Tuesday, June 21, 2011
What's Old is New Again at Next Restaurant
Aside from the impending closure of El Bulli, no restaurant in the world has received the same amount of media coverage than Grant Achatz's last project, Next Restaurant. With a menu that will change four times a year, it was announced that the restaurant's inaugural menu would be fashioned after the cuisine of Auguste Escoffier when he opened the Ritz hotel in Paris, 1906. In an odd twist of fate, the chef who was renown for his futuristic food was suddenly recreating the classics of yesteryear.
But obtaining admission was as much of a story as the restaurant itself. Ever since the opening was first announced, anyone and everyone waited with bated breath to receive their "golden ticket" to the world's hottest restaurant. Finally, the day had arrived, and with a bit of luck and a lot of patience, I was fortunate enough to secure tickets that coincided with our vacation while others were either shut out or forced to buy them for $3,000.
As our cab stopped at an unassuming block on West Fulton Market, we proceeded towards a large building. Flanked by The Aviary on one side and Chef Homaro Cantu's two restaurants, Moto and iNG, on the other, aside from a neon "Paris, 1906," there was almost no indication of the restaurant. We were greeted by the general manager and hostess as we entered and were led through the linear dining room to our table. The room was predominately gray with the exception of the white table clothes. Overhead, a series of naked beams adorned the ceiling, reminiscent of those found in an airplane hanger, evoking a sense of travel.
Our server soon arrived with water and provided us with some pre-dinner reading materials regarding Escoffier and the Ritz Hotel. Shortly thereafter, she returned to pour us each a glass of Château d’Orschwir Crémant d’Alsace Brut. The wine was nice, with a dry finish that went quite well with the food.
Next arrived a bevy of Hors d'Oeuvres which were served on a polished silver tray. The first hors d'euvres we ate was a White Anchovy that had been draped over a Quail Egg with Cornichon, Red Onion and Lemon. This was the perfect single bite as the quail egg exploded and was well seasoned by the natural salinity of the anchovy.
This was followed by a Mushroom Duxelle wrapped Leek. This was merely mediocre, and was far and away the weakest of the bunch. The duxelle was earthy but the flavor of the leek was muddled.
But order was restored with the Pork Rillette. Shaped into a quenelle and served on a cracker, the rillette contained a wonderfully concentrated pork flavor which had me wishing they sold it by the jar.
But the most beautiful of all the hors d'oeuvres were the Oeufs Bénédictines which were served inside egg shells. Inside was a creamy Brandade that was topped with Shaved Black Truffle. Instructed to dig to the very bottom so that we could experience all of the different flavors, this was indeed something special. The brandade was excellent, containing the perfect potato-to-salt cod ratio, and was made over the top with the pungent black truffle.
Last but not least, was the Foie Gras. Formed into a torchon and cut into round coins, they fit snugly inside pieces of Brioche, that appeared like fancier versions of the classic toad in the hole. The accompanying Apricot-Mustard Preserves provided a sweet element and helped cut the richness of the foie.
Our first official course of the evening was the Potage á la Tortue Claire (#907). Described as a "turtle soup," it was more akin to a consommé, and our server informed us that this was a traditional first course for a large meal. The bowls arrived containing only the usual garnishes as the soup was poured table side. The soup had a subtle sweetness to it and was a light start. We were each poured a glass of the Domaine de Montbourgeau l’Etoile 'Cuvée Spéciale’ Jura (2005) with the soup. Surprisingly dry, it drew out the sweetness of the soup nicely and was a fine pairing.
Next was a first for an Achatz restaurant: bread service. Baked multiple times during the evening, we were each given a house made Boule Roll served with Salted Cow's Milk Butter. The roll itself was not crispy and was somewhat underwhelming. Fortunately, the roll was perfect for sopping up any excess sauces or juices remaining on our plates. Better was the sweet butter which was applied liberally throughout the meal.
The following course was the Filet de Sole Daumont (#1950). The meal's first great dish, the filet of sole had been cooked perfectly and was filled with a delicate crawfish mousse. But the real star of the plate was the sauce normande which mandated dipping your bread in. Served alongside a fried nugget of sole roe and a crawfish stuffed mushroom, this was so good we enjoyed it in quietly, only breaking the silence to suck the sole and crayfish forcemeat from inside the stuffed crawfish head. This was paired with a Olivier Merlin ‘La Roche Vineuse’ Macon (2009).
Neither of us weren't sure what to expect of the next course, Suprêmes de Poussin (#3130). We rarely go out of our way to order chicken when we go out and typically find chicken boring. Boy were we wrong! While the diamond-shaped breast meat was incredibly moist, it was the uncharacteristically bold chicken flavor that impressed both of us. The other chicken preparation consisted of a supple chicken mousse that was stuffed in butter-poached cucumber, wrapped in Salt Pork and garnished with Dill. This was anything but your garden variety chicken entrée. It was paired with a Château de la Liquiére ‘Les Amandiers’ Fagéres (2009).
But as good as the previous courses were (and they were great) the true pièce de résistance was the Caneton Rouennais á la Presse (#3476). Tender slabs of duck breast were fanned on a plate around a duck leg and sprigs of thyme. The breast had been cooked medium rare and featured a beautifully crisp skin and the leg yielded luscious fall-off-the-bone dark meat, but it was the marvelous sauce made from an antique duck press that elevated this dish from being great to something virtually indescribable. Reduced with red wine, brandy and duck jus, this sauce may very well have been the best thing I tasted during the entire vacation.
Not to be forgotten was the Gratin de Pommes de Terre á la Dauphinoise (#4200) served as a side. This heaping portion of heart-stoppingly rich potato gratin featured a nutty gruyère sauce and sported a nice crunch from a thin layer of toasted breadcrumbs. Paired with a Domaine Brusset ‘Les Travers’ Cairanne (2006), the wine managed to more than stand up to richness of the duck and potatoes.
Served as a palate cleanser of sorts was the Salade Irma (#3839). In addition to the nasturtium, asparagus and radish, all of the salad's components made for a nice change of pace to the heavier courses we had just finished.
Dessert was the impressive looking Bombe Ceylan (#4826). Covered in a cocoa shell with a chocolate cookie bottom, the bombe was garnished with rum soaked cherries and contained a coffee ice cream. But as impressive as the dessert was, there was one problem. It was cold, too cold. In fact, it wasn't until we the ice cream had melted some before we the flavors really blossomed. The bombe was paired with a glass of Graham's Fine Tawny Port.
Coffee was served with Cream and Sugar as our server brought us over a two-tiered tower of Mignardises which contained Beet Pâtes de Fruits, Praline Nougats and Salted Caramels. Each were good, but the best were the salted caramels which we were instructed to eat salt side down.
Next Restaurant has already announced that its new menu will be Thailand, 2060. But whether its Florence, 1807, or Hong Kong, 2125, we'll be looking forward to visiting the restaurant again as its meticulous attention to detail, professional service and stellar food have us waiting in anticipation to see what's next.
953 W Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607
To see all the pictures from this meal click HERE.