Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Chillin' in Chicago with the Next Restaurant Bocuse d'Or Menu

As the number of candles on my birthday cake continues to rise, I often find myself in a mental quandary that I suppose is just part of getting older.  I want to try new things - to see out new wines, new foods, new restaurants - because you never know when you're next favorite bottle, dish, or meal may be found.  On the other hand, there is a sense of security in sticking with those tried and true wines, dishes, restaurants that you've enjoyed in the past - so the risk of disappointment is low.   Plus, the thought of shelling out the big bucks for a good meal or tasting menu, with a nice bottle (or two) of wine... and not getting sufficient value - not feeling you received enough enjoyment for the money, is not a pleasant thought.
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It is this mental battle that I have regularly that I believe has led me to be a HUGE, HUGE fan of Next Restaurant in Chicago.  Next is literally the "next" restaurant by Grant Achatz.  The Chef's first restaurant is called Alinea (the word for the punctuation symbol for a new paragraph: ¶), also in Chicago.  As Chef Achatz and his business partner Nick Kokonas were contemplating opening another restaurant, one of the things they wanted to address was diners who made reservations, but ended up being no-shows.  All the quality product - meat, produce, and whatnot had to be purchased for the reservation, but the cost then gets eaten when there is no revenue from the diners.  In a place like Alinea where people call months ahead for reservations, there are no buzzing pagers handed out to diners who wait in the lobby for a seat.  The brilliant concept at Next was to treat the dining more like a sporting event or a concert. You don't make a reservation, you buy a ticket. You buy and pay for a ticket that includes the set tasting menu dinner, your beverage pairings, gratuity, everything. When your day is here to cash in that ticket, you show up, are treated to fantastic service, creative & delicious food, excellent wine, and a night to remember.   The cost impact of no-shows addressed, because like a concert, if you buy a ticket and don't show... it's your loss - the meal is less expensive than most tasting menus.

But back to my mental battle - the other great element of Next Restaurant, is the tasting menu completely changes three times a year.  So for me, there is a sense of comfort in knowing the level of service, the skill and creativity in the kitchen, the quality and care in picking the beverage pairings - while still offering something brand new each time you visit (Unless you go more than once to a specific menu... which I know people do often!).
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I tell you all this before I dive in to talking about our experience at Next Restaurant's Bocuse d'Or menu because what you will read about below is no longer available. This menu was only available through December, 2013. However, if you like what you see - give the restaurant a try - you can bet the same level of creativity will be applied to every menu they produce.   Getting tickets is not easy as the demand is high. It involves waiting for an announcement from Next Restaurant on their Facebook account, and then frantically trying to secure a seat from their website (the only way to get tickets).  If you live in the Chicago area, they also hold some same night tables that they also make available by announcing on Facebook.

Allright then, on with our meal.

The restaurant is in the Meat Packing district of Chicago - home to more and more restaurants and bars. We first went to this area to dine at Moto - another fantastic spot for molecular gastronomy (although I think this term underestimates what they do at Moto) - our taxi driver seemed to think we were crazy for going to this area at night. The same thing happened when we went to Next for The Hunt menu in March, 2013. This time though, after I gave the address to our taxi driver he asked "Oh, have you been to Next Restaurant before?"  I guess the word is getting out.  

We were promptly seated, and waiting at our table was a pamphlet that talked a bit about the Bocuse d'Or:

Since 1987, the Bocuse d'Or has developed into the premier cooking competition in the world. Each year, in Lyon, France these true "top chefs" compete in a raucous stadium filled with spectators. 
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For the past two seasons, chef Grant Achatz has been a coach and Culinary Council member for the Bocuse d'Or USA Foundation. He joins culinary icons chef Thomas Keller and chef Daniel Boulud in developing the U.S. team to compete on this world class level.
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Our Bocuse menu is not only about the intricate platters so closely associated with it. We are giving a nod to the cuisine of esteemed chef Paul Bocuse, the content's namesake.  Within the context of the competition rules, each team is also asked to show elements of their representative countries. We are showcasing ingredients of our Midwest American Bounty.
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If that introduction was not enough to get you in the spirit of culinary competition, there were also big screen TVs showing the last Bocuse d'Or.  From the sounds you may think it was a world cup soccer game - this competition is not at all like a nice, quiet episode of Iron Chef!

Next came three plus hours of amazing artistry - both in vision and in taste.  Some beverage pairing were for multiple courses, some for just one course.

