If there is one thing that I have learned in the last year of writing Beef Aficionado it is that there is always an exception that proves the rule. Craft breaks several rules at once, turning steak convention on its head yet still delivers a masterful hunk of beef. Steak aficionado's have long know that the only way to properly cook a steak is either over an open flame or a high powered industrial broiler. They also known that fine dining restaurants can never turn out steak that is truly the equal of what a top chophouse offers. Craft is of course the flagship of Tom Collichios rapidly expanding empire that includes restaurants in several US cities. Although there are steak restaurants in the Craft empire called, you guessed it, Craftsteak with locations in Las Vegas and NYC, the steak offerings at Craft itself are bountiful. Paradoxically in my experience the domestic steak at Craft is superior to the domestic steak at Craftsteak NYC, which I visited on two occasions last year in July and in August. I refer to the domestic steer because the superb Japanese Wagyu that is on offer at Craftsteak is not featured on the regular menu at Craft, although on my last visit it was featured as one of the courses on the tasting menu. What the two restaurants have in common are the method of preparation as well as an obsessive chronicling of the provenance and aging of the steak. Both restaurants roast their steaks in the oven after an initial searing on a griddle as opposed to the aforementioned methods of preparation traditionally favored by chophouses. Both restaurants also offer effusive service that is quite unlike the gruff service one expects and receives at a traditional steakhouse. But what really sets them apart is that the rest of the cuisine on offer is leagues above what you will get at a steakhouse. This is fine dining yet the steak is also almost perfectly prepared, a rare combination and one that defies conventional wisdom.
A quail with the 50 year Balsamic reduction was perfectly cooked with a crisp skin and a rare center although it lacked much of a pronounced flavor from the vinegar itself.
While Craft does not offer Wagyu steaks it does feature the Wagyu carpaccio that is found at Crafsteak. It was a delicious dish when I tried it at Craftsteak and I was equally as enthused by the iteration of it here. I would love to see what Craft might do with a Wagyu tartar, the beef is truly delectable.
The 28 day dry aged strip came out perfectly black and blue. I was surprised at how favorably it compared to the best NYC steakhouse iterations of the cut. While it may have fallen slightly behind my personal favorite bone in strips at Primehouse and Smith & Wollensky in terms of overall flavor it was pretty close. The latter two steaks have more pronounced marbling and a more apparent dry age flavor but that is not to say that the Craft incarnation necessarily lacked these desirable traits, it did not.
The cote de boeuf from Four Story Hill Farms was utterly exquisite. While it is admittedly pricey at $125 it is intended for sharing, although those who have no trouble polishing off a Peter Luger steak for two might need one for themselves. It comes with two generous marrow bones that aside from adding value to the dish also compliment it both texturally a from a flavor perspective, the gelatinous marrow positively oozes with an earthy richness. The beef itself was the pinnacle of tenderness and flavor. The crust was perfectly charred and the cool interior had the perfect red hue. The irresistible tang of dry aging was evident through out the cut making the pan drippings and forest of herbs that are served with the steak largely superfluous. Most steakhouses can't deliver a black and blue steak to this degree of perfection and I have never had a steak in a fine dining restaurant that comes close to this.
Beyond the steak there is some very serious cooking going on here. A roasted black cod was flaky and tender with a deep sea flavor. Similarly the buttery Triggerfish struck the perfect textural balance between succulence and firmness. The sides are also universally delicious. The Hen of the woods mushrooms had a creamy earthiness, sugar snap peas more than lived up to their name a being wonderfully sweet with a pleasing crunch. The puree potatoes had the perfect mix of starch and richness with out devolving in to pure butter and cream as can so often be the case. The deserts are also exquisite. A toffee pudding, sadly absent from the menu on my last visit, perfectly capped the meal but rest.
While the cuisine at Craft is serious the general atmosphere is quite casual. The service strikes a good balance between effusiveness and familiarity and the room is warm and inviting, the brown and bronze hues giving it a welcoming feel. Craft might be the exception that proves the rule for it is undeniably one of NYC's finer restaurants yet they offer a steak that competes quite favorably with the city's top steakhouses and indeed surpasses many of them.
43 E. 19th St.
(bet. B'way & Park Ave. S.)