By now, I hope you know the drill with Next, Grant Achatz and Dave Beran's West Loop restaurant, which not only changes its menu every four months, but also its complete focus. Over the past two years, we've covered a few of Next's transformations, including Paris 1906, a Tour of Sicily, and even a menu based on Childhood (remember that burger?). On Wednesday, the restaurant flipped again, with a new menu called The Hunt.
What's The Hunt all about? Honestly, I was clueless before the meal started. In my rush to get tickets, I forgot to look into what I was going to experience. I just knew said experience would be worth it. Sure, I figured there would be loads of wild game, which turned out to be sort of true, but the restaurant left a note for us on our table when we arrived. Here's an excerpt:
With this menu we want to explore facets of hunting beyond basic ideas of game meats and hunting as sport, broadening our outlook to include fishing, foraging, and preservation. And because hunting and the outdoors are inseparable, the menu embraces nature throughout.
The latter part is definitely true. Many of the dishes literally brought nature to the table, starting with the animal skin used as a centerpiece on each and every table.
I've been to two other Next menus, Paris 1906 and Tour of Thailand, so of course those are my reference points, but this one really did feel like a combination of those two. Like the Thailand menu, the meal was playful and whimsical, utilizing all kinds of different stands and cooking methods to present the food. But halfway through, the Paris menu seemed to come back to life. A few courses in a row were served on what looked like the exact same plates as the Paris meal. Then comes the squab course, which is strikingly similar to Paris's triumphant duck course, right down to the blood sauce made from pressing the carcass. But immediately afterwards, The Hunt veers back into conceptual dishes again.
Enough talk. Here's a first look at what you can expect from The Hunt. Check it all out by clicking on the slideshow.
Oh, and how did I luck into tickets to the first night of Next: The Hunt? Honestly, it was a combination of genuine luck and persistence. I just happened onto Facebook, Next's primary communication tool, as the restaurant announced available tickets. Though all were snatched up with seconds, I stuck around, refreshing the website as often as I could in hopes that a ticket would pop up. After about 30 minutes, a ticket for opening night did.