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[The Wandering Eater]

Craft, Tom Colicchio’s landmark haute barnyard, has just celebrated its seventh anniversary.

Since my last visit, about two years ago, Tom Colicchio and Danny Meyer went through an amicable corporate divorce, with Colicchio leaving Gramercy Tavern to focus on his expanding Craft franchise. There are now Crafts in four cities, Craftsteaks in three, and a chain of ’Wichcraft sandwich outlets. There is still only one Craftbar (around the corner from the main restaurant).

craft_logo.jpgWith so many restaurants to tend, quality can suffer. The New York branch of Craftsteak opened to tepid reviews. Colicchio got to work, and he was able to right the ship, but it was a rare dent to his reputation. Craft lost its Michelin star this year, though no one is quite sure why.

Craft has recently introduced a seven-course tasting menu ($110), which I tried with a colleague a couple of weeks ago. The server mentioned that they’d sold only fifty of them so far—a pretty small number for a restaurant that is always jam-packed.

The tasting menu allows you to skip the most difficult part of dinner at Craft: deciding what to order on the long, complex menu, which changes daily. Everything on our tasting menu was prepared to the restaurant’s usual high standards, but I think the kitchen excels at larger portions that you can linger over. Their strength is the novel, not an anthology of short stories.

A serving of Poussin (i.e., chicken) is indicative of the way a tasting menu can titillate, but not satisfy. You’ve seldom had chicken this tender, this succulent. But when it’s reduced to a tasting menu portion, all you seem to get are a few tantalizing scraps. Ordering à la carte is still the way to go at Craft.

I certainly wouldn’t try the wine pairing again ($75), which didn’t offer any remotely interesting choices. For $150, we could have ordered a full bottle that blows the doors off, instead of putting up with a succession of totally unmemorable individual glasses.

Craft may have pioneered the “haute casual” style—three-star service without tablecloths—and no restaurant in town does it better. The wooden tables are large—to accommodate Craft’s trademark cast-iron serving pans and large sharing portions—and generously spaced. A diner seated at the banquette can easily walk between two adjacent tables without having to turn sideways.

Service was friendly and attentive.

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Raw Madai (sea bream), French Mâche & Beet; Ragout of Escargot & Periwinkles

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Poached Florida Pompano; Crawfish Risotto

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Roasted Four Story Hill Farm Poussin; Roasted Venison Tenderloin, Parsnip Gratin, Bluefoot Mushrooms

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Buttermilk Parfait & Passion Fruit Soup; Hazelnut Chocolate Bread Putting, Malted Milk Ice Cream

Craft (43 E. 19th St. between Park Ave South & Broadway, Flatiron District)

Food: **½
Service: ***
Ambiance: **
Overall: **½

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