Craft DineLA at the Judges Table
Tom (Craft) Colicchio doesn't have to pack his knives and go, but he didn't come out on top either. We'd never been to Craft and figured DineLA was a good way to give it a try without breaking the bank. The idea being that if we were wowed by it we'd go back from time to time as regular customers - as happened in the past with Drago Centro, Picca, Eva and maybe Maison Akira after last week. After last night we're not sure about Craft one way or the other.
The restaurant itself is great - attractive, elegant, a sound level that is neither too high to have a good conversation or so quiet as to be intimidating. The service was impeccable, not too informal but also not too stiff either. There was a little bit of celebrity watching to be done, but we also didn't get any sense at all that as newcomers and unknowns we were treated any differently than anybody else in the place.
Most importantly, though, the food.
Bread was on the table. The black bread was great, the rustic sourdough was okay, nothing special.
An amuse bouche was a small cup of white bean soup that was a little too bland to really do much to awaken the palate - which is what I usually want from an amuse bouche. It was okay but dull.
Then all three first courses are brought out for the table. the Winter Greens, citrus and fennel salad was very fresh and refreshing but could have used something to perk it up just a little more than it was. I liked the Calamari, Black Garlic & Fresno Peppers a lot. It was very nicely prepared, had good flavor and looked beautiful. The favorite of our table were the pork croquettes with nettle pesto. They were perfectly fried, had great flavor, though they were perhaps not quite as hot as one would have hoped for.
The main courses we had were:
The fish - listed as sole on the DineLA menu online, it wasn't sole but I can't recall what it was last night. It was our least favorite. A nice piece of fish nicely fried but bland tasting and again not quite hot enough. It was on a celery root puree that was also sort of bland.
The shrimp on saffron risotto was good, again not great, again a bit bland. The risotto was nicely cooked but it almost seemed plain, the saffron wasn't all that discernible.
The flatiron steak was cooked to a perfect medium-rare, but was merely an okay piece of meat, nothing special, again not quite hot enough. The sauce it came with was good but fairly run of the mill. I could barely make out any of the shishito peppers that were supposed to be with it. I should have asked for some fresh ground black pepper, a lot of it, but I didn't.
The dish we all liked the best was the jidori chicken, oats & cipollini onions. The chicken was perfectly cooked, a bit crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside. The oats, cipollini onions and sauce complemented it perfectly. It was also not quite hot enough, but it seemed to matter less than it did with the other dishes.
None of the presentations were all that fun or interesting either. Everything came out in small copper pans, just sort of dropped into them and not arranged in any way. That doesn't bother me, but I was expecting a little more from the plating in an expensive restaurant.
Dessert was the highlight of the meal. There was a hazelnut and chocolate ganache bombe that was the bomb and a ginger bread cake that even those of us who don't like ginger bread liked a lot.
Overall the food was solid if nowhere near as interesting or innovative as we had hoped for. It could be that it just isn't that sort of restaurant and our expectations were skewed by having heard Tom skewer "cheftestants" on Top Chef. But my hope is that restaurants will use DineLA to shine, so as to attract new customers, rather than to simply do an okay job at a somewhat lower price than usual.
if i were looking for an "innovative" or an "interesting" meal or a meal that had any "novelty", i wouldn't be looking at the whole genre of restaurant that craft represents.
this genre is known for top flight, main-stream, ingredients prepared simply and well served in an upscale, civilized, environment.
other than your comment about the beef, it sounds like craft did exactly what it was supposed to do.
Well, yes and no. Everything, even when prepared simply, should have been more flavorful (simple preparation does not have to mean bland) and the ingredients, while good, were not so remarkable that they didn't need any highlighting of some form or another. (I've had far fresher, more flavorful shrimp in relatively cheap Chinese restaurants, better done simple fried fish in many places, far better beef in a lot of restaurants...) In all, it was a dinner that I could have cooked at home - I'm a fairly good home cook, but not by any means restaurant quality. I didn't expect novelty from Craft, but I expected more, hmmm, how shall I put it? Craft.
sometimes "flavorful" in a restaurant simply means using more salt.
personally, for this type of food, i'd just as soon have the diners add their own salt and pepper.
this is the type of restaurant that is my mainstay when taking out the kind of diner that finds everything "too spicy," or "too salty."
perfect for many high-end expense account meals where inoffensive, main-stream, food that is eaten with utensils (i.e. not finger food or food that requires shelling by the diner) is a good thing.
Ironically, one of the few complaints I've ever read about Craft is that they use too much salt!
I'm completely mystified by this particular diner's lack-of-flavor complaints. It is really the polar opposite of all of my Craft experiences (though I have not been there since the new CDC took over).
re: Jack Flash
if it wasn't a salt issue, maybe it was a fat issue. the other technique that restaurants often use to add flavor is to load the dish up with fat (e.g. putting butter on a steak and in all the cooked side dishes).
maybe Craft didn't slather enough fat on the food to satisfy estone888's palate.
(when i was professionally cooking, i found the "fat" technique to be the most foolproof)
I am familiar with the fat is flavor technique. The simple fact of the matter was that none of the four of us at the table - and all of us are very knowledgeable diners - were unimpressed by the "flavor profile" of the food. The ingredients were just not spectacular enough on their own to be all that impressive. Perhaps it was the Dine LA menu. Perhaps it was the night. Who knows? But I very much appreciate superb ingredients simply prepared in such a way to allow the flavor of the ingredients themselves to highlight the dish. This was not that. As I said, it wasn't bad, it just wasn't nearly as good as I expected it to be.
I had a lunch at craft a couple weeks ago...first time in about 2 years.
The room is beautiful (actually feels like someone spent money to decorate, a rarity in LA), service excellent and the food tastes like stuff I can make at home - all very well prepared, quality ingredients, but really boring. Like a side of roasted Cauliflower - maybe the simplest dish in the world to make.
If I couldn't cook, or didn't want to, I'd enjoy this restaurant a lot more than I did.
Sorry you didn't love your experience; however, referring to your last paragraph, Craft really isn't a place that's about innovation or fancy plating. If you were to go for a non-DineLA dinner, you could pretty much expect the exact same experience, but for considerably more money. In fact, that's part of what makes Craft a DineLA favorite.
It may also be worth mentioning that there is a new chef de cuisine at the helm there, within the past month or so.