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Eating New York


tetsujustin
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Tetsujustin,

I love what you're doing and I believe you're doing a fine job. Please don't do away with the ratings. Critiques have to be criticized. I did notice that you give a pretty good amount of detail to each aspect of the dining experience. Maybe, you would like to rate each aspect of the meal (ie. food, then service, then decor)? Just a suggestion; but I think the reviews are great and they are appreciated.

"Shut up and cook." - Former Chef Instructor '93

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Craft

As the second helping of Tom Colicchio’s cuisine in my adventures into NYC, I was really excited about dining at Craft after the wonderful time I had at Gramercy Tavern. Craft is an extreme a la carte restaurant, breaking down dishes by preparation, with choices on the first course, main courses, and side dishes, and though I understood this, I hoped that it would be just as satisfactory of an experience as the composed plates at Gramercy. What I liked most about Gramercy Tavern was just the “down to earth” feeling that it gave. It was good, honest cooking, with great service and a nice setting. I hoped that Craft would deliver more of the same.

The room at Craft looks a lot more contemporary than Gramercy Tavern, as there was a large curve of a wall that had what looked to be large panels of leather. Edison light bulbs hung low in rows over the area. I really liked the look of the restaurant. It was like... almost an updated version of Gramercy Tavern, with less wood tones and frills and more space and simplicity. I think out of all the places that I’ve been to, I liked how this room looked the best. It was very chic; I can see how beautiful see-and-be-seen people would love to fill up a room like this.

As we were trying to figure out how to split up the ordering, we were first presented with bread and an amuse of a scallion flan. The wheat-grain bread was very noticeably burnt, though at first I just figured it was an extra-dark crust and bit into it, but alas it tasted burnt. I sorta wondered how something like this snuck under the kitchen’s nose. However, the amuse was really, very good. It seemed to be well though out, which I’ve noticed had been lacking in many restaurants. It was creamy in texture, yet had the distinct taste of scallions... and also a hint of cheesiness, but from where, I had no idea. A great start to a meal in which I was highly anticipating.

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At this point we’d realized that nothing on the first course section really was calling to us... I wasn’t in the mood for foie, and though I thought the octopus terrine would have been interesting, I knew that the people that we’d brought weren’t the adventurous type and decided to skip over it. So, we all ordered an entrée and a side or two. There were roasts of beef that I wavered on getting but passed on. I sorta regretted it later as I saw it coming out with a side of marrow butter, it looked wonderful. I think it was the porterhouse, but I’m not sure. If anyone’s gotten it and would like to tell me if it’s worth a return trip, please do tell.

The food was all brought out at the same time and I apologize for the blurry and horrible pictures this week and slight descriptions. I didn’t want the food to get cold since I refused to let them touch the food till I got pictures of it all so I was in a hurry. Since everything wasn’t coursed either, I didn’t take notes at all until after I’d finished my first helping so some of it may be lost in time.

The braise was the star of the night, as I expected. My friend who was with us that had been to Craft before boasted that it made it feel like “your teeth were melting,” and the braised short ribs were just that. They packed a heft of rustic flavor and served with thumbalina carrots, purple pearl onions, and sprigs of thyme and rosemary. It was gone before we knew it.

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Another one of the entrees that we got was the roasted quail, which was very good. It didn’t have the gaminess that some quail preparations have, and I was happy to find that they’d boned it completely except for the leg, as I think is the only way to do it because a lot of meat gets lost in frustration of trying to eat quail at times. The meat was tender and slightly juicy, and a great example of how quail should taste.

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We got the entrée portion of sweetbreads, which though it may not be at fault of the kitchen, disappointing. My friend who had come the time before was highly touting the sweetbreads, but these were only... ok. It was coated in chestnut flour and pan roasted and served with a sherry sauce and sherried potatoes. For some reason however, it tasted a little bit like Thanksgiving turkey. They had changed the preparation of this from before and he said that these sweetbreads were nowhere nearly good as the ones he had before. To their defense, they weren’t bad, but they weren’t the best example of sweetbreads I’ve ever tasted. The thing I love about pan roasted sweetbreads is that the gland becomes very soft and yields a lot to the bite, while there’s a nice crunch of a crust. I was hoping for a better crust, but still, I wasn’t too disappointed, even if my friend was.

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The last entrée we had was the Nantucket Bay scallops, which were good but not really out of this world. I think they could have done a little bit more, maybe a sauce or something with the scallops. Though they were nice and sweet/salty, the flavor overall tended to be a little flat. Maybe I was spoiled by the scallops that I had at WD-50, which was great with the beet yogurt, or maybe I just don’t really love the setup of Craft... but I think there could have been something else done with this to make it taste even better.

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A couple of the side dishes we had included the roasted hen of the woods mushrooms (left) and the puree of sweet potato(center). I wasn’t too high on the sweet potato as it just came out too thin in texture and too sweet in taste for me, though the rest of the table loved it. The roasted hen of the woods, though were fabulous. They were done enough so that the tops were crisp, but as you bit into the base of the mushroom, you’d get a great rush of mushroom juice coming out into your mouth plus the nice browned flavor. This really went well with the braised short ribs.

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We also had a side of roasted cippolini onions that were nice and sweet and well browned on the outside. This was good paired with the sweetbreads.

