April 20 (Bloomberg) -- Next, which opened two weeks ago in Chicago’s Fulton Market district, has no bar seating, offers no choices on its menu, doesn’t accept cash (only credit cards), doesn’t take phone reservations and allows no walk-ins.
You pay in advance. And the price of the online-only “meal ticket” fluctuates depending on when you eat.
That means $65 on a sleepy Wednesday buys you the same seven-course tasting menu as does $110 on date-night Saturday.
Are you a party of three? Sorry, only groups of two or four are accepted for the dining room; a separate chef’s table for six, which includes a longer menu and wine, runs about $2,500.
Need to cancel? Can’t do it. Tickets are non-refundable. You’ll have to hawk them online to make your money back.
Next is shifting some of the burden of fine dining from the restaurant to the diners. Good thing the culinary experience is almost flawless. Right now, Next specializes in a style of time machine cuisine that’s available just about nowhere else: Escoffier’s cholesterol-laden dishes from the 1906 Ritz in Paris.
Three Hour Gluttony
Our three hour repast started with oeufs Benedictine. Egg shells filled with cod and lemon cream is a glutton’s seaside fantasy -- it’s like getting hit by an ocean wave of brandade and bechamel.
Hors d’oeuvres of boudin noir, boudin blanc and foie gras are washed down with Vincent Carre Champagne.
This elegance is to be expected from owners Nick Kokonas, a former derivatives trader, and Grant Achatz, a chef whose avant-garde Alinea is ranked by San Pellegrino as the world’s sixth best restaurant.
Next plans on changing its menu, and perhaps historical epoch, every three months. Hong Kong 2040 has been mentioned as a possibility. Think of it as the culinary equivalent of “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”
This is why thousands of people sign up to compete for the 10-15 tables released every day. You might have better luck applying to Harvard, though I got lucky finding four tickets on Craigslist. I got even luckier when Next upgraded us to the chef’s table, where floor to ceiling windows let diners watch the kitchen fill with a witches’ brew of liquid nitrogen.
Escoffier didn’t mention that cryogenic element in his turn-of-the century recipe for sauternes sorbet. Resident chef Dave Beran has taken the liberty of updating a few dishes.
He uses the super-chilled liquid to freeze dessert wine so quickly that frosty crystals never form; the palate cleanser is as smooth as ice cream except there’s no cream, sugar or anything to get in the way of the unctuous late-harvest vino.
Escoffier’s caviar, no doubt from Persia or Russia, is endangered now. So Next serves a dollop of excellent Uruguayan osetra -- whose firm roe bests much of California’s farm-raised junk -- paired with the softest potato blini.
Waiters note that the ducks are not strangled to death as they were in Escoffier’s time. Thank you for that. The bird’s heart, liver, lungs and kidneys are put through a press to squeeze its bloody juices. It all makes a lovely sauce when fortified -- and drunk -- with a 2005 Gigondas.
In our fusion era when everything’s been globalized, modernized and served with pasta, it’s comforting to taste something as decidedly old, French and delicious as that duck.
How about some soothing turtle soup (the creatures are not boiled alive). Or lamb loin, tongue and sweetbreads? A modern chef would pair the musty meat with its jus. Beran does that, while he also adds the Escoffier-approved “choron” -- tangy tomato puree mixed with bearnaise.
A sweet filet of sole covered in crayfish butter will make you wonder what the Italians have been doing slathering their fish in nothing but olive oil all these years. So finish with beet jellies and realize that sometimes the right way is the old way.
The Bloomberg Questions
Price: Set menus are $65-$110; wine pairings extra. Service
charges are added at the time of booking.
Sound Level: Moderate, about 65-70.
Date Place: Yes.
Inside Tip: Current menu doesn’t accommodate vegetarians.
Special Feature: Often, same-day tables are announced via
the restaurant’s Twitter or Facebook account.
Will I be back: Yes.
Next Restaurant is at 953 W Fulton Market, Chicago. Information: https://www.nextrestaurant.com
Sound-Level Chart (in decibels):
51 to 55: Quiet enough to converse sotto voce. 56 to 60: Speak up, please. 61 to 65: Lean in if you want to hear your date. 66 to 70: You’re reading one another’s lips. 71 to 75: Heads turn because you’re yelling. 76 to 85: Ear-splitting din.
(Ryan Sutton writes about New York City restaurants for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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