Photograph: Anna Knott
Next (953 W. Fulton Market, 312-226-0858). Contemporary.
$$$$ ($50-plus per person for a meal, without tax, tip, or alcohol)
The buzz never fades at Grant Achatz’s stunner, which changes its identity and approach three times a year. Nor does the originality. Chef Dave Beran’s sixth menu, a Kyoto kaiseki, featured one of Next’s finest hours, the “Japanese maple forest”: shrimp, bottarga, a parsnip chip with corn custard topped by trout roe, lotus root chips in an uni shell, and pickled turnip wrapped in nori and duck prosciutto, all hidden in leaves illuminated by a candle in a daikon radish “lantern.” Service is as playful and authoritative as ever. After the current menu, a Midwestern game prix fixe called “The Hunt,” finishes in late April, Next goes vegan. To buy tickets, go to Next’s website far in advance. And pray.
Dishes We Liked: (All dishes are part of a prix fixe menu that changes quarterly. These items were from the Kyoto menu.) Corn husk soup; Japanese maple forest; barracuda, wasabi leaf, cured yolk; chrysanthemum, eggplant, shiso leaf; soup, rice, pickles with apple, barley, red date, steamed white rice; First Snowfall: maple leaf, powdered maple sugar, persimmon
SushiSamba Rio (504 N. Wells St., 312-595-2300). Japanese, Pan-Latin.
$$$ ($40–$49 per person for a meal, without tax, tip, or alcohol)
Almost a decade after its hot debut, this Carnival-hued scene still pleases with flashy cocktails and small plates of Latin-Japanese blended creations. Sushi spinoffs include fat Samba rolls with fillings such as bigeye tuna and smoky Peruvian aji panca chilies. Share an assortment of four sashimi seviches and tiraditos, and throw in an order or two of skewered robatas, such as octopus and potato with botija olives and hot and sweet rocoto chili jam. Service can be helter-skelter, but nobody seems to mind amid all the energy and noise.
Dishes We Liked: robata: smoked teriyaki organic chicken ($9); seviches: salmon, blood orange, and tomato ($12); tiraditos: tuna, green apple, yuzu, red jalapeño ($14); BoBo Brazil Samba roll with seared wagyu beef, avocado, kaiware, shiso, red onion, and chimichurri ponzu ($14)
New restaurant reviews, updated to reflect critics’ recent visits, appear each month in Chicago magazine, in Dine, as well as on our website. Listed restaurants are rated from one to four stars, where one is good, two is very good, three is excellent, and four is superlative. Next maintained its three-star rating and SushiSamba Rio its two-star rating in the March issue, on newsstands now.