Entries in Tom Colicchio (15)



The unwritten rules that divide success from failure in the restaurant world are counter-intuitive. When Tom Colicchio’s new Riverpark opened in late September, Eater.com noted that it “provides a much needed dining option to the vast number of hospital workers in the wasteland that is the upper 20s around 1st Avenue.”

You’d think that a fine-dining restaurant by one of America’s best-known celebrity chefs, in a neighborhood where it’ll have the market to itself, would be a sure thing. Oddly enough, it usually doesn’t work that way. There’s a reason why nobody else has put a destination restaurant along hospital row. A health care worker in scrubs, after a long shift, isn’t looking for a $14 burger or $55 chicken for two.

Colicchio has doubled down on this location, which also has an outpost of his ’wichcraft sandwich chain, in a gorgeous all-glass building (see photo, right). I suspect it will do quite well; the restaurant is an entirely different matter.

Riverpark is in the brand new Alexandria Center, a biotech tower on East 29th Street past First Avenue, more than half-a-mile from the nearest subway station. To reach the restaurant, you walk past an unmarked gate at 29th & First, up a long unmarked driveway, and finally get to the dining room at the back of a sterile-looking lobby that smells like car dealership. It will get zero walk-in business, because you don’t even know it’s there. Drug reps will need to buy a lot of expense-account meals to fill this place.

It’s not all bad news for Riverpark. At this early date, the food is pretty good. That’s a contrast to Colicchio & Sons across town, where our early meal was a disaster—and many critics (though not the Times) had a similar experience.

The décor is right out of the Craft–Craftsteak handbook, with the addition of unobstructed East River views. It’s a pity that the floor-to-ceiling windows don’t open (as far as we could tell). The terrace just might be the city’s best outdoor dining destination, but first, Riverpark will have to tough out a long winter. Opening now, just as the weather is turning, was clearly not the best timing—even if a construction schedule beyond the restaurant’s control was the reason for it.

Though Riverpark is billed as “A Tom Colicchio Restaurant,” it doesn’t charge Tom Colicchio prices. Except for a few entrées “for two,” all of the mains are $28 or less. There’s also a separate bar menu, with entrées all under $20. That $55 chicken is an anomaly; everything else is quite reasonable, especially given the tariff at Colicchio’s other places.

The staff somewhat arbitrarily calls half the room “the pub,” but there is no noticeable difference between the two spaces, and either menu is served at any table. I think the so-called pub tables, situated closer to the water, are actually more desirable. In an odd design choice, the bar occupies the middle of the room, blocking the view for many of the so-called “dining room” tables, and leaving many of the bar patrons facing the wrong way.

Colicchio has handed over the cooking duties to his deputy, Sisha Ortuzar, who was the corporate chef of ’wichcraft for the last seven years. I wondered how well a sandwich guy would transition to fine dining. Quite well, it turns out.

Squab Mole ($15; above left) doesn’t look that great in the photo, but it’s a very good dish. So is Glazed Pork Belly ($9; above right) with pickled vegetables and jalapeño. The former comes from the dinner menu, the latter from the pub menu, but you would never guess that.

Sea Bass ($25; above left) was nicely done, in a rich seafood sauce, though I could have done without the crostini (shown at the top of the plate), which got a bit soggy. Spaghetti ($24 as an entrée; above right), clearly house-made, was just fine, with calamari, lobster, cockles, tomato, black olives, lemon, and basil.

We weren’t quite ready for dinner to end, so we ordered a Fruit Crisp ($10; right) to share, which was as good as it ought to be.

The restaurant is offering a 20 percent discount for the first two weeks. Even without that, the meal would have been $150 including cocktails and a bottle of wine, which is more than fair for food of this quality. You’d pay at least $50 more at Colicchio & Sons or Craft, with no assurance you’d enjoy it any better.

Our server was attentive, if slightly over-stretched, and there were some inexplicably long gaps between courses. However, that is one of the reasons why opening discounts are offered. I do not hold it against them.

The dining room was fairly empty at 6:30 p.m., but by the time we left, around 8:30, it was around 90 percent full. Keeping it full will be a challenge, as there is no history of fine dining in this neighborhood, and as a destination Riverpark is a very long hike from just about anywhere. On a value basis, this is probably the best of Colicchio’s New York restaurants, but I don’t know how often he’ll lure diners this far east.

Riverpark (450 E. 29th Street, east of First Avenue, Kips Bay)

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


Review Recap: Colicchio & Sons

This morning at 3:00 a.m., Tom Colicchio was spotted dancing nude in the Lincoln Center Plaza fountain.

OK, not quite, but we are sure he was out celebrating into the wee hours after winning an improbable three stars in the Times for his almost universally panned restaurant, Colicchio & Sons.

We don’t feel badly for having widely missed the mark with our one-star prediction. Nobody in town thought the review was going down that way. It is not often that a restaurant gets three stars in the Times when every other critic (and most bloggers) thought it was worth, at best, one.

