Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Pig Play: My Foray into Offal

There are certain words that can make a person tingle, for air-headed fashionistas, it’s “couture,” for pig-headed frat boys it’s “double fisting,” and for boy-headed pigs it’s, well, also “double fisting.” And for adventurous foodie’s it’s “offal.” Offal is an umbrella term referring to all of the gross bits of an animal - entrails and internal organs. Yum! Inspired by great culinary explorers like Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern, I’ve decided to move past any of my food fears and try anything and everything at least twice (one of Zummern’s steadfast rules). I got my chance about a week ago when I suggested Craft’s “Damon Frugal Fridays” for a date I had.

This was a second date, so naturally things were getting pretty serious and I wanted something fun and impressive that wouldn’t break the bank. I thought Craft’s FF would be perfect for this fellow foodie and me. Craft is the flagship restaurant of celebrity chef Tom Colicchio (head judge: Top Chef, owner: Craft, Craftsteak, Craftbar, ‘wichcraft). Colicchio’s FF is a cost-effective tapas-style recession special that takes place in the private dining room of Craft every night except Tuesday (I guess “Frugal Every-Night-Except-Tuesday-Nights” didn’t have the same ring to it). While many celebrity chefs have let me down, I have been consistently blown away by Colicchio’s food in the past and decided that anything Craft-ed was a safe bet.

FF doesn’t take reservations, but we arrived around 8 p.m. on a Friday night and were seated right away. It was pretty busy and I think we nabbed one of the last open tables for two. The décor is notably more casual than the adjacent Craft proper – waiters in jeans with teal t-shirts – but an air of relaxed elegance still prevails. We kicked things off with the 19th Street Headache ($4), a perfect pre-meal cocktail of Aperol (an Italian aperitif similar to Campari) and champagne. As we sipped our Headaches, our waiter came over and we start listing anything that sounded good. When we finally paused to take a breath, he jumped in and suggested that we “start with that and see if we’re still hungry.” I guess we were a bit over zealous.

The parade of food began to arrive and we dug in, judging as we went. The overall lineup was a hit, with a few misses here and there. One of the first to arrive was a delightful starter, from the “Food in a Jar” section of the menu. The Elysian Fields Farms lamb rillettes was light and pleasant on thin, salty baguette toast points. A rillette is extremely similar to a pâté except the meat is shredded as opposed to smooth or chunky. Other successes included pork belly lettuce cups & hibiscus, raw Spanish mackerel with furikake (a dry Japanese condiment) & ramps, and fried quail with rhubarb chutney & roasted garlic puree.

From the offal section, we had two dishes of the four choices. The first was salt-baked bone marrow with a stew of mushrooms and tail. Bone marrow isn’t technically offal, but I guess the tail in the stew keeps this dish on the list. The marrow was savory and buttery and the stew was fantastic. My only possible critique of this dish was that the stew might have overshadowed the marrow itself. The other offal unfortunately forced me to crack some very lame jokes about “awful offal.” We had crispy pigs’ ears with deviled egg salad and celery. If you’ve ever fed your dog a pig’s ear, then you know the consistency of this dish. The ears were flavorless and rock hard (making for some very embarrassing crunching on my date). The egg salad was fine, but boring and barely worth mentioning. This dish was a particular disappointment because it’s a clear publicity stunt without any culinary backing. As a publicist, Lord knows I endorse these kinds of stunts, but any good publicist knows that a gimmick won’t take you very far unless it also is worthwhile.

Despite my ear drama, I still think that Tom Colicchio is a master chef, and I believe in his brand. The Craft Empire is one of few that deserves it place among New York’s restaurant elite.

43 East 19th Street
New York, NY

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