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Lunch at Craft (43 E 19 St, 780-0880) yesterday. The door isn’t where you think it’ll be, you walk past and the m’d comes out to the street to let you in. Once you’re in, there’s no more confusion. It’s simple, tho’ maybe not as minimalist as I was expecting (more later).

Part of the fun is just sitting in the room that has lots of wood, woody tones, big, big tables that are well spaced out and very comfortable banquettes. The menu is easy to follow. I’d read somewhere that some people find it confusing to choose your own menu from the lists of dishes that you can combine.  Very straightforward, I’d say.

4 oysters and delicious sweetbreads to start. To follow I had halibut that for some would have been overcooked, but I like when the fish takes on a flaky, meaty quality…a few minutes beyond the slimy stage. It was seared on one side only and presumably cooked in oven for rest of time. My husband had quail (in fact 2), juicy and gamey. We shared roasted fingerling pots that came with aioli, roasted cauliflower and sautéed chanterelles.  The waiter in his spiel said that Colicchio aims to let the top quality ingredients speak for themselves. This comes across, but something unexpected was the oily, tad greasiness of the roasted vegs. Being a Scot I’m hardly averse to grease, but the dishes though wonderful is many respects left me a little bit queasy later on. (I’ve no real training in big lunches, so this may’ve had something to do with it.) For dessert we had a light, satisfying almond pound cake with vanilla ice cream.

A bottle of Cabernet Franc (around ึ) was a fine choice. A down note was the espresso that tasted sour.

There was a prix fixe lunch for ำ, but if you order a la carte as we did the meal ends up being very pricey. For example, my fish was ฤ, and the sides were ů per plate.

The service was unhurried, cordial and efficient. I didn’t see any women wait-staff, and I hope they do employ women.

Overall I was very happy and I’d like to give it a go for dinner.

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I'm surprised you say the Cabernet Franc went well with your meal.. as great as they are I always found they taste too much like chevre... kind of an olivey-earthy thing thats hard to match stuff with. But I suppose if your dishes had a lot of olive oil (like your veggies) that might offset it. Unusual to eat fish and fowl with it too I think.

Call me traditional and set in my ways but I would have picked a white...

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Quote: from Jason Perlow on 5:14 pm on Nov. 3, 2001

Call me traditional and set in my ways but I would have picked a white...

what kind of white would you have picked to go with a gamey quail, mushrooms, and halibut?  seems the earthiness would be a good match to me, IMHO of course.

and where was the cab franc from?  stylistically, those from CA, NY, and Loire can differ quite a bit.

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Quote: from yvonne johnson on 11:04 am on Nov. 5, 2001

Tommy, Loire valley. And with its dryness and earthy tones (but I wouldn't have said it had great legs, about right for lunch) it went very well with all the dishes, I thought.

"great legs" are most often a sign of high residual sugar, which isn't my cup of tea.  loire produces some of my favorite wines for food, and for every day quaffing.  

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  • 1 month later...

I went to Craft last night for the first time with my father.  I will confess to being a big fan of Craft's older sibling, GT, both for the quality of food (the stellar desserts in particular) and for the exceptional service, which in my experience has truly been about the food and not simply creating an elegant dining experience. Rare.

In this tradition, Craft is also very much about food, albeit food minimalism.  The message of let's take the best, freshest ingredients and serve them without a lot of hype, in the simplest and more pared back manner is a risk, a gesture of enormous confidence that whoever is in the kitchen will offer jaded New York mouths something they have never quite experienced before: Essentialism in an city of hype.  It's a very intellectual gesture of "let's deconstruct food" to its bare bones.  And intellectual food can be interesting because it is challenging or fascinating and even on occasion flawed (Tabla, Union Pacific muck up but they also take big risks and hit great heights).  The problem with intellectual food is that it can lack soul.  I found Craft both soulless and not at all challenging.  Everything from the food to the wine to the dessert was ultimately very cautious.  The enormity of menu choices is interesting.  But the choices are among dishes which are ultimately puritanical.  Everything comes as it is minimally portrayed on the menu, and, with exception of some wonderful mushrooms, tasted as it sounded.  Each dish was utterly unmoving and un-revelatory.  This was a meal in which nothing went wrong.  There was no room for anything to go wrong-the kitchen is too good, the service was excellent.  The kitchen almost tells you with each dish how someone who is learning to eat should taste, a strange almost didactic conservatism.  Each dish is a boring lecture. But there is no wonder and no "ummm."

