After 11 months, countless rumors, updates, videos, profiles, and a few frustrating technical difficulties, Next finally opened last night in the West Loop. Its the second restaurant from Grant Achatz, and its been hyped beyond belief from the moment details were first leaked at the 2010 James Beard Awards. Of course, any new project from a chef as acclaimed as Achatz would have been a huge deal, but every quirky detail about Next only seemed to fuel the anticipation. The restaurant claimed it would change cuisines and time periods every three months. Also, instead of getting a reservation and paying at the end of the meal, guests had to buy prepaid tickets. No one really could figure out whether the details would work, because no one had tried anything like this before. We speculated, for sure, but we knew we wouldnt actually know anything until it opened. Luckily, we were able to snag a table on opening night, allowing us to finally see how the restaurant would function on its first night with paying customers.
Considering how many people wanted to eat at the restaurant on opening night (the ticket system apparently crashed yesterday), it was strange to arrive and see a calm restaurant. Instead of jam packed, at 9 p.m. it felt lively but not crazy. That was probably due to the fact that there is no lobby to wait in or any couches to lounge on while you wait for a table. Instead, you walk into a small entry hall, and then immediately walk to your table. Guests are supposed to arrive on time, and according to the hosts, last night everyone did.
Perhaps the strangest part of the restaurant is the feeling of arriving at your table and having nothing to decide. Everything is planned out ahead of time when you purchase the tickets. I think the only question we were asked was whether we wanted still or sparkling water. In fact, there is no menu to consult before the meal. A playbill is placed on the table, but it only contains a few paragraphs about why Next started with Paris 1906 as a theme.
Because there is nothing to decide, the first bites arrive from the kitchen within seconds of sitting down. For the next two hours or so you kind of forget about all the hype and rumors and get to the business of dining. Of course, describing each course would get a little tedious, so we suggest you check out the full slideshow of the Paris 1906 menu.