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Friday, February 27, 2009

Lunch at Craftbar

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Brad Lapin and I had our regular Friday lunch today at Craftbar. This is the more casual (less expensive) operation downstairs from Craft, in the Mansion on Peachtree.

We had a good lunch but I feel as mystified by the hoopla over this restaurant, part of celebrity chef Tom Collichio's empire, as I am by the raves about the upstairs operation. The food reflects all the recent trends -- organic, local, comfort-oriented -- but I don't think it has the panache of the cuisine at La Pietra Cucina, Bacchanalia, Aria or Holeman and Finch, just to name a few.

We started with a beet and pear salad with some crumbles of feta. The beets and pears didn't have a drop of sweetness about them and the feta tasted more like fresh goat cheese. In all honesty we had difficulty distinguishing the ingredients. Even slices of the recently ubiquitous radish were virtually flavorless.

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Our entrees were far better. Brad ordered the fish stew (above), which our server said was inspired by the cioppino popular in San Francisco. The broth, whose making begins with a very piquant soffritto, was full of mussels, swordfish, escolar, tilapia and seabass. I could eat it every Friday.

I ordered a panino made with braised short ribs, blue cheese and grilled onions. It's a recent menu addition and substituted for my original order of the panino made with house-cured duck ham and fontina. The restaurant had sold out of that sandwich, but I was quite happy with the short ribs.

For dessert we split an order of two smores (above, left) by Pastry Chef Pamela Moxley. The dessert features her version of graham crackers sprinkled with a bit of salt to complement the chocolate ganache melted over grilled marshmallows. Next time, I won't share. They're only $5.

Honestly, the food is good, if a bit pricey (except for the smores), and we were surprised to see the dining room nearly empty at 1 p.m. on a Friday. But I can't summon the great enthusiasm everyone else seems to have for this or its upstairs neighbor. I should say, though, that the service was spectacular.

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