It’s true that Craigie is no longer on Craigie St. or in the neighbourhood, but going out to dinner at Craigie on Main is a bit like visiting an old friend and neighbour at their country house. There’s a lot more space and the house is just a bit more perfect. They built the kitchen of their dreams, or just about, and the decor feels just a bit more “them” than their city house.
This evening, was the first time in my life that I’ve just about gagged and choked at any restaurant, let alone an award winning restaurant with exceptional food where I had been invited as a guest for a special tasting menu. It wasn’t the cod sperm, monkfish liver, lobster liver, pancreas, intestine and eggs on toast. It wasn’t the little floating duck tongue, testicle, and heart on a stick. It wasn’t the cock’s comb, giblet cubes, or pasta made with blood. It wasn’t a fellow diner scooping out a pig’s eyeball and daintily slicing it in half to share with her neighbour. And, it most certainly was not the sea urchin, whelks, razor clams and nettles.
It turns out that I swallowed a little shard of delicate vanilla tonka bean crisp at an awkward angle. It lodged itself in my throat. After a few big sips of water and a few smaller sips of Casta Diva ‘Cosecha Miel’ for good measure I was in the clear hopefully having survived a ridiculous choking hazard unnoticed.
Tonight’s meal was in fact one of the best I have ever had at Craigie on Main. In a small way, the meal was about trying new things and venturing on “the road less travelled”. It wasn’t a Bizarre Foods, let’s see how many weird and strange things we can attempt to eat type meal. It was, aside from many of the ingredients, just like any artfully crafted exquisitely prepared tasting menu that Chef Tony Maws is known for any given day of the week.
As Chef Maws puts it, “In organizing our dinner, we aim to show how truly delicious humble and lesser-known parts of animals, fish, vegetables, herbs and spices can be. A big part of sustainability comes from not wasting anything and using all parts of everything we grow ”
Part of the reason for doing such a meal this time of year is that just as the greyish-white landscape of March lacks definition unless you take a closer look, the culinary landscape, in New England is also a bit monotone. You have to take in the shadows as the sun’s light stretches everything in the late afternoon to really get the most out of the landscape. Chef Maws found a way to stay true to his sustainable cooking philosophy while adding dimension to his shopping list and menu.
As I mentioned earlier, from start to finish, this was one of the best meals I have had at Craigie. If I had to choose the highlights and lowlights of the meal they would be as follows.
My least favorite ingredient was the oversized-kidney bean shaped, pale white gland that tasted slightly like liver cooked a bit too long with a stretchy slightly too thick casing around it. It wasn’t objectionable but the duck testicle was not a highlight either.
My favourite few bites were of the grilled duck heart skewer. It picked up the grilled flavour ever so slightly while still being able to keep its own unique taste. The texture was smooth and slightly dense with a more substantial texture than liver. I am inspired to seek out heart more often and perhaps attempt to cook it at home (after I do a little research.)
I was lucky enough to be able to taste some of the meat from Chef Maws’ milk-fed pig’s head tacos being enjoyed by 1/2 of the table guests as well as some of the Elysian Fields Lamb heart sausage which only reinforced my new love of heart.
The finishing touches of a house made sorbet of autumn olive and candied bamboo was reminiscent of sour cherries that my family used to pick at a friend’s house for pies. The Alfajore Ice Cream Sandwich with tonka bean crisp (incident aside), dulce de leche ice cream and yerba mate was a sweet (but not too sweet) stopping point of our journey.
Chef Maws is planning to have another similar menu in the summer and go all out with even more “off the beaten path” ingredients that will have popped up long after that snow has melted.