Entries in Craftsteak (6)



Note: Halfsteak, along with is parent restaurant Craftsteak, closed in late 2009. A new restaurant from the same team, Colicchio & Sons, replaced it in early 2010.


Not a week goes by without further retrenchment in the restaurant industry. Even Tom Colicchio’s sainted Craft empire is hunkering down for a long recession. This week, the front room at Craftsteak rebranded itself “Halfsteak,” where every dish is under $15.

I’ve visited Craftsteak three times (1, 2, 3), but I’ve been wholly satisfied only once. To be fair, the first two visits were early on, before Colicchio fired the executive chef and bought new broiling equipment. But I continue to read mixed reports, suggesting a visit to Craftsteak is very much a crapshoot. It’s a tough value proposition for a place where almost all steaks are above $50.

I’m not visiting many steakhouses these days. Even if I was, I’d have to think twice before returning to Crafsteak. But the sub-$15 menu at Halfsteak has my attention. This is a place where one doesn’t mind just “dropping in.”

Halfsteak occupies the casual front dining room at Craftsteak. Everything is priced at odd multiples of a half-dollar. Snacks are $6½, salads $7½, small plates $9½, sandwiches $11½, “one-pots” $13½, desserts $4½, and the namesake halfsteak with fries is $14½. [Click on the menu for a larger image.]

The concept extends to cocktails ($7½), half pints of beer ($3½) and wines by the glass ($10½). Even the notoriously exorbitant wine list has been dialed down. There are twenty bottles on offer, all $55 or less (most under $50). The beers are thoughtful choices from small, artisanal producers; not Budweiser and Schlitz.

Craftsteak’s chef de cuisine is Shane McBride. As he did at his short-lived midtown chophouse 7Square, he isn’t afraid to challenge his audience. I am quite sure that fried tripe is not on this menu because there was overwhelming demand for it. Likewise brisket with sauerkraut or a duck confit omelet.

I wasn’t too hungry, so I ordered just two snacks ($6.50 ea.), the Smoked Chicken Wings with White BBQ Sauce (above left) and the Lamb Spare Ribs with Cucumber Raita (above right). The wings were wonderful, perfectly seasoned and slightly spicy. Where on earth did that white barbecue sauce come from? The lamb ribs were slightly dry and not quite warm enough. Total bill with two half-pints of beer: $20.

The restaurant’s two-star service model hasn’t changed. I almost laughed when I asked for a wet-nap to wash my hands after all that finger food, and they brought out a hot towel. Both the main dining room and the front room were doing a respectable business, but neither was full between 7 and 8pm on a Thursday evening.

The current recession has taken its sad toll on many restaurants, but among those that remain open there are many good deals to be had. Halfsteak is one of the best around.

“Halfsteak” (85 Tenth Avenue at 15th Street, Far West Chelsea)




Note: Craftsteak closed at the end of 2009. After modestly remodeling the space, the same team opened Colicchio & Sons in early 2010.


Craftsteak had a tough start, with most of the reviews citing the same peculiar flaw: the kitchen didn’t know how to cook a steak. With prices running about $10–20 per steak higher than the going rate in Manhattan, that wasn’t going to fly.

I visited Craftsteak 1.0 twice (here, here). Frankly, I might not have bothered to return after the first time, but I was so sure Tom Colicchio would right the ship that I figured it was worth another look. The second visit was, if anything, even worse than the first. I was still sure that Colicchio would fix it somehow, but I wasn’t going to rush back.

Tom Colicchio got busy. He fired his chef de cuisine, bought new kitchen equipment, and continued to tweak the menu. His efforts finally paid off with a rare re-review from Frank Bruni, elevating the restaurant to the two stars that I’m sure Colicchio intended it to have. More than a year after my last visit, I thought it was time to give Craftsteak another try.

