Next Restaurant – Paris to Sicily

August 16 2012 - 1:02 PM

I find it interesting that dining critics are now challenged to write about more than the flavors, techniques and ambiance which must seem more and more parochial. These days we have new places that start to break the archetype of what a restaurant is. Next is a great example of a restaurant that tries in many ways to be different. They run a season of different incarnations, they sell tickets (which is becoming more of a trend), and they attach a contextual element to many, if not all, of their iterations. So far dinners have paid homage to Ferran Adria and Escoffier, and we’ve been privy to the impressions of Childhood from the perspective of Chefs Grant Achatz and Dave Beran. Other variations include Thailand, Sicily and the upcoming Kyoto. They seem out of place in some respects as they have no other conceptual element other than specific regional cooking. Sicily is at Next currently and Kyoto is next up.

From an operational standpoint this has to be either fun or maddening for the kitchen. Going from molecular/experimental cuisine at El Bulli to the comfort and rustic nature of the Sicily menu was either a relief or something much more complicated that we think. There’s something to be said for dishes that seem complicated as well as for those that seem familiar. It’s a wholly different set up for us as eaters.

Despite this near-polar range of cuisine and interpretive meals, there are things about Next that don’t really change. The desire for perfection and intellectual legitimacy is constant. It goes without saying that one of their priorities is absorbing new information to a terrific degree of comprehension. From the waitstaff to the kitchen, details of unique tools, regional information, ingredient specs and cooking history are not only offered but many questions can be answered by nearly anyone while you’re there. The responses are all enthusiastic and engaging and not stoic or stuffy. The staff interactions at El Bulli and Sicily were really no different.

Service, notions of progression, their famous, and now becoming more common, ticket sales model and other trappings are all consistent but looking into the courses, what else can we infer? And as diners should we be critical in the same way we’re critical of a restaurant? Or a show? There are plenty of shows that I can appreciate even if I’m not a member of the target audience. I’m reminded of American Idol where Randy constantly implores contestants to make the song they are covering their own. A lack of discernible style was a disappointment to some diners at Next:Thailand and for the same reasons one might see a similar reaction to Next:Sicily but keeping the theatrical analogy, aren’t we seeing the equivalent of a rep doing David Mamet, Arthur Miller or Tennessee Williams? How much liberty can we accept with character and script? Or staging and sets? I would say that of the Next dinners, Childhood was their “written and directed” performance while Paris and El Bulli had other writer credits… So where does that leave Thailand and Sicily? Virtuoso impressionism that would be nearly impossible to recreate? That might be special enough… Might you say it’s a script based on a novel and give credit to a whole country? I guess the analogy doesn’t hold up as well. I’m curious about Kyoto, I love to think it willbe an elaborate version of a kaiseki ryori.  Is it unreasonable to want them to do away with the chairs for a few months? Or more importantly, do you want it to be authentic or for Chef Achatz and Chef Beran to really own it. I’m expecting more of both.

Next Restaurant provides an interesting dining experience. I’ve been lucky to have eaten at Paris, Thailand, Childhood, El Bulli and now Sicily and have a perspective not on what makes them all different but what their similarities are and in turn what makes Next, Next.

–Josh Brusin

Here are some shots from Sicily.