Restaurants & Bars 5

Dinner @ Craft

Mike C | Jul 27, 2001 08:44 AM

My wife and I went to Craft the other night with some friends. I’d been looking forward to this evening on multiple levels. It’s always great to spend time with close friends. Plus, Tom Collichio’s new restaurant had recently received a very positive review in the New York Times. Over the years Collichio along with Danny Meyer have made Gramercy Tavern into one of New York’s premier restaurants. Gramercy Tavern has been a perennial favorite of ours, so needless to say we had high expectations for Craft.

Our reservation was for 8PM and we were seated quickly. It should be noted that on a Monday night in the summer the restaurant was packed. The décor of the restaurant was interesting. The light fixtures were very impressive, as were the wine lockers. The huge, sloping leather paneled wall made for an interesting conversation piece. The wall reminded me of a baggage claim carousel at the airport. I kept on waiting for the flashing red light and the beeping to tell me that my bags were on their way. The tables themselves were very large. I would find out a bit later why the tables needed to be so big.

Our waiter came over to give us an explanation of the menu and to answer any questions that came up. From what the New York Times said, the menu has changed its format since it was originally quite confusing. While it may be easier to understand than the first menu, this one was still very confusing. The menu had lists for first courses, main courses, salads, sides, etc. However each list was broken down by food type (meat, fish, etc.) and then by preparation (roasted, braised, etc.). Side dishes were broken down by food type (mushrooms, grains, potatoes, etc.) It was unclear how many dishes should be ordered and at what point in the meal they should be served. It took us a while to get it straight.

Essentially we shared all the dishes. For appetizers we had two orders of the fava bean salad with fresh pecorino and olive oil, the roasted scallops, and an order of the risotto side dish. All of these dishes were wonderful. Especially the roasted scallops which were perfectly caramelized and very sweet. The risotto was prepared plainly as it is designed to be a side dish. Still it was as good a risotto as I’ve had in a while. The fava bean salad was a special. I love fava beans and this dish didn’t let me down.

For entrees, we each ordered our own dishes, but everyone got to taste each dish. There was the porterhouse for two, the roasted stripe bass and the sirloin. All of the entrees were very tasty. However here is where Craft begins to lose me. The entrees are all served a la carte and family style. You order side dishes to compliment the entrees and they are served family style as well. First, all of the entrees come either on a plate (separate from your dinner plate) or in a copper roasting dish. The roasting dish presentation is very attractive. At the same time all of the side dishes come to the table. Thus the table is very crowded. If they didn’t have the extra large tables Craft’s methodology would have to be different. By the way, one of the benefits of the large tables is that they are spaced out nicely and you’re not right on top of your neighbor. This also serves to keep the volume level down in the restaurant. My problem with Craft is the following. While I thought that the food was very good, it was not great. The theory behind the restaurant is to use the freshest ingredients and to cook them in a simple manner. Then the customer can build his plate by choosing various side dishes. I my opinion, I think that the chef should choose what side dishes go with the entrees. This would make for a more artful presentation, a less confusing menu, and maybe just a bit more taste. While I thought the porterhouse was good, I looked for the salt to add some seasoning. I felt the same way with many of the sides. The farro (which I love at Gramercy Tavern) was plain and needed some seasoning. The potatoes benefited from the lemon aioli provided. The spinach could have used some salt and pepper, and the braised morels, which were tasty, still could have used a little something.

I believe that the “build your own plate” theory worked much better with the dessert. Desserts were relatively plain and there were many choices available to dress them up. We shared the sweet plum cobbler and added some vanilla ice cream. It also came with homemade whipped cream! We also shared the chocolate tart, which was out of this world. We added some mint chocolate chip ice cream to the chocolate tart. The tart also came with an expresso sauce that was yummy. The desserts were uniformly excellent.

Much like Gramercy Tavern, Craft’s wine list was very diverse and well priced. We had a bottle of the 1997 Jean Marc Bouley Volnay. It started out very tart and acidic, but opened up with a bit of air. It was all cherries and smooth edges when tempered with the food. Although Burgundy is not necessarily the way to go with steak, the thought was to have it for the fish and to match with the sides. Actually it went well enough with the steak too.

Craft is still a new restaurant and I thought that it showed in the service. I put Craft’s service up against that of its sister restaurant Gramercy Tavern and it lost. While the service was okay, it was still disjointed. Our waiter came to the table several times when the menu was presented, but after we ordered he disappeared. Our appetizers came out quickly, but then we waited quite a while for the entrees and sides. When we were done with our entrees we had to hunt down someone to clear the plates.

This review may come off as a little tough. However Collichio’s other restaurant has set the bar so high, that Craft has it’s work cut out in order to meet the standard that’s already in existence. I suspect that the kinks in Craft’s service will be ironed out shortly. I also think that the food was very good despite my nitpicking. The ingredients were great and the preparation simple. Sometimes it was too simple though.

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