Unlike previous Next menus, like the Hunt or Childhood, Chicago Steak is a fairly straightforward theme. If you go to any steakhouse, there will be a salad, shrimp cocktail, wine and a large piece of beef—and you'll find all these things on the menu at Next. So what sets Next’s version of a steakhouse apart?
Dave Beran, Next’s executive chef, says that “Nick [Kokonas] wanted to do a steakhouse menu for awhile. Nick goes to a lot of steakhouses and thought we could put a fun, interesting twist on it. We started focusing on an earlier era of a steakhouses, somewhere between the 1930s and 1950s.”
To do that, Beran and the team looked to classic Chicago restaurants like the Pump Room, and drew inspiration from the New York steakhouses that inspired Chicago restaurants of the time. They read old menus and books and looked at Delmonico’s, Peter Luger and other classic New York steakhouses, which Beran says “inspired the trends that led to the Chicago steakhouses to become what they were. In order for the Chicago steakhouses to thrive, they had to get inspiration from somewhere, so we looked at where they came from.”
Beran can’t draw on much personal experience—he hasn’t been to a Chicago steakhouse (he went to N9NE some years ago) and he’s vegan in his day-to-day life, which he sees as an asset in terms of tasting.
“Not having had steak in a really long time, when I started tasting beef, I started realizing all the nuances to it,” he says. “It’s like drinking milk, if you drink it every day, you get used to it. So I was able to notice things like different aging techniques, different aging periods.”
During their research, Beran says that they learned that “steakhouses seemed to be more of a party. Regulars would come in and have their spot and everyone knew their name and their drink. It was much more of a see and be seen place to be and place to go. There was a trend of naming courses after regulars.”
The naming convention pops up at Next.
“For food, we talked a lot about courses like oysters Rockefeller and clams casino and all those really popular courses for the time that were indicative of that era of steakhouse,” Beran says. “But what I wanted to do with this menu is not put oysters Rockefeller or clams casino on it, since they were signatures of steakhouses of the time and for us to do that would be copying. I really wanted to become a steakhouse of the time. So we went and created dishes that are similar in style and match trends of the time, but aren’t specifically the same as the course. There’s an oyster course, there’s a clam course, but there isn’t oysters Rockefeller or clams casino. And they’re named the way they would be named in that era.”
The oysters course is called oysters Il Bronzino, which is named after an Italian poet and painter from the 1500s who coined the term for 'panzanella.'
“The oyster dish is basically oysters with broccoli panzanella, but we didn’t want to call it that, so we researched the history of the salad and named it after him.”
The Le Vasseur salad is named after a creek in Michigan, and it’s made with frog legs, which Beran recalled eating when he was younger.
“I used to live in Michigan and would catch frogs when I was a little kid,” he says. “There’s a creek by my parents' house where watercress and pine grow, and we made a pinenut, frog leg and watercress salad, and named it after the creek.”
The baked Alaska dish is called a Norwegian omelette.
“Baked Alaska was first made to recognize the U.S. acquisition of Alaska, and the original name for it was the Florida Alaska, since it was something cold in something warm,” Beran says. “The predecessor is a French dish called the Norwegian omelette, which is the same concept of hot and cold. An omelette is a warm egg dish with something inside, and Norway is cold.”
The main course is steak, which is a dry-aged ribeye from Flannery Beef in California.
“We decided we wanted a boneless ribeye, and a really nice dry-aged one,” Beran says. “We brought in probably 30 different ribeyes and sourced from everywhere we could. We tried classics like LaFrieda that were aged from 15 to 100 days. We went to Whole Foods and Eataly and bought everything we could get our hands on. We tried all different ages.”
They settled on Flannery Beef and tried beef from several farms they work with.
“The ribeye is aged a minimum of 30 days and it’s between 30 and 45 days” and the meat is served “right around medium rare.”
Each diner receives nine courses, and for the appetizers and desserts, each person at the table will receive a different dish, which Beran says is a nod to ordering a la carte at a steakhouse. The appetizers are shrimp cocktail, surf and turf with mussels and sweetbreads, oysters Il Bronzino and surf clam Siciliano, while the desserts are a cheesecake brulee and the Norwegian omelette.
John Schafer, the general manager and wine director, said that drink pairings begin with a shochu martini shaken tableside that’s made with Carpano Bianco vermouth, which is new to the Chicago market. There’s also a beer the Aviary made with Chicago's Pipeworks Brewing Company: The One Horned Wonder and His Fanciful Flying Fresno is an IPA with passionfruit and fresno chilies. Plus, there’s Riesling, Champagne and a Sardinian wine from Dettori that Schafer says is “made from grapes that are left on the vine to partially raisin before being pressed.”
The dinner ends with coffee drink spiked with Deanston (a single malt Highland Scotch) that Schafer says was conceived as “a coffee drink with flavors of a rusty nail” to “pair with caramelized sugar and the blueberry flavors of the desserts.”
Chicago Steak runs through April, and unlike previous Next dinners, tickets didn’t sell out immediately.
“I think it’s a few things,” Beran says, when asked what contributed to the slower sales. “This is the first time we’ve released everything right after the holidays and obviously the weather wasn’t in anyone’s favor the last couple of weeks. It’s also a higher price point. We looked at things like the cost of beef and the quantities we wanted to have and it’s slightly more expensive than other menus we’ve done."
Tickets are still available at nextrestaurant.com.