Eater Chicago intern Jeffy Mai contributed this article.
Phil Vettel, giving it four stars, takes a trip down memory lane with Next’s “Childhood” menu. He is delighted by the “decidedly whimsical” sight gags, such as drawn-on stick-figure children on the plates, and the wordplay chicken noodle soup made with chicken mousse noodles. The cocktail course mimics the sip-of-dad’s-cocktail experience, and the scents from the boxed peanut butter and jelly brings Vettel back to the Cracker Jack boxes of his youth.
The deconstructed hamburger is “spot-on fast food,” and he would order the mac and cheese again “in an instant.” Even the formal service is positively giddy and kid-like this time around. In the end, this foray into adolescence is a success because quite simply, the dishes work. [Tribune]
On the other end of the spectrum, Mike Sula has a harder time being fully transported back in the latest iteration at Next. Calling it the most personal of the three menus so far, he enjoys the “auspiciously tasty” peanut butter and jelly bite and the “depthless in its richness” chicken noodle soup. Sula’s favorite course is the “Autumn Scene” salad, calling it the most delicious thing on the menu. Conversely, his least favorite is the deconstructed hamburger despite its playfulness and savoriness.
The deconstructed fish and chips also fall into the same mold, as it is the least harmonized and most physically difficult dish to eat. Although it is consistently imaginative and entertaining, Sula ranks “Childhood” behind Next’s two previous efforts, stating that a guest’s enjoyment will be dependent on their willingness to play along. [Reader]
Julia Kramer gives high praise to The Barrelhouse Flat and its bartenders. Whether it is an old classic cocktail or brand new recipe, you are no danger of getting a bad drink. In addition, it is “positively shocking” how good the food is. The pig-face poutine is balanced via roasted figs and just the right amount of acid and the mushroom–blue cheese beignets stops Kramer in her “thoroughly swizzled tracks.” [TOC]
Meanwhile, David Tamarkin ventures over to Vera, the new Spanish restaurant from Carnivale vets Mark and Elizabeth Mendez. Unfortunately, the small plates format seems both oversized and undersized from dish to dish. The food is equally full of ups and downs as the beautiful plate of mushrooms is oversalted, and a flawlessly cooked filet of black cod is topped with an oddly frigid olivada. Not everything is negative though, the fluke crudo is pleasantly cool and orange-kissed, and toasty rice and lush bites of rabbit form the base for a bloody-in-the-middle duck breast paella. [TOC]
The war for Indian-Chinese supremacy may already be over, writes Michael Nagrant. At Bombay Chopsticks in Hoffman Estates, there are over a hundred items on the menu and he finds very little to be disappointed about. The vegetable Manchow soup features a “perfect” rainbow confetti dice of carrot, celery and onion, while a Sichuan stir-fry of mushrooms tossed in a sweet black pepper sauce was as earthy, complex and balanced as something you would find in Chinatown. And perhaps the best example of the fusion cuisine is the deep-fried sliced stuffed eggplant. “It was as if a crab rangoon had made sweet love to an Indian-spiced ratatouille.” [Sun-Times]