Look at the bottom right corner of the last page of every fancy restaurant’s menu. If you spot a selection that seems functionally related to what could be labeled the “Chef’s Choice Dinner,” you should gobble it up post-haste.
The last line of the menu available at Craigie on Main, located outside of Boston on the Cambridge Central Square, is: Chef’s Whim — either a US$45 four-course or $57 six-course menu. Six-courses it is!
Let’s take a step back. Obviously, not every night is a six-course meal kinda night. But if you are looking for a special culinary adventure or celebratory feast on a special occasion, Craigie’s is calling.
The first tip to maximizing one’s appreciation for the amount of creativity that is invested into creating Craigie’s particular culinary whimsy, is to show up early. The first four guests to arrive for the Whim are given the option to sit at the “Chef’s counter,” which is an ample-sized marble bar facing directly into the working kitchen. You are so close to the food being prepared, you can’t help but joke around with the cooks as they whip, emulsify, sear, flash freeze, and deep fry products that have colors and textures straight out of Willy Wonka’s cranium.
And it’s a good thing the service is so close by, because every employee you interact with, from the head chef (that night) to the food runners, has something worthwhile to contribute to the meal. The sous chef gave us the inside scoop that if we wanted to see kitchen madness, as shows such as Hell’s Kitchen and Master Chef have conditioned us to want so desperately, that we should keep our eyes open during the asparagus plating. The server not only wished us a happy anniversary, but he helped select the perfect cocktails to knock our socks off while pairing well with the upcoming dishes. By the time dinner is over, you’ll want to get all the employees’ phone numbers, so you ca hang out with them the next time you’re in the city.
Amazing menu? Check. Entertaining and engaging staff? Check. All that was left was the food.†
House-cured trout kale salad with parmesan cheese on a homemade chip
The lactose lover at the table initially felt shortchanged as her glorified Frito lay next to the seafood starter. Those worries melted away from her facial expression as the chip hit her lips. “THE best potato chip in the world,” she commented, being only slightly hyperbolic.
Kona Kampachi with kimchi and mustard seeds over a sweet pea coulis
Kona Kampachi, as the name implies, are originally from Hawaii, and have been called a ‘designer yellowtail’. This fish is not genetically modified, however, but rather is the product of targeted breeding. This sashimi-grade wonder fish has more of the melt-in-your-mouth taste associated with Escolar‡, but a consistency more like sushi-grade salmon. With hidden spiciness popping out from both the mustard seeds and kimchi, the pea coulis was a welcome and delicious means of cooling down the palate and preparing you for more eating.
Fried Essex clams with squid ink espellete
This dish was one of the overall favorites. Not only were these huge mozzarella-stick sized clams breaded and fried to perfection, but the squid ink added both a measure of adventure as well as a pleasant saltiness which was beautifully married with the fried food in a private ceremony in the Hamptons.
Spiced shrimp over a barley couscous with a Sauvignon Beurre Blanc
If there was an unremarkable dish on the night, it was the first entre. Remember that the bar had been set remarkably high. When a perfectly cooked shrimp rests atop tiny delicate couscous granules, and it’s the worst thing you’ve eaten, you’re having an extremely good night. There was nothing left on the plate when they took it away.
Pork two ways. Spiced Crusted Rib over bok choy and asparagus.
If every pork rib in the world tasted like this one, it could potentially bring about an era of world peace. You will want to steal the recipe for their dry rub. You will be left complaining that there was only one gigantic rib for you to devour.
Additional Main Course
Bone marrow (in bone) with toast and salt
The. Best. Thing. Ever. This dish defines the deliciousness of simplicity. With a lateral slice of their knife, you can spoon the marrow straight from the bone as if it were a magical trough. Applied to the provided toast, and with a touch of salt added to break up the decadent richness of the marrow, it will cause you to mentally add another course to your “Ultimate Last Supper.”
White Asparagus Ice Cream & Mango Sorbet with a Spicy Mango Chip.
Orange Blossom Carmel-Filled Beignets
Coconut Sorbet covered in Hot Fudge and Espresso with Coconut Crispies
Every one of these desserts lived up to its billing. Even a day later, the leftover beignet was moan-worthy. And for people who doesn’t eat ice cream or asparagus with much frequency, you will be forced to admit they manage to unite the two ingredients in a tasteful, and tasty, adaptation.
The stand out, however, was the sorbet sundae. Lacking any of the stringy chewiness usually associated with fresh coconut, these culinary mavens managed to get that authentic flavor into a tiny crunch vessel. These crunch cannons are sprinkled atop and beneath a sorbet so creamy you’ll want to double check with the server that it is, in fact, actually non-dairy. When topped with hot fudge >and hot espresso, this dessert has huge wow-factor. As is, “wow, how do I stuff this entire sundae inside my stomach, factoring in that it is already crammed full with six previous courses.” The answer, of course, is that you make a little room for it in your leg. Limp aside, it’s totally worth it.
† Some courses have multiple selections due to one diner’s lactose intolerance. The restaurant did not have any problem accommodating this dietary restriction, but they did recommend making any food restrictions known when making your reservation.
‡ Escolar (or white tuna), while delicious, has been dubbed the “ex-lax of the fish world” and has been banned from use in countries such as Japan.
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