Anticipating Next: elbulli

The Daily Meal's executive editor heads to Chicago for haute cuisine and hot dogs
Dessert from the Next Childhood menu.
Arthur Bovino

Anticipating a week of fantastic food in Chicago, from hot dogs to haute cuisine.

We're heading to Chicago for Memorial Day weekend to potentially experience a weekend of eating of a lifetime. I've had the privilege of enjoying amazing meals over the past few years at, among other places, Per Se, Meadowood, Alinea, and Le Bernardin, and while there are many amazing restaurants around the world I still can't wait to visit, there's no meal I've anticipated more than this weekend's at Next — chef Grant Achatz and Dave Beran's homage to Ferran Adrià's now-closed elBulli.

Next: Childhood

I was unsuccessful getting into the original elBulli in Spain. And the elBulli menu at Next has since been the closest anyone in the world could come to what had, until recently, been considered food from the best chef and the best restaurant in the world — this prepared by Grant Achatz and Dave Beran, who many might say are quite arguably some of, if not the best chef(s) in the world.

Interview with Chef Grant Achatz: Chef of the Year 2011

From a diner's perspective, if a meal at elBulli was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the elBulli homage at Next — the full-tilt, all-in, restaurant by Achatz, Beran, and partner Nick Kokonas dedicated to a theme for just a few months — could quite possibly be considered a once-in-a-lifetime experience to the next power.

So I can't begin to tell you how excited we are anticipating this dinner on Saturday night. But it's not all about cutting-edge food. A trip to Chicago is about hitting some of the city's many amazing restaurants, from highfalutin to fancy-free. We'll have been to Chicago three times in the past two years after this trip, lucky and obseesed enough to have been able to hit up some amazing places, from The Girl & The Goat, Publican, and Alinea to most of the highest-rated hot dog stands in the city.

Besides Next: elBulli, on the agenda are the Doughnut Vault, pizza at Great Lake, a burger at the Billy Goat, tacos at Maxwell Street Market, and dinner at Arun's (one of The Daily Meal's 101 Best Restaurants in America). And of course, it's about eating as many amazing hot dogs as possible.

But of course, the big event is Next: elBulli. And in the spirit of never having experienced the original, and doing justice to the dedication and interpretation being done by the amazing chefs at Next, we've done something very difficult and rare — we've studiously and completely avoided reading any and all coverage of the elBulli menu. That's right. No tweets, no reviews, no snarky updates on Grub Street or Eater. Nothing.

It's been quite possibly one of the most difficult things I've ever done as a food journalist, but I've completely avoided all coverage of Next: elBulli until after the meal. It wasn't easy, avoiding everything being written, and at the risk of sounding like a cheerleader, having experienced chef Achatz's vision in the past, I fully expect the wait of the past five years to be worthwhile.

There are few meals that live up to the hype. Chef Achatz's have. So in anticipation of the elbulli menu, the accompanying slideshow depicts a meal during the preceding menu at Next: Childhood.