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Next, in Chicago, is one of my favorite fine dining restaurants in the world, is part of the Alinea Group. Foodies the world over know Chef Grant Achatz of Alinea, but I dig the work of chef Jenner Tomaska – trying the new menus at Next is one of my culinary highlights each year. Historically, we have been pretty lucky when it comes to tickets for dinner at Next. For the most recent menus, we’ve just gone online and found a Friday or Saturday night reservation (at a reasonable time – 20h00-21h15 usually…we never do the 17h15 reservations) for later that same week. I’m not confident that our luck will continue to hold out, but so far so good.
We snagged tickets for 20h15 on Friday night. I ended up working until about 19h30 and then just walked over to the restaurant, which for me took about 30 minutes. After a couple minutes of chatting with the team at the front door, checking our coats and briefcases, we were escorted to our table, a booth towards the back of the restaurant – actually the same booth we sat in during our first meal experience at Next. I prefer this seat to any others we’ve had before – you don’t feel crowded and the benches are much more comfortable than the banquette and chairs at the other tables.
Our table was already set with a water glass, napkin and caviar spoon for each of us plus a large sculpted ice sculpture of two fish surrounding a corked cantaloupe. Our first course was waiting for us – as has been the practice for the past couple of menus we’ve enjoyed.
As we get settled (washing hands, blowing noses – it is winter in Chicago after all), a server provided both still and sparkling water and immediately another server welcomes us – he ended up taking care of us most of the night. He started off by talking a bit about the menu (which remained a secret throughout the night, until the course was delivered to our table). This menu focuses on classic French cuisine and techniques – from the 16th-18th Centuries. The second menu of 2018 will focus on more modern French cooking, can’t wait!
The ice sculptures were keeping the first proper course well chilled. The cantaloupe was a wonderfully refreshing aperitif – with cantaloupe and a French wine. We’ll be stealing this drink idea once the weather warms up. We loved it.
The next seven courses were perfectly timed. We’ve had a couple experiences at Next (and other fine dining restaurants) where you can feel rushed or worse, you are sitting around just wondering if the next course is on its way…or if you are done for the evening). As with my previous posts about Next (and others), I’ll spare you the course by course critique and just share with you the photos and then provide further details after.
As I said, we sat down to eat at 20h15 and we were walking about the door at 22h30, while it wasn’t a quick in and out, it was far from the longest meal we’ve eaten at Next. Most of the courses came with a few descriptive sentences not only about the meal, but a bit about the time period and why this dish was specifically selected to be part of this Classique menu.
There wasn’t a single course that I didn’t care for, but that being said, I would say my least favorite was the first dessert, the Ile Flottante. The flavor was just fine and the spun sugar reminded me of razor wire atop a fence.
My favorite course was the Turbot, which surprised me. The crispness on top and the buttery tenderness of the fish paired perfectly with the octopus, mussels and veg that surrounded the delightful fish. I was so surprised by the Timbale too. This was a mushroom filled shell of cooked bucatini pasta. The bucatini was wound tightly making a nearly impermeable shell, which was a little gummy, but since it wasn’t served as a proper pasta, it worked. The lobster course was the most beautifully plated, with a lovely mirrored platter. The trout roe with the asparagus was a bite that I needed more of too.
There were two optional courses you could add on to the basic menu, each cost an additional $150. We chose the sole and absolutely loved it (wasn’t as good as the Turbot though). Another option was squab en croute. The pan that cooked the bird was topped with a very salty dough designed to seal in all the moisture as it cooks. Every service we saw during our meal opted for one or both of the add-ons. The table next to us indicated the sole was the better of the two options.
None of the wines we had really knocked our socks off. We usually take just the standard wine pairings and while we do truly enjoy wine, we aren’t too keen on adding an additional expense to the dinner.
Have you experienced French: Cuisine Classique at Next? Do you plan on enjoying the Moderne menu starting this spring? What has been your favorite menu at Next? What is your favorite fine dining restaurant in the world?
