After long delays, Tom Colicchio has finally opened Craft. Colicchio, also the chef at Gramercy Tavern, is widely admired for the refinement and intelligence of his cooking, but the buzz Craft is generating in New York City goes beyond the normal anticipation of a new venture by a respected chef.
Colicchio believes he can now get ingredients of such high quality that they need very little intervention on his part. His menu simply lists them. king salmon, cranberry beans, bluefoot mushrooms. tells you whether they're going to be raw, cured, roasted or braised, and leaves it at that. You do the rest. You make your own combinations, deciding whether you want an appetizer and a main course, a drawn-out tasting, or one big, table-straining smorgasbord. You pay for each item separately and even plate the food yourself; it comes to the table in expensive-looking copper pans.
One reason people are talking, I think, is that they suspect the emperor has just turned up wearing his birthday suit. The disarming thing about Craft. and the reason I believe Tom Colicchio may be some kind of genius. is that the emperor isn't naked it all. The lobster is simply roasted, as advertised, but at the bottom of the pan is an unadvertised quarter inch of tarragon-infused lobster jus. Anywhere but Craft, this would be known as a sauce. Scallops show up unadorned, but then the waiter sets down some condiments: preserved lemon, salsa verde, onion marmalade. Colicchio isn't abdicating his chefly duties at all. He is making some very smart choices that let him show off his ingredients without looking like he's just showing off.
Eating at Craft takes some work and a lot of money. (Leaving out tax, wine and tip, dinner for two came to $200.) But the payoff is a strange sense of liberation. Ask for lamb chops au jus in a sophisticated restaurant and you might as well be saying, "I don't care what edamame carpaccio is; just bring me a nice piece of meat." At Craft, you can get that nice piece of meat without shame, and without feeling as if you were tricked into it by manipulative menu writing. Colicchio hasn't reinvented the art of cooking, but he may have dealt the old-fashioned menu a fatal blow (43 E. 19th St.; 212-780-0880).
. Pete Wells