While having lunch with one of my frequent readers, she suggested that in addition to writing about books here, I also review restaurants. She knows that my husband and I love trying new spots, and while I failed to make good on the new gem she and I enjoyed that day, I thought I’d give it a try.
Friday night, Scott and I joined four others for dinner at Craft. Craft is a fairly new creation in Buckhead, led by chief/owner Tom Colicchio, co-creator of Gramercy Tavern in NY (where I’ve dined before) but is probably best known today as the head judge of Bravo’s TV show, Top Chef.
First note, while I wasn’t responsible for these reservations, from what I understand they were hard to come by and had a cost for canceling. Literally. So, this is obviously a well-sought reservation.
When entering, the ambiance is dead-on. The ground level hosts the bar as well as a small open kitchen where a chef is preparing appetizers over an open flame grill. This view is protected from the front door by a wall of stacked, cut wood. The smokey oak of the fire appropriately prepares diners for the rustic flavors of the menu. A variety of wood-toned decor is highlighted further by warm lighting, specifically naked pendants with spiral shaped amber filament. Truly beautiful.
We were escorted upstairs for dinner, and the head waiter began by explaining the menu: choose one dish from “Course One,” another from “Course Two” (main course) and a third side dish. Everything is served ‘a la carte’ for sharing. It turned out that going with group proved beneficial, as we all were able to sample a lot of the dishes – particularly sides.
What seemed odd though, is that the waiter pointed out that the Craft Atlanta menu is identical to the Craft NY, Craft Dallas and Craft Los Angeles menus. For me, a restaurant whose theme is earthy and rustic should use foods native to the area, and not doing so seems odd. Nonetheless, with items like Japanese white sweet potato and Mexican squash, I’m game.
Scott & I started out with rock shrimp & pancetta risotto and the frisée, bacon & gorgonzola salad. The salad was good, nothing over the top special, but the risotto was delicious. While I’ve never attempted risotto at home, Scott & I have become fans of it by watching Chef Rasmey’s Hell’s Kitchen. The risotto was creamy with just enough firm texture & wonderful flavor.
For our second course, Scott ordered the scallops, which were beautiful, perfectly cooked & to die for. I ordered the wild striped bass with bacon vinaigrette. The bass was fishy (a risk you take when ordering wild), but it was also undercooked. I’m a huge sushi fan, but when fish is supposed to be cooked, it shouldn’t be clear gelatin throughout the middle. Typically, I send dishes back that fall into this category, but quite frankly, I could tell from the parts that were cooked, it wasn’t good enough to bother. The vinaigrette topping was almost a relish of vegetables diced to the consistency of couscous, but lacking the flavor of what you’d expect from something described as “bacon.”
The Japanese sweet potato and Mexican squash lived up to their expectation. Both dishes were roasted, and gave me new ideas of what to do with some of the variety you can find at the Dekalb Farmer’s Market. The other vegetables were just average. The roasted cauliflower was just roasted cauliflower, and the sweet potato gratin was similar to any mashed sweet potato available at your local Wednesday night supper, complete with marshmallows. (I bet this is a hit in LA.)
The other sidedish that got raves from the whole table was the farm grits & pecorino pepato. I love stone ground grits, and so I will be on the lookout for this Italian cheese in order to recreate this dish.
For dessert, Scott opted for the strawberry Napoleon, while I was swayed by the ginger ice cream served with cinnamon donuts. Both good, solid finishers, but neither were standout enough that we would return just for it.
Here’s the kicker – my all time pet peeve for restaurants and completely inexcusable for an eatery of its caliber. The wait staff – not once, not twice, but three times and by two different people – reached over my plate in order to refill my companion’s glass. There was plenty of room behind me and most of the time it was used appropriately, but often enough it was not. One of the offenders was the head waiter – inexcusable.
In addition, neither of our first two courses came out with the correct dishes served to person who made the order. While this isn’t a huge deal to me, with only six at the table, this should not have been an issue. It should be embarrassing to a waiter to have clients passing dishes across the table in order to receive their ordered item. If it happens once, make sure it doesn’t happen again, but it did.
So here’s my take – we wouldn’t go back. The food was decent, but for the price ($200 for the two of us, including tip & only one accompanying glass of wine), not nearly outstanding enough. There are many meals in Atlanta that are much better, at half the price, with much better service.
To eat at Craft, know that you are paying for the name of the creator, a hefty price tag when the service hasn’t been trained to par with the quality of food purported to exit the kitchen.
Save your dough for your local neighborhood gem.
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