After a bit of a delay boarding and a rather lovely yet awkward push through 250 other passengers waiting to board, we were finally at the Door 1L for our 9,249 km (5,474 mile) and 11.5 hour journey from Bangkok to Munich. The Royal First cabin on Thai Airway’s Boeing 747 is configured in a staggered 1-2-1 layout. I say, staggered because the first row only has two seats due to the curvature of the plane. There are three window seats on each side and two rows of two center seats – allowing for 10 passengers in the front of the plane. There are 14 Royal Silk (Business Class) seats directly behind the Royal First cabin, plus another 26 seats on the upper deck. I would have much preferred to be seated in the small upper deck, but first is on the main deck.
We opted to sit in Seats 3E and 3F – the last two seats in first, in the middle section. The seats Thai uses in First on both their A380 and B747 service are the same, all forward facing lie-flat seats. The seats aren’t angled away from each other, so if you are traveling with someone, you can still talk to them relatively easily.
As I reach my seat, 3F, the Stew approached, welcoming me aboard and asking what I wanted to drink. He was very rushed and very agitated. My gut is that the delay was frustrating him, he knew he had to get a multi-course meal out and get people to bed quickly. He was trying to be efficient. I ordered champagne.
I continue to get situated – taking out my noise-cancelling headphones, my tablet, a USB Cable to ensure that my phone was fully charged for the photos I knew I’d be taking. The champagne was delivered and the Stew comes back asking what I wanted for my meal. Mind you, I hadn’t sat down at that point – I was still unpacking, rearranging, etc. I let him know I hadn’t looked yet and needed a few minutes. He slammed his hand down on the seat in front of me and stormed off. So strange.
I get settled, enjoy my chocolates and some champagne and the Stew comes back to ask about my dinner selection (it had been about 45 seconds since his last visit). I told him I hadn’t decided and that I didn’t even have a menu yet. He proceeds to pull one out of the area where the magazines and safety cards are stored…then he stands there while I look at it. He asks again about my selection. Good god man, give me a second. He walks off in a huff again.
I figure if I don’t have an answer for him on his next visit I’ll probably be escorted off the flight — yes, all this is happening while passengers in business and economy are still boarding. I tell him I’ll take the Thai Curry with Beef Satay. “It is too spicy for you, you’ll hate it. I suggest you choose something else.” Ok, so just a few hours ago I was at Nahm sweating my ass off because of an extremely spicy Prawn Curry, but I was very confident that this dish wouldn’t be anywhere near that spiciness. I again, requested this dish. His response was priceless: “Fine, but if you don’t like it, you can’t change your selection.” Now if that isn’t First Class service, I don’t know what is.
The door closes about 25 minutes after we boarded, so the Thai Airways folks did a great job in getting all the passengers on board and settled. We had a short taxi to the runway, but a very long and bumpy take off roll. The plane sounded like it was rattling from every screw, bolt, door and cabinet. It was so loud (and unsettling is not the right word, but something just felt off), so much the passengers I could see all gave each other a concerned look and tightened up their seat belts.
We were in the air and once we crossed 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) the cabin crew jumped into service. Starting with the beverage service and accompanying nuts. Everything seemed quite rushed – but at this point it was already past 01h30, so people wanted to get some sleep and I’m sure the stews are getting yelled at if they don’t get service done quickly. We weren’t in any hurry ourselves, I was fine staying up all night and experiencing the wonder that was Thai Royal First class.
After the drink orders were taken, I grabbed my Thai Royal First pajamas and went to the lavatory. The lav on the the B747 was quite tight, nothing at all like the large and luxurious Thai A380. You almost had to be a contortionist to change in that tiny bathroom – but luckily a couple glasses of Dom made me a little more flexible and I managed to change without any of my clothes touching the bathroom surfaces.
