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Dinner at Craft

Mao | Dec 29, 2001 09:54 AM

I went to Craft last night for the first time with my father. I will confess to being a big fan of Craft's older sibling, GT, both for the quality of food (the stellar desserts in particular) and for the exceptional service, which in my experience has truly been about the food and not simply creating an elegant dining experience. Rare.

In this tradition, Craft is also very much about food, albeit food minimalism. The message of let's take the best, freshest ingredients and serve them without a lot of hype, in the simplest and more pared back manner is a risk, a gesture of enormous confidence that whoever is in the kitchen will offer jaded New York mouths something they have never quite experienced before: Essentialism in an city of hype. It's a very intellectual gesture of "let's deconstruct food" to its bare bones. And intellectual food can be interesting because it is challenging or fascinating and even on occasion flawed (Tabla, Union Pacific muck up but they also take big risks and hit great heights). The problem with intellectual food is that it can lack soul. I found Craft both soulless and not at all challenging. Everything from the food to the wine to the dessert was ultimately very cautious. The enormity of menu choices is interesting. But the choices are among dishes which are ultimately puritanical. Everything comes as it is minimally portrayed on the menu, and, with exception of some wonderful mushrooms, tasted as it sounded. Each dish was utterly unmoving and un-revelatory. This was a meal in which nothing went wrong. There was no room for anything to go wrong-the kitchen is too good, the service was excellent. The kitchen almost tells you with each dish how someone who is learning to eat should taste, a strange almost didactic conservatism. Each dish is a boring lecture. But there is no wonder and no "ummm."

My father and I split everything. Started with cured sardines, a terrine, and Nantucket bay scallops. We split some swiss chard, shitake mushrooms and roasted veal as a main course and finished with two OK desserts. Everything good, simple, essential, everything a yawn. Look I have nothing against minimally prepared food. The best meals of my life have been Japanese kaiseki affairs where each dish arrived often fewer than 3 ingredients. In fact I prefer to eat this way. But soulless is the word I keep coming back to. No passion, no yumminess. Craft is safe, but ultimately boring.

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