Next: Vegan | Menu preview
Chef Dave Beran's ambitious new menu explores the possibilities of vegetables at Next.
At Next, there is rarely such a thing as just a centerpiece.
"I don't want to bore you," Dave Beran says, searching for an image on his laptop. The chef opens up a photograph of a bare tree, standing amid a field of just-bloomed flowers: "This reminds me of the start of spring," he says. This, and—having grown up in upstate New York and Michigan—budding apple trees. The picture is the prelude to Beran's explanation for why the tables in the southeast corner of Next's rectangular dining room, which on Friday hosted "friends and family" for the first run of the restaurant's new menu, were crowded with vases filled with apple-tree branches covered in reindeer lichen (an edible, whitish-gray moss).
"I hate when things like centerpieces aren't relevant. If you put flowers on the table, they should be relevant," Beran says. For those who see Next as a dramatic production, beware the spoiler ahead: These branches' relevance comes not just from their function as a serving piece (the giant crackers tucked among them make up part of the first course), but also as a motif threaded into the menu's narrative. They resurface in a later course, the lichen-covered apple trees reimagined as fermented apples (cured in salt and sugar for two months, yielding a fizzy, carbonated texture and savory flavor) paired with raw green apples, green-apple ice, "a bunch of different cashew textures," the bitter-tasting lichen and a Faviken-inspired apple-cider vinegar that's been aged in a charred oak log, out of which it's spooned, tableside, onto the dish.
By the way, these aren't just any reindeer lichen. "If I'm a purveyor in the city, and I have reindeer lichen," Beran says theoretically, "I'm gonna call the handful of top restaurants that I know, and the next thing you know, it's on the menu at restaurants one through five." The lichen in the vases at Next didn't come from a purveyor: It came from Next's Research and Development guy's wife's parents' house in Washington, narrowly saving the fallen apple trees from the wood chipper. "So I'm excited about ours because it comes from basically our family's backyard," Beran says. You get the sense talking to the chef that after manning turn-of-the-20th-century Parisian, forward-thinking Thai, kaiseki-inspired Japanese and homespun Sicilian menus (not to mention the one where they replicated dozens of dishes from what was, at least for a while, considered the best restaurant in the world), the novelty of sourcing rare ingredients just for the sake of it doesn't cut it anymore.