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Craft


yvonne johnson
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GT was serving New Zealand venison a few weeks back; although I'm not sure if they were using Millbrook or NZ at Craft. With chronic wasting disease (similar to mad cow) in the Midwest, domestic venison is a bit suspect at the moment.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Early in December, during a trip to NYC, I reviewed Craft for my column in the Observer newspaper, in the company of Steven Shaw and his partner Ellen. The review is published this morning and I was going to send Fat Guy the online link, but due to gross incompetence that section of the paper appears not to be online today. So that meant sending him my original raw copy - in which case, i decided, I might as well post it here.

For background, the review is written for a British, very price-conscious readership, who are presumed to know little or nothing about restaurants in New York. The space is tight - just 700 words - which means no reference to the food poisoning I suffered earlier in the day, or the great efforts Steven made to rebook us into Craft after I had first cancelled. Or, in fact, any reference to Steven and Ellen at all. But they were there. Indeed Steven might even post the link to the photograph that was taken that evening of what landed on our table.

Anyway, enough already...

Craft, 43 East 19th Street, New York NY. Tel 001 212 780 0880. Dinner for two incl. wine and service, £140.

There are many cities in the United States where an emphasis on local produce might make a lot of sense. New York isn’t one of them. Have you heard about the verdant market gardens of Manhattan? The great acres of arable farm land between Times Square and Central Park? No, neither have I. And yet there are a fair number of eateries in the city right now who willingly declare themselves followers of the doctrine, most loudly propounded by Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, that menus should be driven by the twin demands of the locality and the seasons.

Craft on East 19th Street, founded two years ago by Tom Colicchio, the famed chef of the nearby Gramercy Tavern, is one of them. In keeping with the doctrine everything about Craft bellows ‘artisan’. The un-linened tables are hefty wooden arts and craft style platforms. The walls are either of bare brick or, on one side, panelled in slabs of over-lapping leather. And then there is the menu which uses a form of English so pared down as to make Hemingway blush. At each course there are simple headings like roasted or braised and then a list of ingredients given the treatment. So under roasted first courses it lists simply quail, sweetbreads, foie gras. With main courses (skate, monkfish, venison etc) you also choose from a very long list of side dishes. Or, as our waiter explained ‘At Craft we invite you to craft your own meal.’

This slogan is, I have to say, the only stupid thing about the place. Like we don’t ‘craft’ our meals at other restaurants. Admittedly, when it first launched two years ago, the menu was much more complicated. It demanded you choose both how you wanted each ingredient cooked and which sauces to go with each dish. New Yorkers, renowned for regarding formulated menus as merely an opening proposition to be reworked according to mood, were completely flummoxed by this outbreak of freedom. So the menu was simplified to its present state.

The result, to use a thoroughly elegant term, is stonking. Indeed, if you detected a certain cynicism in the previous three paragraphs it’s only because I felt the need to balance the dribbling enthusiasm that is to follow. The doctrine of simplicity is genuinely followed through on the plate. The very best ingredients the US has to offer - and they are now very good indeed - are cooked to their very best advantage in as unadorned and ‘unFrench’ a manner as possible. Naturally it will therefore cost you a week’s salary for, in the land of the free, nothing is - especially simplicity. Do without the hotel room to pay for it and sleep rough.

A starter of roasted Nantucket scallops, dinky and caramelised in their shiny copper pan, were the sweetest and simplest I have ever tasted. Raw Yellowfin tuna in three textures - as tartar, diced and sashimi - was acutely fresh. Ditto slices of a white fish called hamachi, marinated in sugar and salt and then left in peace. A main course of sirloin steak, alongside a chunk of melting fibrous shortrib and a piece of the marrow bone, was beef at its best. Organic roast chicken - something usually so much better cooked at home - actually tasted of the bird, had crisp moreish skin and came with a punchy golden gravy.

