Craftbar has been dubbed the casual little sister to Tom Colicchio’s fabulous Craft restaurant. But, don’t you dare think that the title little sister means lesser than in either quality or atmosphere… it definitely stands out and up on its own.
Chic and casual, industrial and warm. The juxtaposition that runs throughout this restaurant, both in menu and decor, begins as soon as you walk through the door. The bar area of the restaurant – which is at the front as soon as you walk in – is warm and inviting, very high ceilings. There is a catwalk over head and against the walls to access the wonderful wines that line the walls. The staff is there as you enter, friendly and ready to greet you. There are a few small tables in the bar area.
The dining room is open and has a more industrial feel to it than the bar area. It is still very warm and inviting. Iced Tea Spoon and Fork were shown to a nice big table for 4 in the main dining room. The main room is bright and roomy. The tables are not on top of each other, which is rare and always a plus. Plenty of room for two pieces of cutlery to have a wonderful meal and at really leisurely pace. Our drink orders were taken and to Fork’s pleasure, and surprise, Craftbar has bottomless iced tea.
Our lovely waitress Anna came over to see if we had any questions about the menu and to see if we were ready to order. We sheepishly looked at her and said we weren’t ready yet. We weren’t ready when she came back the second time, or the third, Fork finally, tines hung in shame, explained that it had been some time since we had been together. Anna looked at us and said, ‘I understand. Wave me over when you’re ready.’ And we did just that.
The menu is an amazing mix of American and Italian cuisine, with an eclectic flair and occasional unusual combination of ingredients. Looking at this menu, everything looks good. Everything looks like something you want to order.
We started with Small Plates, three small plates, because…..well, because we just had to try them all.
We began with Pecorino Risotto Balls. Three are served and each is probably slightly smaller than a pool ball. Crisp and golden on the outside. Delightful, al dente, creamy, cheesy on the inside. These are not your neighborhood rice balls. The difference being the interior being actual risotto. What people tend to associate with rice balls are soft ball sized concoctions with rice and meat and peas at the center. Nope. Not these. The risotto keeps the inside tender and moist, while the frying keeps the outside perfect and crisp. There is the unmistakable flavor of pecorino in every bite. The risotto balls are served in a lovely pool of very fresh tomato sauce, very fresh tasting, hints of fresh basil and a slight sweetness and slight spiciness. The sauce was a complete juxtaposition to the saltiness of the risotto ball, and yet in perfect harmony. Two pieces of cutlery, three risotto balls, this could have been the end of beautiful friendship. But cooler flatware prevailed and the third risotto ball was amicably split. And, besides, there was so much more to come!
Next up were Polenta Fritters, with Jalapeno and Golden Raisins. Oh, I wish this photo was lighter! Fritter. Can a fritter really ever be bad? These are smaller than the risotto balls, perhaps pingpong ball in size. Fork has spent many years battling against tough polenta. It takes a very delicate touch to make creamy, tender polenta, but Craftbar adds to that the pressure of being deep fried. Inside the fritter, standing demurely next to the polenta are golden raisins, adding a hint of sweetness. Atop the fritters are pickled jalapeño. Doesn’t seem like it could be, but each bite is perfect. A little polenta, a little golden raisin, a little heat from the jalapeño, along with the tang from it being pickled. Again, a very complementary juxtaposition. The fritters are served with a tzatziki sauce. Not sure why. It doesn’t really seem to fit
Excitement abounded this night. Fork and Iced Tea Spoon could not help themselves in ordering a third appetizer. But the Sausage Sage Leaves with Lemon Aioli seemed too good to pass up. We asked Anna to explain a little more about this dish. Anna explained that it was a fennel sausage, yes, made at the restaurant, that was then wrapped in sage leaves and lightly fried. Okay, SOLD! And there appeared before us these lovely sausages. Sorry the photos are a little dark, but we already know how badly sausages photograph anyway. These were delicious sausages. The sage leaves became seriously crispy when fried and the flavor changes slightly, but still retained that earthy sage flavor. The flavor from the fennel was noticable, but not overpowering. Once you dip the sausage into the lemon aioli your tastebuds are instantly dancing in your mouth. More please, more please! Again, we have that hard working word here again, juxtaposition, the savoriness of the sausage, the slight sweetness of the fennel, the tang and sweetness of the aioli. Amazing.
The entrees were much harder to choose – not that the small plates were a snap – there are so many of them, and there wasn’t one Fork wouldn’t have been game to try. We finally settled on two entrees.
First up was the Veal Ricotta Meatballs. It must be said, Fork has rarely met a meatball not worth diving into. Veal and ricotta had to mean this was going to be amazing. And it turns out that our instinct was right. Just being made from veal made the meatballs more tender. Add to this the delicate fluffiness that can be added by the ricotta and you have meatballs that would have flown out of the bowl if not for the grated pecorino and light sprinkling of basil on top. The meatballs are served in a pol of fresh tomato sauce with the slightest bit of zing to it. You can have the dish served with pasta if you like. Fork and Iced Tea Spoon would have preferred a little bread to dip into the sauce, and passed on the pasta. Meatballs this light and fluffy must be tried and savored and ordered again!
