NExt Restaurant lives up to the hype with its “Childhood” themed menu.
When Grant Achatz, chef of the number-one restaurant in the nation; Alinea, announced his new restaurant venture called, “NExt,” it went to the top of every foodie’s hit list. Here’s why:Unlike Alinea, Next’s menu and concept changes every three months. “Tickets” to eat here are sold in limited quantities via a pre-pay lottery system. This way, they sell out long before a plate is ever dropped. 80-120 covers are done per night, with service conducted Wednesday through Sunday evenings only.After knocking out the much-anticipated French and Thai-inspired themes, the 60-seat NExt is now onto its third topic: “Childhood.” Of all themes announced so far, this is the one I knew I had to score tickets for – me, and the (literally) millions others who signed up to be in the world-wide lottery.Luckily, I was able to score a four-top table for 10pm on a Sunday. Despite the late reso, we arrived to the unmarked location and every seat in the modernized dining room was full.Our experience actually started in the kitchen (identical to Alinea’s, only smaller,)where we were given a behind-the-scenes look at the show until our table was ready. Part of the appeal before eating anything-is the element of surprise with each course Achatz has to offer. Therefore, I did my best to not look too closely at things backstage. However, I did spot nine cooks working diligently at their stations, which they stay on for the entire duration of a theme. A calm, precise expediter manages the tickets and orchestrates plating at the back-of-house, keeping the pace appropriately for all tables. Everything is quiet and organized.Though many desire, few will actually get the opportunity to enjoy the nostalgic “Childhood
menu. Despite the odds, describing each course and exposing every surprise would be a great disservice to anyone potentially going. That said, I’ll be careful how I proceed.Seated for dinner, with the Star Wars theme playing in the background, I didn’t know what to expect other than an emotional, evocative eating experience. Having once dined at his famed, three-Michelin-starred Alinea, I knew I’d be in for impeccable service, several surprises, and perfectly plated food.The meal began with an amuse – served in a box covered in wrapping paper. What better way to start things off than tearing up a present? Inside: a take on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
From there, Achatz found a way to redo all our childhood food favorites: hamburgers, macaroni and cheese, and bubblegum just name a few.
A lickable dish served on the stick of an electric mixer was, for me, the standout presentation, with the course served in an old-school plastic lunchbox – complete with “a note from mom” and a take on an Oreo cookie, among other things.
As an off-the-menu course, the kitchen brought each of us five brussels sprouts…every kid’s favorite, right? Each were hollowed out and filled with something different: bacon riallette, black truffle pudding, and béarnaise-just name a few.
As we were enjoying our chicken noodle soup course (slurping encouraged), it dawned on me that everyone in the dining room was dressed nicely and appeared affluent. How ironic that we were all acting like total children for the evening?
Two of the other diners I was with enjoyed pairings with their meals – one alcoholic, one not. Non-alcoholic pairings included beverages like house-made apple cider, lemonade, and root beer. The table was almost moved to tears at one point when we were all drinking juice out of Flash Gordon thermoses.
Service at NExt is not as refined or reserved as at Alinea, but considering the theme of the menu, it was nice to interact and have a little fun, especially with our servers. Regardless, the front-of-house team is still among the best in the industry.
Twelve courses and three-and-a-half hours later; the meal capped with a mug of hot chocolate and we were stuffed. I found the entire evening equal parts entertaining, humorous, emotional, delicious, and well worth the hype and cost. After all, can you really put a price on feeling like you’re 8 years old again?
Well done, Achatz. Well done.