No refills on the nuts were offered – we were obviously on a quick an efficient service tonight. The caviar service came next and I absolutely loved the caviar service last time I flew Thai. This time, the caviar cart was not wheeled around, but we were asked what accouterments we wanted and the fully plated version came out. We were also given our own individual jar of caviar this time, while previously we given individual scoops of caviar – so you could adjust your portion accordingly. Keep it coming! The crew didn’t include the vodka pairing with the caviar tonight though – quite disappointing.
After we finished our caviar – immediately after I mean, with almost no delay or hesitation, we were given a salad course. I think.
Then another salad course. The second with Brussels sprouts, carrots and nuts and greens. A perfectly respectable second salad of the flight.
A mild lime flavored sorbet to cleanse our palettes before moving on to the entree. We were still moving along at quite a clip here too, not a moment was wasted between final bite of one course and the delivering of the next.
Next up was the Thai curry that was going to be way too hot for me – and when that happened, I’d be stuck without a meal for the flight…or so the Stew told me. He did a great job of setting the table, especially considering there were so many condiments that came with my curry and satay. I will say the curry was very good, it had the mildest of kicks too it too, but this of course had nothing on Nahm. I ate every single bite of this curry – I did have to shoo the Stew away a couple times as he tried to clear my tray table while I was taking a break from the hurried pace of our meal. I’d totally order this next time I fly Thai.
After dinner was cleared, I looked for the Stew working my aisle. I needed his help making my bed, but he was no where to be found. I found his counterpart working the other aisle (she was back in business class chatting with some colleagues and passengers). She quickly came up and made my bed without hesitation. She was so much nicer and more professional. I wish I had sat in her aisle.
I crawled into bed and prepared for sleep. I was pretty full, so sleep didn’t come all that quickly to me and the First Class Cabin on Thai (and many other airlines too) is like a sweat lodge – the heat is just cranked up. Farther back in the plane it is much cooler, but it was so hot up front that you didn’t need all the blankets they provided.
I ended up sleeping off and on for about 5 hours of this flight. I was too full and too warm to get a great night’s sleep. I got up about 60 minutes before we landed (I asked the Stews not to wake me for breakfast – I’m not really a breakfast guy and I was pretty full still when I woke up) and popped into the lav to change and brush my teeth before everyone else started getting cleaned up before landing.
As we came in for a landing the old B747 shook and shimmied, just like it did on take off. Closet and lav doors popped open and overhead bins dropped down. We landed smoothly and taxied to our gate. As we deplaned we were given the customary Thai orchid and like the A380 flight, the Stews held back the Business Class (and Economy) passengers until all the First Class Passengers had deplaned. That is such an elitist move by the airlines, but I absolutely love it.
Flying Thai Royal First was one of the most anticipated parts of this trip. I utterly adored my experience on the A380 and since I love the B747 itself, I thought I’d be equally wowed. I did enjoy the flight, the food, the hard product (except for the doors and bins that kept popping open), but the service was dismal at best. I know people fly for different reasons and it can be quite annoying when you want to sleep and the cabin crew are banging around serving a meal late into the night, but we felt rushed and couldn’t fully enjoy the experience. Yes, I’m sure I could have been more proactive and told the Stew to slow down and attempted to enjoy the process more, but I didn’t.
I would definitely fly Thai Royal First again – and I’d love to experience their A380 service again -even if it costs more United miles than the first time I flew it. The daytime flight out of FRA to BKK I think is the way to go – long enough flight to really experience the journey and early enough in the day you aren’t rushed by people trying to get some sleep.
Have you flown Thai Airways Royal First? Which experience (A380 or B747) was more inline with yours?
I didn’t have much time to spend in Stockholm so I put together a list of things that I just had to see before I boarded my return flight home. The first thing on the list was the Vasa Museum, which I wrote about recently. I had also heard many good things about the ABBA Museum, but I’m not a huge ABBA Fan (perish the thought, I know) and the museum entry was quite steep – I just couldn’t pull the trigger.
