Today's New York Times takes a close look at Next, a new dining concept in Chicago opened by Grant Achatz and his partner, Nick Kokonas. The restaurant is innovative not only in its changing menu, which bops around the globe chasing French then Thai then whatever's next (Italy?), but also charges a cost of admission. That will be $130 per seat, in advance please.
If you don't show, you eat the cost. Tickets are sold well before diners take their seats. The idea seems slightly off-putting. Dinner reservations are easily canceled should one fall ill or simply change his mind. But it's really no different than tickets to the opera. There's even an after-market. That's right: scalpers.
Fine dining has always felt a little like going to a show. Whether you pay before or after, you're stuck there, for better or worse, until the sauternes pour and dessert plates are taken away. Sometimes it's captivating, other times, when tasting menus drone on for 24 courses and service is slow, you can feel like you're in jail.
Next takes this concept to, yes, the next level (the theater, that is, not the incarceration). It changes the menu four times a year with themes that completely shift the kitchen's focus. Achatz says the next show could as likely be inspired by a children's book as it could be an account of life in Italy after World War II.
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Would Dallas support a concept like this? It would take our best toques. Cooking French food for three months followed by a tour in Southeast Asia takes serious chops, especially when ticket prices command flawless execution. But Dallas diners have a reputation for chasing new and shiny restaurants, feasting, and then moving on to the next great thing. Maybe a restaurant whose concept completely changes on a regular basis could be the butter-basted Ritalin to a city's culinary ADD.