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 two weeks ago, continues through May), 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. (Here's my review of Next's El Bulli concept.)
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 toAlinea, 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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