Sunday, July 11, 2010

Colicchio & Sons

Spoiler alert [except not really at all]: I’m a wee bit of a fan of James Beard Outstanding Chef winner/Top Chef host/restauranteur extraordinaire/hero/humanitarian/guitarist/fly fisher/one of People’s sexiest men alive in 2008/etc./etc. Tom Colicchio. That’s right: no matter what hat you throw on top of this man, you’ll still find Chef Tommy keeping it real under there. Whether he’s banging out world-class dishes in his deceptively straightforward style, or shooting the breeze with none other than yours truly—there is an aura of real-ness to Colicchio, peppered with drive and integrity, that makes it next to impossible to remain uninspired in his presence. Would-be “Top Chefs” strive for greatness on his show; readers of his cookbook learn the principles behind great cooking so as not to be chained to recipes—to instead Think Like a Chef; and people who learn his life story realize that sometimes, when you work crazy hard, doing what you love actually pays off.

So there was a dance, some hugs, and multiple wardrobe changes when I learned good pal Eileen was taking me to the Meatpacking District for a birthday dinner at Colicchio’s newest digs Colicchio & Sons (taking the place of closed Craftsteak).

I’ve said this about Craft; I’ve certainly said it about Tom: Tuesday Dinner (still the most memorable dining experience of my life); and now, I can say the same for Colicchio & Sons: these restaurants are so. effing. magnificent. And comfortable. And made for dudes. (Sure, they appeal to women—but Colicchio’s already got that demographic covered.) Inside, the music is bluesy, soulful; the d├ęcor exudes strength and warmth; the staff is approachable and on-point with absolutely zero airs; and the food: oh lawdy, the food. In the age of foams, deconstructions, and molecular gastronomy, this food resembles food, yet still shines for its flair, boldness and ingenuity. And it tastes like food (albeit the best food you’ve ever eaten). Men needn’t worry about leaving hungry. Or getting busted by the fork police for using the wrong fork. There are no fork police.

When Eileen and I arrived on a Thursday evening, taking in scenic views from the High Line beforehand (Colicchio & Sons is mere steps away), we were among the first in the dining room (there is a more casual “tap room” in front; the two rooms are divided by a floor-to-ceiling wine vault). When we left, many hours later, the restaurant was in full swing with not a seat to spare, yet in no way did we feel rushed during our meal. The dinner was thoughtfully timed; our servers were friendly and attentive without being bothersome. In short: perfect atmostphere/setting.

Take a look at our rolls:
This is the kind of bread you just want to take in your fist and squeeze because it looks so soft and pleasant. The only thing that outweighed the urge to squeeze it was to eat it... which Eileen and I did immediately. Another black skillet thoughtfully appeared moments later containing six more shimmering rolls, coarse salt sprinkled on top. We purposefully held back, knowing what was to come. Wonderful, wonderful bread, though.

Here’s our amuse-bouche:
God knows what this was. My bad. I waited three months to write this entry up. Lobster on a spicy cracker with …apples(?) that went with it perfectly. And tasted very fresh.

For appetizers, the Carolina Soft Shell Crab with ramps and pancetta ($22) was a no-brainer:
This was the first time I’ve had soft shell crab that wasn’t deep-fried. It was bloody sensational. The outer shell had just a bit of firmness to it, the nuggets inside contained fresh, juicy, tender explosions of the sea, tempered nicely by the pungent flavor of the ramps.

Over on Eileen’s plate, was Ricotta Ravioli with morels, fava beans, and ramps (ramps, ramps, ramps! Chefs can’t get enough of ’em when they’re in season.) ($19)
Eileen quite enjoyed this. Even though the ravioli were cooked al dente, the ricotta filling made the ravioli as a whole taste light and pillowy. Another winner.

For dinner, I was talked into the Farm Chicken “Pot Au Feu” with Crispy Skin, Spring Vegetables and …Ramp Broth ($34)
I had reservations about coming all the way to Colicchio & Sons and ordering something as ordinary as chicken, but the server assured me the dish was actually quite “exciting.” It was prepared sous-vide (a technique where food is placed in airtight plastic bags and submerged underwater, then cooked at an exact temperature to ensure the end result is exactly what is intended); and the skin was fashioned into a crispy chip. “What about the ramps?” I asked. “Is this turning into ramp overload?” No, the ramp broth merely accentuated the vegetables, giving everything a slight kick. The broth was light, the chicken was impossibly tender and juicy. It was like springtime stew; the ultimate in comfort food. The dish wasn’t in-your-face bold, instead, the flavors had been gently coaxed out, so that they crept up on you, and remained clear in your mind many days/weeks/months later. Best dish of the night.

Eileen ordered the Roasted Sirloin with Piperade and Roasted Ramps ($42):
This is the closest we came to any sort of misstep. While tasty, this dish could’ve used some sort of carb. There was a lot of meat, and a lot of peppers (and ramps!). Eileen was really craving something else to balance it out. Something crunchy, something potato-y perhaps. She was a little disappointed.

Both of our desserts were excellent. I’d order either of them again.

Here’s mine, the Banana Pecan Upside-Down, with rum caramel, banana sorbet, and malted milk ice cream ($12)

And Eileen’s: the Warm Chocolate Tart with Hazelnut Semifreddo and Espresso ice cream ($12):
Some really hot-looking mignardises followed. I think it was a wine gelee, but again, I don’t remember.
A pleasant ping! to the end of the evening.

On our way out, the hostess gave us complimentary corn muffins for breakfast the next morning, a nice touch, which immediately called to mind the thoughtfulness I experienced at Craft.

All in all, a great experience. Thank you, Tom Colicchio, for making dining at your restaurants such memorable, fabulous occasions.

(And thank you, Eileen, for such a generous birthday present. Dinner is always a blast when you have such great company.)

Colicchio & Sons
85 10th Avenue
New York, NY 10011
(212) 400-6699