In the past year, in the course of covering L.A.’s cocktail scene, I stumbled upon a unique phenomenon: liquor reps. They frequent bars and restaurants in an effort to place their brands on limited shelf space. Occasionally, they host cocktail competitions and bar crawls to increase brand visibility. On June 22, Plymouth Gin hosted a small gathering of bartenders and writers on the Craftbar patio, featuring multiple small plates and unlimited cocktails. Not exactly a painful experience.
Craft resides in the shadow of the CAA “Death Star,” alongside a well-manicured park. Tom Colicchio’s contemporary L.A. outpost serves as the de facto commissary for Century City agents, businesspeople and lawyers. Craft recently lost the savory and sweet cornerstones of its kitchen – Matthew Accarrino and Catherine Schimenti. Thankfully for Craft, they never stopped sourcing market-driven ingredients, so our experience at Craft’s casual offshoot was still plenty satisfying.
Plymouth brand ambassadors Christine D’Abrosca and Kylee Van Dillen invited us to order any cocktail we liked (so long as they incorporated Plymouth). I started with Grape Three Ways, which normally features Ciroc Vodka, Kracher Riesling, Lime Juice and fresh grapes. This refreshing cocktail worked well with gin, with overarching sweetness and some bite at the finish. Next up: the Bramble, straight from the Plymouth playbook, made with Plymouth, lemon juice, simple syrup and blackberry liqueur. This drink was diluted and didn’t have any pop.
Plymouth welcomed us to order anything on the Craftbar menu, so we started with charcuterie. Well-spiced mortadella and bologna-like capocola were fairly satisfying, but couldn’t compete with silky La Quercia prosciutto made from Iowa hogs. The meat came with the some of the plumpest, sweetest blackberries and raspberries imaginable, plus grilled peaches.
The cheese plate was nearly as rewarding, featuring creamy pistachio-crusted goat cheese, firm peppercorn-studded Pecorino, cuts of sharp cheddar and appropriately funky Gorgonzola. The candied hazelnuts were addictive, rendering the dried apricots and candied pecans relatively powerless.
Craftbar’s SNACKS ($6 each) were all reasonably priced. We started with a cast-iron pot of supple Anson Mills hushpuppies. We speared them with toothpicks and ran them through the complementary dish of smoked maple syrup.
SMALL PLATES ($8 each) were another relative value, especially given the high quality of of pristine cuts of seared bigeye tuna. The rosy sheets were served with intensely flavorful Nicoise olives, roasted red pepper and crunchy cornichon.
Jarred dishes are increasingly popular in Los Angeles. Craftbar devoted an entire sections to the concept – IN A JAR $8. Earthy white bean hummus was seemingly simple. Not when it’s sealed with spicy za’atar oil and slathered on crisp crostini.
We limited ourselves to one SWEET ($7), but made the selection count. Beignets were excellent, rolled in sugar granules and featuring yolky, custardy cores. They were good on their own, but came with orange blossom honey and chocolate dipping sauce.
Almost all the small plates would have been worth ordering on my own dime. Craft might be the restaurant to aspire to, but the Craftbar concept is more approachable, reasonable and repeatable.