Every now and then, if you’re lucky enough, you’ll enjoy a meal so memorable, so unexpected, and so amazing that it becomes much more than just food. It becomes an experience. Something that sticks with you for a long, long time.
And that’s just what NEXT is.
If there’s anyone out there who still hasn’t heard of NEXT, it’s a revolutionary concept restaurant from world-renowned chef Grant Achatz (Alinea) with a rotating set menu. The only way to get a table is to get tickets — not reservations — and they’re not easy to come by. The entire batch of tables is made available at once (per menu) via an online scheduling site, and it’s first come, first serve. Undoubtedly the hottest ticket in town, NEXT themselves reported that for the Thai menu, over 16,000 people tried to reserve 2,000 tables. And as anyone who feverishly clicked their way through multiple server crashes, site freezes, and virtual tables being reserved out from under them knows, the process is far from easy. But way more than worth it.
NEXT is a fine dining experience without the stuffy pretension. Thai newspaper covers the tables, the servers deliver sarcasm with a level of flair that’s practically textbook, and it’s clear that everyone’s excited about what they’ve managed to create — food that’s authentic, fun and exciting.
My favorite dishes of the night were the hot and sour pork belly soup (pictured two above) and the beef cheek curry (pictured one below). I also loved the fermented sausage that came as part of the first course, as well as the salted duck egg salad and dried anchovy tamarind that came as condiments (yes, condiments) for the rice course. As far as the drinks go, it was nice to see local favorite Half Acre represented with a special hibiscus beer called Horizon that was brewed specifically for the NEXT Thai menu, but I especially enjoyed the Italian dessert wine, which we were told wasn’t usually part of the menu.
Come to find out, Alison happened to know NEXT’s General Manager, who so kindly offered to give us a tour of the kitchen where we met Executive Chef Dave Beran. As you’d expect, the kitchen is beautiful and everyone moves with the precision of a perfectly timed ballet. It’s amazing to watch.
And you can’t go to NEXT without a trip to Aviary, the innovative cocktail lounge next door. Also concepted by Achatz, the cocktails are made with the same attention to detail as the food. The whole set-up could best be described as a cocktail kitchen with a staff of about eight cocktail chefs (in chef’s whites) creating the drinks. My favorite was the Manhattan, where the whiskey was contained in a large sphere of ice, only to be released by cracking it open via a metal washer attached to a rubber band that’s mounted to the glass.
NEXT not only changes the way you think about food, but makes you second guess what’s culinarily possible. As any food-lover knows, there’s a sort of euphoria that comes from eating a meal that’s so good, it changes the course for any meal that comes after it.
I have a feeling I’ll be riding the NEXT wave for a long time. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.