Friday, January 2, 2009

Craft: Oh yeah!

I used to think Tom Colicchio was on his high horse when he would berate Top Chef contestants (like the time he said “If I could send all of you home tonight, I would”), but after the dinner I had at Craft last Sunday, this man--this demigod--can say and do whatever he wants. Hands down, one of the best dining experiences of my life. Nothing was overlooked; everything was perfect from the moment we set foot in the door.

I am a woman. And women will like this restaurant. But this is a man’s restaurant. This is a place where a guy can take his date and not feel all shi-shi, or worried that he’s going to use the wrong fork. It oozes class and simplicity and elegance and comfort altogether. Sinatra plays, red wine pours, décor is brick and wood, with clean lines, solid structure, and warm, golden hues. There are cast-iron skillets to help yourself to family-style portions.

I’ve recently read that service has slipped over the last year, causing poor Tom to lose his Michelin star. Service was spot-on on Sunday. From the hostess up-front (who gave us ginger muffins on the way out for breakfast the next morning – nice touch) to discreet waiters who always knew exactly when to appear and disappear, we were taken care of.

On to the good stuff.

The menu is difficult to read just because there’s really not much to it (simple descriptions like “Organic Chicken: $28). For someone not familiar with the concept of Craft, this might be frustrating. (There’s a tasting menu for $110 if you don’t want to deal with it.) Basically, everything is ordered ala carte. Dishes are not described in detail because Tom Colicchio believes in simplicity. Let the food stand on its own. If you order a side of the vague “Cauliflower: $7”, all you need to know is it’s going to be the best damn cauliflower you’ve ever tasted. And it was. Roasted, with a hint of butter and salt. Delicious.

Here’s what we ordered:
First courses:
Chestnut & Cavolo Nero Ravioli ($18)
Sweet Potato Agnolotti ($11)

Main Courses:
Beef Short Rib ($30)
Lamb Shanks ($26)

Side Dishes:
Cauliflower: ($7)
Gnocchi: ($10)
Market Spinach & Smoked Egg Vinaigrette ($9)

Buttermilk Waffles with Maple Roasted Pears Candied Kumquats & Vanilla Ice Cream ($12)

The Ravioli and Agnolotti both came in cast iron skillets (I believe everything did that night), making it easy to share. I know everyone always describes good ravioli and agnolotti like “delicate pillows” – but, well… they were. Scrumptious, sweet, buttery (but still light as pillows!), great way to start the meal.

The Beef Short Rib is reason in and of itself to visit Craft. So tender and juicy – with a glaze as sweet as candy. Cutting into it (no knife needed), the meat fell apart in long strands. The Lamb Shanks, while absolutely fine, seemed similar to the Short Rib in flavor, but inferior in texture and juiciness and richness.

Cauliflower was excellent as mentioned, gnocchi were…. like pillows!, and the spinach salad was marvelous – the spinach was crispy and fresh, even with a creamy Caesar-style dressing.

Dessert was the low-point, if there was one, only because it was average. It was a waffle. My mom makes really good waffles, so I just wasn’t impressed. And I hate kumquats. Use a kumquat in sauce to add acid, but then take the fruits out, for the love of Pete. They’re distracting and way too powerful. And chewy. Blech. Kumquats.

The only coffee on the menu was from Honduras, Sumatra and Bolivia and cost $9. We asked for regular coffee (Which was still excellent) and I believe it was $3… and we got lots of refills.

Final bill was $174 (with tax, tip, and a glass of red wine). A STEAL to experience one of Manhattan’s finest restaurants.

43 E 19th St
New York, NY 10003
(212) 780-0880

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