Dining out is fun. But dining out with your best girl friends is the best! So once a month, I pick a place, and then we wine, dine, and (usually) have dessert/appertifs at my place.This month, we were short one person, due to a family emergency of sorts. Missed you, Mia! But my friend Ava and I plodded on. Tough work, but someone has to do it.
It is also increasingly tough work to find new and interesting places to eat out in Manhattan. Due to the perpetually ailing economy, chefs and resturanteurs have been understandably timid about opening more ambitious places. And many of the newer restaurants have taken casual to new heights of mediocre and boring.
Thankfully, many established restaurants have survived the down turn, and still delight. Some have even improved with age. Much to my surprise, Colicchio and Sons falls squarely into that category.
I first dined at Colicchio and Sons in early 2010, three weeks after it opened. The food was mostly solid, but there were definitely some ill conceived dishes, and numerous service problems -- including an entree that was served luke warm. The food was also extremely pricey.
This time around, the service was impeccable and non-intrusive. (You know, when you don't even notice that your silverware has been replaced between courses.) The kitchen has also hit its' stride under the direction of Executive Chef, James Tracey. Tracey is a highly skilled chef who has been at the helm of Collichio's 3* Craft for some time. He is now leaving his signature mark at Colicchio and Sons, turning out food that is rich, complex and ethereal.
Ava and I both had the 4 course, prix fixe menu for $78 -- which consisted of an appetizer, fish, meat and dessert course.
My appetizer of Grilled Octopus with Endive, Citrus and Chorizo Vinaigrette set the tone for the evening. Tender inside, carmelized on the outside (I would love to know that trick), you could cut it with a fork.
Our waiter described my first course, Swordfish with Yukon Gold Potatoes, Fairytale Eggplant and Tomato as a "Mediterranean-like" preparation. I would call it a walk through the green market.
Tracey clearly fancies fairy tale eggplants (see below), and uses them often in his cooking. In this dish, they are paired with a colorful mixture of cherry tomatoes, creamy yukon gold potatoes and fresh rosemary.
The fish was cooked to medium rare, and came to the table tender, moist and firm to the touch.
For my main course, I had Roasted Normandy Duck with Lambs Quarter*, Chanterelles and Cherries. Normandy duck is a heritage breed (a cross between Peking Duck and the more classic French Rouen Duck), which the restaurant sources from Stone Church Farms in upstate New York.
Roasted Normandy Duck is a signature dish at both Craft and Colicchio and Sons, which is tweaked almost weekly based on market availability. (Tonight it being served with tuscan kale, chanterelles and figs at the restaurant.) This is a very complex dish, which Tracey demonstrates in the video clip below:
The breast is cooked on the bone, which is removed prior to serving. Tracey mentions in the video that he does it to prevent the meat from shrinking. It also imparts flavor to the meat and keeps it moist.
Ava had the Roasted and Braised Tamworth Pork with Green Tomatoe Chutney, Dandelion Greens and Lardo Ravioli for her main course. It too was just a picture.
We both had Warm Chocolate Tart with Pistachio Creme Brulee and Pastachio Ice Cream for dessert.
When I look back at this meal, I cannot find fault with a single thing. And even in the best of restaurants, that is hard to pull off.
The first round of professional and amateur reviews almost universally found fault with the food and service at Colicchio and Sons. (The only exception to this was Sam Sifton, the out-going food critic for the NY Times, who gave it 3 stars). The powers that be listened and took note.
Colicchio and Sons is finally the restuarant that Tom Colicchio meant it to be. I would go back in a heart beat. I think Ava would too.
Fairy tale eggplants are literally 2 inches long, and lack the bitterness and large seeds often associated with Italian eggplant. They are delicious quickly sauted, as in this preparation, or roasted with a drizzle of olive oil and sea salt. Either way, they cook in minutes.
Tracey mentions that lamb's quarter is similar to purslane, pictured above. By that, he means that they are both invasive weeds, that are edible and delicious! I have cooked with purslane before, but this is the first time that I have eaten lamb's quarter. It definately tastes like "wild spinach".