It’s also not often that a restaurant announces a 30 percent price cut just days before the review comes out. It tells you a lot about the kind of review Colicchio thought he was going to get.

We and Eater both lose $1 on our hypothetical one-dollar bets.

Eater   NYJ
Bankroll $8.00   $20.00
Gain/Loss –1.00   –.00
Total $7.00   $10.00
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 8–10

Life-to-date, New York Journal is 80–35 (69.6%).


Review Preview: Colicchio & Sons

Tomorrow, Sam Sifton reviews Tom Colicchio’s latest and not-so-greatest, Colicchio & Sons. The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows: Goose Egg: 3–1; One Star: 2–1; Two Stars: 20–1; Three Stars: 400–1; Four Stars: 25,000–1.

Tom Colicchio doesn’t need my sympathy, but I am starting to feel sorry for the guy. Today’s pan in Time Out New York is the latest of many, including our own in early February. Actually, I have yet to see a positive review.

This is a place that I am quite sure Colicchio believes is capable of operating at a three-star level. That was clearly his intention when he abruptly jacked up the price to $78 prix fixe about a month ago. He reversed the decision last Friday after just three weeks. I cannot recall any other restaurant where this has happened.

By Friday, Colicchio would have known that the restaurant was going into the Times this week. (I have been in restaurants where the Times photographer was in the house; the photos are normally shot about a week in advance.) He wouldn’t have cut prices if he thought there was any chance at getting the trifecta from Sifton. So we can safely guess that even Colicchio knows that he will not get three stars.

At this point, Colicchio will be relieved to get two stars. We don’t think it’s quite as unlikely as Eater does, but we certainly agree that it’s not the most probable outcome. We also think there are enough hits on the menu here to avoid the dreaded goose-egg, much as Colicchio may deserve it for sheer chutzpah alone.

In short, we agree with Eater that Sam Sifton will aware one star to Colicchio & Sons.


Chef Blinks: Colicchio & Sons Abandons Prix Fixe

After less than a month, Tom Colicchio has abandoned the prix fixe at Colicchio & Sons, returning to the original à la carte format. We called it chutzpah to charge $78 for such a mediocre restaurant, and apparently other customers agreed.

Colicchio is no dummy, so I have to wonder what he’s thinking when he tells the Village Voice:

He also noted that he felt the sticker shock of a prix fixe would be less jarring than the sticker shock of a $30 main dish, which clearly wasn’t the case.

Now that’s just daft. If main dishes are $30 and the prix fixe is $78, it follows that you are charging the customer $48 for the appetizer and the dessert. No wonder people had a problem with that, especially at a restaurant where 12 of the cooks are new:

Are there going to be inconsistencies? Of course.

Uh, huh.


Chutzpah: Colicchio & Sons is now Prix Fixe

Update: After less than a month, citing customer complaints, Colicchio & Sons returned to its original à la carte format.

Starting today, the month-old restaurant Colicchio & Sons has switched from an à la carte menu to a $76 prix fixe. (The casual, no-reservations front room still serves a more rustic ALC menu.) We cannot recall such a switch this early in a restaurant’s life.

The move signals that business has been strong, and that Colicchio now wants to focus on getting a three-star review. Of course, it also means that critics will have their knives out if Colicchio fails to deliver, as every restaurant with a prix fixe that high either has three stars or a fairly damning two-star review.

We were disappointed in Colicchio & Sons. More than that, we felt that conceptually it was a two-star place, even if it had served us a better meal than it did. To give two recent data points: the opening prix fixe at Corton was $77, but Corton has always executed at a far higher level than this place aspires to. The opening prix fixe at Marea was $89, but that was for four courses, and you could still order à la carte.

In short: Tom Colicchio thinks his restaurant belongs in some pretty high company. Now, we’ve no doubt that Colicchio can cook as well as Paul Liebrandt and Michael White. But Liebrandt and White have much nicer restaurants, and they have far fewer distractions. Colicchio has a television show to worry about, and he supervises a much larger restaurant empire than White. Liebrandt, of course, is at Corton full time.

So there’s some chutzpah in switching to a prix fixe while the restaurant is still finding its sea legs. We’ll soon find out how smart that is.

I have to share one funny comment on my unfavorable review of the restaurant. A reader named Joe wrote:

After three weeks you have the audacity to rate this restaurant. Immediate gratification and expectations of premature perfection border on insanity. Give the restaurant a chance to begin to stand on its legs before you cut its legs out from under them. Shame on you!

I mounted three main defenses to the review. First, any restaurant that is open to the public, and is charging full price, is fair game to be praised or criticized. Colicchio isn’t exactly new at this. If he didn’t think he was ready, he shouldn’t be open.

