Starter and Burnt Avocado
To start the meal, we plucked crackers from the twisted branch centerpiece (next picture) and then scraped burnt avocado off of a large rock. Right. Fortunately it tasted like a very acidic guacamole, albeit one served on stone.
The Cracker Tree
I wasn't lying about the branches. While impressive, it did make conversation with one of my dining companions particularly hard for the first course.
Nori Dumplings and Earl Grey Rambutan
More wood! The earthy green Nori Dumplings were salty and soft, with a strong kick of wasabi. I could have eaten a dozen of them. The spiky looking rambutans in between were halved and stuffed with an Earl Grey rambutan custard which you were supposed to shoot like an oyster.
Though I was vegetable-adverse child, I grew up loving artichokes. But I'd never had them quite like this. These small specimens were roasted and then stuffed with an artichoke puree. This was one of the few times during the meal when a vegetable looked like a vegetable (if that makes any sense).
Even More Wood!
And then a hollowed out charred tree trunk was placed on the table. What was this? A waiter then ladled out some apple cider vinegar, which were instructed to drink with the meal.
Fermented Apples and Lichen
The vinegar was paired with this fascinating collection of apple preparations. Salty fermented apple pieces shared the plate with a raw apple and and a refreshing apple ice.
I should have known better. After we plucked the crackers out of the branches, I should have known that the other centerpiece, a rectangular glass box filled with water, rocks, and greens, would eventually be put to use. Those greens were sieved out and placed on a salad of lilies. Now that name starts to make sense.
Fennel with White Cherry
This course arrived chattering like a tea pot at full boil. A small glass top was removed, allowing smoke to billow out of a the center of the oddly shaped plate. Perched on the side of the plate was fennel with white cherry, but I was most impressed with what was in the bowl, which was a cocktail of Antoinette cider, Madeira, and bitters. We were given a silver straw to slurp up the drink.
Salsifies with Oyster and Dandelion
Who knew salsify was worth doing two completely different ways? On the right, the salsify is paired with a mignonette sauce, which makes it taste like an oyster. On the left, earthy dandelion makes for a more rustic take.
Swiss Chard and Douchi
This was another highlight, though trying to describe it and, most importantly, why it works, is particularly hard. A fried Swiss chard leaf (on the left) is used to scoop up the douchi, which is a funky fermented soy bean mixture. Apart, they are both distinctive and bold. But together they kind of taste like a Mexican tostada. Like I said, it makes no sense, but I loved it anyway.
This is sort of the "seafood course," even though there is no seafood in it. Instead, it featured a kelp custard with pumpkin seeds and a yuzu ponzu.
Instead of carting around a platter of aged steaks to show off to guests, Next wheels around a collection of mushrooms.
Those mushrooms are used to make one of the heartiest risotto dishes I've ever encountered. I should note that instead of rice, Next uses farro. This is one of the best dishes I've had all year.
This intriguing dish is the restaurant's take on Thai larb, a fiercely spicy minced meat salad. Quinoa was used in the place of meat, and while it didn't pack much heat, it did awaken the palate after the heavy last dish.
Even More Wood
In case we'd forgotten about the wood centerpieces, a strange piece with test tubes full of what looked like dirt was brought out to the table.
Curry Roasted Cauliflower
The last savory course was a stunner. I'm a huge fan of roasted cauliflower, so I was already looking forward to this course. But I wasn't expecting the sauce of curry spices and harissa to be so complex. My only complaint is that I wish the serving were 10 times bigger.
The Cauliflower Fully Dressed
Remember the test tubes? Well they were spilled out over the dish, revealing a collection of seeds and a sprouted garbanzo bean. Actually, this might be the best dish I've tried all year.
Olive Oil Jam and Black Truffle
The sweet courses began with us popping a small Sichuan peppercorn, which numbed our mouths in preparation for this course. Though mild, it had an interesting graham cracker flavor.
Hibiscus and Pistachio
The highlight of the sweet courses, and among the best all night, was this one. Featuring a range of different components served at different temperatures, it combined into a bright and playful bite.
Sweet Potato Nest
A small Bourbon marshmallow perched in a sweet potato nest tasted, you guessed it, kind of like a marshmallow roasted over a campfire.
Aerated Chocolate with Passionfruit
Finally, this aerated piece of chocolate proved that chocolate is delicious even without dairy.