On September 1st Kevin and I celebrated our first year of dating, and hopefully just the first in a string of many long, happy years to come! Sometimes that amount of time seems so long to me, while other times it feels like nothing at all. But it’s an occasion nonetheless, and so we decided to celebrate! I had been wanting to go to Craigie on Main for a very long time, and so we decided (me mostly) that it was high time to give it a try. We went on a Saturday night when it was full and bustling, but somehow managed to nab a couple of seats at the chef’s table right alongside the kitchen.
We started with a couple of cocktails, a Northern Lights (St. Germain, Scotch, citrus, Bittermens Tiki) for Kevin, and an Ardoise (Rain, sage, juniper, lime) for me. Both were well balanced and quite delicious. Not a bad way to start the evening!
From our seats, we could see the entire kitchen. Right in front of us were the chefs responsible for cold dishes and desserts, to our right were the line cooks, and the to our far right was Tony Maws himself, and the expediting area.
After we’d been served our drinks and put in our order, were were eached served an amuse bouche. I can’t remember exactly what they were, but mine was a cold salad (it looked like pasta, though I believe it was actually octopus) that was a sweet and savory dish, and tasted faintly of sesame oil. It was fabulous. Kevin had something with duck and beets, that was good, but not all that exciting. Mine took the cake here! The bread was also so very good. The roll you see in the background below was outsanding (as far as breads go, anyway), and was served alongside two or three other types of white bread.
For my appetizer, I got the Grilled Spanish Octopus, which was served with grilled cipollini onion, a fresh hearts of palm and lemon salad, and a chorizo sauce. It was incredible. I’ve never had octopus prepared as this was, and I was surprised to find it’s consistency was something like chicken – must more dense and meaty than any other seafood I’ve ever had. It was so tender and melt-in-your-mouth delicious, this was probably my favorite dish of the evening. Kevin got the Salad of Late Summer Tomatoes and Crispy Pig Ears, served with young greens, red onion, and a Fourme d’Amberty vinaigrette, which was also yummy. The tomatoes were very fresh, firm and flavorful, and the vinaigrette was a perfect accompaniment. The crispy pig ears were a neat addition and added a great texture. This was my first time eating pig ears, and admittedly, I’d do it again.
For my entree, I got the House-Cured Pork Belly-Wrapped Harpooned Swordfish, which was a wonderful dish – comforting and delicate, but with robust flavors and it tasted incredibly fresh. The fish was served with a summer succotash, Wellfleet and razor clams, mussles and cockles. The flavors all went so well together, and the savory foam on top added a fun yet sophisticated flair. Kevin had the Vermont Pork Three-Ways (Sucking Confit, Spice-Crusted Rib, Grilled Belly), which was served with hon shimeji mushrooms, baby bok choy, turnips, ramp kimchee and almond butter. It was tasty, though Kevin wasn’t thrilled with it. The serving seemed like a small portion, and the only part of the dish that was super flavorful was the rib, which was fantastic. Everything else on his plate was just okay. He also got a glass of red wine with his entree (though I don’t remember what it was) that was a touch creamy and light and delicious.
Kevin also thought it would be fun to try the roasted bone marrow, which has an extremely unappealing appearance (it looks like congealed, slimy fat) but it was actually incredible. So light and buttery, and with a generous sprinkle of sea salt and chopped chives atop a toast point – it was amazing! I don’t know if I’ll be quick to order it again, because it feels like eating a stick of butter by itself, but I was shocked at how much I liked it.
We decided not to order dessert (opting instead to head next door to Toscanini’s for ice cream!), but they still served us a couple of sweet bites. The first was a greek yogurt foam with a carrot granita, which was really amazing. It was light and flavorful and sweet from the carrot, but also a bit tart form the yogurt. So good. We also each got a chocolate earl grey french macaroon, which were sadly nothing special – they actually tasted a little bit stale, but they sure were adorable.
On the whole, the evening was nice – I really liked my food, Kevin thought his was good (not great), but it was certainly a different dining experience than I’ve had in the past. Typically when Kevin and I go out, we sit at the bar or chef’s table, of whatever the equivalent is, because it’s always such a unique way to experience a restaurant. It offers a different perspective than sitting across from each other at a small table in the dining area, and allows us to sit side-by-side and chat and observe. When we got our seats at the chefs table that night, we were thrilled, but it ended up putting a stressful spin on the evening which was a major disappointment. I thought it was really fun to watch all of the action, but at times Mr. Maws got very tough on his line cooks, yelling and swearing and threatening. It was all very Hell’s Kitchen, except that we were sitting 10- feet from the action, so it was not easy to relax. For some, this might be just the kind of action you’re looking for, but even for us it was a bit much. We left full and content (at least I felt that way), but not feeling relaxed and unwound like we’d wished. The service was also sub-par – our waitress was seldom around to check in, and seemed a bit scattered at tune, I was disappointed to realize it was not as perfect as I’d always imagined it would be at Craigie.
I think if we’d sat in the dining area or at the bar, it might have been a different experience. We probably would have ordered the same food, had the same drinks, but we could have just sat and talked quietly and enjoyed the atmosphere (I loved the decor and the feel of Craigie) and relaxed like we’d intended. Maybe someday we’ll go back and give it a try – from the rave reviews I’ve always heard there must be some experience there that eluded us, but for now we’re on the search for our next great dinner.