26 March 2009

Craft, 43 East 19th St. (Between Park Ave & Broadway)

When our reps from Google asked us where we would like to go for dinner while they were in town, Craft seemed like an excellent choice- simple yet complex foods and flavors, resulting in everyone finding something they would like. We walk up to the Craft private dining room about an hour and a half later than our reservation was for, and immediately our coats were taken and the experience started off (and may I jump ahead a bit and say stayed) exactly how I would imagined it would be. We sauntered over to the bar for cocktails or wine before dinner, and when I noticed that there were two bottles of wine out to choose from, I asked the bartender for a recommendation on a good cab. He simply responded with "This Pinot Noir and Savingnon Blanc were chosen by Chef to specifically complement the meal. Which would you like?" Whoa. These wines were chosen by Chef (with a capital C) to compliment our meal? Well, obviously they have to be amazing right? Without hesitation I dove right into the Pinot Noir and in the blink of an eye, the first round of passed h'ours d'ourves came out. A cauliflower soup with truffle oil. You can ask any of my coworkers, I stood there inhaling that magical scent for about three minutes before drinking my soup. After finishing, I thought out loud to myself, "They could bring out 5 more trays of that, just for me," and by the time we sat down for dinner, they definitely had. I saw four extra glasses of the soup sitting on the bar at one point, and one of my coworkers definitely dared me to go over and shoot them all- to which I responded that I was classier than that. Not going to lie though, the temptation was there.

The second passed h'ours d'ouvre was a Spanish mackerel sashimi on top of some sort of garlic cracker with fennel. Outstanding, once again. Most of my coworkers said that this was their favorite- again, to just inhale the fennel for a brief second before consuming was totally key to enhancing all of the flavors as they rolled right over your tongue like a tidal wave.

The third passed h'ours d'ourve was a pork croquette with golden candied raisins and a crunchy herb on top (that now I can't remember the name). Greasiness isn't the right word, but the more savory of the fried pork combined with the subtle herb ending with a sweet note of the golden candied raisin was fabulous. It was definitely three distinct, unusual yet complimentary flavors that each had a chance to shine at different points in the experience. I probably had about four of these by the time they made the rounds.

The fourth passed h'ours d'ourve was a foie gras moosse on a rich, buttery cracker. So light and airy, yet so savory and heavy. A very nice compliment to each other.

The last passed h'ours d'ourve was fava beans with fava oil and a tiny bit of salt. It was of course beautifully prepared but the flavors didn't talk to me like the rest of the h'ours d'ourves did. Either way, a nice, light, vegetarian way to compliment the other savory & creamy dishes.

One thing that my coworker and I discussed this morning was how each h'ours d'ouvre had it's own distinct flavors, character and charm. None overlapped in any way, and each complimented the next and the one prior, almost like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

We sat down for dinner about an hour or so after lounging in the first entry room, enjoying the soundtrack, the ambiance, the company. A fixed menu was chosen prior, and everything was shared family style- what a great idea, as opposed to choosing your dinner from a few fixed choices. Craft is definitely a restaurant that is so damn conducive to this sort of feeling- upscale and classy, yet cool enough to have community dishes to ensure that each diner has the opportunity to sample every part of the meal. When we go out, we always sample each other's meals anyways, but the fact that it was a green light from the get-go added so much more to the quality.

For appetizers, we had the four following: Mixed lettuces, French Mâche & Apple, diver scallops and hamachi. The mixed lettuces were nothing special, and frankly a little annoying since the leaves were so large, it was hard to get the lettuces from your plate to your mouth without cramming them in with your fork, not to mention looking like an asshole when you have lettuce hanging out of your mouth and you push it in with your hand. Or maybe I'm just not skilled enough. The scallops on the other hand were positively off the hook. Perfectly seared on the outside progressing evenly and smoothly in temperature to raw on the inside, cooked to medium-rare perfection. They were absolutely ginormous, and seasoned just enough to bring out the main feature and flavor of the fish- freshness. No use beating around the bush, the scallops were to die for. When I thought it couldn't get any better, I had a bite of the french mâche and apple. A salad of basic mâche greens, apple and an onion vinaigrette, one would think it's nothing special. But the same theme comes back to haunt us once again- simple, complimentary flavors. The salad started off green, turned sweet with the apple, and the vinaigrette totally sent the experience upwards with the onion-y, savory yet semi-sweet note at the end. Absolutely incredible. If only I could make this at home every day. The hamachi was fresh and tasty, but honestly it didn't compare to the scallops, and frankly I like my raw fish with rice, seaweed (sometimes), soy sauce and wasabi.

