Children, please!

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Having missed out on the initial sales of Next Restaurant’s third menu, Childhood, I spotted a Facebook post that they were releasing additional tickets.  Most of the times available were around 6 p.m. or 9 p.m., and it reminded me of the Cubs single game sales day on the Internet, with the website unable to keep up with demand and seats going really quickly.

Unlike the previous Paris 1906 or Thailand menus, there was no country associated with the cuisine–well, maybe 1980s American.  The theme was a menu that evoked memories of one’s childhood.  Certainly not everyone’s childhood, but coincidentally the menu was something I was able to relate to.

I will run through the 10 course menu, which was matched, optionally, with alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.  It began with a neatly wrapped present.  All kids like getting presents.  This one contained a take on peanut butter and jelly–a ball of peanut butter with jelly inside and fried with a tempura batter.  A creamy chicken noodle soup followed (the noodles themselves were made from chicken extruded into a noodle).  Then there was fish and chips on a plate decorated with a child-like design.  The mac and cheese was well done, with different kinds of macaroni.

The most interesting to the senses was called a “walk in the woods” according to the waiter.  It consisted of a hollowed-out birch log upon which hot stones and juniper branches were placed.  On top of the log was a piece of glass that had various wild mushrooms spread about.  The smell of the juniper wafted about as you ate.  Alinea has/had a similar dish where a huge bowl of juniper branches had a hot stone nestled in the middle that contained a small morsel of meat.  I love mushrooms, and this was the tastiest of the dishes to me.

The last of the savory dishes was a deconstructed cheeseburger, which had a piece of short rib and cheese, served with the bun of a burger ground up into a spread.  I’m a fan of braised short ribs, so this was my second favorite dish.  If you ate the meat with the bread paste, it does taste like a cheeseburger.

The most innovative presentation goes to the lunchbox.  Everyone got a different circa 1980s lunchbox, complete with Thermos.  Mine had some port.  The desserts were a homemade fruit rollup, and an oreo cookie, served in a ziploc baggie.  A handwritten note from mom was a nice touch.  After that was a couple of doughnut holes served with an electric metal beater that had a foie gras frosting dripping from it so you could lick from it just like when you were a kid.  The last was a campfire made from sweet potatoes and served with marshmallows so you could make S’mores.

Some would differ, but the food didn’t match up to the Paris menu.  It was a great dining experience–which is all part of what makes a good meal.  The presentations were as creative and playful as one might find at Moto, and inspired interesting conversation.   Its just that the food itself wasn’t as memorable.  Oh, well.  Hope I get tickets to elBulli!

Hello, Moto

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Moto Restaurant has been open since 2004, but despite its many accolades, I have never made it there–until now.  It recently received a coveted Michelin star for 2012, and the news encouraged me to go.

Chef Cantu’s signature innovations were on display:  his custom-designed fork, with its corkscrew shape that held fresh sprigs of oregano, and his special “trade secret” printer that can print on edible menus.  As you can see in the pictures, the menu was printed using this technique.  The menu also served as a wrapper that the diner is supposed to make a maki roll with the included bamboo mat.  The fork accompanied a pasta made with freeze-dried chicken “dough.”

My reaction to the initial reviews when the restaurant first opened was that the menu was too gimmicky for me.  However, after experiencing it for myself, I have to say that I had fun while also enjoying the meal.  Other surprises included a dish that had oysters “smoked” at the table.  A mysterious smoke-filled globe is placed on the table with a small opening to let the smoke escape, revealing oysters in the shell inside.  Then there was the table candle that was poured onto another dish.  The fuel was apparently some kind of edible material.  My favorite dish was the cigar, made with collard green “tobacco.”