Tuesday was my 30th birthday and I wanted something special for dinner for me and mom.
We were debating several places but wound up going to Craft. We had early 5:30 reservations which we missed and did not arrive until about 2 hours after our actual reservation time.
The Craft door seems to magically appear after the first time you miss it, and then suddenly you are enveloped by its warm interior. The staff was incredibly accomodating despite our late arrival, and seemed genuinely upset that we might have to wait as long as 20 minutes (I was prepared to wait an hour or more). They offered us seats at the lovely bar, and I had just begun perusing the lengthy wine list when they managed to find us a table, not 5 minutes after our arrival.
I was half expecting them to cram us into a corner table somewhere in the back, but we were shown to a huge table in the bar area, a table for 4 people. Craft is the first NYC restaurant I have been to recently where you don't feel cramped and crowded and don't have to contort uncomfortably to squeeze into your seat.
The front room by the bar has huge wooden tables and very comfortable chairs, and the whole room gives a feeling of warm solidity. The interesting leather "wall" panels add a quirky touch, and despite the bar being crowded, the noise level was still acceptable. Our table seemed to occupy half an acre of space, yet we were isolated in our own little coccoon of dining pleasure.
The wait staff was among the best I have seen recently. Our waiter was extremely polite, knowledgeable, and friendly. The entire staff has obviously been well trained and works extremely smoothly as a team to make sure nothing goes wrong with dinner. I think its cute that they have a "uniform" without actually having a uniform - everyone is wearing the same shirt and tie yet upon first glance you don't notice the subtle dress style.
Our table was always kept immaculate, dishes whisked away unobtrusively when finished, silverware replaced and water glasses kept filled without asking. We even threw the wait staff a "curveball" by ordering an extra appetizer after our first appetizers, but they took this in stride.
The food was... well, transporting and inspiring. In fact it was so good it was almost TOO good. One part of me wants to live there and eat every meal there, yet it would be almost overwhelming to eat such wonderful rich food every day.
We started our meal with a complimentary amuse of asparagus puree with chanterelle mushrooms in a little shot glass. A bright vivid green puree with chunks of mushrooms was just enough for a taste. The puree tasted of pure fresh asparagus, but was heavy on a citrus note - perhaps lemon or lime juice? The mushroom flavor was not noticable.
I splurged and ordered a bottle of wine way out of our price range, a 1995 Brunello Di Montalcino. It was a very nice wine, but I was not overly excited about it, and this was the only dull part of the meal. Perhaps next time I would try a more reasonable Cotes de Beaune, which I tend to enjoy.
We started our meal with some oysters, Chillmark and Hammersley varieties. We fell in love with the Chillmark and even ordered an extra half-dozen. I had the roasted sweetbreads appetizer, which was two plump lobes of sweetbreads, delicately placed on top of round disks of potato, with a wine (port wine?) reduction sauce, just the right amount of fresh thyme to provide an herbal note in every bite, and a "salsa" of which i'm still not sure what ingredients. Wonderful, moist and flavorful sweetbreads, and the sauce was soaked up by bread from the breadboard including a rustic white loaf and a raisin bread, which I could swear is Eli's bread.
After our second helping of oysters, dinner arrived. Wow. Every dish piping hot, and served in its own vessel, for the perfect mix-and-match meal. This is truly foodie heaven. I see some debates on here, people debating the "soul" of the place or the problems with this type of menu, I wish every restaurant was like this.
We had soft shell crabs - two plump crabs pan-fried, with a sweet sauce, bits of apple and celery on top. Mom is a soft-shell crab lover and she was in heaven.
I ordered the braised short ribs, and the dish almost made me weep with joy. The first bite literally melted in my mouth. Traditionally braised with red wine, thyme, and a few roasted vegetables sprinkled on top.
For our side dishes, I went with spring vegetables, braised wild ramps, and roasted asparagus. The ramps were something from heaven... braised tender in a sweet creamy sauce that obviously containd sinful amounts of butter and cream. The asparagus were roasted perfectly and sprinkled with a little (parmigian?) cheese for punchy flavor.
And last but not least, the starches. Ohhhh the starches. I think our diet was set back to mid-March, but it was worth every bite. A chef I know once related a story about some mashed potatoes in Paris, which he insisted on knowing how the chef made them taste so wonderful. The secret was - half potatos and half butter. I'm sure the pureed potatos at Craft come close to this - I've never eaten a better mashed potato in my life. It was smooth clouds of absolute heaven, with some snipped chives on top.
The polenta was as smooth and creamy as the potatos, perfectly cooked and tasting like the best polenta could possibly taste.
After stuffing ourselves, we went with a lighter dessert, a cheese selection and some fruit. The wait staff brings the cheese board to the table, and explains every single type, knowledgeably and with personal recommendations. I forget everything we had but I know we had a blue, a hard sheep, a semi-soft mixed milk, and a free sample of an aged sheep similar to a bland parmigiana. The staff brings raisin bread, butter, and a dish containing samples of honeycomb, Marcona almonds, and some sort of puree (apple?) with lots of cinnamon nutmeg or clove. We also ordered fresh fruit, some Muscat grapes, and Cavaillon melon (which I could swear was actually cantaloupe).
I had a glass of fine but overly sweet sherry to round out this lovely meal.
Craft could not let us leave empty handed or without dessert, including an amuse of white chocolate panna cotta. On our way out the door, we were given packets containing cherry scones (which I ate for breakfast this morning and they were WONDERFUL).
As we left, the maitre'd thanked me for coming and said he was glad we made it despite our travel difficulties.
I think we'll definitely go back for a WONDERFUL meal sometime soon.
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