Craft - Holy Crap
I also have the review on my blog:
* * *
As much as I was looking forward to my meal at Craft with the fervor of the food acolyte that I am (sadly), I was a bit worried. It had everything I try to avoid when it comes to new restaurants:
Celebrity chef? Check.
Deliriously expensive menu? Check.
Buttoned-up and potentially pretentious service? Check.
However, being a fan of any new restaurant with credentials (Tom Colicchio has restaurants in NYC, Las Vegas and Dallas that have received critical acclaim as well as anecdotal expositions from friends on its deliciousness), I couldn’t help but have high expectations.
Turning the corner on Constellation, I was weirdly nervous. What if the food is terrible? Did we come too early; should we have waited until the kinks were sorted out? Am I not wearing expensive-enough clothes? Class LA dining jitters, right?
Anyway, we had nothing to fear. The hostesses were extremely gracious and pleasant even though were fifteen minutes early for our reservation and were seated immediately.
The restaurant is filled with warm, woody tones and yet had an unexpectedly breezy feel to the space. There was great flow in terms of restaurant-goers and the service staff easily getting from location to location with a minimum of human collision (always a good thing!).
First thing that struck me was the service uniform palette. Black pants, black vests, blue shirts, striped ties. Seemed a little stuffy and corporate, but it didn’t feel too chain-y and was not distracting in the slightest (nee: backless sleeveless “shirts” on hostesses in another shall-not-be-named restaurant).
We waited a bit before our captain, or head server, came to bring out the menus. I quickly ordered a glass of sparkling rose to kick off the evening (sweet and crisp; a great apertif).
Reading up on the other Craft restaurants, I knew that almost everything is served a la carte and so had a “steakhouse” feel to the ordering methodology, and so we did just that. We started with the pork belly with madras curry and ordered the braised short ribs, chitarra spaghetti carbonara with garlic chives and the assorted mushrooms (I had a mini-heart attack when I saw it was $21 … but I need me some ‘shrooms, dammit) as sides.
(It’s always nice to have great conversation with your girlfriend while you people-watch across the tables.)
An amuse arrived; a classic combination of prosciutto, summer melon and an unexpected twist: hearts of palm. It came in a two-person portion so we split it down the middle and each had half. I’m usually not a fan of prosciutto and melon but this paired perfectly; it was the perfect proportion of the two ingredients which balanced the salty, porky prosciutto perfectly with the sweet squish crunch of the melon. Great start! I was getting excited.
Shortly, our appetizer arrived. Five pieces of … fried tofu? I thought I got pork belly? I shrugged and cut into a block. Just to describe how this dish looked, the near-perfect rectangle of pork’s outside was browned as if deep-fried, with a bit of skin on one end. When I cut into it, a creamy interior exposed itself, ready to be consumed.
I stabbed it with my fork and thought, “bottoms up!”
This was the ultimate expression of porktastic ecstasy. The inside was literally dissolving on my tongue upon contact and the fullness of the fat was completely coating my mouth. It was as if the world had struggled and toiled to perfect the perfect method of cooking pork belly and every iota of energy expended to create this had culminated in this rectangle of animal gold. The dish came with sweet-and-sour dates and a madras curry sauce but they were practically superfluous, although good (by themselves and with the pork, but I preferred the pork by itself).
My girlfriend gasped across the table. I thought she had stepped on a bug or was choking but one look into her eyes and I knew.
This was ludicrously good.
The pork was quickly consumed (thank goodness we shared because it was so rich that I don’t think I could have finished it by myself) and we were left bewildered by the sheer force of taste.
The main course arrived with our sides, and although it wasn’t a letdown per se, it just didn’t reach the heights of the pork belly. The short ribs were braised properly but it just didn’t have a depth of flavor I’m accustomed to braised beef short ribs; in fact, it didn’t hold a candle to the watermark of beef short ribs I believe are on permanent rotation at Lucques. Still good nonetheless.
The sides were delicious. The spaghetti had the perfect texture: slightly toothsome and yet simultaneously silken and feathery, with the carbonara sauce gliding across the noodles and the crispy pancetta providing a crunchy, salty counterpoint to the dish. The mushrooms were (as expected), very good with a pronounced umami taste and perfectly roasted; on display were maitake (hen-of-the-woods), baby shiitake, porcini and chanterelles. Great accompaniments to the protein, bar none.
After we finished our main, we received a dessert amuse which consisted of a plum consommé, tangerine supreme and a prosecco (I believe) sorbet. I think this course didn’t work for me and so, thankfully it was gratis! I just thought it tasted like the most sophisticated cough syrup ever. I know, not particularly appetizing, right? I’ll just leave it at that. If anything, it did “clear my palette!”
Still looking to end the mean, we took a peek at the dessert menu. The dessert menu was interestingly laid out, with “classic combinations” which had more standard desserts, and a “make your own” section that had pastries, fruits, ice creams, sorbets, gelatos, etc. in a “build-a-burger” format which we both thought was fun. My girlfriend has the sweet tooth so she took the lead and ordered the raspberry pound cake with lemon verbena and olive oil gelato (something we want to try at Otto in NYC when we’re there in September).
The dessert was solid, backed by fantastically fresh raspberries which exploded with juice, a delicious and yet subtle gelato and a herbaceous, bright undercurrent of the lemon verbena. The pound cake was a bit of a letdown but we considered it more of a vehicle for the other elements of the dessert and weren’t too sad about it.
At this point I really want to mention the professionalism of the staff, in particular our captain who took care of any and all concerns swiftly and with genuine concern.
All in all, I was wowed, impressed and a bit humbled by the experience. For a restaurant open for all of three and a half days, it was a really impressively tasting meal flanked by a great ambiance and stellar service. The menu is expensive, yes … but I assure you, it’s worth every penny.
So, in closing:
Capable chef? Check.
Deliriously delicious menu? Check.
Buttoned-up and extremely gracious, service? Check.
Go, you won’t regret it.
In fact, you may see me there.
10100 Constellation Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90067
Craft is certainly doing itself plenty of favors in the service department. I've always said that I'd overlook service if the food made up for it, and the fact that the food is stellar enough (I didn't have the heart to get pork belly knowing full well that I had other rich dishes in mind), it makes the very attentive service all the more noticeable.
I too was non-plussed by the champagne sorbet, and I thought it had a bit of a mediciney taste. But it certainly did cleanse the palate leading up to my cookie plate.
You need to make the pork belly a reality the next time you go. I'm not being hyperbolic when I say it was the best pork belly I've ever had (and while I'm not an expert at all things pork belly, I've had it at Lucques, Yongsusan, Nook, Grace and made it at home, and this thing blows them all to smithereens).
I really thought the service was good enough that it became one of the anchors that I'll remember of my meal there.
I'm planning on going again soon ... just to make sure it's not a one-hit wonder!
Never have I ever craved pork belly more than now. I don't have the cash the spend on craft but I sure got room on my credit card!
I appreciate all the comments ... I never thought "porktastic ecstasy" would get such notice ... but apparently everyone's gotta have the pig ...