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www.goodeatsfanpage.com • View topic - Chicago Trip Pt. I - Grant Achatz's Next & The Aviary (pics)

Chicago Trip Pt. I - Grant Achatz's Next & The Aviary (pics)

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Chicago Trip Pt. I - Grant Achatz's Next & The Aviary (pics)

Postby Party Flavor » Mon Jun 06, 2011 6:41 pm

About a year ago, I read this post on Eater.com, which echoed Grant Achatz's tweet about the launch of two new projects.

(I imagine that most of you are familiar with Grant Achatz, but if not, the nutshell summary is that he grew up in a restaurant family, decided to become a chef, rose through the ranks at The French Laundry, and eventually opened Alinea, which was rather quickly recognized as one of the best, if not the best, restaurants in the Americas. And just when he reached the top of the culinary world, he found out he had stage 4 tongue cancer, which traditionally led to surgical removal of the tongue and only a 50% chance at survival. Finding a clinical trial saved his tongue, his sense of taste, his career, and his life.)

I went to Next's website, which at the time was largely the YouTube trailer, signed up for the mailing list, and largely forgot about it. News of the restaurant's progress popped up from time to time, but there was little word of its opening.

Between late fall and early spring, the anticipation for Next (and its companion, The Aviary) began to build. Much of the interest (rightfully so) was obviously centered on the "time travel" concept. But, as time passed, people became more intrigued by the idea of buying tickets rather than making reservations. Given Achatz's track record and the hype surrounding the project there was little doubt the tickets would be a hot commodity.

In late March, it was announced that tickets would be made available to the public in the the order that they signed up for the mailing list last year (score!). I knew that I had signed up early in the process, but I also knew that there were over 20,000 people on the mailing list and only a few thousand tickets available for the three month-run of "Paris 1906." To make matters worse (or better ;)), only a limited number of tables would be released at first (a small handful are made available for a "same day" lottery) and each person granted access to the system could buy tickets for two(!) tables over those three months.

One day in early April, the ticketing process started. To put it succinctly, it was a bunny. Despite everyone's best efforts and preparation, the Next website wasn't prepared for the avalanche that struck. I read reports that some people had gotten their access codes and had already gotten through to the system and had purchased tickets. I couldn't even get the website to come up on my work computer, but could read it on my phone. Clearly, I was so far down the list that all the tickets were going to be sold out by the time I could get into the system. I left work and headed home for the day...

... and then, as the parking lot shuttle bus pulled into the lot, I got an e-mail on my phone... Thank you for signing up to be notified when tickets for Next go on sale. The time has finally arrived. We are pleased to let you know that you may now purchase tickets to our inaugural menu, Paris 1906 -- Escoffier at the Ritz...

"Well, great. That's maybe a third of the battle," I thought. Could I jump through all the hoops (and fast enough) sitting in my parking lot, and even if I could, would there be any tickets left, let alone ones I could actually use? To make an already long story just a bit shorter, the answer was "yes." We would be off to Chicago on Memorial Day weekend, just as I had hoped.

I knew I was lucky to get in, but I didn't realize the extent of the frenzy over tickets until I read Next's Facebook page and saw reports of the developing secondary market for tickets. Many of the early reviews only served to heighten the excitement. (There are a ton of reviews out there for Next, most of which will feature much better photography and/or much more evocative and explanatory prose than below. Some will even feature courses we did not receive, as critics, the kitchen table, and sometimes random folks may see lamb, sorbet, souffle, et cetera. We also did not ask to visit the kitchen, as some have.)

The dining room of Next is a long, fairly narrow space, with banquette seating along the walls and exposed ironwork in the ceiling...

Image

From what I understand, there is to be little to no transformation of the dining room when the menu changes themes. As such, the room itself is largely neutral. I've read that the ironwork is supposed to mimic the feel of an old train station. I can see it.

The first hint that this will be not your average dining experience comes with gold-trimmed place-setting, and then what you expect to be a menu...

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Instead of a menu, however, the inside reads...

Cesar Ritz and Auguste Escoffier opened the Ritz Hotel Paris in 1906. A new upper class thrived; visiting the Ritz, along with restaurants such as Maxim's, became something more than just dinner. Part fashion show and part social scene, the restaurant was now the entertainment.

