Can you believe it? We are steadily approaching the one year birth of The Carb Before the Storm. It has been an amazing year of eating my way through Chicago and beyond. I’ve loved taking you on the ride. I have been fortunate to attend some great events and meet fabulous people. Most importantly, I’ve had some amazing food. It seems fitting that I will celebrate my one year blog-a-versary with my thoughts on NEXT‘s Sicily menu. My carb overloaded trip to Sicily last year helped start this all so I’m glad to pay homage…
I had been anticipating this day since February…
I wondered what it would taste like and what would be served…
I waited and waited for my meal at NEXT Sicily. I wanted to experience how my home, family, and culture would be executed through the eyes, mouth, and hand of one of the best chefs in the world. We were greeted to the kitchen table and a sealed envelope was waiting. We opened it to reveal the following quotes:
“To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all. For in Sicily lies the key to everything.” – Goethe
“The best food of Sicily is found in the homes and the hearts of its people. Welcome”
So far, so good. Achatz got it right by complimenting my roots and understanding how central food is for the Sicilian people.
We started off with some appetizers: Panelle, a Caponata, Arancine, and Artichoke.
The panelle is a chickpea fritter that looks like a pita chip and I expected it to be hard, but it was a bit softer and chewier in texture and was a welcome surprise. These fritters are common snacks in Palermo and I’m sad I missed out on these during my travels last year.
The caponata had another unexpected surprise, the light crunch to the dish really made me appreciate it. It was light, flavorful, and the crunch made it stand out versus blend in with any other mushy caponata you’ve tasted. The arancine didn’t do it for me. They weren’t bad but they didn’t have enough flavor to impress. Last but not least with the opening act, the artichoke, which I enjoyed. It was grilled and a little difficult to eat but I loved the simplicity which is the root of Sicilian cooking.
The next course consisted of Steamed Clams with Fennel, Grilled Mussels, Shrimp with Watermelon, and Sweet and Sour Octopus.
All of these were delicious and for very different reasons. However, the clear winner for me was the octopus. I was the weird girl growing up who ate octopus. I remember finally convincing my bestfriend to try it. She was freaked out by the tentacles and texture. This octopus made me wish my dining companions felt that same way so I could eat the entire bowl. Unfortunately for me, no such luck.
Next came the pasta course, a Bucatini, Gemelli with sardines and breadcrumbs, and Gnocchi. My favorite was the Gemelli with breaded sardines and fried breadcrumbs. That dish summarizes my childhood and my trip to Sicily last year. That dish represents everything good in this world. The bucatini was well executed and I didn’t care for the gnocchi which were overly salted.
On to the ‘meat’ courses, the sword fish/tuna fish course with roasted garlic gloves and the pork shoulder. The clear winner was the pork shoulder that just melted off the bone. Another dish that reminds me of growing up in my mother’s kitchen and gets down to basics – meat and sauce!
I’m going to skip the cheese course and get to the best part… DESSERT!
I was ecstatic when I read about the Cassata cake on the menu. I grew up on this stuff and all birthdays or major life events (e.g. anything religious – First Communion, Confirmations, Weddings) all involve cassata cake. Cleveland (my hometown) actually hails a slightly different rendition (which I prefer) that consists of a sponge cake soaked in rum, filled with strawberries and custard, and then covered with whipped cream. How can anyone resist that?
I absolutely adored NEXT’s take on the classic dessert and it tasted as good as it looked. Unfortunately the other desserts just didn’t do it for me.
Sicily is home to the best cannoli in the world and I wasn’t impressed. The ricotta cream needed a bit more sweetness and some cinnamon or other spice to give it some additional flavor so that it wasn’t so one dimensional. We also were not offered espresso at the end of our meal…obviously a big miss…
Overall, my dinner at NEXT for the Sicily menu was nostalgic and fun but will definitely not be the meal I most enjoy there. Achatz gave it his best shot and at least he acknowledged that the best food is in the homes and hearts of Sicily’s people. I could not be more proud.
Thanks for celebrating a year with me.