Entries in Craft (2)



[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



Note: Click here for a more recent review of Craft.

Craft is one of New York’s iconic restaurants. The name “Craft” was suggested by chef Tom Colicchio’s concept of preparing “expert ingredients, expertly and simply.” Colicchio adds that “simple doesn’t mean simplistic.” It is, in other words, the “craft” of getting the simple things right. Trite, perhaps, but it has been a huge and much-imitated success. Craftbar in Manhattan and Craftsteak in Las Vegas are popular spin-offs, and a new branch of Craftsteak is opening on Tenth Avenue later this spring.

As originally conceived, the name “Craft” also meant that the diner would design the meal, choosing from among a variety of ingredients, sauces, and cooking styles. It was probably the original restaurant where servers would begin with, “Let me explain how our menu works.” Colicchio soon found that diners weren’t interested in quite so much freedom, and Craft’s menu is no longer so complex. However, side dishes and accompaniments are still extra at Craft, as they’ve always been, and the bill can mount in a hurry.

My friend and I had dinner at Craft a couple of weeks ago. We had a wonderful time, although we concluded that the restaurant is, perhaps, a touch overrated. We started with the foie gras terrine ($24) and the roasted quail ($14). Everything at Craft is served family style, and two appetizers are more than enough for two people. We were especially struck by the ample foie gras portion—two hefty discs that resembled slender hockey pucks. It was superb, to be sure, but required a little more of the wonderful toast that came with it. The quail, too, was excellent.

We wondered whether a Côte de Boeuf, at $125, could possibly be worth it. Concluding that we weren’t willing to spend that much to find out, we went with a more modest choice, the braised veal shank ($75), which is a portion for two. As one would expect for a braised meat, it fell off the bone at the touch of a fork, and was perfectly prepared.

We ordered a side of the gnocchi ($10). Our waiter seemed aghast: “Just one side?” We stuck to our guns, and good thing too, because we were plenty full and were unable to finish the gnocchi, which was chewy and over-salted.

The dessert menu is confusing. There are six sorbets and six ice creams listed. Below these, it reads: “Ice Cream & Sorbet Sampler. 6./12.” So, what do you get for $6, and what do you get for $12? When our server heard that we were both interested in the sampler, he advised, “In that case, you can get one of each.” We didn’t ask him to specify what that meant.

Promptly, $24 worth of ice cream and sorbet arrived, and there were full scoops of each flavor. One must assume that this was a greedy waiter who eagerly seized on an opportunity to pad the bill, as no one could sensibly believe that two people could polish off that much ice cream and sorbet. Indeed, a party of four most likely wouldn’t have finished it.

At Craft, wine selections under $50 are few and far between. We settled on a Cadence Coda 2003 at $60, which was terrific. Service was solid, aside from a couple of attempts at bill-padding. The ambiance is upscale, but casual. The tables are both large and well spaced. The final bill for two was $229 before tip.

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

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