When Alinea opened in 2005, Frank Bruni, the restaurant critic for the New York Times at the time, was there on opening night. Though he didn’t immediately love it — Bruni said it “paled” in comparison to El Bulli — we have been kind of surprised that The Grey Lady hadn’t sent Sam Sifton, its current critic, to check out Next. Turns out Sifton was just waiting to sample two of the menus before giving his opinion. He has some definite opinions about the experience, but the most interesting portion of the review concerns how he thinks it compares to Alinea.
Sifton writes that while some courses work better than others at Next, he “always” ate “more enjoyably than at Alinea.” Since every course at Alinea is “polished to the highest sheen,” the restaurant can come across as “cold.” Next, on the other hand, “rewards” with “giddy excitement, real passion and occasionally with art.”
Part of that has to do with the “new model of fine dining,” where “service has become theater.” The restaurant buzzes like a “theater buzzes before the curtain goes up.” Instead of setting the atmosphere with decorations, the “plain and unadorned” dining room “derives liveliness from the people in its seats.”
While Sifton admits the Paris 1906 menu left him with a “cumulative sense that something crazy had happened, something intense,” he seems to ultimately prefer the latest menu: “Tour of Thailand was sneakier and in some ways more interesting,” he writes. He especially loved the “riotously good beef-cheek curry,” which was “absolutely delicious, fork-tender, layered with flavors, a caged tiger yawning, just great.”
Most importantly, he left the restaurant with a real desire to know “what would come next.” Fortunately, we already know the answer to that question.
Now Appearing in Chicago, a Restaurant in Footlights [New York Times]