Tom Colicchio’s Craft on E.19th Street in the Flatiron District of New York City may be the best restaurant I’ve ever been to; they nail everything you’d expect in an upscale restaurant, and leave plenty of room for surprises. Walking into the tucked away location, and up to the host and hostess’s table, I felt as it I were checking into a 5-star hotel. First things first, I took a box of matches for my collection, then I was offered to have my coat checked, and go to the bar, or not, before being seated. The staff was extremely polite and hospitable. As I waited for my guest, I looked up in awe at the double-height ceilings and old-fashioned light bulbs which were hung together as rustic make-shift chandeliers. Other features of the decor include a two-story wine cellar, and a curving wall of overlapping leather panels. The medium-sized space has all the whimsy of a fine dining spot, but with a very casual and homey feel. I did not once feel uncomfortable as young people are often made to feel at high-end institutions. This low-key vibe was furthered by the sound-absorbing ceiling which kept conversations easily audible.
The menu, which changes daily to account for the availability of seasonal and local ingredients, lists all the farms which supply the fresh meat and produce. The rather extensive selections are sectioned into First Courses (fish & shellfish, meat, pasta, salads) Main Courses (fish & shellfish, meat, for two) and Side Dishes (vegetables, mushrooms, potatoes). Each subsection is even divided further into cooking styles, like marinated, braised, sautéed, etc. Even the pickiest of eaters would find plenty to eat here. After ordering, complimentary shots of Jerusalem Artichoke and Chive soup were brought out, alongside a selection of hearty bread and butter.
To start I had the Arugula and Lemon salad; it was a hard choice between that, the artichoke and fennel salad, and the mixed lettuce and shallot salad, but I’m glad I chose it. Never have I seen so much arugula on one plate before, and at a price ($13) that would be a deal at any restaurant, let alone one of the city’s best. The fresh leaves were lightly sprinkled with parmesan, yummy pine nuts, and an understated lemon vinaigrette.
Now for the main attraction: I had the Braised Short Ribs with Root Vegetables, which was, like probably all hot dishes, served in its own copper pot. Multiple waiters came to deliver the main courses so the contents of the pots could be revealed simultaneously. The tender and hearty meat was juxtaposed with the slightly al dente roasted veggies. The ribs, which were nothing like the messy barbecue food I was envisioning, were better than I could have every imagined. I had some of two sides, including the puréed potatoes, which were deliciously smooth and perfect with the juice from the ribs. The brussels sprouts sautéed with pancetta crumbs were equally delicious.
To my delighted surprise, after the main course plates were cleared, a small plate of miniature gingerbread men cookies were served. The frosting buttons were adorable, and the cookies were perfectly crisp and not too sweet. As if the Craft experience couldn’t get any better, all guests are given a bag of complimentary granola on their way out, which I had for breakfast the next day.
The warm and inviting setting, outstanding service, pure, local, and expertly cooked inredients, and fun little surprises, make Craft the best restaurant I’ve been to in New York.
(the picture is from their website)