I’m not much of a restaurant blogger. I am not going to wax philosophical about the food at Next or post twenty-million photos. I will leave that to the rest of the lot. (That being said, you can see my pix over here on Facebook. Become a fan while you’re at it.)
I thought instead I’d try to write about the things no one tells you about Next. (Or at least…the things no one has told you until now.)
In no particular order really, but roughly in service order with some background thrown in first for good measure…
Some people want to know how I got a table. Here’s all I can tell you. When I knew I was leaving London for good after six-plus years, I signed up for any and all Chicago food-related newsletters. At some point last summer, I got something that told me to sign up for Next’s mailing list. My guess is that I did this in July or August, so relatively early on, and according to Next’s Facebook page — where, by the way, they’re doing an awesome job of responding to the madness — that put me within the first 6,000 sign-ups. I actually entered the Web site on Wednesday afternoon around 4 pm with the intention of booking a table in early May, but when I saw April 8th was available too, I jumped on both. (Yes. I have another table next month. And no, you can’t have it! I also have an Alinea booking this month. Do you hate me?)
OK…now on to those observations…
There seems to be a lot of concern from front-of-house regarding how you arrived at the restaurant. I wasn’t quite sure how to answer this question. “Um…I walked? From The Publican? Where I had a Weissbier and some pork rinds before dinner with my photographer friend David?” (BTW, Dave is very very good if you ever want some photos taken of your kids, etc.) The front-of-house team commented that it can be very difficult to get a taxi home, but I knew we were next to Lumen, and the cool kids would be arriving as we were departing. This would make for many taxis. I was right.
There’s A LOT of front-of-house. I lost track of how many people arrived at our table. Personally, I like to have just one or two servers. But I can understand that at this level, they’ve got different people expressing different things. (Expressing as in delivering. Not reciting poetry.)
Most tables seemed to get grougeres at the beginning of service. We did not. This didn’t bother me, but it bothered one of my dining companions A LOT. I rationalized this by assuming that because we were the second table seated last night, there was no reason to not just get started with service. They didn’t need to pace us out with cheese puffs. (My other theory is that maybe they knew about the pre-game pork rinds.)
Bottled sparkling water = Badoit. I always go with Badoit in France because it’s cheap. Not so here. Part of me would prefer that they make their own sparkling. I need to go back and figure out how much the water service was per person. Why do I think it was $22 per person? If so, that’s crazy pants for Badoit, no matter how unlimited it is. (Then again, I suppose it’s imported. Need to check the retail price.)
If you express enough curiosity, apparently they will bring out the contraption that cuts the tops off the eggs that arrive on your platter of deliciousness that arrives at the beginning of the meal. I missed this completely, but the rest of my table swears the table next to us got a demo of the thing. We asked a lot of questions about how this was done and the handsome gentleman with the dark hair — Yes, server crush. Is he single? — mentioned lasers and diamonds. (Although it may have been me that mentioned the lasers first.)
Staff are very concerned about crumbs. By the end, I was consciously trying really hard not to leave any crumbs behind because I didn’t want them to sweep the table again.
Service was a little quirky. They were either super official and recited their little bits very officially, or they were very jokey.
The chef’s table was empty last night and we left around 9:30 pm. This almost made me cry. We didn’t get an answer on whether it hadn’t been booked or whether maybe they were purposefully holding it back. I can’t remember if I saw it on the Web site when I made my booking. **UPDATE: Next Facebook page says they’ll start serving the chef’s table 10 days from now.**
Suprêmes de Poisson is spelled incorrectly on their Web site. It’s Suprêmes de PoUisson. In case you’re French and/or speak French and are a little perturbed when chicken arrives instead of fish. (Fish will arrive too. But that’s a different dish and will arrive before the baby chicken.) Just for the record, I don’t speak French. I do, however, read “Menu-French.” Aside: A word to the wise if you ever visit Paris…don’t get distracted by Veau when you see Foie de Veau on a menu in France. Uggh. (You would have thought with my love of foie gras that I would have known this. But no. Learned the hard way on that one.)
Staff will bring you a new napkin — not just refold the old one — every time you leave the table. My friend Meredith has a small bladder. She got a little embarrassed about this and wondered if they were thinking, “Jeez, hasn’t that girl gone through enough napkins already?”
Meredith says the light fixtures remind her of shower heads. I can see why she’d say that. Looking up, I found the ironwork running across the ceiling to be a bit steampunk. I like steampunk.
The staff is aware of the silverware. I was not paying full attention (sorry — I really should get worked up for ADD) but at some point towards the end of service, a server politely inquired about a tiny spoon that one of my dining companions was holding on to.
There’s something really nice about not having to worry about a bill at the end of the evening. That being said, when you don’t have to worry about paying the bill at the end of the meal, one of your friends can easily forget to pay you the $188 bucks she owes you for dinner.
The table lighting is very intense. I was glad I had moisturized. I was also glad I was not dining with a member of the opposite sex, because he really would have been able to accurately guess my age. The lighting makes for very good photography though, so that’s nice.
It got really really warm in the restaurant by the end of our booking. I went to use the ladies’ around dessert and it was lovely to enter the cool, dark stairwell. Not so lovely to re-enter the stifling restaurant afterwards. The staff admitted it was a little warm and we felt a brief puff of A/C when they acted on our feedback, but it quickly dissipated.
Lastly…ask nicely and MAYBE you shall receive. (Luckily we asked before the spoon incident.) Thank you, Next. You’re lovely. I will happily volunteer to be your unpaid intern this week if you need help keeping up with the deluge of emails, etc. Because you’re worth it. xx