March 24 (Bloomberg) -- Beyonce and her husband Jay-Z dined at Manhattan’s Colicchio & Sons earlier this month. No photographers were in sight, no pictures appeared on TMZ.com, no one approached them during the course of my two hour, gut-busting $125 tasting menu.
Two women with camera phones walked right past the pop princess and the hip hop mogul, heading to the kitchen where they likely hoped to meet Tom Colicchio, head judge of Bravo TV’s “Top Chef” reality competition and founder of the Craft group of restaurants.
Colicchio is king in this corner of the Meatpacking district. Everyone else is a supplicant.
TV aside, Colicchio can still be found in his own kitchen. And his cooking explains why this replacement for the so-so Craftsteak is one of the most exciting new places to eat in New York.
Who cares about star sightings when crack surf and turfs are to be reckoned with? The tasting menu knocks you out with a scallop, its wallop tripled by the addition of foie gras. The warm liver mirrors the mollusk’s Jell-O-like texture.
Octopus surrounds pork belly as if it were a ship in a Jules Verne novel. The pig is silky. The tentacles collapse in the mouth. White bean agnolotti add starch. A shallow pool of pan drippings is enriched with lardo and chorizo fat. The tang of sherry vinegar makes you forget about the impending heart attack. Sop it all up with buttered Parker House rolls.
Foie Gras and Trotter
Call it a wacky American pasta paella. The components have nothing to do with one another; it works because Colicchio knows disparate ingredients with distinct flavors might confuse the palate but won’t displease it.
This is why the original Craft is one of the city’s best restaurants. The Flatiron joint serves the food family-style, so tuna with foie gras foam might co-mingle on your plate with your mother’s pork trotter. But while Craft lets diners go potluck with a la carte everything, Colicchio & Sons does the thinking for you -- no need to order sides. Rare venison, ordinary at first bite, became something greater with woody black trumpet mushrooms. Craftsteak didn’t quite work, so avoid the sirloin, which was overcooked and tasted more like the accompanying bacon than the beef.
Who knew cacao nibs went with risotto? Colicchio did, and he added spicy tomato to cut the richness. Caramelized yogurt tamed gamy lamb. Fennel and sauce bordelaise made the lobster linger on the palate. It’s Italian, Middle Eastern, American and French. It’s rock ‘n’ roll -- Jerry Garcia was piped through the dining room.
Think of this as a cooler Gramercy Tavern, which Colicchio himself helped make famous. That means two sections, casual and formal. The packed bar highlights beer and more rustic dishes, if putting truffled honey on ricotta is your idea of rustic. Order braised rabbit; mop up the sauce with grits that actually taste like grits. Other chefs mask the corn with cream.
Offal is hidden in the dining room. A waiter pours a concentrated broth over delicate chicken breast. You bite into something sweet: fattened duck liver, not on the menu description. Cost: $34.
Early on, the bird was part of the dining room’s $78, three-course prix-fixe only menu. Patrons complained and the Top Chef relented, ending his three-course tyranny. Result: I now order four courses, ending with cinnamon-raisin French toast.
The Bloomberg Questions
Cost? Bar dishes are $8-$24; dining room, $12-$36.
Sound level? Moderate, about 73 decibels.
Date place? Yes.
Inside tip? Lavender-scented prosecco is an improvement on the champagne cocktail.
Special feature? A parsnip panna cotta with lobster and chestnut salt as an amuse; it belongs on the full menu.
Will I be back? Definitely.
Colicchio & Sons is at 85 10th Ave. at 15th Street. Information: +1-212-400-6699; http://www.colicchioandsons.com
What the Stars Mean: **** Incomparable food, service, ambience. *** First-class of its kind. ** Good, reliable. * Fair. No stars Poor.
Sound-Level Chart (in decibels): 51 to 55: A church on a weekday. 56 to 60: The vegetable aisle at the Food Emporium. 61 to 65: Keyboards clacking at the office. 66 to 70: My alarm clock when it goes off inches from my ear. 71 to 75: Corner deli at lunchtime. 76 to 80: Back of a taxi with advertisements at full volume. 81 to 85: Loud crowded subway with announcements.
(Ryan Sutton writes about restaurants for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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