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The only greens that we had that I insisted on ordering were the roasted Brussels sprouts, which were disappointing. I thought of them to be completely overdone to the point that they hardly had any resistance when I bit into it, and though I thought anything tossed in bacon bits and bacon fat could taste good, these didn’t pass the bar for me. They just basically turned into mush when I put them in my mouth and that's really not what I was expecting.

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For the potato dishes we first got a potato gratin which was okay, though I prefer it to have less liquid than it had after it had been baked. It was still good and had a good, cheesy flavor to it.

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We also had an order of gnocchi, which I found to be marvelous on my first helping. It had been finished with a sprinkling of parmesan, and it was really light and velvety in texture and very well salted. However, my thoughts on it are a bit uneven, as I went back for a second helping it just completely lost its flavor. A little bit more on this later.

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As we finished the savory portion of our dinner, we were presented with a dessert amuse of a panna cotta... with passion fruit gelee. Problem is, I forgot what kind of panna it was, though I do remember it was very good, but mostly because I’m a sucker for passion fruit and this had more passion fruit flavor than the actual flavor of the panna cotta.

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I found it interesting that the dessert menu could be set up the same way as the regular menu, though I was glad to see that there was a section in which they had already set up a few combinations up for you.

One of the desserts that we got was the pre-set combination of the Brioche Pain Perdu, roasted bananas, and accompanied by both caramel and chocolate sauces and caramel ice cream. This was a wonderful dessert with what was almost a banana’s fosters sauce, mixed with the warm chocolate and caramel and the warm, soft brioche with cold caramel ice cream. It’s just really a simple dessert and the flavors aren’t the most thought out, but there’s something to be said for just good flavors and that really don’t need to be messed with or dressed up, and this is a great example of it.

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We also got a steamed toffee pudding, which was my favorite dessert. It was almost like a caramel bread pudding, with a nice, dense, but cakey texture, but a great simple, toffee flavor and slivers of dried figs on the side.

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The last of our desserts was the sample of sorbets and ice creams, and the list was a large, extensive one. We settled on passion fruit, pomegranate, blood orange, and lemon ginger sorbets, and also cavaldos spice and coffee ice cream. The only one that was a downer was the coffee ice cream as it still had whole coffee beans and coffee grounds in it, which I wasn’t really agreeable to. However, the cavaldos spice, which is an apple liqueur, was an interesting flavor, something that I took a chance on and was really pleased with. The passion fruit, and blood orange were great choices as well and were nice and refreshing.

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The food of Craft had its ups and downs, I was disappointed with a couple of the dishes like the Brussels sprouts, the pureed sweet potatoes, and the Nantucket Bay scallops, as they had been highly recommended, but a few of the dishes really made up for any of the bad dishes we had. The braised short ribs, roasted hen of the woods mushrooms, and all of the desserts were outstanding. There were some sides, too that were really went together with a few of the entrees like the case of the cipollinis and the sweetbreads, the mushrooms and the short ribs, and the gratin and the short ribs.

One comment and suggestion that I made to the staff, however, was that though I understand the a la carte concept of Craft, and that it’s meant for customers to mix and match with the food, play with it as you will, it would have been a better idea to course out the savory courses. I believe that at some point the kitchen should intervene, especially if the customer decides to skip over the first course as we did, and really put together flavors that are tried and true. The problem I had with the fact that everything came out together was that it had what I called the “Thanksgiving effect.” We all piled our plates and passed the plates around. After trying and taking a bite of everything, your palate just gets overworked and everything starts to taste the same. If the meal were coursed out than this could have been prevented. Also, after I had tried everything and finished my plate, I went back for seconds of everything and by then, everything had gotten cold. Tastes and textures really suffer over time as was the case of the gnocchi, which had lost its taste, and the sweetbreads, which had lost its crunch. I think this could have been prevented, again, if everything were coursed out.

The service was nice but not outstanding. Though it will never stick out in my mind, it was serviceable, and that’s all I ask. I left Craft slightly disappointed only because I didn’t have as good of a time there as I did at Gramercy, but I think, after to talking to chefs at the school and through all the comments on the board that Gramercy is just a tough act to follow. I agree with Zeitoun from his comment long ago, though I don’t mind this style of eating, I know now that I just prefer composed plates rather than a la carte menus. The food was good here, some of it what ever outstanding, I just would like the “professional opinion” on what should go with what, how to bring out flavors of the entire dish. It also helps with the presentation of the food.

I had a nice night at Craft, but I think I’d more readily go back to Gramercy or even go try out Craftbar as someone suggested than to come back here. If I have a chance after my list is done, though, sure I’d come back.

Out of 10? A 6. Some great food, some not so great food. Cool room, decent service. Maybe I just am not the biggest fan of this style of eating?

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That was the most complete review of Craft I have ever read. Craft has been very high on my list of restaurants to visit, but perhaps is less so now. Your criticism was very well thought out and explained and certainly plausible. I also prefer the flow of courses and the ability to taste dishes individually and in a more focused way. How did the prices compare to the other restaurants? My sense is that I would be less opposed to this style of dining if the prices reflected the different approach.

I also like the ratings, although I am surprised given your criteria that you rated Craft as close as you did to Le Bernardin.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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[...]The braise was the star of the night, as I expected. My friend who was with us that had been to Craft before boasted that it made it feel like “your teeth were melting,”[...]

Sounds painful! :shock::laugh:

Seriously, thanks a lot for your post! I look forward to the next one. Do you know what's next on your list yet?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Your concerns regarding courses piled on top of each other and people chosing their own items was a large concern when Craft first opened. It was written about in the Times at that point and was actually addressed by Craft. It's different now than it was then.

The whole thing with this restaurant is for you to decide what you are going to eat when. You could have asked for certain things to be brought out at different points as to not have that many entrees on the table at the same time.

My wife and I actually got the tasting menu there. And most people think we are nuts for doing so because the menu is your own tasting menu waiting to happen. Although I forget the number of courses served, they send out a protein and 2 sides, which I felt were "paired" by the kitchen. It was fantastic and one of the best meals I've had.

Also, regarding the brussel sprouts arriving with virtually no texture, I believe this was done intentionally. Where I work, we follow French technique. Which many times will cook vegetables very tender, and it's sometimes a difficult format to get used to since we today are mostly used to eating vegetables with crunch. I personally find them to be more appetizing with a bit of texture to them, but my bosses don't agree. And it's their preference not mine...

Again, keep these coming. I haven't been able to get out much in these days due to lack of time, and more importantly lack of funds (we all know how great cook's salaries can be).

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Your concerns regarding courses piled on top of each other and people chosing their own items was a large concern when Craft first opened.  It was written about in the Times at that point and was actually addressed by Craft.  It's different now than it was then. 

The whole thing with this restaurant is for you to decide what you are going to eat when.  You could have asked for certain things to be brought out at different points as to not have that many entrees on the table at the same time.

My wife and I actually got the tasting menu there.  And most people think we are nuts for doing so because the menu is your own tasting menu waiting to happen.  Although I forget the number of courses served, they send out a protein and 2 sides, which I felt were "paired" by the kitchen.  It was fantastic and one of the best meals I've had.

Also, regarding the brussel sprouts arriving with virtually no texture, I believe this was done intentionally.  Where I work, we follow French technique.  Which many times will cook vegetables very tender, and it's sometimes a difficult format to get used to since we today are mostly used to eating vegetables with crunch.  I personally find them to be more appetizing with a bit of texture to them, but my bosses don't agree.  And it's their preference not mine...

Again, keep these coming.  I haven't been able to get out much in these days due to lack of time, and more importantly lack of funds (we all know how great cook's salaries can be).

I was actually hoping to do the tasting menu, but my friend said that there were just some dishes that we HAD to try, and we didn't want to mess with their menu, so that's why we stuck with just ordering straight off the menu.

As for the Brussels sprouts, I was taught here at school and at a kitchen I used to work out to leave the al dente texture but to cook it until most of the bitter texture left the sprout. I should check good ol Auguste's book to see if that's just the way that he cooked it, but I don't think Chef Colicchio practices classic French food... or French food at all. They were pretty caramelized also though, so who knows.

If I ever go back, I will request that my food be coursed out for me, but you've also got to wonder if maybe the waiters should be trained to ask if they want things coming out at the same time and then explaining why, just to give the customers the option. I didn't even think about the food getting cold or my palate being overworked till it was too late.

Dosconz, Soba was right when he said that the four-star restaurants should be rated on their own scale. It's just hard to fit things in there. My thinking was, I didn't hate WD-50, but I didn't think it was absolutely wonderful, so it got a 5. I loved Gramercy, but it wasn't on-the-dot-everything-was-perfect, so I gave it an 8 I really enjoyed the food and my night at Le Bernardin, but money aside, I enjoyed my night at Gramercy better so I gave it a 7. I gave Craft a 6 because it was better than average but I had a better time at Le Bernardin. I would hate to be a four-star-system reviewer... you have so little room for judgement, but you know, there's debate about ADNY/Per Se 4-star and Le B/Daniel/Jean-G's 4-star too. Some could argue that the earlier two should get a 5th star... but then where would Masa be? Haha. (sorry, that's another thread.) It's hard to justify rating sometimes, but you know what? If I feel that a place gave me better service than I was expecting, and out of this world food in a great setting and I had a wonderful, spectacular night, I just might give it a 10. And it won't even have to be one of the four-star restaurants.

Also, the prices were actually very reasonable. First courses were from 10 up to around 26 (for the foie) Main courses ranged mostly around the 28's to high 30's with the topper being the 95 dollar porterhouse. Sides stayed around the 10-15 range, and though the portions looked small when they first came out, they were sufficient for the four of us. I ended up spending around 75 a head including tax and tip. Pretty good, I would say, for casual fine dining.

Pan, I have a reservation for Balthazar this upcoming Saturday, but I'm not sure if I'm going because my friend may or may not go with me. If not, I may look into eating at Cru or Jewel Bako. I'll be posting it as soon as I figure it out. It would be interesting to go to Balthazar just because it's *really* unlike any place I've been to yet.

Edited by tetsujustin (log)
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This time I think you may have missed out not getting the tasting menu, even though most people enjoy making their own. I've only been once, but I would really like to go back and get the tasting again. Although I think this place benefits from the seasons and would like to go in the summer months when I prefer the available produce.

Where I work, we don't really "practice" classical French cooking, just certain techniques like tender veg. I've come across many chefs who do this. Most recently at Cafe Gray.