Craftsteak 2.0 is much improved, though not without its flaws. The menu is still far too sprawling, with 20 different steaks and 35 side dishes. Ten of those steaks are variations on the New York Strip — corn-fed, grass-fed, or Wagyu; 10, 12 or 18 ounce; aged anywhere from 28 to 65 days. Who needs so many options?. Colicchio should offer New York Strip the two or three ways he thinks are best, and ditch the others.

craftsteak01a.jpg craftsteak01b.jpg

The amuse-bouche was a bit of a dud: a thin pâté buried too deep in a cast-iron bowl, with just three skimpy crackers to mop it up with. Parker-house rolls were much more successful, and it was all we could do not to eat all six of them.


craftsteak03a.jpg craftsteak03b.jpg

Our favorite steak is the ribeye: naturally, there are two versions: 14-ounce grass-fed ($55) or 18-ounce corn-fed ($52). We chose the latter, as it’s four ounces heavier and three dollars cheaper. And finally, Craftsteak served a steak for the gods: tender, beautifully charred, evenly marbled, full of mineral flavor. There was no need for four steak sauces: they were first-class, but why offer only two spoons?

Rounding it out was a plate of gnocchi ($11), soft, light and creamy enough to make you forget every other gnocchi you’ve ever had.

The dining room was full, but we had no trouble getting walk-in seating at the bar. The tables there are just as big, and it’s the same menu. Servers aren’t quite attentive enough. I would almost be tempted to award three stars for the food, if I did not suspect that a menu as vast as Craftsteak must have some duds, and perhaps we were just lucky enough not to order any of them. But on the strength of this visit, it appears that Craftsteak is finally delivering on its promise.

Craftsteak (85 Tenth Avenue at 15th Street, Far West Chelsea)

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


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.


A Tale of Two Steakhouses

For a more recent review of Craftsteak, click here

This week, I head meals at two steakhouses I’ve reviewed before: Wolfgang’s TriBeCa and Craftsteak. Both appear to be midlly struggling restaurants, although for different reasons. Wolfgang’s had lengthy opening delays. I’ve been in there twice now, and while the restaurant certainly doesn’t seem to be failing in any sense, it certainly doesn’t have the heavy crowds that the original Wolfgang’s did. It appears you can walk in just about any time and get a table.

Craftsteak ought to have been a sure bet, with a celebrity chef/owner (Tom Colicchio) who has been successful wherever he went and a brand name (Craft) that has always stood for quality. But the restaurant was pilloried in one review after another for the same highly peculiar reasons: Craftsteak didn’t know how to cook a steak; the menu was over-wrought and wordy. How hard could it be? Manhattan is overflowing with competent steakhouses. Surely steak is the one thing a steakhouse should know how to prepare. But apparently Craftsteak did not. In two separate interviews, Colicchio admitted they had blown it, and he even arranged an amicable split with partner Danny Meyer at Gramercy Tavern so that he could focus on his Craft properties.

At Wolfgang’s this week, I ordered the New York Strip. At $36.50, it is one of the better steak prices in New York City. It came sizzling hot, perfectly charred on the outside, achingly tender on the inside. The steak was sliced in the traditional Peter Luger style. My server not only served the first several slices, but kept returning to my table to serve more. For quality and attention, it could not be beat. Wolfgang’s is a traditional steakhouse, populated mostly by businessmen. It is not for everybody. But in its genre, Wolfgang’s is doing a superb job.

At Craftsteak too, it was no problem to just waltz in and ask for a table. Unlike Wolfgang’s, Craftsteak has the trappings of a high-end restaurant. I actually saw two tables with only women seated. There was a tasty amuse-bouche of a cube of goat cheese on a thin wafer. At the end of my meal, a plate of petits-fours was dropped off. Wolfgang’s has neither. Both restaurants have better-than-average bread service, but Craftsteak’s piping-hot Parker-house rolls in a cast-iron serving dish are some of the best in the city. A side dish of Wagyu confit potatoes was excellent.

Both the dinner and the dessert menu at Craftsteak are reprinted daily. (At Wolfgang’s, it probably won’t be reprinted until the prices go up.) The menu has changed considerably since the last time I saw it. It no longer prints the biography of every slaughtered cow it sells, although there is still a choice between grass-fed and corn-fed beef. The strip steak is now offered at three different ages (28, 42, and 56-day), rather than six. The Wagyu offerings have been simplified too. The old Craftsteak was offering far too many options.

