Friday, May 21, 2010
Colicchio & Sons Just Doesn't Add Up
At this point of his career it's debatable whether Tom Colicchio is better known as the head judge for the popular reality-based television series, Top Chef or for his culinary skills that garnered him fame as the executive chef of Gramercy Tavern. One may surmise that the inspiration behind Colicchio's newest restaurant, Colicchio & Sons, came from a desire to resolve this identity crisis and reclaim his status as one of New York's premier chefs. Having previously ranted about the seemingly arbitrary rating system of New York Times food critic, Sam Sifton, I was predictably floored when he awarded Colicchio & Sons three stars, recommending the $135/person tasting menu after having just penalized SHO Shaun Hergatt for having such an ostentatious concept in this economy. With my interest peaked, I looked forward to a dinner at Colicchio & Sons with MW, YW and JC to see if the new restaurant deserved such lofty praise and whether Colicchio had successfully reclaimed his identity behind the stove instead of the television camera.
Occupying the previous Craft Steak space, the restaurant reminded me of a more modern version of Gramery Tavern. Like Gramercy Tavern, Colicchio & Sons is divided into two different restaurant areas: a casual Tap Room located at the front of the restaurant and a more formal Dining Room in the rear. The dining room space is modern; thin rectangular lights hang from incredibly high ceilings and painted steel beams reminding you that this is the meatpacking district. We were seated at a table against the glass wine "cellar" which acted as a partisan between these two areas. In addition to the wine selection, Colicchio & Sons boasts over twenty draft beer selections. We started our meal with two Smuttynose Pale Ales and a Hitachino White Ale.
Our server described the specials as we dug into the warm Parker House Rolls. The rolls were good, warm and buttery with sea salt sprinkled on top. We quickly devoured these and were given more without asking. Service was passable but had its share of curious moments. In particular, our wine glasses remained on the table during the entire meal despite the fact that no one had ordered any wine and we were continuously given incorrect dishes which left me wondering if we had visited Colicchio & Sons before the staff had time to work out all the kinks.
We were given an amuse bouche which consisted of Lobster Salad with Cider Braised Apples on a Lavash Cracker. Everyone seemed to enjoy this, especially the cider braised apples.
We ordered four appetizers and ended up sharing them so everyone could get a small taste of each dish. JC ordered the Hamachi with Blood Orange, Beets and Arugula. I enjoyed extra sweetness that the beets provided and thought it complimented the fish.
YW ordered the Stinging Nettle Agnolotti with Chorizo, Pork Belly and Octopus. The flavor of the stinging nettles was mild to be nice. Instead, the powerful flavors of the chorizo, pork belly and octopus dominated the dish.
MW ordered the Carolina Soft Shell Crab with Ramps and Pancetta which had been crisped like a piece of bacon. The flavors of this dish clashed, and tasted better when each component was eaten individually.
My favorite appetizer was the Butter-Poached Oysters with Celery Root "Tagliatelle" and American Caviar. Though I wouldn't go as far as Sifton, who described this dish as "spooky perfection," the dish was very good and well thought out. Unlike the soft shell crab, the flavor of this dish was enhanced when you combined each component.
For an entree JC ordered the Roasted Sirloin with Piperade and Roasted Ramps. The dish left me wanting more. The meat was well seasoned and cooked to a perfect medium rare but I found the dish to be a bit vanilla.
YW opted for the Pancetta-Wrapped Monkfish with Fava Beans and Black Truffle Vinaigrette. As with the sirloin, the protein was cooked well but lacked that "wow" factor, as the fava beans and black truffle vinaigrette didn't contribute much to the dish and seemed to be an afterthought.
MW chose the Spice-Roasted Lola Duck with Braised Romaine Hearts, Black Garlic and Hen of the Woods Mushrooms. The flavor of the duck wasn't as strong as I expected but I thought the black garlic was a nice addition when combined with the rest of the dish.
My Lamb Loin with Merguez and Lentils was a case of two extremes. The merguez was spicy but was over seasoned, while the lamb loin would have benefited from some additional salt. Maybe I missed the boat and you are meant to each the two together, but I think each component should have been seasoned individually.
We ordered two different desserts. The first was the Coconut Cream Doughnuts with Limeqaut Marmalade, Macadamia Nuts and Caramel Ice Cream. The doughnuts were good; light and not too sweet, but I would have liked more coconut cream filling. The real highlight of the plate was the caramel ice cream which was excellent.
The other dessert was the Caramelized Carrot Cake with Candied Walnuts and Cream Cheese Ice Cream. I found this to be a playful deconstruction of a traditional carrot cake and thought it was the better of the two desserts. The cake was moist and had a rich flavored that tasted great with a spoonful of the cream cheese ice cream. The varied textures, temperatures and flavors combined to make this dish one of my favorites of the evening.
Accompanying our check were Petits Fours of Lemon Lime Jellies. The jellies had a very tart flavor that I enjoyed. On our way out we were given a Lemon Poppy Seed Muffin with Cream Cheese Frosting as a parting gift.
But, if Colicchio & Sons was an effort symbolizing Tom's triumphant return to the kitchen, I'm afraid I'd have to describe it as a half-hearted effort at best. While a majority of our food was good I didn't find anything particularly special about it to warrant the hefty prices. In addition to being a talented chef and a television celebrity (though I shudder every time I see his Diet Coke commercial), I have to remind myself that Tom Colicchio is also a successful business man. Riding the momentum of his 2010 James Beard Award for Best Chef and his affiliation with the rapidly expanding Top Chef series (what's next, Top Chef Apprentices?), I can only assume Colicchio is cashing in on this new found fame to justify these price points. Whatever the case may be, like Sifton's three stars review of Colicchio & Sons, it just doesn't add up.
Colicchio & Sons
85 10th Ave.
New York, NY 10011
To see all our pics please click the flickr link.