Longtime caterer brings favorites to the table

When Ying Aikens, owner and executive chef of YKitchen, catered French and Italian foods to pair with wine events, people often asked her "What's next?"

She responded in October 2011 by opening a Mediterranean restaurant on Colleyville Boulevard.

"One morning at 2 o'clock I woke up and I had a name: 'Next,'" she said.

Next Wood Fired Bistro & Vino Bar has become a popular destination for lunch and dinner since it opened.

"People come from Dallas," she said. "People come from Fort Worth."

The restaurant has garnered a loyal following and has won 2011 and 2012 Diners' Choice Awards from OpenTable, a free online reservation service for diners.

The restaurant is often crowded on Fridays and Saturdays — people often wait for an hour to be seated. Aikens believes the reason she has attracted a loyal following is because she only uses the freshest ingredients.

"No frozen food, no pre-made food, no canned food," she said. "Everything is made fresh. And I bake all my desserts every morning, make our salad dressing every morning; all homemade salad dressing. And we do our own chicken stock."

Aikens admits she is picky about food, only buying whole chicken breasts and whole fish.

Aikens describes her restaurant as Mediterranean cuisine with a fusion of Italian, French and Spanish influences with an Asian twist. The Next special Mongolian crispy duck ($26) is her favorite. Aikens grew up eating Chinese food, but she did not want to open a Chinese restaurant, nor did she ever have plans to open any restaurant. Through YKitchen, she has catered a variety of gatherings, including city council functions, business meetings and community events. The menu at Next is a compilation of customer favorites from her five years of experience as a caterer.

She has an industrial engineering degree and a master's degree in economics and accounting. She used to work as an accounting manager at a Fortune 500 company, but she has never looked back. She has collected more than 700 cookbooks.

"I'm still a licensed CPA, but my passion is for food," she said. "I love to cook."

A native of Beijing, Aikens moved to America in 1987. In 2004, she moved from Denton to Colleyville.

At Next, there are reminders of her Chinese culture: a decorative folding screen and a special menu offered during Lunar New Year.

Go ahead, ask Aikens "What's next?" and she will reveal her next big plan: a fine dining restaurant that will open around September. She purchased the former home of the first mayor and plans to serve fish, steak and lobster there, creating a pricier restaurant for private parties.

Aikens was inspired to open the fine dining restaurant because she felt bad for turning down customers waiting at Next.

"I said 'God, I got to do something,'" she said. "I want people to come to Next very happy."

Owner recommendations

  • Wood fire roasted crab cake, served with a Dijon caper remoulade ($8.50)
  • Wood fire roasted portobello mushroom, with pecorino cheese and Marsala sun-dried tomato glaze ($7.50)
  • Wood fire roasted chicken breast marsala, shallots and marinated portobello in a Marsala wine sauce ($13.50)
  • Lamb chop with jalapeo mint jelly, served with a starch and vegetable of the day ($24.50)
  • Cedar plank salmon, oven-roasted root vegetables in a lemon caper berry sauce ($16.50)

Popular wine choices

  • Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay from Sonoma, Calif. ($12 by the glass or $36 by the bottle)
  • Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio from Italy ($14 by the glass or $42 by the bottle)
  • Frog's Leap Merlot from Napa Valley, Calif. ($16 by the glass or $56 by the bottle)
  • Fairvalley Pinotage from South Africa ($8 by the glass or $24 by the bottle)
  • Nozzole Riserva Sangiovese from Italy ($14 by the glass or $42 by the bottle)

Next Wood Fired Bistro & Vino Bar, 5003 Colleyville Blvd., Colleyville, 682-325-4046, www.nextwoodfiredbistro.com