Trouble With Toast

Tom Colicchio is a Craft-y Bastard | January 5, 2009

No, really, he is.  Not only did he convince a restaurant full of people to pay New York prices in Atlanta, but he also managed to trick me into eating head cheese.  For the record, it is not actually cheese, but it is as disgusting as it sounds.

Okay, enough joking around.  Fiance’s birthday is this week, so I told him to pick any restaurant in Atlanta for dinner on me.  After perusing menus and online reviews, he chose Craft Atlanta, the newest of Tom Colicchio’s chain of restaurants where “simple doesn’t have to mean simplistic.”  Located in a building adjacent to The Mansion on Peachtree, Craft boasts a fine dining experience upstairs and a more casual restaurant (Craftbar) downstairs.  The atmosphere as a whole is lovely–lots of wood, warm lighting, and a vibe that is inviting in an accessible yet luxurious way.  My only minor complaint is that the tables are a little close together, but we ended up sitting next to some great folks, so it was a minor offense.

We arrived about 20 minutes early and decided to have a cocktail at the bar.  A “Tom’s Collins” (oh, that clever Colicchio), consisting of Hendricks gin, bitter lemon soda, and cucumber, was refreshing and tasty.  Jason’s “Sunshine Squeeze,” which had vodka, citrus, and ginger, was sweet and tart and well-balanced.  The bartendress was very friendly and knew her stuff.  After our first round, Jason had a beer and I had a glass of rose brut, and then we settled out our approximately $40 bar tab and journeyed upstairs for the main event.

Our server greeted us fairly quickly and gave us the menu rundown (note: the selections change daily, so this is not the same one that we had).  He mentioned a few items that the restaurant is known for, and highlighted an item or two from each category that he personally recommended.  Bread arrived, and it was pretty good, but the butter was rich, flavorful, AND served at the proper temperature (just a touch colder than room temp).  I asked for a bottle of Sancerre, but that prompted the server to make a different recommendation in the same flavor and price range; we trusted him and were quite happy with the result, an Italian white that was dry and acidic while still maintaining a fruity quality.  I wish I could remember what it was.  I also wish that hadn’t been the height of the server’s usefulness.

When he returned to take our appetizer orders, we opted for sweetbreads ($17, roasted and served with candied kumquats) and slices of Wagyu tongue torchon,  served with pickled jalapenos ($16, I believe).  I also asked for one each of the three oysters available that night ($3 per).  The oysters came out first, with a lovely mignonette, a few lemon slices, and an adorably teensy tiny bottle of Tabasco (Jason said that when he was in the military, each MRE came with one of those same bottles).  The hot appetizers came next, and I recognized the Wagyu, but on the other plate were a few fried dumpling-esque bites and a gelatinous mass.  Thinking that I had maybe misunderstood the preparation of the sweetbreads, I took a bite of the jelly.  DEFINITELY not sweetbreads–somehow, the waiter heard me order “head cheese.”  Even though the mistake gave us a chuckle and enabled us to bond with our neighboring table (they were an awesome couple, and we ended up chatting and sharing bites throughout the remainder of the meal), it really was an awful error.  I mean, I am STILL talking about how nasty that one bite was.  In terms of the other appetizers, the Wagyu was good but not terribly memorable.  The sweetbreads, however, were quite possibly the best I’ve ever had.  The outside was perfectly caramelized, and the inside was firm yet tender.  And the flavor?  Out of this world, especially with the nice touch of sweetness at the end from the fruit.  Delicious.

For entrees, Jason ordered the roasted swordfish ($27).  He expressed some concern about its preparation to the server, since he wanted to make sure the fish would keep its firm texture without drying out.  The server said that they were actually poaching it in olive oil, which sounded like the perfect way to get the desired result.  Unfortunately, the server must have misled us a bit, because the dish was quite dry and really didn’t seem like it had been poached.  It still tasted fine, but I could tell that Jason was a bit disappointed.  I opted for the braised beef short ribs with root vegetables ($28), which were absolutely delicious.  The meat was tender and flavorful, and it reminded us of the best pot roast we’ve ever had.  Everything at Craft is done a la carte, so we also ordered side dishes of cauliflower gratin ($7) and roasted Jerusalem artichokes ($8), both of which were superb.

Sometime in the middle of our meal, we were visited by a favorite waiter from another restaurant, who is now working at Craft and loving it.  He gave us recommendations for dessert, and we trusted him wholeheartedly.  So, we ordered glazed chocolate cake donuts ($11), roasted bananas ($4), and brown sugar ice cream ($4).  The individual items were amazing, but the combination just knocked everything out of the park.  It was insanely good, and it managed to be rich and decadent without feeling oppressively so.  We tried our neighbor’s Valrhona chocolate cake, which was good, but I would order our dessert trio again any day of the week and twice on Sunday.  Jason had a glass of 20-year tawny port ($16), and I had coffee with a shot (read: magnum) of Bailey’s.  Sadly, our server had pretty much abandoned us by then, so when I needed a refill on the coffee he was nowhere to be found.  Jason actually had to get up and find a servers assistant to fill my cup.

The server did eventually return to present the check, which I perused only to find that the head cheese was still on the bill.  I flagged our server down to alert him to the error, and he fixed it when asked, but I thought it was a pretty careless mistake.  It was as if that disgusting stuff was destined to stay in my memory forever, as it just kept inserting itself into our experience.  After all was said and done, the total dinner tab, with tip, was $290.  So, with our previous rounds at the bar, the whole evening rounded out for just under $350.

I knew Craft was going to be expensive.  I have paid similar amounts for other dinners, and I truly believe that an amazing meal is worth that kind of money, as it is an experience for all of the senses.  But did Craft live up to its billing?  There were some incredibly high points, but there were also some significant flaws, specifically with the service.  Craft touts itself as specializing in simple food, but forming an overall opinion has been anything but simple.  I think, in the end, that I liked Craft–but I didn’t love it.  Perhaps with a different waiter, I could have loved it.  Unfortunately, without a hefty expense account, I don’t think I’ll be able to find out anytime soon.

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3 Comments »

  1. I love bananas and I can only imagine how great they are with brown sugar ice cream.

    Service really can leave a bad taste in your mouth. That is really unfortunate.

    So no headcheese when you visit?

    Comment by Lemmonex — January 5, 2009 @ 3:08 pm

  2. Ew…I would feel violated if someone “tricked” me into eating headcheese. Taking it off the bill might not be enough to thwart the post-traumatic stress that would likely follow.

    I do love that Tom, though, so a night with the big bear might also appease me.

    Comment by freckledk — January 5, 2009 @ 8:24 pm

  3. Lem: Yeah, that dessert was killer. I may have to acquire an ice cream maker just to try to replicate that dessert. And if you give me headcheese while I’m visiting, our love affair will officially be over.

    FK: I did kinda feel violated, now that you mention it. When I ask Tom to pay for my therapy, I’ll try to hook something up for you.

    Comment by bettyjoan — January 5, 2009 @ 8:43 pm


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