Chicago, IL 60607
Next is a Chicago restaurant opened early this year by Grant Achatz, an notible owner and chef of the famous Alinea Restaurant. Chef Achatz opened Next with the creative idea of changing the restaurant theme and menu every three months. Next also has an unique reservation system that operates much like Opentable.com or a theatre in which customers buy tickets with specific date and time online. These tickets get sold out very quickly and people tend to resell them at a much higher price.
I visited the restaurant for dinner earlier this month for the Taste of Thailand theme. As a Thai food lover who feeds on Thai food almost once a week, I was harsh when I was judging the Thai food that was served to me at Next. But then I remember that I must critique it with an opened mind and empty canvas, and remember that the chef took the theme as an inspiration and a sort of infusion--his takes on the cuisine.
The presentation of the first course--the Thai street food was very colorful and fun. I didn't know where to start if the server didn't advice my friends and I to start on the buns since it's hot. That was just okay. The bun wasn't as fluffy as I'd like it and the mushroom inside was super earthy. A little more bun would definitely tone out that earthy richness. The starter also consisted of roasted bananas, sweet shrimps, prawn cakes and fermented sasuages.
The Tom Yum soup was hearty. The Thai one is much lighter and sour compared to this one. The Tom Yum broth at Next contained pork shoulders and tasted so good. I wish they would serve noodles or ramen with it! The only downside was that it had a bit too much sodium because I downed a glass of water after it.
The sides that came with the steamed rice was creative and delicious. The rice was nicely scooped into these mini bamboo basket with lid. The duck eggs paste was divine! Do they even have that in Thailand? Because wow, it was good. I could definitely make a meal out of it.
The Catfish in Caramel Sauce was just okay. It was a bit too fishy for me. Also the fish seemed like it was sous-vided so it lost a bit of its flaky texture, quite slimey and smooth. I didn't really enjoy that. I couldn't taste the caramel either.
The next course was a mouth dropper for me--Beef Cheek in Panang Curry. The curry in the panang curry tasted more like a Thai green curry to me, it was flavorful but I didn't care much for it. The beef cheek that sat in it though, was mouth watering goodness.
It was so tender that the meat comes off with a scrap of the fork. It was very flavorful by itself. Love it!!! I couldn't stop looking at it and shoving more of it in my mouth even though I was full.
The Young Coconut dessert was my favorite. Even though I was full, my stomach immediately made room for it. It was so light and refreshing, and almost too pretty to eat. The coconut flavor was not too overwhelming so that I could also taste the tapioca and mango in it. Divine! I really wanted to ask for second.
Followed the coconut dessert was the dragon fruit with rose syrup. A rose was brought out for us to take a sniff of its floral scent. The dragon fruit was covered by a thin layer of rose syrup, but it retained its natural taste. The rose flavor was very subtle. I accidentally found that if I take a sniff at the rose before I eat a piece of the rose infused dragon fruit, the rose flavor gets a little bit stronger.
The meal ended with Thai Iced Tea in a bag, like how the street vendor in Thailand would serve it. The server said they used cane sugar. It was refreshing and perfectly sweetened to my taste.
Like many fine dining restaurant, the service was great! My water glass was never empty and my finished dishes were taken away pretty quickly. And unlike most fine dining restaurant, the servers at Next were also very funny and entertaining. It totally loosen up the diners, and making fine dining fun and enjoyable while still keeping the food admirable.
The only down side to the meal was the bill. It seemed a bit overpriced for the kind of food that was served. Of course Next serves organic produces and sustainable meat but I don't think each course should cost that much.
Despite the price, I do wish to go back and try whatever the restaurant serves NEXT.