The reviews started popping up for Next’s Paris 1906 menu almost as soon as the hotly anticipated restaurant opened its doors. But, thus far, the only official review of Next’s Tour of Thailand has come from Jeff Ruby, who weighed in with a relatively short, 277 word update hidden in the magazine’s newsletter. Since then Chicago’s dining editor, Penny Pollack, publicly disagreed with him, and some writers have even questioned the authenticity of the menu, claiming that numerous Thai restaurants around town offer cheaper versions of the same dishes with no confusing computer clicks necessary. That’s why Mike Sula’s epic, 1668 word examination of the experience couldn’t have come at a better time. The man obviously loves Thai food, having just spent some time with Thaliand’s most famous chef. So, how does Next stack up?
Distilling such a massive document down to a paragraph or two seems particularly troublesome, but we’ll try:
Though some dishes aren’t "nearly as spicy or funky" as he prefers, Mike Sula still pities "the purists that won’t get on board." In fact, Next actually achieves greater authenticity on some dishes: the restaurant has managed to find a "reliable supply of usually scarce but essential cilantro roots," making it one of the "only places in town making curry paste from scratch." Droplets of chili oil on the curry also show a "bold refusal to capitulate to the typical emulsified Western presentation."
Executive chef Dave Beran’s menu may be a "bit too conservative," but when dishes work, like the papaya salad made table-side, he’s able to find the "perfect balance of salty, sweet, sour, and hot." Interestingly, the "tour’s most pugnacious and enjoyable flavors" come from "an array of relishes meant to be eaten with jasmine rice." A close second seems to have been the "jaw-dropping" whole coconuts, which contain a "a riotous composition of five sweets." Next may not be the most authentic Thai restaurant in town, but "if any kitchen is capable of taking on the fundamentals of an entirely new cuisine in one month, it’s probably this one."
The Next chapter: Tour of Thailand [Chicago Reader]