Chinese Okra Centerpiece
(stealthily filled with hot and sour soup)
Hot and Sour Soup
(extracted from okra via plunger)
Bamboo Shoot and Lily Bulb
(left to right) Hot Foam Congee with Pork Floss
Scallop Dumpling with Watercress and White Fungus
Pork Dumpling with Chinese Date and Cuttlefish
Monkfish with White Asparagus and Roasted Spine Broth
Crab Salad with Green Chili Paste and Fresh Coconut Ice
(left to right) Tiger Salad with Cold Skin Noodles and Seitan
Skate Chop "Muslim Lamb" Style (with cumin and sesame)
Tingly Squab with Tarragon and Sumac
Another view of tingly squab skewer
Shrimp Paste and Lettuce Bite
Shrimp in a Duck Egg Yolk "Sand"
"Beef and Broccoli"
(Dried beef slices and fried broccoli florets, beef consomme)
Duck in Layers
"Pulling Threads" with Sweetbreads, Taro Root, and Banana
Frozen Rice Soup with Legumes and Whipped Vinegar
Dragon's Beard Candy with Pressed Honeycomb
Giant Fortune Cookie
Our final meal during our latest Chicago trip was also the most anticipated; that is, the Modern Chinese menu at Next (953 W. Fulton Market St.). As always, Grant Achatz, Chef Dave Beran, and company combined sleight of hand (such as the first course, a hot and sour soup hidden within the centerpiece on the table), bold experimentation (turning a duck egg yolk into a reasonable facsimile of sand), whimsy (see the brontosaurus fortune cookie above), and flawless technique to create another memorable meal, although not without a few hiccups. The missus and I cruised along through the first 8 courses with nary a single complaint until the "duck in layers" course, which featured slices of smoked duck breast, steamed buns containing duck rillettes, a dandelion/mustard green salad, and cabbage with poached duck egg. On paper, this all sounded terrific, but I found the steam buns to be light on rillettes and heavy on dough, while the number of seasonings provided with the meat were simply overwhelming (by the time I'd tried all the permutations to identify my favorite, the duck was gone). The following "sweet and sour" course (fried taro, sweetbreads, and plantains served on a searingly-hot black stone, with a caramel dipping sauce that hardened upon application) was a gimmick that should have worked; however, the sweet caramel couldn't hide the surprising blandness of the material being enshrouded. These few shortcomings were singularly absolved by the first dessert course, a so-called dragon's beard candy (sort of like supercharged cotton candy) plate drizzled with fresh honey pressed out of the honeycomb using a special tool designed just for this occasion - I have no idea what was in M. Beran's rendition of this sweet delicacy, but I'd happily trek naked through two feet of snow to get another.