We can't predict the future, but we can take an educated guess: Tickets (not reservations) to Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas's El Bulli-themed menu at Next in Chicago are going to be one of the hottest commodities in the food world this year. The short run of two of the country's most famous chefs replicating a menu from one of the most legendary chefs in the world promises absolute madness when it comes to doling out tables. The rules for buying tickets just went live on Next's Facebook page, and the process is so overly orchestrated that it feels like it would have been easier to get tickets to the actual El Bulli, which closed last year.
Where El Bulli had you send in an email requesting a table and then "cross your fingers and hope for the best," Next has set up a delicate process apparently meant to head off the crashing website and bruised "refresh" fingers that drove people crazy when David Chang started Momofuku Ko with it's online-only reservations.
Unlike its inspiration, Next's reservation system is structured and complicated. That's for a reason. El Bulli's annual six-month season booked up almost immediately, so they only had to deal with making reservations for one day. Next's El Bulli cover menu goes from Feb. 8 through May 27, and thousands are expected to try for tickets. while most tickets will be part of a season tickets package, some will be same-day. Next serves five nights a week, and will do one El Bulli serving each night. Season tickets will account for about 50 seats, but you can try for one of the 10 same-night tickets that will go on sale each day on the Facebook page. One table each night will be auctioned off to benefit the University of Chicago Cancer Center, where Achatz received treatment for tongue cancer.
The 29-course El Bulli dinners cost $365 for food and beverage, but not including tax and tip, which bring the total to about $473, Eater estimated.
Once you sign up for an account at Next, you can try to buy tickets when they go on sale (the date hasn't been announced yet, but expect it any time). If you don't get into the 50-person ticket-buying room, you sign up in what the restaurant's calling a "waiting room," to receive an email letting you know it's your turn to buy, the Facebook page says. "Once that email is sent you will have one hour to complete the transaction. Please note that hitting ‘refresh’ or generating more than one email will move you to the back of the line. Season tickets are limited to one package per account." Basically, if you can't buy a ticket immediately, you have to cross your fingers and hope for the best. And refresh your email constantly.
So why is this worth it? Well, Achatz is one of the best chefs in the country (he won best chef in the United States from the James Beard Foundation in 2008), and his Alinea restaurant in Chicago has three Michelin stars and comes in sixth among the World's 50 Best Restaurants. But Achatz is basically the understudy here. El Bulli topped the 50-best list for five of the last 10 years, and Adria is widely considered to be the world's greatest chef, who Gourmet called the "Salvador Dali of the kitchen." And Adria helped Achatz create his El Bulli replica, so until Adria decides to start something else, really the closest you can come to eating at El Bulli ever again.
And people are already antsy for reservations. "I envision ppl sitting by computers stressing out. Next wields some mighty power," tweeted Eater Chicago editor Ari Bendersky, in response to Time Out Chicago's Twitter call for #Nextfeelings. "The irony is how much stress it'll to be to try and get season tix primarily to alleviate the stress of getting tix," tweeted Chicago theater blogger Bries Vannon. One jogger commenting on Next's Facebook wrote, "Set a new PR for a training run - the thought of missing the ticket release really made me push myself. Now I just need to catch my breath." Until those tickets are doled out, though, most people will be holding their breath.