A birthday went unnoticed until Grant Achatz tweeted it: Next celebrated one year of service on Friday. The most talked-about restaurant in Chicago, the world, the galaxy ever maybe, Next has been a source of endless fascination, not least here— even when we swear we're not going to write about it some week, Achatz and Nick Kokonas invariably do something that reinvents the restaurant game and compels us to write about them. This will be the 122nd story Grub Street Chicago has tagged "Next" since May 2010, so we thought we'd tell the story of Next's first year (and all that went into it before then), as well as the extraordinary (and, as we're about to prove, often self-perpetuating) media and public reaction, by calling out some of the highlights of our coverage.
"As we had guessed last week, Achatz will open a Molecular Gastronomy bar called Aviary. But that's not the biggest news. According to Kokonas, the second project is a new restaurant called Next. The menu will completely change every three months. Instead of taking reservations, tickets will be sold for each dinner, which people will have to pay for in advance. We know this sounds strange, but follow along folks, there is a beautiful video which will help to blow your mind."
Next and Aviary Are the Two New Grant Achatz Projects (May 3, 2010)
"I said we could put up a French restaurant and he raised his eyebrows and said, yes, but in six months we’d be bored with it. Things looked pretty grim, but that was the thing we kept coming back to. As soon as we knew he was in remission and he had a future, we started thinking what else we could do and not get bored."
Nick Kokonas Details the Beginning of Next (September 15, 2010)
"Maybe the knack for preemptively putting Next on best-of lists is just catching on over at Condé. Either way, the latest is that Next will actually open in February."
Bon App Maybe Sort of Jumps the Gun a Little (Updated) (November 17, 2010)
"Here’s hoping you've already signed up for e-mail updates for Next on the official site. Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas just sent an e-mail out to subscribers saying that people who signed up will get access to the first available reservations tickets before any are available to the public."
Perhaps You Should Subscribe to Next Right Now (February 7, 2011)
"Oh, and you won’t be able to just walk in. Nick Kokonas told Fuller that "we either invite you, or you book it.” So, how do you get on that list."
Wait... There's Another Grant Achatz Bar? (February 18, 2011)
"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."
Take a Look at Opening Night at Next (April 7, 2011)
"Almost immediately after tickets started going on sale, scalpers popped up on Craigslist offering tickets at wildly inflated prices. Yesterday, we saw tickets going for over $1,000, though multiple sources have pointed out that some have been going for as high as $3,000."
"Of course, Next is kind of screwing up all the normal rules for full reviews. Steve Dolinsky immediately took to Twitter and asked, 'A comprehensive review after how many nights open? A new record?' But then he seemed to admit that 'I think it just raises new issues for those folks in the reviewing business.'"
The First Review of Next Is In (April 12, 2011)
"Last night was the final chance to check out Paris 1906, but luckily all the information won't simply disappear. The restaurant documented every step of the first menu — including recipes, step by step pics, and commentary from the chefs — and will now release an e-book, which will be available as a pay-what-you-want download. "
Nick Kokonas Discusses Next's Pay-What-You-Want e-Book (June 30, 2011)
"After the first few snags, Arm Theinpeng noted that this process was authentic to its Thai roots: 'Traffic jam, you guys are really staying true to Thailand.'"
"At the same time, he says 'If you've had good, authentic Thai food there's nothing new or groundbreaking about this menu,' and 'nothing reaches the heights of the duck from the Paris menu.'"
The Other Twitics: Tweets about Next's Thai Eats (July 18, 2011)
"It's amusing to think that this is one of the things Achatz and team are focusing their energies on ('Scooby Doo or Jonny Quest, which is it going to be, people?'), but given that eating out of lunchboxes has been a mainstay at places like Kitsch'n on Roscoe for some years, we're trusting that the menu will ultimately delve deeper into the power of childhood memories than that."
El Bulli Menu to Be Next at Next; Lunchboxes Arriving for Childhood (October 12, 2011)
"We understand why people take Next selling out its tickets in a few minutes as a personal affront, because we're not immune to the feeling— we feel deeply entitled to the opportunity to try everything foodie-wise, and resent being told that there are some things we just can't have. But then we remember that we say things like that to our kids all the time, and if they can take it, so can we."
Occupy Next? The Economics of Privileged Dining (October 25, 2011)
"If you spent 2011 returning multiple times to Crofton on Wells (opened 1997) and Moto (opened 2004) so you could make an exquisitely calibrated microjudgement about their one-starness this year versus twelve months ago, and yet you couldn't get yourself to the most talked-about restaurant of the moment in America enough times to say anything about it at all, was that really the wisest use of your time in one of the top restaurant cities in America? And to what is, in the end, the point— is it worth $18.99 to us, your readers?"
Michelin Couldn't Get Next Reservations? (November 16, 2011)
"In a followup post, Kokonas notes that since the kitchen table usually includes extra courses (hence the higher price), but El Bulli's is $365 regardless, he's been asked whether there will be extras for that this time. A little incredulously, he responds: 'It's the same meal exactly -- and same price. Do you need more than 29 courses?'"
How Next Ticketing Will Work in 2012 (It's Complicated) (February 2, 2012)
"One of the things people don't get from the outside, where the food looks so serious in its artistry and the reservation process is fraught with so much angst, is how much fun dining at Next is; many of the courses are just flat-out funny in their conception — it puts the most neurotically status-conscious diner in a good mood to simply be presented with one course after another that delights the imagination as well as the palate."
Slideshow: In the Kitchen on Opening Night, Next El Bulli Menu (February 9, 2012)
"Did the entire staff of the Tribune click away during those crucial minutes of availability, like Veruca Salt's father's nut factory employees desperately unshelling candy bars to find a golden ticket? After all, Michelin, with millions to lose each year on the guide, apparently couldn't manage it. Well, Vettel admits today that Next is a special case that required a special violation of the customary rules for restaurant reviewing. And special case though Next undoubtedly is, one can't help but see this as another crack in the pretense that restaurant critics are anonymous."
Phil Vettel Abandons Anonymity as Price of Dining at Next (February 22, 2012)
"For 4 hours we were treated like VIP in the most exquisite restaurant in the world. We are so blessed to have the Next in Chicago and Dr.Vokes' team at UofC!!"
Meet a Very Special Guest For Next El Bulli Menu (March 8, 2012)