Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Hunt

As season ticket holders for Next in the 2012 year, back in December we were offered the ability to “re-up” our tickets for the 2013 dining year (I know, I know, how pretentious does THAT sound). Obviously, I couldn't say no.

And so, The Husband and I have been waiting since December for our table at The Hunt. I can tell you without a doubt that it was most definitely worth the three months of waiting.

Normally before we go into our dinners at Next, we end up making a reservation at The Office, either before or after dinner. We decided for the sake of being “fiscally responsible” that wasn't a smart idea this time. Readers be warned, we did not follow through with our attempts at “fiscal responsibility,” but you’ll have to continue reading to see where we ended up (and what we had!).

Our reservation was at 8:30 on a bitter cold Wednesday night (yes, I had the choice to pick Friday or Saturday evening, but went with Wednesday because our next Next menu falls on The Husband’s 32nd birthday. You can’t argue with that!). We walked into the restaurant and were enveloped by a comforting aroma or rosemary.

Our Table
We sat down to a table with a runner made of deer fur and after reading about the inspiration behind this menu, a silver utensil that looked like a toothpick with a handle was placed in front of us (I later learned it was a Walnut pick).  Soon two small wooden bowls were placed down and a waiter came around with a glass box that looked similar to a tiny terrarium and a teapot filled with a dark liquid. As he approached, I realized THIS was where the amazing rosemary smell was coming from.  I was already swooning.

Our waiter informed us that Chef Beran took The Hunt to not only mean game, but also decided that it should include foraging. And so our first course was a foraged mushroom course. The teapot was filled with a wild mushroom consume that was fragrant and so absolutely fantastic that The Husband and I tried to savor every sip. Honestly, I need this recipe.

Mushroom Consomme 
 Inside the tiny glass box was a bed of fragrant rosemary and thyme, roasted garlic cloves and two large pieces of Maitake (or Hen of the Woods) mushrooms. I love Hen of the Woods, so this was a bit of heaven for me. The toothpick like utensil was to be used to pick up the mushroom and eat it. I also ate a bulb of the garlic. The Husband did not. Apparently he was worried about his breath, I obviously was not. We were told to drink the broth and eat the mushrooms separately, as the chef has created two different flavor profiles for them.

Hen of the Woods
Course two was the fruits of the sea. A jar of Walleye Rillettes! YES, you can apparently make anything into a rillettes and YES, it will be delicious. This fish was rendered in bacon fat and was simply fantastic. It was served alongside some house-made pumpernickel toast and a piece of smoked lake trout. I’m not the biggest fan of smoked fish, but I found this to be tender, not overly smoky and it fell apart once our forks hit it. If only all smoked fish tasted like this.

Course three brought the first onslaught of meat; cured and delicious. The dish was called a Charcu-Tree (they make jokes!)  A beautiful log of Birch came to our table, with five small shellacked wooden plates. We were told, from left to right, a Rabbit Pate, Spicy Elk Jerky, Wild Boar Salami, Antelope Heart Tartar and finally Boudin Noir (blood sausage).  While every single bite was divine, The Husband loved the Jerky and the Tartar the most and I loved the Boar and the Tartar the most. The Boudin Noir was awesome, I know a lot of people get a little wiggly when it comes to blood sausage, but this was really delicious and didn't have any iron taste that most people would imagine it would have.


Rabbit Pate and Elk Jerky
Boar, Heart Tartar and Boudin Noir
The next dish brought us back to foraging. Course four was a carrot that was cellar aged in sawdust for three months. I know, it sounds strange, but the saw dust draws out the moisture of the carrot and essentially mummifies it. This brings out the sweetness of the carrot to a whole new level. It was cooked and served alongside crispy onions that seemed to me like a shoestring french-fry and a sweet onion had a baby, and covered with a carrot sauce.

For our fifth course, the Chef did an amazingly delightful play on Bacon and Eggs. A scrambled Duck egg (all breakfast eggs should henceforth come from the duck) that is wrapped inside a caramelized Radicchio leaf  served next to a hash of Duck tongue (they’re so tiny!) and apple drizzled with some apple cider vinegar.  The eggs were salty, the radicchio leaf was sweet, the hash was salty and sweet and a little tart. This dish was spectacular.

Once this course was cleared, the Candelabra came out and we were told the upscale part of our hunting experience would begin. The plates they presented were the gold trimmed plates from the Paris menu, and each of the subsequent courses had a bit of an “Old Lodge” feel to them.

The first course was a beautiful piece of Sturgeon that had been poached. It was soft, flaky and mouthwateringly fantastic, that was placed over roasted sunchokes. This was rimmed in a Beurre Blanc and Caviar sauce that they made for us tableside.  Let us briefly sit in silence and ponder the level of decadence that was placed before us…..thinking….thinking…..thinking….HOLY MOLE!  Yes, we did everything but lick the plate clean.  When our waiter made the Beurre Blanc Caviar sauce in front of us, The Husband asked if he secretly walked to the back and licked whatever was remaining. He informed us that as much as he wanted to, there wasn’t ever time for him to stow away; which is a damn shame.

How romantic...and decadent
As we finished our Caviar and Sturgeon, The Husband began to have little palpitations as the wax from the candles began to drip down on the Deer table liner. He began to worry about how they would get the wax out, if we should move the Candelabra or maybe flag a waiter down. In looking at the tables around us, it did appear that our candles were burning faster than others, but I attributed that to all of the heavy breathing we were doing from our dishes.

Our next “Fancy” course came out, it was a phenomenal Woodcock Terrine, stuffed with Liver, Heart and Truffle (yey!) and garnished with huckleberries, a dusting of Chocolate and some more Truffle. It was tender, salty and perfect. Our neighbors were a course or two behind us, and were rather upset that there’s was “Cold”, the waiter had to inform them that it was supposed to be a cold dish. They were displeased by this; however The Husband and I rather enjoyed it.

