A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Jan. 25.

Lunch -

Craft - 43 E. 19th St., Gramercy Park
Venison and Chestnut Terrine, some of Pat's Foie Gras Pate, Veal Breast with Assorted Mushrooms, some of Pat's Chatam Cod with Potato Gnocchi, Banana Tarte Tatin and Calvados Spice Ice Cream, some of Pat's Toffee Sticky Pudding and Malt Chip Ice Cream, a glass of Syrah, a cup of Lemon Verbena Herbal Infusion tea

In my humble estimation, Restaurant Week is a brilliant idea. It allows people who ordinarily can’t afford fine dining to participate, students with toques in their eyes to gain some new techniques, and diners like me with very long lists of restaurants to visit to sample a few more spots affordably. Of course, there can be some serious drawbacks to the execution to the two week special. Restaurants can limit their menus to two boring and inexpensive choices per course or waiters may give RW participants inferior service. Also, with many restaurants now offering daily prix-fixe menus of their own, the Restaurant Week menus don’t necessarily translate to any savings.

I’d read in a review of the Summer Restaurant week that Craft was especially successful. Since I’d always been intrigued by its deconstructionist concept of disassembling menus down to their basic components, I thought this would be my chance. Pat, who works within walking distance, and I met for lunch, the only option Craft and almost all of the other top RW restaurants provide.

When I first saw the menu, I was confused, certain that we’d only been given the regular selections. No, the waiter explained, we were supposed to choose from the list of six or seven appetizers, from the list of six or seven meats, and from the list of six or seven side dishes. I’d never seen anything close to this extensive during Restaurant Week, and making it all the more complicated was that every choice sounded delicious. To maximize our tastes, Pat and I decided to split our courses.

I started with a Venison and Chestnut Terrine, which was terrific. Its base was smooth and creamy, the meat was rich and soft, and the chestnuts were crunchy and perfectly proportioned. It also had a nice saltiness that was just right. Pat’s Foie Gras was as good or even better. It was the richest version of the dish either of us had ever had. Intensely buttery and velvety, even a teaspoonful’s worth seemed almost too decadent. Of course, neither of us considered stopping on account of considerations like those.

From there came the entrées, just as impressive. My veal was another exercise in opulence, the taste of the meat as rich as its quality and pairing very well with the smooth palate of the wine. Loving mushrooms, I also enjoyed the side of assorted funghi. It included four or five varieties, one of which I recognized as black trumpet. One quibble was the dark sauce covering the mushrooms was too salty, but with the veal, this was hardly noticeable. Pat had also high praise for his cod, which I didn’t get to try. (We were both too caught up in our own entrees.)

Dessert topped off the meal perfectly, as the waiter informed us there were yet more choices to make. We could choose either a pastry or a cheese and a fruit dish or an ice cream. I went with the banana tarte tatin, a French upside-down tart I’ve always enjoyed and a scoop of Calvados Spice ice cream. The warm banana and melted chocolate on the tarte tatin made it luxuriously gooey and sweet without being cloying. The Calvados Spice didn’t taste like brandy, but the cool apple flavor provided a sharp and cleansing contrast to the vividness of the pastry. Pat was just as impressed with his Sticky Toffee Pudding, which was from my one spoonful as good a choice.

In fact, that may be the craft of Craft. Even with so many options, it’s very difficult to make a mistake, because everything is so good. So I guess the biggest mistake you could make (brace yourself for the cheesy ending) is not checking it out for yourself for summer Restaurant Week.


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