I've had a bit of "foodie" overload this past half year as I've been lucky enough to dine at Alinea and Next (twice!). I'm not complaining though, as they've been some of the best meals of my life (Alinea was hands down the best meal I've ever experienced). But I have been pretty horrible at posting about these meals, mostly because working up all those photos is a bit of a chore. But I'm finally catching up, so I present to you my meal at Next- The Hunt.
Here is an additional slide show and description of the dinner
Warning: this post is long and photo heavy. But it's a great way for me to relive the dinner, and hopefully you'll enjoy it as well. I've named the courses as Next named them, with descriptions below.
Upon your seating (at your table adorned with a deer pellet), you have a letter that awaits you, wax seal and all.
Excerpts from the note, which describe and set the tone for the entire meal :
"With this menu we want you to explore facets of hunting beyond basic ideas of game meats and hunting as sport, broadening our outlook to include fishing, foraging, and preservation. And because hunting and the outdoors are inseparable, the menu embraces nature throughout"
"Hunters have shown respect for their prey by using as much of the animal as possible and preserving and processing even the seemingly less desirable parts. In a culture that gets nearly all of its meat from factory farms, hunting is a celebration of the animal and its locale: of using what surrounds you - flora and fauna - to the fullest extent in order to nourish"Course 1: Hen of the Woods and Mushroom consomme
Earthiness and maximum flavor hits you from the start, which consisted of a small bowl of deeply-flavored mushroom consomme and tender hen of the woods mushrooms. The mushrooms, along with a roasted onion, were served in a little glass box that was filled with the fragrance of rosemary and thyme. (A hot stone helped permeate the scent- which added a nice touch to the simple mushrooms.) A mini spear was provided to pierce and enjoy your hunt.
Course 2: Catch of the Great Lakes
Smoked salmon (front), pickled kohlrabi (left), and walleye rillettes (glass jar) served with pumpernickel toasts (back right). The walleye tasted a lot like a tuna salad, but what a tuna salad would taste like if it came out of an amazing restaurant: fresh and creamy.
Course 3: Charcu-Tree
The punny title comes from the fact that all 5 "shooters" were presented on a tree branch. Each mini course was on top of a smooth, round piece of wood, which you were instructed to bring to your lips and simply eat the small bite directly from.
From left to right (going from "lightest" to "richest" in flavor) you have: rabbit pate, elk jerkey, boar salami, antelope heart tartare, and blood sausage. The heart tartare was served with something else (a bit of vinegary punch) that made it one of my favorite bites.
Course 4: Cellar Aged Carrots and Onions
One of the standout stars of the meal was this carrot dish. Carrots! Who knew?!? But apparently when you cover a carrot in ash and let it age in a cellar, and serve it with fried carrot tops and crispy onions it's insanely delicious. The preservation deepens the flavor of the carrot and intensifies its sugars. Super unique and super delicious.
Course 5: Duck Tongue, Cider Vinegar
This was a single plate with 2 very different dishes: on the left you have scrambled duck eggs wrapped in radicchio and on the right was a puffed duck tongue with raw apple. The duck eggs were creamy (eggs, nothing too spectacular here), and the duck tongue had a bit of crunch to it and tasted like bacon to me! My favorite part of the dish were probably the bits of rainbow sorrel, which tasted just like rhubarb, as I'd never tasted something like that before.
At this point in the meal things get a little fancy, as they bring out a beautiful candelabra to replicate the fancy hunting meals experienced by royalty. Gold rimmed plates and candlelight dinner- yea, it made me feel a little like royalty.
Course 6: Sturgeon and Caviar
Perfectly cooked sturgeon (my guess is that it was cooked using an immersion technique, as it was buttery and evenly cooked yet didn't seem baked or fried) on sunchokes (aka Jerusalem artichokes) with spruce oil. Caviar and beurre blanc are then mixed tableside and spooned directly onto your plate. Best course of the night, hands down. It was rich but light at the same time. I could easily have eaten an entire meal of this, and licked my plate clean.
