Although I go to Chicago at least once every year, I’ve never been able to plan far enough in advance to secure tickets to Grant Achatz’s Next Restaurant. I was so on top of it this year and the timing worked out so well with multiple trips right around the time menus would be changing that I was not only able to get tickets to one menu, Bistro, but the following menu, Tapas, as well. The repeat trip would be worth it mainly because Hubster hasn’t been and I knew he would love the Tapas theme, but I figured since it was a completely different menu, it would be like going to a completely different restaurant anyways. I bought 4 tickets so we invited El Hawk and El Soo to join us for this exciting dinner.
The meal started immediately once we sat down where they brought out a plate of appetizers which is probably best described as a trio of bruschettas except the bread was softer, not like a crispy toast. Each bread was topped with anchoas y aceitunas (anchovies and olives), guisantes y chorizo (peas and chorizo), hongos y cebolla (mushrooms and onions). They were all quite tasty even the one with olives (which I generally don’t like) and signaled a collection of flavors to come that would be notably Spanish.
The next course was a duo of canned mussels and octopus. The mussels as seen up close was prepared with mayonnaise and paprika oil. It tasted quite good but even more so, it was a very creative presentation.
As to be expected, this wood-burning serving bowl a crustless crouton with black romesco sauce. The dish on the side had the pork also with a romesco sauce grilled onions and charred leak. Admittedly this does not look appetizing, but it tasted much better than it looks.
This dish is El Bulli’s famous olives which means it is mirroring Albert Adria’s creative technique on olive preparation. Although not a fan of olives, I can’t help but appreciate the molecular gastronomy magic that went into creating these wondrous spheres of flavor. It looked like an olive and with one bite into the outer gelatinous layer, the liquid bursting from it tasted just like an olive. Amazing as it was delicious even for someone who dislikes olives.
The tempura-fried egg yolk, topped with a piquillo pepper and marinated white anchovies, had to be eaten in one bite so that the egg yolk would burst in your mouth instead of on your friends. This was a complex mix of interesting flavors and textures. I really liked it.
The Crispy Brandade was essentially a fish chip made from a mixture of potatoes, cod, and salt. The mixture is laid out on tapioca flour to look like fish skin and deep-fried into a puffy cracker. The salty cod taste was pretty subtle, but I particularly liked the cheetoh-like texture which was kind of a cross between shrimp chips and pork chicharrones.
We reached a transition point here in the meal, where the appetizers were coming to an end, and they introduced a few desserts which I assume were palate cleansers to prepare us for the more substantial protein heavier part of the meal. This was a sherry merengue served on bed of dates and chocolate bits to provide a bit of crunch to this sweet bite.
These test tubes were filled with layers of foam and gelatin comprised of caramelized grapefruit, burnt sugar and pine nuts. It was quite a refreshing shot of sweetness.
Next (no pun intended) up really needs no description. This acorn-fed Iberian ham literally represents the most expensive, richest tasting slices of pork one can ever find in Spain and maybe even the world. Ever so thinly sliced, yet still amazing rich in taste and fattiness.
Nothing sounds more traditionally tapas than patatas bravas but this version was deconstructed with a collection of individual ingredients prepared differently to offer a mix of textures. It didn’t look like patatas bravas, but it tasted like a refined version of them.
I found this dish extremely interesting as it was a pasta made from sliced asparagus and cuttlefish and then topped with runny egg yolk to sauce the noodles and bread crumbs for texture. Not only was it carb-light but it tasted delicious. I thought it was one of the most well-conceived dishes of the meal.
Sitting on two huge bones, the seared rib eye was topped with a crispy chunk of fatty rib meat. The beef was extremely marbled and you could taste the richness in each bite. The cast iron skillet held a Spanish tortilla which was definitely eggier almost like a custard. They did warn us that the longer we let it sit, the firmer it would end up being, but we couldn’t wait and just dove right in.
The prawn was served with a fava bean frozen yogurt and a strawberry puree on top. It looked like it would be good but the cold temperature of this dish was a little odd.
When the waitress brought this huge plant to the table, we all looked at each other confused but curious as to what was coming next (again, not pun intended.) We were told to dive into the plant to pull out pieces of what turned out to be pieces of olive oil white chocolate. I was pretty full by this point, so I only took a bite. It wasn’t as sweet as white chocolate usually was and maybe it was because of the olive oil, but it was hard to discern.
I was pretty full by this point so I wasn’t very interested in any dessert. This was a chocolate mousse with fresh blueberries and freeze dried powder mix of various ingredients.
These were like biscotti, and I didn’t find them terribly interesting.
I have always thought Horchata was weird tasting, and this pretty much tasted like I expected.
Overall, I found this meal extremely more interesting than the Next: Bistro one not only in terms of taste but the overall presentation and execution of the meal stayed true to the Spanish tapas concept while giving it what I call the “Alinea touch.” The elements of molecular gastronomy with a subtle bit of theatrics and playfulness were definitely more on display here than the French menu. This ended up making the overall dining experience much more unique and memorable. It truly is amazing to see how the team here was able to execute a completely different menu from a different cuisine in such a short amount of time. I am definitely looking forward to trying future concepts from Next in the future.
953 W. Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607
PAFO Ratings for Next: Tapas:
Ambiance 3 stars
Food 4½ stars
Overall rating 4½ stars