Saturday, February 13, 2010

Craft Dallas

With my mom in town for a visit last week, the hubby and I decided to take advantage of free babysitting and celebrate our anniversary a little early.  We usually try to go someplace nice and this year we settled on Craft.

Craft Dallas is located inside the W hotel, right across from Victory Park.  I have to confess, Troy and I are rather woefully unhip, especially after being sequestered in the 'burbs with a kid for the past 3 years, so it was a little bit of a culture shock to go to the W, which is fairly trendy hipster-y.

I was pretty shocked to find that the place was almost completely dead.  Our reservation was for 7:30 and there were only maybe 4-5 other tables seated.  I have no idea if that's normal for a weeknight or not, but I figured there'd be a few more people out and about on a Thursday.  It was pretty weird, but not totally unpleasant.  Just...odd.  The ambience was otherwise just fine.  Inside, it was pretty dark, but not so dark you couldn't see your food. 

The entire menu is pretty much a la carte, and everything is served family-style, in the center of the table.  There is an option for a "Market Menu" which is $45/person and you get to choose from a 3-4 different options for a starter, main & side dish.  We briefly considered it, but ultimately opted not to do it because A. the whole table has to do it; B. there weren't all that many options, especially for starters; and C. it didn't seem like very much food.  We figured that if we went to the trouble to get all dressed up for a night without the kid, we may as well do it up in style and really EAT!

Here is what we ended up having.  (Sorry, no pics again.  It was way too dark for my camera phone and I hate ruining the ambience at a nice restaurant with flashbulbs.)

While we were still mulling our options, they brought out a bread course, which consisted of thick slices of a dark, rye-ish bread, an Italian-style bread with sesame seeds, and salted butter.  Both breads were very good, but were not baked in-house.

Amuse bouche:
Butternut squash & foie gras soup, served in small white ceramic cup, almost like a shot glass. Soup was garnished with couple drops of balsamic and toasted pine nuts.  Even though you couldn't really taste the foie gras, it had a very rich taste to it, almost like a bisque.  Texture was perfectly smooth and creamy.

Half dozen oysters, half one kind (buttery), half another (briny) - sorry, I've forgotten the names.  Served with tiny lemon wedges and mignonette sauce.  We ordered these on a whim since I had just been saying how long it's been since I've eaten oysters.  They are sold individually, which is why we decided to mix it up a bit.  I loved the buttery oysters, Troy loved the briny ones, so it worked out perfectly.  I preferred the lemon over the mignonette.

Seared foie gras & pineapple.  Troy had never had foie gras before, so we decided to try this one out.  We chose this version over the torchon because we thought he might prefer the texture of seared.  It was served with a pineapple puree and small chunks of pineapple.  I liked the contrast of the tangy pineapple and the creamy/rich foie gras.

Baby spinach & applewood bacon salad.  It also had pickled red onions and some kind of creamy/sweet vinaigrette.  I know this sounds ridiculously simple, but it was SO delicious!  One of our favorite dishes of the evening.

Main courses:
28 day dry-aged NY strip (21 oz, bone-in).  Served with some kind of red wine demi/reduction sauce, giant rosemary sprig on top; served sliced.  This was excellent.  Absolutely perfectly cooked - beautiful sear on the outside, medium-rare throughout the entire center.  In fact, the inside was so perfectly even that Troy and debated whether it had been cooked sous-vide first.  Sauce was a tiny bit over-reduced, but otherwise a perfect complement to the meat.

Diver scallops, seared and served with some kind of brown butter sauce.  Again, these were absolutely perfectly cooked.  They melted like butter in your mouth.  And I wanted to take a bath in the sauce. 

Sauteed baby broccoli.  This was good, but not my favorite of the evening.  It was more like broccolini than broccoli, which is technically different.  It had a small squeeze of lemon over it that was nice.  And again, it was perfectly cooked.  Nothing worse than overcooked broccoli.

Gnocchi, served in creamy butter sauce.  This was absolutely TO DIE FOR.  I absolutely love gnocchi and this might have been the best I've ever had.  Perfectly soft and tender and melt-in-your-mouth perfect.  Sauce was creamy and rich with a tiny bit of cheese sprinkled in there.  Troy and I both agreed that we would easily drive down there just to eat plates of gnocchi. I think this was our top dish of the night.

We were pleasantly surprised to get a little dessert amuse of pear slices with lavender caramel.  I'm not normally a fan of lavender in my food (it usually feels like I'm eating potpourri), but it was subtle enough to still be enjoyable.

Sticky toffee pudding, with caramelized pecans and clotted cream.   We had a hard time deciding on dessert, but this turned out to be the perfect choice.  It was served in a cup, almost like a parfait.  Rich and gooey, with a nice bit of crunch from the pecans, and the clotted cream (mostly on the bottom) cut the sweetness nicely.

Maitre'd course: This consisted of six tiny little mini-cookies - two each of salty peanut butter, oatmeal raisin, and double chocolate.  The chocolate was almost brownie-like in texture, very rich.  And the peanut butter was very interesting in that it had almost no sugar in it.  I normally like salty-sweet combos (salted caramel is a fave), but this was only salty, which was a bit odd.  I think I would have liked it better if I hadn't eaten it first - it would have been a nice contrast to the chocolate cookie.  Oatmeal cookie was good too, with a nice brown sugar crunch to it.

