All dressed up with no place to go. Day 16
It’s a bright and sunny day here in the Windy City. Finally a chance for Jess and I to see the city sights. We track out along the seriously busy streets and walk the famous magnificent mile. Home to many designer shops like Zara, Gucci and Prada. Now, Jess booked all the hotels and I am beginning to see a recurring theme, high fashion, inner city, high prices. Hmmm…
Putting that aside we have reached Millennium Park. Chicago loves its fountains, there seems to be one on nearly every block and the fountains we see today really take the art of shooting torrents of water in the air to new heights. The parks here are fastidiously maintained; there’s even a sculpture exhibition on within the pathways.
The Cloud Gate or as it is affectionately known by Chicagoans “the bean.” A massive metallic looking sculpture that is shaped like, you guessed it, a bean. There are dozens of people taking photos and walking underneath this monolithic structure. It is quite a cool piece of art with perceptions being distorted the closer one gets to the reflective surface. Very strange and conceptual. I like it. We snap some tripped out shots before making our way down to the waterfront for a nice stroll.
After walking right around the riverfront Jess and I realise that we should probably make some plans for dinner. “Why not” I say. So we thought we would try and get reservations at one of the hardest places to get reservations at in all of Chicago. Grant Achatz’ latest restaurant, Next. After exhausting emails, phone calls and dropping every hospitality line we could think of. We still couldn’t get a table. Well why don’t we just try and show up? We don our snazziest clothes we can find and grab a cab.
Adjacent to Next is Achatz’ bar known as The Aviary, a willy wonka esque place where cocktails are treated as meals. So we thought if we didn’t get into Next we could always drown our sorrows at The Aviary.
We drive into very industrial Chicago to 955 West Fulton Market, Next. His is not your usual restaurant, the menu explores various themes and concepts. The previous menu was called The Hunt and championed birds and game of various types. This menu is Vegan. Yes I can’t believe I am actually trying to get in to a Vegan restaurant. No meat, no cheese, basically no fun. But in this aspect it is the concept, the challenge of creating possibly one of the most challenging dietary requirements into something that the general public finds exciting.
So here we are, we decide why not have a drink at The Aviary first in the hopes of scoring a late table. I also think hard liquor might aid the confidence levels to a certain extent. So we head into the queue for The Aviary and are seated in their outdoor patio area, the bartenders work frenzied over a flurry of drinks and masterful cocktails, or that’s at least what we can assume because Jess and I can’t even see through the door. Regardless, we are here, one of he most exciting cocktail bars in the world. And there’s food. We are quickly greeted and provided with an amuse bouche, a drink consisting of raspberry, a spiced beer and rum. A delicious little aperitif for what was hoping to be some fairly heady drinks to follow. I order an “in the rocks” a drink made of Benedictine, vermouth, cognac and rye, topped with bitters and served completely inside a frozen ball of ice. Hence in the rocks. For Jess a “luau” which was made from pineapple, matcha tea, chartreuse and gin.
Now I did say these cocktails were out of the ordinary, there’s a prix fixe menu which contains a choice of three cocktails. A kind of entree, main, dessert for the drinker. Then there’s an ala carte menu which Jess and I ordered from. Then there’s food! Our hopes of getting in to Next are slipping away but at least there’s food here.
The menu looks incredible, a snickers bar contains slices of molten foie gras, duck legs are eaten viking style, oysters arrive in a pillow of smoked sunscreen and all of it is paired to what you’re drinking. Jess and I order salt cod with pickle, mayo and flora. A delicious little nod to the fish stick. And wow what a flavour. The fish is brandade coated in a crisp little breadcrumb with tonnes of edible flowers, cucumber pickle and just all round heavenly things. We demolish that plate and move on to the duck served Peking, egg, medieval. Yes medievally. For that is the style in which you will eat the dish. Pick it up with your hands and have a gnaw!
Now in the rush for us to eat we have nearly forgotten about our insane drinks. My cocktail comes with a tiny little slingshot for me to crack through the ice ball and spill my cocktail into the glass. This is insane. The entire drink is inside an ice cube. For Jess her matcha tea is in the form of a fluffy granita in which the rest of the spirits are poured out of a hand bottled soda bottle. This is a drinking playground. After the drinks kick in we try for a late table at Next to no avail but Jess and I aren’t upset. We’ve each had one of the most amazing drinks and seen some wondrous creations right before our eyes.
So with our thirsts quenched we head off along the street to find the restaurant owned by Masterchefs Graham Elliot Bowles. Well let’s eat. I try a buckwheat pasta dish with lobster mushrooms and chorizo. For Jess a roasted chicken breast with pomme purée and heirloom carrots. Than who should walk through the door. None other than Chef Elliot himself. Exciting!
The food is really tasty and served with a friendly smile. Even if we were the most overdressed lot in the place.
So we head home, our fancy clothes still pressed and ready, with the sparkle of fresh liquor in our eyes.
Remind me not to drink and write again.
Josh and Jess