You know you’re living a charmed life when you and your boyfriend read Serious Eats’ Top Five Fancy-Pants Doughnuts in New York City article, decide on a whim that you’re in the mood for some of those fancy-pants donuts, and head out to Tom Colicchio’s craftbar to get your fix.
You may remember that Kamran took me to craft for Valentine’s Day this year and that it remains to this day the best meal I’ve ever eaten without question. craftbar being the less formal sister to that restaurant, I was prepared for a difference in quality or service along with the difference in price. But no!
We were seated in a corner booth in the very dimly-lit dining room
and given our “breadbasket”, which was comprised of four long, crusty sticks.
I was in the mood for soft, warm rolls, so I reluctantly chewed on the rods with disdain, thought I’ll admit I appreciated the creativity. Luckily, our assortment of charcuterie arrived posthaste accompanied by slices of fluffy bread, and I was sated.
From near to far: Bresaola (beef that has been air-dried for 45 days), Finochietta (pork sausage flavored with fennel), Proscuitto di Parma (the famous dry-cured ham), Cacciatorini (sausage traditionally made with wild boar)
Our waiter told us that the Bresaola is something people either love or hate and that even though it would seem dry to us, we could rest assured that it’s supposed to be that way. It was, naturally, our least-favourite, but maybe only because the others were so good. The sausage with fennel was easily my favourite, but we both really enjoyed how especially silky the Proscuitto was.
I had come prepared to order the pork loin with sweet corn and chanterelle that’s listed on the website, but it turns out that the menu had changed two days prior to our visit. What replaced it was a slab of pork belly over lentils, endive, and a smear of pureed black currants. The waiter acted very excited when I ordered it, and though I kind of just assumed that’s part of his shtick at that moment, I fully believed him once I tasted it.
It. Was. Great. I mean great. My first bite was of the endive, which was cooked down until it became as sweet as fruit. It was so delicious that Kamran and I didn’t even recognize the taste and had to ask the waiter what it was. I said I could pick out some anise in it, and he told me I have a good palate, as that’s part of what it’s cooked in. (You can imagine how happy that made me.) I tasted the black currant next and think I made dreamy gurgling noises without meaning to. Next, I dove into the belly and closed my eyes as the layers of fat melted in my mouth and left behind juicy pulled pork that could have been cooking for hours. I’m wiping away a tear just thinking about it.
The funny thing is that the pork belly was so much like the pork dumpling at Sakagura, which I reviewed here. Both paired the pork with sweet flavors, though Sakagura surrounded theirs in a broth so intense it could’ve been maple syrup. I liked the craftbar version more in the end, but you can’t beat only paying $4.50 for it at Sakagura.
Kamran ordered a really divine “fried” chicken (“fried” because it’s pan fried) with collard greens and pickled watermelon. I’m aware that pan frying is supposed to dry out the meat, but we couldn’t stop talking about how juicy the chicken was. The crust on it was dense with savory flavors, and Kamran thought the collard greens were the perfect accompaniment. The only complaint he had was that he wanted more pickled watermelon; the sprinkling of rind cubes and scallions was just a tease.
The reason we had come, of course, was the ricotta fritters with peaches and buttermilk sorbet. Kamran ordered those and let me choose another dessert, which was like trying to choose a favourite child for me. Do you go with the more challenging olive oil cake with black mission figs, rosemary ice cream, and pine nuts? Or do you go with a deconstructed childhood favourite, the new concord grape granita with peanut butter cookies and whipped cream?
I couldn’t pass up the peanut butter and jelly in the end and went with the granita, though I was concerned about it. I was basically expecting a Sno-Cone with some grape syrup poured over it, but our waiter assured me it was a good choice. And sweet Jesus, it was. The grape flavor was so intense, the icy syrup so thick and rich, and the whipped cream on top was a mile high. I had to dig through it for five minutes before I actually got to the granita. The peanut butter cookies were a little bit too crunchy for my liking, but they were certainly delicious. It was definitely one of the more thoughtful and flavorful desserts I’ve had in the city.
And next to it, sadly, the donuts just didn’t compare. They were light and had a great interior texture thanks to the ricotta, and the summer peaches were lovely, but it didn’t feel like the decadent dessert I expect fritters to. However, the buttermilk ice cream was yummy. It tasted heavily of lemon rind in a way that I wouldn’t expect myself to like, but I kept diving into Kamran’s plate long after he stopped taking my granita. Next time, I could have just a scoop (or three or five) of that for dessert.
I thought I couldn’t exclaim enough about Tom Colicchio before, but this experience only made me respect what he’s doing a hundred times more. Our waiter, Mark (I think), only added to the meal by providing welcoming conversation and tons of information. And the prices really blew us away. Not that it was a cheap meal, but both of our entrees were in the low $20 range, and our desserts were only $10. I hope no one figures out how much these dishes were actually worth before I have a chance to go back and try everything on the menu.