Weekend Slideshow: Next Restaurant

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

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.

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17 Responses to “Weekend Slideshow: Next Restaurant”

  1. #1 |  Chuchundra | 

    Very cool. If there were something like this in New York, I would definitely go.

    I’m a little curious about your appetizer remark. I thought everything was included in the ticket price.

  2. #2 |  Radley Balko | 

    I thought everything was included in the ticket price.

    Everything at Next is included. Aviary is next door and owned by the same guy, but it’s a separate business.

  3. #3 |  Bob | 

    Wow, so… they’re going to retool the entire restaurant every 3 months? New menu, new decor, everything? 50 Quatloos says the manager of the place goes insane within a year.

    “I know! Let’s imagine the most stressful thing we can… like putting together a world class restaurant in a super short time frame… then hire someone to do that every 3 months! It will be great!”

  4. #4 |  Jesse | 

    I can turn you on to a place where I guarantee you the best meal of your life.

    It’s called White Castle.

  5. #5 |  John C. Randolph | 

    So, is this crew also going to open a restaurant called Pixar?


  6. #6 |  Nickp | 

    Seems like the historical themes would be the best…or at least the most interesting. If I want good Thai food, I can find a restaurant owned by a Thai immigrant or, if I have the time and money, fly to Thailand. It’s harder to get to Paris in 1906.

  7. #7 |  Mike Healy | 

    Radley, you seem to be in danger of becoming a hipster.

  8. #8 |  B | 

    God, I love eating in Chicago. If I lived there, I’d be as big as a house.

    I hear you re price and expectations versus reality. There’s definitely an inflection point where expectations become really hard to meet (or at least mine do.) That was the experience I had at Morimoto’s place in Philadelphia…if it had cost 20% less and not had a world-famous name attached to it, I’d probably rank in the top 3 meals of my life. As it was…it was a fantastic meal I think I paid a little too much for.

  9. #9 |  peofi32 | 

    God you’re such an elitist hipster douche.

  10. #10 |  JRL | 

    “And there’s really only so much you can to with Thai food and still be authentic.”

    Really? I’ve got a 700-page book about Thai food in front of me. I guess this sounds pompous, but it’s a complex cuisine with many different flavors and styles.

  11. #11 |  Comment of the Day | The Agitator | 

    […] response to this post: God you’re such an elitist hipster douche. Digg it |  reddit |  […]

  12. #12 |  buzz | 

    elitist hipster douche. triple redundancy. Impressive.

  13. #13 |  DaveP | 

    Cripes, yes. This place screams of hipster douche-baggery.

    Radley please, you are one of the most important journalists in America today.

    Please refrain from actually writing about your participation in douchebag hipster culture and leave us all in the dark.

  14. #14 |  Radley Balko | 

    Please refrain from actually writing about your participation in douchebag hipster culture and leave us all in the dark.

    I’ll write about whatever the hell I feel like writing about.

    Don’t like it, don’t read it. It really is that simple.

  15. #15 |  jmcross | 

    At least this topic provided readers with a different set off advertisements.

    I, for one, much prefer the smiling chef to the cold stare of the robocop we usually see at the right margin of The Agitator.

    I’ll take the clean white lines of the chef’s uniform over the hyper-accessorized black nightmare of the state goon squad any time.

    One offers the opportunity of good food and good times at a fair price.

    The other, authority and enforcement at an unbearable cost.

  16. #16 |  Joshua Lyle | 


    If you’re as successful a restauranteur as Achatz, one of the problems you have is that you have a large stable of stunningly good talent that you risk loosing to their own projects outside of your fold. If you can give them three months running a daring experiment…

  17. #17 |  Chicagojon | 

    Would be a good date night in conjunction with a Tributasaurus concert — a Chicago cover band that changes its identity every ~month.