Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tom: Tuesday Dinner: ...What about Tom: Wednesday, Thursday and Friday Dinner?

… and Saturday and Sunday?

Part One: The Dream

If Anthony Bourdain whetted my appetite for the culinary world, and Michael Ruhlman and David Kamp helped me navigate my way amongst the field’s top players, it’s Tom Colicchio who continues to reinvigorate my interest in food each week. Every Wednesday night on Top Chef, I watch contestants fall over each other trying to impress this well-respected chef’s chef. Blue eyes blazing, serving up contentious zingers like, “The venison’s already dead, no need to kill it again,” or indignantly declaring, “If we were to stand up and leave right now, we would not even get a goodbye!” Tom Colicchio… well, he exudes enough sex appeal to make a girl go mad, really.

Or her boyfriend go mad. “That bastard,” poor Otto whispers to the television set each week when he catches me dumbly grinning into the screen. He’s partially to blame. Before Otto surprised me with a romantic Christmas dinner at Craft, I sometimes thought Colicchio came across a trifle portentous on T.V.—who was this multiple James Beard winner anyway, who delivered his highfalutin edicts from the safe haven of Judges’ Table? Who dared talk down to gentle, amiable Ariane about her deviled eggs and use of cookbooks as another means of exploring cuisine, but then sang the praises of Jacques Pepin’s La Technique?

Once we ate at Craft however, everything changed. Otto and I both experienced one of the finest, most magical dining events of our lives. Who was this Tom Colicchio indeed, who really was capable of delivering such perfection? My admiration suddenly knew no limits.

Because his romantic gesture backfired, Otto was now stuck watching Colicchio every week (or, watching me watch Colicchio each week) knowing not only was I swooning, but realizing he too swooned—for succulent beef short rib, pillow-like gnocchi and buttery chestnut ravioli.

“It’s not like he’s saving lives or anything,” I heard him mumble one night.

Then this story broke.

Around the time Joan Nathan went on record to say, “Tom Colicchio saved my life,” was around the time I wondered if Chef Colicchio actually cooked in any of his restaurants anymore. This guy had a lot on his plate (no pun intended): a hit show, multiple press engagements, nationwide Craft locations… If he was in the kitchen, he was expediting.

It was a crazy notion, but I kept coming back to the same question: was there any chance I could get a meal whipped up by Tom himself? …Tom and those newly-minted life-saving hands?

Part Two: Reservations

When Frank Bruni’s article on Tom: Tuesday Dinner appeared, it was the first I had heard of Craft’s private dining room (immediately adjacent to Craft), which transformed into an intimate restaurant every other Tuesday evening where Colicchio himself would prepare a 10+ tasting menu for the few diners lucky enough to score reservations.

It was exactly what I had been hoping for.

But, as it turns out, deciding you want to go to Tom: Tuesday Dinner and trying to get in are two entirely different cuts of meat.

The reservation line (singular) opens Tuesday, 10 a.m., roughly one month prior to the desired reservation date. For instance, because I wanted a reservation on Tuesday, March 17th, I would have to mark February 3rd, 2009 on my Outlook Express calendar as the date to bombard the phone line. Once the tables were full, the phone line would close, and everyone would re-queue for the following engagement, two weeks later.

Given most of the population works on Tuesday at 10 a.m., the time was not without its difficulties. However, on February 3rd, I dutifully brought my cell phone to work, figuring hitting re-dial over and over wouldn’t pose too many problems for the office.

At 9:59 a.m., I fished my cell phone out of my bag, head hunched low in my cubicle, and began dialing the number to Tom: Tuesday Dinner. ‘Who else would mark her calendar to call on a Tuesday morning at 10 a.m.?’ I thought confidently, hitting “Send.” In response, the phone rang 36 times, then disconnected me. I frowned. When I hit re-dial, I got a busy signal, once, twice, three times. No message system, no re-assurance I was the next caller in line. Just a maddening, resounding beep.

Twenty minutes in, I started to feel conspicuous with a cell phone to my ear, as co-workers walked purposefully by performing their work-related functions. The office was dead-quiet. I began to despise the person who had decided that the only time to make a reservation to the hottest dinner in town was 10 a.m. during the work week. “This is b.s.,” I thought. My cell phone agreed, beeping that the battery was running low. I hit “Send” a couple more times half-heartedly.

The line rang.

I bolted upright. I glanced down at my phone and my excitement transformed to horror when I saw that the battery registered only half a bar.

On the other line was Elena Silva, the official reservationist for Tom: Tuesday Dinner. Barely. Voice echoing, she cheerfully thanked me for calling. I urgently interjected, “Elena? Hello! I think my cell phone is about to die—can I give you another number?” My phone beeped again ominously.

“Hello?” Elena said, “I can barely hear you—it’s a bad connection.”

“Elena?” I said again, this time much louder. My co-worker Suzanne eyed me curiously.

“Another number?” Elena said, very far away, but understanding. “Go ahead.”

I gave her the number, and she promptly read it back to me. Two of the digits were wrong.

“No, no!” I all but shouted. I looked around, embarrassed, and tried to lower my voice. “It’s three five,” I hissed.

“Nine?” Elena asked.


The line went dead.

I blinked, not even believing what had just happened. I frantically glanced at my office phone. It remained dark.

I buried my face in my hands, crestfallen. When I looked up, Suzanne gave me a sympathetic look.

About five minutes later, my office line rang. It was Elena—she had figured out the number. Suddenly, I was set for a table for two on March 17th, 8:00 p.m. I hung up, and looked at Suzanne, this time my smile broad. I told her of my triumph.

“That’s fantastic!” she said enthusiastically, yet a bit confused. “But I thought you were trying to win tickets to a concert or something.”

Now I was the one who was confused. Clearly, I just had.

Part 3: Tom: Tuesday Dinner

Stepping into the private dining room of Craft (a separate door right next to the Craft restaurant, accessible from the street,) is like entering a movie theater mid-screening. First you pass a surprisingly roomy reception area, and a small bar that juts out to obstruct views from sidewalk traffic. The lights dim, and clean white light shines from the open kitchen—bluesy, soulful beats are the soundtrack, and on “screen” is the immediately recognizable shaved head of Tom Colicchio, who, on the night of our visit, is bent over a series of colorful plates, three to four chefs bustling in close proximity.

Talk about a wow-factor.

Otto and I sit at a table right next to the open window, and are completely transfixed. Otto forgets Tom Colicchio is his arch-nemesis and strains his neck to get a better look at our first course, the Caviar “Vichyssoise.” Diners around us are enjoying their meals, but are also copping copious stares of Tom, who is intent in his work. There is an attractive woman dressed in plainclothes also in the kitchen, and she is watching Tom intently, concern evident in her face.

Our amuse bouche appears, caviar paired with horseradish crème fraiche and a cracker. We exclaim over the beauty and savor the bite, knowing we are in for a spectacular evening. When we look up, Colicchio is sitting down, drinking a Coke.

Otto stares. “Isn’t it kind of early for a break?”

The attractive woman kisses Colicchio goodbye, opens a sliding wall from the kitchen to the main dining room, and leaves the restaurant.

Colicchio is still sitting. When he gets up, he also slides open the wall, and enters the dining room. Otto and I sit up a little straighter in our chairs. When he’s on the floor, we notice he is wearing shorts and some serious-looking braces/bandages around his knees.

He leaves the dining room.

I turn to Otto in dismay.

Our second course appears. I eat my salmon pastrami somewhat dejectedly. Many diners around us are already on their dessert courses. Perhaps 8:00 dinner reservations don’t get you a full dinner with Tom, I consider.

By the end of the third course, Otto points out Colicchio’s return. “Maybe he feels like cooking again!” he says brightly.

After about 20 minutes in the kitchen, which includes a cell-phone call, Colicchio disappears once again. This time, he’s gone for 10 minutes, and returns on crutches. Any disappointment from Otto and me is now replaced with concern. Something’s not right.

Around our sixth course, many of the front tables have cleared. Tom again comes out from the kitchen with his crutches, but this time, stands by the open window literally arms-length from Otto, and casually chats with his chefs. Diners who have finished their meals approach him, and for the first time, we see Colicchio smile broadly. “Thank-you’s” and small talk abound, and there is an openness and a genuineness about him. Diners leave grinning ear to ear.

Otto and I are finishing our remarkable liver confit, when I make eye contact with Colicchio, who is now standing by himself. He smiles and moves closer to our table.