I'm with you though, I'd prefer a little bite. Not necessarily raw, but crisp tender.

This eating "tour" you are doing is almost more valuable than some of the school education you are receiving. You are very lucky and your parents are quite wise to let you and help you out with this aspect of your education.

Enjoy and keep them coming, especially for those of us who can't do it now...

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It's 2:45 am right now and I can't really give full justice to tetsu's review at the moment. I have to get up in four hours to go to the gym and then the office.

As usual, Justin's review is extremely well-written, thought-provoking and controversial. And as usual, I disagree with his rating. *shrug* I'll come back with more later, but for now I suppose we'll have to agree to disagree.

Justin, if perchance you happen to read this betwixt now and later today, you may find the following threads regarding Craft to be of interest:

What's all the hype about?

Saturday Dinner At Craft

Vienna's dinner at Craft

From Britain, With Love

Craft, with pictures

Craft Is Dull

I will assume that you have not yet read them. Not all are full of praise, by far. :wink:

In closing, I think that you should give Craft a second chance and assessment.

Soba

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Ok, now that I'm actually lucid and awake.... :biggrin:

I think that had you ordered a few first courses, your experience might have differed slightly. Also, if you had communicated to your server a preference towards bringing out a few plates at a time as others have had whilst at Craft, your outlook might have changed.

The foundation of Chef Colicchio's food at Craft, as I'm sure you're well aware, is to present ingredients in as close to a simple state as possible by bringing out or emphasizing a particular ingredient's characteristics or flavors. Thus when you say

The last entrée we had was the Nantucket Bay scallops, which were good but not really out of this world. I think they could have done a little bit more, maybe a sauce or something with the scallops. Though they were nice and sweet/salty, the flavor overall tended to be a little flat. Maybe I was spoiled by the scallops that I had at WD-50, which was great with the beet yogurt, or maybe I just don’t really love the setup of Craft... but I think there could have been something else done with this to make it taste even better.

that sort of misses the point of what the kitchen is trying to do. Rather than complexity, more like simplicity.

Courses tend to be a more formalized presentation of a meal's progression. "Extreme ala carte" is a simplification of what the restaurant is trying to do. The concept behind Craft is to allow diners to be in full control of their meal, right down to timing, execution and presentation.

Finally, the rating itself. A "6" indicates to me that Craft is a step slightly above "average". Now, we know that the star system at the Times doesn't lend itself particularly well when it comes to qualifications such as "average". "Average" is subjective, much like the NYT's star ratings. For instance, two star restaurants such as Hearth and Blue Hill are widely held as borderline three-stars, yet they are lumped in the same category as say, Churrascaria Plataforma or Eight Mile Creek (no offense to their proprietors). Which of these restaurants truly deserves a two star rating? If two stars are considered "average" in the Times' universe of stars, then which of these is truly average?

A "6" rating doesn't really fit Craft. Perhaps to you, on that particular night. I would rate it higher, perhaps a 7 or an 8.

At the end of the day, what really matters is if your experience lived up to your expectations. Did you have a good time? Was the food enjoyable? Would you return at a later date? Would you recommend the restaurant to other people? The answers to these questions are just as important as any numerical or other type of rating you assign to a restaurant....at least, in my opinion.

Best,

Soba

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One comment and suggestion that I made to the staff, however, was that though I understand the a la carte concept of Craft, and that it’s meant for customers to mix and match with the food, play with it as you will, it would have been a better idea to course out the savory courses. I believe that at some point the kitchen should intervene, especially if the customer decides to skip over the first course as we did, and really put together flavors that are tried and true. The problem I had with the fact that everything came out together was that it had what I called the “Thanksgiving effect.” We all piled our plates and passed the plates around. After trying and taking a bite of everything, your palate just gets overworked and everything starts to taste the same. If the meal were coursed out than this could have been prevented.

My experience at Craft was very similar to yours. I was coming out of an extraordinary meal at Gramercy Tavern and went to Craft with very high expectations a few months after that. I was utterly disappointed.

Close to everything you said echoed the immediate feelings I had of my meal and I have to say, the “thanksgiving effect” is a perfect way of putting it, didn’t think of that one!!

The only fond memory I have of Craft is the wine I had which they used to serve by the glass (we had a bottle), it was a 1996 Valduero from the Ribera del Duero. I meant to ask you if it was still on the wine list, didn't get a chance to. I would personally go back to Craft just for a sip of that extraordinary wine.

"A chicken is just an egg's way of making another egg." Samuel Butler
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Hey, tetsujustin, nice work! Your reviews are really well-crafted, as others have mentioned, and analytical. They make for very enjoyable reading. Is Balthazar the last one on your list, or are there more to come?

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Finally, the rating itself.  A "6" indicates to me that Craft is a step slightly above "average".  Now, we know that the star system at the Times doesn't lend itself particularly well when it comes to qualifications such as "average".  "Average" is subjective, much like the NYT's star ratings.  For instance, two star restaurants such as Hearth and Blue Hill are widely held as borderline three-stars, yet they are lumped in the same category as say, Churrascaria Plataforma or Eight Mile Creek (no offense to their proprietors).  Which of these restaurants truly deserves a two star rating?  If two stars are considered "average" in the Times' universe of stars, then which of these is truly average?

I haven't been taking tetsujustin's numerical ratings all that seriously. It seems to me that, just as in the New York Times, the ratings of two different restaurants aren't always directly comparable. When he gives Craft a 6, he's rating it against his expectations for that restaurant, rather than on an absolute scale.

Even with the out-of-focus photos, the food tetsujustin and his friends had at Craft looked great. It seems they would have benefited had the server provided a bit more help navigating the complicated menu.

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Ok, now that I'm actually lucid and awake....  :biggrin:

I think that had you ordered a few first courses, your experience might have differed slightly.  Also, if you had communicated to your server a preference towards bringing out a few plates at a time as others have had whilst at Craft, your outlook might have changed.

The foundation of Chef Colicchio's food at Craft, as I'm sure you're well aware, is to present ingredients in as close to a simple state as possible by bringing out or emphasizing a particular ingredient's characteristics or flavors.  Thus when you say

The last entrée we had was the Nantucket Bay scallops, which were good but not really out of this world. I think they could have done a little bit more, maybe a sauce or something with the scallops. Though they were nice and sweet/salty, the flavor overall tended to be a little flat. Maybe I was spoiled by the scallops that I had at WD-50, which was great with the beet yogurt, or maybe I just don’t really love the setup of Craft... but I think there could have been something else done with this to make it taste even better.

that sort of misses the point of what the kitchen is trying to do. Rather than complexity, more like simplicity.

Courses tend to be a more formalized presentation of a meal's progression. "Extreme ala carte" is a simplification of what the restaurant is trying to do. The concept behind Craft is to allow diners to be in full control of their meal, right down to timing, execution and presentation.

After reading the threads that you dug up last night, and reading so much commentary on Craft it seems to me that I just may have completely missed the boat on this restaurant. I knew that they wanted you to take control in this format, but I never thought that everything from the timing to the pairing would all completely be in the customer's hands. I find that very daring of Chef Colicchio, what if they hated the pairing they put together? What if they designed a great meal but asked for the short ribs before the scallops, and their palate was just overworked by big, bold flavors so the scallops tasted like lumps of nothing? But you know what, Craft is still going strong.

My only suggestion, then is to not expect the diners to know the concept of the restaurant, but for the restaurant to explain it. Sure, the menu implies that you have control, but I had no idea that if I could ask for certain things to come out with other things and what time and in what order. I didn't even think about it till I finished reading the threads. If I have the chance to go back, I would suggest to them that the staff be more interactive, go more in depth into what you can do, and even suggest great pairs to the customer, at least to get the creative juices flowing. I wish my list weren't so long-- I may not have a chance to go back. I might drop in for lunch, though. I've already begun to formulate ideas in the noggin.

As for the the rating? Yes I would go back, but I'd probably go to Gramercy first, yes I enjoyed my night, but I hope that's what it's like every time I eat, and the food was somewhat uneven... though that could've been helped if I had completely understood the restaurant at first. I'll stick to my 6. It's above average, but it's not the best that I've been to.

Zeitoun, I didn't have much of a chance to look at the wine list, and I'm afraid I have to say that I don't fully appreciate wines the way I should at the moment. I would love to give commentary about them but I really wouldn't do it justice. Though I am currently in Wines and Beverages class at the moment, I'm getting more into it. At the moment all I know is that I have a sweet tooth when it comes to wines and I really need to get over that. haha, but that's like where a toddler starts, starts out sweet... moves into more in-depth flavors. Though I would really love to try a Chateau Petrus though. haha. Though who wouldn't.

Rehovot, Balthazar isn't nearly close to the end of my list. I have a long way to go, worry not. Haha.

Oakapple, finally! someone understands me!

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Do I dare plunge in and defend Jewel Bako? :biggrin: (I'm in the process of re-evaluating JB (my still-current favorite of all NYC sushi) with Tsuki, but that's another story.)

Jewel Bako (main thread)

Some tips and advice:

1. Make a reservation at the sushi bar.

2. Go early.

3. Get the top level omakase.

4. Ask to pair sakes with your courses. (I don't drink but others who do have reported that this enhances your experience.)

5. Plan on spending approx. $100, perhaps more with the sake pairing and wine.

Be prepared to be amazed, or at least suitably impressed...or not. :wink:

Soba

PS. And once you have gone to JB, your next mission should you accept it :raz: is to investigate Sushi Yasuda, Kurumazushi and Masa respectively.

Sushi Yasuda vs. Kurumazushi

Sushi Yasuda

Masa and Bar Masa

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So I'm going to go ahead and go to Jewel Bako and hopefully get a seat at the sushi bar. Does anyone have any suggestions before I go? Or should the omakase just about do it for me? Anyone know how much it'd be if I get it?

I haven't gone to JB in quite a long time now, I was a big fan the first year they opened and went quite a few times. I never ordered omakase though, my wife is japanese so it helps tremendously when picking off the menu :wink: .

Before you go, bear in mind that JB is not a "traditional" sushi place, it does offer more "modernized" and composed dishes than your conventional sushi joint (at least when i used to go there). I loved JB's sushi of course but I thought their composed dishes were more interesting mainly because of the nature of the ingredients they used and how they paired them.

