'Craft' - What makes it so good, so popular and constantly referred to by foodies?
- Charles Yu Jul 2, 2013 08:39 PM
I realize recommendation by Michelin has always been a contentious issue amongst foodies and chowhounders. However, to us out-of-town visitors, who rely on reference sources to direct them to previously untried foodie destinations. Information provided by Yelp, Zagat, Chowhound, Timeout or Michelin....is as good as any.
Question: Why is 'Craft' rated so highly amongst food guides, so popular and constantly referred to as one of NYC's top culinary destination? If the food is indeed so good then why is it not Michelin Star rated??!! If assuming Michelin is reliable for western style cuisine, does it mean that 'Craft' is over-rated for some unknown reason?!
I have always loved Craft for what it is - incredible ingredients, cooked simply, but perfectly. My only gripe is that the prices are somewhat high, but I think again, it goes back somewhat to the quality of product being used.
Can't answer why it doesn't at least have one star (domestically) as I think it is better than a number of those...that being said, if I were in charge of Michelin on this side of the pond, I wouldn't be tossing stars to every reasonably good restaurant in NYC; especially since many of the one stars, to me, are operating at very different levels. It takes away some of the distinction IMHO
Unfortunately, I don't think we know.
To most NYers, it's "crazy" that restaurants like Craft and Babbo don't have a star. I mean Babbo is talked about more on CH than Craft. Both are owned by celebrity chefs.
FYI, Adam Platt has Craft has #5 in the city:
Directionally, I agree with the list.
I also like starless restaurants like Barbuto, Marc Forgione, Esca, Riverpark, Telepan, Sushi Yasuda, Tocqueville, Lincoln Ristorante, and Casa Mono,
I didn't realize Craft doesn't have a star. The food is terrific and the service of a very high level. Michelin has these inexplicable omissions, but Craft certainly deserves one star. I think it deserves more, but in the Michelin scheme, the food and table settings are probably not elaborate enough.
What are your expectations of Michelin-starred restaurant? That is what really matters.
It is not unheard of for restaurants to get Michelin stars and subsequently get slammed over and over and over by people who went to them seeking an experience based on their expectations of what a Michelin-starred restaurant should deliver. I suspect a lot restaranteurs without Michelin stars thank their lucky stars they don't have one but are still filling their tables every night with happy patrons.
The Michelin ratings systems reflects its origins as guide for roadsters, wondering whether a meal will be worth the wear and tear on the tires to get there.
The system is:
3 stars "Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey"
2 stars "Excellent cooking, worth a detour"
1 star "A very good restaurant in its category"
A lot of people mistakenly think that a 1 star Michelin restaurant is just a more informal, price-friendly version of a 3 star, or a younger, less established restaurant that might someday move up the ladder. But a 1-star joint might be totally out of the box when it comes to what people expect of a Michelin starred experience.
My experience of Michelin starred restaurants pretty much tracks my experience of Oscar-winning movies. I see instantly why they won the Oscar, but the movies lack what I want from art. Lots of chefs are manipulating their food to win stars rather than provide a truly good experience of food and dining. Michelin isn't a guide I use to choose where to eat any more than I line up to see the latest Steven Spielberg Best Picture of the Year.
My experience with Michelin is that their reliability is proportional to the local food culture's similarity with French culture. Thus for France, the Guide Michelin is unfailingly reliable, and indeed the only one I'd use. For Spain and Italy it's fairly close, although e.g. in Italy Gambero Rosso is better. For England, Germany, and the USA, it can be less reliable. Michelin tends to miss, in those countries, restaurants in the Northern European tradition, with lots of heavy, filling things that don't make much fuss over plating or visual appeal. Restaurants doing dishes or styles that diverge significantly from classic French style have difficulty getting high ratings, even if the cooking is definitive for the region. This can also apply to atmosphere, to a lesser degree: although Michelin claims atmosphere is not a factor in star ratings, that's only a partial truth; they might give a token star to a Peter Luger which has become an institution - to prove their contention - but on the whole the stars go to the places that provide a cosseted setting. All of these are generalisations, but the trend of diminishing reliability as the cultural distance from France increases is noticeable.
