Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Being Frugal, Staying Fabulous: Craftbar
I know it seems like every other post these days is about some superchef’s budget bistro. This is in large part due to the growing movement in New York City and in even larger part due to my shrinking bank account. Until I get a monthly dining stipend, I will continue to represent the “everyman” and explore how to dine on a dime. Well, maybe it’s not a dime exactly, but at least the Glitter Gourmet will continue to find ways to be fabulous and frugal. For this venture into glamorous moderation, I decided to turn to one of my favorite New York chefs and headed to Tom Colicchio’s Craftbar.
I arrived at Craftbar at our reservation time of 8:30 on the dot. The hostess opened the door for me, told me I was the first to check in and asked if I’d like to be seated or wait for my dinner guest. This was already better service than many upscale NYC spots and worlds better than other budget bistros I’ve reviewed.
As I sat waiting, I began to compare and contrast as much as I could. The décor has the same modern class as Colicchio’s flagship Craft, without some of the more opulent touches. You won’t find a cooper wall or dangling Edison light bulbs, but you will find a lofted army of wine refrigerators accessed by a suspended iron catwalk – very sexy. My friend arrived earlier than his typical fashionable tardiness and we were taken to our table by a host in Diesel jeans and a Lacoste polo, one of the few indications we weren’t in Craft proper.
As we perused the menu, I began to munch on the rosemary and sea salt grissini that sat on our table. Now I have a weakness for anything with salt and rosemary on top, but these thick, crunchy rods left me wondering how many times I could ask for more before the waitress realized I was stashing them in my bag. Alas, my impeccable class and deathly fear of carbs had me stop after just one.
After answering a barrage of rapid-fire questions, our waitress took our order as she wiped the beads of sweat from her brow. She passed with flying colors and was back a few moments later to deliver our Zweigelt (Austrian red wine) with impeccable wine service technique. Not only do servers whisk away your bottles to be opened at the service stations, but bottles of white wine are kept on ice adjacent to the table.
To start, my friend and I had a smoked pig head terrine with mostarda. The terrine looked exactly like headcheese, a conglomeration of the bits of meat from a pig’s head held together with gelatin. Sounds like heaven on a plate, no? Mostarda is an Italian condiment made of candied fruit and mustard flavored syrup; in this case we had lemon peel.
The smoky pork meat was a delectable reminder of bacon, and it paired exceptionally well with the sweet fruit. As a newcomer to the world of headcheese, the texture of the gelatin gave me pause, but I began to see the light by the end of the dish. The terrine was also accompanied by a slice of the most incredible bread I have had in a long while. The two-inch thick slice was crusty and salty on the outside with a creviced interior of chewy flesh that was just a breath away from being gummy. It seems that I am slowly but surely conquering my fear of carbs.
For my entrée, I had skate wing with fingerling potatoes and sauce gribiche. Skate is a fish similar to a ray and the “wing” literally refers to the wing-like portion of the skate’s body. The skate came lightly fried and was oddly reminiscent of fried clams; other claim that skate tastes like scallops. The pressed and pan-fried potatoes were crispy and divine. This dish was an outstanding upscale play of fish and chips. Sauce gribiche is a French mayonnaise-based sauce that is extremely similar to tartar sauce. I found the sauce disappointing, but also unnecessary. I did, however, get a bit overwhelmed by salt during my last few bites, at which point a cleansing sauce may have come in handy. The dish also had a few slivers of pickled beets and celery leaves that added much more refreshing flavor than I would have thought.
Although I was stuffed, a reviewer’s duties never end, so I forged on toward dessert. Ricotta fritters arrived rolled in cinnamon and sugar with blueberry compote and buttermilk sorbet. The glistening orbs were sugary bites of heaven, putting the freshest of munchkins to shame. Drizzled with blueberry goodness, the fritters would have sent almost anyone into diabetic shock were it not for the soothing calm of the buttermilk sorbet. The sorbet’s light and clean tartness was the perfect counter to the glucospheres.
As we flew out of Craftbar to a movie for which we were unfashionably tardy, I thought to myself, finally a budget bistro that’s more bistro than budget.
Craftbar – 3 Sparkles ***
New York, NY