There are many days when I want to slap the Michelin Guide writers across their collective faces for not covering Boston in an official capacity, because if they did then more people would know about places like Craigie. I'd been there once before and enjoyed the (albeit expensive) experience very much; thus it was with great excitement that I returned nearly a year later for the full 8-course Ultimate Craigie Experience tasting menu. Yes, that's right; I'm about to wax vaguely poetic at you. Prepare yourselves.
(Side-note: Before we go any further, I'd like to apologize for the slightly shoddy photography; the lighting from the window shifted as the evening went on, the interior lighting was pretty bad at our table, and let's face it--I was too busy paying attention to the food to fiddle around with getting the perfect shot. Another side-effect of my staring was that I paid nearly no attention to what the servers were telling me about the ingredients, so forgive me for any blunders I may make--plus, half the fun is figuring everything on the plate out myself anyway. I also may be giving the dishes impromptu names of my own. Cough.)
We started with the Fish List--Hamachi, Tasmanian Trout, and Sardine. The portions were dainty, but I get the feeling that was very much on purpose--I wanted more to eat as soon as they were gone. Judging by sample menus and some cursory online research, there seems to be a thing for starting out with a trio of amuses to start--not that I mind, of course. They did their job well. The fish itself was prepared simply but it was fresh and tangy and light and woke my appetite the hell up.
Next was tuna sashimi with what I believe was some light chili oil and avocado puree, with tempura flakes (?) and scallions on top. I like to think of this dish as the Deconstructed Spicy Tuna Roll--Tuna, spice, avocado, little fried crunchy bits? Loved it. Or maybe I'm just completely full of shit and pulling things out of nowhere; who knows.
Proceeding down the fish-parade, we hit something on the heavier side, Tempura Fried Crab. The crab was tempura-fried and accompanied by a sauce that tasted strongly of something resembling blood sausage, and topped with dried scallions and bits of cured pork product. I personally the transition from the previous dishes' flavors, light and seabreezey, to something as rich as fried crab and blood. The sauce in particular took me by surprise. I don't remember what it was made of, but it tasted somewhat like pureed chinese sausages--yes, like the ones you can get for $2 a pack at an Asian grocer. It was an unusual combination and I loved it, but some of the other tables who were also having the tasting menu didn't seem to be such big fans--I saw a considerable amount of poking about with this one.
Hopping completely off the seafood theme, we have a green garlic and split pea soup, with caramelized veal sweetbreads, paprika oil, and scallions. This soup ran directly against my expectations for pea soup--Usually I take it slightly minty, creamy, and very very bright green. This was rich and savory with just a hint of spice from the paprika oil. And I don't care what your reservations are about eating animal guts, if you don't like sweetbreads when they're prepared as well as this, then you may as well donate your tongue to science and food research. On second thought, please don't.
Following this, house-made buckwheat pasta with lamb ragout topped with lamb bacon. I think the best way to summarize this dish is that it's like being punched in the mouth by a sheep (Lambs' Punch Pasta, if you will). The ragout infused the pasta with intense lamb flavor which was only accentuated by the salty goodness of the lamb bacon. Mmm. Making the pasta with buckwheat was definitely a good choice here, since it's earthier and subtler than regular wheat, plus tender enough to leave the majority of the chewing-flavor to come from the bacon.
Where would we be with a pork-less Craigie meal? On a mass murder spree, probably. Thankfully, we were all spared from that by this course of grilled pork belly with white asparagus puree. This dish wasn't fancy. It wasn't cutting edge. But I really don't care, since it doesn't need to be. Pork belly is amazing in that if you're serving it like this, all you really need is the unctuous meat and fat and maybe a bit of something to make the flavor less one-dimensional, which is what the white asparagus was there for. The only shame is that there was also a grilled bit of leaf on top--I don't remember what exactly it was, perhaps some chard? Either way, I wasn't really sure if I was supposed to eat it, as it was incredibly hard to bite and ended up tasting of burnt gasoline. And personally, I dislike inedible garnishes; they're just gaudy and stupid-looking to me. Bit disappointed there.
Ah, Venison Two Ways. My high-school Latin teacher would be proud (old wine and fat venison anyone?). Unless I'm sorely mistaken, Tony Maws himself brought out this dish, which is pretty cool. On the left, venison sausage/mini-burger, and on the right, medium-rare venison leg marinated in miso and spices, sitting on top of a variety of sauces (one of which I recall involves pistachio). I have a minor confession to make here. I may or may not have followed the first slice of venison leg with a string of possibly not PG-13 profanities detailing all sorts of inappropriate sexual acts. At least I didn't get removed from the restaurant. Ahem. Let's move on...
At this point I was getting to the full side. I mean... After ragout, pork belly, and venison, who wouldn't? Thus it was with perfect timing that the dessert amuse came out--Vermouth gelee with white chocolate and some sort of herb sauce-thing. The gelee and herbs were refreshing while still retaining a touch of sweet from the chocolate. The first spoonful was a bit of a shock. I initially thought it was a bit strange in its flavors--slightly on the bland side, even--but it served as an admirable palate cleanser, cooling the mouth in preparation of dessert. Well played.
We had two people at the table, and ended up getting two different desserts. Now that's value for money right there. The first was the Chocolate Monstrosity seen above--Chocolate gelatto, chocolate cake, a sorbet of what I think was peanut butter, with some nuts, some crunchy bits, and a chocolate-peanut-butter sauce. If a Reeses and a Kit-Kat immigrated to America and had a respectable college-going child who rose up from poverty to the middle class, this would be it. Everything on this plate was delicious, and damn I wish there was more of it.
The second dessert was a soured milk panna cotta, which ended up being the cover photo for this post (Scroll up to remind yourself how nice it looks. Go on. I'll wait.). It was served with a granita and a mango-champagne sauce. This was definitely the lighter of two desserts, with the panna cotta playing wonderfully with the mango-champagne sauce. However... I am not, and have never been, a fan of granita in any form, so that was a bit of a drag.
The meal finished with a complimentary Bloody Mary-esque treat--Rhubarb Soup with apricot ice cream. A nice touch, and very much appreciated. The rhubarb and apricot had enough zing between them to shock us out of our post-feeding stupor and back home safely.
And now to the slightly less glamorous side of things. Firstly, the bill--It IS $115 per person here, but really it's worth every penny. What you're paying for is the experience--the chance to love, the chance to be disappointed (equally important if you ask me), and the chance to curse violently in reaction to your food. What more could you want? Plus, a "normal" meal would run about $60-$70 at Craigie regardless, so you might as well pony up the extra cash. Having dropped 3 hours and nearly $300 in total (and that's without wine, by the way), I regret nothing. This does mean, however, that it can't be an every-day thing, as much as I want it to be. Sad face.
The only other nitpick I have is that Craigie was exponentially more crowded this time than when I last visited. Perhaps I was lucky last time, or perhaps Craigie has managed to generate an unbelievable amount of buzz in that time period. Or maybe this is just another symptom of Boston picking up as a "Food City" (ew). Whatever the case, I'm glad Craigie has this sort of business--they deserve all of it and then some--even if I did have to get a bit jostled before my meal.
But all that is just a bunch of nitpicking from a barmy old codger. If anyone ever bothers to ask, I'd recommend Craigie wholeheartedly, the tasting menu in particular. There's no bullshit here, no pretense--no truffle oil on this, or ring molds with that, quick-put-some-parsley-sprinkles-on-it--just really good food.