H(usband) had some lovely folks to take out and, after begging him to choose this place, he acquiesced.
Apparently, when Craft first opened, the menu was really complicated and extreme. Not only was it divided up by meat and fish etc., but ALSO by cooking method. So first you had to choose a protein, then you picked how you wanted it cooked - braised or roasted, for example - and THEN you picked the sauce. That was before you even thought about the side dishes, which all had to be chosen separately.
There’s something to be said for freedom of choice, but there’s also something satisfying about a chef preparing an entrée and garnishing it in the way that he or she imagines will make a perfect plate.
I like when there’s a vision, which hopefully will make the dish cohesive. Also having the extra accoutrements decided by the chef is a good way to taste things you’ve never tried before or didn’t think you liked. For example, I always think I hate quinoa, but, oh golly, was the quinoa great at Roy’s one night and I would NEVER have ordered it if left to my own devices.
Today, the menu at Craft is a lot simpler. It’s divided into first and main course sections, but you still have to pick your side dishes separately. That, to me, is absolutely no problem. You may have noticed that I’m rather opinionated (really about everything). With food, in particular, I have never been troubled by indecision.
I do know some people, though, for whom this kind of dining would be a disaster. They can’t decide on a parking place, much less put together an entire menu. Thankfully, my fellow diners had me to guide them. (Yeah, I know, they probably wished I was sitting at the next table.)
I started with my usual - ordering a Cosmopolitan made with Absolut Citron.
It was beautiful, it was lip-smacking delicious, but it was a bit different. It was more tart than usual and it tasted as if it could have been made with pink grapefruit juice. It wasn’t until later when I got home and studied the bill that I saw it had been made with Ketel Citroen. That’s funny that no one mentioned that.
Was it a fatal flaw? Of course not, but in as many places as not, I’m told that they don’t have Absolut Citron and they offer a substitute. In a fine dining establishment like this, I have to be honest, I think that’s unacceptable. And whether it was the server’s or the bartender’s fault, I think I should get back part of the SIXTEEN DOLLARS AND FIFTY CENTS that that drink cost! Luckily, I didn’t know any of this at the time, so I didn’t have to hold a grudge during the meal.
The amuses arrived in tiny cups on a single plate in the middle of the table.
Do you find that agreeably casual or do you think it’s annoying when you have to grab stuff yourself? I admit I prefer when the server SERVES. It was a slightly thickened broth of something, perhaps mushroom. I honestly wasn’t paying attention, but it was just fine.
The first courses arrived, each on its own plate, delivered to the table. That was good, because it made sharing easier.
But there was one weird thing. When we sat down, each place had a dinner plate. Fine, but there was no bread plate and the menus (changed every single day) were a single sheet of paper on a heavy wooden rectangular holder. There was no place to put the menu, except ON the plate, which left no place for the bread. Remember there was a similar menu-shifting problem at Bouley?
What should have happened (and I can’t believe that it didn’t) was for the principals of the restaurant to sit down and be served a meal. Surely the bothersome menu and service plate situation would not have gone unnoticed.
Anyway, the food was to die for.
The Artichokes were tiny, perfect representations of the vegetable, still on the tender stalk - the best part.
It was impeccably fresh with a hint of spiciness. The bad thing about the simplified menu is that it doesn’t say all the bits and pieces that each dish comes with, so if you’re not paying close attention you (I) miss some of the elements of the dish.
A word of advice when you’re dining at Craft - do NOT have each person order a starch and a vegetable, like we (I) did. It’s too much food, it brings an already rocketing bill soaring higher, but it IS a great way to taste many of Craft’s offerings in a single visit.
Main courses –
The Beef Short Ribs are a signature dish and for a reason. They were meltingly tender with a robust meaty flavor. The dish was served in gorgeous little oval-shaped copper casseroles.
In thinking about it afterwards, even though I know the idea at Craft is to serve everything family style, I still would have preferred the dish served on a plate with whatever starch I was ordering. I definitely didn’t get all the sauce out of the casserole and I think I left some delectable little onions behind. I’d really like a second chance with that dish. Unfortunately a gremlin got to my entrée pictures and these are the only ones:
The Halibut and the Suzuki (a Japanese sea bass) both came out simply prepared. The suzuki was really delicate and the halibut was meaty, but still extremely moist.
The sides –
OMG, honestly, you could forget the main courses (well, maybe not the short ribs) and just order side dishes and you’d dine magnificently.
The best was the potato purée. It must have been passed through a tamis strainer. It was smoothness personified and so rich and creamy. It definitely was not whipped, but strained, maybe over and over again. I think there was garlic in there and you could have eaten that purée alone with no problem. But with the short ribs, it was a match made in heaven.
The polenta was pretty great.
One problem with having a daily changing menu, dishes rotate. I had seen Rouen Duck on the menu the day before, so I was all ready to order that. Sacre Bleu! The duck had flown, so the short ribs were deputized in its place.
Luckily, there was duck risotto on the side dish menu. Wow! THAT definitely could have stood on it own.
In fact, after our all-encompassing ordering frenzy at Craft, I would feel much more prepared to go back and order with more restraint. And if I didn’t find the
The Romano Beans were wonderful.
Not usually everybody’s favorite, these very starchy, thick, flat beans were cooked to complete softness, just the way they should have been. Perfectly seasoned, they could have been ordered in place of one of the starches.
The Swiss Chard was also not cooked timidly.
It must have been blanched first and then sautéed. Perfect with the short ribs and potatoes. Again, I would have loved to have been served the short ribs, potatoes and Swiss Chard on one plate, rather than serving myself from the center of the table, so I could have gotten every last bit of juicy yumminess.
The mushrooms are special at Craft.
When there some hesitation (I know, not usual for me) about which of 4 or 5 mushrooms to order, the waiter (the same one who tricked me with my vodka) kindly offered to bring an assortment of sautéed mushrooms. They were sooo good and another great choice for a non-meat eater.
There really was no room for dessert, so, as a result, we (okay, I) ONLY ordered for HALF THE TABLE, instead of my usual ordering for HALF THE RESTAURANT.
We had one Malted Milk Semifreddo.
I’m so happy that my father taught me so many years ago that vanilla ice cream is a great way to judge a pastry chef.
The Vanilla Ice Cream was fantastic.
It must have been made with the finest vanilla beans (from
The Pumpkin-Maple Ice Cream was on an equal footing with the vanilla.
It’s funny that reader Amy recently reminded me about Tom’s impatience on Top Chef when Angelo (I think it was) wanted to tell diners HOW they’re supposed to eat something. Tom got all hot and bothered when that was used as an excuse for a poor showing with a particular dish.
Craft definitely doesn't tell its diners what to order and, more particularly, what to order TOGETHER. It's left up to the diner with a server's intervention only if requested.
What I really appreciated about Craft was that, even though it showed off American cooking at its best, other cuisines are definitely represented in its excellent dishes. The sautéing is all French; certain vegetables get a distinct Italian handling. Even
Desserts are a great combination of American, French and Italian. The dessert menu was apparently as confusing as the main one in the beginning. But that’s been simplified, and the pastry chef, Jennifer McCoy, puts it all together for the diners in a most delicious way.
Did I expect a good meal? Of course. Did I expect an extraordinary meal? Yes. But what I didn’t expect was the luxuriousness of each and every dish, almost without a single ingredient out of place or added unnecessarily. Tom Colicchio has crafted a memorable experience with his approach to a simple, and simply remarkable, cuisine.