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[photo by Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times]

Next, opening next month from Alinea's Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas, may be the first restaurant in Chicago that will require customers to buy tickets to eat there, but it may not be the last.

Kokonas (at right, with Achatz) is starting a company to develop a Web-based system that restaurants or other companies can use for ticket sales or reservations. achatz-FOO-0302-12.JPG

The idea, Kokonas says, is to enable companies to incorporate the software into their own websites and set their own parameters (such as "dynamic pricing," which is how Next will operate, where tickets will be pricier at peak times -- say, 7 p.m. on a Saturday), and to make it "far less expensive than competing systems like Open Table."

"So if you are a gallery, the event you have coming up can include the info right on your website, plus the ticket sales right there," Kokonas said via e-mail. "No need to click to another site, or pay any further fees or percentage of sales etc."

As far as Kokonas can tell, there isn't a software system like this out there. Of course, this is how Kokonas and Achatz roll. Doesn't exist? Create it.

After the jump: other random tidbits buried or otherwise left out of this week's cover story on the release of Achatz's memoir and his forthcoming projects.

What price, Next?

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You may have heard that Grant Achatz, the accolade-laden chef at Alinea, is opening a restaurant called Next and a bar next door called Aviary on West Fulton in April.

And you may have heard that Next will serve food drawn from different eras and places for three months at a time, essentially metamorphosizing into an entirely new restaurant four times a year. And that Next won't take reservations but rather will sell tickets to diners that will vary in price based on the day and time. And that Aviary will serve boundary-pushing cocktails like none you've ever tippled before. (The bar has entire rooms dedicated to ice-making and glass-washing, people; as of Thursday, there were 19 different shapes of ice created, and counting.)

But what does this mean for your wallet, you may wonder?

Here's what Achatz and partner Nick Kokonas said yesterday:

The ticket price for the debut, eight-course Escoffier menu at Next will range from $65 to $105. (Thai street food will be the second menu, Achatz says; price range not determined but based on how they've explained their concept, I'm guessing lower).

The price of cocktails (25 on the menu) at Aviary will range from $12 to $20, and food prices will be comparable to "a nice sushi place."

And a little more about the food at Aviary, which hasn't been talked or written about much:

Achatz described the menu of 12 savory and 3 sweet items as "really progressive finger food" that will come three on a plate. "Like cantaloupe with champagne and prosciutto," Achatz said -- that is, a cube of "beautifully ripe cantaloupe" saturated and compressed with champagne, then rolled in dehydrated prosciutto powder. And: "Clam chowder" croquettes, Achatz said, his fingers making quotation marks in the air.

As of Thursday, the restaurant had logged 18,400 e-mail addresses from people who want to know when the ticket reservation system for Next opens. That, Achatz figured, represents about 3 3/4 years' worth of diners already.

(If you're already thinking, 'How in the hell will I ever get to eat at Next?!' know that in the basement of Aviary will be a tiny bar called the Office, behind a door marked "Office," with yet its own food and drink menu, and to which "we either invite you, or you book it," Kokonas says. So those chances are even slimmer...).

Aviary will be first come, first served.

Story and photos by guest blogger Seanan Forbes

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Ah, the U.S. Open: tennis, sunshine, some of the world's top athletes, stars watching athletes, people watching stars watching athletes . . .

Wherever there are masses, there will be shops, attractions, distractions, kiosks, advertisements and, of course, food and drink. If you're craving an over-boiled hot dog and a watered-down soda, then here's a tip: Don't go to Tony Mantuano's wine bar.

Rita Garza, senior director of corporate communications for the United States Tennis Association, says, "The U.S. Open is the greatest sporting event in the world, and food should go with that." According to Garza, the wine bar is "the most magical place you can be on the ground."

As of this year, there are two wine bars. Like temporary art exhibits, they are not here - or there - to stay. "None of this existed two weeks ago," Mantuano observes, "and it'll all be gone in five days." Mantuano-on-'break'-with-texting.jpg

Steve Paluck, line cook at Terzo Piano ("line cook extraordinaire," Mantuano murmurs) is in New York working in Mantuano's pop-up restaurant and enjoying a rare treat: watching people respond to what he's prepared.

"The people who come to this wine bar are blown away . . . They're sitting in a hallway, but it's turned into something luxurious," he says.

