Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Pros and cons at Craftbar

Saturday night found me at a girls' dinner at Craftbar. I've been to the restaurant once before, almost two years ago, and had had a four-Offset Spatula time. While we definitely enjoyed each other's company while we were there this time around, experience-wise we weren't quite so lucky.

Once we were all there, we were led to a table promptly. Unfortunately, said table seemed to be in the middle of some arctic jetstream airflow, with air conditioning pumping down directly onto the table. I'm especially sensitive to cold, but for the record it wasn't warm out to begin with, and let's just say I was freezing. Once we piped up, they turned the A/C off, but it came back on about halfway through the meal. By the end of the dinner, I was--literally--shivering. Think about that.

Our server was friendly but professional. Unfortunately, one of her other tables was a twenty-person bachelor party seated right next to us and at the exact same time as we were. That meant that the pacing of our meal was off, as both she and the kitchen tended to them. While our entrees were rushed out promptly, our server tended to disappear for long periods of time, stretching the period between dinner and dessert and dessert and the bill far beyond what it should have been.

But how was the food, you ask? Good question. First, the drinks-- KS ordered a cocktail called the earl gray bees' knees, a concoction with earl gray Tanqueray, honey, lemon, and egg white. While that sounds pretty darn foul to my palate's ears, KS loved it and cited it as one of the best things on our table the whole night.

On to the rest of the fare. First, the bread-- Craftbar's traditional breadsticks. These are dense, greasy things; set one on the table, and you're left with unappetizing grease spots dotting the brown butcher paper covering the tablecloth. There's some rosemary in there, but given the denseness, they're just dry. They beg for a dipping sauce. Or rather, they beg to be actual bread so you can have some butter or olive oil and actually enjoy them. Did I say that?

Tall. And greasy.

All the rest of our food came out at once. I went with the arugula, pine nut, and parmesan salad, which came in a salty lemon vinaigrette that stung my lips. This was actually pretty good and a decent portion with lots of cheese shavings, although a little audacious at $12. Really? I could make about 15 of these salads at home for $12. I guess that's not the point, but...

Filling, with lots of nuts & cheese

AC and SL shared the octopus appetizer, which came salad-style with fingerling potatoes and roasted lemon puree. Girls love their octopus, and this rendition was no exception.


Upon KS's recommendation and the server's confirmation, AC and SL also shared the lamb pappardelle. KS caved and ordered it as her entree as well. The concoction is listed as "Papparedelle, milk-braised lamb, stinging nettle, pine nut." KS remembers it as having a flavorful, reduced broth and a memorably tasty character the last time she ordered it. This time around, however, the consensus was: 1) the kitchen forgot salt, and 2) it was dry, dry, dry. Even from across the table, I could see that there was pretty much no sauce coating the pasta, which meant the strands stuck together in a congealed mess after a couple of minutes. The meat was pronounced dry as well. KS left about half of her portion, and AC and SL didn't want to finish theirs either. Disappointing.

See the bottom of the plate? Yeah, that means no sauce

Oh well, more room for dessert, right? Once we were once again granted the server's attention, we consulted the menu and placed an order. After a short delay, the desserts appeared. Upon the server's recommendation, AC and SL shared the pecan tart, an appealing pastry accompanied by a decadent-looking scoop of chocolate sorbet. The girls dove at the plate hungrily, raving about the sorbet, which was almost as rich as chocolate ice cream.

Just look at that glossy sorbet

I chose the carrot cake with roasted pineapple and cream cheese ice cream. Like the lamb, this proved disappointing. I'm used to Billy's Bakery's incredibly moist and almost gooey carrot cake, and compared to that, this carrot cake was austere, much more like dry carrot bread than cake. The crust tasted bitter and burnt, and I realized how dry the pastry was when I found myself hunting around for the occasional baked-in raisin for a welcome burst of moisture. The ice cream, however, was tangy and cool, and the pineapple (with an interesting spice note-- ginger, perhaps?) was a creative complement. Construct a bite with a bit of cake, dollop of ice cream, and a few squares of pineapple, and you're in business. Get a bite of just "cake" and you're left with a sad face.

Looks... wholesome

We paid the sizeable check and left the buzzy dining room. It seems as though you can have a great meal at Craftbar if you choose wisely; you can also leave thoroughly disappointed and much poorer for the experience. I believe the appropriate term for that is "inconsistent." Would I return to Craftbar? I wouldn't avoid it, and I'd come back if someone else were paying. The location is great, and there are some gems buried in the menu. But would I seek it out? Not especially. That means it loses one of its four spatulas this time around, settling around a thumbs-up-thumbs-down three.

900 Broadway, between 19th and 20th Streets

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