Saturday, October 23, 2010

Fall tasting menu at Craft Restaurant


Last night in New York, and as it was fall, season of freshly harvested treasures, one would hope to see fresh root vegetables, wild mushrooms, and oh Dios mío, game . . . perhaps I was over-thinking it, because I saw none of those things at my last dinner in the city.

Reservation for Craft Restaurant, by Union Square, the flagship restaurant of one of America's most celebrated chefs, Tom Colicchio. Wall decor is a mess, but you're not there to stare at the walls - fixtures are nice though, dimly lit, exposed lightbulbs. Nice wood tables, no fussy table cloths, comfortable chairs. And finally, servers that are dressed properly, no idiot penguin uniforms. Arrived early, so sat down at the bar for a Victory Pilsner from Pennsylvania first. Right. I was there for the fall tasting menu, so ordering was simple. Wine, a red Burgundy of course.

Yeah, the food was confusing. Intellectual, perhaps, but there's always that danger of a chef over-thinking the menu, and trying to take the ingredients in a direction they shouldn't be headed. Fall, right, so I had expectations of what was in season. First 3 courses, a strange combination of Japanese ingredients, using French techniques - sublime cooking work, but flavours just don't work. A hamachi sashimi, the most amazing, perfect fish, but ruined by a sprinkle of salt - it's served with a preserved plum purée (already well-seasoned), and the added salt obliterates the delicate sweetness of the hamachi. Next, a stuffed zucchini blossom, fried as a tempura. A bit too rich, at this point of the meal. Third course was wonderful, a pan-seared suzuki fish, just so buttery and tender - cooked to absolute perfection. The only course that made me sit up and left me speechless. A thick fish, it's so difficult to cook, but the skin was perfectly crisp, the centre cooked all the way through. It's so clichéd to say that something melts in your mouth, but this fish literally dissolved on the palate. Overall, impressed with the starter courses. Not so much with the following proteins.

The duck, overseasoned, too rich. Yes, it's possible to overdo a dish, just like you can overdo a wine - the sauce is just so concentrated, so extracted it sticks in the throat. Suckling pig course was the most unsatisfactory course of them all - can't tell which cut of the pork used, doesn't show off the tenderness of this kind of pig, and again, the sauce is so thick it literally dries in the throat before it manages to trickle down. Dessert was nice though - the celery juice/lime sorbet soda served in a shot glass was a perfect complement to the creamy, rich panna cotta. Cocoa crêpes with a assam tea ice cream, a nice end to the meal.

The wine, a 2003 Louis Boillot Les Brouillards, AC Volnay 1er Cru. Nicely matched both the fish and meat courses. High acid tends to do that. The fruit gets purer, finer with air, long finish, mineral and linear. If I could drink Volnay more often, I'd be very happy indeed.

I wasn't disappointed with the meal, that's not the impression I want to share - it was a great experience being surprised as to what the next course was going to be. Overall though, over-seasoned courses was an issue, as was a propensity to over-concentrate many of the sauces. Service was wonderful, attentive yet very discreet. And look, they give you cupcakes on the way out.


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