Sunday, August 4, 2013

Next - Vegan

After our trip to Chicago to enjoy The Hunt at Next, we were thrilled to score tickets to return for Vegan.  Phil Vettel from the Chicago tribune in his review of the Vegan menu called it "culinary theater", I couldn't agree more.

Our neighbor Ryan was able to join us again, and we were thrilled for Jon to join us.

 Anticipating the awesomeness.

The first few courses were a bit of a whirlwind.  Of course, there was a welcome letter (in the tree above and featured below).  The tree is also decorated with sourdough crackers that were dusted with green tea matcha powder.

The first course of burnt avocado, kale, and sesame and beautiful flowers (below) was enjoyed on the crackers.  The spread was quite tasty, but the crackers were brittle, chewy, and disappointing.  Lisa and I were a little nervous about how the rest of dinner would go.  It was especially touch-and-go as we were with two of the most staunch omnivores that we know :-).

The next two dishes came out in rapid succession, far before anyone could consider finishing the crackers.  Potato skins filled with potato sorbet and topped with scallions were a fun play on texture.

Next came the log that was dotted with red and green treats.  The green hemispheres were a mix of sushi nori that was cooked into a dumpling with some kind of cracker.  It was a yummy veggie bite of the sea.

The red spiky things are rambutans.  They are a tropical fruit (I first had them in Vietnam), although this was a rambutan/earl grey custard that was served in a rambutan half-shell (detail below).  It was a clean palate cleanser with hints of bergamot.

Just a tiny bite of tempeh.  Tempeh is definitely not one of my favorite vegetarian/vegan foods.  Most people serve it as a terrible meat replacement.   It's clear that the folks at Next (Grant Achatz and Dave Beran) know how to cook.  They took something that usually sucks and transformed it into a delectable bite that left you wanting more.

Below is the last of the small plates - phew!  Grilled artichoke hearts which were surrounded by a light citrus artichoke puree before being placed back in burnt shells.  This was probably the #2 favorite of the small bites behind the tempeh.

Next came one of the best dishes of the night.  Definitely one of the most unique presentations I've seen.  They brought a glass decanter and funnel with a strainer to the table first.

Next, they brought out a huge log with a charred hole in the top.  

Our server started to describe the dish as a celebration of the apple: green apple shaved ice, lactose fermented apple, and from the log: apple cider vinegar from an 8 year old mother, which was served as a beverage in champange flutes.  The apples were paired with rose petals, and rose candy.

In addition to the tree on the table, there was a small 'lily pond' that had several small greens floating in it.

For the next course, the greens were fished out of the pond and assembled at the table with soft, tender lotus roots.  The dish was very fragrant and light.

 Lisa's famous for smelling food, but we were all nosing hard on this.

After this course, the table was covered simply and elegantly with a pristine white tablecloth.  The next dish included the drink pairing incorporated right into the plate.  The cocktail was chilled with liquid nitrogen in the glass sphere below the plate.  When the plates arrived from the kitchen, the hole was covered by a second glass sphere.  As the liquid nitrogen evaporated, the ball bounced on the plate creating a symphony of clinking.

The dish was a riff on strawberry shortcake including fennel and fermented rice yogurt.

Ryan demonstrates the cocktail.

Next up was a true piece of culinary wizardry: salsifies with oyster mushroom and dandelion.   The chefs transformed a root vegetable and greens into a vegan reproduction of mignonette-dressed oyster, and a yummy salad of dandelion greens.  Usually we're not up for 'meat replacement' dishes, but every rule has its exception.

Paying homage to european cheese carts, a cart full of beautiful mushrooms passed through the dining area.  It wasn't clear initially, but this was just a visual showcase of the high-quality ingredients being employed.

Next up was a beer-battered, perfectly fried leaf of swiss chard (left), which is hiding a cluster of tasty beet goodness.

The chard leaf was paired with a wonderfully salty chard preparation that included douchi - a fermented and salted soybean from Japan.

The next dish featured kombu and house-made yuba, which is part of the tofu-making process.  I was lucky to have recently honed chopstick skills in Vietnam, otherwise this one would have been a great challenge.  The presentation was really pretty coupling the wavy bowl with the wavy skin of the yuba.

Next, they placed this test-tube log combination on the table.  They wouldn't say much about what it was for, and left it as a conversation piece.

Next came a barley risotto that was dressed with beautiful flowers and other yummy treats.  Just a few bites, of this rich dish and we were all starting to get full.

Next was a play on Thai/Lao larb.  A dish that typically combines pork, ground toasted rice, sticky rice as well as fresh vegetables.  This version featured a nest of toasted quinoa, and was visually splendid.

Lisa's horror at finding out we were about 60% through - poor thing was stuffed already!

Probably the number-one dish of the evening - the roasted cauliflower with harissa and house-made fresh naan.  The mystery of the test tube was finally solved - after removing the sprouted bean, we used a chopstick to push the spices on top of the cauliflower waiting below.  This one was so yummy so despite starting to get full, I was more than happy to polish off Lisa's extra.

The first of the dessert courses - a lovely chocolate crumble that was accented with a clear concoction of olive oil and Szechwan peppercorn.  Before sampling they give you a spoon that looks empty to lick.   Turns out that it's coated with more of the clear sauce.  Mouths tingling with peppercorn, we dive into the chocolate goodness.

Lisa showing off the last drink pariing of the evening - a cocktail featuring lambrusco, metzcal, vermouth.

The second dessert course: hibiscus and a pistachio mousse.

Now we're all crying uncle - stuffed to the brim, when they bring out two towers of steamed crepes: creme brulee, passion fruit and chocolate.  Wow.

We had an absolutely fabulous meal.  We had to keep reminding ourselves that it was actually vegan, it was just so easy to get caught up in the excitement of what's coming out Next.

1 comment:

KristinMiller said...

Good post Marc! True confession: I envision that you use a log for every meal you eat. Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner.