Tom Colicchio is underrated. Yes, he’s the host of the best show in reality TV history. Yes, he’s a five-time James Beard Award winner. But after dining at his restaurant craft this past weekend, I’m pretty sure he’s actually better than anyone gives him credit for.
The first thing my boyfriend, Kamran, and I were struck by upon entering craft is that the hostesses and servers were actually nice. Like “good evening” and “how are you?” and “thank you for coming” nice with genuine smiles. Kamran theorized that once you get to a certain point in your money-spending, restaurants no longer have to pretend to be exclusive and desirable because they actually are. And we, of course, laughed self-satisfiedly every time someone peered longingly in the windows at us but obviously couldn’t come in.
No, I’m kidding.
The second thing we noticed is that the menu freaked me out. When Kamran and I first talked about Valentine’s Day dinner at craft, I remember being wowed and excited by every single dish on the tasting menu. But when it was actually put in front of me, it looked like this:
Two of the dishes were seafood (blech), and the course that says roasted and braised Wagyu beef on the online menu said Wagyu beef and Wagyu beef TONGUE on the actual menu. Not pleased. But we were there, and I wanted that Meyer lemon sundae.
As it turned out, of course, everything was great. I thought my first experience with scallops was surprisingly good, but these bay scallops were ten times better. They were the size of cocktail onions and had a thin little crust on one side from searing. The lime broth would have been delicious on any protein, but it was the micro herbs and onion slivers on top that really made the flavor of the scallops stand out.
When our server set down our second dishes and said, “This is a brebis blanche agnolotti with matignon,” I was like, I don’t know what a single one of those words mean. But after a little Googling, I think it roughly translates to ewe’s milk cheese in blanched ravioli with a topping of cooked diced carrot, celery, and onion. (One of you French types can correct me on that, if you please.) Basically, it was long, thin pasta stuffed with a ricotta-like cheese, drizzled in some herby sauce, and sprinkled with some tiny vegetable chunks. I wondered if the sous chefs in the back were constantly talking about how ridiculous it is to send out an entire giant plate with exactly three pieces of pasta on it. I’m sure they never say anything bad about the slices of lamb bacon resting on top, though. They looked like regular (perfectly-cooked) bacon, but they tasted distinctly lamb-y.
The next course was the sturgeon, which I was looking forward to least, but it was done perfectly. Tom’s always talking on “Top Chef” about how seasoning is the most important component of a dish, and I’ve kind of gotten sick of hearing how vital salt is, but the seasoning on the fish was what made it. One whole side of it had been encrusted with a layer of salt, and it tasted GREAT. The blood orange sauce was totally different than anything we’d ever tasted before, and there were two kinds of beets. What? Yes, two kinds of beets. In addition to the dark, earthy ones you always see, there was a lighter kind that looked like hunks of tomato (which I hate) but tasted sweet (which I love).
The guinea hen course was definitely my favourite and is the single best dish I’ve ever had. It was a breast sitting on end and wrapped in pancetta, with slivers of black truffle resting on top. Underneath were grits made with black truffle oil and Brussels sprouts leaves sprinkled about. As soon as our server set it down, I was like, “THESE ARE ALL OF MY FAVOURITE THINGS IN LIFE IN ONE DISH!!!” Poultry, salted cured meat, corn, and Brussels sprouts. If there had been a scoop of ice cream on top, I would’ve died right there. I was so overwhelmed by the first bite that I got chills for five minutes and almost cried. I’m so serious.
The Wagyu course should have come before the hen, because while it too was great, nothing was going to top those grits. Luckily, the tongue was a paper-thin slice laid out underneath the lentils and chard, so I didn’t have to worry about any of the texture issues I usually have with tongue. It was so delicate that it tore apart like tissue, and it tasted like a slow-simmered roast beef. The other piece of Wagyu was perfect in that one side of it was rare and buttery while the other side was crispy, as if Tom knew that Kamran and I like our steaks cooked opposite ways.
Our server told us that the first dessert course was more like an amuse-bouche than an actual dish, and Kamran said, “I’m not amused.” OH! Obvious food humor for the win! It was a tiny glass filled with layers of crushed coconut meringue cookies in the sweet red hibiscus syrup with a miniature dollop of Meyer lemon sorbet on top. Like size-of-your-fingertip miniature. The glasses themselves were so small that our spoons almost didn’t fit down into them. And despite the fact that I’ve had many a conversation about how pointless meringue is, the cookies were delicious and added the perfect texture.
The second dessert course wasn’t nearly as tasty but made up for it by being even more interesting. It was a huge smear of chocolate paste, a crunchy chocolate tart with a liquid chocolate top, and a spoonful of caramel ice cream. The paste looked exactly like icing, so it was a huge surprise to put a big, old glob of it in my mouth and find out that it’s not really sweet at all; it tasted like roasted, bitter fruit and had a grainy consistency. Which doesn’t sound appetizing, but it was, especially when we tempered it with the ice cream. We decided that it was pretty smart of Tom to give you course after course of easily-lovable dishes and then to throw this crazy thing at you at the end that would keep you talking for days.
Kamran admitted that before we visited craft, he sort of thought of Tom as a semi-decent chef who happened to be a celebrity but that after tasting his food, he’s a true believer. The interesting thing about a place like wd~50 is that your plate is filled with things you’ve never seen before, so they all taste new and exciting. But the more interesting thing about a place like craft is that all of the food on your plate is entirely recognizable, yet it’s exciting because it manages to taste better than it’s ever tasted before.
We also loved all of the little extras the staff provided, like the miniature gingerbread cookies and cream puffs they brought after our chocolate course. And all night, we kept seeing the hostesses handing something to each diner as they left, and we were dying to know what it was. I heard one hostess tell a woman it was “for tomorrow morning” and figured it was Tom’s special blend of coffee, but I swore it looked like a cupcake from far away. We couldn’t figure out where the hostesses were getting them, but halfway through our meal, we realized that what looked like a trashcan at their feet was actually a container full of the treats. We kept watching the contents of the container dwindle and kept worrying that they’d run out before we could leave, but Kamran was determined to have whatever it was. It seriously occupied our conversation for two straight hours. The thing we were really concerned about was the fact that we hadn’t checked our coats; most of the other diners had to wait for their outerwear and therefore had plenty of time at the hostess stand, so Kamran was really pressing me to figure out a way for us to lollygag with the hostesses despite already having our coats on. And then just as we were finishing up, the container disappeared. There were exactly two of the little bags leftover and laid out on the hostess stand, and there were two people heading for the door, so we thought all was lost. But then the container appeared from out of nowhere again, brimming with the treats. You can imagine our relief.
As soon as we stood up to put our coats on, the hostess placed two of the bags on her stand and waited patiently for us. They turned out to be muffins bursting with chocolate chips and drowning in a layer of huge-grained sugar. Breakfast the next day had me thinking about Tom for another twenty-four hours.
I’m sad that I was too self-conscious to take any pictures of the amazing food and the entire side of the restaurant that was made up of a weird convex wall covered in a sort of patchwork of similarly-colored brown leather slabs. But I did manage to capture this incredible photo of myself in Tom’s restroom, and that will be plenty to remember the experience by:
And speaking of restrooms, I should mention that the day after our dinner, Kamran told me that he needed to go to the bathroom but didn’t want to poo just to be able to hold our delicious meal inside himself for a little longer. That’s how good it was.