>> Monday, January 31, 2011
I need Runners!
It's exactly 6:30PM in the kitchen at Craigie on Main in Cambridge, MA.
One by one, colorful dishes seem to magically appear on the marble counter top. Chef Tony Maws, the captain of this ship they call "Craigie on Main," inspects each one, scrutinizing every last detail to make sure the plating is impeccable. A second man, standing right next to him, repeatedly wipes away any stray bits of sauce from the otherwise pristine plates.
The dishes continue streaming in from the kitchen, crowding existing dishes on the counter.
"RUNNERS! I need RUNNERS!"
In less than 15 seconds, a swarm of waitstaff appear out of nowhere shouting, "Runners are here!"
Like a well-orchestrated symphony full of multiple moving parts, the dishes are whisked away to their respective tables, each one its own delicate sonata of flavors. Within moments, a new line of plated dishes appear, and the process starts all over again.
Welcome to the unique view from the Ringside Seats at Craigie on Main in Cambridge. These special, modern bar stools (there are only four of them!) face the gorgeous open kitchen and are specifically designed for those enjoying the chef's tasting menu.
We were lucky enough to book these Ringside Seats to celebrate Bryan's birthday back in October. Of course, we had to try the Ultimate Craigie Experience, a tasting that we hadn't experienced since Tony was at the old Craigie Street location.
The Ringside Seats offer unparalleled views of the action. The open kitchen is even more hectic than the front counter. Cooks run back and forth, trying not to knock anyone else over, all while shouting out random instructions at the same time.
It was fascinating to watch all this action so up close. You really gain a lot of respect for these line cooks when you see how much work goes into each dish. It's absolutely riveting to watch. It's especially interesting to watch Chef Tony Maws and observe what he generally prefers to do. We noticed he cut a lot of fish that night.
The Ultimate Tasting Menu
The Ultimate Tasting menu is a chance to try all the best that Chef Maws has to offer. Essentially, you're inviting him to just cook for you whatever he wants. A big part of the fun is being surprised by the dishes that he chooses to make.
Craigie on Main is super accommodating when it comes to dietary preferences. I opted to go for a "Pescatarian" tasting menu (vegetarian + seafood) while Bryan went with the normal tasting menu.
First course: A lovely trio of seafood. Tony Maws is a master when it comes to combining flavors. He manages to find flavor combinations that accentuate rather than drown out the flavors of the fish.
Trio of Seafood: clockwise from upper right: 1) squid noodles 2) crispy-fried Essex clam, squid ink anchoïade 3) I can't quite remember, but maybe sweet shrimp or geoduck?
Salad of Hiramasa Sashimi: red onion-shiso salsa. harissa-rose vinaigrette
I love raw fish, so its no surprise that this was one of my favorites.The slight acidity of the vinaigrette, the fattiness of the fish, and the slight texture from the salsa (I love shiso!) came together all in one glorious, fragrant bite.
Maine shrimp, microgreens
Grilled Australian Cobia, Wellfleet and razor clams, whelks
A Fork In the Road
At this point our menus began to diverge. Bryan's meat-centric tasting continued with fresh, chewy homemade pasta, which he loves, with a delicious and hearty meat sauce.
Pappardelle with Lamb Ragout
I absolutely loved my gnocchi. They were unusually large but really soft - you basically cut it with your fork while eating it. I loved the clean, fresh flavor of the ricotta, which I could really taste.
Grilled Pork Belly
This tasting menu was really perfect for us. Bryan was really excited about his next course, the pork belly (which was melt-in-your-mouth incredible), but I was even more excited about my beautiful farm fresh egg!
Farm Fresh Egg
Ragout of local wild mushrooms, farm fresh egg, herbs, flowers
Break the egg open and mix the yolk around! I love this dish, and isn't it just so pretty?
The next dish is another one of my favorites at Craigie on Main, something that's on their regular menu as well. In fact, I made my own interpretation of this dish in my final, winning post in Round 10 of Project Food Blog. Though one particular restaurant in New York might come close, I still think Tony Maws makes one of the best grilled octopus dishes I've ever had.
Grilled Spanish Octopus
Roasted duck breast, huckleberries
Duck always pairs well with fruit, and this was no exception.
For fun, we ordered a couple of side dishes (these are regularly available at the bar as well, and were not part of the tasting menu). Bryan really likes bone marrow, and I'm a sucker for roasted Brussels Sprouts, even if I do make them at home all the time.
Roasted Bone Marrow
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
And finally, a bunch of desserts!!
Fruit sorbets, sheep's milk yogurt cheesecake (mine), and I can't remember Bryan's dessert (upper left corner). All I remember is that I liked mine more, hee hee.
Florentine Flip, Green Chartreuse, mignardises
Of course we must not forget the drinks! Craigie on Main has amazing bartenders, and we are never disappointed with the drinks they whip up. The Florentine Flip is one of our favorites, though the green Chartreuse was really interesting as well.
Though the kitchen itself is rather hectic, I do think this would be a wonderful and interesting date spot. The Ringside Seats are a bit more secluded, and it's such a unique experience compared to a normal dinner anywhere else.
Even if you don't get the Ringside Seats, the food is still the same no matter where you sit. Tony Maws is an incredible chef, and you definitely won't be disappointed with the food. I would love to go back and try a vegetarian menu some day.
Definitely call ahead if you want to try the Chef's Ultimate Tasting menu. On certain nights they want to turn tables quickly, and thus may not be able to accommodate a 3-4 hour reservation (yes, the meal takes a LOOONG time). We unfortunately were denied the opportunity to get the Chef's Ultimate Tasting when we arrived on my birthday on a busy Friday back in 2009. Lesson learned: call head and tell them specifically you want to do the Ultimate 10-course Tasting. Just having a reservation may not be enough.
The Ultimate Tasting costs $115 and consists of around 10 courses (though little freebies are sometimes thrown in). You can opt for the 6-course tasting ($95) if you'd rather not spend so much. For a really good deal, you can try the Chef's Whim tasting menu ($40 for 4 course or $55 for 5 courses) on Sunday evenings after 9PM.
Craigie on Main
853 Main Street
Cambridge, MA 02139