Paris, 1906 - Escoffier at the Ritz was an easy choice as our opening menu at Next.

Escoffier's life was framed by La Belle Époque; it was a period of political stability, technological innovation, and a thriving economy before the chaos and horror of World War I. His seminal Le Guide Culinaire established dishes and techniques that became the bedrock of Western cuisine. His kitchen organization and methods are still taught today.

The main liberty we have taken with the presentation is to 'plate' most of the courses. At the Ritz, this menu would have been presented as part of a grand buffet, or served upon great platters set amongst the guests at large tables. While Escoffier gave precise details on how these should be arranged, the visual feast occurred before the food arrived on a guest's plate.

We have followed many of these guidelines, but have done so on a personal scale.

Bon Appétit


The food began with an immediate time travel immersion. The tray of hors d'Å“uvres is remarkable in detail and certainly unlike anything you'd see (or taste) in a contemporary setting...

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A liquid-center quail egg with white anchovy

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Pork rillettes

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Brioche with foie gras torchon

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Leeks stuffed with mushroom duxelle

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Oeufs Benedictine - an egg custard with brandade and truffles

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The wine pairing was Chateau d’Orschwir Cremant d’Alsace Brut.

Jules preferred the leek with mushroom duxelles while I favored the egg items and the brioche.

Next was... Potage a la Tourtue Claire - 907 (the numbers refer to the recipe numbers in Le Guide Culinaire)

with Domaine de Montbourgeau l’Etoile ‘Cuvee Speciale’ 2005

If nothing else quickly transports you out of the 21st century, it's turtle consommé.

Image

Image

Image

That was followed by... Filet de Sole Daumont - 1950

with Olivier Merlin ‘La Roche Vineuse’, Macon 2008

This is a filet of sole in sauce normande, accompanied by a mushroom stuffed with crayfish, fried sole roe, and the carapace of a crayfish stuffed with crayfish forcemeat.

Image

Image

Next was another dish that made you forget in what century you were dining...

Supremes de Poussin - 3130

served with Chateau de la Liquiere ‘Les Amandiers’ Faugeres 2009

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Image

This was a diamond of the most tender chicken ever covered by sauce blanquette and butter-braised cucumbers filled with chicken mousseline.

Then it was time for the star of the show...

Caneton Rouennais a la Presse-3476 & Gratin de Pommes de Terre a laDauphinoise-4200

Domaine Brusset “Les Travers” Cairane 2006

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Image

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This dish is pressed duck served family-style. One of the big "reveals" during the build-up to Next was that Achatz & Co. had purchased two antique duck presses to produce this dish. Well worth the investment!

As is French tradition, a salad followed the entrée -- in this case Salade Irma - 3839...

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One of our servers got a kick out of describing what sounded like an intricate sauce used in this dish, only to reveal that is is essentially may-o-nnaise (*French laugh*). The waitstaff is truly excellent -- friendly, accommodating, and knowledgeable, and not stuffy in the least.

The dessert is Bombe Ceylan - 4826 with Graham's Fine Tawny Port...

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And finally, the very nice mignardises...

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Beet pâte de fruit

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Pistachio nougatine

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Salted caramel

At the end of service, we mentioned that we'd like to go next door and visit The Aviary, the new bar by the same team. While Next is immersed in travel through time and place, The Aviary is focused on interpreting cocktails with a modern or futuristic spin. We had visited The Aviary the previous night after our dinner at Blackbird (maybe another post here or on FB), but we were quite tired from a day of food and travel and didn't sample the menu much.

After about 10 minutes of lingering at our table at Next, the hostess led us through the doors adjoining The Aviary. Coincidentally, we were led to the same seats we had had the night before, at the end of a long, curving couch in the middle "pod" of the bar. As was the case the previous night, we were given menus...

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... and an amuse, a one-bite Bloody Mary...

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The previous night was cool and damp, and we decided to warm up in our own ways. Jules had had a Hot Chocolate (ecuadorian chocolate, fernet, tequila)...

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... and I had a Hurricane (passion fruit, cranberry, seven layers, rums)...