Another factor is that Michelin clearly has a certain "tick-list" when it comes to giving stars. For example, it's now quite difficult to get a star without offering several amuse-bouches and other between-courses extras. I had one restauranteur also claim that Michelin rather candidly told him that his restaurant didn't get a star because he took a hard line on not having French wines, which he considered regionally inappropriate. I can't verify this claim, so it's very much hearsay, but if true it's an interesting inside look at the mechanics of the Michelin process. There is absolutely no doubt in this particular case that the restaurant merited multiple stars - quite possibly 3.
It's also fairly clear that Michelin is fairly chef-centric, when allotting stars: who is running the restaurant seems to have at least as much impact as the food on offer, and there appear to be "white-listed" and "black-listed" chefs.
At the end of the day, there are certain types and classes of restaurant that will NEVER get Michelin stars, even though their food is world-class. Likewise there are other types of restaurant which are almost guaranteed to get stars, even though the food may be lacklustre. Even so, Michelin is far, far more reliable than a lot of other guides. The value of ratings in guidebooks is that they give the newcomer or tourist, unfamiliar with the local scene, some idea of places to try in a world of often-bewildering choice, and in that respect they provide value; Michelin being one of the more valuable. But it would be naïve in the extreme to consider any guide as an authoritative and exhaustive source for any city of reasonable size.
I agree with a lot of what you say except I think you very much overrating the utility of the guide for the cuisine of Spain and Italy, where in many areas it is downright misleading, let alone "reliable" for the clueless tourist hoping to sample the best these cultures can offer. I haven't bought a copy of Gambero Rosso for Italy in years, which like Michelin, favors fancified food and promoting "chefs" to gossip about. Osterie d'Italie is a much more reliable guide for locating places to eat wonderfully while traveling through italy.
And I think that even as you provide a wealth of evidence, you are still underestimating just how much of a closed loop the Michelin culture is, and how much the Michelin evaluation of "good" becomes THE evaluation for many competitive restaurant chasers, so of course the guide is useful for them and they tout the utility to others, and feel hurt or puzzled if they like a restaurant and it doesn't get a star, and cheer when their choices are validated by Michelin. Whatever value you ascribe to the star system, I would point out it also does a lot of damage to food culture in equal measure.
Which isn't to say that all Michelin starred restaurants serve terrible food or are to be avoided, unless you happen not to like what Michelin likes or what fits their formulas. And then it becomes a guide for where *not* to go.
In much of Europe, I think it is fundamentally misleading to think that local food scene is going be best revealed to you in a Michelin starred restaurant. A culture can have a great food culture without concerning itself much with a professionalized, hyper-competitive restaurant culture, and Michelin just doesn't know how to handle that, because the guide is not about food and good eating. It is about restaurants, and a very narrow definition of restaurant at that.
My experience with the reliability of Michelin in Spain and Italy has generally been positive, albeit with a few glaring omissions. However as you've said it depends a lot on your own expectations.
Guides like Michelin or Gambero Rosso are rating relative to *fine*, high-end dining. Their standards are based on expectations arising from fairly high budgets - people able to spend at least €60 a head, not including wine. That's not to say they don't find places below that price point, but it does mean that their standards are judged relative to a high starting point.
If what you are trying to find is fairly rustic, basic trattorie or tapas bars offering reasonable food at relatively budget prices, then these guides might list some such places but they won't have the highest ratings - simply because their quality is being judged on the same absolute scale. And restaurants that charge more *are* going to be able to produce a better result, in the limit. To give a case in point, I've had a risotto alla milanese at Cracco (Michelin 2-star, Gambero Rosso 2 forchette) that was manifestly better than others I've had at more basic restaurants - which is to be expected - they've got the budget to get absolutely the best ingredients and cook them with absolutely the most uncompromising technique. The best possible quality doesn't come cheap, although very good quality may do so.
Now, for many people high prices or a formal, ostentatious atmosphere is enough to diminish the experience - and they may well feel there is something more genuine about a humble restaurant without any particular ambitions to greatness or world fame quietly going about producing very nice versions of regionally authentic cooking. That's a valid approach to eating.
But, I would also urge people not to confuse relative goodness, in a particular price/style category, with absolute quality, without regard to price or character. Unless that local trattoria is producing something truly sublime, it can't be considered as good as the Michelin-starred restaurant that *is* giving you something sublime - and this goes beyond considerations of things like portion size, friendliness/approachableness of the staff, degree to which the menu reflects traditional regional dishes, etc.
