First, it was Paris 1906.
Next (no pun intended) was Tour of Thailand.
After that came the whimsical Childhood which we unfortunately missed.
Then, it was tribute time to the legendary El Bulli that closed its doors in Spain in 2011.
With the world's recognized chef who helms this restaurant that functions with a changing menu every few months and with a drastically different cuisine and theme each time, where will they bring us to this time?
Take away the fancy china and sparkly silverware of a fine dining restaurant. Next is not trying to portray that this time round. It is time to get down homey and transporting guests to the likes of a home in Sicily where good food comes from the hearts of the people. Colorful hand painted and down-to-earth plates and platters greeted us throughout the meal.
Arancine, fried risotto balls
Caponata, eggplant and vegetable salad
Panelle, chickpea fritter
Carciofi Alle Brace, roasted and charred whole artichokes
Risotto turned into fried balls? I am an instant convert and a fan. The arancine sets an excellent tone to the start of our Sicily journey. In fact, the biting into the arancine remaines one of the most memorable moments for me. The ball is deep fried to crispy perfection on the outside. Taking a bite into it, the risotto inside remains warm and soft without being overly gelatinous. In the risotto is lamb tongue.
T is a big, big fan of the caponata. The team at Next clearly did something right when they can make an eggplant lover love this vegetable even more.
For those who have not had panelle, be warned that this popular Sicilian street food is addictive.
The best part of eating the carciofi alle brace is digging into the heart and then making your way to the outer layers which are more charred. Whether you use your fork to scrape or teeth to pull out the edible parts, it is equally a delicious experience though using your teeth enhances the experience of being just like at home.
|Arancine (fried risotto balls)|
|Caponata, eggplant and vegetable salad|
|Panelle, chickpea fritter|
|Carciofi Alle Brace (roasted and charred whole artichokes)|
#2: Bucatini con Bottarga, Bucatini with tuna roe
Bucatini has always been one of our favorite types of pasta noodles although it sure does take a wee bit more effort to consume just based on the fact that these noodles are both hollow and slippery which means it could be a tad bit of a challenge trying to twirl the noodle with our fork. But here, we will gladly take our time and savor the noodle string-by-string. The bucatini con bottarga is served with delicate pieces of tuna roe.
|Bucatini con Bottarga, bucatini pasta with tuna roe|
#3. Gemelli con le Sarde, sardine with curly pasta noodle
The star here is the delicately grilled sardine sitting atop the noodle. Every bite of the fish feels precious. The edible wildflowers here obviously do not scream tradition but are instead a good reflection of how Next interprets this dish as its own yet without compromising the taste of authenticity.
|Gemelli con le Sarde, sardine with curly pasta noodle|
#4. Pesce Spada con di Ceci, grilled swordfish
The grilled swordfish steak is intense not by taste but by texture. The texture of the fish is incredibly dense which makes a great solid meal in itself but after having several courses prior to this, the dense texture of the swordfish makes it hard for us to finish the very generous piece. The execution and presentation is ingenius-- a big fat bunch of seasoned basil leaves, charred on the outside, is draped over the swordfish to finish seasoning the dish. A plate of chickpeas was served along side.
|Pesce Spada con di Ceci, grilled swordfish|
#5. Spalla di Maiale Brasato, braised pork shoulder
When it comes to food, I am the type of person who saves the best for the last. Although the order of each course served is obviously beyond my control, but it is definitely on my side. The final savory dish of the night, the braised pork shoulder, remains the highlight of the night and very possibly the best dish of the night. The feeling of not being able to finish the dense swordfish from the earlier course especially after several courses from earlier on? Did not apply here. Nope, not for this braised pork shoulder. The meat is so tender, it falls off the bone easily. Who needs a knife when a fork alone does the job alone in pulling the meat apart? The spicy tomato sauce brought it up to the next (no pun intended) level. Grilled zucchini and edible flowers accompany the pork on the side.
|Spalla di Maiale Brasato, braised pork shoulder|
|Grilled zucchini, edible flowers|
#6. Granita di Arance Rosse, blood orange sorbet
With all the indulgent courses from earlier, this palate cleanser cued the mood for dessert time.
|Granita di Arance Rosse, blood orange sorbet|
#7. Cassata, traditional Sicilian Easter cake
This traditional Sicilian Easter cake is brought as a whole to the table and then introduced, before being brought back into the kitchen. Slices are brought out and served to each person. In true Sicilian homestyle, the marzipan covering the cake includes a bright green color and then embellished with candied orange rind and nuts.
|Cassata, traditional Sicilian Easter cake|
Cannoli, tube pastry filled with cream
Ravioli Fritti, fried ravioli
Cubbaita di Giugiulena, sesame seed brittle
How to end such a great night? As always, it seems simple enough for Next. Crisp, delicate, and buttery mini pastries.
|Cannoli, Ravioli Fritti, Cubbaita di Giugiulena|
Where in the world will Next bring us to in a couple of months with the upcoming change of menu.....? Stay tuned.
953 West Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607
2012 James Beard Award Best New Restaurant
2012 James Beard Nominee Best Rising Star Chef, Dave Beran
2011 Time Magazine 100 Most Influential People, Grant Achatz
2011 TimeOut Magazine 5 Stars for Next
2011 3 Michelin Stars Chef, Grant Achatz
2008 James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef, Grant Achatz
2007 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Great Lakes, Grant Achatz
2003 James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef, Grant Achatz
2002 Food & Wine Magazine Best New Chef, Grant Achatz