Saturday, February 18, 2012

dineLA 2012: Craft LA (top pick, every time)

Call me a cynic, but there are only a few things you can count on in life, with absolute certainty - and most of them are not good: death, taxes, the cockroach-like endurance of celebrities-without-cause. The good ones are few and far in between - but one of them is dineLA at Craft.  I know I can count on a great meal and great time at Craft, every time.
It's become a matter of course, for Ms. Sassy and I, to do dineLA at Craft together.  So this year we again took advantage of their generous offer to do the dineLA deals on Saturdays (when everyone else is observing only the 'set' days of Sunday-Friday weeks, some less than that - skimping on the Sundays).

This year's meal started with an amusing amuse: two shots of parsnip and apple soup. This tasted like butternut squash soup, but not as fibrous nor sweet - a very light, refreshing yet satisfying way to kick off the meal.
I of course went for the cocktail with an herbal twist: Century City Mule once again, which at first tastes a little medicinal, and grows on you as flavors open up in the drink.
We couldn't get enough of the bread (yes, even their bread basket is amazing) which tasted freshly baked and were nice, hefty, rustic artisanal pieces - white and pumpernickel. 
One of the many reasons why we love dineLA at Craft so much is because of their generosity - most people may offer 2-3 options for each course.  Craft has 3 options for starters on the menu AND SERVES THEM ALL for the table to share.  The first of these was the Chicken Liver Mousse Pate, farm egg and crispy shallot.  It's like what they say about 'just knowing' when you've found 'The One'. It doesn't matter who else is in the room - it's like you are the only two in the world.  That's what it felt like between me and this starter - it was love at first sight and bite.   
I pretty much love liver anything - but this mousse was light and airy in texture and bold and earthy in flavor.  Its creaminess was well counterbalanced with fluffy-crumbly scrambled egg bits and skinny fried rings of shallots for crunch.  It's chicken liver mousse like I've never had before - and I fell hard and fast for this one.
As second starter, we received a Winter Greens salad with gorgonzola and walnuts.  I'm not a salad fan, so not the best judge but Ms Sassy loved this.

Our third starter is Laughing Bird Shrimp with blood orange and fennel.  These shrimp seem to be a bit firmer and a darker pink than the shrimp we're normally used to seeing - I think I prefer the more common shrimp for its sweetness and more tender meat and coloring, but was glad to have tried this.  The fennel was served up in beautiful smooth ribbons that reminded us of paparadelle and gave the dish sort of a shrimp over pasta effect, visually.  A fun dish kicked up a notch with sweet citrus blood orange reduction.
For my main: Skate Wing parsnips and swiss chard.  As a rule, when I see skate wing on the menu, I jump on it as fast as I can - because it doesn't happen often, at least not in LA.  I love this tender, juicy cut of fish with its unique 'muscle' structure (narrow strips that break away with the slightest flick of the fork) - and Craft's execution was the first I've had it sort of lightly pan fried for a crisp, nicely salted exterior that highlighted, by contrast, the soft, flaky interior all the more.  Nice, clean way to serve up the fish and let its natural deliciousness shine.  The presentation, in a single-serve copper pan, was beautiful as well.

I loved my skate wing, but when I tasted Ms Sassy's Liberty Farms Duck Confit green lentils and kumquat I wished I had the stomach and wallet capacity to have a second main dish.  The duck came bone-in, was so tender it could bring grown women to tears (theoretically, of course) - and the creative use of kumquat infused it with instantly addictive blends of sweet, tart and just the slightest bit of bitter.  Green lentils were the perfect foil to the whole thing - adding pleasing crunch.  Beautiful dish.
We also of course got a side to share of Roasted Vegetables (not noted on the dineLA menu online - so sort of a bonus!) - I'm not a big fan of veggies but pretty much inhaled the brussel sprouts, potatoes, purple baby carrots and mini spring onions (the only thing I didn't really like was the squash, which was too fibrous).
Sadly but predictably, our meal eventually arrived at an end, but as expected, meals here always end on a high note. Our dessert was Meyer Lemon Pudding Cake Tangerine Marmallata and Rosemary Almonds.  The citrus was refreshing after the heavy gorging, and the consistency of the cake was interesting - as it sounds, it was creamy but light and spongey at the same time.  The tangerine marmallata and pieces of fruit added a gorgeous pop of color on the side along and punctuated the subtler flavored cake with bolder sweetness and tanginess.  Add rosemary almonds for crunch and a bit of herbal savory flavor and you've got a perfect dessert.
Not sure what happened but we didn't get the listed Chocolate Peanut Butter Tart as a second dessert choice - instead we got two giant scoops of ice cream - vanilla and grapefruit? - which tasted fresh made and delicious. 
Not one to skimp, Craft again goes above and beyond for dineLA with two more items after dessert: the first is a plate of housemade caramel popcorn and cookies.  Poppycock, this is not - the popcorn tasted like it just came off the pan, minutes after the caramel cooled - with the perfect sprinkling of salt for a nice interplay of sweet/salty.

The second 'bonus' item is a bag of fresh housemade, perfectly toasted granola!  This is like a gourmet party favor bag - so that you can relive memories of the dining experience the next day over breakfast.  Loved this.

All in all, another fantastic meal at Craft.  Though the items are not on the regular menu, if you estimated based on the closest items - you'd have saved about at least $22.50 per person!  Huge deal - this is the one I point to for the naysayers every year who make blanket statements about how dineLA's not for foodies / don't really provide great deals.

Don't worry, I'm not going to get on my soapbox again like I did with last year's dineLA about how other restaurants can learn from Craft on how to do dineLA right and meet the intended objective of creating loyal customers.  Been there, done that.  Suffice it to say that every time we're back at Craft, it gets more and more crowded.  And it's first on our list every time dineLA or a special occasion (like Ms Sassy's birthday fetes) rolls around.

Thank you Craft for yet another wonderful experience - 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

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