On the other hand, as you also say, the process of "star-chasing" is leading to a dangerous homogenisation of the high-end restaurant experience, and at the same time a tendency of such places to offer unusual "creative" dishes without anything basic or traditional on the menu - a pity, because I'd like to see what traditional dishes can be like, done by a top-end establishment. Minetta Tavern (1-star) is an example of this - the burger is quintessentially American and it's hard to argue with the awesome output they've achieved (Bun excepted). Some may balk at $26, or think this is silly, but to me it shows what can be done, in the limit.
New York is in a bit of a "bubble" - because it's a great world metropolis, it can support an almost infinite number of very high-end restaurants, all of whom will almost inevitably copy each other to some degree as they try to compete in an aggressive market, and this can have the effect of skewing the perception of both fine dining locally and what to look for when abroad. I'd say the Michelin guide is far from infalliable, when it comes to the New York scene, but for the Romance-speaking European world they provide a reasonable approximation to the truth.
I think Craft is good, but not necessarily great. I certainly would not make it a destination restaurant like I would many of the starred establishments. I've had some great food there but also a lot of 'pretty good' or 'OK' food as well. A terribly overcooked, cold suckling pig comes to mind... Since the food is simply cooked, when it's 'pretty good' or 'OK' you feel like you could easily cook the same thing at home -- but for 1/4 the price. The service is consistently excellent, however. I just find it a bit expensive for what you get.
Michelin is notoriously inconsistent with its awards in the US, especially NYC. And chasing stars is a ton of work (usually) for the restaurants that want them. Craft doesn't need one. It's busy all the time, Tom Colicchio is a consummate businessman that knows what he's doing, IMHO.
I personally haven't eaten at Craft, so please correct me if I'm way off base here.
My guess is that Craft is highly rated among foodies because it's a quality ingredient-driven, greenmarket/farm-to-table type of restaurant that executes well. It belongs in the Blue Hill and ABC Kitchen group. A good meal but one that does not assert unique, superior cooking skill.
As more and newer restaurants appear, it takes more ambition than a consistently good meal to get a star in the mainstream cuisines. In New American, for example, the menu at Tocqueville looks much more interesting to me than the menu at Craft.
Toqueville is certainly more creative, but Craft is way more interesting than Blue Hill (which, admittedly, I haven't been to in a few years, but which I remember as virtuous but a little boring), and miles beyond ABC Kitchen. I've never felt Craft was boring or that I could do as well at home given the same butcher. I think of its "simplicity" as along the lines of the simplicity of a Chanel suit -- just try that on your home machine.
"If assuming Michelin is reliable for western style cuisine,"
Well, there's your mistake right there.
Why is it any more reliable than Yelp, Zagat, Chowhound, NYT, NYMag, Time Out, or The Village Voice? It's subject to biases just like any other guide.
Why is it not Michelin Star rated?
Why isn't Babbo, which many consider superior to their more expensive sister restaurant, Del Posto?
Why isn't Momofuku Ssam? (They're technically only "Bib Gourmand" - not a starred level.)
Why do far past-their-prime places like Gordon Ramsey and Gilt have two stars, let alone one?
As to GT vs. Craft: Gramercy Tavern. There's a Craft (or going to be one) in every major metropolitan area at this point. And while each has it's own uniqueness, based on local produce and whatnot, they all have a similar theme. Gramercy Tavern is "only in NYC" - it's become a New York classic, but not yet an outdated warhorse. Just as I'd recommend someone go to Babbo or Lincoln over Scarpetta - not that Scarpetta isn't good, it's just if you're in NYC... Go NYC. Don't go somewhere that has locations in Vegas, Toronto, Dallas, and wherever else....
"If assuming Michelin is reliable for western style cuisine,"
Reason my putting this: I have more faith in Michelin's recommendation on western food in places like Hong Kong or Tokyo than say their recs., on Chinese food in Hong Kong or Japanese food in Tokyo! As such, there's no reason why I should not place a bit of faith in Michelin's recs in NYC western restaurants!
re: Charles Yu
It might interest you to note that when the Michelin Guide first began doing NYC, EMP had no stars. From 2006 to 2009, no stars for EMP. At all.
In 2010, they finally gave it...one star, which was also absurd. And they were stuck at the one star rating in the 2011 guide as well.
