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”

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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.

Oprah.

She lives here in my town.

Er, I mean I live in her town.

Well, let’s just say we’re neighbours.

Now,

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”?

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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

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First image a vignette from my Inspiration board.

Header photo of Kendra Spears via Vogue

Next: Paris 1906

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Sublime, bite-sized hors d’oeuvres, including brioche fois gras filled brioche with apricot, and white anchovies perched upon softly cooked quail eggs begin chef Grant Achatz’ Auguste Escoffier- inspired culinary adventure back to the Ritz in 1906 Paris.

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My friends & family are all too familiar with my oft repeated lament that I really should have been born in another era.

Dare I suggest Edwardian sensibilities would have suited me to a high tea :)

Sure, I hear what you’re saying; “But Slim, you couldn’t even swear in those days!”   Dear Reader, I demurely contend that I wouldn’t have needed to-everything was so civilized then!  A Gentleman would have left me his calling card, bed warmers would have been placed with loving care between my finely monogramed linens before retiring…don’t even get me started on the fashions and cuisine or we’ll be here all day.  “Downton Abbey” just about brings me to my knees and if we’re to be perfectly honest, I’ve never met a heavy cream that was quite heavy enough.

So imagine my unbridled delight the day my husband rushed in to inform me we had ‘scored’ the Golden Tickets to “Next; Paris 1906″ !

(yes, I know an Edwardian Lady wouldn’t say “scored”, just roll with me here…)

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“Next” is the brand new, utterly unique dining experience created by Grant Achatz, one of the world’s most innovative chefs (of “Alinea” -3 Michelin stars)

Turning Chef Atkatz’ dream into a reality nightly is the young dynamo Executive Chef, Dave Beran (formerly Mr. Achatz’ chef de cuisine at Alinea)

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Chef Achatz & Chef Beran wracking their brains for ways to get Slim Paley to Chicago and “Next; Paris 1906″

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“Just to set the bar a little higher for himself, and make the creative process more invigorating, each menu for Next will draw from a different place and time. So, rather than the earthbound categories of Japanese, Italian or Peruvian, the food will evoke cloudier concepts: Kyoto in springtime; Palermo in 1949; Hong Kong in far-off 2036. A menu might be designed around a single day — say, the Napa Valley on Oct. 28, 1996, the day Mr. Achatz started work at the French Laundry, where he remained until 2001.”(Excerpt from the NY Times)

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Much time and resources were spent scouring the entire world searching for era appropriate silver and china, including this stunning egg server

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Yes, (blush) I did bring my camera, but I was very discreet and snapped only one photo of each dish (pas du flash, bien sur!)

Oeufs Bénédictine  

Custard infused with black truffle stock; followed by lightly salted cod with potatoes, thyme and garlic scented cream; finished with a lemony sauce crème and crowned by  black truffle shavings.

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.via NY Times (OK, I didn’t take photos of everything)

Turtle Consomme

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“Fillet de Sole Daumont”

Fillet of sole stuffed with forcemeat (a crayfish mousse) and lolling in a sauce I like to call; “Where’s the Spoon?”

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Supreme de Poussin

Poached Chicken as you’ve never tasted it, accompanied by rounds of cucumber soaked to translucency in butter. You heard me.

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A divinely wicked layering of lamb

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The spirit of Auguste Escoffier was truly smiling down upon us this weekend, as we were seated at The Chef’s Table, affording a front row seat on the exuberant goings on behind the Wizard’s curtain

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Chef Dave Beran, table side, preparing the sauce for the duck course with a fabulous antique silver presse

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presentation of the duck…

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Caneton Rouennais a la Presse & Gratin de Pommes de Terre a la Dauphinoise

Roasted and pressed duck served with a reduction of red wine, brandy and duck jus

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It was brilliant fun to witness such an engine of precision in action- the staff work SO hard!!

 The level of cleanliness Chef Beran maintains is utterly amazing.

I began to worry they suspected I was the City Health Inspector (Though, granted, I was drinking a hellalot  a generous amount of wine while on the City’s clock )

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The entire staff  worked together, keeping everything immaculate  through the course of the evening and the team effort was a pleasure to behold.

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As you can see, they even scrubbed the insides of the cabinets.

Very impressive and I’d venture a guess not how kitchens were managed in 1906!

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and when I say the entire staff…

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I love this shot because it’s Chef Beran himself scrubbing the counters at the end of the night.

OK, busted…we closed the place, but there was one other table of diners when we left :)

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A light salad of palate cleansing greens, asparagus and edible nastursium precedes the dessert courses

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Having fun preparing the Sauterne Sorbet with liquid nitrogen

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I’m not a Dessert Diva, but Dear Lord in Heaven, I will dream about this sublime Sauterne Sorbet for years to come.

I believe the liquid nitrogen prevents the forming of ice crystals, creating instead the creamiest textured sorbet on the planet.  You’ll want it to last forever but you’re racing against time… the sorbet quickly melts back to pure, velvety amber sauterne within minutes.

 Not the worst fate in the world.

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Bombe Ceylon 

Coffee ice cream, rum & cocoa, with custard &  cherries so sopping in alcohol they put the nail in the coffin of my burgeoning Health Inspector career.

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But wait…I’m not quite finished…


Mignardises ( including salted caramel and beet flavoured jellies)

How good could a beet flavoured jelly be??  Crazy good!

