Last night, I had the extraordinary experience of dining at Next for a best friend’s 40th birthday celebration. 19 courses, 3 1/2 hours, rare wine pairings. I am exhausted and bleary-eyed (we were at the 10pm seating, finishing at 1:30am) but I must get the words down while the night is fresh in my mind.Next, created by Chef Grant Achatz (of Alinea fame) and his business partner Nick Kokonas, is unlike any restaurant in the world. The cuisine is changed entirely every four months (“A Tour of Thailand”, “Belle Epoque”, “Kyoto”, and wild game focused “The Hunt” are past examples) and you must purchase tickets through Next’s website rather than call and make reservations. Tickets sell quickly. An entire four months can sell out in mere minutes! Serendipitously, the birthday girl is vegan, Next’s exploration of vegan cuisine fell on her birthday month, AND she was able to acquire tickets.
The inventiveness, the art, the execution – all of those elements are still floating around in my head. It was as if we were wandering through an enchanted forest, stumbling upon Lilliputian-sized food placed on lichen-dotted rocks, floating in ponds and teetering atop branches.The two photos above illustrate how even lighting and shadows play integral roles in the theatrical experience that is Next. (You’ll have to excuse my bad iPhoto shots – I wish I would have had my good camera, but I didn’t want to spoil the mood or drive my tablemates crazy.) Below, sourdough crackers dusted in green tea powder pose as edible tree tops. The crackers were used to scoop up roasted avocado spiked with fried kale slathered on a rock (seen in the following image). My absolute favorite bite of the night was the tempura swiss chard with douchi (a fermented black soybean concoction) seen below.And the wine. Oh, the wine!! The Gramont Nuits-Saint-Georges (a 2009 pinot noir)- served with the divine mushroom course – was truly one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted. The curry roasted cauliflower with naan (below) was another favorite. Next would not have been the unforgettable experience it was without the skilled, knowledgeable, tireless waitstaff (a special thank you to Dave for putting up with my eight thousand questions!). Thorough without being pedantic, they presented the 19th course (and 7th wine pairing) at 1:15am with the same level of enthusiasm as the first.To answer a few questions you may have:
- Yes, even the three non-vegan meat lovers were thrilled with dinner.
- No, we did not leave hungry.
- And yes, we were smart enough to arrange transportation home.
Next’s next menu is Bocuse d’Or, based on the prestigious international cooking competition held biannually in Lyon, France.
Next is located at 953 West Fulton Market in Chicago. Click here to register for tickets.