Bonjour

Dish: Terrine of Veal with Frisee salad and Cipollini Marmalade
Beverage Pairing: Sazerac

Tasting menus typically start off with some lighter dishes, and build from there.   The tone was set for our meal - and light would not be the order of the day!  Already waiting on our table was a terrine - super rich and delicious, with the welcome freshness of Frisee to help cut the richness a bit.   The pairing was an old school Sazerac cocktail, made with Whisky, simple syrup and Peychaud bitters. The final step was the perfume atomizer - which contained Absinthe.  A spray or two on the cocktail provided that wonderful anise aroma and a great way to start the meal.


Hors D'oeuvres

Dish: Oestra Caviar with Whipped Beurre Blanc and Pine Nut
Beverage Pairing: Sazerac

I have had and enjoyed caviar in the past, but honestly have never understood the big deal about it.   This dish is the first time that I really tasted a complexity of flavor and pleasant saltiness. The acidity of the whipped beurre blanc elevated the taste nicely.  Also, I have normally had the classic pairing of sparkling wine with caviar.  I was surprised that the Sazerac from our first course was also paired with the caviar.  However, the depth of flavor of the cocktail was a nice contrast and made for a very interesting pair.


Dish: Mousse of Darden Ham and Madeira Aspic (a chef Paul Bocuse dish)
Beverage Pairing: 2011 Domaine Maestracci E. Prove, Corsica

Time for an old school ode to Paul Bocuse. I don't think I've ever actually had an aspic before (basically meat flavored jello), and I haven't really understood why the world needs this type of thing.  For the wine pairing for this dish was a wine from Corsica - a French Island off the west coast of Italy.  I enjoy the reserve wine pairings at Next because it is as much or more about very unique wines and it is about just serving more expensive wines.  I know a bit about French wine, but have never seen or heard of Corsican wines... and in fact there will end up being two Corsican wines as part of this meal!  The varietal is Vermentino, a grape also used in Italian wine. A very nice pairing, as the wine nicely accentuated the saltiness and smokiness of the ham.


Dish: Souffle of Prawns
Beverage Pairing: 2011 Domaine Maestracci E. Prove, Corsica

One of my favorites of the evening. First, I had no idea you could make such a small soufflé - and pack it with so much flavor. Very classic looking, but the flavor was pure crab boil. The Corsican wine from the last course was also the pairing for this course, and was versatile enough to complement the intense flavors of this dish.


Dish: Custard of Cauliflower with Verjus Rouge, Rose, and Foie Gras
Beverage Pairing: 2009 Dopff Au Moulin Gewürztraminer, Alsace

So far the meal had focused on classic techniques with some surprises with the taste. You can count on some molecular gastronomy in any of Next's menu - and for tonight it was this course.  The server took the fresh rose that was our centerpiece, and dipped it into liquid nitrogen. He then crushed the frozen petals into a bowl, and used them garnished our dishes.  The remaining part of the rose was put back in the centerpiece vase - minus part of the petals, but still looking fresh.  The wine pairing was a Gewürztraminer from Alsace, France. The perfume aspects of the Gewürztraminer paired perfectly with the rose, and the hint of acidity in the wine help cut the richness of the overall dish.









Dish: Charred Lettuce, Bottarga, Bonito, and Peanut
Beverage Pairing: 2009 Dopff Au Moulin Gewürztraminer, Alsace

This course was a nice break from the rich terrine, mousse, soufflé, and custard that we'd enjoyed so far. I personally love the taste of charred or grilled romaine lettuce.  I would not have thought the Gewürztraminer from the prior course would have the level of acid needed to pair with this dish (acid dishes need acidic wines), but the pairing was very nice, and the contrast between the fruit flavor of the wine and the bitterness of the charred lettuce made it work.


Poissons

Dish: Ivory Char with Coddled Eggs, Celeriac, and Cranberry
Beverage Pairing: 2012 Domaine de Marquiliani Rosé de Sciaccarellu, Corsica

Another common aspect of Next menus will be a dish made to resemble another dish - as in the case of this dish that was made to resemble a broken egg - including a clever piece of edible "egg shell".  The pairing for this course was our second Corsican wine of the night. A rosé that came off a little bitter for my tastes when I drank it alone, but that element was actually a benefit when enjoyed with the food.



Dish: Quinault River Salmon with Beets, Browned Butter, and Parsley
Beverage Pairing: 2012 Domaine de Marquiliani Rosé de Sciaccarellu, Corsica

Another of my favorites of the night - the elements of the dish were also underneath the glass along with hot stones in order to accentuate the aromas of the dish. The piece of salmon looked just like a carrot, and was delicate and delicious. I once again doubted the pairing with a bitter-ish rosé, but the bitter elements of the greens made the pairing work once again.