He's speaking of the club-level wine bar. Indoors, away from the sunshine, it is cooler but smaller than the original. The crew doesn't have much room to work in. The patrons would have space to sprawl, if only more of them would stay away. They don't. They come in thirsty hordes. Hungry, too. They tear into bread rubbed with tomatoes and draped with jamon and Manchego. They eat shrimp sauteed in olive oil with garlic, jalapeno and potatoes, flamed with ouzo. The taste takes Mantuano to Greece - "Santorini, like I'm on a yacht somewhere."

Patrons can't know it, but they're tasting a Mantuano travelogue. Chicagoans are savvier. Anybody who's eaten at Spiaggia knows that it's where food from all Italian regions comes to plate.

By guest blogger Seanan Forbes

Don't take Bridget Albert's smile for everything. It may look honeyed, but "I'm a savory girl, not a sweet girl," says Albert, author of Market Fresh Mixology and master mixologist at Southern Wine and Spirits of Illinois.

"I just really like delicious emotion that you get in your mouth when you bite into a tomato, when it's so tasty - and there's a little bit of acid in there, believe it or not." Her voice brightens as she says, "It just makes your mouth water." Bridget Albert.jpg

As with fruit, so with drinks. "I think the cool thing about savory cocktails is that I can drink more than one, because they're not so sticky and sweet," Albert says, "and they can definitely whet my appetite - and I just think they're really fun."

We all get "sweet" - but what's "savory" when it's in a cocktail shaker? "When you think savory, the first thing that comes to mind is tomatoes," she says. "Cucumbers are in that family, as well, and let's not leave out mushrooms."

Albert's list is not a limited one - not when it comes to flavor or to season. "I pickle everything, in the springtime and in the summertime, and incorporate that into my cocktails in the winter, when nothing is in season in Chicago, and they're usually savory items, like beets," she says.

Albert's happily experimenting with meat infusions. There, too, she plays on the far side of the fence. "We all know that bacon is the new black, and everybody's in love with bacon - but let's not leave out chorizo sausage, when we're doing our meat infusions. It's spicy and savory and delicious."

"There's a whole world ready to explore," Albert says, even while remarking that nothing is new. Meat in cocktails? The Bullshot (vodka and beef bouillon) has been around for ages. Tomatoes? How spicy do you like your Bloody Mary? cucumelons and heirloom tomatoes - SForbes.jpg

"What's old is coming back around, and we're rediscovering things," she says. "We're playing . . . throwing a lot of things against the wall, getting a little crazy with our cocktails, on the savory side and the sweet side, and seeing what works and what doesn't work."

Some foods cross over. Carrots are sweet, but season and roast them, and you add a savory ingredient to your home bar.

The slow food movement has a stirrer in the cocktail glass. "What's caused this resurgence is that people are looking to their farmers markets wanting to use what is local," she says. Look to the spice rack, too. "Let's not forget the different kinds of peppercorns out there. Fresh herbs, like rosemary - basil! Thai basil is delicious. All the different kinds of salts - There are so many different kinds available at your local Whole Foods. There are at least 20 different varieties to have fun with, and they all taste completely different from the next."

Albert teaches a professional mixology course, but she's used to giving advice to people who aren't in the industry. "My family are dancers and mailmen and butchers and just your average Joe, and they are not cocktail aficionados or bartenders," she says fondly. "Here's my word of advice: Don't be afraid. Get in the kitchen. Play with your food. Put your food into the cocktail glass, and the worst you can do is make a bad cocktail."

What if you don't know what you're doing? Don't worry about it. Albert grins and says, "Some beautiful combinations are made by mistake."

Recipe after the jump.


by guest blogger and New York writer Seanan Forbes

Absinthe has history. It's been labeled a dangerous drug. It's been outrageously popular. It's been banned in the United States and many European countries. Then again, given that the drink's been keeping extreme company (Vincent van Gogh, Oscar Wilde, Ernest Hemingway, Eminem, Marilyn Manson ...), it's bound to have gathered a story or two. Sirene Absinthe Verte Bottle Shot.jpg

Here are a few facts: Absinthe has no added sugar, so it's not a liqueur; it's a spirit. It contains wormwood and a number of aromatic herbs, which may include fennel, anise seed, star anise, hyssop, angelica root, coriander and more. The ingredients are always securely protected by distillers - including one in Chicago.

