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Dec 2, 2007 11:13 AM

Crave on 42nd with Top Chef Dave Martin

As being a huge Top Chef fan, I just had to check out Crave when I learned that Dave Martin took over the position as executive chef. I think the place has been there for a couple of months but it seems that it's starting to make the news in the last few days.

They're really making using out of Dave Martin's 15 minutes of fame. He made the rounds around the tables. If you order Dave Martin's truffle mac and cheese (the dish that earned him the win in Napa) he will personally deliver it to you. Poor guy -- I think the restaurant has him running around in front of the house and back of the house.

A little difficult to spot as the restaurant has no sign, it's a relaxed medium-sized space with a bar and restaurant area. Colored Christmas lights decorated its windows. As it's in a bit of an unfortunate location (42nd between 11th and 12th), I don't think it will draw too much walk-by traffic. But it was pretty busy last night, most likely from the press it has been receiving recently. As we didn't have a reservation, we had to wait about 20 minutes at the bar for a table at 6:30P.

Now, for the food. For appetizers, we ordered Dave's Black Truffle Mac and cheese (what else?) and Out of the Bleu, which consisted of pan-roasted shrimp with proscuitto, basil, gorgonzola served with sherry cream. The mac and cheese was good. But at the $14.95 price tag, we didn't encounter the huge chunk of black truffle as in the show. It was very rich and creamy. Although I didn't find a huge chunk of truffle, the taste of the truffle bits did come out nicely. I prefer my mac and cheese a bit firmer and not as runny, though. The shrimp was indeed tasty but I didn't taste the gorgonzola. I think they forgot it as gorgonzola is quite a strong tasting cheese and not easy to miss. The sherry cream was delicious, and went well with the salty proscuitto.

For entrees, we had the pan-roasted free range chicken stuffed with fontina and proscuitto. It was good; the chicken was a bit dry. We also had the filet mignon served with a rub that tasted vaguely of a type of mole with some coffee in it. It was topped with gorgonzola and maui onion rings. The piece of meat was not steakhouse quality, but still OK. I think if you're into well-seasoned meats, you'll like this dish. If I had a filet, I probably would have wanted it plain. Both dishes were served with seasonal veggies which turned out to be asparagus. We found that a bit odd as asparagus is more of a spring veggie. However, they were cooked really well, crisp-tender. The steak also came with yukon mashed potatoes which were very creamy and flavorful.

We shared the sour cream panna cotta with mango coulis and shortbread cookie for dessert. The panna cotta was actually the best one I've had. I'm not a fan of most panna cottas as I find them to be too gelatinous (not the biggest fan of jell-o). But this one was luscious and creamy. The shortbread cookie, however, was kind of hard and difficult to bite into. I feel that a proper shortbread should crumble in your mouth.

Overall, I thought the food was tasty. It's comfort food with the signature Dave flavors -- bold, complex, layered, blah, blah. I thought that some of the food lacked a bit on execution (definitely not the panna cotta). The restaurant has major service issues though. While everybody was friendly, they definitely didn't have their stuff together as it seemed that nobody coordinated with each other, bartender and waitstaff was very unsure what their roles were, etc. Hopefully the service will improve over time. Overall, a decent experience -- hopefully their location won't be a curse.

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  1. I was at Crave last night as well, with an out-of-town friend who is a HUGE Top Chef fan (we ate at Harold Dieterle's Perilla the night before). We both loved it overall. They are still in 'soft opening', which I think Dave said started only last Monday. We started with the famous Mac n' Cheese. I liked it - very rich and creamy. No, there weren't any huge chunks o' truffle, but I thought the flavors were very well balanced. The pasta wasn't actually macaroni, but a twist of some sort that I liked much better. It had a nice bite to it and stood up well to the rich sauce. We also split the Applewood Bacon Spinach Salad. It was well prepared, though a little sweet for my preferences.

    For dinner my friend had the sea bass. I didn't take notes (sorry!), but I believe the sauce had mole. I tasted it and it was very good, and the fish was perfectly prepared. I had the ginger salmon and it was excellent. Flavorful, not too sweet, nice spice to it. Our seasonal veggies turned out to be carrots and squash. Hers were nicely done, just crisp with good seasonings. Mine were perfectly cooked, but underseasoned. Personally I chalk that up to a new line still working out the details.

    Both dishes came with a coconut couscous. I'm really not a huge fan of coconut, nor tropical flavors in cooking, but this was absolutely delicious. We both kept commenting about it, and it worked really well with the Ginger Salmon.

    We had green apple sorbet for dessert, which I wasn't wild about. Flavor was good, but the little bits of apple made for a peculiar texture in a sorbet.

    I thought the wine list was very nicely thought out. Most of the wines were under $35, keeping in the theme of a comfortable kind of place. We had a South African Chablis that was very nice.

    I'd have to agree with Miss Needle on the service. It was extremely enthusiastic, but not very polished. But I've worked in the restaurant business before and I know it can take a little while for things to gel. They're definitely going for a high-end but informal style, and that can be tricky with service. But it wasn't slow, it wasn't rude and it didn't detract from the meal. I think they'll work out those kinks with time.

    Dave was indeed out and about in the dining room, looking nervous and happy and frazzled all at once. He was very gracious, stopping by our table numerous times to see how the food was, and even posing for a photo with my friend. He seemed to genuinely want to know how the meal was. I mentioned the differences in seasoning on the veggies and he was very grateful and clearly ready to head right back to the kitchen to sort it out.

    The location could prove to be a little tough. Though it's not that far from the Theater District/Times Square area, and kind of a nice change of pace from the frantic, toursty feel you get there. We went to a show after dinner and it was less than a 10 minute walk.

