'Wichcraft For Dinner: Trying To Go Beyond Sandwiches
"We figured out people don't want sandwiches for dinner. Even I don't." —Sisha Ortuzar, 'Wichcraft chef-partner
11 East 20th St, New York NY 10003 (b/n Broadway and Fifth, map); 212-780-0577; wichcraftnyc.com
Service: Friendly, accommodating, a little inexperienced
Setting: Simply furnished second floor dining room overlooking 20th Street
Compare It To: Bouchon Bakery
Must-Haves: Grilled breads: charred eggplant and goat cheese, gorgonzola and pears, gruyere, roasted onion, and olives; Salads: shaved brussels sprouts with pine nuts and currants, roasted beef short rib; apple and walnut crisp with caramel ice cream
Cost: $25 for a grilled bread, salad, and dessert
Grade: B+ for grilled breads and salads, B- for meat dishes
To me it was only a matter of time before 'Wichcraft, Tom Colicchio's very solid sandwich bar, started serving dinner. Why? A couple of reasons. Its food has been overseen since its inception by chef-partner Sisha Ortuzar, who like all talented and trained chefs, developed his craft making non-sandwich food; and in these troubled economic times, restaurateurs feel the need to maximize the revenue derived from a given space. So a breakfast and lunch place like 'wichcraft can make the transition to dinner without incurring too many business-breaking incremental costs. And without ever using the word "sandwich" on the menu.
When we arrived at the upstairs dining room we definitely felt like we weren't in a 'wichcraft any more. There were servers, candlelight, china, and other signs of civilized restaurant-dom.
All six of the "on grilled bread" ("don't call them sandwiches") options on the 'wichcraft dinner menu sounded seriously delicious, so the four of us did the only sensible thing: we ordered all of them. Hey, I'm no dummy. When in Rome, and all that—and there we were sitting in a pleasant dining room above a really fine sandwich-making operation. And you know what? It was a smart decision. These people are truly gifted, in the "put toppings on good bread" department.
Fingerling potato & ricotta with chili flakes and rosemary ($7) wasn't particularly spicy, but it was a damn flavorful combination.
Charred eggplant and goat cheese with honey ($7.50) gives serious eaters something creamy, savory, sweet, and crunchy in every bite. What more could we ask for?
Gruyere, roasted onion, and olives ($6.50) delivered a mighty flavor blow even without the optional anchovies.
Gorgonzola and pears, a classic Italian combination ($8) came dressed with a surprisingly subtle and seriously delicious bacon walnut vinaigrette.
Wonderful chopped liver ($6.50), studded with tiny slices of pickled gherkins, is slathered on top of more wonderful grilled bread.
Only the surprisingly tame and uninteresting garlic bread ($3) disappointed us.
Based on the three dishes we ordered from the "vegetables," section of the menu we probably should have ordered the other four as well. Insanely nutty shaved brussels sprouts ($7) came with crunchy pine nuts and currants that were just sweet enough.
As expected, sweet potato and goat cheese gratin ($7.50) was sweet, tangy, and just goaty enough, with its black oil and basil.
Crushed red potatoes with a lovely charred leek vinaigrette ($5.50) drew oohs and aahs from the serious eaters.
But the menu hit some serious speed bumps in the meat and fish section. Meatballs with tomato and garlic bread (overpriced at $11) were surprisingly dull and in no way special.
The free-range chicken leg (and thigh) ($10) with butternut squash, black olives, and cranberries, was a much more substantial plate of food, but undermined and overwhelmed by the black olives.
Pork and pickle ($10.50) with grain mustard was a big ole hunk of pork shank. It could have (and should have) been a contender if not for the fact that it was dry and stringy.
By far the best option we tried on this part of the menu was the tender, perfectly cooked and beautifully seared roasted beef rib ($12) with a properly spicy romesco and grilled scallions.
We loved the apple and walnut crisp with terrific caramel ice cream for dessert, and the coconut panna cotta with roasted pineapple was pretty swell, too. But the black forest trifle, devils food cake, vanilla ice cream, and sour cherry compote, didn't really coalesce into anything special.
It turns out that, Sisha Ortuzar's comments not withstanding, 'wichcraft for dinner is more or less true to its sandwich shop roots. That's more than okay with me. Then again, I like delicious stuff on good bread for dinner. Stick to the grilled bread and salads and you can have a terrific meal here. Venture into more subtantial fare at the moment, and wichcraft's dinner menu becomes a dicier proposition.