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That's the "before" picture; it was poured over one of the 20+ types of custom ice made in-house. Neither of us was too impressed with our first visit. Jules thought the hot chocolate was too strong, and in the end, my drink was really "just" a good hurricane.

Less tired than the night before, I think our post-Next trip was different. I started with Ginger (peychaud's, shiso, lime, vodka) -- The Aviary's deconstructed Moscow Mule, which arrived as shaved ice topped with peppers and lime. Vodka was poured into the glass and a stalk of lemongrass was used as a swizzle stick...

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Jules countered with the now-famous Blueberry (verjus, sweet vermouth, rye), a drink served in a specially-designed vessel shaped like a porthole...

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It's visually stunning, and the servers make sure to place it between you and your table's candle, such that the light shines through. The flavor of the drink strengthens as the flavors infuse more the longer it sits.

My second drink of the evening was the Root Beer (vanilla, sassafras, kirsch). While not too interesting visually, it was my favorite of the drinks I tried. The ice was vanilla-flavored, so like the Blueberry, the flavor changed over time...

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We were offered some selections from the "Bites" portion of the menu, and mentioned that we probably weren't up for anything too heavy as we had just finished dinner next door. The server suggested the Foie Gras (rhubarb, pumpernickel, lavender), the Cheesecake (strawberry, balsamic, graham cracker), and the Brioche (chocolate, smoked salt, vanilla)...

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Wow. All three bites were pretty awesome, especially the foie.

On the way out, we passed by the bar "kitchen," enclosed in a cage...

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(During Prohibition, patrons of speakeasies were called "birds," thus the theme of the bar).

All in all, it was a fun evening -- a large dose of the past and maybe a small peek at the future -- all in Chicago 2011.
An opinionated non-authority, petit four lover, and backward telescope aficionado

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Re: Chicago Trip Pt. I - Grant Achatz's Next & The Aviary (p

Postby Butterbean » Mon Jun 06, 2011 7:20 pm

What a phenomenal dining experience! The photography & descriptions were awesome (an overused word, but appropriate in this case).
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Re: Chicago Trip Pt. I - Grant Achatz's Next & The Aviary (p

Postby n8urebabe » Mon Jun 06, 2011 7:50 pm

That looks and sounds amazing! Thank you for sharing these experiences with us.
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Re: Chicago Trip Pt. I - Grant Achatz's Next & The Aviary (p

Postby Diane » Mon Jun 06, 2011 10:08 pm

PF-Beautiful photos as always! I was salivating while looking at them :D

Only 12 days until I get to have the experience...thanks to you!
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Re: Chicago Trip Pt. I - Grant Achatz's Next & The Aviary (p

Postby okbye » Mon Jun 06, 2011 11:59 pm

That looks like an awful lot of duck for a hoity toity place serving.
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Re: Chicago Trip Pt. I - Grant Achatz's Next & The Aviary (p

Postby ajkdvm » Tue Jun 07, 2011 1:01 am

Gah! That looks amazing! :shock:

Thanks for the lovely pics and descriptions, Brandon. :D
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Re: Chicago Trip Pt. I - Grant Achatz's Next & The Aviary (p

Postby chefshawn » Tue Jun 07, 2011 7:11 am

Those are the kinds of meals i hope to find one of per year. I am at least two years behind so far. Would you mind telling us (or at least me) how much your dinner tab was?
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Re: Chicago Trip Pt. I - Grant Achatz's Next & The Aviary (p

Postby DanC » Tue Jun 07, 2011 7:20 am

shawn, you know the old saying, if you have to ask...

awesome pics PF. new camera or did they just have good lighting?
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Re: Chicago Trip Pt. I - Grant Achatz's Next & The Aviary (p

Postby Party Flavor » Tue Jun 07, 2011 9:41 am

DanC wrote:awesome pics PF. new camera or did they just have good lighting?


Nothing new. I actually didn't think the pictures turned out that well. Some of the other pictures out there on the web are astounding.

chefshawn wrote:Would you mind telling us (or at least me) how much your dinner tab was?


