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Front of house issues at Craigie on Main along with meal review (long)

This review is about the last meal I had on my Boston trip: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7227... but I felt I wanted to write a separate post because I wanted to talk about specific topics related to Craigie on Main.

As always, full reviews with pictures are on my blog: http://ramblingsandgamblings.blogspot...

While the food was quite good, the overall experience left much to be desired. We ordered the 10 course "Ultimate Craigie Experience" tasting menu, which costs $115+t/t. I asked about the kampachi kama (yellowtail collar) that I had the last time I came, and our server mentioned that they still do preparations of fish collar, and that he would ask the chef for me. Our server also mentioned that with the entree course to our tasting menu there would be sides, and we had the option of bone marrow or vegetables, so we opted for one of each. One good thing was that water was refilled quickly and often, but bread came with butter and no salt, so we had to ask for some.

Our first course was a trio of chilled seafood preparations. Starting from the left, noodles made with squid with asian flavors, a striped bass tartare marinated with citrus, and smoked arctic char. Our favorite was the squid noodles, which had both great flavor and an amazing, tender texture.

Our second course was a salad of hiramasa sashimi with green tomato-red onion salsa, avocado, lemon-caper vinaigrette, shiso, and fried tempura batter bits. I remember that we enjoyed this and liked the flavors and the crunch added by the batter bits, but remarked that the portion was on the small side.

Next was Australian sea trout cooked a la plancha with clams and tomato. I found the tomato a little too tart for my taste, but the fish was cooked beautifully.

Followed by fried frogs' legs. This was not particularly special, but it was interesting in that they served it whole, so that you could see the webbed feet as well.

Snail ravioli with broccoli puree, squash blossoms, and paprika oil was my favorite dish of the night. I would describe the flavors as earthy and green, and the pasta texture was terrific and worked with the puree.

Pork belly. I don't remember what went with it. I mean, it's delicious, but it's not that hard to make pork belly taste good in my opinion.

At this point, I realized that there was no kama coming and I asked about it. Only at that point did the server tell us that the chef couldn't fit it into the 10 course menu. I find this completely unacceptable. If that were the case, come tell me before we start, and I'll just add it a la carte. It's not a hard thing to do.

Our entree consisted of duck leg confit and a piece of smoked duck breast. I found the smoked duck breast to be extremely flavorful.

For our pre-dessert, we each had a different flavor of sorbet. There was yogurt, raspberry, and blackberry. Refreshing and nice, but nothing special.

There were also 3 different versions of our main desserts. One was a white corn grits brulee with lemon verbena ice cream. Another was a sour milk panna cotta, and finally a sheep's milk cheesecake. Our favorite by far was the sheep's milk cheesecake, which was incredibly light, followed by the panna cotta and the grits.

Our final dessert course was a rhubarb hibiscus mousse with buttermilk foam that came with a pisco punch with herbs. We liked it, but again I didn't find it particularly special.

I also vaguely remember some almond rocher types of chocolate which were very good.

Let's start with the meal in general. While there were certainly some terrific hits on the menu, I found the tasting menu to be expensive. $115 for ten courses, of which three were dessert courses (and not all full ones) and relatively small portions just felt to me completely devoid of value, especially in Boston. I think a better choice would have been if we ordered a bunch of stuff a la carte and ate family style. A pig's head they were sending out looked particularly inviting. For the same price, we would have enjoyed ourselves much more I imagine.

Then there was the front of house issue that was the purpose of this post. Not coming back to me to tell me that the kama wouldn't be in the 10 course menu was just poor. To resolve the situation, they decided to comp the sides. That was nice, except that we didn't even know we were getting charged for the sides! I guess they were "optional" when we heard the word "options". Again, another front of house gaffe. And the last person to come apologize to us was the hostess. In her nice red dress and high heels. Unless her official role is maitre d'/manager, I don't know how I feel about that. I personally feel that none of this is acceptable at a place that charges these prices. There should be a heirarchy of servers, captains, and a manager. The front of house and back of house disconnect felt so egregious that we wondered if the front of house had much say in anything at all.

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Craigie on Main
853 Main Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

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  1. i eat regularly at CSB; the cooking is excellent, but the chef does not like to accomodate. The hostess told me hat he owns the place and runs it as he sees fit. the service is fine in my opinion and the wait staff really tries to do a good job. In any case, it is one of the 3 or 4 places in Boston where I eat regularly and feel that i get good value.

    Some of the dishes in a tasting will merely be very good; some times even Homer nods.

