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June 18, 2010


Albacore with Apples, Truffle and Black Garlic Dominic Armato

UPDATE : Crudo has closed

I have mused before, and I'll try not to make it a tired theme, about what strikes this particular newcomer as Phoenix's odd relationship with seafood. "It's tough to get fresh fish in the desert," I've heard, on more than one occasion. But surely, no sushi bar exists this side of the Pacific that obtains even half of its fish locally. Le Bernardin isn't exactly pulling its kanpachi, sea urchin, langoustine and hiramasa out of the Hudson. Heck, even when it comes to crab in Maryland, a state so devoted to the crustacean that the little blue buggers are on their driver's licenses, it's a challenge to find the locally fished variety. Most of Maryland's pride is shipped in from the Gulf of Mexico, Venezuela or Southeast Asia these days (perhaps less so the Gulf now, but... ugh... best not to think about that). Of course, there's nothing like day boat seafood, but the point is that whether or not they should be (a question I'll leave for the more ecologically-minded), seafood restaurants are largely location irrelevant. And yet, it's almost as though there's a lack of seafood culture here. So as odd as I may find the complete absence of independent fishmongers, it's refreshing to know that there are places -- quirky, independent ones, even -- that are devoted to a variety of lovely, fresh fish. It is, after all, Crudo's namesake.

Butterfish with Crispy LardoDominic Armato

"Quirky" may be one of the most important thoughts to hold onto, here. Crudo is a truly odd little beast, serving breakfast in the morning and fairly straightforward panini and flatbreads in the afternoon, only to morph into a creative, Italian-inspired seafood restaurant by night. This daily transmogrification is a function, it would seem, of the restaurant's location in the front of a hair salon. This isn't quite as odd as it sounds, but it's pretty close. The Steven Paul Salon once housed a more conventional cafe before Crudo took it over, and the room isn't shared with styling chairs and hairdryers, but rather a small jewelry and clothing boutique. And though I'm firmly in the food before ambiance camp, the better place to park, I think, is out on the patio, which is where we found ourselves on an unseasonably cool June evening.

Tuna with Orange, Basil and OlivesDominic Armato

Chefs Cullen Campbell and Brandon Crouser have tag-teamed a menu that's about fifteen items long, split right down the middle between hot and cold. But the more compelling option, for me at least, is the ability to do three, four or five courses -- your pick -- at $10 apiece, making it possible to bring a companion with whom you don't mind trading plates and sample two-thirds of the menu on one pass. The top half is mostly comprised of the namesake crudi, thinly-sliced raw fish doused in olive oil and seasonings that challenge tradition but are firmly rooted, for the most part, in Mediterranean flavors. Further encouraging sharing is the fact that the crudi plates are of a fair size. Splitting a dish will still yield you 4-5 slices of fish. Seafood options are mostly absent from the bottom, cooked half of the menu, but the meats and vegetables found there are similarly Italian-inspired, again with plenty of creative twists to keep things lively.

Hiramasa with Espelette and BottargaDominic Armato

The first dish to come our way was a firm and light butterfish, topped with crispy fried lardo and oven-dried tomatoes. Consisting of nothing but cured pork fat, the lardo first crunches and then melts into the fish when you take a bite, and the oven-dried tomatoes provide a cleaner, sweeter flavor than a typical sun-dried, which always seems to completely take over any dish it's added to. Good call there. Meanwhile, my ladylove started on tuna, awash in olive oil and topped generously with orange segments, diced olives and basil. The olives -- again, a very clean-tasting variety -- gave a little salty punch without giving too much, and while the dish could have benefitted from a better piece of fish, I don't mean to cast aspersions on the quality of crudo's seafood, which was generally quite good and no less than I'd expect without getting into, no doubt, pricier territory.

Madai with Meyer Lemon and Sea BeansDominic Armato

The second wave was even a little stronger, my dish being hiramasa, a type of amberjack, done with iitois (a local allium with which I'm not yet familiar, but it could have passed for a chive), a dash of spicy espelette and a hint of grated bottarga. It's about this time that I noticed each of these crudi was introducing an element that was a little rough around the edges -- fried pork fat, briny olive, fishy bottarga -- which I rather enjoyed as a departure from the clean/tart/sweet profiles that typify most creative Asian sashimi these days. After trading dishes, I had another that followed the same pattern: generous squares of albacore with crisp green apple matchsticks, black garlic and a touch of earthy truffle. Clean, sweet and tart balanced by earthy and pungent. Another refreshing taste with a little character.

