Only two years after its opening, chef Grant Achatz's groundbreaking restaurantNext seems as if it has always been part of the culinary avant-garde — ironic for a restaurant whose entire prix-fixe concept changes every few months. There's nothing blasé about Next. You never know what's going to be placed before you — it could be chicken liquid croquettes (elBulli menu) or the world’s best mac and cheese (Childhood menu). Well, technically, it will be neither, given that they're from past menus and the menus don't repeat. But you get the idea. Next has paid homage to legendary French chef Auguste Escoffier, then it was a futuristic Thai menu, then Childhood; an homage to the now-closed elBulli, explorations of Sicily and Kyoto, "The Hunt,” and a vegan menu. And for 2014, there's been a steakhouse menu under the helm of chef Dave Beran.
Whatever it is, the food here is inventive and exciting without being gimmicky and the service flawless without being fawning but good luck getting in. There's an online reservation system for buying "tickets," but you'll be joining 20,000 (yes, 20,000) other folks just as desperate and committed to scoring a table. If you get into Achatz's next-door cocktail lounge, The Aviary (itself no small feat), there's a tiny chance that you might get a late table at Next. Or check Next's Facebook page. Most nights, they hold a table or two and sell them there. The catch? You have to already be in Chicago.