Sunday, October 9, 2011

Craft Los Angeles - dineLA Done Right

Craft restaurants have always been a favorite of "Ms. Sassy"'s - a perfect combination of consistently delicious food, lovely settings and staff who personify hospitality.  Whenever Ms. Sassy's birthday rolled around, we knew we would be in for a night of fabulousness - two years ago it was at Craftsteak in Vegas, this year it was at Craft LA on the patio. 

So naturally Craft popped to the top of the list when it came time for this year's dineLA - and it was one of the best experiences ever (thanks to Ms. Sassy for scoring us the best deal ever in the history of dineLA! More on this later! :))  I would go so far as to say that Craft should be the role model for others participating in Restaurant Week.

A few high-end dineLA restaurants had been mincing their deals, with lower-end offerings on menus that boiled down to "beef or chicken" dinners, and/or not offering dineLA deals on weekends when they'd rather fill space with customers paying 'full fare'.  While I absolutely understand the economics of this, I also know dineLA was designed to be a citywide marketing tool - the concept is to bring in new customers by availing them of a sampling of your offerings at an introductory price, for a very limited time.  So if you put out a menu that's going to put people to sleep, or make it hard for people to get to it, you might as well not do it at all - because you're (A) not accurately representing what your restaurant's about and/or (B) sending mixed messages / generating frustration versus goodwill by putting something out but making it hard for people to actually try it.  For the cost of presumably just ingredients and labor, you get the machinery of dineLA's marketing and publicity teams driving traffic to you - so wouldn't the smartest thing to do be to put your best foot forward?

Craft is an example of a restaurant that totally 'gets it' - and whom we expect to continue to rave about for years to come.  Here's how Craft shows others how to do it right:

Craft LA is usually closed for business on Sundays. But dineLA event dates run Sundays-Fridays.  So what does Craft do?  They offered their dineLA menu on Saturday, so customers who don't live/work in the area can still get a chance to enjoy the experience.  (Thanks Ms. Sassy for discovering this!) Class act. 

When we arrived, we got the same high level of service we always got at Craft group restaurants - with all the trimmings as well, starting the meal with an amuse bouche of polenta, celery, creme fraiche and a crunchy flash fried tomato.  And throughout the meal we saw the same exquisite level of attention to detail and many other pluses that made us fall even more in love with Craft.

The dineLA menu had listed three starters "for the table" - before we arrived I assumed that meant "choose one of the three" and we get to share that?  To our excitement, the server clarified that we get ALL THREE starters to share between the two of us!  And they seemed like full size starters to us!

The first starter was King Salmon Tartar avocado and spiced almonds.  It was a generously portioned plate of lush salmon with creamed avocado, counterbalanced by what I thought were heirlom tomatoes and spiced almonds for crunch.  Ms Sassy doesn't even normally like salmon, much less raw, but she enjoyed this one. 

Starter #2 was the Wild Arugula baby beets and smoked goat cheese - I don't normally love salads but thought the light arugula, punctuated by pickled baby beets and some crumbles of goat cheese for textural and flavor contrast, was a nice refreshing way to whet our appetites for the meal ahead.

Starter #3 was my favorite: Sonoma Pork Terrine Warren pears and purslane - terrines are typically rectangular slabs, but Craft presented them beautifully in thin rounds.  This dish was texture and flavor perfect - the interplay of well seasoned meat with rich, flavorful fat was elevated with a sweet/spiced pear mostarda and purslane.  I was sad that Ms Sassy didn't really enjoy this (only because she doesn't like pates in general) but happy that this meant more for me.  I scarfed down every last bite.

For her main, Ms. Sassy chose the Diver Sea Scallops heirloom beans and lemon - which came in a nice baby cast iron pan.  We ended up sharing all our plates so I got to taste this one as well - the scallops were perfectly seared with a crisp outer layer giving way to an interior that is so tender it could make you cry. (Yes, do note that you just get two scallops, so those with bigger appetites, take that into consideration) The heirloom white/purple beans were great as well for a nice texture contrast.

My choice of main was Rainbow Trout roasted market peppers & cilantro as I didn't want to repeat the scallop dish (on dineLA site they listed White Sea Bass) - to be honest, I ordered this with fingers crossed it would not just be a white fish filet with some veggies on the side.

