While I was in Chicago last weekend, a friend of mine managed to get tickets to Next, the latest Grant Achatz restaurant. It’s a pretty nifty concept. It’s themed to a specific time and place. So Next opened with a menu you might have seen in Paris in the year 1906. Every three months the theme—and with it the entire restaurant—changes. You buy tickets in advance, as you would for a concert or sporting event. Everything is included in the cost. The current theme is a tour of Thailand. (See a New York Times review here.)
My review? I have no doubt that Grant Achatz and his team could make me the best meal I’ve had in my life. And this was the best Thai food I’ve ever had. But it wasn’t anywhere near the best meal I’ve had. And given the hype (not to mention the cost), in the end, it all felt a little underwhelming. That may be because the concept itself is fairly self-limiting. The theme at the moment is authentic Thai, not variations on Thai, or food inspired by Thailand. And there’s really only so much you can to with Thai food and still be authentic. It was good enough and an interesting enough experience that I’ll probably try to go again when the theme changes. The next theme is “Childhood”.
We started with drinks at Aviary, Achatz’s cocktail bar next door. The drinks there were really creative and a hell of a lot of fun. Lots of deconstructed takes on classic drinks, and one oolong tea drink that was prepared in a way that made me think for a minute that they were going to tell us to pass it around and smoke it. If you go, I suggest you pass on the “bites”, the tip-of-your-finger-sized appetizers. They’re interesting, but they’re tiny, tiny portions, and probably not worth the $4-6 apiece you’ll pay for them. (See the very tiny shrimp bite below.)
I will say that between the cocktails, the sweet wines, and the length of the meal, my hangover started before I left the restaurant.