Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Art of Food at Craftbar

If you've been reading this blog at all consistently, you'll know that many of my dining adventures take place with the faithful dining triumvirate: J, the bro, and I. This past Friday, however, the triumvirate became a quadrumvirate, as my brother's "lovely date" (to borrow an apt phrase from NYCFoodGuy), W, joined our group. To celebrate the debut of the quadrumvirate, we chose a somewhat special place for dinner: Craftbar, one of my longtime List restaurants.

The entrance, unfortunately obscured by scaffolding at the moment

Craftbar, located on Broadway just south of the Flatiron building, is a beautiful restaurant. It's spacious, with a lot of room between tables. The walls are adorned with semi-ridiculous photos of food and cooking implements (a whisk; a sliced mushroom), and the ceiling is cris-crossed with a catwalk giving access to wine storage. The soundtrack was relatively loud but played a highly enjoyable selection of present and past pop hits, delighting our crowd.

We settled into our large table and perused the menu. I ordered the wine, a Conte Lapardi Sauvignon Blanc (as usual), which was delicious. It had a lively, acidic taste and was served at the absolute perfect temperature in lovely glassware. My only complaint with the wine list (and, frankly, with Craftbar overall) is that it skewed quite expensive. I could count the number of bottles under $50 on one hand, making it a relatively unfriendly wine experience to those on a budget.

Glass...awaiting wine

As we all decided what to order, I munched a breadstick from the canister in the center of the table. Now, as you know, the bread course is very important to me, and I must say I think Craftbar dropped the ball here. The breadstick was extremely crunchy and crumbly (almost hard), and it had a slightly cheesy, salty flavor with a touch of rosemary. Personally, I don't like breadsticks very much, so I didn't enjoy this and really shouldn't have eaten the whole thing. All the more disappointing, as you'll see shortly, is that our appetizers came with delicious-looking peasant bread, which I truly wish they had served as a bread basket.

Breadsticks. Don't waste your stomach space.

We placed our order and chatted contentedly, pausing to remark on the occasional song selection (all KT Tunstull, all the time). Soon, our apps arrived. We had ordered the pecorino fondue with acacia honey, hazelnuts, and pepperoncini. Our waitress, Devin, suggested that we order two for the table, and she was definitely right-- the portions were certainly not large (a recurring theme at Craftbar).

The fondue arrived as a small bowl of melted, savory cheese accompanied by two small slices of lovely bread per order. The cheese had a lovely crackly crust around the edges and a large number of hazelnuts submerged within. The cheese was incredible-- salty and flavorful, with a slight sweetness from the honey and a definite heat from the pepperoncini. The caramelized crusty bits left over around the edges were absolutely irresistible.

Fondue appetizer... with such bread-basket potential...

Close-up on the fondue, with hazelnuts, caramelized honey, and crackly bits around the edges

J in action

After such a successful appetizer course, we had high hopes for our entrees. A suitable post-appetizer interlude allowed us to digest a bit, and soon our main meals arrived. J had ordered the beef short ribs with farro and Tokyo turnips, also upon Devin's recommendation. He enjoyed them thoroughly, and I got a chance to taste the turnips-- very delicious (and cute). The bed of farro looked almost risotto-like.

Beef, grain, turnips, with bonus pearl onions

W had ordered the dayboat scallops with fennel, apple, and star anise. This was a beautiful plate that came with essentially two and a half nicely seared scallops, with various accoutrements scattered around them. W said they were good but a little salty. And, it's worthwhile to note, I had assumed this was an appetizer that W had just ordered as her entree, but I just checked the menu and it's actually an entree. Portion control and all that, I guess.

Two parents and a baby?

Nicely cooked scallops up close, with apple dices and fronds

The bro vacillated painfully between the cavatelli bolognese and the dry aged sirloin, but in the end he went with the sirloin. It came on a bed of smoky wild mushrooms and had a few cubes of crispy potatoes scattered around (Craftbar seems to be a fan of cubing vegetables and fruits, huh?). The beef was delicately medium-rare, and the bro thoroughly enjoyed it-- his only complaint, a recurring refrain throughout the evening, was that he wished there were about two or three times as much on the plate (although by the time the dessert course rolled around, he was full). I was lucky enough to have his leftover mushrooms, and they were certainly smoky but also tender and delicious.

Beef, fungus, carbs, snipped chives

A lovely pink

As for me, I ordered--wait for it-- a salad. My plate of arugula, hazelnuts, strawberries, and grana padano cheese was lovely and delectable. The saltiness of the cheese, of which there was a significant amount, pervaded all the greens and nicely offset the sweetness of the occasional strawberry. Definitely an unusual, creative, and highly succesful salad.

A mess of peppery arugula, with cheese shavings and such interspersed within

By this point we were mostly full and happy, but of course no dinner is complete without dessert, so I egged the crowd on when it came to the post-dinner course. We decided on three desserts for the table, and W ordered an espresso as well. For the most part an espresso is an espresso, but I'll include a picture of this one because it had perhaps the cutest spoon in the world (which I later used to consume my own dessert, because I'm obsessed with tiny cutlery).

Itty bitty little spoon on display, with business card for size comparison

W and the bro decided to split the ice cream sundae, which came with coffee ice cream, hot fudge, and a dollop of fresh whipped cream. I had a few tastes (obviously), and I'm not the biggest fan of coffee ice cream, but this was definitely a serviceable sundae.

Note the large gaping empty space at the bottom of the glass. Curious.

I ordered the brown sugar cake with peach preserves and honey ice cream. The ice cream was the star here, sweet and creamy with a strong honey taste. The cake was very sweet and somewhat dry-- standard, although there was a darkened interior that seemed like molten brown sugar and was insanely decadent. The peach preserves didn't add much to the equation. It was definitely an enjoyable dessert but not one I'd necessarily order again.

Three different forms of sugar

J had had his eye on the chocolate cake, but once again Devin persuaded him to order something different: the baked Alaska. And boy were we glad he acquiesced: this dessert was by far and away the winner of the three. The dessert was visually arresting--it looked a little bit like a cowpie, but once you got past that it was quite pretty. The interior of the white mass was coconut ice cream, enrobed in a coat of sweet bruleed meringue and surrounded by a pool of passionfruit caramel. I was a little skeptical of this dessert, but once I had a bite I couldn't stop eating it (and, frankly, I think I packed away about half of this in addition to my own dessert). The combination of flavors and textures was amazing, and the entire dish-- especially the passionfruit caramel, with a strong passionfruit tang-- was incredibly, incredibly sweet. It was so sweet it approached cloying after a while, but that didn't stop me as I plowed through this baby. Incredible.

A dome of deliciousness

Overall, we had a great time at Craftbar. The ambiance was lovely and conducive to a great meal. The service was flawless and friendly (Devin gamely put up with the antics of J and the rest of our table). The plates were beautiful, dotted with lots of purees and cubed bits of veggies. And the food itself was delicious. Only a few things could have elevated Craftbar further: a better bread basket (of course) and a more realistic pricing scheme. Our dinner, especially including the wine, was very, very expensive, and the small portion sizes left us feeling we hadn't quite gotten a good value. But-- I reiterate-- for a special occasion or just a decadent night, Craftbar is a great place to be. For that, I award it four out of five Offset Spatulas.


900 Broadway
Between 19th and 20th Streets

No comments: