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Cragie on Main updates?

terrycatch Oct 19, 2010 10:25 AM

Heading to Cragie on Main this weekend for the first time in several months. Anyone been by recently to sample the fall/current menu and have recs to share?

  1. l
    lieb Oct 29, 2010 09:35 AM

    My partner and I live a few blocks from Craigie, and we'd been blown away by their bar food and brunch. This past Sunday, we went for a 6 course chef's whim, which we were really looking forward to.

    Unfortunately, the meal was extremely disappointing. The squid noodles, which a few have mentioned, were great. (Though I've had better dishes like it at amazing chinese restaurants.) However, none of the other five courses were particularly good. In fact, the entire meal seemed careless. Two low points are worth mentioning. Fist, goat confit in carrot soup. The confit was excellent, the soup was little more than orange-tinted cream. I put "soup" in scare quotes when recording this course. Second, the local steak fifth course. The steak was terribly seasoned: the pepper was not at all distributed and it was not salted at all. In addition, it was not particularly good: chewy and flavorless. I am an avid supporter of local meat, but this reminded me of the most unexceptional local meat I've cooked at home. I often tend to think that when you have local meat, you should do as little to it as possible. Sometimes, this is just incorrect. The people at Craigie needed to learn this lesson.

    The service and cocktails were excellent. However, we certainly won't be going back for a full meal. Perhaps we'll return for bar food.

    Of course, maybe the Chef's Whim is lower quality than an ordinary meal. Does anybody have thoughts about this?

    Craigie on Main
    853 Main Street, Cambridge, MA 02139

    1. Tom Armitage Oct 28, 2010 04:41 PM

      Last April, I reported on my eating experiences in Boston, of which Neptune Oyster and Cragie on Main were the highlights. So, a week-and-a-half ago, during a brief stay in Boston involving time for only two meals, my wife and I chose to have dinner at Cragie and lunch the following day at Neptune. Neptune was just as wonderful, maybe even more so, than it was on my previous visit. My reaction to dinner at Cragie was much more mixed. On our previous visit, my wife and I ordered a la carte and shared the pig’s head as our entrée. This time around, with glowing memories of our first visit, we decided to experience a broader sample of what the kitchen was capable of producing, and splurged for the 10-course tasting menu. The portions were small, so it was not a gorge-out experience by any means. In fact, my wife left feeling hungry, although I didn’t. Some of the dishes were sublime (e.g., the tablespoon portion of squid noodles, the scallop and avocado sashimi), others good (e.g., swordfish with Wellfleet clams, razor clams, and dashi), and still others just so-so (e.g., farro pasta with pork heart sausage and uni, and goat confit). I thought that many of the dishes tried too hard to do too much. For example, the combination of pork belly with evergreen huckleberries (from the Pacific Northwest where I live) and huitlacoche did not come together for me. The huitlacoche, one of my favorite ingredients, was lost in the dish. The main problem for my wife and me, however, wasn’t the quality of the food per se, but value. In my previous report, I reflected on many comments to the effect that Cragie is expensive, but worth it. And, following my first meal at Cragie, I agreed with that. This time around, we didn’t think that, overall, the expense (which was much greater than the cost of our previous meal) was worth it. The 10-course tasting menu is $115. With a nice bottle of wine, one supplement (the unctuously delicious marrow bones), tax and tip, the total experience came to $443. For that much money, I expect not just a few dishes to be “sublime,” but that almost every dish will rock my world, similar to an experience I had long ago at Pierre Gagnaire in Paris. Although none of the dishes on the tasting menu were bad, there were too many dishes that were merely good or just okay to justify the huge cost. I reflected on a birthday party I recently gave for my wife at a Hakkanese restaurant in San Francisco, where the multi-course banquet was uniformly wonderful and the per-person cost for nine people, with tax and tip, but no wine, was under $20. Or the dinner we had at Commonwealth in San Francisco, where a group of five shared virtually every dish on the menu and experienced an almost total across-the-board home run, with the per-person cost, with wine, tax and tip, around $80. (Commonwealth also offers a six-course tasting menu for $60 from which $10 is donated to a local charity.) So the question is, considering that the food at Cragie was almost six times the cost of the food at Commonwealth, was the food at Cragie six times as good? The answer, for both my wife and me, is clearly “no.” I’d go back to Cragie for the pig’s head, or perhaps to sit at the bar for some of the less expensive bar food. But I wouldn’t spring for one of the tasting menus again. We did enjoy sitting in the “ringside seats” at Cragie, overlooking the kitchen, watching the hard-working efficiency of the cooks, aided by an amazing mise en place.

      Reflecting on this last experience at Cragie underscores why my main passion is discovering modest restaurants that serve unfussy but interesting, delicious, carefully prepared food for an extremely low price. Many of them fall into the category of “ethnic restaurants” where I’m amazed at the value I get for the money.

      I realize that this post comes after terrycatch’s dinner at Cragie, so I’d be interested in a follow-up post on that experience.

      8 Replies
      1. re: Tom Armitage
        FoodDabbler Oct 28, 2010 05:38 PM

        "So the question is, considering that the food at Cragie was almost six times the cost of the food at Commonwealth, was the food at Cragie six times as good?"

        Was the food two or three times as good? That appears to be closer to the cost ratio than six.

        1. re: FoodDabbler
          Tom Armitage Oct 28, 2010 07:11 PM

          Good catch. Actually, I was just logging on to correct my error, but you beat me to it. The meal at Cragie ($443 for two) was actually only 3.6 times as expensive as the meal at Commonwealth ($160 for two), but the point -- and the conclusion -- are the same. The food at Cragie wasn't close to being 3.6 times as good as the food at Commonwealth.

          1. re: Tom Armitage
            Tom Armitage Oct 29, 2010 06:53 AM

            Argh. I'm clearly flunking math here. Maybe the third time is the charm. I think the correct ratio is around 2.75 not 3.6. Same point and same conclusion, just not as dramatically so.

            1. re: Tom Armitage
              FoodDabbler Oct 29, 2010 07:07 AM

              Yes, as I said the ratio is between 2 and 3.

              But, it's a minor detail. I agree that your overall point is valid. If you're going to pay Craigie money for a meal, every dish must be superb. My own experience with Craigie (some time ago when they were still on Craigie) was broadly similar to yours. The food was very, very good but not something that blew me away. I've had more memorable meals at T.W. Food.

              T.W. Food
              377A Walden St, Cambridge, MA 02138

        2. re: Tom Armitage
          StriperGuy Oct 28, 2010 06:36 PM

          Wow, thank you for the really thoughtful, well-written review.

          1. re: Tom Armitage
            lipoff Oct 28, 2010 09:15 PM

            Thanks very much for this review and thoughtful comments.

            I like modest restaurants that serve unfussy but interesting, delicious and carefully prepared food, and I also like opulent restaurants that serve very fussy but interesting, delicious and carefully prepared food. For obvious reasons, I dine at the former more often, but I enjoy the latter too.

            For me, value in the latter category does not come by comparing the cost ratio of an expensive restaurant to an inexpensive restaurant, but rather from comparing the cost ratio between expensive restaurants. I don't compare Craigie to Wang's or Tacos Lupita. I compare Craigie to Clio, Menton, L'Espalier, No 9 Park, and more. On that score, I think Craigie compares rather well in terms of value overall. However, that said, I do prefer to order à la carte at Craigie or to sit at the bar. I've enjoyed the tasting menu at Craigie, but if I'm going to be doing the whole tasting menu experience I think a restaurant that has a decor and staff commensurate with the high prices of a tasting menu makes the whole experience come together.

            774 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02199

            No 9 Park
            9 Park Street, Boston, MA 02108

            354 Congress St, Boston, MA 02210

            1. re: Tom Armitage
              Mike5966 Oct 28, 2010 09:50 PM

              I agree that the only truly sublime bite of food from the entire $400+ event (6-course meal for two plus a bottle of Cotes du Rhone) that was my visit to Craigie was the squid noodles. It's a shame that a bucket (or even a full plate) of this would probably be gross. It's best as a single bite, but this single bite is not enough to make me crave Craigie in general it like I do pho or pollo a la brasa, or other similar hit-the-huge-spot foods that devastate me in the mid-afternoon for a fraction (BY THIS I MEAN TINY FRACTION) of the price. What of this, and what of fine dining. Who the hell knows, but I'll continue to pay a little and a lot for good and bad chow until the day I die.

              1. re: Mike5966
                CocoDan Oct 29, 2010 06:30 AM

                Well said!

            2. c
              cambridgedoctpr Oct 19, 2010 01:00 PM

              see what kathryn from NYC said about her meal at Cragie; she has a reputation on the NYC board.


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