New location as of May 16, 2009:
655 Divisadero Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
Chef Mike Selvera
Dinner Monday through Saturday
Tried: April 2006 (Former location)
603 Bush Street
San Francisco, CA 94109
Bar Crudo can be described as a dressed-up version of Swan Oyster Depot or a Westernized version of a sushi bar. This tiny two-story restaurant, located next to the Tunnel Top, has a raw bar on the first floor and tables on the second floor, with several large modern art-like renditions of jellyfish hanging over the wrought iron staircase. The place exudes casual chic in both the atmosphere and the food. Given that crudos and seafood courses are generally my favorite parts of a tasting menu, dining at Bar Crudo is like getting to pick out and eat just the cookie dough chunks from a carton of vanilla ice cream. Maybe someone will next open an all foie gras restaurant or an all french fry restaurant!
The short menu, consisting of cold (oysters, clams, shrimp, crab, lobster, and raw fish preparations) and hot (chowder, mussels, seared scallops) seafood, is well conceived and well executed. The affordable wine list is similarly well thought-out and surprisingly extensive, with two sparkling wines, ten whites, and seven reds, most of which are available by the glass as well as by the bottle. The restaurant also offers twenty different beers, including a large variety of Belgian beers. I ordered a bottle of 2004 Verdejo and watched the chef rapidly and expertly shuck oysters, without any gloves or hand towels. Similar to a sushi restaurant, the best seats are at the bar where you can check out the action.
I ordered all of the crudos on the menu, including the Ono which was the special for the evening, and finished with the sherry duck liver mousse. It was one of the most refreshing and satisfying meals I could recall. The menu is very well priced, particularly given the quality and quantity of the seafood offerings: oysters at $2 each, each crudo plate between $9-$12, with the priciest item being the large seafood platter comprised of a dozen oysters, half a dozen clams, shrimp, and mussels, 1/2 crab, and 1/2 lobster for $65.
Of the crudos, my favorite was the Ono topped with enoki mushrooms, daikon sprouts, and tobiko, with a citrus vinaigrette. Micro-thin slices of fresh red jalapeno and droplets of sriracha sauce decorating the platter added a kick of spice to the fresh and meaty white fish, while the bright orange miniature pearls of tobiko provided saltiness as well as a satisfying tapioca-like texture that complemented the refreshing crunch of the green sprouts and the long delicate white mushrooms. I also quite enjoyed the arctic char. Scoops of tobiko turned green by the addition of wasabi topped the pieces of soft yellow-orange arctic char smothered with creamy horseradish, reminiscent of lox and cream cheese. I was less crazy about the sprigs of fresh dill on top as I found them a bit overpowering, but they were easy to remove. Another type of tobiko, this time flavored with habanero, topped the black bass crudo. Because the blood oranges were not fully ripe, they ended up being somewhat bitter. Nonetheless, they provided nice acidity and the bitterness was masked by the hard boiled quail eggs that came with the bass.
The last two crudos were tuna and scallops. The large cubes of yellowfin tuna were as substantial as rare beef, and the ginger, soy, and sesame oil flavoring reminded me of spicy teriyaki, particularly with the thin julienned strips of scallions on top. The raw scallops with orange, fennel, olive, and mint was the only combination that I thought was not quite as successful as the others, as the delicate flavor of the scallops got lost in this otherwise tasty and novel flavor combination. I did, however, appreciate how fresh the scallops were.
Bar Crudo does not serve dessert, but the sherry duck liver mousse could be the next best thing. (For people who prefer savory to sweet like myself, it really is the best dessert on the planet.) The small white ramekin of creamy and nutty whipped foie gras, drizzled with sweet sherry, was the height of decadence. Smeared on thick grilled bread, with a side of pungent cornichons and pickled espelette peppers, it was a fabulous end to a great meal, made all the better by its reasonable prices.