My father and I split everything.  Started with cured sardines, a terrine, and Nantucket bay scallops.  We split some swiss chard, shitake mushrooms and roasted veal as a main course and finished with two OK desserts.  Everything good, simple, essential, everything a yawn.   Look I have nothing against minimally prepared food.  The best meals of my life have been Japanese kaiseki affairs where each dish arrived often fewer than 3 ingredients. In fact I prefer to eat this way.  But soulless is the word I keep coming back to.  No passion, no yumminess.  Craft is safe, but ultimately boring.

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The mushrooms were perfect, grilled in just the right amount of oil and imparted just the correct amount of saltiness to bring out their wonderful texture and flavors.

The terrine, particularly, after several terrines sampled in Paris this summer was utterly dull.

The scallops were very competent, but also unremarkable.

The veal was good, but to my mind not sufficiently salted to bring the flavors of the meat to life in anyway.

With the exception of the mushrooms, everything felt like it was from routine, as if the cooks were scared.  As I said, nothing was flawed.  But in each dish, I walked away with the sense that the preparer was not willing to take the risk to add more salt, to add that something, that little bit more of whatever was required to make competence into excellence, and the reason it seemed to me was a consistent lack of risk taking, a fear that by adding something  more (garlic in the swiss chard case, salt with the meat) the person would risk taking the dish over the edge. But they never went up to the edge that would have made that dish perfect.  I sensed very strongly that something was held back in every dish from some fear of excess. Consequently the food fell short of its potential.  

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Okay, that's a fair critique. I think it's important to divide any discussion of Craft into two elements: 1) The concept of the restaurant, and 2) The execution of that concept. I get the feeling you're talking mostly about number 2. If every dish was as good as your mushrooms, you'd accept number 1, right? Or are you saying the concept itself is flawed, no matter how well it is executed? That would be a totally different discussion.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I have no qualms with the idea behind the restuarant, which by itself I see as daring and praiseworthy.  I adore minimally prepared seasonal foods, particularly in excellent Japanese hands.  It was the wimpiness of excecution that perturbed me.  Had 2 of the other dishes been in the same league as the mushrooms, I would not be offering up the same critique.

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I have been to Craft twice. Once for lunch and once for dinner. It was better for lunch. I like the place but found it a bit confounding. Some days I have the energy and desire to plan a meal out of lots of little dishes and some days I just want to eat. Craft is not a place to dine if you just want to eat.

The most typical complaint I've heard about Craft is that you are still hungry when you leave. That's because even though you get lots of little things to eat, I don't think you get a single satisfying portion of anything.

The other problem I have is with their strategy of serving perfect ingredients perfectly prepared. Well in my experience you get perfect ingredients 50% of the time if you are lucky. So when I had roasted soft shell crabs for lunch they were perfect. But my leg of lamb for dinner was tough.

I think that Mao's criticism of the kitchen acting tentative goes to the second point, They aren't really tentative. They are trying to coax the maximum flavor from the food. When the ingredients are up to snuff, they practice a well needed very subtle art (or craft if you like.) But treating less than tender lamb that way sort of makes the whole experience a little precious.

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This is such a great thread because it speaks to Colicchio's point that at CRAFT there is nowhere to hide.

But that becomes courage for courages' sake and does not a succesful restaurant make.

It also points out that save for the mushrooms, the 'craft' of it failed this time. So the concept and execution are linked in a way.

I love CRAFT for the same reason Steve Plotnicki resists it. It is the 1st place I think of when I 'just want to eat' As opposed to reading a menu and seeing what comes with what and so on,  I can scan the CRAFT sheet and put together my favorites in a minute. It also allows for a speedy raw fish and arugula lunch,  or a sweetbreads and slow braised beef dinner.

The original post from MAO speaks to a lack of soul and execution, both things I have found Colicchio has in spades. I am one of these letter writing personalities and would encourage MAO, or anyone else for that matter, to send this type of communication to him. Then wait for a reply. You'll know soon enough if there is soul and passion at CRAFT.

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My own experiences at Craft have been a bit more consistent, but I have heard a number of comments along the lines of Mao/Plotnicki. I discount most such comments because most people don't know how any particular ingredient is supposed to taste, so I can't rely on their judgment when they say something wasn't good. But clearly some knowledgeable people -- such as those here -- are also hitting some lame ingredients. This is not a good thing at a restaurant that practices back-to-basics, ingredients-intensive cooking. Not that I've experienced any problems. So far just about every ingredient I've had at Craft has been as good or better than I've had it anywhere else in New York. In many cases I've had better in Europe, but not here.