Second, the restaurant’s response to the most damning of its mistakes (an entrée served cold) was unacceptable. There are right ways of handling this, whether you’ve been open one day or ten years.

And finally, I don’t exactly think Colicchio was quivering in his boots because New York Journal had “cut out its legs from under them.” When, just a week later, the restaurant switches to an expensive prix fixe, I would say my point has been proven.


Colicchio & Sons

Note: Colicchio & Sons closed in September 2016 after six years in business. Tom Colicchio did not state his reasons, but he told The Times that “the last couple of years had been difficult for the restaurant.” Oddly, he also said that this was “the first restaurant I actually opened and closed,” having forgotten Craftsteak, the previous restaurant to occupy this space.

We did not think Colicchio & Sons deserved the three stars that Sam Sifton gave it.” To be fair, Tom Colicchio is good at running restaurants, and the place may have improved over time. Either way, Colicchio & Sons had been out of the media conversation for the last several years. It would not surprise me to learn that bookings were down.


I have often said that steakhouses are practically the most fool-proof restaurant concept that there is. Well, practically. Tom Colicchio proved that even a smart guy can botch a steakhouse, when he opened Craftsteak in 2006. Reviews were not good, and Colicchio was charging at least $10 a steak more than the going rate in Manhattan. A steakhouse can get away with those prices, as the BLT franchise has shown, but the steaks have to be great. Craftsteak’s often weren’t.

Late last year, Colicchio closed Craftsteak, and after the briefest of make-overs, re-opened as Colicchio & Sons. The majority of a $400,000 renovation budget was spent on a new wood-burning oven where the Craftsteak raw bar used to be. The format is startlingly similar to Gramercy Tavern, where Colicchio was founding chef. There’s a casual front room, where reservations aren’t taken, and a more expensive formal dining room—although it is not that formal, as anyone who has been to Craftsteak will recall.

The name is a bit of a dodge, as Colicchio’s sons are too young to work in a restaurant kitchen, or indeed anywhere. He has explained in various interviews that the restaurant is an attempt to get back to his culinary roots. Here, he serves composed plates, as he did at Gramercy Tavern, rather than the à la carte family-style dishes of the Craft restaurants.

The food in the dining room is expensive, with appetizers $12–22 and entrées $27–36. (The more rustic “Tap Room” has dishes ranging from $9–23.) That’s less than you would have spent at Craftsteak, but still well above mid-priced. At this tariff, the food needs to be terrific. As so often happens, our appetizers lived up to the hype, but the entrées didn’t.

Our meal began with excellent parker-house rolls served in a cast-iron skillet, a feature wisely held over from the Craftsteak days. White Bean Agnolotti with Chorizo, Pork Belly and Octopus ($19; above left) and Foie Gras Torchon with Persimmon and Walnuts ($22; above right) were just about worth what we paid for them.

Chicken “Pot au Feu” ($34; above left) reads well on the menu, but it was a disaster. We noted that an nearby table had ordered this dish, and it arrived cold. Sure enough, ours did too. The fault seemed to lie with the consommé poured tableside. When we complained, they whisked the plate away, but they just put it under a warmer and brought it back to us, this time with no consommeé added in our presence. After all that, the chicken was still lukewarm, and frankly it would not have been a $34 dish even if it were done perfectly. Padma and Gail would have told Tom to pack up his knives and go.

Roasted Rabbit ($32; above right) was at least done correctly, but I’d say there was a $5–10 “Colicchio premium” in the price. Entrées north of $30 need to rise above the routine that just about any chef or restaurant could do. This isn’t a dish that would win Top Chef.

The wine list features an inventory for high rollers held over from Craftsteak, with plenty of bottles in three and four figures. But the sommelier told us that they have been adding less expensive choices. I found a wonderful Douro at $44, obscure enough that most restaurants wouldn’t even have stocked it.

The service was better than you would expect for a three-week-old restaurant, though we assume that most of the staff was retained from Craftsteak. However, there was an uncomfortably long pause between the appetizers and the entrées.

We assume that Colicchio still fancies himself a three-star chef. For now, at least, Colicchio is in the house most evenings, along with Craft chef de cuisine, Damon Wise, and the former Craftsteak chef de cuisine, Shane McBride. That’s a lot of talent in the kitchen. Now they just need to deliver.

Colicchio & Sons (85 Tenth Avenue at 15th Street, Chelsea)

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

Colicchio & Sons on Urbanspoon



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)



[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.

craft01a.jpg craft01b.jpg
Raw Madai (sea bream), French Mâche & Beet; Ragout of Escargot & Periwinkles

craft02a.jpg craft02b.jpg
Poached Florida Pompano; Crawfish Risotto

craft03a.jpg craft03b.jpg
Roasted Four Story Hill Farm Poussin; Roasted Venison Tenderloin, Parsnip Gratin, Bluefoot Mushrooms

craft04a.jpg craft04b.jpg
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: 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