If there’d been cameras recording my first visit to Colicchio & Sons, the comedy of errors could have made for entertaining reality TV. The cooks were so deep in the weeds that I waited an hour for starters; a comped middle course of pancetta-wrapped monkfish (a bribe for our patience) arrived raw in the middle; a steak ordered medium-rare looked and tasted like leather; but through it all, star chef Tom Colicchio calmly worked the room. By the end of the ordeal, it was easy to imagine Padma Lakshmi telling the Top Chef judge to pack his knives and go.
Fortunately for Colicchio, in life, unlike television, chefs get more than one chance to make an impression. On subsequent visits, the timing and cooking had improved dramatically, while the service from the beginning was as polished as the food ought to be. Even so, something about the restaurant remained awkward and stunted. The changes in the sterile, industrial venue, which until the end of last year had been home to Craftsteak, took shape in matter of weeks. The rush job amounted to nearly imperceptible design tweaks and the addition of a wood-burning stove.
Despite high-end pretensions (a casual yet pricey saloon and a prix-fixe-only dining room), Colicchio seems only tepidly committed to delivering a real fine-dining experience. The menus on both sides suffer from a lack of personality, promising but not delivering the sorts of complex plates that Colicchio served at his monthly Tom: Tuesday Dinner, yet hasn’t cooked on a large scale since leaving Gramercy Tavern in 2006.
In the Tap Room, Colicchio offers a long, middlebrow list of small plates. The best of them—split marrowbones slathered in a rich egg-parsley sauce; a blistered mini pizza topped with chanterelles, nettles and ricotta—reflect the spare seasonality that put the chef on the map. But pedestrian dishes—stringy skirt steak, a suburban duck casserole in a cloying bchamel—outnumber the inspiring ones.
The fine-dining dishes share the Tap Room’s rustic sensibility, and the luxury flourishes don’t always elevate the cooking, despite the $78 mandatory price tag. Gnocchi are buried in a cacophony of noisy ingredients (brussels sprouts, chestnuts, butternut squash, black truffles and thyme), and lobster pasta is just as busy—to as little effect—with fresh cuttlefish-ink tagliatelle tangled around a briny confetti of bitter greens, miserly scraps of shellfish and red-pepper chutney.
While some starters showed occasional glimmers of just how impressive the main dining room could be—like silky butter-poached oysters with caviar and elegant celery-root “tagliatelle”—none of the entres I tried lived up to those standards. Duck was roasted into sawdust submission on that disastrous first visit. Veal breast—sold out one night, overcooked on another—was sinewy glazed meat rolled around garlic puree, and overpowered by rosemary.
Desserts on both sides of the restaurant—pillowy New Orleans--style beignets in the dining room; a sweet-salty peanut butter, chocolate and chopped pretzel parfait in the Tap Room—are more consistently homey than the savory fare. Created by former Craft pastry chef Stephen Collucci, they deliver the sort of genuine warmth and thematic cohesion everything else seems to be missing.
Drink this: The craft beer selection is among New York’s most impressive, including vintage bottles like the complex spicy 2003 Hitachino Red Rice Ale from Japan ($20).
Eat this: Bone marrow, nettle pizza, oysters, peanut butter parfait
Sit here: The Tap Room is the much more inviting half of the restaurant, with dining at both the bar and the casual tables behind it.
Conversation piece: Tom Colicchio named the restaurant for his two sons: seven-month-old Luka and 16-year-old Dante.
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