Interestingly enough, Stockholm was dramatically warmer than Chicago the week I visited. Chicago was -40C (-40F) when I left and Stockholm was 5C (41F), which was downright balmy! By my second day in Stockholm the temperature had dropped closer to freezing and a bit of snow dropped overnight. Despite the weather change it was still quite comfortable and didn’t impact my plans at all.
My visit list included a walk around Gamla Stan – or old town Stockholm – and while there I visited the Royal Palace and Museum and the Nobel Museum (which was undergoing some reconstruction work). In addition to these main attractions, I wanted to get a better feel for the City – see the architecture and learn more about the people and history of the City. This last goal required me to just wander around the City, turning down streets that looked interesting, popping into bars and restaurants that had an appeal and chatting it up with the locals.
I will usually check out TripAdvisor and see if there are any places that hadn’t made my list, but should have – or to check out the self-guided walking tours offered on the TripAdvisor App. There was an interesting one for Stockholm – a tour of the various art pieces found in the Stockholm Subway Stations. Yes, I used my three-day transit pass to schlep between stations to checkout the modern and classical installations. At a couple stations, locals asked me what I was photographing – so I told them about the self-guided tour I was on, and talked to them about the object I was there to see. It was a really unique way to explore the art of the City. At each stop, I also made sure to go above ground and at least take a walk around a block or two to see where I was and what the neighborhood was like.
The people of Stockholm were very welcoming and anytime I had a question (if I had gotten myself lost or needed a recommendation, for example). Even when I was just walking around the City, I didn’t hear Swedish being spoken – only English – which was a little disappointing. On the flight the announcements were only in English and not Swedish. I understand that everyone (or nearly) in Stockholm speaks English, but I was hoping to hear some of their native tongue.
What was the thing you just loved about Stockholm? What did I miss on my visit? Am I nuts for going to Sweden in January?
After a long Thanksgiving week with the extended family I needed a bit of a break. My final night in Portland for the Thanksgiving holiday, I was fortunate enough to have dinner with a friend – which allowed us lots of time to tell Thanksgiving tales of crazy. It was quite cathartic.
My friend offered three suggestions for our Sunday dinner, of which I selected Beast. Beast is often billed as a “Meat-centric” or a “Meat-Heavy” restaurant in Portland’s trendy Alberta Arts District. I was excited to try this restaurant, but sure didn’t want five courses of meat, luckily the menu was much more balanced.
When I told locals (bar tender, Uber driver, hotel concierge) I was going to Beast, every single person asked when I made the reservation, then they were totally shocked when I said I booked it on Friday morning (for a Sunday meal). Evidently, reservations are very hard to come by. I’m assuming that the Sunday after Thanksgiving wouldn’t be a busy day considering all the gluttony that had taken place over the past four days. On Sundays there is one seating – 19h00, while Wednesday through Saturday offers two seatings 18h00 and 20h45. Beast is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Two communal dining tables offer seating for guests. There was seating for about 20 people, but during our meal, we only had about 10 other people dining with us. The fixed price six-course menu was $125 per person, plus $50 per person optional wine pairings – which of course we did add on the wine pairings.
We had a nice view of the kitchen and staging area, but honestly, we didn’t pay much attention to what was going on in the kitchen, we spent most of our time catching up.
The food was coursed out evenly and with little fanfare. Each course was delivered, along with the appropriate wine pairing, and the server provided a high level description of both the food and the wine. The descriptions were pretty bare bones, but again, our focus on this dinner was a good meal and to catch up with an old friend – we weren’t looking for the full details and all the nitty gritty of the meal.
The meal progressed at a leisurely pace, but never once did we feel rushed nor did we stop to ask ourselves what was taking so long. It was really perfectly paced. The single items that I liked the least, was the espresso ice cream and that is only because I really don’t like the flavor of espresso or coffee. Everything else was really wonderful. The duck ragu was my favorite course followed closely by the beef tenderloin.
