Next – Childhood

…Half the fun of discovering a new restaurant is sharing it with people you know will enjoy it. As Rachael Ray’s resident restaurant guru, here’s an inside look at what I report back to Rach about some of my favorite restaurant finds and food experiences!…

From: Kappy

To: RR

Sent: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 11:42pm

Subject: Just When You Thought You Couldn’t Miss Your Childhood Anymore…

Hey Rachael – I usually like to keep my suggestions pretty affordable, but I just couldn’t NOT share this experience.

Remember that restaurant in Chicago that I was talking about with you and John a month or so ago, called Next? I mentioned how they sell tickets for it and the theme and menu changes every 3 months or so…? Well, I finally went with Katy and a couple friends. It was unreal! The theme was “Childhood,” so it was all foods you may remember from your childhood taken to another level. Overall, the hospitality was pretty spot-on, but the food…HOLY COW!

When you eat at Next, nothing is predictable, which makes it that much more tantalizing for people who think they know what’s coming. Just when you have an inkling of what might be next (no pun intended), there is some new surprise.

Here we go:

PB & J: When we sat down, they gave us a little box that was wrapped like a present. When you opened it, there was a crazy PB & J-esque doughnut with peanut crumb topping that you shoved in your mouth when you were done with the doughnut part. Or, if you’re like me, you brought the box up to your mouth like you do with the end of a bag of potato chips.

Chicken Soup: The broth was an insanely rich and flavorful soup like you’ve never tasted before – I’ll go so far as to say mind-blowing. When we thought we couldn’t top that broth, we discovered that the noodle in the soup was made out of chicken! When you hear, “Chicken Soup,” it sounds simple, but this was one of everyone’s favorites of the night.

Fish ‘n Chips: When they set this in front of us, they explained that we were looking at a picture of ourselves. On the plate was a scene from a cartoon, with malt vinegar “air,” cucumber “waves,” potato “netting,” a piece of fish, and – here’s the kicker – a portrait of each person drawn out in vinegar! And yes, we really were staring at ourselves on the plate.

Mac ‘n Cheese: How could they not?! Around the plate was a pinwheel of garnishes, like hot dog, parmesan and tomato. Then, they flooded our plates with a deliciously rich and cheesy mac. Come on…who doesn’t like trying a bunch of garnishes and telling everyone which is their favorite and why?!

Winter Wonderland: I don’t even know where to start. First, they set a real log in front of us topped with real branches, leaves and juniper berries, their scent permeating the air. Then, a glass cover on top of the log was covered with a “forest” of broccoli shrubs, mushroom powder… I don’t even know what to say. It was like you were looking at – and eating – a forest.

Hamburger: Explained as, “McDonald’s, Burger King, White Castle… no?” this was RIDICULOUS! I’m pretty sure I was freaking out from the first bite to the last. It was a piece of short rib as the burger, with creative takes on onion, ketchup, mustard, pickle…even for the bun! Just look at the pic and you’ll understand why this is tough to put into words.

Lunch Box: Just when you thought they couldn’t get anymore creative, they handed each person a retro-looking lunch box that they had to have ordered from eBay or something. In the lunch box was a tasty piece of wagyu beef jerky served in a Ziploc bag; a piece of apple brandy fruit leather; a homemade Funyon; a truffle-flavored Oreo cookie; a Nutella snack pack served in a disposable plastic container; and a homemade mixed berry drink, which I drank out of the thermos, obviously.

‘Foie’sting and Doughnuts: And again, they exceeded our expectations with this one. Two small doughnuts were served next to a beater from a mixer that had a foie gras-flavored frosting. Yes, they went there.

Sweet Potato Pie: As the menu stated, this was a campfire on your table. Literally. What looked like logs were actually pieces of sweet potato that they lit on fire. When the fire went out, you ate them, along with the rest of the dessert on your plate.

As I reread this, you probably think that I made this all up. But I assure you, it was real. By the time you read this, the Childhood theme will be over and the transition to the El Bulli themed menu will be in process, set to open February 8. Next time you’re in Chicago, we need tickets!

Next Restaurant

953 West Fulton Market

Chicago, IL 60607

(312) 226-0858

And that’s what’s on my plate!

~ Kappy

Andrew “Kappy” Kaplan loves food. A professionally trained chef, by day he runs Yum-o!, Rachael Ray’s charity focused on kids and cooking, and keeps special projects running smoothly for her. By night he hops course to course, place to place, all across the country. He’s Rach’s own personal dining guide! You can also follow Kappy on Twitter to see what’s On Kappy’s Plate in real-time!

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