Next : Childhood round 1!

First off, I have to admit just how lucky I am to be able to write this review. It's not as easy as just calling for a reservation at Next restaurant. Seats are sold as tickets, like a sports or performance event... And boy, is it a show! Tickets are on the pricey side, especially if you add alcohol pairings. Also, there's no ordering your separate entree and appetizers; everyone eats the same thing there. (Except those lucky enough to snag a kitchen table seat, it overlooks a giant glass wall that functions more as a window to the entire kitchen, as well as offering a few more courses for the slightly higher price per ticket.) I'll admit, I was skeptical at first.

There's a "too cool for school" feel going on here, and if you're not in on it - it sucks. I know, I stalked ticket sales for Tour of Thailand and was super disappointed the day they were promised - and then not released. But if you are lucky enough and/or persistent enough, you too can enjoy a meal at Next. They also offer same night tickets on their facebook page, but you have to be both quick and persistent... and not too disappointed if it doesn't happen the first time (or few. Not joking.)

I can see how some diners might have initial reservations about the wait staff; they are irreverent and funny both in presentation of the food, and interaction with the diners. It threw me for a bit of a loop the first time I ate there. But, when you sit back and realize it's a fun, high quality environment with people who don't take themselves too seriously... All of the sudden, you're free to relax and not take yourself too seriously. Awesome sauce!

Mid 80's to 90's music waxed & waned in the background; diners even sang along with and snapped their fingers to "The Addams Family," although my personal favorite was the theme to Jurrassic Park. When the movie came out, I saw it so many times that I used the score to erase any other song that happened to be repeating in my head. I hated it a little then, and now I have such fond nostalgia for it. I get a hint of it whenever I hear the music from any of the three JP movies, and it makes me smile.

Life is funny that way, how our experiences influence our perspective, and how later experiences have a way of changing that whole perspective we might've thought we held so strongly. And somehow, making the acceptance of it both tolerable and terribly life changing - all at the same time...

The atmosphere there really lent itself to a wonderful transportation back to my own childhood. (Only in the best, most warmly nostalgic way.) A server actually replied "That was awesome!" to my giant burp towards the end of the meal. And then, we talked about why coca cola makes the best, loudest burps. I was virtually transported back to my high school lunch room, scarfing fries and guzzling soda before my next class. So much fun, both then and now.

It didn't hurt that there was a northern Michigan feel going on, and I vacationed in a cabin on the south shore of Crystal lake many summers as a child - and have lazy, lakeside Indian summer memories and sometimes, dreams of picking wild raspberries surrounded by nothing but trees and a quiet breeze, blue sky and sunshine. Pure bliss.

Libations are poured before almost every course, changing with the feel and kind of food being served. The really interesting part is that they somehow encapsulate the same irreverent sense of fun into the cocktails and wine as the staff and food - which I continue to be super impressed by. It's an undefinable quality, that warm, sharp witty fun they inject into everything surrounding the whole experience- the staff, the food, the presentations, drinks, and music, even the obtaining of those-most-elusive tickets! Side note - they do pour a bit on the heavy side though, and also leave it tableside - so watch out you over-indulgers! You do want to be able to remember your Next dinner experience, trust me...

Even the journey to dinner was a whimsical one. In the middle of one random evening, just before bed, my husband's jaw dropped in shock. He's not an easily awed person so I was a little perturbed, until he explained why. Next restaurant had just released ticket sales for their newest menu, Childhood. Mind you, these were tickets he and I had been anticipating the release of since our very first trip to Next, for their Tour of Thailand menu. We quickly snapped up a table for my 31st birthday in late December. And then, my husband asked if I had the patience to wait that long... and, I admitted absolutely not. So like thieves in the night, we snagged another table for the week before Halloween. I went to bed almost feeling guilty for all the poor souls who would wake up the next morning and check their facebook streams, only to find their night-owl-foodie friends had bought out the round of tickets in mere hours. Yeah, I said almost...

So the food, you ask? How was the food? In one word, perfect. Seriously, sublime. It was everything I was expecting, having cheated and googled the menu beforehand; and yet SO much more, as an entire experience. Each course was both expected and surprising on so many levels, that even that was a surprise. The flavors were homey and comforting, but daring and explosive somehow too. I'm not going to write the course by course review today, but you can find my photos on facebook and flicker (and on Google+ now too!) 


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