As for the preparations being timid, such as through insufficient salt, I don't know. I've always found Colicchio's line to be very good with salt. But mistakes can happen, and when you're serving whole roasted pieces of stuff there's less opportunity for the cook to taste and adjust. Still, it's very hard to get a consensus on the right amount of salt. For people accustomed to dining in France, everything in high-end American restaurants tastes undersalted.

It's hard to reconcile the desire for purity with the desire to push the limits of the techniques used to prepare the food. That's why, when people critique factor #2, above, I often suspect they're actually talking about factor #1, albeit unintentionally. Does that make sense?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Incidentally, one of the reasons I haven't been to Craft is that I know my Beloved wouldn't like it (she's from the cook-veg-until-it-dies school), and I had got the impression that it's a bad option for a solo diner because you should order a whole lot of dishes to try.

Any second opinions on the latter?  Should I go alone or wait until I can make up a party?  Is it a good place to dine at the bar?

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861728 - Gee let's tell the truth here. There isn't anything that they offer at Craft that they won't do for you at Le Cirque if you ask them to. At Le Cirque, they will make you any meat, fish, fowl they have in the house in any style you want. Same with vegetables. It's just that their menu isn't written in a manner to prod you into doing that and Craft's menu is.  If the Le Cirque menu deconstructed the meal and made you think your way through it a certain way, voila, you would have Craft.

I think if you took the menu gimmick away from Craft all you're left with is the same roast lamb they have elsewhere.  And to be really honest about it, whatever I ate at Craft was not really different than the food I can get in dozens of places that use top quality ingredients.

Of course none of this doesn't mean it isn't delicious. But I personally award points for creativity and I tend to shy away from places that offer food that is similar to what I can cook at home. So on the vast majority of days, I would much rather eat at GT than Craft.  

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I have some sympathy with Mao's and Steve's (Plotnicki's) views. I'd go even further and say Gramercy Tavern suffers from the same understatement, but it seems I'm in a very small camp.

I had lunch at Craft last month and some of the dishes (sweetbreads, mushrooms, oysters and quail) were excellent. Others (potatoes, cauliflower) were OK, and the coffee was poor. And Fat Guy, I know what really good, fresh

potatoes & cauliflower should taste like :). The above said, I'd like to return and give it another try.

Wilfrid: Solo dining at Craft for lunch would be fine, I think. You don't need to order tons of dishes to enjoy the place. Oysters, salad, sweetbreads, and a vegetable maybe.

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It's interesting that, among this group of sophisticated and experienced diners, Craft is recognized for what it is. Not that I accept Plotnicki's characterization, but I think we all understand that Craft is if anything a retro gesture, back to the day (Colicchio cites Delmonico's as an example) when everything at a restaurant was a la carte. It's amusing to note that the food media has mostly missed this point, and collectively seem to think that Craft is something radical. If it is radical, it is only in following the traditional formula in a post-modern setting -- if that makes sense.

We're not idiots here, and we know how to judge ingredients pretty well, but I assure you if you think Craft is just getting the same stuff that all the top places are getting, you're wrong. I interview suppliers and chefs and everybody else in the food world all the time, and I have particularly good lines of communication with Colicchio, who would be the last person to say his stuff is better than it is. I am very much convinced that the worst ingredient in the house at Craft is on par with what all the other top restaurants are getting, and that many of the ingredients are available only at Craft and perhaps Ducasse. Partly it's a money issue. Craft's food costs are very high, as are its prices when you consider that you're getting very little in the way of garnishes (usually, none). Most restaurants even at the four star level aren't buying that way. Colicchio has also built the restaurant on his relationships with specific purveyors, many of who agreed to be partners of sorts in the venture by reserving a higher level of artisan product for him. It's a touchy business: Every restaurant wants to say it has the best, and if a supplier admits it publicly he's dead meat, but I've got a notebook full of off-the-record comments from suppliers that would support the statement that Le Bernardin gets the best fish on the whole of any of the Western restaurants in town, that Ducasse gets nine or ten major ingredients at a level that nobody else can touch, and that Craft gets the best of everything across the board with the possible exception of Bernardin's breadth of fish and a few of the Ducasse items.

