An Unforgettable Night at NEXT

Image 10Last night, I had the extraordinary experience of dining at Next for a best friend’s 40th birthday celebration.  19 courses, 3 1/2 hours, rare wine pairings.  I am exhausted and bleary-eyed (we were at the 10pm seating, finishing at 1:30am) but I must get the words down while the night is fresh in my mind.Image 3Next, created by Chef Grant Achatz (of Alinea fame) and his business partner Nick Kokonas, is unlike any restaurant in the world.  The cuisine is changed entirely every four months (“A Tour of Thailand”, “Belle Epoque”, “Kyoto”, and wild game focused “The Hunt” are past examples) and you must purchase tickets through Next’s website rather than call and make reservations.  Tickets sell quickly.  An entire four months can sell out in mere minutes!  Serendipitously, the birthday girl is vegan, Next’s exploration of vegan cuisine fell on her birthday month, AND she was able to acquire tickets.

The inventiveness, the art, the execution – all of those elements are still floating around in my head.  It was as if we were wandering through an enchanted forest, stumbling upon Lilliputian-sized food placed on lichen-dotted rocks, floating in ponds and teetering atop branches.Image 5The two photos above illustrate how even lighting and shadows play integral roles in the theatrical experience that is Next.  (You’ll have to excuse my bad iPhoto shots – I wish I would have had my good camera, but I didn’t want to spoil the mood or drive my tablemates crazy.)  Below, sourdough crackers dusted in green tea powder pose as edible tree tops.  The crackers were used to scoop up roasted avocado spiked with fried kale slathered on a rock (seen in the following image). Image 9Image 8My absolute favorite bite of the night was the tempura swiss chard with douchi (a fermented black soybean concoction) seen below.Image 6And the wine. Oh, the wine!!  The Gramont Nuits-Saint-Georges (a 2009 pinot noir)- served with the divine mushroom course –  was truly one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted.  The curry roasted cauliflower with naan (below) was another favorite. Image 2Next would not have been the unforgettable experience it was without the skilled, knowledgeable, tireless waitstaff (a special thank you to  Dave for putting up with my eight thousand questions!).  Thorough without being pedantic, they presented the 19th course (and 7th wine pairing) at 1:15am with the same level of enthusiasm as the first.Image 11ImageTo answer a few questions you may have:

  1. Yes, even the three non-vegan meat lovers were thrilled with dinner.
  2. No, we did not leave hungry.
  3. And yes, we were smart enough to arrange transportation home.

Next’s next menu is Bocuse d’Or, based on the prestigious international cooking competition held biannually in Lyon, France.

Next is located at 953 West Fulton Market in Chicago.  Click here to register for tickets.

In Praise of the Five O’Clock Cocktail

Morning brings the ritual of coffee.  When bedtime draws near, I often fantasize about having it in the morning, waking up to the amazing taste, smell, and enveloping warmth.  I have been known to audibly moan upon taking my first sip.

Midday I am walking or running my gorgeous mutt.  Okay, most days.  When it’s not brutally cold.  It‘s very difficult to say no to that face.

And at day’s end, you will find me in the kitchen making dinner for my family.  This is also when I have my evening glass of wine.  Sometimes I believe it is the act I enjoy as much as the wine itself.  I take great pleasure in the ritual of uncorking, pouring, and relaxing.  On the nights when basketball games, swim lessons or a scheduled sunrise workout preclude this, I will pour Pellegrino with lemon or lime into a beautiful glass to take the place of my 5 o’clock cocktail.  Tonight was one of those nights, and while I did enjoy the bubbles, a great Malbec would have been heaven.

image 1 via thatbow.blogspot.com, image 2 via dillydallas.blogspot.com

The Winter Blues

This long sloooow march through the colder months often saps my spirits and ambition (cue The Dream Academy’s Life in a Northern Town).  It is much easier to spring out of bed when the sun’s rays embrace us early.  I am sharing a short list of things that carry me through the winter doldrums, and would love to know what works for you, too.

1) Coffee.  Coffee.  And more coffee.  I tried to give it up once and lasted until 10:30am.  Some things we must accept about ourselves and that I need coffee to survive is, for me, one of them.

2) My Quoddy Twin Strap Shearling Boots.  Gorgeous they are not, but let’s be honest, neither are Uggs.  And these are made by hand in Maine, and guaranteed for life.

3) Flowers.  I almost always have them on my bedside table and in the foyer.  An instant mood lifter, fresh bouquets or potted bulbs (loving fragrant hyacinth right now) are a reminder that things will, indeed, turn green again.

4) Regularly scheduled workouts with friends.  Again, it’s easy to jump out of bed and throw on your running shoes when you don’t have to layer up and freeze your way through the first half mile.  When I’m tempted to throw the covers back over my head and skip it, I won’t when I know there is someone counting on me for motivation, too.

5) Casual, intimate dinner parties.  I love hosting laid back dinners in winter, when no one feels like going out.  There is nothing better than sitting elbow to elbow with good friends over a rustic meal, then cozying up around the fire place for great wine, dessert, and conversation. (And yes, I actually baked that apple pie pictured below.)

6) My evening glass of wine.  Okay, if we are being completely honest with each other, this ritual occurs during all seasons.  But in the winter it is always red.

So tell me, what brings you pleasure throughout the cold season?

image 1 via www.nataliefrenchphotography.co.uk, image 3 via citified.blogspot.com, image 4 via vintagealbum.blogspot.com

What is sexy?

What is sexy?

My 9-year old daughter recently asked this from the backseat of my car (isn’t that where all of the amusing/difficult/serious inquiries come from?) after hearing the word in song lyrics.  The question gave me pause.  Not because I didn’t want to answer, but because sexy is undeniably subjective.  I responded eventually in a generic, text-book sort of way (my mother’s voice in my head saying, “answer honestly, giving no more information than they ask for!”), but the question stayed on my mind.

So I set about asking.  One sister responded, “Food is sexy – I am currently eating filet mignon wrapped in bacon with spinach and brie melted on top.  Gant videos.  Edith Piaf.”  Another said, “men with deep voices and strong thighs, confidence, solid ground strokes and a great sense of humor.”  And from sister number three, “confidence, charm, passion for life.  And a well-tailored suit!”

Friends – male and female – also weighed in:  A devilish smile.  A woman in a tank top and a baseball hat. A man with confidence toeing the line of arrogance.  Intelligence.  Great legs in heels.  The well dressed man.  Wit.  Ripped abs.  A woman who can pull off glasses.  Accents.  Bare shoulders in winter.  The dip in her lower back.

What do I think is sexy, you ask?  French press coffee with the New York Times.  Bill Evans.  Working up a sweat.  Red by the fire, white on the beach.  Salted caramel ice cream.  Grey cashmere.  Stolen, knowing glances.  And the sound of a spinnaker catching the wind.

*image via jennafifi.tumblr.com