I have been wanting to check out Grant Achatz’s follow-on restaurant ever since I heard about it first opening several years back with its Paris 1906 menu. The concept was so unique. Every 3 months, not only would the menu change over, but the restaurant’s actual concept and cuisine would make a whole sale change. So since the first menu, Next has moved through various cuisines and concepts from Thailand to modern Chinese to ElBulli to Vegan. Finally after much forethought and planning, I was able to secure tickets to coincide with a business trip I was taking to Chicago and interestingly enough, the menu has returned to France with a French Bistro theme.
The menu was fixed at 6 courses but you had the option to exchange each course out with another item off the menu but from a set list. There would be an additional charge depending on what type of dish you picked. Although a lot of the dishes looked quite delicious, I did end up switching out a few and with my dining companions, NikKack, Lusher, and Sexier, doing the same, we ended up being able to taste a broad spectrum of the menu.
The Amuse-Bouche course was an chicken custard with crispy chicken skin and chives served in a half egg shell. I assume this is a tribute to Executive Chef Dave Beran who runs the kitchen at Next.
The foie gras was really more like a pate so it was served as a cold spread to be eaten with warm brioche toast. The secret to eating foie gras especially if you’re not accustomed to the taste of it is the use of the accoutrements, and in this case, huckleberry, murray river salt and black pepper. The sweetness of the berry jam not only helps mask some of the gamier taste but it adds a nice contrast to cut through the richness. For the additional $19, they definitely served a healthy portion, but as much as I love foie gras I still couldn’t finish even with the help of everyone at the table.
One of my dining companions stuck with the original hors-d’oeuvre item which was Jules Gouffe’s potato and leek soup. I don’t know much about Jules Gouffe, but it seems he was a famous French chef from the early 19th century. The soup was creamy and buttery just as you would expect a French hearty soup to be.
I took a small bite of the skate wing which I really couldn’t distinguish from a typical white fish. It was well-seasoned and I think the tangy combination of the capers and lemon was appropriate for the neutral taste of the skate.
The original Premier Plat was a caramelized onion tart with gruyere and anchovies. This tasted distinctly French and kind of reminded me of the taste of Onion Soup. The tart crust was a little bit sweet but overall, it tasted quite good.
I opted for what essentially was a lobster pot pie, but I love anything that is made with puff pastry. The abundant pieces of juicy lobster were placed with artichokes in a puff pastry shell and served in a sea of buttery sherry cream sauce. This was probably the highlight of the meal for me.
I wouldn’t have normally ordered the lamb, but I was upgrading several of the other courses that I decided to stick to their suggestion for the Plat Principal. Lamb can be very hit or miss for me, because the gaminess of the meat is a tough beast to slay. Sometimes the preparation is so good that there is only a hint of the lamb taste and other times, I almost want to gag. This was definitely on the positive end of the spectrum. It wasn’t just the sauce that helped mask the taste but the meat itself had a very subtle air of lamb. Kudos on this dish even though I was no where able to make much of a dent on the dish.
Sexier decided to go for the beef tenderloin served with foie gras, black truffle and a potato puree. The beef was amazingly tender and when eaten together with the foie gras, the whole bite just melted in your mouth. The potato puree was rich and buttery. This whole dish was well executed.
Unfortunately, I can’t remember what the desserts were exactly, but I think the top one was a key lime pie type of dessert which I normally like, but this particular version had too strong of a lime flavor.
Overall, the food was very well-prepared. I enjoyed the dinner, but I have to admit that it didn’t have the uniqueness and frivolity that I would normally expect from a Grant Achatz meal. Maybe that was the point of this season’s menu where it was more back to the basics of French technique where it was all about the classic bistro menu with laser focused execution. If had closed my eyes, I could truly imagine myself sitting in a bistro somewhere in the heart of the City of Lights, sipping on my glass of wine and slowly savoring every bite of food as the French would do.
Next: French Bistro
953 W. Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607
PAFO Ratings for Next: Bistro:
Ambiance 3 stars
Food 4½ stars
Overall rating 4 stars