But ultimately, we must judge a place like Crafsteak for its steak. And again last night, Craftsteak stumbled. I decided to splurge for the New York Strip aged 56 days. This is apparently the house’s signature item. At $52, it is the most expensive entrée you can order, except for Wagyu beef and steaks for two (porterhouse or ribeye, $88). I also thought it would be a useful comparison to the strip at Wolfgang’s, which is only $36.50.

Early on, Craftsteak was criticized for not putting a char on the outside of its steaks. The menu still says roasted, so I explicitly asked for a medium-rare temperature with charring on the outside. “Pittsburgh medium rare,” my server responded. I have never heard the term “Pittsburgh” applied to steak, but he assured me that this meant it would be charred. If the steak was charred, you could have fooled me. There was no char on the exterior that I could detect.

Inside, the steak was indeed medium rare, but it was tough and chewy. This is what 56-day aging gets you? Wolfgang’s doesn’t tell you how long their strip steak is aged, but for $15.50 less, the New York Strip at Wolfgang’s runs circles around Craftsteak.

I decided to give dessert a try. A pound cake topped with raspberries and ice cream was wonderful, as indeed was everything about Craftsteak that isn’t a steak. If Tom Colicchio could only figure out how to prepare a steak, he might have a three-star restaurant. But what good is a steakhouse that can’t do steak?

Wolfgang’s TriBeCa (409 Greenwich St. between Beach & Hubert Streets, TriBeCa)

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

Craftsteak (85 Tenth Avenue, between 15th and 16th Streets, Chelsea)

Food: mediocre steak, everything else very good or excellent
Service: **½
Ambiance: **½
Overall: *



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

So many new steakhouses, so little time. That’s the feeling I have these days, with high-profile steakhouses opening almost weekly. Craftsteak is special, being a creation of the sainted Tom Colicchio (Gramercy Tavern, Craft, Craftbar, Craftsteak Las Vegas, etc.).

The space is comfortable and gorgeous. My friend was distracted all evening by a spectacular mural of the Chelsea landscape that takes up the whole back wall. You never thought Chelsea looked so good! I was, on the other hand, distracted by the floor-to-ceiling wine cellar that separates the dining room from the bar, where there is ample seating for the casual visitor.

The menu has undergone some refinement from earlier versions posted on the net. On a Saturday night in May, the Wagyu tasting menus, which had ranged anywhere from $115-165 per person, were no longer on offer. Gone too was the prime rib, which had carried a price tag of anywhere from $180-240. I suspect the whole lobe of foie gras ($160) may be an endangered spiecies. Our server said that it has been ordered only twice.

A normal order of foie gras is $20. Our server was not informed as to how it was prepared. “I don’t know…it changes daily” was all he could say, but he felt sure it came with toast points. Turns out it didn’t. It was still a portion of seared foie gras ample enough to be shared (as we had expected), and sinfully good, but the server ought to know what’s coming.

A ribeye for two ($72) struck us as way under-sized. This does not seem to be a problem for the restaurant generally. A glance at other tables showed that most steaks were enormous. But this ribeye seemed only slightly larger than the typical steak for one. It yielded just nine small slices of beef. Luckily, we are not huge eaters, but I suspect others would have been disappointed. (On a subsequent visit, my friend ordered a ribeye for one that was not much smaller than the ribeye for two that we had shared.)

One could find no fault with the beef itself, which was perfectly marbled and expertly cooked. We noted that it was grilled, rather than broiled, and did not have the exterior char that many steakhouses provide. It came with a bone on the side filled with gooey marrow. To top it off, we ordered the English Pea and Morel risotto ($22), which was superb.

Aside from the foie gras confusion, service was just fine. The amuse bouche was tasty, although I’ve forgotten what was in it. The bread, which came hot out of the oven, in its own cast-iron pan, was irresistible.

Craftsteak (85 10th Avenue at 15th Street, Far West Chelsea)

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