    We both left hoping that Crave would do well, and as a local I definitely plan on going again.

    4 Replies
    1. re: marthat

      I'm curious to know...which did you enjoy better? Perilla or Crave? I know they're very different and at different points in their lifespans, but I'm trying to decide which one is more deserving of a visit since I enjoy high-end and good service but always drooled over Dave's food on Top Chef.

      1. re: JungMann

        Depends on what you're looking for. I preferred Perilla. But if you're a type of guy who drooled over Dave's food on Top Chef, you may find Perilla to be too bland. The seasonings at Perilla are more restrained and refined. If you're into more bold rich flavors, I would lean towards Crave.

        1. re: JungMann

          I would have to say I liked Perilla better as well. It was just overall a more refined, high quality meal. To be fair though, I don't think the two restaurants (or chefs) are really trying to achieve the same thing. For my tastes Perilla would be my first choice, but I enjoyed what Dave is trying to do with Crave as well.

          1. re: JungMann

            They're completely different types of restaurants.

            Perilla is for a more sophisticated palate and pretty much top notch across the board - but in a downtown sort of way. It's what you'd expect from Harold after watching Top Chef.

            Whereas Crave is definitely more like what we saw of Dave - some delicious highs, some not so delicious lows. Not everything flows smoothly, but it's still interesting, and definitely worth checking out.

        2. The original comment has been removed
          1. What a sad disappointment from a chef I had so loved on TV! Dave flitted about the room, serving tables with the same frazzled earnestness that had won our hearts on TopChef. Nearly 10 minutes after we ordered, a busser delivered a complimentary basket of hard bread and tapenade. After 10 minutes of our failed gnawing, Dave arrived with our appetizers. The mac-n-cheese and scallops were like manna. Presentation definitely needs work, but still the MnC was hearty, rich and satisfying. The smoked butter and vanilla played off each other beautifully in my perfectly cooked scallop dish. We happily devoured our starters within minutes and looked forward to more of Dave’s talented offerings.

            45 minutes after we had been seated, we finally got our mains. None of us were pleased. My companion’s hangar steak was passable but uninspired and served alongside cold fries. His wife was happy to have ordered a burger after trying my filet mignon, cold and stringy as it was. The marinade was flavorful, though the citrus just didn’t work for me against the foil of the gorgonzola. Only the sides were uncontroversial; but how much skill does it take to properly roast asparagus and mash potatoes? All our meals were slapped onto the same oval platters with little attention to plating.

            In a room with only 9 or 10 tables occupied, it took our waiter an hour to deliver the Sprite we ordered after Dave himself gave us someone else’s wine order and we basically had to learn semaphore to flag down the waiter and remind him of our order. The lag time between courses gave us ample time to take in the room, which was nearly as confused as the service. The dining room had a sort of modern, laidback bistro vibe to it (mainly due to a large mirror and specials board), but was confused by modish wall art and Christmas lights. The bar was like a separate entity altogether with its large TV and sportsbar feel. The ambient trance music in the background did not do anything to bring together the disparate ideas. We left with a headache.

            I want to love this restaurant. I want it to be the success I think Dave should be. But we saw our waiter 3 times throughout our meal. We had to flag him down for 2 of those visits. And while the appetizers were phenomenal, the mains just weren’t and nothing looked very good on the plate. We wanted to love Crave; but we didn't.

            1 Reply
            1. re: JungMann

              The first time i went to Crave, my client picked it out, and we stayed for 5-hours! Had it not been past their closing time, we probably would have stayed even longer. -- The 2nd time I went was 2 days later b/c I just couldn't get enough and Dave was nice enough to squeeze-in a table for 4 on Valentine's Day! Everything was absolutelyl delicious from the wine (think it was the Argentinian red?) to the dessert (the chocolate cake-- YUM!). We ordered from the regular menu the 1st day, and the Prix Fixe menu on Valentine's Day. Dave couldn't have been more hospitable and genuine. -- He answered his own voice messages and emails for reservations, offered up his food recommendations, greeted us, chatted with us, thanked us, etc. --

              The only drawbacks are: the first night, our waitress was really a bit out of it and totally unfriendly, but the host (I don't know his name) & Dave and the food totally made up for it. -- And even though I don't mind the location and it's working to my advantage now b/c it doesn't seem to get TOO crowded just yet, since it's off the beaten path, I'm worried CraveOn42nd and Dave aren't getting the Kudos AND business they deserve.

              I have to admit, I did watch most of the season of Top Chef when Dave was on it, but only during the many Bravo marathons.... and I honestly don't remember how any of the contestants from that season really cooked. So I wasn't expecting anything. -- I even went to Perilla a week ago b/c another friend of mine (a non- Top Chef viewer) made the rez, and really wasn't so impressed. I saw Harold as he walked quickly by. -- The wine list was pretty good and very reasonable. The food was better than average, yes... but as YUMMY as Dave's?? -- No. -- What I really liked about Perilla OVER Craveon42nd was their awesome music (80's: Depeche Mode, New Order, etc).... and their quiet & cozy location on Jones Street.

              And I disagree w/ you JungMann on Crave's bread... I LOVED it both times I've been there. -- It's chewy, and not hard. They were these foccacio/bagel/pretzel-like pieces and we kept asking for EXTRA!

              I can't wait to go back to Crave (maybe even tonight!)! Perilla...I'm glad I went, but am in no-rush to go back. There are so many other new restaurants to try.

            2. listing

              Crave on 42nd
              650 W 42nd St, New York, NY 10036