Dish Flash: Why Jeff Ruby Is Wrong About Next

Jeff Ruby thinks that the Thai experience at Next is a party, but for Penny Pollack, it was a case of too much information, as servers layered on the historical and cultural information thicker than the curry.

Now that I’ve been to Next, I’m more fascinated by the concept than by the food. I’m also puzzled by my colleague Jeff Ruby’s love affair with the Thai experience. After all the hype, the plaudits, the frenzy to score a reservation, I don’t know what I expected, but here’s what I got.

I loved the timeless time capsule of a room—a simple and striking design that will lend itself to any cuisine. The Thai newspaper on the table to start was playful, but successive changes ensued—the staff replaced the newspaper with green cloth runners, complete with cultural explanation, and later removed them, revealing a gleaming wood tabletop. All the fuss became tiresome.

The dishes were gorgeous but came with too much information. Not instructions on how to eat them, as at Alinea or Moto, but more like mini history lessons explaining the cultural and regional importance of every detail. When we asked about an optimum way to tackle the street-food platter, we were advised to eat the steamed bun first since it might toughen up, but the presentation took so long, the bun had already suffered.

The relishes-and-rice course had something like eight different little plates with spice combos, including two dipping sauces, one called funky, the other called spicy. Each of which was explained in such detail that no one at my table could quite remember what was what. We mixed, we matched, we oohed, we ahhed, but we didn’t really know what we were doing. You need a great waitstaff to pull this off, and not everyone who tended our table was up to the task. Servers knew their stuff and couldn’t have been nicer, but they worked too hard to impress us with the scope of the meal and the lengths to which they had gone to find the wines. What’s fun about that?

Best dishes were the hot-and-sour broth (very intense, crystal flavors) with pork belly, and the beef cheek curry, to-die-for tender and in a sauce that would make shoe leather taste good. In the end, I would go back—out of curiosity. It’s a big world, and I’m fascinated to see how Next evolves.

An experience, to be sure, but a party? Sorry, Ruby. A party shouldn’t feel like work.

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