Monday, November 7, 2011

Next - Childhood

Taking a few days to think and process the meal at Next was probably a good idea. My general take away from Childhood was negative and disappointing, but I don't want to stress on that because one thing I've noticed about this restaurant is that many people can have significantly different experiences. This is always the case with restaurants but it feels more stark at Next. While my personal experience was less than ideal, a few extra days of processing has dulled the edge. I review the menu and realize each item taken by itself was better than the entire experience. Part of that was service, timing, a few bad flavors and an overall sense of poor value. What I know for certain is that Childhood had a lot more food than Thailand and (lots of) great wine. I just wished I liked the food more.  

My big take away is disappointment. Most at our table left unimpressed and very confused. The wines were fantastic, and very generous but our service was surprisingly off, and by a large margin. We waited approximately 25 minutes between the soup and fish N chips. And as I mentioned before, the price/value was what sealed the deal. I know Next is not cheap, and I am very willing to pay for great experiences and great food, but Wednesday night was not one of those occasions.

My favorite course was the autumn scene - it was very interesting and creative as well as delicious. I also enjoyed the mac n cheese for its simplicity and most similar to expected flavors. The lunch box was creative and if we removed the truffle oreo it would be have been a hit (I loved the jerky and funyun, and who doesn't love drinking out of a sippy cup?)  Everything else on the menu was either strange or did not taste that good. I felt myself asking, “would I order that dish again?” many times and repeatedly saying no.

My photos are below in course order. following the photos is more thoughts on the childhood menu but more from a concept level. I don't want to influence future meals and still leave some mystery for others to experience. Would I go back to Next? It's a tough question that has a different answer each time. The genius of the model is that I love new concepts and new restaurants and each time they announce a new menu I want to try it will be very hard to keep me away. I know the cost is likely ridiculous but when you're constantly looking for that next great meal, it's hard to not give Grant and his team a chance. 

More thoughts on Childhood:

The main reason I felt the menu was disappointing and a major challenge for team Next is that everyone has their own impressions of what “childhood” food should taste like. What makes NEXT or Alinea such amazing experiences is that you have no idea what something is “supposed” to taste like – there is no reference for “deconstructed X on top of Y foam presented on top of a bed powdered Z”. But we all know what a good chicken noodle soup should taste like, or our favorite hamburger, or the best s’more you’ve ever made on a campfire - so the element of surprise or amazement is completely lost on arrival. AND THEN, on top of the disappointment with the familiar, I thought some of the flavors were simply inedible. I could not get past the truffle oreo. I love oreos and that just ruined it. 'Foie'sting? No, please just give me some delicious vanilla – no goose liver needed. Sweet potato s’more? What was wrong with chocolate and graham cracker? I’m all for new experiences and flavors, but only in context and comparison to other amazing flavors (I remember at Alinea there are a few dishes I wouldn’t order again, but the next one would be knock your socks off good).  

What I would have preferred would have been the exact same menu but without all the gimmicks. What would a delicious Grant Achatz cheeseburger taste like? What about grilled cheese? Or PB&J sandwich? Or sloppy joes? Or make your own s’more with in house chocolate, marshmallow and cracker? I didn’t need chicken in the form of a noodle, what about really really good soup with a side of oyster crackers?

It’s funny to compare Thailand to Childhood. There was a lot more food with childhood, that’s for sure. The alcohol was much better with Childhood. The creativity was much better and more interesting with Childhood. But what I can’t get past is that the food was much better for Thailand. I would come back and order that beef cheek and rice every day of the week. And that fish dish was awesome, ditto the coconut dessert. But other than the autumn dish on a log and the mac n cheese (though nothing special), I wouldn’t want to order or eat those dishes again. And lastly, I would not choose to spend that amount of money on that meal again. The margin of error is so small with a check that high.

I hope I'm alone in my thoughts - I wish everyone a great meal every time. this was my singular experience that I know will not get a second change (with the childhood menu). As much as I would like to save money, it will be hard to turn down other intriguing menus (but is it sustainable?)

I completely welcome any comments or further discussion.

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1 comment:

  1. It's funny, I found your review to be very insightful despite the fact that I had completely opposite experiences with both the Thailand and Childhood menu. I found every item in Childhood to be incredibly delicious and innovative while Thailand, although delicious, was fairly commonplace for my palate. I would much rather eat Childhood a second time than I would Thailand.

    I was wondering why we both had very similar opinions on two very different menus, and I believe it's because of our backgrounds and expectations. I'm a first-generation Filipino American, and although I've had my share of mac 'n' cheese and chicken noodle soup, I never grew up with a completely American menu. I'm only assuming you grew up with a completely American background, but maybe you didn't enjoy Childhood as much as I did because you already had a set idea of what many of the food items would be. Same thing with Thailand; I had a set idea of what it was going to be. While you found the Autumn Scene and the Mac 'n' Cheese to be the only items you liked, the only item I genuinely liked for Thailand was their Pad Thai. Everything else for me was forgettable and not worth it for me, even though I paid more to eat at the Kitchen Table.

    I bet that last comment makes you want to wring my neck, right? That's what I want to do to you for what you wrote about the Childhood menu.

    However, just as you said in your review, your experience is your own reflection and I completely respect that. You simply didn't like it as a whole, just as I didn't like Thailand as a whole. I just thought you should know that there is someone out there had the very same ideas you had... even for two different menus.

    Happy eating! :)



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