I guess I forgot where I was - Craft would not do that to me!  The fish came SKIN ON, lightly seared to a crisp, the way I like it - and beautifully presented in a copper skillet.  My only note was that I would have wanted the roasted peppers to be just a tad less salty so that I can taste the natural flavors a bit more.  Otherwise a delicious dish.

In addition to all the above, we also got a trio of Side Dishes mixed and served in a baby copper skillet for the table - which featured roasted butterball potatoes, assorted mushrooms, and market onions

The potatoes were perfectly cooked and tasted like they had been marinated in the meaty juices of the mushrooms for days - the rich flavors were evenly infused.  The market onions' contribution was a nice counterbalancing sweet/slightly bitter bits of tenderness.

Dessert #1 was our favorite, Steamed Apple Pudding cider sabayon & braised apples.  This was a change from the posted dineLA menu (originally Butternut Squash Pie) but we weren't complaining - the 'pudding' was warm, soft, fluffy and cake-like, with a sweet caramel-ly syrup poured over and some I think graham cracker crumbs sprinkled on top so you get just the slightest bit of crunch with your 'pudding'.  The ever so slightly tart cider sabayon and thin half-moons of braised apple were the perfect finishing touches. This dish was too sophisticated to be comfort food - but it was definitely one that hits you to your core - food that tastes like it can heal everything that went wrong with your week before you set foot at Craft.
Dessert #2 was more playful, a Peanut Butter Semifreddo banana bread & chocolate (banana bread was unexpected bonus, not listed on dineLA site!).  The bigger orbs are peanut butter ice cream fried and breaded with a nutty outer shell.  The banana bread came in the form of baby muffins perched on a mound of melted chocolate that tasted to me like warm nutella.  Deliciousness all around!

To 'gild the lily' in a good way, we ended the meal with Mignardises - chocolate cookies and peach pates de fruit.

Though the dineLA items are not all on the regular menu, if you tried to calculate based on comparables and averages, you would be saving at least $22 per person with the dineLA deal.

AND because Ms. Sassy is savvy as well as sassy - she prudently submitted her considerable stash of OpenTable points for a voucher a bit after dineLA was announced. and received her $50 certificate just in time to apply it to our meal.  Our server ever so kindly accepted the certificate without any hassle, which brought our per person cost before tip to just under $26!!!! Definitely the best fine-dining meal deal ever!!!!

And to top it all off, with our bill our server also handed us each a bag of handmade, fresh granola to take home courtesy of Craft.  Then let us know where we can get our (self) parking validated (at front desk)!

(The restaurants referenced at the top of this post may say, wow that was a big revenue loss for Craft...but I would argue it was a big win: for returning customers like Ms. Sassy and I, it was a rewarding experience for us that continues to fuel affinity and loyalty - Ms. Sassy spends a lot of money each year on her birthday bash at Craft group restos, as well as dinners throughout the year, so this is her one savings event (done more for the benefit of this lil budget food blogger than hers - thanks Ms. Sassy!) that made us happy (and most importantly for Craft will keep the big-spender of the pair) coming back.  For new customers, having this experience makes them see Craft as a place that sets a high bar for themselves without the snobbery to their customers - and makes it more likely for them to convert into regulars, and to spread good word of mouth, the best form of marketing you can get (for a relatively low cost of just food and labor).  And I would hazard to guess that the $ spent on marketing and advertising year round far exceeds the $44 +$50 = $94 dollar per pair of customers converted during dineLA. But that's just my two cents, restaurants are going to operate however they want to.).

Thank you Craft for yet another wonderful experience - you're a class act through and through and we will see you again soon! 

[For other fab dishes at Craft LA, see photo album from Ms. Sassy's birthday party on my Facebook page]

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 5.5 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6.5 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$$$ (4 bite marks regular menu)
Probability of return visit - 100%

Craft Los Angeles 
10100 Constellation Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90067
Ph: 310.279.4180

dineLA - $44 dinner
Parking:  Self-parking in structure by 2000 Century Park E free with restaurant validation; Valet parking $8

OpenTable: Look for reservations

Craft on Urbanspoon


  1. Aight. So DineLA is back, and we can't go back to Craft AGAIN (or can we). Where to?

  2. Haha Craft is a must! As for others, I'm waiting for more menus to go live on the dineLA site before doing my 'analysis' - stay tuned ;)!

  3. that food looks great! I'm relocating to Los Angeles from New Jersey and I've been researching the best areas to live and things to do. I'm also looking at the best moving companies to hire for a cross-country move. What is your favorite area of LA?



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