Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Surpassed Expectations

“Craft or Cut?” asked Amy…took me a second to figure out she was asking which fairly new and high end Los Angeles steakhouse she should choose to celebrate her upcoming birthday. I have earned, (not quite sure why) a reputation as the restaurant person amongst my friends, we all eat out, often together…but I do tend to follow what is opening, reviews and food boards so maybe that is where it comes from, dunno but I am always happy to throw what little information I may have into the hat if it’s going to help. I took all things into consideration, (including the fact that her husband is not a long, slow, “fine” dining kind of guy….he loves good food but the whole “deal” not so much) and told her that I thought Craft might be the way to go. I had heard mixed reviews but knowing that much like my hubby and I, Amy and her husband are fans of the show Top Chef and Craft is one of the judges, Tom Colicchio’s restaurants so I thought that might add a bit of fun to the celebration.

I was worried that she may have a rough time getting a reservation, (It was late December) but she figured with all the bad news we have been hearing about restaurants being slow it was worth a shot. I got an email from her a week before her birthday saying, “Had no problem getting a reservation for Saturday night at 8:30, you guys want to go?” I consulted the work schedule, off at 6:00 that Saturday and then checked with the hubby….now this was just to make him feel involved in the decision making process because I knew he had been dying to go ever since the place opened. I double checked with Amy that she wouldn’t rather spend the night alone with her husband but she assured me that they wanted us to come so after leaving work I did a quick change, tossed some curlers in my hair, re-did the make-up….shook out the curls for that “wild” hair look, hit the wine fridge for a special bottle, grabbed a bottle of Champagne and dashed off to Amy’s.

Being that is was Amy’s birthday I just handed over my bottles and told her, “It’s your birthday you choose what we drink now and what we take with us” she opted to save both my bottles for dinner and popped the bottle of Champagne she had in the fridge…..the bottle was done in a snap and we all piled in the car for the ride up to Century City. Traffic was a breeze and we, despite our leaving a touch late, (the bubbles you know) made it right on time for our reservation. Carl and I jumped out of the car to defile our lungs while the other two went to check in. The chilly air paired with my excitement had me extinguishing my cigarette and leaping up the ten cement steps that lead to the front door of Craft. I pulled open the front door and thought, “Ohhhh Warm”.

Everything was warm, the room, the colors, the smells, so inviting and comfortable…the décor was minimal without looking industrial, the crowd, well dressed without looking too “done up” and the lighting was spectacular. The room was full of these low hanging light bulb looking fixtures that were emitting a soft, orangey, golden glow but right above our table there were these small inset white lights…..so when you looked out into the room from your table everything was awash in a soft golden glow but when you looked around your own table everything was crisp, clean and clear…really amazing feeling, like you were in your own private little bubble. I pulled the two bottles from my wine bag, one bottle of 2002 Marcel Moineaux Blanc de Blancs Champagne and one bottle of 1989 Hubert de Montille Volnay Les Champans, (a very generous gift given to me by my favorite importer) the second the bottles landed on the table there was a server there to ask if we needed an ice bucket and if the red needed decanting…impressive.

We started with the Champagne of course and did ask for an ice bucket, (something I rarely do as I don’t like my bubbles icy cold….covers too much of the flavor) because the wine had traveled from my home, to Amy’s to Century City so a bit of chill was likely in order but we did pass on the decanting of the Burgundy….the wine was 19 years old, I was sure the tannin had softened plus I find with older bottles if you open them too soon they start to decline rapidly, no one wanted that. We ordered a dozen oysters to slurp with our Champagne and listened as our server explained the service at Craft; all meals were a la carte and meant to be shared and there were also some “for the table” options at the bottom of the menu, (larger cuts of meat) the dishes would be served a couple at a time to keep a gentle flow going at the table. I loved the sound of it and began picking my courses while sucking back the coldest oysters I had ever had…sublime with the Moineaux Blanc de Blancs.

Oysters gone, the platter whisked away and our server was there to take our order, once he wrote it all down he made a few suggestions thinking that we may have gone a little beef heavy, changes made and off he went to get our meal started. A basket of warm bread was dropped at the table with a white plate that had a perfectly soft half inch pad of sweet butter that had been sprinkled with coarse salt….I looked at that plate, the wine service, the icy cold oysters, the lighting and I was sure that we were in for a wonderful meal….the attention to detail was amazing.

