Next Restaurant is like organized religion. Christian in the sense that you surrender to a higher power. Jewish in that you pay before you go to temple. And like they all, you don’t get to use free will. You go to watch the show – not steer production. But what a marvel the show is.
There is something inherently inspiring about watching true mastery of a craft. Like we discussed before, all chefs are, in their own way, inspired. Creativity is not possible without some sort of inspiration. But to be “inspiring,” to make someone go home wondering “how’d they do that” is a completely different form of excellence. It’s the difference between walking out of a movie and liking it and walking out of a movie wanting to make them yourself. And although lots of people want to work in movies because they’re familiar only with its red carpet and its romance, few doubt that slaving away in kitchens is really quite excruciating. But in as much as I know that people walked out of Jurassic Park and started filming stop-motion with their Super 8, I just plain know that people will go home after their meals at Next and try to “whip something up” themselves.
The menu was, and for a little while will be, Childhood. All the staples of our youthful diets are addressed. The tastes, the smells, the antique lunchboxes. All, of course, done with a little more attention than our mothers who sometimes would forget to remove the wrapper from the slice of American cheese. Or maybe mine just liked pranking me. Anyway, a little orb of PB filled with J kicked off the amuse course and everything that followed truly did remind us of our youth. The Mac and Cheese that everyone now serves – better than anyone now serving it. The chicken noodle and veggie soups. The sweet potato pie. But to go into detail about each is, in my opinion, counterproductive. Of course it’s great. Of course it’s tasty. And, of course it’s clever in a way that few restaurants can ever be – not just due to superior creativity but due to much superior economics. So instead of filling the next paragraph with glowing adjectives, we’d let the pictures do some talking, not spend a whole lot of time on a menu that you probably won’t get to try, and instead focus on the Aviary/Next experience, which, could use quite a bit of polish.
It’s not completely fair to lump Aviary into Next. But it is the de facto Hotel Lobby. The doctor’s waiting room. The curb appeal. They suggest you arrive early and have a drink before having dinner which we gladly did. The nightclub-style entrance was guarded by a nightclub-style bouncer. “We have dinner in 1 hour. Can we go in and have a drink?” This is where we usually say thank you for them holding the door open. But no. An exhaustive inquisition followed – our reservation, time, spellings of names. It was freezing outside. Then, once all the INFO was collected we were asked to stand “here” which is bouncer code for out of the damn way. Luckily there were heat lamps a short distance away. Over 5 minutes go by and the female is shivering and I have 0 patience for waiting in non-lines. “If it’s not happening, tell us and we’ll go somewhere else. Or…let us in. It’s cold and we’re not waiting outside.” And with this, we were “permitted” to wait in the foyer to be seated at a shockingly available seating area. Fail. This is not how one behaves with patrons in Next’s waiting room. One also does not make the patrons ask 3 times for water or make them late to dinner! They had an hour to serve us 3 drinks ($45 prix-fix and EXCELLENT). But I couldn’t even finish my last because we were already 10 min past our reservation. For the number of times we were asked about our reservation NEXT door (get it?) we would have expected them to actually care about the answer. And, of course, you cannot finish a drink from one in the other – even if you’ve closed out. But anyway – enough about the waiting room. To their (small) credit, we didn’t have reservations but it’s not like they were bursting with drinkers.
Next Restaurant is overall a great experience. But for the price, their service sure could use a little polish. Tru demystified 4-star dining with their novel realization that people want to eat well and be festive too. They didn’t want their wait staff acting as though they were at a wake. Theatrics aside, you will get from Tru’s staff exactly what you put in. You want to sit there all morose like your grandma just died? Ok. They’ll leave you alone. But if you want to chat and be merry, they are right there with you. But Next takes the informality to a new low and I’m not sure I like it. The chaos of the dining room is OK when you eat at the bar in Hugo’s but not when you prepay almost $500 for a 4-star meal. I don’t know. I bet I am in the minority since the female didn’t seem to mind.
But we must end on a highly positive note: the wine pairings. Not only were they perfectly complimentary but also unbelievably plentiful. Too much so. They left the bottles on the table! This is dangerous. Who does that with wine? This makes the “pairing” theoretically limited only by courses but can allow for several healthy glasses of any given wine if you drink fast during a course. Drink fast is what we do. This was the best value of the night. Definitely get the wine pairings and skip the 7-flight course at Aviary unless you want to be rolled out.
Dinner at an Achatz restaurant is more “experience” than feeding. It’s art, science and execution all in healthy measures. Their business model makes perfect sense considering the limited supply and onslaught of demand. It works for them. It probably won’t work for many. That’s OK. Just like Apple, BMW and The Soup Nazi – you can buy their stuff if you follow their rules. They know what you want better than you do. You want to give input on the menu? Make decisions? Customize? Change? NO NEXT FOR YOU! NEXT!