Give craft a chance - rather long
Went to craft last night. We almost canceled the reservation due to some poor reviews here and from one of our friends. I am quite glad we went.
I'll go over the meal in a minute, but in case you only read this far you should know that craft's salty chocolate tart may well be the best dessert mankind has yet to produce. If you are hesitant about spending a lot of dough to hang out with CAA's sleaziest, at least drop by and have this dessert at the bar sometime. It is sublime. The chocolate is gooey and rich without being cloying, and the sea salt on top balances it beautifully. Maybe my fondness for the savory over the sweet helped vault this into treat hall of fame, but I truly believe it deserves any and all praise I heap on it. It's really good. You should try it.
On to the rest of the meal.
We were a party of 4: three omnivores and one fishetarian. We had studied this site and the menu ahead of time, discussed strategy, brainstormed and white-boarded the whole thing. We were ready. The one thing we really did not understand despite our exhaustive research was that the meals are served family style. This was fine with us, but did slightly change our ordering gameplan.
Drinks: We started with a couple of raspberry/verbena mojitos and a martini. These are excellent drinks. One of us was late and therefore missed the cocktails.
We brought a bottle of DeLille D2 (Washington state), which is a Cab-based blend, and paid the insulting $35 corkage fee. I noticed that they did have some reasonably-priced bottles and would probably go that route next time. We also had a couple of glasses of Shiraz after we killed the bottle and I had a Moscato with dessert.
-Amuse - This was a sardine and some egg and something else on a small toast. Good, but not amazing.
- Malpeque and Welfleet oysters (one of each for each of us) - these were served very simply with your standard mignonette and cocktail sauce. They were mighty fresh and were sweet and ocean-y at the same time.
-Beet and Gorgonzola salad - this was a beautifully-presented salad. Lots of different colors of baby beets and cheese with some very thin beet chips. Simple and tasty.
-Corn Agnolotti with Speck - The menu does not tell you that this comes in a delightful truffle sauce. This dish simultaneously tasted like summer and winter. The funkiness of the truffle and speck played off the corn nicely. I did not want to share.
-Pork Belly - dear lord this was rich. I was a bit intimidated by how fatty this was, but got over it as soon as I tasted it. My friend decided that he would like to make a t-shirt to wear to the gym with a picture of the pork belly on it to motivate him to go so that he could rationalize coming back to eat it again. Not a bad idea.
-Aged Sirloin & Porcini Marmalade - This was a fantastic steak. Just perfectly aged and extremely flavorful and tender.
-Diver Scallops & Vermouth - super sweet & succulent with slightly carmelised exteriors.
-Ivory salmon & cucumbers - I liked this the least, but fish-boy was very happy. I thought it was a little dry, but he also asked for it to be cooked medium when i would have gone a tad rarer.
-Roasted & Braised Rabbit - A bit of a wildcard since none of us had heard any talk about this dish. It was superb. The tiny rackettes of rabbit were tender as hell and the whole dish was gamy in the best possible way. There were various bunny organ meats in there as well for our pleasure.
-Gnocci - meh. The texture of these was nice, but they sort of looked like those corn starch packing peanuts and didn't entirely taste unlike them. We should have tried the gratin instead.
-Assorted Mushrooms - Really nice assortment of wild mushrooms with just a little char to them. Highy recommended.
-Shishito Peppers - Good blistering. Simply cooked. Me like.
-Runner Beans - Sauteed with tomato. Kind of boring.
At this point we had another amuse of heirloom plums and plum granita. Perky and very fresh!
-Have I mentioned the SALTY CHOCOLATE TART? This thing should be illegal. Side note: this was referred to as "Salty Chocolate Balls" by us throughout the evening, and the waitstaff soon joined in.
-We also tried a bunch of Gelatos and Sorbets. I was blown away by the Olive Oil and Caramel gelatos and the Raspberry and Rhubarb Sorbets. The Nectarine and Blueberry were rather good as well.
Then they brought us some lychee marshmallows and some kind of nutty/caramel brittle. Super-yummy, but we were about to pop at this point and it was past midnight.
They also brought us each a nicely wrapped blueberry/corn muffin for breakfast. I really liked this touch.
I've read a lot of negatives about the service at Craft, but our waiters were great. Our main guy steered us away from a couple of dishes and was funny and attentive. We had another waiter who was also casual and fun, without ever being intrusive. They were pals by the end of the evening and we had a great time.
The bill was $444 before tip, and I thought it was well worth it.
I'm waiting for the Top Chef fans who just want a glimpse of Collicchio to lose interest before I try Craft LA. But I have to say, your review captured lot of what I love about Craft NYC -- i.e., simple preparations that showcase the ingredients and flavors rather than the cleverness of the chef. The service you describe is also what I'm accustomed to in NY -- i.e., competent and attentive without being intrusive. For some reason, people on both coasts seem to go to Craft expecting something totally different, which may explain their disappointment.
re: Organ Leroy
They certainly have an unofficial VIP area, as the booths toward the rear of the room close to the kitchen entrance tends to be where the "names" are dining.
I always thought Craft was fine, and haven't understood the poor reviews, but that's just me. Especially with a high-profile opening like Craft, it's best to take the reviews with a grain of chocolate salt.