A post or two back I mentioned I would be returning to the subject of autumn leaves (don’t worry if you don’t remember, we work as a team here :))
The turning of the leaves, those rusty khakis & golds, spicy pumpkin & fiery blood-red hues are one of the few things I miss about living in colder climes. Here in Santa Barbara we have just a couple of varieties of vines and trees that put on any sort of spectacle-both of which I have planted in my garden. Meanwhile…2 days away from December, I’m still waiting…
Fortunately, we were in Chicago for a week earlier this month and thanks to the “Chef Who Knows No Bounds” Grant Achatz, we experienced a turning of leaves so inventive even Mother Nature would raise her lichened brow.
Our first stop was a highly anticipated return to “next” to celebrate my husband’s birthday. If you aren’t already familiar with next (opened in 2011), with its fabulous concept of changing “themes” every few months, you simply must put it on your list of things to experience in Chicago. The current theme is “Autumn in Kyoto” with the tradition of “Kaiseki” as its guiding inspiration.
“Autumn in Kyoto: the moon viewing, the changing hue of the maple leaves, the last crickets of summer, wind blowing through the river grass…”
I won’t spoil it by revealing the menu, which is truly half the fun-and yes, this restaurant is about having FUN in and with every sense, but I’ll share two hastily taken, slightly fuzzy pics (was getting a touch of stink-eye from the Hubs & Older Son)
A glimpse into the level of creativity involved in this dining adventure; Live crickets (for song, not consumption) in a vintage cage perched on leaves in the centre of our table.
The collecting of crickets during the transition of Summer to Autumn is a centuries old Japanese tradition.
Apparently the male crickets do most of the “singing”
Are we surprised??
A delicate and exquisitely presented dessert called “First Snowfall”
Previous themes at “next” ;
We also heartily imbibed at Chef Achatz’s ultra cool bar “The Aviary” one night and spent our last evening in Chicago dining at his original restaurant, the amazing “Alinea”.
Yes, it’s true
We are complete Achatz-olytes. If Chef Achatz tells us he’s building a space ship that’s going to a better place, we’re on board. We probably get to eat the ship upon arrival.
Woodcock, lingonberry, shallot, oak leaves at Alinea.
The leaves are set alight as they’re brought to the table so the room is infused with the visceral scent of a campfire.
“Alinea”, currently one of the Top Ten restaurants in the world and “The Aviary” are much too special to squeeze in here, so I’ll save them for another post.
Earlier in the season, Grant Achatz and Chef Daniel Humm of “Eleven Madison Park” in NY, partook in some unprecedented culinary hijinks by trading restaurants for one week. How cool is that?! Reservations for “Alinea at Eleven Madison Park” and vice versa, were made via the internet just as they are normally for NEXT and Alinea.
As you’d imagine, a furious Foodie throw-down commenced with tables totally booked in minutes. Luckily our Older Son, whose hummingbird-fast digits have been flitting across a keyboard since he was 4, managed to secure The Dinner Date of a Lifetime for he and his girlfriend the first night. (That’s my boy :) ) Their iphone photo shows “a bed of leaves on the table which you brushed off onto the ground after a few courses” so by the end of the night the floor of the restaurant was covered in leaves.
I actually covered the entire entry hall and dining room floor of our home with leaves for a Halloween party when the boys were young and what a gorgeous mess it was! (until the light of day…ouch)
Speaking of gorgeous messes, get a load of this tree and how the leaves have turned such a divine rusty red.
Now guess who the tree belongs to.
She lives here in my town.
Er, I mean I live in her town.
Well, let’s just say we’re neighbours.
this is MY tree.
It’s the exact same type of tree. On the same side of the street.
What’s up with that??!
Do you think Oprah’s tree knows it’s Oprah’s tree and is just being an overachiever? Are Oprah’s people hand-tinting her leaves in the night?
Or is my tree perhaps a female and therefore not a “singer”?
For information on dining at “Alinea” or “NEXT” visit their Facebook or Twitter pages or click here
And to read my post about our first visit to “NEXT” please click : next:PARIS- 1906
First image a vignette from my Inspiration board.
Header photo of Kendra Spears via Vogue