The tickets at Next are priced on a sliding scale according to the perceived desirability of the reservation day/time (this is a screen capture taken by someone buying tickets on the first day -- you can see how the base price changes based on the ticket time). For example, tickets for 7:00p on a Saturday cost more than 10:00p tickets on a Wednesday. The range for the current, "Paris 1906," menu was $65-$110 per person. On top of that, there was a charge for beverages... "water service" is free, the non-alcoholic beverage pairing is $22 per person, the "standard" wine pairing is $48 pp, and the "reserve" wine pairing is $98 pp (One cool thing is that the staff will leave each wine bottle on the table during its course, so you can have as much as you'd like). Additionally, there is an 18% charge for gratuity and an 11% state/local tax. Tickets are only sold in groups of 2, 4, or 6 (kitchen table). Our two tickets for 8:30 on a Saturday night with the standard wine pairing came to a total of ~$380. Honestly, that's a fairly good deal given the class category of the meal. The Aviary, on the other hand, is generally thought to be a bit overpriced.

Shawn, I actually thought of you that night. Next and The Aviary are in the same block as moto.
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Re: Chicago Trip Pt. I - Grant Achatz's Next & The Aviary (p

Postby DitsyD » Tue Jun 07, 2011 11:11 am

Wow!

I truly appreciate your sharing this.

So, since you know which recipes were used, are you going to try any of these at home? Or, is this a context type of thing, where the whole is better than any one dish?
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Re: Chicago Trip Pt. I - Grant Achatz's Next & The Aviary (p

Postby Jules » Tue Jun 07, 2011 11:35 am

Ditsy,
While this may take up a bit of space, I'd happily make room for it considering the end result. 8)
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Re: Chicago Trip Pt. I - Grant Achatz's Next & The Aviary (p

Postby jsp » Tue Jun 07, 2011 12:34 pm

"OMG" doesn't even begin to describe this -- "wow oh wow" comes a little closer, LOL! Your foodie adventures and pictures are just masterful!! I find myself literally savoring every word and pixel there, Brandon - good-gosh what a lovely experience and THANKS SO MUCH for doing such a perfect job of describing it so us-out-here can vicariously come close to savoring it right along with you -- a total mini-vacation, a surprisingly effective "escape from my life and world for a few moments" to get to read/see this (... that last observation came from suddenly realizing that not only had 10 minutes passed without my being aware of anything around me here, coupled with a very real feeling of "somehow feeling a bit better for it" too, how totally cool - LOL!) What a gift here, this morning - thanks!!! (I mean - seriously!!! LOL!) :D
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Re: Chicago Trip Pt. I - Grant Achatz's Next & The Aviary (p

Postby DitsyD » Tue Jun 07, 2011 2:00 pm

Jules wrote:Ditsy,
While this may take up a bit of space, I'd happily make room for it considering the end result. 8)


Jules, that answers my question. That one dish was that awesome.

I'll keep my eyes open for an antique duck press.
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Re: Chicago Trip Pt. I - Grant Achatz's Next & The Aviary (p

Postby Party Flavor » Tue Jun 07, 2011 3:25 pm

DitsyD wrote:So, since you know which recipes were used, are you going to try any of these at home? Or, is this a context type of thing, where the whole is better than any one dish?


I read somewhere that for every recipe/number listed, there were probably five or six more that go into the dish (making a stock, sauce, etc.), so no, I probably won't be attempting any on my own. I also don't believe that the kitchen followed the recipes to the letter, but instead was "inspired" by them.

All of the dishes were very good and some were great (the duck, the sole dish, the hors d'Å“uvres). I don't think, however, that any single dish was the best I ever had in its category (which may be more of a reflection of some of the dining experiences I've been fortunate to enjoy). The duck comes the closest, but I think I'd still have to put it behind the duck at the Inn at Little Washington.

The meal was, in great part, about context and synergy. As I suggested above, it's unlike any other dining experience you can find today. It truly was a culinary field trip through some portal to a time and place that no longer exist.
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Re: Chicago Trip Pt. I - Grant Achatz's Next & The Aviary (p

Postby DitsyD » Tue Jun 07, 2011 6:08 pm

Thanks PF.
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Re: Chicago Trip Pt. I - Grant Achatz's Next & The Aviary (p

Postby Jules » Wed Jun 08, 2011 10:51 am

I've had some time to review our photos ...