The second entree was not as successful, at least to us. Casunziei, Wild Spinach, Brown Butter, with Poppy Seeds. Casunziei is half-moon shaped ravioli. Traditionally, casunziei are made either red – in the Autumn with beets – or green – in the Spring with spinach and chives. The casunziei we had were beet. This particular preparation is an old-Venetian style. Fork read the words ‘brown butter’ and the tines went up like antennae. Perhaps made a little differently this dish could have been really good. To begin, there was just way too much spinach. There was virtually no brown butter sauce on the plate. There was no flavor of brown butter anywhere. Those of you who are brown butter fans know that it has a very distinct flavor – that flavor was totally absent. We were told that it had to be there or the sesame seeds would not stick, but in reality they would stick to damp pasta – like the casunziei stuck to the roof of our mouths. It was just unpleasant. Sticky pasta that looked like it was bleeding when you cut it. Fork knew it was beet filled, but the fuchsia color that came out was disconcerting – but that is Fork’s problem, not the pasta’s problem. The stickiness, spinach, and lack of brown butter was the dish’s problem.
Anna must have said something about our dissatisfaction with the pasta dish to one of the hostesses because after the plates were cleared suddenly appearing at our table were two beautiful, glossy, shimmering balls. The young lady explained that she thought we might like to try the sorbets made inhouse…..well, thank you so much, and heck yeah! One was chocolate. Think of the darkest, most decadent chocolate truffle you have ever eaten, then add to that it being cold, cold, cold, and there you have what Fork and Iced Tea Spoon sampled. It really wasn’t quite sorbet-ish, definitely more dense like a truffle. This may come as a shock to some cutlery reading out there, it may have been a little TOO chocolatey. The other was raspberry. Really wonderful, tart raspberry. Raspberry sorbet has a way of occasionally being cloyingly sweet, so not the case here. But it was wonderful and refreshing and devoured. Truthfully, a little spoon of the chocolate and a little spoon of the raspberry was pure heaven. Fork’s main question is, how did they get the sorbets to look like patent leather without it being a melted mess!?
And as those of you who follow our adventures know, this would not be a true adventure of cutlery if there weren’t at least two desserts. Yes, the sorbet and two others. But does the sorbet really count? We had already ordered two desserts. I mean, we don’t want to look like serving sized cutlery here and seem glutenous!
The first was Butterscotch Pudding with Caramelized Apples. Very thick, dense butterscotch pudding with a quenelle of creme fraiche on top, and an amazing brown butter cookie. To the side were delicious caramelized apples. Again, the word – juxtaposition – the sweetness of the apples in juxtaposition with the butterscotch and the brown butter cookie. Great flavors, but … Fork wasn’t too keen on the texture of the pudding itself. The flavor was there, the texture was just a little kindergarten paste-ish – and, no, Fork was not one of those weird paste eating kids – Fork’s palate was advanced even then! Iced Tea Spoon and Fork kept trying the pudding, hoping for a change, trying to figure out why we disliked it so much – it was definitely the consistency. Well, truth be told, the color wasn’t too appetizing either. The cookie, on the other hand, was fabulous. Crisp, not too thin or thick, and the brown butter flavor, my, oh, my! The apples were so tender and the caramel flavor was so great and intense. In truth, the cookie and the apples saved this dessert from being disasterous.
Dessert number 2, Warm Brownie, Banana Ice Cream, Chocolate sauce. Can there possibly be much more to say than that? Thick, chocolatey, dense, chewy brownie (yes, all in one brownie) topped with creamy banana ice cream. The ice cream was amazing. This would have been enough, but noooooo, it was swimming in a pool of chocolate sauce. Not done yet, on top of this delight was a quenelle of whipped cream and sprinkled with chocolate crunchy somethings. Totally divine. Sweet, bitter, hot, cold, dense liquidy – I feel the use of that word again – perfect juxtaposition.
To the naysayers out there who feel that Craftbar does not live up to the standards of Craft – it ain’t supposed to! Craftbar is a force onto itself. Different concept. Different cuisine. Different atmosphere. An an absolutely a fantastic dining experience. DOn’t think of it as… we couldn’t get into Craft, we may as well go to Craftbar. Go to Craftbar because it is …
Tom Colicchio made a wonderful choice with Chef de Cuisine Lauren Hirschberg. His food vision is absolutely realized through her eyes. Can’t wait to go back!
Books by Tom Colocchio – ‘wichcraft, Think Like a Chef , Craft of Cooking
Craftbar ~ 900 Broadway ~ New York, NY ~ 212.461.4300
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