continued Where Crudo lives up to both its name and my hopes for it is in the sashimi -- most notably in the full-tilt boogie of the Crudo Plateau, a raw version of the cold seafood "plateaus" of French bistros. It's not exactly cheap (at $49 it's about $10 less than you'd pay locally for the Gallic version), but it's a light meal for two and a great shared appetizer for four. You know the joke about the Zen sage ordering a hot dog: "Make me one with everything." That's the Plateau. It consists of Crudo's six sashimi dishes, plus substantial tastes of all the evening's best raw seafood from the sushi menu. Each species has its own special treatment, and the treatments are fusion flavors: Maguro (dark red, silky tuna), for instance, is touched with whole-grain mustard ponzu, while scallops (still as slack as in the hand-roll) have a daub of balsamic ponzu. Hirame (halibut) wears a few drops of blood-orange misu, appropriately dainty. Just as good were the many little surprises from the fish case: Spanish mackerel (aji) slices were pickled in-house and tasted like deli herring. Giant clam (mirugai) needed no adornment to its crisp texture and natural sweetness. Thin octopus slices were tender-chewy, with a vibrant sweet-sour flavor, as though poached in sugared lime juice. Squid, firm and near crunchy, were rolled around nori and carrot centers. I didn't really care for the nama sake (salmon) with a cheeseless garlic pesto aioli (a combination of garlic- and basil-flavored olive oils). The salmon, a risky fish (prone to parasites), was suspiciously squishy, and it made us nervous when served raw by an American-trained sushi chef. Nor did we care for the hamachi's (yellowtail) harsh garnish of yuzu (a sour Japanese citrus) and jalapeño, which tasted a little -- crudo.
Since a solo honeymoon oyster shooter seemed spendy at $12, we chose oysters on the half shell (five to a plate for $13), dressed in Chinese chili oil, golden tobiko, and minced cilantro -- a spicy, bracing mixture.
Moving on to warm dishes, we had to try the lobster red miso soup. The liquid, which we loved, is intensely fish flavored from dashi (Japanese dried-bonito broth). Afloat in the clear red soup are thick shiitake slices, tofu cubes, nori seaweed rectangles, minced scallions and -- (ta-dah!) wonton-skin dumplings filled with puréed edamame and ricotta. Just don't look for lobster pieces in there -- my partner's portion held one small, spongy claw-tip, and that's all she wrote. Given its fierce fishiness, the soup's not for the faint of heart, but real seafood fans will lap it up.
A couple of warm appetizers were a good cop/bad cop act. The good: Butterfish with an apricot miso glaze was a fine fillet cooked translucent, finished off with a fluff of basil chiffonade and a hint of hot chili oil. But the chef seems to use the sugar shaker the way other cooks use a saltshaker -- we found this and most other cooked dishes swinging heavily to the sweet side.
Bonito-crusted scallops were another story. The trio of large Asian scallops (like those in the sashimi) offer a fainter flavor and softer texture than their pricier cousins from New England. The chef crusts them with rehydrated Japanese dried-bonito shreds, cooks them until translucent-firm, and drenches them in heavily sweetened yuzu juice. The coating has the texture of a coarse wet dishcloth -- an edible fish-flavored schmatte. The scallops are plated over soggy, sour Granny Smith apple slices pickled in, I'd guess, unsweetened yuzu, and garnished with crisped nuggets of pancetta and wisps of microgreens. I can envision this dish remade with panko on the scallops, Fuji apples (not Grannies) for natural sweetness, and yuzu straight up for tartness -- but I can't imagine how to solve the scallop problem. Fall back 15 yards and punt?
Entrées seem the weakest point of the menu, if those we tried are any indication. When I ordered the butterfish appetizer near the end of our first meal, the waitress evidently misunderstood me and substituted an entrée of filo-crusted white fish. It's a long fillet of mild-flavored fish coated with kataifi (fine-shredded filo). The fish tasted clean and neutral, and the crackly crust was tasty. But it sat atop a nest of overcooked Pad Thai noodles dressed in a sweet, sludgy, red-brown "ginger-soy-tomato sauce." The sauce waged war on the gentle fish and slaughtered it.
Katsu bleu turned out to be chicken cordon bleu crusted with panko instead of conventional bread crumbs. Tasting somewhat like a frozen entrée from the supermarket, it consists of deep-fried medallions of chicken breast stuffed with mozzarella, prosciutto, and spinach, served over buckwheat soba with a tasty cream sauce flavored with sun-dried tomatoes and miso. The chicken was tender, except for a tiny knob of gristle. (You'd think a sushi kitchen could fillet chicken flawlessly. I won't be ordering any blowfish here.) The filling was scant and dry -- short of melted cheese, above all -- so the chicken was only palatable when dipped in the precious few drops of sauce. The noodles were gray, thin, round, and sodden, with an unfortunate visual resemblance to a heap of worms.
The remaining entrées are equally baroque. For instance, the Kobe center-cut sirloin sounded as if it might be a winner, but mashed potatoes with satsuma tangerine juice and plum wine basil sauce struck us as a combination that we didn't want to pay $35 to sample. There are plans afoot for a few entrées with more purely Italian flavors (see interview below), which might provide some relief from the strenuous palate calisthenics of the current menu. Until then, I'd rather graze on the light dishes and bypass the main course.
We also skipped desserts, a short list of classics (crème brûlée, chocolate mousse, white chocolate cheesecake, ice cream sandwich), each with some creative twist. We'd already had our full complement of sugar -- and creativity -- in the appetizers and entrées. At a restaurant named Crudo, you mostly want your food raw and simple.