Entries in Craftbar (3)


The Payoff: Craftbar and Craftsteak

Today’s review is a bit of a snoozer, confirming our hypothesis that Frank Bruni is bored. He arrives at the correct ratings for Craftbar and Craftsteak (one and two stars, respectively), but he doesn’t have much passion for either restaurant. Maybe he banged it out on his laptop in between naps on his long flight back from Los Angeles, where he recently traveled to review a pizzeria. With apparently no NYC restaurants remaining that interest him, perhaps we can persuade Frank to take his discerning palate to the opposite coast, where no doubt they are hungering for a parade of Italian restaurant and steakhouse reviews.

Eater and I both placed identical $1 winning bets on Craftbar (2–1 odds) and Craftsteak (3–1 odds), netting each of us a total of $5 for the week.

          Eater        NYJ
Bankroll $23.00   $25.67
Gain/Loss +$5.00   +$5.00
Total $28.00   $30.67
 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 11–2   10–3

Rolling the Dice: Craftbar and Craftsteak

Every week, we take our turn with Lady Luck on the BruniBetting odds as posted by Eater. Just for kicks, we track Eater’s bet too, and see who is better at guessing what the unpredictable Bruni will do. We track our sins with an imaginary $1 bet every week.

The Line: After last week’s gross dereliction of duty, Frank Bruni is back in action tomorrow with reviews of two real restaurants: Craftbar and Craftsteak. Eater’s official odds are as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars:
One Star: 2-1 √√
Two Stars:
Three Stars: 20-1
Four Stars: 25,000-1

Zero Stars:
One Star:
Two Stars:
3-1 √√
Three Stars:
Four Stars: 25,000-1

The Skinny: All the critics in town pummeled Craftsteak after it opened last year, with Herr Bruni awarding just a measley star in July 2006. Tom Colicchio’s steakhouse did everything right except the one thing at which it had to excel: steaks. I visited twice, and wasn’t wowed either time. Colicchio publicly admitted that he had goofed, fired the chef de cuisine, and bought new cooking equipment—including a broiler, inexplicably not part of the original plan.

In three years on the job, Bruni has just one self-re-review to his credit (Eleven Madison Park). I don’t know what would possess him to re-review a steakhouse just ten months later, but the improvement must surely be significant. I suspect that in Colicchio’s mind, Craftsteak is a three-star restaurant, and if he’s finally got the steaks right, it’s not an unreasonable aspiration. After all, it is built on a similar model to Craft, which has three stars. But two stars is the most that Bruni has given any steakhouse, and after a two-week losing streak, we aren’t prepared to dare the Eater oddsmakers.

Craftbar is getting its first rated review, after receiving the $25 and Under treatment from Eric Asimov in 2002 and a Diner’s Journal piece from Sam Sifton in 2004. Since then Chef Akhtar Nawab has moved on to The E.U., and according to FloFab in the Times, the new menu is “less elaborate and expensive.”

It’s not unusual for restaurants promoted from $25 and Under to get two stars, and casual places like Craftbar are right up Frank’s street. When train wrecks like Morandi and Cafe Cluny get one star, it almost seems like there’s no longer any such thing as a “good” one-star restaurant, leaving two-stars as the minimum rating that represents any kind of compliment. But with Craftbar lurking pretty much under the foodie radar these days, we have to agree with the oddsmakers that a deuce is unlikely here.

The Bet: Tomorrow could be a wild day, but we aren’t taking any chances. We agree with Eater that Frank Bruni will award one star to Craftbar and two stars to Craftsteak.



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)

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