Craigie on Main sits in an unassuming location on, you guessed it, Main St. in Cambridge. We sat in the bar area, which is dark, casual and quaint. I could see live jazz quietly echoing through this area, or perhaps an intimate movie scene being shot in a corner; It’s certainly a relaxing ambiance.
Sunday night’s offer a taster known as the “Whim,” named such because chef Tony Maw capriciously generates dishes that night. That, or he started in mining before delving into the culinary arts.
The amuse bouche was a delicate fluke tartar with a whitefish roe. Like a good hors-d’oeuvre it was light, refreshing and tickled the taste buds. The dill flavor in the dish popped with the citrus from the lime. It was quite good.
The second course was a crispy fried Maine clam. I love the homage to New England cuisine here, as I think most chefs wouldn’t insert a fried clam dish in the middle of a taster. In the northeast, fried clams are served in small boxes in shacks in maritime towns up the coast. Here, Maws is able to invoke the memories of those summer fried clam binges in a delicate, sophisticated manner. The dish is on the salty side, perhaps from the dried black olive, but the squid ink sauce works extremely well. It too was a little salty, but quite tasty on its own.
A quick note about the plating: Apparently both of the sauces on the plate were the same sauce. But the presentation at Craigie can be confusing and empty. The use of negative space in some of the dishes was overkill, and usually when sauces are clearly separated, as they were with the clams, it’s a cue to the eater that they are different flavors. They weren’t. Fortunately, this doesn’t really change how the food tastes.
The next course was skate over razor clams, with shrimp and potato. The fish was lightly breaded, and the sauce provided a really nice sweetness. This dish had a homey quality about it, reminding me of fillets my mother would make when I was younger. OK, my Sicilian mother wasn’t exactly Miss Cleaver, so it’s possible I was the only person to find nostalgia in this piece of skate. Still, it was good despite being simple.
Following that was a vegetarian “Ragu” with faro, mushrooms and a soft-boiled egg – probably from an immersion circulator – on top. If you haven’t had the pleasure of a high-tech egg: This dish cheated in two ways, first by using faro – always a smart play – and second by finishing it with that runny egg. How could it not be good? The mixed product was a medley of sweet, creamy egg and earthy mushroom happiness. Everything married really well, including the faro, to create a course that was lick-the-plate-good. Wait, licking the plate isn’t socially acceptable?
The main course was a Daikon poached durad with wheat, meyer lemon and fennel. The fennel was nice and sweet and all of the accoutrements around the fish were really good. The protein itself was a little too fishy, but after eating it for a while, the dish grew on me. By the end, I absolutely loved it and could have eaten it for about a week before slipping into a food coma. It’s not too heavy and almost refreshing in the mouth after a while, but there’s a richness that keeps you going back for more.
The cocktails at Cragie are also fantastic. We paired a flight with the Whim, the highlight of which was a desert drink with bitters, lime juice, sherry, demerier and an entire egg. It produced some cappucino, smokey, rich froth which prompted a second order immediately. I also had two of my new favorite drink, a Blood and Sand (with Bowmore Scotch), which is like sitting in a woodsy cabin by a roasted fire in a worn leather chair. Befitting of the Craigie atmosphere.
The desert course was a potpourri of sweets. Chocolate, almond and apple cake, sheep’s milk cheesecake, sour-milk panna cotta and finally a pear pine nut plate. Another entire post could be dedicated to this quintet, but the winners here were the cheesecake, the apple cake and a turnip ice cream paired with the pine nuts.
I have no idea what the Craigie menu is like, although it can’t be too bad given the quality of the Whim. With that said, I’m not sure why anyone would want a menu when someone like Tony Maw is doling out eggs for dinner and turnip ice cream. And did I mention it was all for $55?
4 out of 4 paws