The Gist: http://crudoaz.com/
The Why: Helmed by Chef Cullen Campbell and highly praised by local palates I respect Crudo seems to have all the things I’d hope for in a local restaurant; high quality sourcing, a strong sense of community, and a unique but focused menu – in this case raw seafood, hand pulled mozzarella, and house-made pastas.
The Reservation: Opentable. Even on a Saturday night the space was only ~3/4 full and arriving nearly an hour early a seat was easily accomidated, first at a two-top but subsequently moved to the communal table at my request because I couldn’t imagine sitting next to the couple at my left for another minute, let alone hour.
The Setting: Kind of a cool spot, heavily wooded with painted brick walls, a lot of green, and glass baubles containing lights above and candles on the table. With one communal table at center and two-to-four tops around the edges plus a bar to the left on entry the location behind a non-descript strip mall is unquestionably low budget yet at the same time comfortable and welcoming.
The Service: …to say my service at Crudo was perfunctory would be an understatement. Beginning first with kitchen timing; a 25 minute delay between course 2 and 3 (from pick-up to delivery) with my waitress stopping by twice to say it would ‘be right out’ is poor form. Additionally, while speaking of my waitress, considering the fact that I was obviously interested in the food it would have been nice if she acted more interested in me as a diner – instead she did not inquire even once as to how I enjoyed a dish and asking questions felt more like attempting to drag forth information while she instead spent time describing the menu at length to a needy woman who wanted all her dressing on the side and modifications to myriad dishes. Perhaps I’m a bit presumptuous here, but if someone is there (with, or without a camera) dining solo they are clearly there because they are passionate about the food and if a server chooses to ignore that it is evidence that he or she cannot read a diner and thus should not be in that position – particularly when the other servers were engaging their tables between each course and even brought the Chef out to say hello.
The food: 5-course Prix-Fixe $55, $12 Dessert, $7 Pigs Ears (listed online as $5.) No bread service, no extras.
Crispy Pig Ears – chili vinaigrette: Setting the tempo early, this dish is all about flavor and while the texture is largely that of the crackling pork ears and chewy cartilage within the flavor is a bit sweet, a bit sour, a lot of heat and a lot of porky sapor. Can’t say I ‘get’ the price discrepancy (or why it is so difficult for restaurants in general to update their online menu) but this is a good choice at $5 or $7.
Butterfish – tomato, lardo, arugula: Call me crazy, but I don’t really get the fuss over this dish; sure the smooth texture and mild flavor of the fish are conducive to the overall flavor arc, but with the lardo shaved particularly thin and the oven-dried tomatoes quite intense there simply was not much here that could not have been achieved with a bit of salt and fresh sliced tomato; the flavor something akin to a bland BLT and the arugula not particularly notable at all.
Grilled Mozzarella – tomato, grilled date, basil: For my money the best savory course of the night – a strong compliment considering the fact that a lot of the food was quite good – this was simple and intense, each ingredient packing serious flavor and all brought into harmony by the smoky warm mozzarella. Served with olive oil brushed grilled bread I’ll note here that if you desire more than a single skimpy slice (with this, or with any other course) you should ask well in advance, and if you have my server ask twice as it is likely to be forgot.
Mushroom – mozzarella, truffle, egg: I love eggs, but the overcooked white and half-set yolk in this dish really added nothing to the earthy amalgam of mushrooms and mozzarella. Texturally accented by toasted brioche and meeting with a hefty drizzle of truffle oil (I do not believe any actual truffle was harmed in the making of this dish) this was without a doubt the most texturally interesting savory of the evening and although I only received another slice of bread after the remaining juices had turned cool I still wiped this one clean before sending it back to the kitchen.
Risotto – Squid Ink, Chili, Tuna, Tomato: Apparently a bit of a signature dish at Crudo (and the only one my server would offer an opinion on aside from ‘everything is really good’) I must say that although I’ve had better risotto in terms of texture, the balance of flavors here was really something else – a subtle sweetness from the tomatoes melding beautifully with light heat from the chilis and the confit tuna’ bold flavor standing up admirably in the face of the slightly gummy rice.
Porkbelly – smoked tomato agrodolce: Fatty and funky with crackly skin resting atop toothsome and creamy polenta this was pork belly as it should be and showing a deft hand with tomatoes for the fourth of my five prix-fixe courses the smoked reduction here cut the fat perfectly – simply a great dish and a surprisingly large portion.
Apple Frangipane Tarte: Outsourcing their desserts to Tracy Dempsey Originals I knew the quality here would be high and with a boring sounding panna cotta vs. a potted Tiramisu that looked quite good as my other options the tarte was a clear winner – the crust a dense shortbread and the filling a rich but light almond paste with caramel roasted apples topped off with a bit of whipped cream. While I personally think any self-respecting restaurant of this caliber should be making their desserts in house it would be hard to quibble with choosing Ms. Dempsey who is now 4 for 4 in my book.
The Verdict: Ringing in at nearly $100 after tax and tip I walked out of Crudo with mixed emotions on almost everything; the food was good and sometimes great yet at other times flawed and featuring redundant flavors throughout the night while the service was competent – we’ll leave it at that. In an interesting turn of events, having booked through Opentable the team at Crudo additionally opts to send diners a survey of the night afterward and when asked for my opinion I gave it – a response e-mail returning a few hours later from GM Maureen McGrath stating “We are truly sorry for the lack of attention that you did not recieve while dining here. We want everyone to feel comfortable and welcomed at our establishment. We hope that you do return and let us show you a wonderful time from start to finish. If you do return please call and ask for me as I would like to personally apologize. Thank you for your comments regarding your experience as it helps us evolve as a business.” Aside from the typos I appreciate the sentiments and maybe at some point I’ll go back, but at this price point there is a lot of good eating to be done in Phoenix and I can’t say I’m in a rush to return.