Welcome To “Ancient Rome!”
Chef Grant Achatz has a terrific restaurant in Chicago called NEXT. Every few months, the staff creates an entirely new menu – and now it is time to head to “Rome!”
The menu just started is titled “Ancient Rome”. It’s inspired by the early-century book “Apicius,” a compilation of early Roman recipes. As the PR states:
“The menu likely will be organized around Apicius’ 10 chapters, which bear names such as “The Fisherman,” “The Meat Mincer,” “The Gourmet,” “Birds” and “The Sea.”
As boy, was it!
As usual, Chef Grant Achatz made a video promoting the menu – here’s a look:
When you sit down, you are greeted by an Ancient Roman Cookbook for you to use as a guide.
They explain that you can actually find the recipes for each course in the book if you want to follow along – the left side of the book is in latin, the right side in English.
NEXT was founded by Chef Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas, and is under the direction of Executive Chef Jenner Tomaska. A nice signed note greets you as you arrive. The Chef de Cuisine is Ed Tonoco…
You are welcomed with a unique drink, “Vinum Ex Atro Candid Facies”, made at the table: it’s a mix of honey, apple cabbage and grape, which as you can see begins the process looking purple, but when finished looks like this:
And so the magic begins: if you want to know more, you’ll have to look it up – this stuff comes at you fast, and they are terrific when they explain it, but you are going to see dishes with so many nuances of flavor, I just can’t explain them correctly…instead, you can just sit back and enjoy as we did the “Herbaie Rusticae”:
As best as I can explain, this is a stuffed melon ball with a tiny oyster in aspic, served with the world’s smallest radish – and yes, you eat the entire tied pea tendrils that are attached in one bite like so:
Each course came with wine – they give you a print out of all food and wine to remind you of what you had – we got the rare wine pairing and tried some really unique wines like this Paliokerisio semi-sparkling wine:
Next up is the “Isicia Ex Sphondylis”, a meat croquette served atop empty mussel shells, with mussels already in the morsel:
Cue The Rose Pedals!
This is almost impossible to explain, but next, a long glass tube of rose pedals are laid out in front of you as a large fan of wheat is set down with two small bites called “Patinam de Roses”…
Coming out of the tube with the pedals is a deliciously chewy bread-like appetizer, and then beet broth appears with a chicken skin-wrapped black truffle on a very long skewer…
You understand how impossible it is to describe this adequately? They call this dish “Aliter Tubera Elias et Asperso”, “Sale Gustum de Cucurbitis”…make sense? Alex used the cookbook to follow along:
This amazing array of bites was just the warm up – because things at the table were about to heat up! Here is a video of what happened next:
Time To Bake Some Bread…
Yes, a covered and very hot clay pot is used to bake your bread at the table! After liberally tossing on herbs, the pot is closed and you are advised not to touch it while it bakes:
While the bread bakes, the food continues to arrive – next up is “Pisa Coques”: smoked mascarpone, beans and pickled mackerel – we are told that in ancient Rome, food was routinely smoked or pickled, so this dish combined the two, with a dollop of caviar added as well:
A gorgeous plate arrives next with “Isicia de Scillis Vel de Cameras Amplis” – yes, that’s what it is called – it’s a giant shrimp served two ways: first, the meaty tail has been layered with olives:
While a gold-dusted shrimp head covers a shrimp mousse – again, these pictures cannot convey just how delicious this dish was!
“Aliter Porros” is next: layers of kale and leek topped with arugula, served on top of a butternut squash foam:
Once you finish this dish, they return to show you the finished baked bread – they were polite enough to wait a beat while I filmed the sequence:
As you saw in the video, the twine is used to “cut” the bread – just another fun, seemingly simple but extraordinary culinary twist!
The bread is served with the meat courses, beginning with “Pullus Farsilis” – a roasted Quail served with beef fat, poppy and fennel seed…
Next up is the “Embamma in Cervinan Assam” – yes, Venison with chestnut and laurel…and it looks like a thin sheet of glass is covering the entire dish!
Our final savory course was “Sales Conditos Ad Multa” – an amazing oxtail with turnip and horseradish, along with an artichoke with carob and citrus – yes, all of these ingredients are packed into this dish – the intense rush of flavors is hard to describe beyond “WOW”.
As you can see, the dish is presented in a ceramic dish, and embedded in the sand are burning sticks….I mean, this is an amazing preparation AND presentation!
Goat cheese, honey and fennel is presented next:
Finally a twofer of dessert: a meringue with delicious sweet bites surrounding it, and also a cut “apple”, which was a frozen sorbet shaped like an apple to match the cut!
Scattered around the dish are chocolate truffle, taffy and other edible delights.
The “Ancient Rome” dinner was delicious – every course beautifully presented, paired with unique wines, and lots of fun discourse from the entire team, many of whom stopped by to share lots of interesting stories about the food – and about ancient Rome!
Chef Grant Achatz is an amazing leader, and the team at NEXT has delivered again…
We have also eaten at Chef Achatz’s restaurant Alinea…here is a look at that 3-Michelin starred restaurant:
Chef Achatz recently did an “homage” to The French Laundry, where he worked with legendary Chef Thomas Keller. Here is a look at a dinner we had there as well:
Again, bravo to the entire staff of NEXT for a delicious, informative and unique dining experience.
Let me know if you head to ancient Rome!
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