Those reading since June will remember the first most momentous meeting of food bloggers ever when I dined with Clotilde “Chocolate & Zucchini” at Babbo. Before that I met Danny “A Year In Food” at The Bar Room at The Modern. So that was kind of momentous too. But at the time I didn’t think to call it “momentous” so Danny doesn’t get momentous status, but he’s in Europe so he’ll barely notice. And so the meal I had last night with Derrick “An Obsession with Food” and his lovely wife Melissa will henceforth be known as the Second Most Momentous Meeting of Food Bloggers Ever. Here we are at the end of our meal, aren’t we cute?
But we’re getting way ahead of ourselves. How did this meal come about? Why Derrick? Why Melissa? Why now?
Well a few weeks ago Derrick wrote me to say: “So you may remember we’re going to be in New York in October. Any chance of meeting up with you for lunch or dinner on one of the days? We’d love to meet the famous AG in person.”
Pandering to my delusional sense of fame is the perfect way to get me to say “yes” to any dinner invitation. Plus, I’ve been a big fan of Derrick’s site for a long while now. He really knows his stuff. So I quickly said–or, typed: “Yes!” and then obliged his request for “any places you’d really suggest as don’t-miss?” by sending him the link to my list of all the restaurants I ate in in 2005, adding: “As for places I’ve yet to try that may be fun for us—I’ve always wanted to check out Craft (though I know it’s expensive), Gramercy Tavern, Aquavit, and a few others.”
And before I knew it, Derrick had made a reservation for three people at 8:30, October 25th at Craft.
So you know how in some movies there’s a raggedy woman who walks by a fancy clothing store and peers in the windows pining desperately for the mink stoll or the diamond earrings that she’ll never have? Sometimes I felt that way walking past Craft on 19th Street. The inside looked so forbidding, so wooden and brassy, that I could never imagine myself inside with the chic looking crowd. Plus the only chance I had—going with my parents—was shot because my parents once went there with another couple, saw the menu, found it too confusing and left.
But here I was—having braved the freezing cold winds and aggressive drizzle on the walk over—sitting in the lobby of Craft waiting for Derrick and Melissa to arrive. (I’m perpetually early for things.) I enjoyed overhearing many of the entryway conversations while I waited. Like there were these four women, three of whom looked like business women and one who looked like a model. The three businesswomen insisted on paying for the model’s cab. “Rob really gets upset, though, when I let people pay for me,” she said. I found that very interesting. Who’s Rob? Why does he get upset?
Before I could solve that mystery, Derrick and Melissa arrived. I recognized Derrick from his long hair—I’d done my research on his wife’s Flickr page before our meeting. It’s weird meeting food bloggers for meals: it’s sort of like a blind foodie date. Except here I was meeting a couple, so it had even more suspect swinging spousal undertones. Were they auditioning me to join them in some kind of Californian marital foodie triangle? What role would I play: houseboy? I found the prospect humiliating and told them, right away, that I had a terrible rash all over my body in the hopes they’d let go of that idea. [Though Craft did encourage us slightly with its food-sharing policies.]
What tangent was I just on? I have no idea. Anyway, let’s get to the food. We have a lot to write about.
Craft is famous for its notoriously “difficult” menu. Actually, the menu’s not difficult at all. (You can study it here). It’s divided up between “first courses” and “main courses.” The “first course” menu is divided between raw shellfish, cured/marinated shellfish, charcuterie, roasted meat, and salads. Easy! And the main courses are divided between fish and meat and within those categories it’s divided between braised and roasted. The vegetables are either roasted, sauteed, or braised. Are you confused? Ok, maybe it’s a tad bit confusing.
So let’s enjoy our amuse bouche:
Lord, you’re going to buy me a pad and a pen when you see how bad my recall is when it comes to what we ate and drank last night. On that spoon, I know, is some kind of fish. I want to say it’s white fish. Then there’s daikon radish, I remember that. Is that cucumber I see? Whatever it was, it was all bright on the palate and quite refreshing.
Derrick took to studying the wine list as Melissa and I discussed the menu. One thing that I loved about our meal last night was that Derrick and Melissa knew so much—I had a very edifying experience. So for example, Melissa turned me on to oysters. Since it’s a sharing restaurant, we ordered three of each kind of oyster to start. Here’s our big oyster platter:
Now from the menupages menu, I know for a fact three of these oysters are Kumamoto oysters. These are Melissa’s favorite. They’re small and sweet and creamy. We ate these last but I’ll write about them first because even though they’re Melissa’s favorite, I had some bits of shell get into my slurp and it detracted from the experience. But I could see why she enjoyed them. Our other oysters may have been Beau Soleil and Glidden Point (again, from menupages). Regardless of what they were, I felt like my oyster-eyes were opened: it’s been said that what makes oysters so enjoyable is that they taste completely of the sea. Is it Ruth Reichl who writes in her book about being on a boat with her parents, shucking fresh oysters out of the water and slurping them down? It’s a very romantic idea and I loved how the salty slimyness of the oysters was so evocative of the ocean. Plus they went great with the wine…
That’s right: there was wine for the oysters that Derrick selected. Derrick knows his wine and I really really don’t. I told him I would do my best to recall the wines we drank (there were two) and he can correct them later when he blogs about it on his site. The wine we drank with the oysters, if I remember correctly, was a mix of three whites: Chardonnay, Riesling, and _____ (Sauvignon Blanc?). It came from the _____ region in Italy. I really enjoyed it but I enjoy white wine. We drank most of it down with the oysters, but saved a drop for the scallops that came with our entrees.
