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Columbia Spectator Staff

Tom Colicchio is having an identity crisis.

At Colicchio & Sons, Bruce Springsteen songs and garish paintings of roosters share space with amuse bouches and foie gras. Parker House rolls in an iron skillet accompany explanations of tasting menus. Hovering waiters serve Colicchio's American-French-Italian dishes to a simultaneously over- and underdressed crowd seemingly confused about whether this is a fine dining restaurant gesturing at casualness or a casual bistro playing dress-up.

Snuggled on a self-consciously trendy Chelsea block, Colicchio & Sons replaced Colicchio's recently shuttered Craftsteak. The latest installment in Colicchio's sprawling empire of restaurants, Colicchio & Sons started out with an a la carte menu that was phased out in favor of daringly expensive prix fixe and tasting menu options—and then surreptitiously switched back to a la carte to coincide with Sam Sifton's glowing review for the New York Times. Tragically, Colicchio placidly pushes out overpriced, grotesque food that merely embarrasses the admittedly inflated "Top Chef" name.

First courses read like a greatest culinary hits list of the last decade. White bean agnolotti accompanies a laughably predictable trio of chorizo, pork belly, and octopus. Just below it on the menu, Colicchio plays the obligatory offal card with a plate of roasted sweetbreads served with some vague iteration of bacon.

Gnocchi with morels and fava leaves seems worth a look, though—the dish is admirably seasonal and simple, foretelling verdant New York spring breezes. These light pillows occasionally veer into gummy territory, but a grittiness on the palate constitutes the most severe problem with this dish. Morels must receive a thorough cleaning to remove dirt and forest detritus from their honeycombed structure. Clearly, Colicchio's morels only got a brief rinse in the kitchen, leaving crunchy particles lurking to surprise unsuspecting diners.

The entrées are where a dinner at Colicchio & Sons starts to go dangerously wrong. Colicchio seems to fetishize unusual protein pairings. Take, for example, braised loup de mer with pork trotter or veal breast with tripe. In the latter case, matching funky stomach meat with mild veal is simply foolish. Even worse, this dish is a textural disaster—gooey veal fat, tough connective tissue, and leathery skin collide with slimy, chewy tripe bits. Virtually everything about this dish fails, leaving diners wondering at the sheer absurdity of it all.

Dessert offerings look promising—including beignets, doughnuts, and chocolate tart—and unabashedly trail the New York pastry scene's every move. Here, however, comes Colicchio & Son's most shocking moment. "Top Chef" guru Tom Colicchio, undisputed judge of the kitchen Tom Colicchio, harsh and dismissive gastronomic arbiter Tom Colicchio, does not know how to cook French toast. Cinnamon raisin pain perdu tastes doughy and hard, barely warmed through and not at all custardy. A well-balanced rosemary ice cream tries to rescue this plate, but Colicchio would be better off slapping down an Eggo waffle and throwing in the towel. To deliver a little trash talk worthy of reality television, most grandmothers makes better pain perdu than Colicchio. Really.

When the check signals a merciful end to dinner, diners collect their stomachs and head for the door. There, a smiling hostess hands them lemon poppyseed muffins as a consolation prize, the most delectable morsel they will sample all evening. They can only wonder how much longer Colicchio can continue this schizophrenic charade before he packs away his knives and rooster paintings for good.