Quick, you’re late to Paris in 1906 and your go-to corset is still at the cleaners: what do you do? It is precisely occasions like these that I regret anchoring the bulk of my wardrobe in the Muppets heyday circa 1979. So I get over it and go. After all, this is the meal that’s a solid year in the making.
It’s my trip to Next, Grant Achatz’s restaurant masterpiece. Achatz is Michael Jordan in the kitchen, augmented by a Shakespearean bout with tongue cancer, a story coming soon to theaters. He continues to floor diners with Alinea, consistently ranked one of the best restaurants in the world, and is now upping the ante with Next and it’s impending neighbor Aviary, a ballsy reimagination of the cocktail lounge.
Next was announced in dramatic fashion, via a Transformers-esque trailer last May. It’s a culinary Back to the Future where the entire menu is reengineered every three months to painstakingly emulate a place and a time, starting with Paris 1906, moving on to Thailand and who knows where after.
Devotion is a cocktail, not a jigger of anything straight. A dash of stubbornness and helplessness laced with a splash of compulsiveness and unawareness poured into a shaker, along with two fingers of deep love and sorrow – Sportswriter Gary Smith
So Achatz is either insane or wildly devoted to attempt this edible tomfoolery. And it was exactly when this plot was announced that I submitted my email to the Next ticketing process, because it was like guaranteeing seats to Game 7 of a Lakers-Bulls final.
Earlier this month, access to the online marketplace was granted to the ones who signed up first on the capped 19k email list. There was digital drama in the form of email server failures, delayed passwords, confusion and questions, all quickly and transparently addressed by Next. Eventually I get my invitation to the highly nuanced pricing system with the option to pre-purchase a table for 2 or 4 (because ménage trios are a waste of money for restaurants). Prices per table fluctuate depending on the day, time and corresponding peaks in demand. Ultimately, the experience is entirely pre-paid and no money is exchanged at the restaurant. And the byproduct is a long overdue dining StubHub, a secondary resale market that creates a subplot with crescendoing intrigue. Even Gaga couldn’t stir up this cauldron of brouhaha.
And so we arrive.
Next exudes the feelings of a meandering train, patient movement and subdued time travel with its industrial décor and muted soundtrack that immediately exports you into a silent film. I can talk about the turtle consommé, the pressed duck with a blood-kidney jus that turned us into gluttonous vampires, or the supremes de poussin that is the most exciting bite of chicken you’ll have. Or even the tour of the kitchen after and a photo op with executive chef Dave Beran where I may or may not have grabbed his ass.
Yes, the entire Next experience is brilliant yet underwhelming, only because you expect Parisian dancers to descend from the ceiling and a mime with a waxed moustache to appear tableside.
See, that’s the thing about well-engineered hype. Because in life and food and sport and anything else- what is the ultimate amuse bouche? It’s when the bites of build up so geniusly whet your appetite that even the impeccable innovation in the ensuing execution leaves you selfishly and ravenously craving more. Because for Next, as much as it is about the food, it isn’t. And that’s what makes it so damn delicious.
And it’s for that reason that I’m hooked, boarding this food train to Thailand and beyond.