Then there were the side dishes, king among them a platter of roasted mushrooms - shitake, chantrelles and the exquisitely named hen of the woods looking like choir boys’ ruffles - which had been sautéed to a crispness about their extremities and salted but nothing more. Roasted Jerusalem artichokes were soft and unctuous with a sweet caramelised shell. We finished with impeccable brioche pain perdu accompanied by an outrageous caramel sauce, toffee steamed pudding and top scoops of caramel ice cream and blood orange sorbet. We drank just the one glass of wine between the three of us and the bill came to $300. Oh, stop hyperventilating. I did warn you. Just buy a sleeping bag.

ends

Jay

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For background, the review is written for a British, very price-conscious readership, who are presumed to know little or nothing about restaurants in New York.

Jay, do you mean that the British as a whole are "very price-conscious" or the Observer readership in particular?

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Andy

First question: when I said 'a British, price-conscious readership' I was specifically referring to the Observer. As this review is followed, over the next two weeks, by lunch at Sketch and then Winteringham Field they are going to go ballastic. Believe me, by week three it will have to be a fiver a head or I'll be lynched.

Second question: it eats very well. you take what you want or what those that ordered each dish will allow you to have. THe presentation lies in its arrival on the table rather than your placing on the plate.

Finally, thanks Fat Guy, for posting the pic. Do you never sleep?

Jay

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I sleep unexpectedly.

Note, for anybody who was raising an eyebrow, the scallops in the photo are the big-ass sea scallops and not the bay scallops. The above is a photo of the main courses and sides only. The bay scallops were one of the starters.

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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which means no reference to the food poisoning I suffered earlier in the day due to an ill-advised trip to Ollie's on West 44th the night before

"Dinner for two incl. wine and service, £140." That seems on the low side. I'd have thought more like 200 pounds for 2.

Small point on the food poisoning: I didn't think we could say things like this on the site without documentary, medical evidence that traced the gastric upset back to the source.

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The one thing I will say is Craft's food LOOKS monochromatic, presentation wise. That doesn't make it bad though. Rachel and I thoroughly enjoyed the last meal we had there.

Actually it looks a lot like the spanish meals you get in tapas bars :)

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

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

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Thanks for the review: I ate at Craft in November: there were 10 of us. We actually ended up sharing almost everything ( although I was reluctant to share my exquisite beet salad...and nobody wanted to share my fresh, marinated sardines :biggrin:) The mushrooms were a revelation: I had the roasted chantarelles and the hen of the woods. Unfortunately, they made their way around the table and everyone partook. I also feasted on an excellent porcini risotto. I had decided to skip the meat and was very happy with my choices.

Portions were quite fair, I thought. We had wine. Our bill came to $100 each: that included tip.

My only very mild complaint is that our server was rather aloof and it took longer to feel at ease. Maybe because I'm not from NY, I felt it more?

It was a good meal: and way better than the evening before at Washington Square or whatever that restaurant is called. ( I'm blocking....)

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The only dish I've ever had trouble with there is the potatoes boulangère -- by the time they make it around the table, they are cold, congealed fat. But OH, the mushrooms! and the hamachi! and cardoons! and salsify! and farro! and meats! and and and ... :biggrin:

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The one thing I will say is Craft's food LOOKS monochromatic, presentation wise. That doesn't make it bad though. Rachel and I thoroughly enjoyed the last meal we had there.

Actually it looks a lot like the spanish meals you get in tapas bars :)

How do you mean? What's spanish or tapas-ish about it?

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I had a very monochromatic entree/sides course my first visit to Craft...Skate, Salisify and Parsnip Puree...really made for an ugly plate when I put it all together...I am sure it would fit well under the "Prison Food" topic (or hospital food-[read verrry bland-looking :wacko:]).

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Well I suppose Jay and his editors know better than me about the price consciousness of Observer readers, but I have to say that I would be surprised if loads of them thought $100 per head to be particularly outrageous for a top meal in a top city. The tasting menus in quite a few British restaurants are not dissimilar in price. I would have thought that Observer readers have more disposable income than most to be spent on eating out and the fact that the paper publishes a monthly food magazine would appear to indicate that the interest is there.

