My recent meal at Next, Chicago, was extraordinary. The concept of the restaurant changes every three months, opening with Paris, 1906, a meal based on Auguste Escoffier‘s legendary cookbook Le Guide Culinaire. All the dishes on the menu included the page number from Le Guide Culinaire from which the recipe came. Chef Achatz and Chef Beran’s precision and attention to detail made this meal as focused and delicious as the cuisine of the great chefs of traditional modern French cuisine.
After two meals at Alinea, one of my biggest complaints was the lack of progression and seemingly disconnected structure of the meal. Next’s Paris 1906 menu, on the other hand, was extremely concise and structured, telling a story and sharing the experience of eating in the city of lights at the turn of the century.
During my two visits to Alinea my favorite course both times was the Escoffier, the course in the extended tasting menu that took the table back to 19th century France. Here, the entire Paris 1906 menu was based on Escoffier’s dishes. The recipes of Auguste Escoffier in combination with modern cooking techniques and Chef Achatz’s and Chef Dave Beran’s meticulousness made this an incredible meal.
The service was light and fun, with our waiter making jokes and keeping us laughing throughout the meal. The atmosphere was relaxed and experience enjoyable, despite its formality. The reservation process was a little annoying, but that’s mainly due to the restaurant’s popularity. Overall it seemed very open and fair, enabling anyone with flexibility to have an opportunity to dine here by trading reservations via their Facebook group.
Quail egg with anchovy
Leeks stuffed with mushroom duxelles
Brioche with foie gras torchon and mustard seed apricot jam
Truffled egg custard with salted cod and lemon.
Hors d’Oeuvres - The meal started with a regal collection of canapés served on a silver platter. Many of Escoffier’s recipes were designed for large dinners with grand presentations, and its clear that Next was trying to re-create that grandeur on a smaller scale — more appropriate for, say, a table of four. The foie gras brioche with apricot jam was the highlight bite in this course, creamy buttery foie gras with a tangy bite from the apricot.
Potage a la Tortue Claire – Turtle consommé. A clear broth soup from concentrated stock, garnished with a mirepoix of celery, carrot, onion, and parsley leaves. The intense flavor was simultaneously fishy and meaty. A clear tribute to the French soups of centuries ago. This was simple and pure.
Filet de Sole Daumont – Sole filet with a crawfish mousse-stuffed mushroom and a breaded ball of crawfish roe. The sauce Normande was the highlight of this dish, both tangy and buttery. It was truly reminiscent of a course from Paul Bocuse. This dish was a reminder that classical French cuisine need not be stale and boring; when the sauce is prepared correctly the flavor is exciting and alive. This was my favorite dish of the night.
Suprêmes de Poussin – A thin filet of poached chicken breast layered with a cream sauce. To the left were medallions of braised cucumbers stuffed with chicken forcemeat. The texture of the cooked cucumber was almost identical to Chinese winter melon, watery and mild adding a mild vegetal component to the concentrated forcemeat. The chicken diamond was supple and juicy. This was a very good course, but the flavor of cooked cucumber really took some getting used to.
Caneton Rouennais à la Presse – A giant platter of duck with a blood sauce made from pressed duck. After roasting the carcass of the duck is pressed to extract the juices (blood) of the animal, which is turned into a rich, meaty sauce. The texture of the duck was very tender, and the flavor earthy from the fresh rosemary in the center. As with the sole Daumont, the highlight of this dish was the sauce; I was eating it with a spoon.
Next has an antique duck press used exclusively for this course. This is one of two duck presses that I have ever seen, the other being at Tour d’Argent in Paris. Though a pretty barbaric method of making sauce, it sure was delicious.
Gratin de pommes de Terre à la Dauphinoise – Alongside the duck came thinly sliced scalloped potatoes covered in stringy melted comté and filled with cream. The salty potatoes carried a layer of crispy, toasted cheese. This was great.
Bombe Ceylan - An ice cream semi-sphere covered in cocoa powder over a chocolate cookie garnished with rum-soakced cherries. This dish was pretty lackluster, with the coldness of the ice cream really making it difficult to get much flavor from the mild ice cream.
The Paris 1906 menu only lasted three months and the concept of the restaurant has now changed to Thailand. Chef Achatz recently announced the following menu based on the experience of childhood. With the focused themes helping to keep a unified structure of the meal, I think this restaurant has the potential to become one of the most interesting restaurants in the United States. I can’t wait to return.