I told you I’m predicting jellies are making a comeback

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As for these caramels lightly dusted with fleur de sel

OMG

It almost came to fisticuffs between my husband, my son and me,

however, decorum reigned and I managed to compose myself

After all,

I really should have been born in The Edwardian Era :)


Pinkies Up!

Slim Paley

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A couple of things you need to know about “Next”:

- NO reservations by phone, you must buy “tickets” online. Are they very expensive? No. Are they hard to obtain? Very. Try Craig’s List, Stubhub… get creative!

-The entire menu changes every 90 days, so if your travels and the Culinary Good Luck Fairy do not whisk you back to Paris 1906- do not despair- there’s another exciting adventure on the near horizon… I hear rumblings of Thailand… (turn-around time for the entirely new menu is an astonishing 3 days)

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If you’re interested in learning even more about “Next” and Grant Achatz, who  incidentally made Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” list for 2011,

  read this great article from the NY TIMES

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Thanks to Chicago, once again, for another great trip!

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Time Traveling in Chicago

Omg- Aliens, Raptures, unpaid ransoms (even though I’m so worth it :)) it’s no wonder I haven’t been able to get a post up this week!

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But not to worry, I’m safe and sound in one of my favourite cities;

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Chicago

And looking forward to going on a culinary time-traveling experience tonight,

NEXT

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I promise to report back with all the details, and hopefully a few photos (if possible without a flash)

Right now, my menfolk are waiting for me…

Have to go out for some serious walkies to prep our palates for Paris 1906!

More later…

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My Kinda Town Chicago Is…

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We LOVE Chicago!  I thank everyone sooo much for all your wonderful suggestions.  I’m saving them all for our next trip to this wonderful city, which I hope will be very soon.  We made the most of every moment that we had, but as usual,  I just wish we’d had more time.

I took your advice and went on the Architectural Cruise…

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Our guide was a student of architecture and was incredibly knowledgable.

It really made me want to read books about the history of Chicago- what a fascinating city.

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Our hotel as seen from the water.  Easier to look up than down!

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The highlight of our visit was definitely our amazing dining experience at ALINEA and believe me, my expectations were dangerously high.  There is no possible way for me to do justice to the culinary ride that Grant Achatz took us on, so I will just let my photos do the talking.  Understandably, the restaurant doesn’t allow flash photography, and I had to surf the precarious wave of wanting to photograph every dish, but still appear vaguely cool- not easy, as you can imagine, but I so wanted to share at least some of these delights on Slim!

Bon Appetit!

I’ve seen the future of cocktails and it’s looking solid

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This was perhaps my husband’s favourite. Heirloom tomatoes with 8 different accompaniments- each one a delightfully intense surprise.

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First layer of the King Crab presentation.

I can’t describe the texture of that little floating cloud of Heaven!

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Second layer

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Third layer

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This was a little shooter of pure Ecstasy  - a hollowed ball of buttery horseradish filled with fresh Apple and celery juice. The ball pops in your mouth then melts, releasing the delicious and intensely fresh juice.

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Lamb & Peach. The picture says it all.

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One part of a three course shrimp presentation; a shrimp ‘breadstick’ that would bring tears to your eyes.

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Black Truffle Explosion.  Literally. They warn you to keep your mouth fully closed when you bite into the ravioli. Exceptional.

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“Bubble Gum” A test tube that you toss back all at once- a combination of Long pepper, Hibiscus and Creme Fraiche that tastes like gourmet bubble gum.

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The grand finale- a rubberized table cloth is brought to your table upon which Chef Achatz, his very own self, spreads out the fabulous assortment of tasty confections above.  You just sort of moossh it all together like a decadent finger painting class and I guess that is partially the point.  Alinea engages all the senses and brings out the child in you again.  Dining here is FUN! There wasn’t a single dish that didn’t make us giddy with delight.

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Chef Grant Achatz, who looks like a kid!

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The frozen log of chocolate that Chef Achatz smashes up at the table

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The Menu

Oh yes-  we also loved our Sommelier with the T-Rex hair

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A chocolate bar in our kitchen at the Trump Hotel

We stayed at The Trump Hotel in Chicago for the first time and I must say it was super nice. We had a big room with a fireplace and a grand view of the city. Very understated and contemporary in silver, grey and black. Gorgeous bathroom and a comfortable bed. We were worried we’d been given a Japanese businessman’s suite as the first few times I called down for anything they said “Good Evening Mr. Morimoto”.  I quickly checked the closets for any suits (that might fit me :) ) and avoided making any further calls the rest of the night. There was even a state of the art kitchen, complete with a Nespresso machine- my new favourite thing!

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The view from “Mr. Morimoto’s suite”

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It’s the little things…I loved the fresh cream from I assume a local dairy?

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With the little time I had before my cruise, I swung by Jayson Home & Garden and took in their “Flea Market”.  It was a lovely blustery afternoon. The pumpkins and smell of the wood burning stove outside their tented market – Happy signals of the arrival of Fall

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Pumpkins at Jayson Home & Garden

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Top Hats at Jayson- Imagine the sights they saw in their day in Chicago.

Don’t you kind of wish we still wore hats?

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I also visited this beautiful shop called “Branca”

Tres chic!

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And when we were finally ready to eat again… we had  late night martinis and Steak Tartare at RL- Yum.


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PS. I was only ever so slightly miffed that we weren’t able to make it over to The Violet Hour, but I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.  After all, tomorrow…

is another martini.


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