Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Craigie on Main

Craigie on Main is a high-end restaurant in Cambridge, on the same level as L’Espalier or Number 9 Park, but its Central Square location, wide-open kitchen, blackboard listing featured ingredients for the evening, and warm atmosphere give it a much cozier, intimate feeling as if you were dinner guests in someone's home. Craigie on main was one of the first of Boston’s “locavore” restaurants and arguably set this trend- similar restaurants have started popping up over the past few years, and local bars have been remaking themselves into gastro pubs featuring high end dishes crafted from local seasonal ingredients.

            Long before trying Craigie on Main, I had a chance to sample their food at Boston's Taste of the Nation, an event run by share our strength and whose proceeds go toward fighting childhood hunger. I attend taste of the nation every year, and always mean to try some of the participating restaurants. However, I've usually forget most because there is just so much going and when the food is prepared in mass quantities in advance it's difficult for any one restaurant to stand out. Craigie on Main was the exception for me each year for a couple of reasons:
1.                    They are located at the very front of the room and are the first table you see when you walk in.
2.                    The owner (an older gentleman) runs the booth each year, hands out his card and personally invites as many people as he can to come try the restaurant.
I have since been to Craigie several times for brunch and dinner, tried tasting menus, al a carte options, and tasted the award winning burger. All were excellent, but this review will focus on a recent dinner ordered from all a la carte options.
We arrived at 9pm for a 9:30 reservation, hoping to be seated early. The place was packed and Chef Tony Maws was stationed at the front of the open kitchen, plating food himself, and overseeing each of the dishes before they were delivered to their tables. Despite the crowd, we were offered a high top seat right away in the bar area and had a chance to chat with some of the other guests about what they had ordered. One of the bartenders waited on us, was very knowledgeable about the food and wine, and gave us some excellent recommendations.
We started with an amuse bouche, and chose meat and fish from the meat, fish, vegetable option. The fish was swordfish pastrami and the meat cured ham, each on crisp cracker. Both were delicious, although the swordfish was the more creative of the two. 
The second course included appetizers of grilled octopus and cheese pumpkin soup with a grilled cheese and pork belly sandwich. The octopus was seared perfectly with just the smallest bit of char, and had a consistency more like lobster than the chewy texture octopus or squid can sometimes have. We asked about the preparation, and our server explained it was brined overnight, and then poached in olive oil and thyme for 18 hours before being grilled. The soup and sandwich were equally good, hearty and flavorful; they each worked well on their own or with the sandwich dipped in the soup. The pork belly was crisp and sliced thin like bacon. It was excellent in the sandwich and although they didn’t skimp, I wished there was a little bit more.


            For entries we chose the chicken sausage stuffed chicken with Vidalia onions, chanterelle mushrooms and potatoes, and the venison cooked two ways – sausage, and a leg-cooked sous vide to a perfect medium rare. We enjoyed both, but the winning dish was the roasted bone marrow, which was served in the bone with sides of sea salt and toasted bread. The marrow spread onto the toast like butter and reminded me a bit of fois gras, but even more rich and decadent (if possible). 

The final course, dessert, was a bittersweet chocolate mousse tart and the chocolate mint affogato. The tart was the sweeter of the two, with bits of chocolate malt, salted butterscotch sauce, and a white chocolate-miso ice cream. The affogato was not quite as sweet, but just as good – it came with a rum sauce and espresso poured over the top. We were both stuffed at this point, and I normally don’t eat more than a few bites of dessert, but somehow we managed to clean our plates and practically crawled to the car.

            I would go back to Craigie for the bone marrow alone, but there were quite a few menu items I would have liked to try (fried clams are at the top of the list). Although it’s expensive, I’m hoping to make it back soon enough that the menu won’t have changed too much!

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