Might I add one more thing about the appetizers, my god was the wine paired perfectly for the apps. It was a match made in heaven- I don't even like white wine really, but the way the the flavors of the scallop and wine tangled in my mouth....absolutely remarkable.

As our waiters whom I don't recall ever seeing took away our plates and new ones appeared before us for the main course, I wondered if I should have regretted scarfing down as many h'ours d'ourves as I did as I was now positively full from the first two courses. When they brought out the mains, I thought I may have gone to heaven - organic chicken, flatiron steak, assortment of mushrooms, potatoes gratin and cauliflower and chickpea risotto. I'm not going to lie when I say that I only tried a little bit of each, because I was so full from the h'ours d'ourves and the appetizers.

The chicken was perfectly and subtly seasoned, and the steak was to die for. Served rare, it was nicely complimented with the red wine, and absolutely melt in your mouth. I didn't find the potatoes gratin as anything spectacular, but the cauliflower and chickpea risotto was a nice change of pace from the normal risotto. To get a little personal, I'm not a huge fan of mushrooms but I tried one anyways, especially because I'm trying to get over my dislike- and while I particularly didn't like them, I could tell they were fresh, cooked properly and for a mushroom connoisseur, probably absolutely tasty.

For the last course of dessert, we had a chocolate souffle and a warm apple crisp with a scoop of vanilla and a scoop of caramel ice cream. Unfortunately, due to being a savory and not sweet person, I find desserts like these rather subpar and underwhelming. I sampled barely a taste of all parts, and frankly it was nothing to write home about. I was really looking forward to sampling the key lime meringue tart with coconut cream and hibiscus granita, but I guess this is just another reason to find a reason to celebrate and return to Craft.

You could really get a sense of the chef's sense of personality in the food that we ate- such simple, subtle yet complimentary flavors blending together to form such a complex experience. Everything was in this theme, and you could totally see Tom Colicchio's reflection in all parts of the dining affair. Lastly, I'd like to comment on the waitstaff of Craft. I don't really remember seeing our waiters at all, yet plates were magically taken away and re-appeared and drinks refilled without the slightest bit of attention or interruption of conversation. Even the bathroom door was held for me. Every action was performed with the utmost precision and efficiency so as not to interrupt the experience. Absolutely incredible amounts of class and service.

The morning after: Craft gave everyone a chocolate chip muffin as we got our coats and walked out after an amazing night. I wasn't in the least bit hungry the next day, but not going to lie, the muffin complemented my $.75 street vendor coffee so damn well I couldn't resist.

I think it's clear to say we have another 5 Forker here:

22 March 2009

Otto, 1 Fifth Ave (at 8th St.)

Forkers, due to the recent economic syndromes, the oncoming trip to Chile and the ridiculous amount of exercise I've been doing, I've been laying low and trying to cook in as much as possible to save some extra cash and cut calories. Myself and my two managers ended up at Otto when one of our vendors decided to take us out last minute, and the rest of the team punked out.

Otto is a pizza restaurant and enoteca that was opened by famous chef Mario Batali. We walked in to Otto on a seemingly regular Wednesday night, yet the place was packed and our vendor was only able to score us a standing table only. Unfortunately, we were unable to order Otto's famous pizzas at one of these tables, but that didn't damper our moods and keep us from ordering three bottles of wine, a smoked meats plate, a cheese plate and some small fishes.

The smoked meats plate was outstanding. But how could an assortment of prosciutto, pancetta, coppa, testa & salumi while drinking fine red wine in great company at an amazing not be outstanding? The cheese plate on the other hand was rather underwhelming, with an assortment including a brie, parmesean, and gouda. However there was one soft cheese that was absolutely incredible, the goat coach triple cream from upstate NY. I was dually unimpressed by the small fishes as well, as most were composed of some sort of octopus or squid, of which I'm allergic. In lieu of this, I tried the rock shrimp and it was very nice.

The wines we had were also very nice- mostly dry reds, the way it should be! By the time we walked out of Otto and finished everything, to be honest I'm lucky I remember the dishes we had, let alone the wines. The one thing I would have improved upon with the wines would be a slight chill to ~50 degrees F. Wines are fine at room temperature, but when room temperature is about 80 degrees (it was very warm and crowded that night), the wine should be slightly chilled.

Probably one of the coolest novelties about Otto that I noticed is an old-school train timetable (you know, the one that has the letters that flips around every time a train departs or arrives) that occasionally flipped on the wall opposite the entrance. Very very nice European touch.

I'm looking forward to returning with my father and my sister when they're in town, and trying the pizza!

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