It wasn't until the 2012 guide came out that they got a full three stars. That's a big part of why so many NYers don't believe their rankings at all.
Sorry, but these sort of comments are to me like the comments I see on movie message boards that wail: "And they never gave Bette Davis an Oscar for 20 years!!!! How can you trust the Academy????" (Or substitute Robert Altman, Alfred Hitchcock, or Denzel Washington.)
Problem is, Bette Davis (etc) didn't give the kind of performance for 20 years that nabs an Oscar, and why would you trust an insular industry promotional gimmick to evaluate talent anyway?
People who take Oscars and Michelin seriously deserve what they get. No doubt some of them are very happy with that statement. They value what Michelin (and the Academy) deems worthy. But obviously there is a whole world out there of true eating and art that has nothing to do with the Grammys, the Oscars, Michelin stars and Nobel Prizes. Adherents to the "necessity" of priests and authorities will defend it as a useful tool. The rest of us went our own way a long time ago.
I don't think anyone's mentioned this, but Craft is a surprisingly casual restaurant. It uses placemats and not tablecloths. It's almost pubby rather than elegant. People there aren't dressed to the nines and jeans are not out of place. It's just damned good food and damned good service. Perhaps what sgordon refers to as "bib gourmand." Maybe Michelin requires more than that?
"Bib Gourmand" just means a lower price category, kind of like the "cheap eats" section of some papers / magazines - places that are good for their price but, because of their price, wouldn't be on level of the "starred" restaurants.
The BG rules are "establishments that serve two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less"
Proof that the Michelin inspectors haven't dined at Ssam Bar since it opened, since there's no way it falls into that category. Maybe if you ordered the cheapest app, cheapest entree, and a beer. But I'm not sure even then it would...
Also, ambiance (and service, for that matter) aren't part of the star calculation. They have separate ratings for that, IIRC. The stars are "food only" ratings. Many of the starred restaurants have no dress requirements or white tablecloths.
I just returned from Craft in LA and besides the obviously well wrought menu, what stuck out to me was the genuinely caring service people without any pretentiousness (a la Gary Danko).
Yes it is expensive but I don't mind paying for fine food, warm and friendly service and nice ambiance.
I have not been to the NY one yet but based on my positive experience in LA, I certainly plan to.
I've followed Tom's career since he cooked in NJ so I
appreciate his talents both as a chef and a business man
but can't help that think the some of the restaurant's
popularity, especially with "out-of-towners" is a result of
his media presence. And, though this smacks of "food
snobbery", a number of these visitors may have little
exposure to Craft's level of food and service, hence the
number of rave reviews even though they are no doubt
Disclaimer: I interviewed Tom for several newspaper articles after he was well established in NYC but do not feel that affects my opinion.
That said, TC made his name at Gramercy Tavern, which was the "overall favorite" restaurant of NYC diners for a few years running in Zagat, long before his shiny head ever graced Bravo. (He had hair then, even!)
I'm pretty sure Craft opened before "Top Chef" debuted as well, but I might be misremembering the year.
Definitely opened before Top Chef. Craft opened up in 2001 and Top Chef season 1 was in 2006.
Not saying I agree or disagree with the high marks for Craft, but as I posted earlier in the thread, Adam Platt considers it the top 5 restaurants in NYC in esteemed company that few can argue with:
Platt's list with # of Michelin stars:
1. Eleven Madison Park (3 stars
)2. Le Bernardin (3 stars)
3. Per Se (3 stars)
4. Momofuku Ko (2 stars)
5. Craft (0 stars)
6. Gramercy Tavern (1 stars)
7. Corton (2 stars)
8. Daniel (3 stars)
9. Torrisi Italian Specialties (1 stars)
10. Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare (3 stars)
11. Marea (2 stars)
12. Jean Georges (3 stars)
And it has 3-stars (out of 4) from NYT, with a re-review in 2011:
I have only done the tasting menu at Craft and only during truffle season. Each time the food has been great. Since Batali was mentioned several times in this thread, I will also state that every meal at each of his restaurants that we have tried was horrible for both food and service. I do not understand how his restaurants have stayed open for more than five minutes with the horrible food that we experienced each time. We do enjoy some of the desserts at Otto though. If you dine at Craft, the tasting menu is not listed on the menu. You simply ask them to do that for you and they will.