Bar Crudo, opened in Fall of 2005 by twin brothers Mike and Tim Selvera, was a risky venture. Its dark and obscure location above the Stockton St. tunnel stairs, which I normally ascend while holding my breath, could have been the death of it. Instead, like a blade of grass pushing its way through concrete, it thrived. The tiny space that sat 30 (10 split between two downstairs bars and 20 upstairs) was charming the way a Paris flat is charming. Its proximity to the Tunnel Top bar helped make the sometimes excruciating wait easier to bear. More apartment than restaurant, it made you feel like an incredibly talented friend was constructing something magical just for you in his miniscule kitchen. The friendly, unpretentious yet knowledgeable staff helped contribute to the effect.
Recently, Mike and Tim decided that it was time to expand, moving Bar Crudo to its new location in the Nopa district on Divisadero at Grove. The new space seats 55 and maintains the feeling of a loft, as there are no walls separating the kitchen or the upstairs area. Upstairs, it is quieter and more dimly lit while downstairs bustles with activity. Thanks to the resonant walls and sleek surfaces, the acoustics are crisp and you will be able to participate in the conversations of your neighbors if you so desire. The décor is modern and minimalist with high ceilings, a sleek zinc bar, metal tables coated with futuristic plastic, and beautiful mermaid wall paintings. The food still sparkles and the staff, though more numerous, are just as gracious at this location. Sit at the bar if the immediacy of the other tables is a problem and you will have the added bonus of being able to peek into the open kitchen and watch the chefs at work. If you can look past the clamor of hipsters and hopefuls all around, you are in for a real treat because the food is stellar.
Chef Mike Selvera is no stranger to seafood, hailing from the kitchen of Café Maritime. He has developed a tender and delicate relationship with what he serves, focusing on taste and texture. If you like perusing a multi-page menu, Bar Crudo is not for you. What the twins serve is carefully selected and pared down so that due consideration can be given each dish. The wine and mostly Belgian beer menu is also sparse and well chosen. If you cannot decide, the wait staff is well versed and can confidently choose for you. A nice crisp bottle of Verdejo, chilled champagne or a Belgian brew can pair with just about anything on the menu.
We began our meal with Steak Crudo and the Crudo Sampler for two. The steak is fresh, rare beef served with toasted baguette and shaped into four rounds each topped by a different garnish: an anchovy, a tiny marinated pepper, horseradish cream and my favorite, a raw quail egg. The dish is a great starter, though a stark contrast to the intricate flavors and silkier textures of the raw fish. If you choose to order this, consider eating it first.
The Crudo Sampler is a must have on any night. No matter what they serve, it never disappoints and illustrates just what the kitchen can do. The Arctic char is to the palate what highest quality silk is to naked skin and I usually save it for last. Its delicate pink flesh looks much like salmon, but is far more buttery and tender. The fish is served with tear-jerkingly fresh horseradish cream, wasabi tobiko and dill. It is as classic a pairing (if such things exist) as caviar and champagne, and just as decadent. The softness of the cream battling the bite of the horseradish brings to the forefront the delicate flavor of the fish while the wasabi tobiko and hint of dill create an elegant balance. This dish begs for a glass of bubbling champagne.
The Rhode Island fluke is a white fish, meatier and less delicate than the char. It was also delicious, served on top of a corn puree and garnished with crispy chicharrones (pork cracklings) and chives. Although little can beat the Arctic char, the surprising addition of crispy pork skin poised against the sweetness of the corn highlighted the meatiness of the fish, making it a truly satisfying dish.
The Kona Kampachi is reminiscent of tuna sashimi, with a similar red color and the same clean watery taste. It is good for those who want to minimize any fishy flavor and was well paired with fresh peach relish. Also covered by a chili-lime vinaigrette, it is served over avocado mousse. The sweetness of the peach mixed with the spicy sourness of the vinaigrette made the mildness of the fish really stand out while at simultaneously creating a more complex flavor overall. The rich avocado mousse gave the dish a nice substance.
The butterfish was my second favorite. Having just come back from Hawaii, and feasted on cooked butterfish at every restaurant we visited, I knew I was in for a treat. Butterfish is a white fish and its flesh, as the name implies, is buttery soft and delicious. Little else is needed to make this dish croon softly to your taste buds, but the addition of a zesty tapenade with olive oil and Meyer lemon, topped with a fresh basil garnish made the fish show its true colors. This potential one night fling easily turned into a true romance.
Following the hard to beat Crudo Sampler was the impossible to miss Lobster Salad. You have not truly dined at Bar Crudo until you’ve had the Lobster Salad because this dish is the work of a culinary genius. The pairing of lobster and cream is natural, but who would have thought to put lobster with Burrata? Certainly not I, but in this dish chef Mike Selvera surpassed himself by forcing an arranged marriage between the lobster and an Italian wonder cheese. As it turns out, these two were meant to be. Burrata is a variation of mozzarella, but creamier and softer. The outer shell is firm mozzarella, but on the inside it mingles with fresh cream, so when the cheese is cut the result is milky and supple. This cheese is a rare delicacy and must be completely fresh, losing its flavor if served more than 48 hours after its creation. To add a contrasting sweet and sour note, the salad is made with thick-cut heirloom tomatoes and topped with dressed mache and arugula leaves. It is outstanding.
We finished this meal with a rich and hearty Seafood Chowder. It was the only thing we ate warm and was a magnificent end to our dinner, suffusing our limbs with a pleasant pre-sleep laziness. The chowder is made smoky and complex by an addition of bacon and the incredible amount of thick cream is cut with a dash of spicy chili powder. In this luxurious bath float bits of fish, mussels, shrimp, rings of squid, and potatoes, and if the calorie counter registers off the charts, it is well worth it. Conscience can rest, as there is no dessert at Bar Crudo except for a plate of truffles or a cheese course consisting of three cheeses. And while some may lament the lack of a sweet finish, in my opinion it adds to the sparse charm of the menu as a whole. It seems the twins unfalteringly state that what they serve is only what they truly enjoy making. I can respect that.