Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Craigie on Main - Cambridge

There’s something to be said for dining alone. It’s a chance to collect your thoughts, focus on the food, and usually catch up on a little reading. However, light reading was the least of my concerns when I was seated at a high top in the bar of Craigie on Main. I was there for a tasting menu and to see the brilliance that had garnered Chef Tony Maws the title of Boston’s Best Chef and one of America’s Best New Chefs from Food and Wine, but first a little background. Prior to arriving in Massachusetts, I had never heard of Tony Maws or Craigie on Main, but after an adamant recommendation from Mr. Gaertner, I made the first reservation possible. Now you know why I was perched on a bar chair at 5:30 on a Sunday evening.

To ease the pain of such an early dinner, I tried to take full advantage of the well reviewed bar at Craigie on Main.


The Merchant’s Wife was a cocktail made with watermelon shrub, ethereal, dolin dry, angostura, and basil. Watermelon may seem like an odd choice for early October, but it was perfect for the last throes of an Indian summer.

Before I could finish my drink a trio of amuse preparations was brought to my table.

According to my menu, this plate consisted of squid noodles, house-cured Portuguese sardine, and a smoked bluefish rillette.

Starting with the squid, these tender, chilled noodles were coated with sweet nuoc cham and toasted garlic. While I was hoping for a touch of chili heat from the nuoc cham, I could have eaten an entire bowl of these squid noodles.


Moving to the cured sardine, it was evident that the kitchen at Craigie on Main can cure fish with the best of them. This sardine was just salty enough and the buttermilk dressing at the bottom of the bowl played a nice tangy foil.

Not for the faint of heart, the smoked bluefish rillette had a thick, fishy taste that was only accentuated by the hackleback caviar. This was big, bold, pungent and eaten with great satisfaction.

The second course kept in the same fish centric vein with a plate of black bass sashimi.


Served with apple, watermelon radish, and jalapeno, this black bass was tender and meaty with just a subtle oiliness.

Although the slightly sweet sauce was a nice addition, the real highlight was the textural contrast of black bass and the crunch of the apple.

It was with the third course that Craigie on Main began to show why they chose a pig for their logo.
House-cured guanciale wrapped harpooned swordfish with fresh rock shrimp, barley couscous, fingerling potatoes, and salt cod-daikon broth. Despite looking like a busy plate, all the components worked quite well together. While the swordfish may have bore a resemblance to a slice of pork loin, it had a meaty, unique flavor that, compared to the black bass and bluefish, did taste more like pork than fish.


The couscous and rock shrimp were just as well prepared as the swordfish albeit with a slightly salty tail. Aside from the porky swordfish, what didn’t make sense to me was the role of the daikon. I realize it was a part of the broth, but the two daikon rolls seemed tacked on.

The lone soup on the tasting menu came in the form of a soup of Long Island Cheese pumpkin.

On its own, this soup was buttery rich and creamy that, for some reason, reminded me of chicken tikka masala.

However, the real star of the bowl was a small grilled cheese sandwich. Modeled after Chef Maws’ favorite London market grilled cheese, this two cheese and pork belly sandwich was a decadent monstrosity. When the buttered, toasted bread was combined with the soup and the two cheeses, I think the pork belly was overkill. It was all delicious, but still too much.

Playing the role of a pasta course was a plate of house-made pumpkin macaroni.
Rounding out the plate component’s was kid goat confit, charred tomato, and sweet potato.
I rarely see pumpkin pasta, but this was exceedingly tender with a subtle, earthy sweetness.

As rare as pumpkin pasta, goat is a personal favorite and this meltingly tender goat confit was a sterling example of the meat. I wouldn’t have imagined that goat and sweet potato work together so well, but they were a dynamic duo in this dish.

Apparently the guanciale from the swordfish and pork belly from the pumpkin soup was too little pork as the next course was a plate of grilled pork belly.


This plate was a feast for the senses, the grill marks, the heady pork aroma, and the taste. Actually, while the pork was quite well seasoned, the belly was dry and overcooked.

Even with the ample maitake mushroom, pork broth, and pears, the dryness of the pork still shone through with every bite.

Outside of the pork belly, the rest of the dish was sweet and very reminiscent of sugar cured country ham, especially the broth.

The last of the savory plates arrived in the form of a spice-crusted venison leg.


Back in perfectly cooked form, this venison was achingly tender with just a touch of cinnamon with each bite.


Complimenting the slight gaminess of the venison were the earthy flavors of venison sausage, autumn olive coulis, and matsutake mushrooms.

Before diving headfirst into the sweetness of the dessert course, I was eased in with a plate of celery and green apple sorbet.
Stracciatella cheese and candied celery are not what I would consider dessert ingredients,


but this plate of tart and salty ingredients made me reconsider my definition of dessert flavors.

Taking my tastebuds for a whirlwind conclusion, my waitress next arrived with a plate of sassafras poached pears.

Surrounded by concord grapes, graham cracker, chevre ice cream, and raspberry syrup, this was akin to a deconstructed pie.

The pears, full of rich sassafras, when combined with the raspberry syrup and a bit of graham cracker made for a beautiful four note chord of flavors.

Finishing the meal was a palette cleansing yogurt foam with carrot granite.

Rich as mascarpone cheese, the foam was the perfect vehicle for the bright taste of ginger and the biggest carrot flavor I’ve ever tasted.

At this point, I was ready to roll out of my chair and find a cab to take me back to Boston, but there was one more tiny plate to come.

Caramel macaroons, they were as well made and delicious as they looked. Each bit size piece began with a flush of chocolate and ended with just a touch of salinity, magic.

If there’s one thing I take from each tasting menu, degustation, chef’s menu, etc, that I try, it’s what I was told by my good friend and current CIA student, Frank told me; "Always get the tasting menu, you put yourself in the chef’s hands." I may have distorted the wording over the years, but the idea remains the same, a tasting menu is a chance for a chef to showcase his talents and for the diner to be taken on a gustatory thrill ride. After my experience with Tony Maw’s tasting menu at Craigie on Main, I can understand why he has earned so much acclaim. Outside of an overcooked pork belly, each dish was artfully prepared and composed. I still think that the pork belly in the soup’s cheese sandwich was unnecessary but it was damn tasty. To think, were it not for Bill’s suggestion, I would have aimlessly wandering Boston’s culinary landscape; it pays to have friends who appreciate good food.

Craigie on Main Address & Information

853 Main St, Cambridge, MA 02139 // 617.497.5511 // Craigie on Main Website // Craigie on Main Menu // Craigie on Main Reservations

Craigie On Main on Urbanspoon

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