February 22, 2012
Next is, without doubt, a unique restaurant. And it requires, for better and for worse, a unique approach to review.
Because Next changes its concept every 13 weeks or so (exception: the El Bulli menu, which launched in February, continues through May 2012), a critic must secure a table very early in each menu's cycle, so that the subsequent review still has relevance.
And because the menu remains the same within the cycle, repeat visits — in every other instance an absolute necessity for a fair evaluation — merely serve to delay the process. And so, unlike every other restaurant I've reviewed, my evaluations of Next will be based on a single visit.
This year, Next adopted a season subscription format, wherein most guests purchased tickets for El Bulli and the next two concepts (Sicily, beginning in June; Kyoto, launching mid-September) all at once.
Given the extreme difficulty in securing tickets in the first place, and Next's repertory theater approach (the company stays the same; only the scripts change), we decided to handle Next in the manner of theater criticism. We bought, under the Tribune name, a season subscription, ensuring that we'll be able to review Next on the schedule we prefer.
The obvious casualty to this approach is loss of anonymity, something I try valiantly, if sometimes vainly, to protect.
But after three visits to Next, four to Aviary and four more to Alinea, my identity is no longer a mystery to this group. Being able to review each Next iteration in a timely manner seemed to be the greater consideration.
— Phil Vettel
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