New York, NY 10003
Craftbar is Tom Colicchio's cheap restaurant. Of course when dealing with this definition of "cheap", it helps to understand that it's a relative description. Relative to Craft and Craftsteak and Colicchio & Sons, it is indeed cheap. It'll still set you back $70 per person on average for a standard appetizer-entree-drink dinner. That said, Craftbar is one of my favorite restaurants in the city. It's laid back, but classy. You don't have to dress up to go there, but no one will be in a Rangers jersey either.
We arrived midweek at close to 9 and Craftbar was about 75% full. Not bad, but around the corner ABC Cocina had a two hour wait. We were seated right away with great big smiles by a very pleasant staff. My only complaint was that the staff was, perhaps, a little too present. For example, I ordered a beer and literally the instant I poured the last of it into my glass, someone swooped in to clear the empty bottle. Kinda creepy, but at the end of the meal they gave us a complimentary dessert (for no reason at all) so it evened out.
Speeds decided that she wasn't really hungry enough for a "real" dinner, so she didn't get one and instead loaded up on small dishes, though I think she wound up eating more than I did. Part of Craftbar's menu is devoted to "snacks" so, if appetizers are half the size of entrees, snacks are half the size of appetizers. Anyway, this unorthodox method of ordering meant that her dishes arrived sort of at random. I'm just going to lump all of hers in one pile and mine in another. Okay? Cool.
First, Speeds got the East Coast Oysters. They're $3 each and she got three. A quick little bite before the meal really began. It wasn't really feasible to share, so I can't attest to how good they were, but who doesn't like oysters? She sucked them down pretty fast, so my educated guess was that she enjoyed them. Her next dish was the Fried Baby Artichokes with a lemon aioli dip. These I did try and they were delicious. A hint of crunch over a soft artichoke center. Artichoke is a somewhat neutral flavor, so pairing it with something as tangy as lemon runs the risk of really overpowering its taste. But they did a good job with the aioli. Speeds liked it so much that she almost ordered another. Her third small plate was the Roasted Beet Salad: beets, orange puree, picked fennel, and pistachios in balsamic vinegar. I personally don't care for beets so don't pay any attention to my opinion of this appetizer. I thought it tasted like beet salad and I'm not about to jump up and down about it, but Speeds made a big to do about it. The truth is, nothing we ate at Craftbar, either this particular night or any of the other times that I've been here has been anything less than good, so I'm willing to bet that if you tend to like beets, the odds are in your favor for liking this, too. Marinated Montauk Squid with lentils, picked shallots, and pickles celery was my appetizer and to say that this was anything short of sensational would be to sell it short. It honestly might be the best squid dish that I've ever had. It's a cold dish and in the summer that only adds to my appreciation of it. I am somewhat surprised that adding picked vegetables would have worked, but the pickles were limited and none of the flavors were drowned out. Absolutely order this one.
For "dinner" Speeds had a Cheese Plate. Three cheeses that our waitress basically picked out for her for $12. It was a cheese plate. Nothing more, nothing less. I, on the other hand, tried the Buttermilk Fried Young Chicken with barbecue heirloom beans (a fancy way of saying baked beans in barbecue sauce), grits, and braised escarole. The whole Southern-themed dinner thing was very big a couple of years ago so, having assumed that it's fifteen minutes were up, I was more than a little surprised that it was on the menu. I remember Craftbar had a very good roast chicken that I usually got, so, sticking with my history of ordering poultry here, I gave this one a high-calorie whirl. I liked it. It looked way bigger on the plate than it really was though. You essentially get six buffalo wing pieces of chicken and once you lose the bones there isn't a whole lot there. Still, what there was of it was quite tasty. The batter wasn't too thick and there was just the right degree of seasoning. As for the sides, the grits were pretty good, though the escarole was better. The beans were not more than forgettably okay. Barbecued baked beans are pleasantly generic and their sweetness was welcome alongside the grits and escarole.
We weren't planning to order dessert, but then, out of nowhere the waitress hands us a complimentary Strawberry Rhubarb Pudding that I ate most of. It was very very good. And only now am I thinking that it's a great southern follow up dessert for my fried chicken (!). If I was going to get dessert, I hope I would have chosen this.
Two glasses of wine, one beer, a cheese plate, two "snacks", two appetizers, and an entree came to $146 with tax and tip.
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