Damon’s Frugal Friday – NYC
The “R” word is continuing to make headlines. Almost everyday, there’s a mention in either CNBC, the Journal or the New York Times of how much we are knee-deep in it. As such, eating habits must bow to the times, and even the most haute restaurants are hunkering down. This week, even the loftiest of the lofty, Thomas Keller’s Per-Se, just introduced an ala carte menu, presumably to attract diners who would never deem of shelling out the equivalent of one month’s car payment on a meal. It’s only the latest of many.
A few months back, Craft, one of the cornerstones of Tom Colicchio’s restaurant empire, figured out another way to “one-down” itself. Not content with rolling out the gentler-priced Craft Bar a few years ago, it introduced Damon’s Frugal Friday. This once-a-week affair named after current Craft chef Damon Wise is held at the space next door mostly used for private functions. Everything on the menu is sub $10.
In keeping with the low-key ambience, there is no snazzy signage — just a piece of cardboard with “Damon’s Frugal Friday” handwritten in pentel pen and taped to the door. Lights are dimmed low, and only votives sitting on tables topped with brown kraft paper illuminate your meal. The menu is grouped into odd categories like “food-in-a-jar”, “meat-on-a-stick”, “offal” and “small plates” (aren’t they all?).
We did a random sampling as follows:
Pork Croquettes, Coconut & Ginger. Ok. Nothing spectacular about these croquettes.
Crispy Sardines, Bread and Butter Pickles & Malt Vinegar Aioli. I would have liked the sardines to be crispier so that I could eat it bones and all. Smelts would also have been a good substitute.
Potted Sweet Shrimp & Sweet and Sour Cucumber. I liked this a lot. It reminds me of something one might bring to a picnic. Sweet and sour cucumbers are just a fancy name for pickle relish.
Escargot & Benton’s Bacon. In theory, it’s a good idea since bacon has chemistry with almost anything. In reality, it’s a strange pairing and you wonder why the two just don’t click. Benton’s bacon must be country bacon because it was really salty.
Warm East Coast Oysters & Chartreuse Hazelnut Butter. The oysters retained their briny flavor even after mild cooking.
Griddled Pork Belly, Braised Peanuts & Cranberry Mostarda. I loved this. The combination reminds me of a childhood snack called “ma-tsang” — pork belly, chinese sausage, fresh peanuts and sticky rice molded into pyramids, then wrapped and steamed in banana leaves.
Crispy Pig Ear, Devilled Egg Salad & Celery. I thought this might be inspired from the Filipino “sisig”, which is chopped up pig’s ear (and other parts) fried crisp and served on a sizzle plate. To my disappointment, this was nothing of the sort. The ears were chewy instead of crispy.
Salt Baked Bone Marrow & Stew of Mushrooms and Tail. A generous amount of marrow with a really salty mushroom stew that reminded me more of fermented black beans. Also, tail of what?
Aged Manchego, Prosciutto, Sherry Syrup & Paprika Cracker. A nice segue into dessert.
Tiramisu in a jar. I’m sure the effort to place the layered ingredients into the jar cost more than the $5 for the dish.
Verdict: A great meal if you like noshing on bits of this and that for dinner.
Advice: Eat fast because the dishes come out in rapid succession, and they’ll be jostling each other for space on the table if you don’t.
Good News: I heard they’re doing Thrifty Thursdays too.