Last, but not least they gave us a little take-home treat in clear cellphane bags.  I'm fairly certain our server told us it was an espresso muffin, but when I ate it the next morning it was actually a banana chocolate chip muffin.  It was good, but I'm not sure where that there was any espresso in it at all.

All-in-all, this was a very very good meal.  Nothing crazily inventive like our L2O meal, but simple, straightforward cooking, done at a high level.  Amazing how something that seems so simple as proper cooking can make such a difference.

Service was very attentive.  I don't know if this is the norm or just because it was a slow night but I think we had no less than 3 different servers or bus boys coming by to check on us, but it was never intrusive or annoying.  My one minor complaint was that they served our entrees while Troy was away from the table.  I know it's probably not a big deal to some people, and if we were at some random Tex-Mex joint, I wouldn't care.  But in my opinion, this is a faux pas at a high-end restaurant.  Luckily, he came back very shortly thereafter, while the food was still hot.

I've heard some people complain about leaving Craft still hungry.  Troy and I were a little baffled by this because we left absolutely stuffed.  But I will confess that some of the entree portions can be a bit small.  Those diver scallops?  There were only 4 of them.  If we hadn't also ordered the steak, those 4 scallops definitely would not have cut it as an entree for one person.  So you may want to put a little thought into how you mix and match your entrees.

However, it's an a la carte menu, so if you're a big eater, you'll need to order more food.  Yes, it's pricey, but if you're already dropping a pretty penny on the meal, it seems silly to cheap out on spending another $10-$20 for an additional starter or a side.  

This meal probably ranked as one of our top 10, mostly based on the fact that everything was cooked so perfectly.  I love the philosophy of not getting overly fussy with your food and letting the ingredients shine on their own.  Based on our usual dining budget, Craft is going to be best reserved for special occasions, but I think it's safe to say that we'll definitely going back.  I do have a birthday coming up soon, hmmm....

Friday, February 12, 2010

Fudge puddles

IMG_0527 by you. 

I've been dying to make these ever since my friend Abbie posted them on her website, The Green Wife (she has lots of great stuff there - recipes, crafts, giveaways, etc).  I mean, who doesn't love peanut butter and chocolate together, right?

Well with the big snowstorm here in Texas, we were more or less housebound today so I decided to give it a whirl.  They're a teeny bit labor intensive, but totally worth it.  These cookies were absolutely fabulous, bordering on sinful.  I'm actually almost glad that I waited so long to make them because they are crazy addictive too.  I don't know if she mentions it on her site, but the recipe makes a TON - I ended up with about 8 dozen.

I made it pretty much exactly as written with the exception of the fact that I halved the salt.  I figured that with all that peanut butter, it'd be plenty salty already.  I also recommend waiting until you've finished baking all the cookies before you make the fudge filling.  I made mine too early and after a while, the fudge cooled and set a bit and didn't look as pretty after being scooped and filled.  They still tasted the same, I'm just obsessive about things being pretty. ;)

Check out the recipe here.  And don't say I didn't warn you!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Lemon cake

IMG_0201 by you.

This is one of the very first recipes that I came up with totally on my own, from scratch.  I'm not generally one to brag, but I will say that this cake usually earns raves whenever I make it.  It was inspired by the store-bought packages of sliced lemon cake my brother and I used to eat as a kid.  That stuff was a frightening shade of neon yellow but it was super lemony and I don't think I've had a cake since that had the same intense lemon flavor (although I'm sure if I went back home and ate it now, I'd find it nasty).

There was a lot of trial and error involved in coming up with this recipe, and I still tweak it from time to time, especially if I don't have all the ingredients I need on hand.   You always hear a lot about how baking is a science and requires precision.  Well, that's only really half-true.  Sure, there are certain formulas that generally need to be followed, but I think that once you know the basic rules of how ingredients interact, it's much easier to experiment. 

I usually let my daughter help me measure and pour in ingredients, which sometimes leads to unintended variations.  This time, she spilled most of an egg white on the counter but still managed to get the yolk into the mixer bowl.  I was actually quite pleased with how it turned out, so here is the version we made. ;)

1 c. butter, softened
1 1/2 c. sugar
2 whole eggs, plus 1 yolk
1 lemon, zested & juiced (1/8-1/4 c)
1/2 tsp lemon extract
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 c. milk*

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a bundt pan with butter or spray oil.

2. In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.

3. In the bowl of stand mixer, cream butter and sugar with paddle attachment until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, and mix till combined.  Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula after each addition. Stir in the lemon zest and lemon extract.

4. Alternate adding the flour mixture and milk in 2-3 parts, each time mixing until just barely combined.  Scrape down sides and bottom of bowl to make sure everything has been incorporated.  Add lemon juice and stir to combine.  The batter may look a little curdled, but that's ok.

5. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out mostly clean.  Cool in pan for about 15-minutes, then turn out onto wire rack to cool completely.

6.  Drizzle with lemon glaze (recipe below) and serve.

Lemon glaze:
In small bowl, combine 3/4 c. powdered sugar and 2-3 Tbsp of lemon juice.  Whisk until there are no lumps.  Glaze should be about the consistency of syrup.  To thicken, add more powdered sugar.  To thin, add water a few drops at a time until it reaches desired consistency.

*I normally prefer to use whole milk when baking, or sometimes half & half or heavy cream.  I've even used sour cream for this recipe when I've been in a pinch.  I didn't have any of those on hand this time, so I just used good old skim milk.