He warmly thanks us for coming. We ask about his knee, which we learn has been operated on only two weeks prior. “My doctor told me I shouldn’t be on my feet right now, but I know how much everyone looks forward to this,” he says, motioning around him. “I didn’t want to let anyone down. Normally, I’m in the kitchen the whole night.” His voice is almost apologetic. He mentions his wife (the attractive woman from earlier in the evening), who delivered painkillers, and how the drugs had made him feel a bit ill. As he relays this story, a woman approaches and hands him a flashing cell phone. We motion for him to take the call, but he quite naturally puts the cell phone in his pocket, and continues to chat, never once looking at it. I can see Otto developing a man-crush after this courteous act. We inform him that every dish has been superb. Despite being in obvious pain, he looks happy. We chat for quite a while: about Top Chef, our favorite dishes, Craft.

Before he leaves, I ask if it’s possible to get a photo with him at the end of service. “Of course!” he says. “Let’s do it now!”

A class act, that Tom Colicchio. Meeting him was actually more exciting than meeting Bono. Colicchio even stopped our photo mid-pose, saying he thought the bright light from the kitchen would shadow our faces. He suggested moving next to a darker wall and we got a marvelous shot.

…What’s that?

….You want to hear about what we ate?

Part 4: Tasting Menu

Before I present our radiant tasting menu, I’ll address the bill: there were no surprises, or hidden costs. Otto had tap water. I had a glass of cranberry juice, which I don’t believe was even charged. The bill was $150 each, plus tax. Adding tax and tip, we each spent $204. Was it worth it? We arrived shortly after 8:00 p.m. and left at 10 to midnight. We met Tom Colicchio, who turned out to be one of the nicest, down-to-earth, humble guys Otto or I have ever met. We watched him cook. We ate like kings and sampled food of such high a caliber, I fear I will never taste it again. It’s a night we will remember for years to come.

Tom: Tuesday Dinner’s March 17th Tasting Menu, with pictures!

1. Caviar “Vichysoisse”
A delightful amuse bouche. Loved the horseradish crème-fraiche and the salty burst of caviar. Is there a better way to start a meal than caviar?

2. Salmon Pastrami
Breakfast in a bite: smoked salmon, with an egg fashioned into a cracker. Lovely!

3. Langoustines
Colicchio actually hobbled by our table during this course—Otto had to kick me before I noticed. I was too busy marveling over the red pepper tapiocas in the silky, coconut broth which were giving this dish an unusual gummy pop. And the langoustine—so succulent and buttery! Very interesting Thai flavors going on. Probably my favorite dish of the evening.

4. Cod Poached in Olive Oil
Delicate cod in parsley sauce, with a tangy, fiery red sauce on top. Didn’t love the socca, a flatbread made of chickpea flour, but did enjoy the accompanying green chickpeas. The snail on top of the cod was worrisome (I can’t wrap my head around the texture of snail), but it ended up being good, too (tasted like garlic!). This dish was beautiful to behold, and while most elements shined, it was probably the least successful dish of the night, just in terms of personal preference.

5. Roasted Scallop
If this dish came out sans endive marmalade and pistachios, I still would’ve been in bliss. That’s the beauty of Colicchio. He can coax the natural flavors and textures out of any ingredient to make it the best you’ve ever tasted. The scallop melted in my mouth. I thought the flavor combination sounded familiar and on further research, realized Top Chef contestant Elia made a very similar dish in the Season 1 vs. Season 2 battle.

6. Liver Confit
There was liver. There was foie gras. There was garlic ravioli. There was…. Tom Colicchio standing right next to our table. I don’t remember much about this dish other than it was excellent. I do recall Colicchio pointing to it and saying that the woman next to us deemed it her favorite dish of the evening (to which I eloquently responded, “Uhhhhhehhhallllgeeeeeshreh?”)

7. Gnudi
Oh, gnudi, how I love you. I don’t know exactly what you are—a ravioli, a gnocchi or the dumpling of all dumplings—but you were luscious and you were my second-favorite course of the night. … and what’s that you’re packing underneath those shaved black truffles? A raw egg? Oh, gnudi, you saucy minx!

8. Baby Pig
I don’t think I realized I was eating baby pig until now. I’m re-typing “Baby Pig” from my autographed menu (a personal touch Colicchio includes on each diner’s menu), and it’s dawning on me that I ate Babe. What’s worse is the realization that I’d eat him again. I’m not sure what that circular, intestine-looking thingee is in the center (was it the intestines?), but it was the richest part of Babe. And mostarda gave him a sweet, syrupy glaze.

