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!


Longman & Eagle

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Another Michelin restaurant review.  Longman & Eagle is a “regional American” restaurant in the Logan Square area, down the street from another gem, Lula Cafe.  A relatively new restaurant, it was fortunate to have scored a Michelin star last year, and has maintained that rating for 2012.

This was my second visit.  I had eaten at the bar before, and had their burger.  That meal was more drinking than eating, as I sampled too many of their great whiskey and bourbon selection and beers.  I noted that I needed to come back because there were so many tasty sounding items on the menu.

On this return trip, I went with a friend who lives in the area.  We had the Buffalo sweetbreads appetizer, venison sausage, and duo foie gras dish.  The sweetbreads (typically the thymus gland of a calf) were fried and covered in a traditional Buffalo wing sauce.   I’ve had the traditional French preparation of sweetbreads, which has them breaded and fried.  This was exactly like that but with Buffalo wing sauce.  It was good and tender, but not so much more special than Buffalo chicken wings.  The venison sausage was very good, served with potato pierogi-like dumplings.  The foie gras dish was a perfectly seared serving with a foie gras flavored milkshake.  Can’t go wrong with foie gras.

My friend had the roast chicken, and I had the “steak and eggs” short ribs with an egg-filled ravioli.  I am a sucker for short ribs, and while this wasn’t the typical slow-cooked, fork tender braised short ribs that I usually encounter, they were very well prepared.  They were boneless and meaty, and I believe were oven roasted and tender and flavorful.  I would definitely order it again if it were on the menu.