I've learned a lot from dining in Colicchio's restaurants. Sometimes I've gone in with a certain expectation of an ingredient or technique, and I've had a negative first impression of a dish. After repeated samplings, however, I've often come around to thinking that it was my culinary education, and not the food, that was defective. I have redefined my ideal steak, for example, based on eating steak prepared by Colicchio's kitchen. I don't agree with him all the time. It's interesting that lamb came up here, because I've never seen eye to eye with him about lamb, and I've liked very few of the lamb preparations he's made over the years. Some, I've liked. But not most.

I'm sure that Craft messes up. I'm also sure that on any given day an ingredient may not be at its best. But I do want to deny vigorously any suggestion that Craft is somehow a sham restaurant serving the same stuff you get at the other three- and four-star places. And for that reason I also disagree that it is the same as Le Cirque. There is nobody at Le Cirque with a similar commitment to ingredients. Le Cirque and its ilk will have the same items available every day of the year, whether they're good or not. There are some seasonal concessions, but that's not what it's about. Craft is highly seasonal, local, with an emphasis on organic and artisanal, small producers, etc.

I'll also reiterate the earlier suggestion. If you dined at Craft and you found fault, write to the chef. Give him a chance to explain himself, defend himself, make it up to you, or tell you to go to ####. Whatever response you receive, it will at a bare minimum be interesting.

Okay, I'm done defending Tom Colicchio. If he wants to post here, he can. He knows how to read and write as well as any of us.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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As a UK resident who has not yet had the opportunity to eat at GT or Craft, I would like to add my comments to this thread, but feel free to ignore them as uninformed.

When I read about Craft (and indeed Ducasse's Spoon concept) I was reminded of the awful Mongolian Brasseries we have here in Britian. The concept there is that you queue up and select various vegetables and seasonings to acccompany some chopped or sliced meat which is cooked on a vast hotplate by a "chef" who you also have to queue up for.

This appeals to the British who traditionaly love to queue, and apparently offers choice to the customer along with unlimited guaranteed freshly cooked food. The reality is that you wait around forever for meager platefuls that all taste the same no matter what you ingredients, sauces and condiments you select. You give up after a couple of tries and end up hungry at the end of the evening.

Now, I'm not for one second proposing that Craft is the US equivilent of a Mongolian Brasserie. I understand that Craft is a serious endevour and that MGs are a vile low brow rip off. But the similarity, it occcurs to me, is that they are concept driven.

They are both attempting to provide a restaurant experience out of the norm. MG does it  because most British are afraid of the genuine article, Craft because New Yorkers want a change from it.

I have Colicchio's book and the food is fantastic. I would love to try GT, but I'm afraid wild horses wouldn't drag me to Craft.

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I like those Mongolian places. They're big on the West Coast. I wish we had more of them here in New York. There used to be one in Stamford, CT, but I'm not sure if it's still around. I'll have to check. Also, I won't go to one where they charge by weight -- I'll only accept the one-price formula. So that rules out all the ones I've seen in New York.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I inevitably will go to Craft again, because between Grimes and Fat Guy's fawning and a family friend who works in the kitchen, I must go.  There is a sufficiently strong wind blowing against my one experience, that it's possible to write it off as a fluke.  I also admit to liking the concept of exposing an ingredient in its full purity and freshness.  Having had summers of lobster in Maine and good stretches in Maryland eating crab, I honestly have a hard time ordering either in NYC when they are subject to minimalist preparation for fear of mediocrity.  When you "KNOW" what something does taste like in its essence and with no fuss, it obviously a) does give you a strong grounding/knowledge base for what certain things "should" taste like pared down, but b) that knowledge base enables you to appreciate when those basic ingredients are layered into dishes that have greater complexity.  In this case, I would say that I "know" what lobster and Maryland crab taste like at their best.  There are many things on the menu at Craft that I will admit to not knowing what they should taste like at their pared down best.  I think Craft is admirable for offering the possibility of obtaining that knowledge.  Steven mentions that his view of the way several dishes should taste was altered by the challenge of Craft's kitchen. In a sense, he was educated by the kitchen. I have had that experience multiple times this year in Japanese kitchens with uni, blowfish, toro, salmon roe and smoked salmon, among other things. Learning what the best is can be a revelation, and one of the joys of eating.  I honestly would like to have the same experience at Craft, though perhaps a trip with more people permitting more samplings will make that possible.  

