My Dinner of a Lifetime at NEXT elBulli
All adjectives that can be used to describe the buzz around Grant Achatz’s newest menu at NEXT. Anyone who pays any attention to food in Chicagoland (and beyond) is familiar with Grant and his newest innovation that opened last year. Of course I read about the opening and began to wait for some of the reviews to pour in on the inaugural menu, Paris 1906. Without a doubt, it sounded, and most importantly (second to the taste), looked amazing. However, I still wasn’t on the chaotic band wagon… yet.
But then I heard about Childhood… I’m basically a child in a 26 year old body and I would love nothing more than to re-live my 1990’s Midwest childhood through Achatz’s lens. Unfortunately, I missed the ticket announcement and was forced to eye Facebook for the hope of snagging same day seats. I just didn’t have the luck required to have 3 friends and myself successfully send an email within 5 seconds of the Facebook announcement.
Then the sneak peaks and teasers for elBulli began to surface and the news that season tickets would be offered for 2012 that included elBulli, Sicily, and Kyoto. My attention was immediately drawn to Sicily. I absolutely cannot wait to see what Achatz has in store for my family’s homeland, but that is months away.
As for elBulli, the 29 course offering sounded like the dining experience of a lifetime. My good friend and I decided to buck up, get serious, and try to get season tickets. I was number 1,200-something (after requesting a spot about 10 seconds after the site went live). However, by some heavenly stroke of luck, a friend was number 300 and after sitting at her computer for 3.5 hours, finally received an email to be able to purchase tickets. We were fortunate enough to snag the kitchen table with a date for the elBulli dining experience only 2 weeks later!
It is impossible to review each bite, dish, or cocktail but I want to provide some highlights from a meal that combines art, science, and food into an experience for all the senses and one that will not soon be forgotten.
Let’s start with the kitchen table room. This was my first experience, and what a way to lose my kitchen table virginity! We were seated at a round table for 6 with floor to ceiling windows on one wall into the kitchen. I’m always early and it is true what they say, the early bird gets the worm because I had a fantastic view into the kitchen and found myself mesmerized by the happenings right on the other side of the wall.
The service was first rate, as expected. However, I did not expect to solicit my waiter to become my new best friend. An Italian gentleman from Jersey with a strong background in math, an MBA, and an expert gambler in the game of golf? Amazing!
Ok, on to the food portion of the show. I’m going to try to give brief highlights because let’s face it, there is just too much to talk about.
The meal started off with several small bites, one of which was the anchovy. I’m a pretty average person in the sense that I generally don’t care for anchovies but this may have just changed my mind. The anchovy was not overpowering and was complimented by the creamy texture of the avocado and the slight sweetness of the pear. The acid present in the small bite pulled the entire dish together, simply amazing.
The next dish I want to highlight is the Black Sesame Spongecake with Miso. I didn’t know what to expect when I initially laid eyes on this dish. I was instructed to compress the nest and attempt to eat it in one bite. I didn’t quite make the one bite rule but this dish was as playful as it was delicious.