Craft is one of New York’s iconic restaurants. It derives its name partly from the structure of the menu, which presents ingredients in various categories, allowing the diner to craft his own meal. This can be a rewarding but expensive undertaking, with vegetable side dishes running to $12-15 apiece. The restaurant is also known for a style of cooking that “celebrate[s] ‘single’ ingredients, expertly and simply prepared.” But Chef Tom Colicchio (Gramercy Tavern) is quick to note, “Simple does not mean simplistic.” A truckload of honors (three NYT stars and one Michelin star) suggests that critics generally have agreed.
Like many successful restaurants these days, craft has become a mini-chain. Many people think that craftsteak is the best steakhouse in Las Vegas. We’ll all see for ourselves soon enough, as a branch of craftsteak will be opening in far west Chelsea later this year. And then, there is craftbar, a less pricy alternative around the corner from the mother ship, which moved to new digs last year.
For a downscale sibling, craftbar is surprisingly formal-looking. Of course, it is not a formal restaurant as we would traditionally have understood that term. But in an era that has largely jettisoned old notions of fine dining, craftbar seems like an oasis of calm. The booths are comfortable, the tables widely spaced, the décor gentle on the eyes. Nowadays, such a space could easily be the home to far more ambitious cooking than craftbar is, in fact, serving.
My friend and I could not avoid the comparison to the Café at Country, the downscale sibling of a main dining room that hasn’t opened yet. We dined there about ten days ago. It was a miserable experience, not for any fault of the food, but for an ambiance that seemed perversely designed to inflict maximum discomfort. At craftbar, there’s proof that an informal sibling need not have tables the size of postage stamps and the noise level of a Wall Street trading floor.
The menu comes on a single loose sheet of paper, and it changes daily. I started with the pan-roasted sweetbreads ($15), which came lightly breaded. This dish seemed to exemplify the “craft” approach—presenting the best ingredients, prepared simply. I found it tasty, but unadventurous.
Several reports have praised the veal meatballs with ricotta ($19). Here too was a comfort food featuring impeccable ingredients prepared uncreatively. There were three hefty meatballs in a red sauce with an ample sprinkling of grated cheese. The veal was tender, and obviously a high quality. In less capable hands, it could easily have been overwhelmed by either the sauce or the cheese, but here the piece parts were skillfully balanced.
My friend also made uncomplicated choices: a duck liver pâté followed by spaghetti. I tasted a bit of the pâté , and found it comparable to the better examples that I’ve tasted elsewhere.
At $15, my sweetbread appetizer was craftbar’s most expensive; other starters are in the $8–12 range. At $19, my meatball entrée was craftbar’s least expensive; other main courses were in the $25–30 range. If not exactly budget-priced, craftbar is certainly less expensive than its luxury sister restaurant, craft.
I wasn’t in the mood for a fancy meal last night, but I would certainly look forward to a return visit to try some of craftbar’s more adventurous main courses.
craftbar (900 Broadway between 19th & 20th Streets, Flatiron District)