I love Top Chef. You get the drama of any good reality show (complete with canoodling contestants this season) with the added benefit of it being based around one of my favorite things in the world... food! Plus, the judges are pretty awesome. Padma, Tom, Gail... speaking of Gail, what happened to her? I miss her. This new British dude is trying to be the sarcastic Simon-esque persona but his insults fall as flat as warm, day old coke (and that joke).
About a month ago, my good friend, Audrey, took me to Craft, Tom Colicchio's restaurant, for my birthday. The meal was intense. It consisted of at least 9 courses and at least 3 or 4 amuse bouches to round it out. We got the wine pairing, so you can imagine that it was a a fun evening.
The restaurant's decor was stunning. Beautiful modern lights and accoutrements, without the starkness that normally comes with that style. It was warm and inviting. We each got a drink when we walked in. I got the elderberry collins. Best cocktail ever. I didn't even know I liked gin until I had this drink. Audrey and I have worked up a pretty great replica and I'll be posting that recipe later. She got a ginger mai tai, which was also excellent.
Then came the food. While very good, at times seemed to be lacking in both flavor and direction at times. It was kind of hit or miss for me. The salmon wrapped trout mousse with caviar on top was a divine, unctuous first amuse bouche that made me excited for things to come. Our first course was crab gratin, which was more soup-like than I would have expected but was still fabulous. Delicate in flavor, yummy. Right after that course came a cod pot pie with root vegetables. It was a pretty large portion for what it was, which was part of the problem. The flavor of the fish was overwhelmed by the thickness of the bechemel and the butter, but delicious, crust. It was a bit heavy for being served right after a very rich dish. I do tend to like Cal/Med cuisine, so I'm biased.
Then, the waiter served us the veal francobolli with pancetta butter. One problem- when Audrey made the reservation, she had specified that I don't eat red meat or pork. They told her that would be no problem to accommodate. We reiterated this to the waitress when we ordered. They still managed to forget and didn't prepare anything for me. We told the waitress and she was entirely apologetic and brought out some butternut squash with sage butter sauce very quickly. But the problem was the wine had already been poured- a deep California red to be paired with the veal. We asked to speak to the sommalier because neither of us thought that a red, let alone that one, would typically be served with the course I was eating. He came over to us and was extremely defensive. He said that the earthiness of the wine pairs well with each course. Whatever. I think he just didn't want to go pick out another wine, but when you're spending $400 on a meal for 2 people, you expect it to be perfect. (I'm realizing writing this down that I sound like a major pain in the ass, but I can assure you, I'm not. At least, I didn't think so).
I had a great time. The food was good. The wines were well paired (barring that one mishap) and solid. The desserts were innovative and downright delish. The experience was memorable and overall, very positive. It was just expensive for what you got.
Let me put it this way... Derek's Bistro in S. Pasadena is one of my favorite places ever. It's one of those places that you want to go to every time an occasion calls for fancy dining. You consider going to places like Craft, and if you actually end up taking the leap, you hope for it to be better than Derek's, especially because it's far more expensive. Unfortunately, it wasn't.