Vallata is the small town in Campania where Chef Tom Colicchio’s family lived before coming to the States. It’s also the name of the new restaurant in Craft’s former private dining room, which had been shuttered during the pandemic. “Just after we were able to reopen indoors, no one was holding private events,” Natalie McDade, née Grindstaff, recalls. “So, Tom said let’s do a pop up. We started small: Tom was cooking every night in the kitchen; I was waiting tables. He said, ‘I want to cook food that I’ve been cooking for my family at home.’ The cocktails were spritzes, we offered some great Italian beers, and the pastas, all classics. We wanted to do something comforting.” As Director of Restaurants, McDade now oversees Vallata, Craft and Temple Court in NYC; Small Batch in Garden City; Craft LA and a new, as yet unnamed restaurant in DC, opening this fall. In addition to her management role, she continues her historical focus on the beverage programs, working with a team of three at Craft NYC: Cheron Cowan, the beverage director, and two sommeliers. “Our program is pretty large, and I won’t say ‘not intimidating,’” she explains of their 800-bottle list. “We find we sell a lot more wine if we have talented sommeliers on the floor.” —Joshua Greene
The price of a meal at Craft was just over $100 in 2019. Now, it averages $125. While you mention that menu pricing has increased substantially, you also note increases in the pricing on your wine list.
On the menu, we have definitely effected a price increase, dictated by product—the cost of food. On the average bottle of wine, we’re also hitting a higher price. Formerly, it was $80 to $100; now, people are in a comfort zone at $100 to $130 or $140, and that’s the hardest part of the list to keep fleshed out: the just-over $100 bottles. We really chew through wines in that category.
We look at wine pricing as a sliding scale: The more expensive a wine is, the less the markup. If you are buying a $60 to $80 bottle, it’s likely a three-time markup. A $200 bottle, a one-time mark up. A lot of the higher-higher-end stuff, we really don’t mark up. And if you have a good eye, you can find some older bottles for a steal, because we don’t reprice old bottles; we sell them with the markup at what we would have paid five years ago. The magnums in particular—they don’t move as briskly, and you can find some pretty good deals in there.
You mentioned the Kita Sta. Rita Hills pinot noir as a staff favorite. What caught their attention in that wine?
We have it by the glass, so the staff is familiar with it. They like it, and it has a good story: made by a lesbian woman who is a Chumash Indian. She stopped making that wine, and we bought the last of what she had made, having it by-the-glass for two years running. It was a great value, and people reacted very positively. When we put that on, we were featuring women winemakers and BIPOC winemakers; she filled all the categories. It was a fun project; they all told a story and were excellent wines.
But there’s more interest in lesser-known wines now. People are less likely to say, “I want pinot noir;” they are asking for a region or style of wine.
And we definitely have people who ask for natural wine, or wines with low sulfites. We have tons on the list—not the kind-of-weird, funky stuff, but there are a lot of producers that are organic or biodynamic. So we talk more about how things are farmed or made, rather than saying, ‘This is a natural wine,’ which has little meaning. Sinskey…Littorai…we’re talking about producers doing great things and farming responsibly. Are you wanting something biodynamic or a skin-fermented weird and funky thing? We have examples of the whole spectrum; we do try to stay away from things that are flawed, steering guests without being rude—it’s an interesting conversation. Craft is a classic dining environment, and we don’t get a lot of people asking for something funky and strange, but we have some funky things downstairs.
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