Jeff Smith 4 p.m., Sept. 23
Checking Back In on Craft & Commerce
It's been 18 months since Naomi Wise reviewed Craft and Commerce for the Reader, declaring mainly that it had "potential." Since then, the restaurant has seen some expansion, though the overall experience is still pretty similar to what it was in 2010.
The biggest change is to the cocktail list, which indicates that the drinks menu must be priority number one around Craft and Commerce. This is good from a drinking standpoint, since the cocktails are legitimately tasty and keeping things fresh and interesting gives fans of mixed drinks something to look forward to. At $10 each, they're pricey, but worth it for some high class drinking.
The Yale, with gin, vermouth, bitters, and maraschino (yup, the same liquor that the cherries get soaked in) was basically a smartened up martini; not to say that martinis aren't smart enough. It was quite good and not obliterated by massive quantities of melted ice, as can be the case with a less elegant cocktail that's been stirred with ice to achieve near-freezing temperatures.
Wimbledon Fizz was a bubbly, vigorously shaken Pimm's and egg white cocktail that has a playful texture evocative of an egg cream, even if egg creams don't usually have egg in them. It was fun to drink and had an old-time charm.
The regular menu seems to have remained true to what Naomi experienced during her visit in 2010. Some of her complaints seem to have been remedied some. Some remain.
Salads ($9) were all very good. An avocado and citrus salad was lightly dressed and adequate on all of its ingredients. The big novelty of the dish was the fried goat cheese. Shaped into little balls and cooked somewhere very, very hot, the goat cheese had a wonderful crust that concealed the tart, creamy cheese on the interior.
A burrata salad could easily have fallen flat due to inferior fruit, but the strawberries and blackberries were sweet and juicy and enlivened the salad well.
The mussels and fries ($14) remain a lackluster impression of Belgian moules frites that would have gone so well with the Russian River Damnation that Craft and Commerce had on the beer menu. The mussels had been cooked to perfect tenderness, but without sufficient broth for the dipping of the fries, this dish will never achieve its potential.
A whole grain burger ($11) was more successful. Generous in size, and fairly inexpensive, it delivered a whole lot of meatless burger on some very nice looking bread. Plenty of aioli for dipping fries is a plus.
If Craft and Commerce has one real failing, it's the atmosphere more than the food. The place walks the very fine line between the elite and the posers. Between the staff's uniform (flannel, newsboy caps, and braces) and the off-putting decor (part library, part hunting lodge) there's a certain sense of contrived cool that, in a lot of ways, is anything but. The problem with acting awesome is that it really shows when you don't deliver.
Still, they get that elitist thing just right sometimes. The "no vodka" policy gets a big thumbs up any day of the week.
Craft and Commerce
675 Beech Street
Kitchen open nightly until 11, bar until 1