From my POV, it was the seasoning that impressed me most. The care with plating was very reminiscent of The French Laundry (and, as PF mentioned, that makes sense considering Chef Achatz's background) but the seasoning in each dish was not just balanced but thought out and executed with great attention to the final product. In each dish, there was no point where I took a bite and thought "oh, that's a tasty touch of salt" or "hmmm - nice hint of garlic". As none of these are new recipes, we've probably experienced the flavor profiles in some form in past meals but each component shone as a team-player and there was no stand out ... :think: well, except “yum”. Maybe “yum” was the overriding stand out. :)

A good example was the leek with mushroom duxelles. It wasn’t the flavor of “leek” and then “mushroom” … it was all just one bite of wonderfully seasoned goodness … not as bitter as onion and not overly earthy. The turtle consommé, which as was pictured, had diced/shaved carrot was soothing and light, and the bits of vegetation seemed to disappear in your mouth as there was no chewing required. Oh – and our server playfully admitted that he took some joy in pouring the consommé over the carefully plated veggies. “There’s several folks back there that spend hours getting these to look ‘just so’ but the dish isn’t complete without my coming along and wrecking all that work.” :lol:

And the crayfish flat-out rocked. (This was the dish that our server made sure to inform us that the head was split on the underside, so we didn’t need to crack it – as apparently other diners had done in previous meals.) Clearly there was decent amounts of butter and cream in this dish but, again, at no point was either obviously there. And the Supremes de Poussin, while tasty and divine all on its own, also put us both on notice that the duck was sure to follow. The potatoes were ridiculous … a toasted topping with well-but-not-overly sauced slices of potatoes … and the duck with those juices along each slice … seriously, PF, I know it's more than just having the press but I’ll make room to replicate this dish.

Anyway it was an amazing experience and I’m glad that Diane and her hubby get to go to “Paris 1906”, too. :D

The only note I have for Diane is to ask your server to find a seat for you to after the meal at The Aviary. The Blueberry is a very nice way to finish the evening and it’s not at all “boozie”. Like the dishes at Next, there’s no singular taste to be found in the porthole … but, I’ll be damned, it was very blueberry-esque. We’ll toast your experience when you’re there (if we can only find a suitable place to dine that evening ….hmmmmmmm … ) :think: 8)
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Re: Chicago Trip Pt. I - Grant Achatz's Next & The Aviary (p

Postby chefshawn » Sun Jun 12, 2011 10:36 am

Party Flavor wrote:
DanC wrote:awesome pics PF. new camera or did they just have good lighting?


Nothing new. I actually didn't think the pictures turned out that well. Some of the other pictures out there on the web are astounding.

chefshawn wrote:Would you mind telling us (or at least me) how much your dinner tab was?


The tickets at Next are priced on a sliding scale according to the perceived desirability of the reservation day/time (this is a screen capture taken by someone buying tickets on the first day -- you can see how the base price changes based on the ticket time). For example, tickets for 7:00p on a Saturday cost more than 10:00p tickets on a Wednesday. The range for the current, "Paris 1906," menu was $65-$110 per person. On top of that, there was a charge for beverages... "water service" is free, the non-alcoholic beverage pairing is $22 per person, the "standard" wine pairing is $48 pp, and the "reserve" wine pairing is $98 pp (One cool thing is that the staff will leave each wine bottle on the table during its course, so you can have as much as you'd like). Additionally, there is an 18% charge for gratuity and an 11% state/local tax. Tickets are only sold in groups of 2, 4, or 6 (kitchen table). Our two tickets for 8:30 on a Saturday night with the standard wine pairing came to a total of ~$380. Honestly, that's a fairly good deal given the class category of the meal. The Aviary, on the other hand, is generally thought to be a bit overpriced.

Shawn, I actually thought of you that night. Next and The Aviary are in the same block as moto.


i assure you that you fared better than i did at moto, food wise. moto's chef has a very heavy hand with the salt, and for me being a hyponatremic, that's saying a lot.
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