Course 7: Woodcock Jolie
A woodcock roulade served alongside "things a woodcook would eat", such as huckleberry and hazelnuts. Gorgeous presentation and a nice few bites of food to work our way into the largest course of the evening...
Course 8: Pressed Squab
This course truly encompasses getting everything you can out of an animal. On the plate you have the breast of the squab (my favorite part of the entire course), confit of the talon, and offal of the squab in a fried pastry (which was a bit too gamey for my taste). In front, you can even see the head of the squab, which was sliced lengthwise and breaded.
We were encouraged to suck out the brain, which was tasty (the breading helped), but super rich.
In addition to your main plate, a bowl with the bones of the roasted squab were also placed upon the table, which we were instructed to "eat like a chicken wing" (hot towelettes were brought out afterwards for us).
And finally, a small bowl of steel cut oats with truffle, foie gras, more offal, blood sauce, and bacon. Honestly, I do not like liver (including foie) so this was the only dish of the entire night that I just could not finish. I love the fact that they used steel cut oats for a savory dish (I've done this before), but it was a bit too rich for my taste.
Back to the rustic table setting, where the waiters removed all the fancy candles! It was fun while it lasted.
Course 9: Fallen Leaves and Kidney
One of the prettiest presentations of the evening, the entire course was served on tree bark. The dish was comprised of a bunch of ingredients I cannot recall, but managed to write down parsnip, fried seaweed, root vegetables, pumkin seeds, and grated purple cauliflower-- all served with a kidney mustard sauce.
I just love how the branch curls right up to create a little plate. After after all that heavy squab, this dish of roasted vegetables was just what I needed to lighten me up.
Course 10: Bison and Bearnaise
Out came the waiters with this giant heated rock, in which we were directed to cook our dry aged bison. You could then dip your bison into a plate of burnt onion liquor with leek, which had a nice clean flavor.
Course11: Marrow Brulee
Imagine this: creme brulee (one of my favorite desserts), made with a bit of marrow and served inside of a marrow bone. The sugary top was charred and sprinkled with just a hint of salt. It was not too sweet and super creamy, like a cross between creme brulee and pastry cream. I literally wanted to lick the bone clean it was sooooo good!
Course 12: Maris Otter
No, this is not an otter dish. Maris otter is a type of barley, which was used to make a pudding served in a mini cast iron pot. Sounds super simple, and it was in many ways. Hearty, rustic, the type of dessert that just feels like home. But add a bit of nocino (a black walnut liquor) whipped cream and it easily turned into one of the best dishes of the night.
Now serve the already delicious pudding with an assortment of toppings, and you've got a perfect dessert for all kinds of taste buds. From left to right we have brown butter sugar, cherry, candied pecans, fresh mint and basil, and toffee.
Yea, I just loved this dish. It is officially on my "to recreate at home" list, and I think a pretty close knockoff dish shouldn't be too hard to make.
Course 13: Tire D'erable
Tire D'erable, or maple toffee in French-speaking Canada, is the result of pouring maple syrup on top of snow. It's genius really, as you transform this sweet nectar into a mini lollipop!
The utensil you're provided: a wooden branch.
The waiter comes and pours a line of maple bourbon syrup over a container filled with "snow", and you're instructed to use your branch to roll up the syrup. Action shot of the process!
My biggest complaint- not enough maple! The waiter could have easily poured twice as much maple syrup to satisfy my maple craving. But it was a delicious and sweet way to end the very indulgent night. And something I may just have to try during a fresh snowfall.
Well, there you have it folks. Two and a half hours later, our dinner is done. Obviously not every course impressed my tastebuds in the same way, but overall I'd say it was a smashing success. I'm a bit fancy-restauranted out these days, but I'm sure as time passes I'll get the bug again to splurge on a nice meal. I'm pretty happy with both of my experiences at Next so unless another menu looks spectacular I don't see myself going back anytime soon. Besides, its time to give a few other restaurants a try. El Ideas anyone?