France – Jura

Odd According to Bon Appetit

27 September 2011

Andrew Knowlton (center), with the rest of the Bon Appetit team

I interrupted my grazing at Chicago Gourmet to interview Mr. Andrew Knowlton, the Restaurant and Drinks Editor of Bon Appétit Magazine. (Chicago Gourmet, for those unfamiliar with the festival, is like a smaller, $150-per-person version of The Taste of Chicago. Thank goodness for press passes.) 

Knowlton looked far too trim for someone with his enviable job title, and I couldn’t help but wish he had been a bit more portly. Putting these ungracious thoughts aside, I asked Knowlton if he had discovered any off-the-beaten-track wine regions lately.

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Next, Part 2: Next

5 July 2011

…With expectations shooting high enough to punch a hole in the ozone layer, we passed through the vestibule connecting The Aviary to Next and entered the restaurant. Our chairs pulled ceremonially from the table, we settled into two of the most coveted seats in American restaurantdom and took in the scene.

A latticed appliqué covered the front windows, focusing all attention within, and a length of Eiffelesque metal undulated along the ceiling. Braced by ribs arcing to the walls, it looked like the spine of some steampunk cetacean. Above that, thick metal disks punctured by glowing circles of glass evoked manhole covers.

Beneath the industrial-age whale spine and sewer-chic light fixtures, luxury reigned, with padded silvery walls, immaculate table linens and gold-rimmed china plates. If you’ve ever fancied a seven-course gourmet meal in subterranean Paris, this is the place for you.

The expense may give you pause, but that’s the least of your worries. Securing reservations at one of the most talked-about restaurants in the country can be tricky. To get in, you must buy tickets through Next’s website, as if you were attending an opera or, more accurately, a blockbuster rock concert.

According to Next’s Facebook page, they received 1,000,000 hits on their website within an eight-day period, and tables are available on the website for an average of one second. It goes on to estimate that about 3,400 people compete for the restaurant’s 16 tables — 16 tables — each day new reservations are released.

If you’re lucky enough to obtain tickets, they already include the meal, tax and gratuity in the price (as well as the wine pairing, if you so choose). No money is exchanged at the restaurant, and the tickets are non-refundable.

I feel somewhat awkward about describing the rest of our experience, because we dined at Next the very last evening they were serving the “Paris, 1906 — Escoffier at the Ritz” menu, composed of recipes from Auguste Escoffier’s monumental Le Guide Culinaire, the bedrock of classic French cuisine. Grant Achatz and his team are currently fine-tuning a new Thai menu, with the first practice dinner reportedly happening tonight (July 5).

I’ll describe the experience of “Paris 1906″ nevertheless, as a record of the event and as an example of the kind of experience you can expect at Next. And goodness knows, if you want that experience, start working on getting tickets as soon as you can.

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