The team at Grant Achatz's Next in Chicago can thank Japan for their recent success. The restaurant has been awarded the prestigious four-star rating by the Chicago Tribune for it's Kyoto menu.
Next is based on the philosophy of rotating menus, with themes like Paris 1906, the elBulli tribute and an ode to Sicily. But it was the combination of seasonal Midwestern flavors with a Japanese twist in the current Kyoto theme that won over food critic Phil Vetter.
Vetter raved about his 14-course dinner at Next, which began with a Japanese-style tea made from charred corn husks, which ''convey the sweetness of corn with a burning-leaf smokiness.''
The tea is a reinterpretation of a Japanese toasted-rice tea. Chef Dave Beran explained the concept to Vetter: ''Autumn is the time of the rice harvest in Japan, so it's common to find toasted-rice tea but that would seem artificial because we don't grow rice here. So we created something to relate to our harvest, and this felt and tasted like fall right off the bat.''
The food critic praised the freshness and imagination of the menu, which is clearly Japanese but dotted with corn, maple and apples. Vetter proclaimed the Kyoto menu as Next's finest effort to date and wrote: ''To eat at Next is to share skull space with some of the most creative culinary minds in America.''