  There were even some salty little sea beans for seaweed.  Gotta keep it real, ya know.

Next Restaurant, ChicagoMy balsamic drawing was a girl, of course…

Next Restaurant, Chicago

Apparently, Mac n Cheese is a staple in most kids’ diets ‘round these parts.  I can’t say that it was part of mine, much like every other course of the evening.  And unsarcastically I say, “Thanks, Mom”.  Yes, apparently it’s eaten with any variety of side or main dishes or accompaniments:  ham, hot dogs, tomato (soup, maybe?), all of which were represented in the ring of accompaniments here.  I even got a thorough explanation of ‘ring bologna’  while contemplating the flavor combo of mac n cheese with a crumbly,  hot dog flavored substance.  I think it may be the closest I’m going to get to this ‘ring bologna’ they speak of and I’m pretty ok with it.

Next Restaurant, Chicago

 

Next Restaurant, Chicago

I wish they’d told me I was going to a bonfire… I would’ve worn a different outfit.  This course did evoke memories of my own:  those of mountains and bonfires and flatbed pick-ups (Fall Creek, for those of you in the know).  A hollowed out log was presented before us with slow burning hay beneath a glass top that held the ‘food’.  This one was a ‘Walk in the Forest’.  I honestly can’t remember everything that was in front of me.  Certainly there were mushrooms but that’s all I know.  The rest was a forest floor of crunchy, earthy, yummy, colorful mess.  So cool.

Next Restaurant, Chicago

When the next course arrived, I was perplexed.  I shouldn’t have been, but I was.  I mean, I’d never seen a hamburger like that before so it didn’t immediately register with me.  Upon further inspection, it made perfect sense.  The bun was the most interesting component here.  They actually pureed hamburger buns with such n such & “magic powder,” poured it out, froze it, broke it and melted it over the plate.  Weird.  For real.  It was almost pasty, but in a good way… if that’s possible.  It was one of those things that you just couldn’t stop eating because you couldn’t decide if you really liked it or not.  Dollops and splatters of the regular cast of characters was present as well:  mustard, ketchup, mayo.  Onions and thinly sliced cornichons jutted vertically from the mess and hidden beneath the carefully contrived chaos was the star:  a braised waygu shortrib so rich I was convinced I could feel the melted marbling lube my mouth and throat as it went down.  Yeah, not quite McDonald’s.

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And then the most anticipated course of the evening arrived.  The lunchbox!  But what was inside I could have never anticipated.

Next Restaurant, Chicago

Upon opening it, I found a note from Mom:  Sorry, no lobster today, only wagyu & truffles.  Fine, Mom.  I guess I’ll forgive you just this once.  Then what followed was a bunch of lunchbox accompaniments all sealed in their own ziplocs and ‘tupperware’.

Next Restaurant, ChicagoThere was the most rich teriyaki beef jerky of your life made from a hunk of wagyu.  So sweet and deep and meaty!   And might I say that had the fruit roll ups in our lunchboxes been Apple-Brandy flavored, no one would have EVER traded me for my carrot sticks!  I had a hard enough time as it was with that one.

Next Restaurant, Chicago

The ‘funyun’ was slightly different than the ones we had on the back of the bus during volleyball trips, but that’s a good thing.  Then there was the oreo.  Who knew chocolate and white truffle actually worked fabulously together!  Gimme more!  This is when I started trying to trade with the next table over.  No luck.

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Hey!  What about the puddin’?  Don’t worry.  They thought of that too.  Chocolate-hazelnut, to be precise.  I wouldn’t have minded that for my lunchtime dessert!
Next Restaurant, Chicago

And no lunchbox is complete without a thermos.  I’m pretty sure my class following lunch would have been a heck of a lot more fun had my fresh berry punch been spiked with wine and port!  It was also really funny to look around this fancy restaurant and see a bunch of excited diners sipping from the lid of a plastic cartoon character thermos.

Next Restaurant, Chicago

On to the real desserts!  First, donuts and ‘foie’sting.  Yeah, that’s right.  A foie gras frosting that you licked from a beater blade.  Rich and rich.  I can’t remember the flavor of the donut.  Who cares, really, when there’s a beater of foie gras frosting sitting next to it?  Who thinks of this stuff?
Next Restaurant, Chicago

And who thinks of lighting an entire fire on your table and then making it taste like sweet potato pie?  Mad scientists.  These charred ‘logs’ were made of sweet potatoes that, strangely, weren’t charred at all.  Whatever they were sitting on was the substance that was actually burning, and really, it was some alcohol concoction that was holding the flame so nothing on the plate tasted charred or burned at all.

Next Restaurant, ChicagoIt came with the crumble, a marshmallow and the most wonderful bourbon barrel ice cream ever.  Ok, so I’ve never had bourbon barrel ice cream before, and I assume, not many have, but trust me when I say, “Oh, hell yeah!”  Apparently, they steep the cream with actual barrels that held and aged bourbon.  Then made ice cream out of it with a little splash of the real stuff for some kick.  So fab.

Next Restaurant, Chicago

And the obvious choice for the perfect ‘childhood’ finish is hot cocoa! …with a shot of cognac.

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The service, of course, was pretty darn impeccable.  Every person who crossed our path was super knowledgable and informative… and that’s a tough feat when you’re talking about food/science this complex.  It’s the kind of place, though, that you notice with a server reaches across your table instead of going around.  That happened once and we noticed.

I’m not sure if Next can even be summed up in ‘The short version’ but here it is….

The Short Version (Out of 10)…

Food: 9, 10, 11?  I’m not sure…
Service: 10
Ambiance: 9

Overall impression: 11

Would I go back?

Hahaha!  If I can ever get tickets again… hell yes!  I’d go for every new menu, that’s every 3 months, if I could!  The next Next menu is a tribute to El Bulli, the original molecular gastronomic restaurant, where the original mad scientist himself, Ferran Adria, will be present.  Holy crap.

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