Next: A Thailand Tour

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, Steve and I had the pleasure of dining at Next, the new restaurant of the fabulous Grant Achatz. For those of you that don't know, the restaurant is founded on the principle of "What will happen next?" Every three months, the menu is completely changed.

The first menu featured "Paris: 1906." I've heard it was amazing. Unfortunately, we missed the opportunity to eat there as this isn't a call-and-make-a-reservation type of place. They sell tickets - either a 2-top, a 4-top or a 6-top. Through their site, you purchase you pay for dinner, drinks, tax and gratuity. All that is left to do when you arrive is eat.

While we missed out on the Paris menu, we were chomping at the bit to grab tickets for their current menu: Thailand! On the day the tickets were released, there was something like 14,000 people vying for 2,000 tables. On top of that, the web site crashes. A lot.

Steve finally managed to get a 4-top for a Sunday night at 9:30pm. For this menu, they gave the option of wine pairings, "drink" pairings (cocktails, beer, wine, etc) and non-alcoholic pairings. We opted for 3 drink pairings and 1 non-alcoholic. I ended up being the sober sister of the group, and I enjoyed every single moment of it.

In any event, let the photos of the food speak for themselves...all photos by my fabulous husband, Steve of Steve Koo Photography.

The first course was an experience. Featuring Thai street food, our server spread out a Thai newspaper on the table before bringing the food out. Featured was a prawn cake, a raw shrimp with garlic and chile, a fermented sausage with peanut and scallion, and a roasted banana with garlic.

Oh yah, and steamed buns with beech mushroom and green curry. AMAZING. I hate mushrooms and could have eaten 20 of these.

Clearing the newspaper away, we were on to a spicy tom yum soup with pork belly. Yes friends, I did indeed say pork belly. But I also said spice. While I do like a little heat, this soup added such a punch that I started to sweat while eating it!

This dish also featured mushrooms, which I also devoured. Maybe Next is changing my view on fungi?

We were then treated to containers of sticky rice (my first love) and different sauces to try out. Some were spicy and some were more mild. One was called "the funk" by our server. Our table thoroughly enjoyed the funk.

The sauced in the bottom left hand corner of the picture was a salted duck egg with green mango and white radish. Yum.

And of course, with each course there was a different drink. Mine focused on teas and juice drinks. Sometimes the alcoholic version would be what I had with liquor added. Other times it would be a beer or wine.

For one of the courses, they wanted to pair it with a beer but could not find the perfect brew. So, of course, they had Half Acre brew one especially for this course. I sampled Steve's and it was very tasty.

The rice was the base for our next two courses. First up was a wild catfish braised in caramel sauce with celery and coriander root. Simply melt in your mouth.

We then had a panang curry with braised beef cheek. I've been ordering a lot of panang from our favorite Thai restaurant. But that night at Next, I realized what a real panang was like. The peanut was very subtle and the coconut and lemongrass shone through.

After a palate cleanser of watermelon juice and lemongrass, we were on to dessert!

Four coconuts arrived on a bed of hot rocks and then were served to us. Our server took the top off of each coconut and filled the empty shell with a coconut sorbet. The other half of the shell was filled with...

...amazingness! The menu lists "coconut, corn, egg and licorice." I don't know that I could accurately describe this dish if I had it sitting right in front of me. All different textures were represented: crunchy corn "nuggets"; some sort of mousse; tapioca-like pearls; slices of mango. Normally I'm squeamish about weird textures, but everything in this shell just made sense.

I also specifically remember my drink pairing: pineapple, corn and basil juice. Delicious.

For our final dessert, our server brought out a long-stem, hot pink rose. The rose was so heavily perfumed we wondered if it had been sprayed with extra scent.

We were then each served half of a dragon fruit that had been treated with a rosewater syrup. Wewere given our instructions: eat some of the dragon fruit, then take a big whiff of the rose and try the dragon fruit again. The scent of the rose should enhance the perfumed flavor of the dragon fruit. And yes, it did.

Finally, as a parting gift we were each left with a bag of Thai iced tea. This method of serving the tea (a heavyweight plastic bag with a straw and closed off with a rubber band) makes completely sense and one can assume this is how you would see it on the streets of Thailand.

Our dinner truly felt like a whirlwind trip around Thailand and filled with flavors that I've never had at any Thai restaurant before.

And now I can only wonder...what's next?

Interested in taking a tour around Thailand at Next? If you're in Chicago, they release a few same-day tickets almost every day. Check out their Facebook place and "Like" them to see updates about tickets. You'll also find out via Facebook when they release tickets for upcoming menus. Create an account on their site to purchase tickets the next time they release them...and good luck!


lavenderpug said...

that looks amazing. like, crazy amazing. what a fun dinner!

Katie said...

Ohhhh my goodness - amazing! What a unique restaurant...and everything is gorgeous (and sounds delicious)!

Diana said...

Thanks for your post!! I went there a few weeks ago also for the Tour of Thailand, and my favorite dish was the beef cheeks! So tender and delicious and the curry just was delightful!! I have my own post on my experience here:

keep up the great work!

Keg Design said...

beautiful photos! the food looks almost too good to eat!!!

Terese said...

i can't believe you got tickets! i stalked them on facebook for awhile and then got annoyed by the entire process and gave up. these photos and your descriptions are motivating me to give it another shot.

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