Next. The brainchild of Grant Achatz, whose restaurant Alinea, has been ranked Best in the World for several years. Next, located in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood, offers a tasting menu dining format where tickets are sold in lieu of reservations.
We’ve been to Next five times before this visit. In general, Next really delivers. We’ve had times where a course (sometimes multiple) miss the mark but only one time where service was bad. The service you get, like everywhere, really depends on the servers. We’ve had some phenomenal servers who were so knowlegable and passionate about the menu at hand. We’ve also had servers who would come out and set the food down and just disappear. They wouldn’t provide guidance on the course (what was being served or why it was selected). You lose a lot during a menu like this if you don’t get all the background and history.
During our most recent visit, our servers fell into both buckets. The courses that had a full and proper delivery and description ended up being the ones we liked much more too. Is it all in my head? Probably. We actually had a really good service, save for a couple courses where the food or wine was delivered without comment – we had to flag down another server to get the details on the dish.
Next changes their menu a few times a year, 50 Best Restaurants is the third and final menu this year. The 2018 schedule will be released in mid-November.
Ticket prices vary based on day and time of reservation. Our tickets were $285 each for a Saturday reservation at 20h45. Wine pairings were extra – three different levels of wine pairings were available. We chose the standard pairing – the top of the line pairing would have added another $495 per person. I’m sure the wines would have been phenomenal, but we couldn’t rationalize this add on. As it was, our dinner, with wine pairings, tax and tip came in at just under $1,000. This meal isn’t an everyday occurrence, but a truly special experience.
We find ourselves using the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list quite a bit when we travel. Most recently we used the list to plan dining in Rio de Janeiro, Paris and Bangkok. Last year when visiting Peru and Bolivia, this list was the cornerstone of our fine dining experience. We ate at three restaurants on this list in Lima alone. Two of which were brought in for this menu (although Maido didn’t actually make our tasting – perhaps the menu will change a bit throughout its run). The best restaurant meal I’ve ever eaten was at Central in Lima and they presented an early course at Next.
When designing this menu, the chefs at Next worked with the chefs represented on their menu. The honored chefs sent recipes, detailed techniques and even videos to show how to properly prepare and plate their entrants. Some chefs even sent ingredients (one even sent seeds to grow the beets!) – others offered substitute ingredients (some of the shell fish was hard to source in proper quantities in Chicago).
Ok, enough lead in, right? Let’s get into the meat of this, shall We? We arrived a couple minutes after our reservation time and were immediately seated. Our table was properly set (a napkin and a tweezer plus water glasses). The table was also adorned with a rose for each place setting and a small bowl with some moss and a couple leaves. Having done this type of dining before, we were confident this would be our first and second courses.
We sat eagerly awaiting the start.
Before we get to far into this, I should let you know that I don’t like poached eggs. I really only like eggs if they are baked into something (cake, for example) or mixed into something else (eggs scrambled into a stir fry). Fine dining tasting menus almost always have a poached egg included. I usually just eat around it. When booking this meal, and filling out the survey, I notified the restaurant I didn’t like poached eggs. A couple emails back and forth (so they could understand if it was an allergy, or if I’m just a pain in the ass – it’s the latter) we were all set.
Our first wine pairing wasn’t a wine at all, but a cocktail with an apple base and foam topper. It was a great pairing with the rose and leaves on the table. As we progressed through the courses, a new wine would arrive. We were given some high level details on the drink (it was all wine, except for the first cocktail), then told how many courses the wine was pairing with. The most courses we had with a single wine was three, but they were good about topping you off if you were running a little low.
I won’t bore you with an analysis of each of the courses and the pairings. But you can see the photos I took of each course. I try to be respectful of other patrons, so I never use a flash (although others were). The lighting at Next was a bit low and my Samsung S6 Edge, which usually does a pretty great job in this situation, struggled a bit. You can also see that I forgot to take a picture of one dish before I dug in….Sorry!
The course I was looking forward to the most, Central. They did a really great job with the razor clam and leche de tigre. Despite my complete and irrational aversion to poached eggs, I really loved the fare from Eleven Madison Park. Instead of a pickled yolk, my egg was cooked though and tasted amazing with the ham, asparagus and Cavier. One of my favorites of the night. Speaking of favorites…what was mine you ask? I really loved the Riso Cacio e Pepe. The risotto was made with parm broth and it was spectacular. The course that really made the night for me was the langostine. It had a puffed rice and wasabi coating that just attacked your taste buds. I wish I had a couple more of those. Utterly phenomenal.
For those of you who have sampled this menu at Next, what was your favorite course? If not, which of these courses are you most looking forward to? What about your favorite menu at Next?