Craft

by Susan on October 15, 2007

[Food:4/5]

The interior of Tom Colicchio’s Craft is a reflection of the food: simple, elegant, inviting, and stylish. Some diners have complained that the “create your own” meal format is overwhelming and requires too much thought. Others have embraced the invitation to “craft” their ideal meal. I happily fell into the latter category.

Divided into First Courses, Main Courses, and Side Dishes, at a first glance the menu appears straight forward. Upon further examination, however, one finds multiple sub-categories and making choices quickly becomes difficult. The table was silent as we carefully perused the menus. Our server made an appearance (her first of many that night) and was extremely helpful and patient under our barrage of questions. When we hemmed and hawed over what mushroom dish to order, she offered up a mixture of multiple varieties. (Note to Tom: put that option on the menu!) Maximizing the number of dishes one orders is key to an optimal experience at Craft. While a table for two will certainly enjoy their meal, this dining destination is best experienced by larger groups who can take greater advantage of the vast menu. One should also note that although the main entrees are listed with vegetables as their accompaniments, these are a bit more than a garnish and you’ll end up ordering starches and vegetables separately. This format can put a larger dent in your wallet than you might have been expecting. It all seems to add up very quickly.

There were a couple of seemingly small details that left me impressed. In addition to the “make your own” aspect of Craft, it is also a “family-style” restaurant where all dishes are meant to be shared. Though there are many restaurants that serve food this way, Craft is one of the only ones I have dined at with tables that are proportional in size to accomodate the number of dishes that eventually make their way to the table. So often, candles must to be moved, plates must be shifted, and water glasses must be re-positioned to precarious spots just inches away from elbows, all to make room when food meant to be shared is placed in the center of the table has nowhere to go. Whether it is intelligent design, or a bit of luck, the large (and beautiful) wooden tables at Craft are perfect for accommodating many a dish. Another ingenuity is the handing out of “food checks” should you decide to take home any leftovers. Instead of an ugly plastic or brown paper bag being placed on the table before you have even ordered dessert (yes, that very same bag you often move for aesthetics and then leave behind), your server instead, presents you with a plastic card with a number on it that enables you to pick up your leftovers as you exit the premises. I’m still trying to figure out why this is not employed at more restaurants.

To start, a salad of artichokes and malvarosa cheese was flavorful and well-balanced. The mache and pear salad was a showcase of Colicchio’s commitment to fresh ingredients. The duck foie gras was prepared flawlessly with a creamy center and caramelized exterior. The addition of fig was a unique and delightful accompaniment. The most interesting dish was a chanterelle and peekytoe crab ragoût, which includes a slow cooked, and then flash fried egg. (Hint: if you can’t find the dish, check under the Farm Egg section of the Starter Dishes.) The mushrooms were packed with so much flavor that they overshadowed the taste of the crab, though the crab did act as a creamy adhesive, gluing slices of mushrooms to one another. The slow cooked, then fried egg, is a perennial favorite of mine and it served the dish well.

For entrees, we opted for the organic chicken, short ribs, and guinea hen. We were so enamored with the Side Dishes portion of the menu that we skipped a fourth entrée in lieu of starches and vegetables.  The organic chicken is a menu staple these days, but something made us think Colicchio would do it better than most. It was moist and well-seasoned, but paled in comparison to the much more flavorful guinea hen. The guinea hen arrived with dark meat still on the bone and white meat sliced into pieces. White meat, especially when sliced, can be dry and flavorless, though these morsels suffered from no such fate. The braised short ribs were presented in a small crock scattered with root vegetables. The beef was tender, flavorful and moist. Every dish proved that simple can be wonderful and that Colicchio knows what he is doing.

Assorted mushrooms, brussel sprouts, butternut squash, cauliflower, potato gratin, and risotto rounded out the meal. The vegetables outshined the starches. The cauliflower, often boring, had all the right flavors and consistency. The butternut squash was so smooth and rich that while I’d love to pay homage to the raw vegetable, there was certainly no shortage of cream. I’ve yet to meet a brussel sprout I don’t like, and these were no exception.  We found the gratin a bit salty, but the risotto had a nice balance of flavors, including corn and bacon.  One could make a meal of these sides and not leave disappointed.

The dessert menu arrived and we sighed with exhaustion at the prospect of more choices.  We gathered ourselves and pressed on, ordering one dish from the Classic Craft Combinations section and one from the Make Your Own section. The Brioche Pain Perdu, similar to bread pudding, was the table favorite and it disappeared quickly.  Good dark chocolate was the centerpiece of the chocolate tart and albeit a bit slower than the brioche, it disappeared as well.

After a strong couple of years, there have been rumblings that Craft has lost a step. This being my first visit, I can’t draw a comparison. But, I can say, I would welcome any opportunity to return.

Craft
www.craftrestaurant.com
43 East 19th Street
New York, NY 10003
(212) 780-0880

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