Fall Shui

Slim Paley Fall Mood BoardA 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)

Next restaurant, ChicagoA 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??

Next restaurant, Chicago. Slim PaleyA 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.

Next, Chicago, Slim PaleyWoodcock, 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.

a Fall Table

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


  1. Loooooove your inspiration board! Have you seen Charlotte Moss’ new book? It’s gorg and full of inspiration. I also love your foodie throw-down. SO FUN! While I don’t miss the Chicago weather, I do miss the food. Yumma.

  2. It has been the most fabulous fall in Vancouver, the trees are just brilliant. I’ve been enjoying every drive and walk soaking in the colors.

  3. Wow, I will dine at NEXT one day, I will, I will! I love the table top of leaves, so clever! And yes, that tree knows it is Oprah’s tree. Just like everything that Martha makes knows that Martha is making it…..

  4. Hi Slim, Oh how I love Fall! I needed another Fall post in the midst of all the green, red & pink of Christmas decor in blogland, thanks! I do have a quick question, didn’t you do a post about an organic or all natural shave cream & accessories for men from Italy, I think? I cannot remember the name of it, can you let me now please? I apologize in advance if it was not your post that it was in. I did try and search your archives, but no luck.

    Thanks so much,

    • Hi Cathy. Sorry, it wasn’t me. At least I don’t remember posting about organic shaving cream for men- sounds good though!

  5. I want to go to Chicago, just so I can eat at NEXT. I have been reading about this place for a while. I’m not sure., but I think the chef was at the French Laundry for a while.

  6. Glorious Autumn and I now know how to spend part of it in Chicago! I can’t see why it wouldn’t be neighborly to go to Oprah’s door, complement her tree and ask what she is doing to turn its leaves!

    2012 Artists Series & Giveaway

  7. I would say I am jeal.l.lous but that would be too darn rude. So I will say I am so glad you shared your lovely experience with us Slim. And does your husband and oldest son give the Stink Eye too, particularly when there is a camera involved. AMAZING. Great post. Diving back in for dessert, I mean to re-read the sweet parts I missed. My sister is in Chicago. I’m planning a visit soon. (spellcheck didn’t like the way I spelled Jealous, I don’t either 🙂 )

  8. Slim, How about we swap houses next fall – you can stay here in New England and I can enjoy the continued warmth of lingering summer in Santa Barbara? We could even do it Halloween week, if you like. I get LOTS of trick-or-treaters. 🙂

    Now, I am dying to know how you scored those tickets to Next! My husband and I flew to Chicago to go to Alinea 18 months ago (yes, just to go to Alinea – we planned the trip around when we could get the reservation) and it was truly the experience of a lifetime. We have been trying to get tickets to Next since it opened without success. Maybe we work too much so we don’t spend enough time on social media, but we have never been able to even get to the purchase ticket screen! And you have been twice! And to Aviary, too! Sigh. we’ll just have to keep trying, but if you have any tips for us, we’d appreciate you sending them our way! We would be oh so grateful. (We have even joked about flying to Chicago without a reservation in hopes of scoring a same day table…)

    Looking forward to your future posts. Whatever the topic, they always put a smile on my face.

  9. I was intrigued by the leaf burning at the one restaurant…does it self extinguish? That could be very bad if it set something on fire, right? 🙂 What fabulous meals you must have enjoyed. Thanks for sharing…I love arm chair virtual dining…no weight gain and it sets my imagination on overdrive.

  10. Love this post ! Love Grant Achatz. Pure Genius. Reminded me of a wedding we did a couple of years ago (an October wedding). The bride’s request: I don’t want a typical fall display…..pumpkins, mums, berries. I don’t want Thanksgiving (October for Canadians). I’m getting married in the city so I still want chic. So we came up with the concept of a blustery autumn evening where the guests walk in and the room looked as though the leaves had been blown in by the wind. It was an industrial setting so this worked beautifully for us. On the tables we had Japanese maples with bronze orchids nestled on the tables and tons of candlelght (both tall and short) everywhere. It was soooo nice…………

  11. Yes, an architect friend in LA told me where you lived. Neighbours? You and Oprah practically SHARE a fence! Do hope she’s a good neighbour. I’m sure she’s not the kind to hold wild parties where everyone strips off their party frocks and gets naked in the pool at 2am, a la Frank Sinatra. I see she’s selling her house too? Where are you all off too? Don’t say New York. We’d miss the glorious photos of roses and California bliss. xx

  12. Slim, You never fail to find the truly unique places in the world. Loved reading about this and your collage on the top! Right now it’s the most beautiful time for leaves in Northern California. I am savoring it. Today we had a huge storm and I’m wishing the leaves would hang on the trees longer!

  13. Are you sure the trees are the same species? I can’t see the leaves clearly on Oprah’s tree and yours look like maples but I think that they are from a plane tree…again hard to see the bark of the tree they belong to.

    Tell you what, I won’t tell, if you won’t…but why not head over to Oprah’s tree and “borrow” a leaf and then post a photo of it along side your own leaf. We’ll end this mystery, pronto. And then you can love your tree again.

  14. Slim, you were in town and didn’t look me up?! No worries. Next time, please come by Cunneen’s for a nightcap, ok? The locals will love you. Aside — I generally roll my eyes at the whole Grant Achatz hoopla, but reading your review made me wish I was there. I would have set the imprisoned crickets free, though. CRICKET RIGHTS! 🙂 And I’ll bet Achatz & Co. dipped them in emulsified chocolate air after, anyhow. Love reading your musings, always.

    • I assure you no crickets were harmed in the dining experience at ‘next’ Melissa!
      I will put “Cunneen’s” on the Chicago List for next time.

      PS. all hoopla aside, just the corn husk tea (and I know that doesn’t sound really appetising-I don’t particularly like corn) that starts the Kaiseki dinner off is worth going for.

  15. No, those are not the same type of tree. Oprah’s is some type of red oak and yours looks like what we call in The South a sweetgum ( liquidambar). Sweet gum is late to leaf out in spring and is usually later with its fall color change as well. So dont take it personally! It’s color should be more varied too when it changes: anywhere from yellow through to purple! Let’s see when it does.

    • Thanks Matt. I was told by two local ‘gardening types’ that my tree and O’s tree were the same species- Liquid Amber. Obviously you know your trees!

Would love to hear from you!