The final “Fancy” course came out, and it was a Trio of Squab. Chef Beran had brought out the Duck Press again and used it to create a delicious Squab Three-Ways dish. First, the Breast was elegantly placed on a Confited leg, which was next to a half of Squab head (brains enacted) that was stuffed with breadcrumbs.

This whole thing was covered in a Blood-Based Sauce (I told you, he pulled out the Duck Press). We were told to pick up the beak, suck out the breadcrumb/brain mixture and then eat the remainder of the plate. This part of the dish was absolutely fantastic. The breast was cooked to perfection, the confited leg was amazing (I mean, it’s confit!) and the teeny tiny brain really tasted like delicious breadcrumbs. Honestly, you couldn’t taste anything.  Again, our neighbors got wacked out of shape by it and refused to eat it and made a big enough thing to turn to us and ask what we did with it. The answer we gave them “We sucked it out” was not what they were hoping for.

The second part of this dish was the remainder of the squab, all of the roasted bones. We were told to pick them up with our hands and gnaw on them. There was some meat, but honestly, this was the one part of the whole meal I could have done without. It just didn’t totally float my boat. Also, I must have gnawed too vigorously and got a little bone out. I bit down and heard a loud an uncomfortable crunching sound.

The rest of the Squab

Now, the third part of this dish was A-Maze-Ing.  Steal cut oats cooked in the Blood Sauce, chopped up with some offal (organ meat) and mixed with Foie Gras. For all that is good in this world, allow this to be my breakfast for the rest of my life.  Again, heavenly.


The Candelabra was whisked away and a Birch Bark plate (totally machine washable, apparently Birch lasts for a long time and can get thrown in the dishwasher really easily) was placed in front of us.  It’s called Fallen Leaves & Kidney, and the presentation alone was breathtaking. Seaweed, parsnip, pumpkin and purple cauliflower filled the bark bowl and was drizzled with a kidney mustard.

Our final meat course was rather fun, we dinned Caveman Style. A HUGE black rock that was hotter than hades was placed in front of us (inside the box, obiously). We were each given to very thin slices of Buffalo Strip and told to place the meat on the rock for 15 seconds (we realized that we wanted ours more rare and should have only cooked the thin meat for 7 seconds…oh well it was still delicious and fun).  The plate was garnished with onion, leak and a béarnaise sauce. You dragged the meat through the sauce and enjoyed.

The Husband cooking his meat, Caveman Style
The fun didn’t stop after the meat officially did. Our first dessert course was insane. A cross section of a bone was placed in front of us, filled with a marrow-based crème brulee. It was rich and buttery, like marrow generally is, but delightfully sweet and all together a delicious crème brulee. I should also give a shout out to our favoriest dessert wine ever. Along with this delicious dessert, they placed a bottle of Hungarian Dessert Wine, Royal Tokaji, on our table. The Husband and I informed the waitstaff that we couldn't guarantee we wouldn't finish the bottle if they left it....we did some damage.

Bone Marrow Brulee

The second to last dessert was my favorite of the three. Not that I don’t enjoy marrow, you can see from what I just said, the marrow brulee was wonderful. But this, this was just spectacular.  A small cast-iron pot was placed in front of us. It was filled with Maris Otter Barley pudding, in the center of the table small bowls of tart cherries, candied nuts, brown sugar, toffee, and a mixture of mint and basil leaves.   We were told to mix and match at our will.  Oh this was heavenly. The closest thing I could compare it to would be a rice pudding, but that would be like saying gold plating is the same as 24 carat gold. It was creamy and sweet (but not too sweet). My favorite combination was the mint and basil mixture (obviously) along with a touch of brown sugar and candied nuts. We had a great time mixing and matching flavor combinations and sharing
with one another.

Maris Otter Pudding

The fixings!
The final dessert (sadly I didn’t get a picture of this) was inspired by maple syrup farmer in Quebec. Sugar on Snow is a traditional dessert in many areas of the country that make maple syrup. The towns used to have Sugar on Snow parties to celebrate, heating the syrup and putting it on snow creates a sweet and chewy dessert treat.  So our final dessert was a trough of ice. We were given a stick (like from a tree) and the waiter poured two long lines of piping hot maple syrup on the “snow.” We were directed to place our sticks firmly on one side of the syrup line and then roll. A maple syrup lollipop was created and we popped the sweet syrup taffy candy into our mouths.

We were asked if we wanted any coffee, as it was 12:30 and we were hoping to pop next door to Aviary for a special drink, I opted for a cup and The Husband asked if we could get a table next door.  As I finished my cup, we were informed that our table was ready and were then escorted across the hall.

We sat down and our favorite waiter and waitress were working that evening. It’s not on the menu, but at the time The Aviary has a special beer that it had brewed with Mikkeller called The Forager. You had to ask to have the beer, and even then, you may or may not have been told they had it.  The Husband batted his long eyelashes and they brought him a bottle.

The Forager is a stout brewed with deliciously decadent black truffle (they’re $800 for a pound). The flavor was earthy and wonderful. The bottles are small and expensive, but if you’re a stout fan, or a black truffle fan (who isn’t?!) then you should most definitely get a bottle.  They’ve now released the beer as part of their series, so you don’t have to cross your fingers and hope they say “YES!”

Per usual, we closed the place down. And, as always, I had an amazing evening dining and drinking with The Husband.

The next Next menu is Vegan. After seeing what they've done with the “Foraging” dishes during The Hunt, I’m incredibly excited to see what is to come.

The Menu 

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