And here they are:
I know these look outrageous, and I’ve heard the Craft scallops raved over before, but these weren’t the highlight of the meal for me. They were fine: I found them to be a bit rubbery and not that memorable. However, I was assigned the task of dividing up the fourth scallop (well–I assigned myself the task) and though I tried to cut it in thirds, it ended up in fourths. Who ate the extra fourth? I did. So I must have liked the scallops more than I let on.
For our entree food, Derrick consulted the sommelier for advice on an appropriate wine. The last time I’ve seen this done was in Monaco when we were at Joel Robuchon and mom and dad assigned me the task of choosing the wine. I chose a Riseling and the sommelier okayed it. It ended up being way too sweet and my family wrote me out of the will.
Derrick fared much better when he and the sommelier settled upon (and you’ll be proud of me that I remember this!) a Cab Franc from Australia. (Cab is wine lingo for Cabernet. I don’t know what “Franc” is wine lingo for.) This wine was really wonderful. Again, I don’t know my wine, but this wine was unusually distinct. I began describing it aloud: “I taste cherries…”
“Yes,” agreed Derrick.
“…and a hint of the forest.”
“Yes,” laughed Melissa.
“…a wolf howls in the distance. Small children frolick in a meadow.”
I could’ve gone on, but then came the greatest dish of the entire meal:
This is one of our “sides” and Melissa gets the credit for spotting it. It’s bacon and egg risotto. That’s right, the risotto tastse like bacon and there’s a poached yolk on top that you break into the risotto. The end result is wildly rich and decadent and wonderful. We scraped this plate clean as quick as you can say “Clogged Artery.”
These pictures are quite unorderly, but bare with me. Here are the hen of the woods mushrooms:
These were really enjoyable in a very simple, straightforward sort of way. In fact I think these Hen of the Woods embody what Craft stands for as a restaurant. It’s all in the name: Craft. Cooking is a craft before it’s an art. Like any other craft, the goal is to maximize the return with simplicity and grace. (I’m making this crap up but it sounds good.) That’s what these mushrooms are: simplicity and grace on a plate. (That’s the new NBC hit on the make: “Simplicity and Grace on a Plate.”)
Now for the meaty stuff. Here’s a braised short rib:
This was quite lovely and soul-satisfying in a homey but impressive way. The meat fell apart so it was really easy to eat and the herbs (I think that’s thyme in there) really enhanced the experience.
And then there was Venison (that’s Bambi’s mother, for the unknowledgable):
The Venison was prepared—(I just realized I don’t need to capitalize Venison, but instead of fixing it I thought I’d point out the mistake in a parenthetical aside)–in three ways, as you can see. But the venison chop was impossible to cut through because they kept the ____ bone intact (it was Derrick who made this comment, and I don’t remember the bone name.) So we sent it back for the chef to cut through it so we could share it.
Oh, the venison in the middle is bacon wrapped. I forgot to mention that. I really liked the venison presentation: it was earthy and smart and colorful but not over-the-top. Subtle with a hint of whimsy. (Wow, that sounds professional. But I mean it.)
I encouraged the group to try the cippolini onions beacuse I read they were in season in New York magazine:
These were definitely a highlight for me. I loved the flavor and the texture–sweet and crunchy with a slightly bitter undertaste. If you have access to cippolini (sp?) onions and New York magazine, go buy some and make their recipe. (Maybe I’ll do that this weekend if I feel so inclined.)
Now then, it may seem like we pigged out but you have to remember there were THREE of us and all three of us LOVE FOOD so it’s really not that much. Now then, Melissa’s a big cheese platter person so she ordered cheese for the table from the dessert menu.
She was impressively assertive with her cheese order. She knew which cheeses she wanted and so when the waiter offered to bring over the cart, Melissa said: “Well you can bring over the cart, but I still know which cheeses we want.” And if my memory were photographic, I’d tell you what they were. I do remember there was a goat (at 6 o’clock), a cow’s milk, a sheep’s milk (?) and then the waiter gave us a free one just to be nice.
I particularly enjoyed the condiments they served with the cheese:
That’s almonds, plums and honey. I love pouring honey on cheese. Since I’m scared of cheese (see salad post below where I recall my Cheeseophobic childhood) pouring honey makes the experience more Adamable–since I like things that are sweet. (That’s why I like YOU reader! You’re sweet.)
What’s next? Why it’s a gift from the chef: a concord grape spritzer.
Have we hit our limit?
We have not!
Naturally, a meal of this magnitude must end with donuts. (I kind of insisted on dessert since dessert is my favorite part of any meal.) Here they are:
Aren’t they pretty? And they tasted as good as they look: nothing beats a fresh donut. I think we should end all our meals with donuts from now on.
But donuts didn’t end our meal. There was another gift from the chef: caramel corn!
Ok, now they did it: I was stuffed into oblivion. And Derrick and Melissa, who’d been eating New York all day (they’d hit Mary’s Fish Camp, Sweet Sunshine Bakery, and Artisinal) they must’ve been busting at the seams. But we were all still in great spirits.
You know, a great meal is a confluence of many things. The food can be great, but if the company’s not it all goes to waste. And vice-versa. But when the two factors come together–great people and great food–there’s nothing like it. And that’s how it was on Tuesday night when the second most momentous meeting of food bloggers took place at Craft. I’d like to thank Derrick and Melissa for an amazing time and I really intend to come through on my promise to visit the Bay Area (where more momentous meetings await: Pim! Heidi! Alice Waters!) and we’ll eat Pacific oysters, drink wine, I’ll bring a pen and paper so I remember all the details for sure! Thanks, again, for a great night.