Father's Day dinner at Craigie on Main reaffirmed why "Craigie" is always my initial response when friends ask for restaurant recommendations for special nights. To eat at Craigie is to have a multi-sensory experience, especially if you eat "kitchenside." (You can read about our first visit to these seats here).The air is full of butter from the freshly baked madelines. Each dish is visually stunning, especially now that edible flowers are in bloom. And what is most amazing is that such complex dishes taste so delicious.
As Chef Maws became a first time father last year, this year he offered his first Father's Day special. Consisting of 4 courses for $75.00, the menu (like the a la carte menu) was composed that morning from the best ingredients that had been delivered that day from local farmers. Chef Maws was generous enough to treat me and my husband to this meal, to showcase his Father's Day offerings. It was as good as ever other meal we have had here.
I began with the "House-Cured Pork Belly." Like the lightest prosciutto, the pork belly was wrapped gracefully around thin slices of sweet Asian pear. The meat was seated on a brilliant green vinaigrette, helping to lighten what is normally such a rich starter.FoodieDaddy ordered a la carte. However, Chef Maws treated him to an amuse bouche off of the Father's Day menu: Escabeche of Maine Mackerel. One taste and we both grinned-matzo meal coated the fish, making it an updated version of pickled herring. The mackerel retained a meatiness while still being delicious. My first course, "Ragout of Forest Mushrooms, Sugar Snap Peas and Fava Beans" was simply stunning (photo at the top of the post). The centerpiece: a barely poached egg that when touched with a spoon coated the vegetables like a golden sauce. The peas were still crisp, while the radishes were sauteed until just tender and they were draped over the earthy mushrooms.
My husband's dish was a model of perfection. The tempura on the cod cheeks crackled as I bite in, while the tenderness of the cod melted in the mouth. Yet what truly set the dish apart was the duo of sauces that sandwiched the fish. On the bottom, a golden raisin-verjus sauce. And on top, a "salsa verde" that was so good that I wanted to take it home. But it was combination of the sweet, citrusy sauce on the cod that made the dish explode with flavors.
This layering of ingredients also made FoodieDaddy's main dish, a classic at Craigie, such a stand out. A simple skirt steak was made outrageously good by lying it on a mixture of smoked beef tongue, shitake mushrooms, a walnut-foie gras puree and red rice. The steak was delicious. However, eating a biteful with with the sauce made it smokey, earthy and just heavenly.I jumped at the chance to order the halibut as it was served with a "Vadouvan-Sesame broth." I had just read about vadouvan in September's Gourmet Magazine and wanted to try the mixture of caramelized onions with a hint of curry. In a typical play on ingredients, the halibut was coated with the most pedestrian of toppings-Cream of Wheat. Yet the grain gave it tender crumb that crumbled into the broth. This time, the star was lemon peel that was charred. Each bite filled the mouth with citrus and sweetness that enveloped the halibut.
Somehow a single dessert order morphed into more as we were treated with a duo of two panna cottas. The first small cup was elevated by flowery jasmine with toasted rice syrup. The other, infused with rooibos tea, was floral and sweet.
My husband's dessert reflected the playfulness of Chef Maws, as it was really an updated and upscale version of the Hob Nob cookies sold each year by the Girl Scouts. The delicate, sandy cookies sandwiched a rich peanut butter ice cream. On top, a grape infused foam was gelatinous and creamy. Below, a muscat grape coulis. It was the best peanut butter and jelly I have ever had.As I am an huge fan of Taza chocolate, I couldn't pass up the "Olive Oil and Taza Chocolate Mousse with Walnut Coulis." The dish retained the complexity of Taza's chocolate that makes it so special, while the walnut coulis added a subtle bitterness.
Finally, as we got ready to leave, we were treated to one last taste: a rhubarb hibiscus mousse topped with yogurt foam. It was sour, tart and the perfect end to an phenomenal meal.
While I am not much of a drinker, I have read so much about Beverage Manager Tom Schlesinger-Guidelli’s interpretations of traditional cocktails, that I had to try one out. Our waitress recommended the Northern Lights. It was the perfect compliment to the meal.
Chef Maws is a perfectionist and a craftsman and at Craigie on Main there is a sublime attention to detail and precision in each course. Chef Maws also prides himself on creating the menu from the best ingredients (mostly organic and local) that are delivered that day. This means that not only can you visit regularly and never eat the same meal twice, but you are supporting a community of farmers and fisherman.
Craigie on Main is not inexpensive, as the main dishes average about $32.00. And even if the food is almost a value for the quality of ingredients and careful preparation, it is a meal that many people will have to save for a special occasion. However, there are less expensive ways to eat at Craigie. The bar offers small dishes that cost about $15.00. In addition, each night there is a 3 course, "Prix Fixe" at $38.00. Finally although we have never been, the brunch menu is definitely more affordable.
For another glimpse at Craigie on Main, stay tuned for an interview with Chef Maws.
Craigie on Main 853 Main Street, Cambridge, MA 02139 | tel: 617 497-5511