See below for my Next Review: Mexico City in 11 Courses
Neighborhood: West Loop
What it’s like to eat an 11-course meal during a pandemic
I haven’t written a restaurant review since the pandemic started. Restaurants closing for months and the general ubiquitous misery are not conducive for blogging about restaurants. Then there’s the whole ethical conflict about going to restaurants (I’m only eating on socially distanced patios) when service workers are at risk of dying because of capitalism. But that’s for another post.
I had been to Aviary before but not one of world-renowned Chef Grant Achatz’s restaurants. My plan was to save Alinea for a very special life milestone and I did reach a very significant life milestone recently but they aren’t catering to dietary restrictions right now so that was a no-go. I decided to do Next given the rave reviews I heard and it was a way to finally try this legendary chef’s cuisine while celebrating another important milestone.
Next features extensive tasting menus with a different culinary theme every four months and they accommodate for dietary restrictions. We experienced Mexico City during a balmy August night. I was super excited given how flavorful Mexican food is and the abundance of this cuisine in Chicago. But what was Next’s take on this specific region that I have yet to visit (it’s at the top of my list)?
When it came to dining at Next during the pandemic, the patio did feel socially distant. It’s not the biggest patio but I felt removed from the street. Everyone who worked there was masked and all of the guests needed to be masked when not eating/drinking.
For each course, they have a different person come out and present the food in a theatrical way, which may not be best during covid-19 but it is a nice touch when we aren’t living through the pandemic. They were also very strict about not coming to the table/not even picking anything up if we weren’t wearing a mask, which is a good thing!
We did a “wine pairing”, which was incredible. It was not only wine but distinctive drinks such as a Paloma and Mezcal margarita were part of the mix. I am not a sommelier but the wine definitely paired seamlessly with each course. When you dine at a place that costs this much, you want to make sure that the experience is worth all that money. And it was for me! What was the food like?! Read below for Next review: Mexico City in 11 courses.
The Tasting Menu
Next was excellent at accommodating for dietary restrictions so we could enjoy Mexico City without eating the meat. They do gluten-free, pescatarian, vegetarian, and non-dairy. Everything was carefully curated with fresh ingredients and the sauces were all incredible. Here are some of the highlights of Next’s 11 course journey to Mexico City:
- A celebration of corn – Since Mexican cuisine tends to feature corn, we had a plate with kernels covered by a clear lid that displayed the corn-centric “bites”. I loved the esquite, which was similar to a delicate elote – roasted to perfection and the zucchini corn fritter was a comforting bite on a bed of a mystery savory white sauce.
- Smoky Heart of Palm Salad – when you think of Grant Achatz, you’re not just eating food for the taste, you’re also there for the spectacle. It was definitely performative but in a delightful way. The bowl came out with smoke coming rising up while garnishing a heart of palm flan topped with a pumpernickel salad and an engaging jalapeno dressing. Using heart of palm for flan was incredibly innovative and I was obsessed with the zest of the dressing while enjoying the crunchy pumpernickel texture.
- Maitake Mushroom in Mole – This was by far my favorite course of the night. Maitake mushrooms are fancy, thick and layered so you can’t go wrong with these on top of a decadent, savory mole sauce. The mushrooms were served on a bed of something enticing that resembled refried black beans. I couldn’t get enough of it. That mole sauce was heartbreakingly delicious and it wasn’t made with meat!
- Tamal with a Chile Guajillo Salsa – One of the servers came out and made the salsa right in front of us. The star of this dish was the salsa. It was one of the best salsas I’ve ever had and the tamal husk was on fire. They presented the tamal in such an appetizing way and continued to celebrate the importance of corn with a side of salty avocado and pickled onions.
- 3 course dessert – Chongos, Platano Con Lechera, and Ponche – the last 3 courses were dessert and they were all amazing. These were served all at once, which was a bit overwhelming but they were smaller portions making it a bit more palatable. I especially enjoyed the Chongos, which were fancy, crispy churros on a log with truffles and the Platano Con Lechera, which were plantains served with delicate blueberries and a rich goat cheese ice cream. The flavors blended exceptionally well together given how they were sweet and savory.
- Ponche (we were told) is served during the holiday season in Mexico City and it brought me to a warm fireplace in December! The Ponche had guava, apple, and burnt orange giving off fall vibes and a jelly-like consistency. Oh yes and there were flowers on it too because it’s Next.
That’s not all
Here are some of the other courses that were also unbelievable and aesthetically gorgeous.
The End of a Culinary Journey
Well, that’s my Next Review: Mexico City in 11 Courses! The dining experience was around 3 hours because we are slow eaters. I left the experience feeling insanely stuffed (I am not wasting any food when it tastes that good), amazed, and a little disappointed that my big experience at Next was over but so grateful that I was able to experience such an innovative, creative, and well-curated dining experience.
Dining at Next is about so much more than food, it’s the entire experience and the food is presented like a work of art. As someone who loves cooking, it’s so nice to go to restaurants where the food offered is completely outside of my culinary range.
- Hungry for more reviews, check them out!