I do not know how much change the menu has gone through in the past two years but rather than relying on omakase too much, I would recommend that you also look at the menu carefuly. This is a common mistake people make in my opinion (not studying the menu), omakase is traditionally designed not only around the freshness or seasonality of certain ingredients but primarily around the customer's likes and dislikes and his/her knowledge of japanese food. The chef will see this right away. I do not know how familiar you are with japanese ingredients, but if omakase at JB is designed this way (as it should be), the chef might intentionally decide to "hold back" on his choices and pass on things that might have blown you away.

So my advice is, if sitting at the bar, not to be afraid to take the initiative if you see something interesting, be adventurous, study the menu attentively, ask questions if you are not familiar with some ingredients or some terms and you will better enjoy your eating experience and learn much more about japanese food.

"A chicken is just an egg's way of making another egg." Samuel Butler
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Jewel Bako

Trotting through the cold after the snowstorm of this past weekend, I headed down to Jewel Bako, a restaurant that I had kept an eye on after hearing great reviews previously from both egullet and citysearch, even being named a citysearch national winner in the sushi catergory (as useless as that may be.) I had previously worked at a sushi and robata bar and I was hoping for Jewel Bako to be very Japanese in taste, though not extremely cutting edge, I hoped for some new styles of sushi and a few bites from the hot side of Japanese cuisine as well, it being a cold day and all. I wanted to see Chef Masato Shimizu at work, and to just stare in awe of the deft touch of a craftsman.

I wandered around the residential-looking street, wondering how a sushi bar could be tucked away in this area, before I realized that I was in New York, of course. Jewel Bako looks its part. There is no exterior design whatsoever and I almost walked right past it and its new robata counterpart next door. The interior, however, I found to be delightful, modern but very Asian, with just a stretch of bamboo at the ceiling, illuminated by a backlight. I realized why it was so hard to get a seat at the sushi bar—there are only five or six seats, depending how they stretch it. However, I was quickly seated and poured a warm steaming cup of barley tea, traditional in most Japanese (and Korean, for that matter) restaurants. The tea was really what I needed, warming me quickly.

As per the suggestion of egullet I took a long stare at the menu, finding a wide variety of sushi and sashimi, however I was settled on the omakase before I had even entered, and that’s what I ordered. I noted, however, that they be as weird and adventurous as possible, as I will eat basically anything. As Shimizu-san strode into the room with a gracious smile, I realized at this point that I was in for a treat, he started to prepare his station with the utmost professionalism, but also making slight small-talk with me. I found it a little bothersome though that the seats at the sushi bar were basically a part of the waiter station and the waiters really didn’t have anywhere to stand but behind me. Though this led to quick service, it was just something in the back of my head the whole dinner (with me taking pictures and all.)

My amuse was a couple cubes of marinated white tuna with ginger and what looked to be shiso. It was slightly dry and tasting a bit of canned tuna, though with a hint of gingery flavor. I wasn’t too especially fond of it because of the dryness, but that could be partly my fault as I figure anything marinated has got to be moist. The taste was ok, nothing too special.

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My first course was a quartet of appetizers. I was extremely pleased with the plating of this, partly because of the awesome-looking serviceware, but it just seemed to have a myriad of colors which was very pleasing to the eye. Clockwise from the top left was a toro tartare with avocado cream and osetra caviar. I didn’t find the match of avocado and toro to be too great, though not horrible, and I could only slightly taste the caviar, though I believe the textures of this went very well together. The creamy avocado and soft toro, the pop of the caviar, the creamy avocado, and the crispy garnish had a very nice mouthfeel. Next was the marinated fluke, which was my favorite because of its light, but very savory, aromatic flavor. I again thought something marinated would be a bit softer and this was very firm, but it had a nice taste of onions with a bit of sweetness, and the great texture of fluke. After this was the monkfish liver, which being the “foie gras of the sea” as Iron Chef says, was great. This was the second time I’ve had this, the first being at Trotter’s, and though I enjoyed the taste of the one at Trotter’s more this was also a good rendition, really letting the liver speak for itself with only a bit of spice of it. The texture was just like foie, but the taste is nothing like foie, it being tasting more briny than gamey. Next to this was a poached octopus with sea salt. I’ve never had octopus like this, though I realize that something poached usually breaks down the fibers of things, all the octopus I’ve ever eaten have constantly had a chewy texture. This, however, did not, and with the slight saltiness of the sea salt and the brininess of the octopus, and it was a great couple of bites.

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The next course I had was a soup course of a bonito broth with a yellowtail dumpling. This was very nice mostly because I was still feeling the effects of the cold from the outside and this really made me feel all warm and settled on the inside. The dumpling tasted like a Chinese fishball, but what I found nice about the soup was the zest of yuzu that I found in it along with the slight bitterness of the okra and little slivers of shallot. The flavor was simple, but the warmth was there.

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In a stark contrast with my previous course, I was next served fluke. I watched as he prepared this, stirring around thin slices of fluke constantly in ice water before putting it on his board and picking out the pieces. This was served with freshly grated wasabi, spicy soy sauce, and a fresh grate of yuzu on top. The bright, fresh, cold tasting fluke was a great contrast to my previous course, and fluke has a great texture. I would almost call it crunchy. I think if this were to be served as sashimi, this would be the only way to do it: ice cold.

