Of course we had to go to Chicago and eat at Alinea one night and Next the following. Next changes the menu every 3 months. They could be doing Germany 1960 for three months or even China 1850 but the night we went they happened to be doing elBulli, Grant Achatz style.
The decor is simple and grey creating a backdrop for any kind of food coming out of the back. It is like having white dinner plates. The ceiling has this very cool design that looks like a steel structure but it is made of foam and actually helps with acoustics. Next is located in an area that is a bit desolate. You could easily walk by and miss the door. We almost did.
With your meal there is an option to have a wine pairing or a drink pairing. Since we had wine the night before we went with the drinks. They brought over a bowl of dry snacks for us to begin. You can order this bowl at their bar next door. I am a sucker for shrimp toast. When I went on my semester abroad to London, I basically existed on shrimp toast, ploughmans lunches, beer and Chinese food. I gained about 10 lbs. These snacks are all made of different things. Puffed rice black pudding, nori cracker, black olive butterflies, puffed coffee polenta, pulled saffron tapioca, parmesan crackers, lotus flower chips and pork rinds. All unique and really good.
This was our first cocktail. Each item we had was from a year of menus at elBulli running from 1991-2004. Nitro caipirinha with tarragon concentrate. Basically frozen caipirinhas in a frozen lime shell with a dot of tarrragon cream on top. Brilliant. Your mouth is now ready to begin.
Hot/cold trout roe tempura. What we wanted to know is how do they keep the insides of this little gem so cool and liquidy when the outside is light and crispy. Yum. We began with a glass of Jane Ventura "Brut Nature" Cava Reserva, Penedes 2008.
We all decided that we could eat more than one of these. It is called an iberco sandwich. Thin slices of Spanish jambon wrapped over what appears to be a small baguette but it is a thin crispy bread with nothing but air inside. So when you take a bite the cracker collapses and mixes into the jambon. Wow.
The server sets each olive on to a spoon. The olive is a dollop of gelled olive oil. Not sure else how to describe it but when you drop it in your mouth the entire things oozes like a balloon that just popped and olive oil just coats your mouth and throat.
Before we being the next course we are to take one of the small vials and pour it into our champagne that they have refreshed. It is called Cava with Pineau and Farigoule. We followed the rules. Quite interesting.
Smoke Foam. This is super weird. Tastes like you are at a bbq pit. Most people don't like it and they expect that. They came around and quizzed us on it. When we said we didn't like it they said that it is not meant to be liked. Huh?
Cuttlefish and coconut ravioli with soy, ginger and mint. This was really good. Butter like cuttlefish made into the shape of a ravioli with a hint of Asian flavors. Served with Kanbara Junmai Ginjo Sake, Niigata Prefecture.
Each spice is set around the plate like a clock. So 12 o'clock is mint leaf, 1 o'clock is grated nutmeg, 2 o'clock is curry powder, 3 o'clock is saffron stamen, 4 o'clock chopped caradmon pod, 5 o'clock ground szechuan pepper, 6 o'clock vanilla seed, 7 o'clock julienne of confit ginger, 8 o'clock ground cinnamon, 9 o'clock crushed pink peppercorn, 10 o'clock ground star anise, 11 o'clock chopped juniper. Served with Pommeau de Normandie with white tea, lychee and tangerine.
A few things. The meal took 5 hours. What is amazing is that we gabbed the entire time. Perhaps it was the abundance of alcohol but more than likely just good company. I was hammered by the time we left. I believe half way through the meal I was beginning for bread because I was hungry and I wanted to sop up the alcohol. The food does not exactly fill you up…particularly when you think about carrot air. Creative but not something I'd do twice. I am so glad that we went to Alinea and Next. Incredible experiences that are just as special as a memorable play or a unique event. Grant Achatz is just brilliant.