Slideshow SLIDESHOW: Colicchio & Sons Tap Room: This Time It's Personal

[Photographs: Robyn Lee]

Colicchio & Sons Tap Room

85 Tenth Avenue, New York NY 10011 (at 15th Street; map); 212-400-6699; colicchioandsons.com
Service: Friendly, remarkably efficient given its recent opening
Setting: Comfortable, well-spaced tables in the former Halfsteak space
Compare It To: Gramercy Tavern, Craft, Craft Bar
Must-Haves: Pizzette, fresh ricotta with roasted root vegetables, baked rigatoni, braised rabbit, skirt steak, porchetta...
Cost: $40 for two courses, before drinks, tax, or tip. Much more in the adjoining dining room
Grade: A

Foodie pop quiz: At which restaurant was Tom Colicchio head chef, before Top Chef, and even before Craft?

The answer—Gramercy Tavern—provides us with the best clue as to what the chef is doing at the brand-new Colicchio & Sons. Just like Gramercy, it's two restaurants in one. The back room of this lofty Meatpacking District space is the equivalent of the fine dining back room at Gramercy Tavern. There Colicchio, at least temporarily aided by Craft executive chef Damon Wise, is serving carefully crafted (pun intended) seasonal New American food in a refined, elegant setting. We'll leave Sam Sifton of the Times and Adam Platt of New York to weigh in the food being served there. Prediction, even without tasting it: three stars from Sifton, three from Platt.

But come along with me, to the casual, less expensive front Tap Room of C&S. There Colicchio, aided by former Craftsteak executive chef Shane McBride, is making full use of a Woodstone Gas and Wood combo oven—just about every dish on the menu is cooked inside. Diners are confronted with that oven, and the stacks of wood to feed it, when they walk in the door.

We wanted to find out if Colicchio was, indeed, returning to his roots—coming full circle, back to the kitchen, right where he was at Gramercy Tavern. And most of all, we wanted to see if the emotional investment he's making in Colicchio & Sons was paying off.

A chat with Tom, after the jump.

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Colicchio, right; Shane McBride, second to right.

I spoke to Colicchio and asked him to articulate his intentions for the new restaurant:

When I was the chef (and partner) at Gramercy Tavern I was making a certain kind of carefully plated food, at least in the more formal dining room there. Then I left Gramercy to open Craft... [but only] when I started Tom Tuesday Dinner did I realize how much I missed cooking in that first style.

Plus, I didn't want my epitaph to read "Host of Top Chef." It takes me twenty days to shoot an entire season of the show. A lot of people don't know that I've been running serious kitchens for more than twenty years. I wlll admit that when I was building the Craft restaurant group, I was spending a lot of time in the office. Now I have a great team running that side of the business, so I was ready to get out of the office and back into the kitchen to create.

By calling the restaurant Colicchio & Sons, I wanted to signal that this restaurant was a very personal one—in a way that the steakhouse isn't. My wife says that "your children are where your past and your future collide"—and I think that's true. At least, it's true for me.

Colicchio & Sons, then, is the chef's most personal restaurant yet. And the food—in the Tap Room, at least? Spectacular, nearly every dish of it.

A fresh ricotta appetizer, with roasted root vegetables and truffle honey, is a perfect plate of food. It's made for sharing using the Tap Room's crusty rolls. But be warned: Whoever orders it will not want to share it.

Porchetta with chorizo, polenta, and greens was a pig in three acts: tender, porky loin in the middle, housemade chorizo in the middle, and an outside circle of crunchy fat and marbled pig leg, all roasted in the oven. Skirt steak with chimichurri, leeks, and potatoes was beautifully charred right on the deck of the oven. It's one of the few menu items left over from the Craftsteak menu. The great pull-apart rolls are another holdover, but they remain the province of the rear dining room. Ask your server to make an exception. They're worth groveling for.

For more of the menu, see the slideshow above »

A word or two about the cost: A couple of writers have complained about the menu prices in the main dining room. Not having eaten there, I can't comment on them. As far as the Tap Room prices, they are very comparable to those of the front room at Gramercy Tavern—starters are a few dollars cheaper at Gramercy, but main courses at both range from $18-25. If I were giving the powers that be at Colicchio & Sons any advice, I would knock the dessert prices down in the Tap Room and call it a day. But overall I think the prices are eminently fair.

Why? Because eating at the tap room of Colicchio & Sons was a deeply satisfying experience. You cannot get a better meal for the price in New York at the moment—except, maybe, in the tavern of Colicchio's former stomping grounds. Frankly, I'm happy to call that contest a draw.

My fervent hope is that Colicchio continues to stay intimately involved—not just because the restaurant needs it, but because he appears to need it as well. He's stuck his name on the door and invoked his sons as well. Take it from a proud father. That means a lot. That really makes it personal.

View the slideshow »

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