Not Your New Addiction, Bitch
I didn’t watch the first few seasons of Bravo’s Top Chef, so all I know about first season contestant Dave Martin is that he once famously told the first season’s psycho, in no uncertain terms, “I’m not your bitch, bitch!” Perhaps it’s fitting that Crave On 42nd, the new upscale American bistro that Chef Martin is heading up, feels a bit slapped together, like one of those “make your own insta-restaurant” challenges on the show. Chef Martin personally painted the colored squares that unfortunately decorate the walls, not that you can see much in the cave-like lighting of this restaurant located on the edges of West 42nd Street. Yes, there apparently is a 12th Avenue. Brave the frigid winter trek there, and you’ll be treated to some uneven, though tasty, dressed-up comfort food. Order quickly, and with any luck the food will soon distract you from your lackluster surroundings.
Nothing here is groundbreaking, but the star of the menu is the macaroni-and-cheese starter ($15). Literally a star, as the menu tells us it appeared on Top Chef, it’s a welcome rendition of an oft-toyed-with American classic. TV’s Macaroni and Cheese, as it were, is made here with brandy, fresh herbs and black truffles and magically manages to be creamy without being saucy. I recommend you share it as we did—enjoying something this naughty can only be more fun with someone else. I really wanted to like the (perfectly cooked) jumbo sea scallops ($13), served with a vanilla bean cream. While the vanilla lends a nice floral touch to the dish, the sauce itself was a bit greasy and could have used even more vanilla. We thoroughly enjoyed the hanging beef tenderloin martini ($10)—essentially pieces of beef tenderloin, served over a whipped puree of carrots and potatoes in a martini glass, it’s delicious—but be careful not to fill up on the delicious mash. Maybe it’s the cocktail-inspired presentation, but I had to resist the urge to stick my face in the glass and lick it clean. I’m relatively certain it is the first martini glass I have not seen the bottom of.
Speaking of martinis, it should be noted that while Chef Martin assured us the restaurant does in fact have its liquor license, they were having some sort of dispute with the city. The story is quite long, and honestly after “No liquor” I tuned out. We were told this should be cleared up in a few weeks, but that didn’t help this future problem drinker get his cocktail on. When I grudgingly announced I’d have a glass of white wine, our server suggested the Ribeauville Prestige ($11). You gotta love a lady that knows her wine: It was wonderfully dry and crisp.
The menu has all sorts of comfort food entrees, including burgers ($10-$12), brick oven pizzas ($10-14). Considering our heavier starters, we both skipped the tempting-sounding steaks ($20 for the hangar, $28 for the filet mignon with gorgonzola and onion rings) in favor of lighter options. The lobster ravioli ($23)—actually filled with spinach, shrimp and lobster—are pleasingly stuffed. Sadly, they arrive doused in a saffron cream sauce that fails to register. The Sassy Sea Bass ($24), topped with an adobo honey butter, was everything I wanted it to be: light with tinge of sweet heat. The currant and almond couscous that accompanied it, on the other hand, was a Sahara-dry mess that had me thankful I had ordered a second glass of wine.
Come dessert time, I couldn’t help but wish Chef Martin had put down that paintbrush and picked up the whisk. It’s odd that a comfort food restaurant would have such slim dessert choices (three to be exact, if we discount the ice cream/sorbet option). Erika’s Chocolate Addiction ($6) is a buttery slab of chocolate cake that’s hardly worth attending meetings over, but was ultimately far better than the apple turnover ($6). Bland and a bit soggy, the turnover seemed like something you might pull out of your freezer and microwave in the middle of the night.
Afterward, as we waddled our way down the street, it was clear that we must have enjoyed ourselves to have eaten as much as we had. Yet, other than TV’s Macaroni and Cheese, none of the dishes we ate (and ate) left much of an impression on anything other than our stomachs. While I imagine I will find myself craving that mac-n-cheese again, Chef Martin’s recipe is easily findable online. And at home, we always have liquor and good desserts.
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