Craftbar (NYC)

900 Broadway (at 20th Street)
New York, NY 10003

5 Second Summary:
Price Range- Brunch mains range from $8-17, Lunch entrees from $9-22  (at time of posting)
Ambiance- Casual, unpretentious gourmet
Cuisine- New American
Hits- Chorizo-stuffed sage leaves, hibiscus-lime sorbet, brown butter ice cream, fabulous bar menu
Misses- For lack of any major criticism, I’ll simply state that Craftbar occupies a large space and has an equally large seating capacity (although neither the food, the service, nor the intimacy of each table suffers for it), so be prepared for a humming din.  In general, the savory dishes are more successful than the purely sweet ones.

Dad’s birthday 2010.

Since my dad is hard to shop for, and since he likes all things celebrity chef, birthdays and Fathers’ Days have become opportunities for our family to treat him to New York’s culinary finest.  We had taken him to Daniel and Perilla, among other places.  Since we’ve all watched Top Chef together since day one, it was time to see what The Great Judge, Tom Colicchio, was all about.  Dad was convinced that Colicchio, who is notoriously tough on the reality show chef-testants, simply had to have major A-game if he was going to be so credibly critical.  We chose Craftbar, the least fussy and most casual of Colicchio’s restaurants.

Our first introduction to Craftbar was the extensive (and fabulous!) bar menu.  There were at least five cocktails I would have tried and a wide selection of beers (lovingly delineated under subheadings: “crisper,” “fruitier/spicier,” “hoppier,” “darker,” and “sharing beers”).  The bar menu listed 14 vodkas, 13 gins, 7 tequilas, 8 mezcals (not including a mezcal flight), 15 Kentucky straight bourbons, 12 scotches separated out into Speyside, Highland, Islay, Lowland, and blended varieties.  The drinks were serious business, like meals unto themselves.  My sister ordered a “rosemary lavender” (picture below) with rosemary Damrak gin, lavender, and lemon.  My brother had the “winter warmer”: vanilla Maker’s Mark, root syrup, Averna, and Left Hand Milk stout.

The big hit of the day was the chorizo-stuffed sage leaves served with saffron aioli.  Although this picture doesn’t do much to make it look appetizing, the flavors were bold and balanced.

We also tried the brioche cinnamon buns, which were fine but not served hot (and nothing to write home about).

My dad and sister, the formaggio-philes in the family, went crazy over the pecorino risotto balls in a spicy tomato sauce.

Another favorite “snack” was the polenta fritters topped with jalapeno and golden raisins.  Great balance of textures as well as sweet and spicy flavors.

My husband Rich had the duck prosciutto bruschetta over duck egg with peppery-bitter Japanese mizuna greens and orange puree.  We loved the duck-as-prosciutto and the incorporation of a less common green.

The Berkshire ham and cheddar scones scored another major hit.

Colicchio’s sweets weren’t as well-received as his savories.  Although it would be hard to find fault with the cranberry-orange muffins, they simply didn’t “disappear” as quickly as the ham and cheddar scones or the chorizo-sage leaves.
My entree was a piquillo pepper, mozzarella, and charred onion panino. Like nearly all of the other savories, it was was flavorful and straightforward.  The bread was perfect in thickness, soft in the middle, and crisp on the exterior for bite.  The moisture of the sandwich ingredients didn’t compromise the bread, and the product was wholly balanced.
Another very popular panino was the Berkshire pork Cubano with gruyere and pickled jalapeno.  Rich, hearty, flavorful… Colicchio was certainly “bringing it.”
Mom had a mixed lettuce salad with Bosc pear and pear cider vinaigrette, the latter of which had the perfect balance of sweet and acidity.  The salad was perfectly dressed and seasoned.
My sister and my dad had the goat cheese ravioli with Black Mission fig and honeyed onion.  Once again, one of the things this menu does extraordinarily well is pair sweet with savory in tightrope-precision balance.
Our first dessert was a pumpkin pot de crème (loose French custard) with maple crème fraîche and walnut shortbread.
We also tried out the apple crisp served in a small cast iron pot with brown butter ice cream, which was phen-om-en-al. So phenomenal, in fact, that I had to hyphenate.
Finally, I couldn’t resist trying the hibiscus-lime sorbet (at $4 a pop, how could I?).  I love non-traditional ice creams and sorbets, and this one was immaculately clean.
Our waiter informed us that, in Craftbar’s temporary pastry chef vacancy, one of the sous chefs had stepped up to the plate to innovate several of these desserts.  Many of them made the meal, so hats off to this extremely talented (but -alas- unnamed) sous chef.

We enjoyed Craftbar immensely.  Tom Colicchio did, indeed, bring his A-game, and -in my mind- is certainly justified in any Top Chef butt-kicking he dishes out.  In truth, I enjoyed Craftbar more than Colicchio & Sons.  It’s the less formal of the two, but it packs a serious punch.  I don’t say this often, but I would absolutely, positively go back.

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