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The Craft concept and the tapas concept are certainly brethren in the sense that they operate outside the international mainstream system of organization for a restaurant meal in the Western world. I think tapas restaurants have influenced many of the American chefs who, in the past few years, have tried to escape the commitment to a certain way of eating as expressed in the standard practice of appetizer-entree-dessert, with individually plated entrees that include protein, sauce, and veg. When I've visited the Tasting Room, Craft, Peacock Alley (now defunct), and even Blue Ribbon Bakery, I've noticed this common thread even though the restaurants are all quite different from one another. And I'm glad that there seems to be a bit of a movement in opposition to the traditional menu structure, which is ultimately no longer representative of the way many people want to eat on most days. Then again, people often don't like change.

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 to say that I would be surprised if loads of them thought $100 per head to be particularly outrageous for a top meal in a top city.

The problem is that the ones who have no objection stay silent. But there is a significant element of the readership who object strenously everytime the bill reaches a certain point (god knows what they'll make of next week's review of Sketch). Like the Guardian, the Observer has a left-liberal tradition whcih has always had to it a puritanical edge. recently i described a terrific three course meal in edinburgh, incl wine, that cost £55 for two, as very good value. The next day a letter arrived describing that as obsene because a family of four could live on it for a week. The paper ran it on the letters page. THat is an extreme example but I do get endless flack for it - the sort of flack, to answer an earlier point, that I suspect my colleagues on the Times/Sunday times/ telegraph do not receive. A signifiancant element of these observer readers can not even compute the idea that expensive may also be good value. And therefore it is worth me making reference to the price point in my pieces if only to spike their guns.

Re Plotnicki's post: you congratulate me on my honesty. Is there something shameful about having a British readership which doesn't know much about the New York scene, which requires honesty? I was just being accurate.

Edited by Fat Guy (log)

Jay

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I am printing that photo of FatGuys and I'm going to eat it, it looks so delicious.

Thanks for the write-up, Jay. Having read about Craft here some time ago, it never made my list of must-go places, but I've now revised that opinion. Do you have a view on whether there is a minimum number of people to maximise the enjoyment of this kind of "multi-dish" meal ?

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Jay,

Thanks for this. I haven't been to Craft and I think I'm more interested in trying it now.

A small point, but isn't 'a white fish called hamachi' more simply described as 'yellowtail'?

In the US they seem slightly more keen on adopting foreign words than over here. Like, 'prosciutto' is American for 'raw cured ham', a much more specific meaning than it should have. Whereas many people here would call the same group of hams 'Parma ham', a much less specific meaning than it should have. Um, I'm rambling now.

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Incidentally, Jeffrey Steingarten's new book has this to say on the subject of yellowfin:

Ahi tuna, a name you see printed with pride on most American menus these days, is yellowfin tuna, which the Japanese consider inferior not only to bluefin but also to southern bluefin, bigeye, and albacore, and just ahead of skipjack. 'Ahi is the Hawaiian name for yellowfin. Things Hawaiian have a special cachet in California, which they lack in the rest of the country. California is home of most American tuna canneries, and restaurants there were initially fearful that customers were avoiding the dish listed as 'grilled tuna'. The name ahi was a godsend. On the East Coast, it sounded vaguely Japanese. Boasting of ahi on a menu is like featuring USDA Commercial grade beef at a steak house.

edit: doofus

Edited by Kikujiro (log)
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Yellowtail is not Tuna at all, it is some type of snapper. I have always believed that the term Himachi was reserved for a particular type of Japanese yellowtail, but am not really familiar with the varieties of this fish or its proper nomenclature. It is not found in the North Atlantic, so I have always viewed it as an imported variety and never objected to a foreign name.

I think that Steingarten is going way overboard in criticizing yellofin tuna which is a very fine fish. Although bluefin is superior, it is relatively rare and all of the better specimens are bought on the docks and shipped directly to Japan. Yellofin tune, which is only rarely called ahi tuna in NY markets, is more expensive than and much better than albacore both for sashimi and for cooking.

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Yellowtail is not Tuna at all, it is some type of snapper.

Sorry, the two posts were meant to be referring separately to Jay's use of the word hamachi for yellowtail, and to Craft's name-check serving of yellowfin tuna (on which I am not agreeing with Steingarten so much as asking for comments). But I had yellowtail in my head when I wrote the second post, now corrected :wacko:

Edited by Kikujiro (log)
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