9. Corned Beef Cheeks
We were hoping for some kind of Ode to St. Paddy’s Day on the menu, but didn’t expect Colicchio to so boldly showcase this modern take on “Corned Beef and Cabbage.” But there it was, the braised cheek tender and sweet, presented as the final savory course, spot-on in robustness. Scalloped potatoes were served in Craft’s signature cast-iron skillets and were creamy and slightly smoky. Another favorite.

10. Mango Yogurt Smoothie
After something as decadent as corned beef, I thought I couldn’t possibly eat another bite. Of anything. Then our servers placed two simple shot glasses before us, filled with ice-cold mango yogurt, topped with fresh mangos and cilantro. The yogurt went down smooth, and had a pleasing, slightly grainy texture. The cilantro cleansed my palette; the mango added sweetness—simultaneously! I suddenly felt like a million bucks and was primed for more dessert. I don’t think I’ll ever forget this dish for that sensation.

11. Chocolate Caramel Torte
Chocolate cake after a 10-course meal? Surely too rich! Cake paired with a refreshing, tropical passion fruit sorbet and light wispy, Earl Grey Cream, however, cancels out the cake (kind of like eating negative-calorie celery) and adds pure deliciousness.

Our little mignardises, presented with the torte:
These were some sort of s’more cookie. Delightful.

Folks, if you want the high-quality pictures, check out the Tom: Tuesday Dinner Web site. A plethora of photos from each dining engagement are posted there (along with the menu) which are light-years better than any I could take, but at least with mine, you can see that the food wasn’t just gussied up for the photos (it’s a good representation), and you can truly get an idea of what a diner experiences.

And what did I experience?

Move over, Craft. Tom: Tuesday Dinner was quite simply the happiest, most memorable, most delectable dinner of my life. Colicchio can rest easy knowing his biggest competition is himself.

Tom: Tuesday Dinner
47 East 19th Street
New York, NY
(212) 400-6495


  1. LOL at Otto's man crush. Great writeup, as usual! But where's the Tom picture???

  2. Hi Heather,

    Thank you for your kind words! I thought about posting the picture of Tom and me. I wanted to post it, but then I thought, everyone already knows what Tom Colicchio looks like. No one knows what I look like (except for that little sliver of my face in the "About Me" area), and maybe it's best to keep it that way for anonymity/impartial service reasons.
    With only about 30 visitors a day to my site, I don't foresee this being an issue any time soon, but you never know down the line! :)

  3. Delightful report! Enjoyed every word of it. Thinking of those dishes is making my mouth water. The scallops and baby pig in particular... OMG!

    By the way, I'm glad you included the whole reservation part - it really adds to the entertainment. XD I've discovered that having the reservationist tell you that they're fully booked is frustrating, but not even being able to get through to the reservationist (after half an hour of dialing) takes it to a whole other level. (Think Nobu, Babbo. Grrrrr... and let's not even get started on Momofuku Ko.)

  4. Thanks, Youngchae. You're so sweet. By the way, Grub Street did an experiment with both Tom: Tuesday Dinner's reservation line and Momofuku Ko's reservation line and they deemed Tom's even MORE maddening. It was pretty crazy. :)

  5. I thoroughly enjoy watching Top Chef. Tom Colicchio is very likable on the show and it’s refreshing to hear that he’s just as nice in person. I like the whole concept of Tom Tuesday Dinner – sounds like great fun.

  6. Sharon,

    You can now increase your hits to 31 visitors a day. I stumbled across your post after trying to book a reservation (at 4PM on a Thursday...who was I kidding!)

    Anyhow, I wanted to thank you for so elequently capturing your whole experience. I was eating up every word (pun intended). Your post also has convinced me that I absolutely have to make this happen for my wife and I. I'm trying to surprise my wife with this for our Anniversary in Oct. Since we're in San Diego, I was skeptical if it would be worth all of the hassle and expense, but not anymore. Now, I just hope that I can get through to the reservationist. I'll be setting my alarm clock for every Tuesday at 7AM for the next several weeks!

    Thanks again for such a great post.

  7. Steve,

    What a lovely compliment. Thank you! It's comments like yours that make doing this blog worthwhile. If you make it to Tom's (and I'm sure you will), please let us know how it is. As you can probably tell, I have an unhealthy obsession with everything Colicchio.
    Also, no matter how high of an expectation you set, Tom: Tuesday Dinner will NOT fall short.