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Next Shimizu-san prepared my sashimi course. From left to right: golden cuttlefish, giant clam, amberjack, hamachi, chu-toro, botan shrimp, and gruntfish (which is behind the shrimp head. This was served also with freshly grated wasabi. My favorite was the grunt fish, as the skin had a great... almost smoky flavor to it, the toro was meltingly good, and the cuttlefish was my least favorite because for some reason it had a flowery aromatic flavor to it. The Botan shrimp was very different from what I thought it was at first, amaebi, being more shrimpy in flavor, less firm, and a lot less sweet. What I loved about this was just watching him prepare it in front of me. He threw down the giant clam with authority on to his cutting board to get it to curl like that after he had scored it. Overall, it was a nice selection of very fresh fish.

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My next course was a warm one of three types of Japanese mushrooms steamed with sake and yuzu en papillote. The mushrooms were Shiitake, Enoki, and what I suspect to be Honshemeiji mushrooms, but I can’t remember exactly. In my notes it just looks like scribble. Though this was nice, as there was noticeable use of butter in this as well which meshed well with the umami flavor of mushrooms and the slightly sweet/sour taste that the steaming with sake/yuzu did, for some reason I just left unsatisfied with this course. I wanted something more, something else... if anything, more exotic mushrooms. The whole dish just seemed to be playing it too close and safe.

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My last course before sushi was a sautéed shrimp with green tea salt. I loved this because I just love shrimp prepared this way. The Chinese do a rendition of salt and pepper shrimp like this, and it’s cooked crisp so you can bite off the crunchy parts of the legs and tail, which just make a great flavor. Cooking it with the skin on also imparts a lot more flavor, though it is frustrating to try to get the meat out of the shell... so it’s sorta a win/loss thing. The salt really didn’t taste like anything, or add anything to this dish, however.

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Next was my sushi course as Shimizu-san explained to me that he’d be putting pieces of sushi up piece by piece and putting wasabi and soy sauce on it himself, which I found nice just because I could eat the pieces of sushi without myself bastardizing them, and tasting them as they were meant to be tasted. He’d complete a piece and place it on the ledge before I was presented it by the waitstaff. Top left was a marinated tuna marinated in something they called zuke (I think?) It looked like tuna tataki, as chef split it down the middle before presenting it. It was a nice, soft piece of tuna with tastes of sweet and sour to it. It wasn’t too meaty, but had some substance to it. To the right of it was what he called parrot-fish, a type of snapper. Though it didn’t have much of a distinctive taste to it, the sushi had a great texture, almost even... as much of a reach as this is... al dente? To the bottom left is the needle fish. This was my least favorite of all the pieces, mostly because it had an almost crunchy texture and I couldn’t really taste the fish because he added some grated ginger to it and all I could taste was ginger. To the right of this was glass shrimp sushi, he explained that each one of the lumps was a single glass shrimp and it takes a lot of work to peel each one of them, this was nice and sweet, though it had somewhat of a slimey texture that I wasn’t too fond of. I did figure that it was just a part of what sweet shrimp taste like texturally, as I have had this problem before.

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My next piece was a fresh scallop, he explained to me that scallop was too delicate for soy sauce and that’s why he only put a slight pinch of sea salt on it and a bit of yuzu zest. This was just a really nice piece of sushi mainly because of the mouthfeel. It was very, very soft, contrasting a nice bit with the rice. To the right of this was a chopped... I have no idea, I have it written down as chakautau, but that’s gotta be wrong. It was mixed in with grated baby ginger, scallion, and brushed heavily with soy and a bit of sesame seed. The flavor of this was definitely there after the lack of flavor from the scallop. Very aromatic, tasting of a nice balance of ginger and scallion. The bottom right is a Japanese Barracuda that he torched for me with a blowtorch. I loved the flavor of this because it was smoky and torching it gave a slight crisp to the skin. After this was the O-toro which he slightly tenderized with the back of his knife. I’ve had great toro before, but this was just great because it was so tender and buttery, even moreso than most other pieces of toro that I’ve had. It was just wonderful.

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The last piece of sushi that I had was his signature anago. He explained to me that most people love unagi because its grilled, but he poaches his anago (though he wouldn’t tell me in what. Haha) and I must say... there’s a reason this is his signature. It was nice and warm, very very soft and butter... even softer than the toro, and it had a great slightly fishy, slighty salty flavor. If I ever have a chance to go back, I’m going to hoard myself some of this.

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My desserts were a lycee-coconut sorbet, though it didn’t taste much of coconut and didn’t have the texture of sorbet, and a chocolate mousse cake that was less than impressive. The sorbet was a nice palate cleanser, and I didn’t especially like the cake, but I didn’t come here for the dessert.

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It’s hard to rate a sushi bar, if you’ve ever looked up on Japanese food, a lot of the prestige of the food goes towards the presentation of the food. The flavors are subtle and great textures are prime. Everything was simply prepared and the there wasn’t a large smack in the face of flavors, but everything was very balanced in the preparation of both hot and cold food. I do, however, believe that they could do more with the hot food in the fact that they could present more exotic things that would match with the out of the ordinary sushi that is presented here. I'm not taking off on the fact that the dishes were simple, because they ARE Japanese, but I think there just wasn't enough thought put into them to take it to the next level, or to make it more... different. I will say that the quartet of appetizers did fit what I was looking for though. My sushi course was outstanding and they didn’t hold back on what to serve me. I was given a whole myriad of flavors and textures when it came to the raw part of my meal, some I didn’t like as a personal opinion, some I absolutely loved. I also noticed a whole lot of yuzu being used in the course of my meal, and it being a very outstanding flavor, I may have liked a different flavor in a few of my courses.

