I can't help but compare my recent meal at Craft to my recent meal at Gramercy Tavern. Both restaurants are at the same price point and operate along the same similar premise, expertly sourced ingredients prepared simply. It is no wonder that they are so similar; after all, before Tom Colicchio, no longer chef but still owner of Craft, made a name for himself on Top Chef, he was making a name for himself as executive chef at Gramercy Tavern.
Unfortunately, my meals at each restaurant were not so similar. My dinner at Gramercy Tavern was perfect in nearly every aspect, from service, to ambiance, to the food itself. Craft, on the other hand, missed on both service and, more importantly, execution. The service my dining companion and I had at Craft was not bad--our server was perfectly amicable and did nothing wrong-- but did not make me feel that the restaurant really appreciated or cared that I was dining there as I felt at Gramercy Tavern. Again, I was spoiled by my experience at Gramercy Tavern, but in this economic climate and at the price point of both restaurants, I think they should both go out of their way to make the diner feel welcome. I will note that the dining room at Craft was not entirely full on a Friday night, so it is not as if the recession should not be a worry to the restaurant.
Quibbles about the service aside, Craft's biggest fault was in execution. My dining companion ordered several of our server's recommendations: arugula & lemon salad, a roasted octopus special, roasted monkfish, and roasted Berkshire rack of pork. Aside from the monkfish, which was superb, something was missing from every dish. Both the octopus and arugula salad were lacking in flavor. While I understand and respect the idea that well-sourced ingredients require little extra flavor (see Gramercy Tavern), both of these dishes had a flavorful sauce or dressing, but there was so little of the sauce or dressing that it left both my dining companion and I wanting more. The rack of pork was a disappointment on another level; the flavors of the meat and smoky sauce (my apologies for recalling so few details of my dishes) were absolutely wonderful, and the pork was one of the best pieces of pork I have ever tasted. However, the meat was cold in the center. It was also slightly undercooked for my tastes, and I usually enjoy pork rarer than most people. As I consumed each dish, I thought of how Gramercy Tavern would have prepared the same dishes; based on the perfect execution of my meal there, I could assume that Gramercy Tavern would have done much better.
While my meal at Craft was by no means bad, it was certainly disappointing. At this price point and with enough NYC restaurants operating on similar concepts as Craft, I do not see myself returning. Nonetheless, my man-crush on Tom Collicchio is as strong as ever.