Anchovy with Roasted Baby BellsDominic Armato

Our final pass at the crudi contained what was, for me, the peak and valley of the top half of the menu. I started with the peak, the "Japanese auction" selection for the week, which was madai, a type of red snapper, dressed in a lightly sweet Meyer lemon oil, Meyer lemon rind and a scattering of sea beans, confusingly named as they aren't beans and don't grow in the sea, even if they rather taste like it. I found this to be the most delightful crudo of the evening, due in no small part to the fish which seemed a notch above the rest of the pack, even before I realized that was our "special." And though I enjoyed some more than others, the only crudo I'd be perfectly content to scratch off my list was the white anchovy with roasted bell peppers, housemade pickles and shiso. But that may be attributable to the fact that I find it hard to get excited about marinated white anchovies, which always strike me as way too heavy on the vinegar, and these were no exception.

Fegato Grasso with Polenta and DatesDominic Armato

Having shaded more heavily towards the crudi in our selections, we were forced to pass on some rather delightful-looking hot dishes, like a rolled veal breast, gnocchi with prosciutto broth and fingerling potatoes with more lardo. But I suppose you need something to go back for. I found the latter half of the menu a little more uneven, actually, including one dish that didn't quite sit well with me at all. The fegato grasso (exactly what you think it is) was served surrounded by a loose polenta and topped with honey and dates. The combination of honey and dates I found just a little too powerful for the fegato, which was lost unless I got a big chunk of it and a touch of the accompaniments, quickly leaving me with a big plate of polenta, dates and honey. But more importantly, something in the polenta clashed with the fegato... butter, I think? To my palate, they just fought each other. This dish didn't come together for me.

Mushrooms Au GratinDominic Armato

More successful was the menu's requisite umami bomb, which I'd chide as a culinary trend except for the fact that I kind of like it. "Au Gratin" is a terribly misleading way to label the mushrooms, which are, I believe, roasted with mozzarella, Grana Padano, fingerling potatoes, and a little truffle before being topped with a very loose egg. This one's not rocket science, and it may be a slave to fashion, but really, what's not to like? Slightly less trendy was a beet-stained risotto, and while "stained" might give the impression that this was a surface application, in reality it was a full-on BEET dish. A small tower of risotto was wrapped with grilled zucchini and capped with a thick slab of roasted beet and a lone basil leaf. The balsamic drizzled around struck me as unnecessary. It's easy sweetness and overused, particularly in a dish that featured enough natural sweetness to make it redundant. The risotto was done with bacon and Grana Padano, and the flavor was wonderful, even if the texture struck me as slightly off. The risotto had bite -- most important -- but it struck me as a little too loose. These are, however, minor complaints. This was a very nice dish.

Beet-Stained RisottoDominic Armato

The winner of the hot dishes for me was a brodetto alla Triestina, which bucked convention in a way that made me rather happy. Brodetto, in its origins, was a humble seafood stew, made with whatever was abundant, most often done with tomato and wine and tarted up with vinegar (I've always wanted to say that in a food context). This is usually a rustic dish, but here it's cleaned up for a night on the town. A very light interpretation, this brodetto comes across more like a pile of fish and vegetables sitting in a broth, which has its upsides and downsides. The downside is that the yellowtail, potatoes and oven-dried tomatoes, while bright, tender and delicious, somehow didn't feel fully infused with the broth's character. But then again, maybe that would have been too much. The broth carries a punch, sweet and tart and so powerful that it almost feels like an agrodolce, and yet is light and clean and doesn't leave you feeling sticky sweet. I'm a little torn. I'm not convinced the body of the "stew" couldn't be better married to the broth, but I dig that broth so much I'm pretty content with it the way it is.

Yellowtail BrodettoDominic Armato

We weren't feeling dessert that evening, though the choices sounded mostly conventional. Of course, that can fool you sometimes (I love that no matter how many people rip it off and give it flashy names, Jean-Georges still refers to it simply as "warm chocolate cake"). But we left quite satisfied. Crudo is a charming, if unconventional, little place. In general, I think the crudi are stronger than the piatti, but it's mostly a very solid menu, and I wouldn't hesitate to return. Another thing I'm trying to adjust to here is the summer lull. It's one thing to hear about how restaurants get rather quiet this time of year, and it's another thing to go to a place the Saturday after a glowing writeup from the New Times, sit for three hours and only see two other tables. But looking around the neighborhood, the quiet certainly didn't seem limited to Crudo. Frustrating as that might be, I suppose it's better that it's the season rather than the digs. But if the summer kills off as many restaurants as I've heard, Crudo deserves to be on the list of places to help through the heat. And with cool, light, raw fish dishes as their specialty, doing so certainly won't be a chore.

7045 East 3rd Avenue
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Tue8:00 AM - 8:00 PM
Wed - Sat8:00 AM - 10:00 PM


I *suppose* you could try The Salt Cellar. I mean, c'mon - it's quite literally an underground restaurant!

A bit too traditionalist for you, I think. It's very much your dad's seafood restaurant - not much haute going on here. Not a dive or shack, not trendy - just a standard seafood restaurant with a truly odd setting.

Brian... a couple of my favorite seafood dishes of the past year were my last crack at steamed crabs in Baltimore and the cioppino from a restaurant that was founded in 1849. As long as it's good, my love for the traditional is no less deep!

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