Still, call me a ignoramus, but the one thing that any good restaurant should have is "yumminess" in the dishes they serve up (something I experienced in spades last night at Babbo with the pasta and wine tasting menu), but that "yumminess" was something that (apart from the mushrooms) I did not encounter at Craft.  I believe that at some level we react to food at a very visceral level.  Strip out the décor and the service and in a blank room put someone who knows very little to nothing about food  but with a broad palette, put a dish in front of them and if they start making "yum" and "yummy" noises, you have good food.   Really appreciating good food does benefit from deep knowledge, but there is a part to any eating experience that is very primeval and not intellectual.  It was at this level that I found Craft disappointing.  Insufficient yumminess.  I would like to hear the counterargument to what I stated above: namely that eating and appreciating good food is not possible without deep knowledge.  Remember I am simply saying that for me A PART, and a very important part (though not the whole thing) of any food experience, is very intuitive and visceral-the way your senses and your body react to the food with pleasure.  Good food for me is pleasure generating at a physical and sensual level, in addition to being an intellectual experience.  It was this pleasure generating aspect that I found Craft lacked.  

As for Mongolian food, having eaten a few times in Chinese Mongolia, I would recommend not persisting under the delusion that there is a whole lot of freshness in Mongolian restaurants almost anywhere.

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I get the feeling I'd much rather eat fake Mongolian food here than real Mongolian food in Mongolia. I'm not a big fan of any meal composed of 100% bovine products, and I prefer cuisines with vegetables. Mongolian here has come to mean build-your-own-stirfry, and I've got no problem with that.

I think there are some foods to which we react positively based on inherent qualities of lusciousness, or other basic texture and flavor concepts. And then there are foods that are more of a challenge. Complex can be challenging because it requires us to sort out and differentiate a lot of sensory data. It is not for beginners. Simplicity as well can be a challenge, especially in a culture of oversensitized and confused palates. Subtle flavors can take some getting used to in that context.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Steve Shaw - Our disparate viewpoints about both Ducasse and Craft need to be sumarized so we stop meeting like this :~). I have to point out what I believe is a difference in the way we analysis both of those places. The best way I can explain it is as follows.

I have a friend who is an importer of French wines. He has a remarkebly good nose and palate. So good, that he can smell and taste a wine and identify within a reasonable number of meters the exact parcel of land the grapes come from. And while that is an exceptional talent for someone in the trade, it is of little use to consumers. In fact, I have been with him where we have poured what any other person who is expert in wine would call great only to have him pick out a flaw and announce he doesn't like it.

And I can cite similar examples to my own business which has been the music industry for the past 20 years.

I can't tell you how many concerts I've been to where everyone else loved it and I am stuck on the few wrong notes that were played. Of course, the opposite is true as well and there are examples where my importer friend loves something because it's a perfect expression of  some terroir, or I love a concert because someone took a solo that reharmonized a passage in a way that didn't seem humanly possible only to have normal human beings dislike it.

So regardless of their discipline, I have come to look at what we all call a chefs chef, or a musician's musician, or  a winemaker's winemaker in a different light. And while I still take notice of all the technical vituosity someone might display, I have concluded that what is most important is what Macrosan calls the "yumminess factor" or was it Mao who said that.

It is this issue that always makes me be critical of places like Gotham, Union Square Cafe, GT, Craft and others of that ilk. Not that I think they are bad places. They are very good places, even excellent at times. But what I usually want when I go out to eat is innovation, chances, risks. I want Douglas Rodriguez's Sugar Cane Tuna in Mojo much more than I want the Filet Mignon of Tuna at USqC or tuna in any style from Craft. And that goes even if those places get better tuna than Patria did because the difference in quality is incremental and not enough to sway me into liking plain tuna better than a version that is souped up thorugh innovation.

So I feel the same way if you tell me that Craft gets better quality Dover Sole than Le Cirque does. The difference in quality isn't enough to make my meal at Craft better. So I guess I've said that there is more to cooking than simply ingredients and technique. There is soul. Craft, seems lacking in that department. And it isn't surprising since the emphasis is on the craft of how one puts a meal together. This might sound silly but he could have called the restaurant "Flavor."

Now I'm not going to  say that one approach is better than the other. But if you are from the school that wants innovation when they go out to eat, it is too easy to go to a place like Craft or GT and shrug and say what's the big deal about?

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As I said in a different context in another thread, this is what I love about eGullet --- the totally different expert perspectives, all with equal validity. This is what makes food such a joyous experience, that there is not necessarily right or wrong, better or worse; there is just debate and difference and pleasure in both.

It was not I who referred to "yumminess" but I rather wish I had :)

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