Tickets to dine at a restaurant?
Alright, so I am not embarrassed to admit that on the day when it was announced that Next was finally scheduled to release tickets, along with thousands of people I was one of those who waited anxiously and obsessively for an incoming email. Will I get that email today or not, I wondered.
Chef Grant Achatz and business partner Nick Kokonas have reinvented the system of dining logistics and in lieu of table reservations, patrons need to purchase tickets for the dining experience. It works like how you purchase tickets for a concert or a game, but of course the entire process of purchasing those coveted tickets is not without frustration before ending with excitement that you got to the tickets before the other remaining thousands of people did. There's no denying that the ticketing system is a great business model from a restaurant's perspective as it deters common problems such as no-shows for table reservations or having people who made reservations show up with a couple more unexpected people than they have reserved for.
Months prior to the opening of this highly anticipated restaurant, it had received an obscene amount of media praises. How could a restaurant that was not even opened receive that much coverage even from non-Chicago based publications, including the New York Times and Washington Post? Food news websites like Grub Street constantly provided updates and speculations on when tickets would be released. Put simply, Chef Grant Achatz is a genius. He has a pretty remarkable life story too having won the James Beard Award for Best Chef in the United States at the age of 35 and later getting diagnosed with stage 4 tongue cancer and is now in remission.
A mailing list was set up probably about half a year prior to Next's opening to notify people about the tickets release. Up until the week before the ticket release, there were close to 20,000 people who signed up to be on the mailing list and priority was given to those on the list before tickets would be available to the public. Within the mailing list, priority was given according to the order in which people signed up. When we were eligible to purchase tickets, we received that information in that most coveted email from Next. We could then go to Next's website to create an account, put in our email address to generate a password, log in, and then purchase the tickets. If you did not receive that email announcement but still tried to generate a password to create an account, tough luck. A note will pop up telling you to wait to be notified. That sounded like it was simple enough a process to go through except that hundreds of people were also trying to log on to the website which created the infamous server overload which led people to keep hitting the refresh button on their computers a gazillion times so that the proper web page would appear. Adding to the server overload were the other thousands of people who were not eligible yet to purchase tickets but still went on to the website just to try their luck. But yes, we received the email on the first day tickets were released and after many attempts of hitting our refresh button, we snagged our tickets and counted down to the day we were going to Next for dinner.
The ticket pricing varies between the day and time of the dinner. For example, a table for 7:30pm on a Saturday is pricier than a table at 8:00pm on a Wednesday. Tickets are sold per person but also according to the number of people in your party. Only tables for parties of 2 and 4 are available. There is a kitchen table available for 6 people and that is only available one per night. Wine pairings and non-alcoholic pairings are add-ons.
Next promises great vision and concept of restaurant dining. It features a different menu every few months and the menu focuses on a different city and a different timeline. Their debut menu is featuring an 8-course dinner for Paris 1906. Come July, the menu will move on to the futuristic Bangkok 2060.
Paris 1906 - Escoffier at the Ritz
inspired by the recipes of Auguste Escoffier, who along with Cesar Ritz, opened the Hotel Ritz Paris.
1. Hors d'Oeuvres
Paired with Alsace sparkling Chardonnay
From right to left clockwise: truffled egg custard with salt cod inside an egg shell, foie gras baked in brioche, mushroom duxcelle wrapped in leek, anchovy on a quail egg, pork rillette on a cracker.
Every piece of amuse bouche was delicately created and made great palette teasers but if we had narrow it down to a favorite among these, hands down our pick goes to the anchovy sitting atop the poached quail egg. The anchovy was fresh with no hints of fishiness. When we popped the quail egg into our mouths, the yolk surprised us with a burst of runny egg yolk. If this was any indication to what we would expect for the rest of our meal, it definitely set us on the path for more greatness to come.
2. Potage a la Tortue Clair
Paired with Domaine de Montbourgeau L'Etoile
The turtle consomme, we were told, was meant to whet our appetite so we were encourage to drink it all the way. It was garnished with petite vegetable bits and a flower bud. The consomme was light but very tasty and I found myself finishing it until the very last drop.
3. Fillet de Sole Daumont
Paired with Macon Chardonnay
The fillet of sole was prepared with crayfish butter and the shell of the crayfish head was filled with crayfish mousse. What better way than to pick the shell up from the plate with your fingers and suck the crayfish mousse out. The plate was generously lined with saffron sauce that had an encrusted surface that was reminiscent to what creme brulee is like.
4. Supremes de Poussin
Paired with Les Amandiers Faugeres (red blend of Syrah and Grenache)
Chicken dishes are generally underrated and not thought of very much as something worthy of specialness but clearly Next is setting a new way of how we treat chicken. We were told that the chicken was selected from 20 breeds of chicken. Covered with foie gras butter, the diamond-shaped piece of meat on the plate was absolutely tender and smooth at its best. The poached cucumber was filled with chicken mousse in the center and delicately wrapped with salt pork.
5. Caneton Rouennais a la Presse
Paired with Domaine Brusset Cotes du Rhone Villages Cairanne
The pressed duck was unquestionably the star of the night. The beautifully roasted duck breast and leg were served family style and carefully arranged on the plate with a fresh bundle of rosemary tucked in between the meat arrangement. The decadent sauce was made from duck jus, cognac, and red wine. The duck was prepared medium rare and it was easily one of the best meats I have eaten.
Gratin de Pommes de Terre a la Dauphinoise
Served alongside the duck was the potato gratin topped with crispy bread crumbs. Having the duck and potato gratin together, it brought out the classic way of how one would normally pair their protein and starch in a meal.
6. Salade Irma
The light tasting salad was very welcoming after the duck and acted almost like a palate cleanser. The plate was lined with a few pieces of asparagus tossed with egg emulsion. Sitting on the bed of asparagus was an edible wild flower lightly drizzled with lemon vinaigrette.
7. Bombe Ceylan
Paired with Ramos Pinto Porto Quinta de Ermavoira
The dessert was the coming together of coffee, rum, and chocolate. Is there a better combination than that? Inside the dome-shaped dessert was rum vanilla ice-cream and within the center of the vanilla ice-cream was coffee ice-cream. The dessert sat on a chocolate base and was covered with coffee powder. Glazed cherries accompanied the dessert as well as the smear of creme anglaise on the plate.
The three varying sweets were presented on a two-tier platter. That included the sea salt caramel squares, nougat, and beet-flavored gumballs. Generally eaten at the end of a meal, these petite delights brought us to the end of our beautiful 8-course dinner. How did it end so quick? Time flies when we are having a good time.
What made this entire experience so special (besides getting bragging rights for those coveted tickets!) was topped by the fact that it was luxury dining but without all the pompousness and stuffy atmosphere. The entire waitstaff were very approachable and happy to answer any questions about the menu and were clearly very knowledgeable about the wine grapes and aging process for the wines on the pairing list. The diners around us were also visibly passionate abut their food. Given that the menu was inspired by Escoffier back in 1906, the planning and execution for every dish was incredibly well thought out reflecting Grant Achatz's attention to detail into making each dish his own. It is not something that people indulge on a weekly or monthly basis but Next offers relatively affordable luxury dining that is not necessarily beyond reach.
I quote Phil Vettel from the Chicago Tribune: I went to Next looking for greatness, and I found it.
953 West Fulton Market
Chicago, IL 60607
2011 Time Magazine 100 Most Influential People
2011 TimeOut Magazine 5 Stars for Next
2011 3 Michelin Stars Chef
2008 James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef
2007 James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Great Lakes
2003 James Beard Award for Rising Star Chef
2002 Food & Wine Magazine Best New Chefs