    ( I pointed out how Per Se and Jean George were more accommodating which cut no mustard at Craigie.)

    1 Reply
    1. re: cambridgedoctpr

      The Chef runs the show. It's his way or the highway!

    2. I hate to sound like a negative nancy, but it just seems like you had a very good tasting menu (which I might add, 115 really isn't bad at all for a 10-course tasting menu, especially from a place like Craigie IMO), but not hearing about one small thing turned the whole thing into a mess? Also, in my experience, I was under the impression you weren't really supposed to fill up on the tasting menu? Of course the portions are supposed to be small.

      And you thought you would get free sides? Most decent places, at least that i've been to, charge for sides. A few bucks for the bone marrow at craigie never bothered me at all before for sure, it's all worth it..

      I am sorry there was a communication error - it stinks, but does happen, but it just seems like it was a small part of your whole experience, and from the sound of things, the food was all wonderful, and isn't that the point? Also nitpicking that the hostess is too dresses up? I'm sorry.... just seems like you are a little too picky. Just don't really see some of those "problems" as all that bothersome.

      5 Replies
      1. re: carlc

        Although I agree there is a degree of pedantry at play, not all of the points are invalid. If I'm paying for a 10 course tasting menu, I do expect to be full at the end, not still hungry; and I for one, would assume that I had a choice of sides, if it was not explicitly stated that I had to pay for them.

        However, I agree that the food did look excellent, albeit each dish on the small side. I also am one of those that gets irritated by 3 of a 10 course menu being taken up by desserts, since I prefer savoury to sweet -- but that's a personal preference.

        All in all, it seems like the food was executed well. There was two small communication errors, and if the OP was misled into thinking the sides were free, that is the more serious one. However, getting irritated that there wasn't salted butter with the bread -- a bit much really. Craigie, despite the quality of the food and the prices is NOT an upscale dining venue, and whether there is salted butter is too pedantic. With regards to the hostess' attire: unless she was in a ball-gown, which would have been OTT, who am to dictate the dress code of the staff?

        tb

        1. re: trueblu

          The concept of a tasting menu, in my opinion, is to offer as much variety as possible for a destination dining experience. I don't expect to go to Per Se frequently, so when I go, I want to experience as much as possible. Craigie just didn't come off as a destination dining experience, which is fine if that's the way the chef wants it. I did not complain about the food, but rather that I would have probably been much happier spending that money and ordering a la carte.

          In Boston, I agree that I would go to Craigie more often than not. However, in a place like NYC, where there are many more restaurants of this caliber, all the little things matter. At many of these places just the amuses, canapes, and mignardises would make two free sides pale in comparison. My point was that (as confirmed by responders to this post) while the food at Craigie is excellent, it does not aspire to be an upscale restaurant of the caliber that I would have expected for the prices.

          My comment on the hostess was not about her attire, but rather that the apology came from the hostess, not the chef/owner or front of house manager (if they have one). My point, again, was that there is a huge disconnect between the front of house and the kitchen, and the front of house clearly has no say in matters (supported by responders' comments about it being the chef's way or the highway).

          1. re: fooder

            Of course they have a front of house manager, and it may well have been the hostess. I am the front of house manager where I work, and I hostess, serve, bartend, bus, and sometimes wash dishes.

            1. re: hilltowner

              In small restaurants, you frequently will find the manager working the door. Meredith, the General Manager at Craigie does frequently work the door. So perhaps the only flaw in her apology is that she didn't identify herself as the General Manager when apologizing.

            2. re: fooder

              "My comment on the hostess was not about her attire,"

              Except for the part which was entirely about her attire. Sorry, you lost me with that one too. Also, are you sure she wasn't also the manager?

        2. The original comment has been removed
          1. Can you explain the hostess "In her nice red dress and high heels" comment? Do you mean she was attractive or were you offended by her in some way?

            1. for whatever it's worth (probably not much), I was at Craigie last week for my wedding anniversary. They couldn't have been more gracious. We did not have the tasting menu but were offered the sides. I never had the impression the sides were free. We did not have the tasting menu but one appetizer (the quatre fois), and an entrée per person, plus dessert. We were definitely not hungry by the end. The service was so pleasant and unassuming, it was a real delight. I think that if someone had not communicated something to me during dinner, it would have been an honest mistake, not some nefarious plan. We've always had extremely thoughtful servers there.

              Perhaps you encountered an oops. There's something to chalking it up to a genuine mistake instead of excoriating them. I'm all about second chances when so much of the dinner went right.