Much of its’ attention is due to the innovative and delicious dishes produced by Chef-Owner Tony Maws, who was awarded the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef Northeast Award in 2011. Initially, customers may be drawn to the restaurant due to the awards Chef Maws and the restaurant have received. However, what makes diners return is the food and dining experience. Indeed, it’s these two things that continue to draw us back to this exceptional restaurant.
One exciting offering is a “Chef’s Whim” dinner on Sunday evenings after 9:00. The timing makes it difficult for out-of-towners like us to attend. However, recently we were in town for a meeting on Sunday which enabled us to take advantage of this special menu. “Chef’s whim” is a special menu arranged by Chef de Cuisine Carl Dooley, consisting of either 4 or 6 courses. This menu is a chance for Chef Carl to experiment with ingredients and preparation techniques. In fact, when we were seated at the kitchen counter (our favorite spot!) we were given a card on which to write our comments about each dish. The kitchen is like a fine tuned machine.
As with every other meal we had at Craigie On Main, the service was spot on and attention to detail was immaculate. We constantly had our water glasses replenished and were made sure we were in want of nothing. The staff prefers tables to select the same menu, so we decided on the 4 course tasting with an additional side of bone marrow. Throughout the evening, we noticed everyone is responsible for their station. It was obvious that each person was meticulous and precise with their portion of the dish and presentation. It’s always a treat to be seated at the counter; to watch and interact with the kitchen staff and Chef. Our first dish was a sampling of headcheese, garnished beautifully with mushrooms and julienned carrots. Unlike some headcheese that is gelatinous, this dish had a nice meaty texture. Next, we had a salad of grilled cuttlefish and pig’s ear. It was a delicious course, bright in flavor. The next offering was a slow roasted striped sea bass served on a bed of quinoa. The fish was perfectly cooked, moist and tender. Our final main course was a Cote de boeuf consisting of: veal cheek, braised cow tongue, and grass-fed sirloin. Although this dish was heavy and filling, it was exciting to taste the three different components. They all played well together, in taste and texture, within this magnificent plate. For dessert, Lora had a chocolate panna-cotta and Tom was served the coconut pain perdu. Both offerings were uniquely rich and a satisfying way to end the meal. But wait- that wasn’t it. We were also served a tasting of delectably thick and sweet Mexican hot chocolate and house-made caramels. In the end, our 4 course tasting was extended to 5 and a half courses, plus our additional side of smoky roasted bone marrow.
A few of the dishes had a decidedly Asian flavor. When we spoke with Chef Carl, he stated that he is experimenting with a variety of tastes including influences from Asia. As always, the meal Chef Dooley creates is based upon local, seasonal ingredients. Beyond that, the flavors, preparations, and plating are all fair game. It’s always fun to go to a restaurant where you know the food will be delicious but completely different each visit.
If you happen to be in Cambridge on a Sunday evening, we highly recommend the “Chef’s Whim” menu. It’s a great opportunity to sample creative, delicious dishes at a more affordable price. Dining at Craigie on Main is truly a full sensory experience not to be missed!