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What’s NEXT? Paris 1906

For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past three months, the title of my latest posting refers to Grant Achatz of Alinea’s newest project. NEXT is a restaurant that opened in Chicago at the beginning of April with an entirely different concept – the menu  & theme change every three months to reflect a city and year at any point in time. Guests buy tickets in advance for the dinner which includes tax and gratuity and an optional wine pairing.  All you have to do is show up for the meal of a lifetime and leave blissfully satiated without having to deal with a bill at the end.    I was lucky enough to dine here four weeks ago for their first venture – Paris 1906.

While I haven’t written any formal restaurant reviews just yet,  I figured a visit to this (clearly) soon-to-be Michelin rated restaurant of an acclaimed chef deserved to be shared.  How often does one get to experience this type of meal? Well unless you were a lucky few to have scored a ticket to Paris 1906, unfortunately the answer is never.

For all the chefs out there, Paris 1906 couldn’t have been a more fitting choice.  Tackling and perfecting Escoffier’s recipes is a challenge every chef in the world  has attempted. And Grant Achatz/Dave Beran’s team did him proud. So here you go….an incredible night broken down course by course.  This is the stuff (my) dreams are made of:

Hors d’oeuvres:  In order of personal preference  served with a glass of Chateau d’ Orschwir Cremant d’Alsace Brut :

1. Mushroom duxelle wrapped leek.

2. Gribiche deconstructed – poached quail egg toped with anchovy, lemon, red onion, parsley and caper.

3. Rillette. Period.

4.  Warm egg truffle cream with salted cod and black truffle shavings served in a hollowed out egg shell. Wow!

5. Brioche filled with foie gras and topped with apricot jam. Yes, I said that right – brioche filled with foie gras.  Warm, buttery and soft with a slightly melted foie gras center.  I honestly thought I had died and gone to heaven upon that very first bite.  Truthfully, I would  make a deal with the devil to keep a loaf of that in my apartment at all times.

Course 1: Potage a la Tortue Claire aka Snapping Turtle Consomme. This was the only course I didn’t care for. The flavors were overpowering. And the wine pairing reminded me of a dry sherry, something that does not particularly appeal to me.  For those curious on the preparation, Escoffier gives a very detailed account of recipe 907 in his book of the same name.

Course 2: Filet de Sole Daumont paired with Olivier Merlin ‘La Roche Vincuse,’ Macon 2009. Poached sole filled with a crayfish/sole mousse, crayfish head stuffed with the same mousse, fried sole roe (salty and crunchy as expected) and a fluted mushroom stuffed with crayfish tail meat.  This 4 element plate was dressed with a bruleed sauce Normande. I’ve never had a more perfectly cooked piece of fish. I understood why, after learning it had been caught the prior day off the coast of Boston, it literally melted in my mouth. The sauce was so creamy and delicious I would have licked my plate clean had it not been a fine dining establishment.

Course 3: Supreme de Poussin paried with Chateu de la Liquire ‘Les Amandiers’ Faugeres 2009.  While I’ve never seen a diamond shaped piece of chicken, I’ve also never had a more tender piece of chicken breast.  Sous vide and topped with a roasted bone blanquette sauce served beside a butter poached hollowed-out cucumber filled with an airy chicken mouse.  Whoa that was a mouthful!  The presentation was beautiful and simple, the flavors complex.

Course 4: Caneton Rouennais a la Presse and Gratin de Pommes de Terre a la Dauphinoise paired with Domaine Bruseet ‘Les Travers’ Cairanne 2006.  Translation = pressed duck breast, duck confit leg and potatoes baked with cream and thyme.  In one word – extraordinary.  In many words – perfection, heaven, divine, delicious.  This was the best duck I’ve ever eaten.  In fact, this was one of the most delicious and memorable food moments of my life.  Exquisitely cooked, with a succulent duck-liver-bordelaise sauce complemented by the creaminess of the potatoes. Between this and the foie gras surprise my meal could have been complete.

Course 5: Salade Irma – a light salad with asparagus and edible flowers to cleanse the palate. Refreshing, and a very classic way to end the savory portion of the meal.

Course 6: Bombe Ceylan paired with Graham’s Fine Tawny Port.  The chocolate covered coffee-flavored ice cream bomb was simple and elegant. To be honest, I was expecting something a little more exciting. But then again, I don’t like ice cream, so maybe I was just hopeful.  I also thought a cheese course prior to dessert would have been lovely and very “French.”  Truth be told, I probably would not have finished either. The meal was coming to an end and I could not eat another morsel.

Well..that was until the Mignardises (tiny bite sized desserts) arrived.  One marshmallow, one chocolate caramel, combine the two and you have the most ridiculous Milky Way of your life. And Pate de Fruit jellies.  Okay, now I was officially done….unless of course the server offered me another brioche foie gras (which, sadly, he didn’t).

It’s worth mentioning that the service at NEXT was impeccable. Every need was attended to…including an escorted trip to the ladies room.  Thankfully, he left me at the door (that would have been awkward). There was never an empty glass, never a crumb on the table. Yet the servers may as well have been ghosts because all of these perfectly choreographed transitions went undetected. Our wine glasses were  refilled and new flatware set before the next course.  Simply flawless.

Finishing my glass of wine, savoring the last few minutes here, I thought that nothing could top this evening except a tour of the kitchen.  To my delight, the Maitre d kindly arranged one for this wide-eyed student.  As we walked out of the restaurant, a perfectly timed cab was waiting out front.  I had forgotten that I had mentioned we would be needing transportation home. But the hostess remembered because nothing is forgotten at NEXT.

Considering how much I love to eat and how adventurous I am,  it still amazes me that a meal can so completely surprise me.  Maybe its because this menu was a culmination of everything I learned in culinary school. Each course touched upon an element of my education, from the sauce Normande, to the shallow poached sole, or the pressed duck and potato dauphinoise. It was the perfect celebration to end one of the most exciting years of my life.  At a place like NEXT you are guaranteed to be surprised, guaranteed to be satisfied and quite honestly, guaranteed to have the meal of a lifetime. Whatever the cost…I promise you its worth it.

If only for a night, I was transported back to France…Au revoir, Paris…next stop Thailand.  Who wants to join me for the ride?


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