Next | Restaurant review
Grant Achatz giveth. And Grant Achatz taketh away.
Thirty-five days ago, I was seated nearly in the lap of TOC’s IT systems coordinator, whose computer for some reason loaded Next’s then-kinda-buggy website when mine would not. I bought a ticket, for four, under my name, to Next. Within days of that purchase I realized I had grossly underestimated how challenging it would be to trade my ticket for someone else’s—an attempt to conceal my identity. Days before my reservation, negotiations collapsed when the trading party decided that the sacrifice of taking my 6pm reservation was not worth the possibility (proffered with shame, but proffered nonetheless, by Yours Truly) that a sort of entry-level VIP treatment might be extended. And so, 14 days ago, I ate at Next as myself.
“Next is Alinea.” “Next is not Alinea.” This seems to me a pretty useless and static framework for analyzing two dynamic restaurants. And either way, the assumption is that Alinea is something perfect, a restaurant where each course is earth-shatteringly creative and tastes better than even the best Edzo’s burger. Alinea is an exceptional and memorable restaurant, but it’s not untouchable. Except, as far as I’m concerned, for the servers, whose unstuffiness is probably the only thing that could make the critical weight the food is burdened with bearable. In this sense, Next is Alinea: Done.
In every other sense, what “is” Next? Let’s begin with a story. As my meal was winding down, I spotted a friend across the room. I meandered over as his group was beginning their meal, and he asked what the highlights of mine had been. “I really liked the sole,” I said. And I did really like the sole, a course, like the others, designed to make the diner feel indulged: It’s a plate of sauce, really, punctuated by a bite of crayfish meat, butter-soft sole and a mushroom whose gracious spiciness stands out among the lushness of the meal.
“Did you have the lamb?” the friend asked; he’d read about it in Phil Vettel’s review. I knew, though few other readers of that review would, that this was a Kitchen Table dish, out of reach to those who either (a) didn’t elect to reserve the more expensive, six-person table or (b) are not VIP. Though I was dining under my own name, I hadn’t expected to receive it. I did.
“Yeah, it was all right,” I said. “I liked the duck better.”