What I enjoyed about the place, however, even though the place was in such close quarters and I felt as if people were looking over my shoulder at time, the service was outstanding. They were there to take the plate for the sushi from the ledge to present to me and back when another piece was done every single time. My water was constantly full, and I was very laid back in this atmosphere. I also noticed that they started to time out my courses to when I would finish my notes, the first time this has happened. When they noticed me taking notes and would bring out my course a few seconds after I had finished jotting things down. What stood out about my whole experience, however, was Shimizu-san himself. He took in upon himself to really educate me about my experience. He even brought out this book from behind the bar filled with Japanese produce and seafood and showed me the difference of normal amaebi and Botan shrimp. He explained the details of tastes, flavors, and textures of the fish which really made me appreciate them more when I tasted them. I’m not afraid of the power of suggestion. If it makes me really taste something more and enjoy myself more, I’m all for it. He was the one who made this experience up to the next level. I’ve had good sushi before, but I believe his presence made things even better.

Overall, I had a great time. The food was above average, the service was above average. If I were a resident of the city, this would be my sushi bar (whenever I could get reservations.) If not for the above average food, then for the fact that I felt so accepted here by the staff. I was happy to tip them more than I usually do.

Out of ten? 7. Not everything I absolutely loved, the hot food can use some work. The raw food was great however, as was the staff... which really scores high notes on my card.

Next week: Balthazar

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Another great review, tetsujustin-- and particularly timely, as I'm trying to decide whether or not to visit Jewel Bako on my upcoming trip to NYC. (That said, after reading your review, I still haven't made up my mind!)

Given your reactions to much of the food, I was surprised that the rating was so high-- but you justified it will with your discussion of presentation, interaction with the chef, etc.

A question for those of you who frequent Jewel Bako: if tetsujustin went back tonight, would he get a similar meal or would all of the courses be different?

Edited by sakana (log)
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It depends.

The menu changes with variable frequency. I wouldn't say day to day, but more like week to week.

I haven't been to JB in a while though.

The desserts aren't really part of Jewel Bako (at least historically). They're usually from Payard, which might explain tetsu's dislike of them.

What, no sake?

Soba

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What stood out about my whole experience, however, was Shimizu-san himself. He took in upon himself to really educate me about my experience. He even brought out this book from behind the bar filled with Japanese produce and seafood and showed me the difference of normal amaebi and Botan shrimp. He explained the details of tastes, flavors, and textures of the fish which really made me appreciate them more when I tasted them. I’m not afraid of the power of suggestion. If it makes me really taste something more and enjoy myself more, I’m all for it. He was the one who made this experience up to the next level. I’ve had good sushi before, but I believe his presence made things even better.

Absolutely! One of the best things about eating in front of a great sushi chef is the interaction. It's not for everyone, but if you're curious and enthusiastic -- as you are -- then it makes for a uniquely educative experience.

If I were a resident of the city, this would be my sushi bar (whenever I could get reservations.)

Don't decide this without trying Sushi Yasuda! :wink:

JJ Goode

Co-author of Serious Barbecue, which is in stores now!

www.jjgoode.com

"For those of you following along, JJ is one of these hummingbird-metabolism types. He weighs something like eleven pounds but he can eat more than me and Jason put together..." -Fat Guy

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It's also worth noting that JB was in its previous life a video store, which helps explain the cramped quarters in the rear.

The next time you go, I recommend that you request to be seated against the wall and not on the side where you were seated on your previous visit. (As you walk into that area, ask to be seated to your right.)

Soba

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Justin,

Again, great report. I am glad to see that you took full advantage of this dinner and that your conversations with the chef contributed positively to your overall dining experience.

Looking at your Omakase, it seems that a lot has changed since I've been last, the chef who opened JB presented dishes that were much bolder in the choice of ingredients and how they were combined. I remember having a dish of cured sardines with a blueberry sauce that was amazing!!

If you want to try another version of "modern sushi" with a mix of typical and unconventional items on the menu (and avoid paying a fortune) maybe you should also consider going to Sushi no Gari.

I was also wondering - Are you planning one kaiseki dinner on your list? If not, I suggest you do, a sublime kaiseki experience WILL make you look at food differently. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend any place in NY at this point, I had a great kaiseki at Kai 2 or 3 year ago but I was told the menu has gotten a little too "funky" in recent years.

"A chicken is just an egg's way of making another egg." Samuel Butler
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I was also wondering - Are you planning one kaiseki dinner on your list? If not, I suggest you do, a sublime kaiseki experience WILL make you look at food differently.  Unfortunately, I cannot recommend any place in NY at this point, I had a great kaiseki at Kai 2 or 3 year ago but I was told the menu has gotten a little too "funky" in recent years.

In terms of kaiseki, I would recommend Sugiyama without reservation (so to speak) and would love to hear your take on it, Justin.

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In terms of kaiseki, I would recommend Sugiyama without reservation (so to speak) and would love to hear your take on it, Justin.

Indeed there is always Sugiyama.

I also heard good things about Hakubai at the Kitano Hotel. They have a "lady's lunch special" like in Japan!!

"A chicken is just an egg's way of making another egg." Samuel Butler
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