Ah, yes. That's the most important fact about absinthe: It's back.

In 2007, the ban was lifted and absinthe returned to stores, bars and glasses across America. That was welcome news to many people, including Derek and Sonja Kassebaum of North Shore Distillery. "We've been making [absinthe] since the start," says Sonja Kassebaum, "but we never thought we'd be able to sell it, 'cause it wasn't legal."

They made it because they liked it, and to test their skill. "It's a very complex spirit. It's regarded as a challenge, and difficult for a distiller to make well," she says.

According to master mixologist Charles Joly of the Drawing Room, 937 N. Rush, they're doing everything right. "The flavor's balanced, and I think it's pretty cool that a distillery out of Chicago is making something as good as or better than some of what's coming out of France and Switzerland," Joly says.

Kassebaum describes Sirène as a classic absinthe. "There's a whole bunch of stuff that gets called absinthe that isn't," she says. As to ingredients, she'll divulge this: "Anise, fennel and wormwood are the trinity."

Absinthe is a forward spirit. "It's got a pretty pronounced flavor," Joly says. Classically, absinthe was used to rinse the glass and then thrown out. "It was there as an accompanying note," he says.

Kassebaum agrees. "Just a small amount adds a little something extra, a little depth and complexity." Today, some bartenders put absinthe in small spray bottles - the kind sold in travel kits - and spray it across the tops of cocktails.

If you like the idea of using absinthe at the table, then try rinsing a martini glass with absinthe, pouring out the liquor, then using the glass to serve chocolate gelato or blood orange sorbet.

Who doesn't love a deal? Correction: who doesn't love free or close to free stuff?

Because it's Wednesday - just because - here are three dining deals worth noting:

1. Free whiskey shots at Longman & Eagle, 2657 N. Kedzie, this Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. That's right - 11 a.m. If you need a reason to imbibe at 11 a.m. on a Friday, it's the tavern/inn's way of announcing they're now open for lunch.

2. The $3 happy hour (4:30 to 6:30 p.m.) menu at Elate, 111 W. Huron. Yes, there is a "with-purchase-of-a-drink" clause. But we're not talking quaint bar bites - we're talking full-size menu items, including the burger, which is normally $12.

3. Free cupcakes, every Monday in June, at more, 1 E. Delaware (below). Free. Cupcakes. No purchase necessary.

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No need to tell Grant Achatz to strike while the iron's hot.

A week after Achatz's restaurant, Alinea, was named the seventh best restaurant in the world, via S.Pellegrino's annual list, on the night Alinea was given the Best Service award by the James Beard Foundation and one day before Alinea's 5th anniversary -- Achatz posted a link Monday on Twitter detailing his next two ventures, which he'd alluded to in interviews last week.

Ladies and gentleman, he presents Next and Aviary, a restaurant and bar, respectively. Think: "world cuisine," time travel, four menus a year, 40 to 75 bucks, tickets not reservations, drinks by chefs not mixologists. Fall 2010.

Read on here.

And now, a confession: We have a soft spot for Colt 45.

It goes way back to high school and some boys we used to hang out with, and it's a story that pretty much stops there, so that now we've revealed too much, let us add that we're relieved we're not the only ones whose 40-ounce memories run deep.

In her college days, Jennifer Keeney held a regular 40-ounce Tuesday night club with a few friends. The club convened after her three-hour "Methods of Psychotherapy" class. "I decided it was so incredibly horrific that we needed to have a 40-ounce night," says Keeney, a Northwest Side resident.

Keeney, now an HR exec, survived that class. But neither she nor we could see this one coming -- a weeklong celebration of the 40-ounce.

All week, the Fifty/50 in Wicker Park is offering 40-ounce specials (and corresponding food specials) to mark what it insists is National 40-Ounce Week. Monday was Colt 45 night. Keeney and her husband were there.

"We thought it was worth a sitter," she says. She posed with a cardboard cutout of Billy Dee Williams, ate a skirt steak sandwich that she says was "spectacular" and, of course, drank a 40-ounce -- or 40-oh, as the kids say.

National 40-Ounce Week at the Fifty/50 ends Sunday. By the way, there's no need to BYO paper bag. The bar has that covered, too.

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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