Colicchio & Sons kept coming up in foodie circle conversations, which is notable at least in that it is no newbie: the restaurant opened its west Chelsea doors in 2008. It's been open long enough to have been on and off my go-to list for awhile, but when an opportunity to dine at the Taproom arose, I thought it would be the perfect test-run for the main dining room, which definitely a big-ticket affair. Tom Colicchio is the headliner here, but researching a bit the restaurant's website, the functioning chefs James Tracey and Luke Bergman are also ably pedigreed. The address's prior incarnation, Craftsteak, may have its ghosts haunting the space, however: both menus are distinctly protein-centric. There's hardly a vegetarian option on either menu, which is at odds with how I interpreted their manifesto. The elements of simplicity, however, are in full swing, and the attempt at a Danny Meyer-style graciousness, is well-evident. Whether or not they do this on all fronts, they are certainly aiming to please.
And mostly they do. The trick was navigating the menu. I was not dining with a bunch of rabbit-food eaters, either, but a lot of people want a salad or soup to begin- of which there was one on the entire menu. So of a table of five, four beet salads were ordered, and I ventured out for variation with seared sea scallops. Which were actually a lot more interesting than the beets, which were pretty much.... well, just beets. There were dollops of goat cheese (of course) and shards of julienned pear strewn across quartered golden and ruby varieties. But it wasn't anything to get too excited about. But at least they were vegetables, which are notably scarce anywhere on the menu. Scallops had a touch more panache. Seared and plonked atop a
thick puree of butternut squash they were, festooned with crisply fried leaves of brussels sprouts masquerading as verdant potato chips (again, not totaling one whole, so hardly contributing to your five-a-day). The other appetizers consisted of chilled options, oysters and
a seafood platter, and a beef tartare. P.E.I. mussels in a tomato-ginger broth was large enough- and flavorful enough- to stand in as an entree, wading in zesty tomato broth spiked with ginger. Terrine, cassoulet and and stuffed quail rounded out the first courses, so it is sort of go meat, or go home. The more I sussed the situation out, the more I saw that the Taproom is definitely tap-oriented "bar" food (although elevated), instead of what I was expecting of a more casual version of the dining room. And that tap should be taken advantage of: I sampled a gorgeous seasonal hefeweizen that tasted almost not like beer at all but caramel, bananas and spice. It went down smooth and easy- a good thing since it was a full pour in a very, very tall glass.
Entrees go well with the finery of the tap, but exhibit a similar paucity of produce as the appetizers: a mushroom and taleggio pizza was all taleggio and almost no 'shroom, and if there was any shaved white truffle atop was so faint it was lost in the unspecified pesto that appeared instead. The burger, on the other hand, was big enough to lose yourself in, and that would've been a decent fate. The juicy pink patty was smothered in Drunk Onions and pecorino, and sided with chips of both the darkly russet, kettle-cooked potato variety and bread-and-butter pickled. The tender, sesame-seeded bun gave good grip and didn't over-starch the meat. And of course, skate was on the menu and consequently ordered....
(but, then again, how much pork belly can one consume?) (unless you're not Josh Ozersky?) (Sorry, I digress), sided with crispy panzanella croutons and a Lilliputian head of romaine.
Onto desserts, none of which tantalized from their descriptions, but we nevertheless tried two. A butterscotch panna cotta tasted more like its accompanying pumpkin ice cream than butterscotch, and the pudding was more moussey than traditional panna cotta.
It was covered in a sort of rubbery cranberry gelee that not only didn't taste like cranberry: it barely tasted of anything. The best part was the delicate pepita brittle, appropriately shaped like a Phoenix rising from the rest of the lackluster concoction. Zeppole were better, but heavy finishers for such a solid savory menu. The powdered sugar orbs teamed up with a creamy milk chocolate ice cream and a luscious orange-butter sauce in which to dip them.