Colicchio & Sons

85 10th Avenue (at 16th Street)
New York, NY 10011

5 Second Summary:
Price Range- Tap room dinner entrees $17-24, Dining room dinner entrees $28-34, market menu $95, tasting menu $135 (at time of posting)
Ambiance- Chic, handsome loft space
Cuisine- New American, one of the pioneering chefs for market-fresh food
Hits- Zeppoles with butterscotch, oven-fresh pizzas, TC burger
Misses- Overseasoned salad, some temperature issues with soup
About a month after the holidays, juuuuuuust when we’ve started to recoup from December over-expenditure, New York City invites us to cease economically prudent at-home cooking with its annual winter Restaurant Week.  This year’s event came hot on the heels of a barrage of brutal snowstorms, which forced many of us into hibernation.  I left my own cozy kitchen to enjoy dinner at Colicchio & Sons with my friends Jesse and Jeanine.  Just over a year since the restaurant’s transition from Craftsteak and having recently celebrated my Dad’s birthday at Chef Tom Colicchio’s uber-casual Craftbar, it seemed as good a time as any to try this Chelsea hotspot.
The large, loft-like space is stunningly decorated and plays with both separation and openness through various media: glass, negative space, a winding staircase leading to the multi-level wine cellar, and minimally intrusive room dividers.  The glass-walled wine room (see photo above) separates the less formal Tap room from the Dining room.  The furniture is both inviting and elegant, masculine without being Hemingway-ish-ly so.
The Restaurant Week menu seemed promising.  After a day of careful deliberation and meal-planning emails, I was disappointed that my #1 appetizer choice, a braised beef terrine with pistachios and cherry compote, was off the menu.  Despite our best sweet talk, we simply couldn’t induce the waiter to scare up a single beef terrine from the recesses of the kitchen.  Instead, we pretty much wound up sharing three appetizers.
The Tap mixed greens salad was a medium-sized portion, well-dressed but slightly over-seasoned.  I love a salad that has the perfect oil-to-leaf ratio, but this one was way too heavy-handed on the salt and pepper.
The second appetizer was a cauliflower soup with pine nut streusel.  It was lukewarm and heartily flavored by cauliflower and cream but otherwise unremarkable.  The pine nut had nice flavor, and there were some soft onions as well.  Jesse remarked, “What do you expect when you hear ‘streusel’? Sweet, right?”  Although “streusel” only refers to scattering or sprinkling some ingredient, I, too, had anticipated a topping like the cinnamon, oatmeal-encrusted goodness one might find over an apple brown betty.  (What? No brown sugar? No raisins?!?) Some savory and sweet might have made this soup more exciting.  It was a miss and our least favorite dish of the night (probably the one that would have sent Chef Tom home were he competing.  🙂 )
A hit of the night was our third appetizer, roasted veal bone marrow with truffle vinaigrette and “drunk onions.”  We balked a little, but the void left by the absent beef terrine simply could not be filled by a mere salad.  The marrow, prized by Native Americans (a factoid our waiter shared), was buttery in taste and gelatinous in texture.  Spread over buttered toasts with sweet, caramelized onions, it was a well-rounded, indulgent delicacy.

For her entree, Jeanine had the tomato, mozzarella, and basil pizza, fired in the flashing oven surrounded by bar stools at the front of the restaurant.  The tomatoes were super-sweet, the cheese hearty and substantial, and the crust lip-smackingly salty.  This simple pizza had beautiful balance.

Entree #2 was a surf and turf: scallops and pork belly with a bacon aioli and citrus.  The scallop was technically perfect: caramelized on top, not at all chewy, perfectly tender and delicate.  The pork belly was pretty much all fat with very little meat and not enough crispy skin to really hold it together.  The dollop of bacon mayo was super-smoky (made with Benton’s Tennessee bacon), and the trio of grapefruits and blood orange gave the dish beautiful color.  Under the pork belly was a soft, mild fennel.
Entree #3 was the “TC burger” with “drunk onions,” a slice of pecorino cheese, and chips.  The burger was a flawlessly cooked medium, the bun a fresh and soft brioche.  I’m not sure if the pecorino cheese had a slightly truffle-y taste or if there was actual truffle oil somewhere in the burger.  Either way, it was subtle enough to be outstanding.  The meat was juicy, and the onions were perfect.  The generous portion of chips, tasting mildly of barbecue flavor, were light and not at all greasy.
The highlights of the evening, though, were pastry chef Stephen Collucci’s artful treats.  Rather than save the best for last, let’s just go for broke.  By far, our table’s favorite edible of the evening was the napkin-nestled set of three zeppoles with malted milk ice cream and a ramekin of butterscotch.  With years of Italian confections under my belt, I consider myself somewhat of a zeppole connoisseur, and this is not your state-fair, fried dough ball.  More like a beignet, Chef Collucci’s zeppole has a perfect, crusty exterior with just enough bite to draw the line between inside and out.  It isn’t quite crunchy, but it isn’t soft either… think of the best-quality doughnut you’ve ever had.  The inside was more cakey than doughy, and it was filled with these perfect air pockets to make the whole thing utterly light.  Never much of a fan of Whoppers, the malted ice cream was sort-of wasted on me, but it was unique and tasty, if you’re into that sort of thing.  The butterscotch, on the other hand, I recommend no matter what you’re into.  Not at all like that yellow syrup we used to squirt from a plastic bottle onto our homemade ice cream sundaes, this butterscotch is the buttery, brown sugary, creamy real deal.  It’s so rich, it almost has a rummy taste… as if the sugars somehow fermented into some type of alcohol.

Also delicious was the apple tatin with hazelnut brittle and Calvados apple brandy ice cream.  The tatin was gorgeously light, buttery, and flaky.  The Calvados ice cream was sweet without being overly so, flavorful, and pleasantly peculiar in taste.  And who doesn’t love hazelnuts??? Add sugar, water, and a candy thermometer, and you’ve got yourself a little taste of nirvana.

Our least favorite dessert of the night, solely on account of its plainness, was a vanilla ice cream parfait with hot fudge, red velvet cake, and “Oreo” cookie crunch.  The only thing that kept it from being “local ice cream parlor ho-hum” was the dense but delicious red velvet cake cubes, which had that tell-tale Dutch chocolate flavor: rich and not too-sweet.  Like the zeppole and the butterscotch, the red velvet was no more and no less than dessert “done right.”  There were no short-cuts taken.  Rather, the love –and quality ingredients– were perfectly evident.  Thankfully, the hot fudge was sparingly applied, which tempered the dessert and kept it modest to avoid overwhelming the other ingredients.

Overall, what stands out about Colicchio & Sons is its strong commitment to visual aesthetics.  Many of the dishes were not just prettily plated but downright artistic.  I wonder if the dining room meal would have been different and (the inevitable question) to what extent Restaurant Week came into play with respect to food, flavors, appearance, textures, and temperatures.  Frankly, I thought Colicchio’s Craftbar put out a more consistent product, but for a Restaurant Week special night out, Colicchio & Sons was thoroughly enjoyable.  Was it perfect? No.  But I’d definitely let this Top Chef stay on the show another week.  🙂

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