Tom Colicchio is spreading himself too thin. Perhaps it's the slimming influence of his Diet Coke spokesmanship, but what I had experienced long ago my first time at Craft was nowhere to be found this time around at Craftbar. Several years post-Craft, I still remember the roasted spot prawns I had, and the sturdy crock of bluefoot mushrooms... ethereal. There were none of those bells nor whistles at Craftbar, a duskily lit restaurant/bar on an increasingly restaurant-friendly stretch of Broadway north of Union Square. From ABC Kitchen to The John Dory, Broadway is enjoying a nice little diagonal restaurant row, but CraftBar isn't keeping up with the Joneses.
The bartenders are gracious and convivial... in fact, I wouldn't steer you away from a glass of their wine or specialty cocktail if you're in the 'hood. For that purpose, CraftBar is completely acceptable. You'll avoid the shoddy service (every single plate we ordered was put in front of the wrong recipient) since the bartenders are in earshot; you'll actually be able to order a beverage without gesticulating wildly to attract the attention of your server (this activity will also become useful if you plan on ever receiving your check.)
Then again, if I was a waitress there, I wouldn't be in a rush to get you fed here, either. It's not terrible, it's just not anything. A bounteous salad of shredded fennel and pecorino was so large it seemed a ruse to offer quantity over quality. Perfectly fresh mound of shaved fennel, lightly dressed with an unoffensive vinaigrette, but then randomly afflicted with a sparse few pickled cherry peppers of varying and unpredictable degrees of heat, none of which made a very nice complement to the fennel. The pecorino was the same color as the plate (and not far off the shade of the fennel), so the thin slices disguised themselves underneath the mound of salad only making a surprise appearance once the bulk of the rest of the salad was already consumed. Then you're left with a plate of cheese, although this served much to the delight of my dining companion, who was utterly disgruntled with his selection of appetizer cheeses, both of which were fairly flaccid and bereft of much flavor. They appear to favor raw milk cheeses of respectable provenance, but his particular two choices lacked personality, and he was happier with my leftover Pecorino than either.
I still harbored hope for my entree, simply because I was jubilant at the prospect of skate (my favorite), and the preparation with Tuscan kale and preserved lemon was attractive. The unfortunate reality arrived as a very crispy, somewhat overcooked skate wing over a small pile of VERY overcooked kale, much like southern collards of fifty years ago which found themselves stewed until they lost all their chew and reached a rather unappetizing shade of khaki. Wild striped bass wasn't any better, paired with a melange of rustic vegetables... tough artichokes and mealy cardoons, and a nicoise-olive piquillo pepper relish that lent a bitter, metallic tang, reminding me of one of the worst dishes I ever had in New York (at L'Express on Park Avenue: some white fish with a red pepper coulis that had that same tinny grit aside a generic piece of fish.) Even the side of mushrooms saw too much time in the pan. There were a lot of them, all of which were too salty and cooked to dessicated chewiness. Pity the chef obliged my special request for them as a side (he wouldn't cough up any brussels sprouts, even though they were on the menu in another dish); as it turned out, they weren't worth the favor.
My attention wandering, I took note of our neighbor's entrees: two pasta dishes. Upon consulting with them, she confirmed that her sweet potato agnolotti with brussels sprouts, bacon and hazlenuts was commensurately lackluster, but his papparadelle with Berkshire pork ragu looked delicious, and his licked-clean plate agreed. So if you are to find yourself here inextricably, go for that. Plus, the noodles are whole wheat: it's good for you.
Be all that as it may, we still gave dessert a run for its money (wait: OUR money), and it was perfectly all right. We played it pretty safe with a warm apple crisp, which was very sweet, but still enjoyable with its crunchy, buttery crumb and novel brown butter ice cream. Coffee was less remarkable, tasting a bit of the bottom of the pot.
Getting the check was as effortful as was finally procuring our order, but we finally exited into a chilly night of winter's last hurrah. The temperature, however, wasn't remarkably different outside from what we had been experiencing all evening inside, as the unprotected front door sucked in the frigid air in grand gusts straight to our table. All things considered, Craftbar paled miserably with my expectations for Colicchio. And I'm not saying don't follow him anywhere; he's a respectable chef with great credentials and lots of (apparently too many) other restaurants. Just don't follow him here.