Wednesday, August 29, 2012

On the road again: Chicon, day 2

Due to work demands, I spent most of today in my hotel room either on email or phone meetings.  Still, I can't complain about the day as a whole, as you'll see shortly.

Lunch was a fine blue pig and fig sandwich at Pastoral, a shop I recommend highly.  The cheese and the jamon serrano were both excellent, and if I lived here or had a refrigerator, I would have bought a lot of cheese. 

In the afternoon, I managed to escape the room long enough to register and say hi to a few friends who were wandering around the hotel. 

The big treat of the day, though, came late, when by luck my request for last-minute tickets to Next came through and I was able to eat dinner at Grant Achatz's wonderful second restaurant. 

If you're a foodie, you already know all about Next and can skip this paragraph. If you aren't aware of it, the basic idea is that three times a year--what it calls "seasons"--the restaurant does a completely different menu that the chefs design around a theme.  The first four themes were Paris 1906, Thailand, childhood, and El Bulli.  Each was a huge hit, and entrance to the restaurant became harder and harder and harder.  You don't reserve a seat; you buy a ticket.  Thousands of people fill the online lottery to buy year-long season passes.  And so on.  The rules get more complex, and the chances of getting in lessen from there.

After I was lucky enough to score tickets for tonight, we grabbed a cab and headed to Next to enjoy the menu on the current theme, Sicily.  Having eaten once before at Achatz's first restaurant, Alinea, and having seen pictures of and read about Next's seasons on El Bulli and childhood, I was prepared to eat any number of strange foods built loosely on Sicilian cuisine.

Instead, what appeared in multiple amazing courses were dishes built to evoke eating in the home of a Sicilian family--one whose cooks were amazing.  I'll go into the individual dishes another time, but suffice to say that from the antipasti to the pasta to the fish to the amazing pork shoulder, everything we ate was delicious and clearly in the Sicilian tradition.  I loved it all.  My only regret is that I do not own tickets to every Next season; each would, I am confident, be worth the additional cost of flying to Chicago. 

If you can ever wrangle a chance to eat at Next, do it.  I am confident you won't regret the choice or the cost. 

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