Dear Grub Street,
I’m hoping someone can explain Craft to me. I was taken there the other night for my birthday dinner and came away completely confused and disappointed. Really, what’s the big deal? What’s with all the glowing reviews?
Without more details, we can’t be completely sure what your problem with Craft was. But if the restaurant didn’t stand out to you, perhaps that’s because it’s so hugely influential. It started the trend, now universal, of fetishizing superb ingredients and making them, rather than the ostentatious skill of the chef, the focal point of the menu. Which is slightly ironic, since the place has been a historic incubator of chefs. Here’s the staff that helped to open Craft in 2001, with their current position (we’re leaving out Tom Colicchio, who has since assumed celebrity-chef–mogul status):
• David Chang (chef–owner, Momofuku Noodle Bar, Ssäm Bar)
• Jonathan Benno (chef de cuisine, Per Se)
• Damon Wise (executive chef of the Craft empire)
• Marco Canora (chef–owner, Hearth)
• Akhtar Nawab (chef, E.U.)
• Liz Chapman (chef, Italian Wine Merchants)
And that list leaves out the many excellent chefs who’ve passed through since the opening. Craft might not be the Beatles or the Led Zeppelin of New York restaurants. But given its influence over the last few years, it could be the Velvet Underground. So great has that influence been, in fact, that Craft could still seem like just another good restaurant. We suggest you give it another try on a more low-key occasion, when you’re not expecting fireworks, and you can settle back and enjoy the food.
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