Paris 1906 menu at Next restaurant, I didn’t know what to expect from the next three-month incarnation—a taste of Thailand. Would they stick to the Thailand of the future (2036) plan I had originally heard about, and would that just be a Thai-style Alinea? Would the rather minimalist room (save the industrial tracks that snake along the ceiling) be decked with hot pink and gold silk fabrics? Would the spices have me soaking my entire face with water? Who knew? With a very lucky ticket in hand I went in to see for myself. I quickly found out the answer to each of my anticipatory questions was no. The decor is the same, the spices were vibrant, palate buzzing and complex but not too spicy, and the menu, it was more street and modern Thai than anything remotely futuristic. A good move, I thought, to focus on the flavors, ingredients and spices of Thailand, rather than try to pipe a tom kha gai foam over dehydrated pad Thai powder. The journey was real, and began with an explosion of color, flavor, oh, and Thai newspaper table coverings…Just as with the stunning
Our first drink pairing was guava, mango and papaya juice spiked with Indonesian sugarcane rum, and sparkling wine. The booze brought the sweetness down and intensified the fruity, refreshing and intense flavors of the fruit. Dangerously addictive, they refilled our glass a tew fimes…
From there the street food component was presented on a banana leaf lined wooden tray. We didn’t know what to pick up first from the roasted sweet bananas topped with chilies to the crunchy prawn cakes, steamed buns and sweet shrimp bites. My favorite of the bunch were the rice-stuffed fermented sausage, almost too pretty to eat.
Up next was a hot and sour broth soup that was down right medicinal. And by medicinal I mean I believe it might offer some sort of healing power with its deep, umami-esque deliciousness. Our spoons were lucky to pick up thick, soup-soaked hunks of tender pork belly, and the tomato and ginger added more flavor pop and color. The newspapers were also replaced by silk green runners, adding to the gorgeous presentation. Please Next, get a street truck out there, ok, fine, maybe just a take-out window in the alley stocked only with this soup. Please?
Ah, how good is Thai sticky rice on its own? Now picture about 10 various dipping sauces to ladle over it. We didn’t know where to go first, with sauce choices like salted duck egg, green mango, white radish banana pepper, cucumber, chili and dried anchovy tamarind. We just dug into them all, each sparking every flavor sensation, from sweet to salty, pungent to fish oil and tamarind-infused sweetness.
Our taste buds were still abuzz with flavor, so the next course was a mild, more streamlined fit, a sweet and tangy caramel sauce catfish with celery and coriander root presented beautifully family-style.
After the beautiful fish course, came an even more stunning beef course. Beef cheeks in a peanut, nutmeg and kaffir lime curry to be exact. The curry sauce was purely drinkable on its own, and the beef cheeks, fall-apart tender and a standout dish paired with a light and amber-y Half Acre beer brewed for the restaurant.
So by this time we really didn’t miss any sort of “futuristic” presentations because the flavors and ingredients put on enough of a show. But of course, it wouldn’t be Next without a little surprise, and audience participation. This is what came to the table…
And this is what happened when we opened our pre-cracked shell. A cool, refreshing coconut sorbet somehow rested on one half, the other was filled with a coconut tapioca with corn, egg and licorice. I’m not the biggest coconut fan, but this dessert was salty, sweet, and I’ve officially decided that you can’t go wrong when corn meets dessert.
I wanted to LOVE the last dessert. I really did. I mean, they even delivered a fragrant pink rose to the table along with it. A halved hot pink dragonfruit was almost so lovely, we didn’t want to dig into the sweet black seed-dotted custard. And by sweet, I mean almost too perfume-y for me, but truly marvel-worthy.
At this point I was craving dark chocolate (this is nothing new), but the final dessert, although sans chocolate, did the trick..a cool take on Thai iced coffee in a twisty-tie baggie brought to the table on a bamboo skewer.
We left full, happy and still dreaming about the hot and sour soup and beef cheek curry. In typical Chicago summer fashion, of course it was crazy stormy and still sweltering out when dinner wrapped up around midnight on a Wednesday..the perfect closure to nine-course adventure of color, heat, spice, texture and Thai spirit. Next restaurant, 953 W. Fulton Street.