Craft, Tom Colicchio's three-star Century City restaurant, recently transformed its lounge and bar into a spinoff restaurant called Craftbar, where nothing on the menu is over $10. The resulting glut of new customers, many of whom come straight from work and stay into the evening, has been nothing short of extraordinary.
"It's like we're offering water in the desert," says Craft's chef de cuisine Matthew Accarrino, who now expedites for both restaurants (which have a nesting doll-like relationship with each other because there is no real separation of space). "I feel like a punching bag at the end of every night."
Craftbar is a tasteful antidote to the recession, offering the same quality of food and drink that is served in Craft's sleek dining room but at a fraction of the price (and on much smaller plates, served tapas-style to relaxed groups of diners). Basically, Accarrino is taking the perfectly good trimmings from cuts of meat or fish and using them in creative ways to concoct Craftbar dishes that are whimsical and informal.
For example, the belly from a piece of Tasmanian trout that went out to Craft's dining room gets turned into plump fish cakes with sturgeon and cod for Craftbar. Or a piece of extra pork belly ends up being used in the braised pork pyramids pasta dish.
It's a formula that fits well with today's burgeoning waste-not, want-not ethos, and it's tapped into a customer base made largely of white-collar workers who have scaled way back on indulgences but still want to go out for quality food and drink now and again.
It's also bringing in people who were, as general manager Adam Rosenbaum puts it, "scared of Craft," because they thought they'd never be able to afford a meal there.
After these people end up in the upbeat lounge with its clean lines, long bar backed by frosted glass, diffused light, low tables and soft, striped couches, they tend to stay. They also call their friends. "We're seeing a lot of joiners," Rosenbaum says.
Indeed, on a recent Wednesday night the cabanas and couches outside on the curved patio (the couches replaced rows of tables when Craftbar launched) were full of garrulous groups of recently freed workers and friends. So was the inside bar, where men and women with buttoned-up jobs dressed down for the night. Ties came undone, shirts untucked and jackets got tossed casually over the backs of chairs.
Jane Yin and Elaine Tzou sat together at a small table toward the back of the bar nibbling on spicy Jidori chicken wings with maple Dijon aioli; chicken liver mousse in a jar; and their hands-down favorite, the pork pyramids. The two said they are avid readers of food blogs and love to try new things that tickle their interest. Yin hadn't been to Craft before Craftbar opened, but Tzou had. "I don't like Craft as much as I like Craftbar," she said. "The bar is more low-key, and it's nice to have small plates to try different things."
At Craftbar, sliders come one per order; ravioli, maybe four or five per plate. How many plates did the women need to order to feel full? They only had four because they had eaten dinner before coming, but if they hadn't they said they would have needed about six or seven plates, which they still felt was a bargain.
Craftbar's drink menu also offers cocktails for under $10, including a wonderfully spicy Bloody Mary martini with horseradish and black pepper for $8.
If you're in the mood for a cognac, the bartender will helpfully recommend something in your price range, like a $9 snifter of Tesseron, which nicely compliments a $7 dessert of creamy butterscotch panna cotta with green apple ice, whipped up by Catherine Schimenti, who was recently nominated for a James Beard Award for outstanding pastry chef.
Yes, with all these options your bill can sneak up on you, but if you bring friends and order carefully you'll get out for what it might cost you for a roaring night out at your local T.G.I.F., only you'll roll with straight class.
Where: 10100 Constellation Blvd., Century City
When: 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and 5:30 p.m. to close Mondays through Fridays; 5:45 p.m. to close Saturdays; 5 p.m. to close Sundays
Price: Cocktails, beer, wine, snacks, salads, small plates, pasta, pizza, cheeses, sweets, $5 to $9
Contact: (310) 279-4180