Archive for November, 2011


Finally, at long last, I have conquered Next! Chef Grant Achatz’s latest foray into the culinary landscape has been just out of reach since it opened, due largely in part to its nearly impossible to obtain tickets which sell out instantly the day they are released for public sale.

Yes, you read that correctly. In order to eat at Next, you have to purchase tickets, which are sold only in sets of two, four, and six, and you  must  either have the time to sit on Next’s website and hit the refresh button innumerable amount of times until your desired date and time is available, or have the fortitude to risk hundreds of dollars on the good faith of some dude from Schaumburg who’s selling his tickets on Craigslist.

I, however, was lucky enough to be invited for my friend K.’s birthday celebration by her boyfriend, who had purchased four tickets. Our dinner was scheduled for two days after I returned from a ten day trip to Poland for a dear friend’s wedding (more on that–and my ungodly consumption of encased meats–in a later post), and I was jet-lagged, sick as a dog, but determined to experience Next nonetheless.

The dilly-yo with Next is that the menu changes every three months, and spans not only cuisines but also time and cultures.  This might not bode well for your average bear, but Grant Achatz is nothing if not completely unique in his willingness to experiment with what diners are willing to consume–and how much they’re willing to spend–on a meal at one of his establishments. He was smart enough to leverage his star status as Alinea’s creator and head chef into this new venture, and had the foresight to predict that regardless of how difficult and complicated the reservation process, people would still be chomping at the bit to get a table at Next.

I can’t say that this urgency on behalf of Next’s clientele doesn’t also have something to do with bragging rights and being able to say “Oh, you haven’t tried the latest menu? Oh, aren’t you cute. Well, you’ll get there someday. Now watch me burn this $100 bill.” If you want to be really annoyed, read the insufferable reviews from “Elite” Yelpers. Example:

“Thai thai thai. Although I MUCH preferred the Paris menu (the duck sauce changed my life, I enjoyed EVERYTHING, and the bev pairings were simply divine), Tour of Thailand was still tasty and mostly worthy of it’s price tag.”

Is that so? Did you MUCH prefer the Paris menu? Were the “bev pairings” simply divine? Poor grammar aside, this review is the reason I have such a love/hate relationship with Yelp. Your “Elite” status does not make your opinion more important than anyone else’s. Also you’re an insufferable douche. Anyhoodle. Where was I?

Next’s first menu was Paris circa 1906, which I unfortunately did not get to experience. Our dinner fell during Next’s Tour of Thailand menu, which was  just so FORTUITOUS for me, as Thai is my absolute hands down favorite Asian cuisine, ever.

Upon arrival, we were seated in a cozy booth and took some time to soak in the atmosphere. Next is housed in the oh-so-trendy Fulton Market restaurant district, and as such does not have a whole lot of space. It’s small, and not terribly brightly lit, but boasts a beautiful, sleek open kitchen at the far end of the space, and from where I sat I was able to peer into the kitchen and see the magical elves hard at work.

First Course: Roasted banana, prawn cake, sweet shrimp, fermented sausage, steamed Asian buns.

This little bite course was highlighted by the Asian buns (heh) which our server jokingly said were sourced from Wow Bao. They are in fact made in house and delicious.

Second Course: Tom Yum soup with pork belly, tomato, and kaffir lime.

Oh holy deliciousness. I am a sucker for Tom Yum soup, and this broth was so goddamn flavorful that I was tempted to ask for a second serving to take home with me. It was so silky and gingery, but tasted light and tangy thanks to the kaffir lime.

Third Course: Salted duck egg with green mango and white radish; pickled fruits and vegetables with basil.

Know how some Italian restaurants serve bread for the table? Next served rice for the table, with a variety of spicy sauces and toppings that we could consumer at our leisure throughout the meal.

Fourth Course: Wild catfish braised in caramel sauce with celery and coriander root.

The presentation of this dish outweighed its actual taste in terms of impressiveness, as the fish platter was served with its own charcoal heating element to ensure the fish stayed warm. It was good fish, tender and flaky and not overly fishy the way some catfish can be, but just seemed like a placeholder dish.

Fifth Course: Braised beef cheek with curry sauce, nutmeg, coconut, and lemongrass.

My favorite dish of the night. The beef cheeks were fall-apart tender and so succulent thanks to the infusion of creamy curry. It was a hearty serving as well, and really could have been a meal all by itself.

Sixth Course: Coconut, corn, egg, licorice. (Note: turn your head to the left.)

This dessert dish arrived in a closed coconut, and we were told to open the top half of the coconut in order to get to the dish. I wasn’t sure what to expect with this, as the ingredients didn’t sound super thrilling. It was superb. Think cold, melty coconut ice cream with flavors of star anise, vanilla, and tapioca.

Seventh Course: Dragonfruit, rosewater.

This was my least favorite course I think, as dragonfruit really has no flavor. Our server brought the fruit halves with an actual rose sprayed with rosewater essence, and told us to smell the rose, then take a shot of the rum that was served alongside the fruit, then scoop a bite out of the fruit. It was all very beautiful-looking, but lacking in sweetness and flavor.

Eighth Course: Roobios tea, palm sugar, milk.

This little send off gets points for its quirky presentation, though it really was just chai tea in a plastic bag that you drink with a straw. I liked it though, and it really rounded out the courses.

I really love a good, long dinner filled with whimsy and amazing flavor combinations and Next did not let me down on that. Our servers (there were a few) were all incredibly enthusiastic and helpful, and explained each dish with relish and pride.

The good thing about Next’s ticketing idea is that it is completely all-inclusive, meaning at the end of the meal there’s no waiting around for the bill, no figuring out tips, none of that peasant business. You simply get up, thank your server, and the host calls you a cab. Everything is included, from the tip to the beverage pairings, so it’s really no muss no fuss on that end.

It’s hard to justify the expense of eating at Next every time the menu changes, but I’ve heard rumors of an El Bulli-esque menu coming up after the current Childhood menu, so I’ll be getting my “refresh” finger ready when that happens.


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