Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Most Anticipated Restaurant in the World

So, we can't always eat the lesser cuts. Sure I love them, but sometimes, when presented with the opportunity, you eat a really exciting meal that is comprised of some of the finest ingredients that are neither local nor sustainable.

A little over a year ago Chef Grant Achatz of Chicago's Alinea, which was recently awarded three Michelin Stars, announced the opening of a completely new type of restaurant, called Next (This link does not work with Internet Explorer but Firefox and Chrome work.) When the opening of Next was announced the website offered people the chance to sign up to be alerted of it's opening. I was lucky enough to sign up the first day the site went live. More on that in a bit.

Next was going to do things differently.  First, this restaurant promised to reinvent itself by changing both the time and place of its menu every three months. Diners might experience 1906 Paris, 2050 Bangkok, and other places and time. Next (pardon the pun), Next would not accept reservations. Instead, it would sell "tickets". Like buying an airline ticket, prices would vary. 6:00 on Wednesday would be less expensive than say 8:00 on Saturday. Achatz promised to deliver 3 star dining at one star prices. Over the next (PUN!) year excitement grew from the murmur of those few excited about this idea to an all out frenzied hysteria just prior to opening.

A few months out from the announced early April opening the time and place for the first menu at Next was announced. Paris 1906 - Escoffier at The Ritz. This was to be a total departure for Chef Achatz who is known for modernist cuisine. Dinner at his flagship Alinea includes many airs, foams, and a host of other molecular gastronomy techniques.

Auguste Escoffier, is known as the chef who basically invented modern (not modernist) cuisine. His recipes, techniques, and even his system of running a kitchen are still used today. Seeing how Chef Achatz, known for forward and futuristic thinking about food, brought himself back in time was going to be interesting to say the least. That is, if I could score tickets.

As the time for the release of tickets approached social media exploded with anticipation. People were going bat-shit crazy. When will the opening be? When can "I" buy tickets? How will you release tickets? And on and on. It was announced that tickets would be offered first to those who signed up on the website as I had.  Those signing up first would be offered tickets first. Finally, just a few days prior to the opening, the date was announced. April 6th, 2011. Next would be releasing tickets to 500 people at a time. You would be allowed to purchase 2 reservations each. Only parties of 2 or 4 would be booked. There was also the 6 person "Chef's Table" that could be booked for a bit more money, but would include extra courses.

Oddly, owner Nick Kokonas chose to release tickets on opening day. Would I be able to get tickets? If so, would I want two seatings? Because Next was selling tickets, the seats were required by law to be transferable.  A lot of speculation was made about a potential secondary market.

The morning of the announced release of tickets arrived. 10:00 a.m. was to be the time of the first emails. What was supposed to happen was that, when your turn came to buy tickets you would receive an email letting you know to go to the website, enter your email address and await your individual password. 10:00 came and went and nothing. Sigh, maybe I wouldn't get to eat at Next. It turns out that there were a lot of technical problems with the ticketing system on the restaurant's end. Delays. Finally at 2:00 it was announced that the first emails were being sent. Because of the delay, rather than 500 emails, the first 1000 people who signed up would be getting an email. I was one of those! I quickly went to the website, entered my email address and almost immediately received my password. I signed in to the website where I was informed to fill out my profile, including my credit card information, before proceeding to chose my reservation time. I did as instructed and chose a table for 2 at 6:00 on Wednesday, April 13th, 2011. I also chose my drink pairing. Options ranged from water service for no charge, all the way up to $98 for the reserve wine pairing. I selected the standard wine pairing for $48 per person. The total for two was just under $300, tax and tip included.

This was the cheapest you could get these tickets with this wine pairing for.  So, should I buy a second set of tickets? Tax time was approaching and I knew Uncle Sam was going to be demanding a hefty check from me. If I played it right I could buy another set, scalp them and maybe even pay for my own dinner there with the profit. But something just didn't feel right about that. I immediately tracked down a friend at work who I knew really wanted to go but didn't sign up until the last second to receive his email. With over 19,000 people signing up, his chances were slim to none of getting an invitation. He jumped at the chance to buy tickets under my name and we booked his tickets.

What followed online was astonishing. While the ticketing system worked flawlessly for me, hundreds of people, maybe even thousands, posted on the Next Facebook page that they couldn't access the site. Many complained that they knew they signed up on day one to be informed of the opening. Many said they received their invite email but couldn't get their password. What the owners of Next couldn't anticipate was the amount of traffic their site would receive when tickets went on sale. Now, I'm certain many people were doing anything they could to circumvent the system, and get tickets even though it wasn't their turn.  There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth.What happened was that people were trying to get into the system who weren't currently allowed to and all of this extra traffic really bogged it down. So, some people who did genuinely receive their invite email were having a hard time logging in and weren't able to.  But I got my tickets, was able to help a friend get his, and I was happy and a bit giddy with excitement. 

In my Next (PUN!) blog I'll tell you about my dinner at what might just be the most anticipated restaurant in the world. Next - Paris 1906.