Just before our first courses arrived warm plates were placed before us and our glasses were refilled, then, just like a ballet the dishes began arriving;

Roasted Bay Scallops with Sunchokes

Rabbit Terrine with Pistachios (again sprinkled with chunky bits of salt…texture)

Roasted Octopus

Himatchi with Grapefruit

One bite of everything and I looked at my fellow diners saying, “Oh My God….I am so happy”. The portions were perfect, not too large or too small, the seasoning, (giant annoyance of mine) was perfect…I understand not putting salt on the table but then put it in the food for me okay….the food was salted just perfectly and I loved the way it was served in their own little roasting dishes….while it was very fine tasting there was an ease or relaxed look to all those little bits of roasted food in their little metal vessels.

While we never felt watched or rushed in any way the plates just magically disappeared and were replaced with fresh warm ones and our glasses remained full….next up was our one, “for the table” dish and the most expensive thing we ordered, Truffle Lasagna…dude….thin ribbons of toothsome pasta, ricotta mixed with egg yolk, in place of the standard “red sauce” there was this reduction of a beefy tasting stock, savory, thick, salty but wait….then the nice lady came over and shaved white truffles all over the top…ridiculous!!

Our mains followed; Flatiron Steak, New York Strip, Large Seared Scallops and Braised Short Ribs, everything and I am not kidding, everything was perfect. We went easy on the sides as we already had a bunch of food but there were the richest most buttery whipped potatoes I have ever had and tiny roasted Brussels Sprouts with bits of bacon. Each bite of food was intensely flavorful but not over done, you tasted each layer of flavor, the meat, the rosemary, the roasting juices…everything was so clean, so fresh tasting and with that bottle of Hubert de Montille Volnay we were walking on sunshine, we spoke very little….I think we were all a bit stunned, the Burgundy was in a beautiful state, earthy, sweet red fruit, silky tannins and paired with the simply prepared food it was glorious….the, “maybe not as friendly as I would have liked” Sommelier even accepted a glass.

The wine was gone before we knew it, not shocking when you think about the fact that my non-wine guy hubby asked for a third pour….yeah, it was that good so we all got a cocktail and I even loved that….something so old school Hollywood about sipping on an icy cold Martini while finishing up the last remnants of a beef laden meal. We got a cheese course and ordered a trio of ice creams, well one ice cream and two sorbet and the donuts for dessert. Not being much of a sweet eater myself I loved the Lemon Thyme Donut….airy, nicely fried and bright from the thyme and of the frozen treats it was the Yuzu Sorbet that drove me wild, (and tasted super yummy with my Martini might I add) really tart and like biting into a fresh lemon wedge. The Blood Orange Sorbet and Maple Bacon Ice Cream were also tasty but the Yuzu…yum!

As we were leaving we were handed 4 little muffins artfully wrapped in brown paper with simple lettering that said, Craft…they were for breakfast the next day….like I said attention to detail was astonishing. We took a seat on the outside couches under the heater while Carl and blissfully puffed away on a post glorious meal smoke and we all gushed about how wonderful the food was and while I didn’t say it that night, (although I was singing the praises along with everyone else) I found that when I was retelling the story in the days after I was saying, “I think, from start to finish it was one of the greatest meals I have ever had”….

With restaurants, much like wine I tend to be skeptical about hype, famous winemakers, Chefs….whatever, gotta prove it to me on the plate and in the bottle…Craft proved it to me bigtime. Like I said, I have heard mixed reviews….and I know there are people that get their kicks shit talking on new restaurants, especially those with a famous named attached …and hell maybe we were just ridiculously lucky, (ordered right, caught them on a great night) maybe it was the company…don’t know, but I do know it was a superlative meal that, as I said…from start to finish, (I have had many a great meal where one dish may have been better but the whole that was this meal) “One of the best I have ever had”.

My only regret was that we didn't try the chicken.....we even made a joke about not getting "the chicken" at a place like this....man, I bet the chicken was wonderful!!

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