After my first visit to Tom Colicchio’s NYC restaurant, Craft became one of my East Coast favorites. A place I’m be happy to go back, over and over. I wrote about the chef’s expansion of his flagship brand into a nationwide gastronomic empire. So when my job moved me temporarily to Los Angeles–admittedly not my favorite dining destination in the US, I thought I’d give the West Coast version of Craft a try. At least a couple of times.
Located in Century City near the 20th Century Fox lot, Craft’s neighborhood is like a high-end office park. A small downtown away from downtown where during the day power lunches determine the next summer blockbuster and spring lawsuit. But at night, as the executives drive their fancy cars home, there’s as much life outside as in an apocalyptical movie; right after the apocalypse. Nested on the base of the city’s twin towers, the restaurant’s modern structure glows like a full moon on a dark night.
The architectural project is enviable. Unlike in NY where a beautiful interior design was created to fill an existing open space; here everything was built from ground up. An ample structure designed in mid-century modern style with long straight lines, stark simplicity and, because this is LA; cabanas.
Inside, the L-shaped space is divided in 2 areas. Craftbar, which attempts to offer a more relaxed atmosphere for drinks, dinner and air kisses; and the formal dining room. Like in NY, the interior design is exceptional. Elegant and modern; warm and chic. And the table arrangement is not shy to show who is there to see and be seen. On the left side, a handful of power booths outfitted with u-shaped banquettes and separated by metal mesh curtains, give VIP diners a privileged view of the room.
Intrecciato leather chairs and solid wood tables fill the rest of the space under Craft’s trademark array of filament bulbs and a rounded ceiling reminiscent of the late Lever House in NY. At the end of the room, a wall-to-wall wine rack stands behind thick glass.
While there are many similarities with the NY restaurant, dining at Craft LA is an original experience. The service for one is far superior. While in NY the wait staff was inpatient and somewhat arrogant; in LA they were engaged and well trained. The food is, simply put, as good as in NY.
And in keeping with the comparisons, the LA menu–which is clearly influenced by Californian ingredients, is as complicated as NY’s. The difference is that with better service, deciding on your order is a less painful process. Everything at Craft is served family style. First, second and main courses as well as side dishes can be ordered from a long list of options and combined as you wish.
Menu descriptions are short and bare, only main ingredients and techniques are noted. But everything is very well prepared and the actual dishes are much more elaborate than what the menu suggests. In other words, you can trust the chef, no matter what you order. The challenge is really what to order. What goes well with what and what compliments it better. If in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask.
The meal begins with an amuse bouche like the delicate Cucumber gelée with radishes. Gougères were served on my first visit, although I never got to try them. Somehow our table was forgotten.
Spanish Octopus & Greek Yoghurt. Without a doubt, my favorite dish on the menu. Craft’s roasted octopus is exceptional. Tender and nicely charred, served with crispy cubeb peppers and chickpea fritters.
Fennel Sausage Raviolini & Manila Clams. A nice compliment to the Octopus, flavorful and lightly spicy, the house made pasta is topped with tat soy and chili peppers.
Veal Sweetbreads & Sage. Tender and juicy, served with grilled pineapple, caramelized onions and fried sage. Although the pineapple brings a nice contrast to the richness of the veal glands, its sweetness can be overpowering.
Berkshire Pork Rack, Belly & Sausage. A pork smorgasbord, roasted with Vadouvan curry, each part is perfectly cooked and flavorful. Served with a tasty reduction, rice beans and pickled radishes for a bright acidic contrast.
As a side, Market Cauliflower. A colorful mix of roasted heirloom cauliflower served with Marcona almonds over a bed of cauliflower purée.
Hen of the wood mushrooms. One of the most enthusiastically recommended side dishes in both NY and LA. The wait staff says it’s a must. I say it’s pretty good.
Muscovy Duck & Castelfranco Radicchio. Roasted barely past rare, the rich red meat is complemented nicely by the sweetness of orange segments and zest as well as the light bitterness of the braised radicchio. A brighter version of the classic Duck a L’orange.
On the site, Tuscan Kale. Braised, the remarkably flavorful and hearty dark leafy green is a chef’s favorite.
Before dessert, Craft offers a sweet amuse bouche like the strange combination of Butterscotch panna cotta with green apple granita or, in my second visit, the better Hibiscus soda and meyer lemon sorbet served in a shot glass with a mini straw.
The restaurant’s cheese cart is modest but offers a nice variety of American and a few European cheeses like Variation #1 from Andante Dairy in California and Queso de Mano from Colorado.
Craft has an extensive selection of house made ice creams, gelatos and sorbets including unconventional flavors like the great Fennel sorbet I had in NY. In LA, I tried Rosemary Toffee, Brown Butter and Maple Bacon. The first was my favorite; the other 2 lacked the presence of flavor I was expecting.
From the desserts list, Red Velvet Cake with Sour Cherries, Cocoa Nib & Cream Cheese Gelato. Here, the ice cream overshadows the arguably unremarkable cake. Not a bad dessert but nothing I’d order again.
Peanut Butter Cup with Peanut Brittle, Caramel Gelée & Caramel Gelato. This luscious dessert offers a nice play of textures on a classic all-American pairing.
Tom Colicchio’s LA branch of his flagship restaurant won’t disappoint. Its design is an oasis in a dreary neighborhood and its food is as good as in its NY counterpart. The family style presentations break the formality of a fine dining experience while maintaining the same level of quality. I call it faux casual fine dining.
Craft is at 10100 Constellation Boulevard