Another interesting part about Beast – gratuity is already included in the price. I’m not sure how I feel about that. In Europe, it is common not to tip. We were taken aback when there wasn’t a tip option on the receipt either, and after a quick Google Search we found that tip was included (when my friend saw the receipt she had a vague recollection that gratuity was included). Once the checks were delivered, the staff was redirected into cleaning up and closing shop – so we couldn’t really snag anyone to confirm the gratuity situation.
Portland is a tough city for me. I don’t spend much time there and when I do, I have many obligations, including friends, co-workers and family. There are so many great restaurants in Portland there are too few meals in the day to eat at every I want to try. That being said, I would definitely return to Beast.
Have you eaten here? Did you think it was a meat-centric menu? What other recommendations do you have for Portland dining?
Everest is a mainstay in Chicago’s fine dining scene. This Alsatian restaurant, located in the southern part of the Loop neighborhood. Everest earned its first Michelin Star in 2011 (the first year Michelin visited Chicago) and has kept their single Star ever since. Chef Jean Joho opened Everest in 1986, but it took us until last week to try it.
Everest has been on our list for quite a while. We love French food and we don’t get a chance to sample Alsatian food very often. I booked our reservations about three weeks out, through Opentable, without problem. We snagged a prime reservation at 20h00.
The day of the meal, we arrived right at 20h00 and were immediately escorted to a waiting area that reminded me a lot of a small break out room at a conference hotel. The room had those moveable walls so you can adjust its size. There were three tables in this area, 2 two-tops and a four-top. Techichally we didn’t have anywhere to sit, because the two people at the four-top were sitting in seats one and three. We asked them if we could sit with them, but they didn’t move, so we sat between them. It was awkward.
We ordered a drink in this holding area and watched as all the others near us were moved into the dining room. Another couple, from Toronto, joined us for a drink. At 21h00 we were brought to our seats – yes, one hour after our reservation. I was frustrated and starving.
Everest offers both a tasting menu and an al a carte menu. The tasting menu didn’t really appeal to me as there were two of the seven courses that I would have eaten, but wouldn’t order on their own (Foie Gras and Pheasant). We opted for the a la carte option.
When exploring the tasting menu, you can add optional wine pairings. With the a la carte menu, we just asked the server to select three wines for our four course dinner. We decided to have two starters and a main, followed by a shared cheese course and then ultimately the dessert.
I started out with the Atlantic Oysters then moved into the Everest Roasted Lobster – a dish on which the menu claims Everest has built its reputation. Mike also chose a Everest Signature entree – the Sole Meunière.
We enjoyed our food at Everest, but were really put off by the extremely long wait we had until our table was ready. Then the waiting just continued. It took us a while to get menus, then finally to place our orders. Once that was all done, the kitchen kept everyone on track. The food came out properly prepared and at the right temperature. It was clear the issues were at the front of the house. Two tables next to us had the wrong food delivered – our food was spot on from delivery to taste.
The decor was extremely outdated. It felt like we were in a scene from American Psycho – it felt very late 1980s or early 1990s. I was fully expecting Susan Sugarbaker to be dining at a table next to us — no such luck.
The patrons weren’t like those you see at other Michelin restaurants either. They all seemed very stiff and stodgy…except the table next to us. They were holding hands all through dinner, except when she’d step away to the washroom for 15-20 minutes at a time. We totally got the high-end pro and her John vibe from them. The other table right next to us had a woman and her recent college grad son. The son was explaining why pairing wine with food was stupid. We’ve all been there, a recent grad who knows EVERYTHING and anyone who offers guidance is dumb and stuck in the old ways. This was that guy.
I’m glad we visited Everest. We checked one of the most famous and long standing fine dining restaurants in Chicago. We have no plans on returning. The food was good, but everything else (decor, service and other patrons) all fell short on this dining experience. For $500 per couple, I’d rather enjoy fine dining at Next, Goosefoot or Grace (in Chicago, that is).
Have you been to Everest? Were you looking for Patrick Batemen too? What did you have? What did you love about your experience?