At this point, a small cow bell (more cow bell please) was brought to our table without explanation.  In a few minutes we knew what it was for... as the video below shows (apologies for the quality, it was difficult to shoot from where I was sitting) displays representing those from a Bocuse d'Or competion were carried through the dining room, and we were encouraged to cheer just as spectators would at the actual competition.

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Potage

Dish: Consommé of Roasted Mushrooms (a chef Paul Bocuse dish)
Beverage Pairing: 2011 Matin Calme Mano a Mano Roussillon


At this point about halfway through the meal I started to gauge how stuffed I was going to be by the end. Seeing this dish - looking like a super fancy pot pie, shook my confidence in my ability to pack away the groceries.  Luckily under the crust was only about two tablespoons of delicious broth, and the crust dropped down in the dish to soak it up...nice!  The wine pairing was a Grenache blend from Southern France. It had a nice earthy element that went very well with the mushroom flavor of the dish.

Volaille & Viande 

Dish:  Pheasant Smoked in Hay with Grilled Baby Leek, Caramelized Onion, and Sauce Blanquette
Beverage Pairing: 2011 Matin Calme Mano a Mano Roussillon

This dish was a bevy of flavors presented to resemble a spilled flour pot.  The slight gaminess from the Pheasant matched nicely with the Grenache from the prior course.



Dish: Ribeye of Beef with Boudin Vert, Roasted Carrot, Sauce Bernaise, and Potato Marrow.
Beverage Pairing: 2003 Chateau Fourcas Hosten, Listrac

With a French themed menu, what am I waiting for? Beef and Bordeaux...and here it is! Add a side of potato puree mixed with bone marrow and served in the marrow bone.  The Cabernet Sauvignon based wine was very delicious, and this course and pairing was my absolute favorite of the night.


Fromage

Dish: Tete de Moine with Cashews, Pear, and Milk Skin
Beverage Pairing: Jean-Luc Pasquet Pineau des Charentes

It is very classic French to have a cheese course prior to dessert.  At Next, the cheese was delivered by my new favorite kitchen gadget. A few twists of this wonder machine (designed by quantum physicist I'm sure) and we were provided a beautiful Chrysanthemum of slightly but wonderfully stinky cheese.  Then, the pairing...another of those rarities that you may never see again. I had to do some research just to find out about this wine, since most of the wine produced is either consumed in France or exported to Belgium.  This wine is made in the same region in France that brings us Cognac, and is a fortified wine where the spirits are added before the grape juice ferments.  This approach in nothing like either the port or the sherry method of making fortified wine, where the spirit is added after some amount of fermentation of the grape juice.  It should be considered more of a liqueur, but whatever you call it, the pairing with cheese was a knockout.




Desserts

Dish: Ice Creame Bombe in the Style of Apple Pie
Beverage Pairing: 2006 Chateau Cantegril, Sauternes

Any other night I would have skipped dessert, as this was one hearty meal, but desserts end up in a different stomach, so let's go for it!  Apple pie flavors with Sauternes - amazing!


Dish: A Cube of Squash with Huckleberry, Butter Pecan Ice Cream, and Pecan Oatmeal Cookie
Beverage Pairing: 2006 Chateau Cantegril, Sauternes

A healthy dessert? More like a take on pumpkin or sweet potato pie... I guess. Very nice, and thankfully not super heavy for our final dessert. Did I mention I was really digging the Sauternes?!?


Mignardises

Dish: Truffle of Chocolate and Hazelnut, Champagne Macaron, Bitter Chocolate Taffy
Beverage Pairing: 2006 Chateau Cantegril, Sauternes

For those of you who are Monty Pythons fans, at this point in the night these beautiful treats definitely represented the "wafer thin mints", but I pushed through and especially liked the taffy, which was referred to by our server as "house made Tootsie Rolls."


Another fantastic meal at Next. So much so that even though we live thousands of miles away, Wino4life wife and I are now proud season ticket holders, so will be enjoying all three menus next year... so stay tuned! We can't wait!

  • February – Chicago Steakhouse Menu
  • August – Chinese Modern Menu
  • December – Trio: 2004 Menu (Grant’s first chef job in Chicago was at Trio restaurant).

2 comments:

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  2. Update: Read about the Chicago Steakhouse Menu here: www.wino4life.com/2014/03/old-school-in-new-way-chicago.html

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