by Wendy Lemlin
In Italy and Spain, “crudo” means raw, and, while several of the dishes served at Crudo by Pascal Lorange are centered around raw fish or beef, the name also accurately implies the light touch and fresh ingredients Chef Lorange uses in preparing his culinary creations. You could call his style “Mediterrasian”, rooted in Mediterranean cuisine, but expressing itself with an Asian/Japanese accent. Or, in Lorange’s own words, “I cook what I love to eat. I am trying to bring something fresh to San Diego—Crudo is about my passion for the traditional cuisine from the Mediterranean coast, executed with Japanese-inspired fusions. I love authentic, yet delightful ingredients, with simple presentations.”
Lorange opened Crudo last summer in Carmel Valley’s The Village at Pacific Highlands Ranch complex. Born and raised in Belgium, the third-generation chef launched his culinary career in the kitchens of some of Europe’s most distinguished Michelin-star restaurants. He traveled the world as personal chef for singer Julio Iglesias, cooking for celebrities and luminaries, and became further known during his 10 year tenure with Fig & Olive Restaurants, which he helped create. He and his French-born wife, Sylvie Jourdan, designed Crudo’s sophisticated, contemporary interior. Sleekly white with vibrant splashes of color—think of a wall arranged with numerous small shelves, each one holding a perfect, deep red pomegranate or bright orange mini pumpkin— the decor successfully echoes the style of the menu offerings: serious, flavorful food that keeps it light and engaging. And, by light I mean, as in Asian food, there is no cream or butter in anything except the desserts! A meal at Crudo leaves you feeling comfortably satisfied, but not food coma bound. Most of the offerings are gluten-free, and there are sufficient choices for vegans and vegetarians. There’s nothing pretentious here, in either ambience or culinary experience, just high quality food, artfully presented.
Most of the seasonally changing menu at Crudo falls into the “small plate/tapas” category, great for sampling and sharing a variety of tastes and textures, especially when dining with friends, as I did. Just be forewarned—they all sound pretty amazing and the temptation to order many is almost irresistible—-and the prices, ranging from about $14- $28 each, add up quickly!
An example of the “Mediterrasian” concept is found in the trio of dipping sauces served with many of the dishes. A take on the classic soy sauce, pickled ginger and wasabi that usually accompanies sushi in a Japanese restaurant, Chef Lorange’s version includes dishes of soy sauce combined with balsamic vinegar and spices, candied kumquat with olive oil, cilantro and ginger, and a five-spice harissa and wasabi sauce.
The dipping sauces are a fitting accent to the Crudo Mediterranean Rolls—resembling the familiar sushi rolls, but with such fillings as Prosciutto di Parma & Burrata in pesto rice with olive tapenade, arugula, nori, tomato, and balsamic olive oil emulsion, or Smoked Duck Breast & Foie Gras with fig jam, caramelized mushrooms, onion marmalade and kumquat chutney.
See? Mediterranean ingredients with a Japanese presentation!
The first section of the dinner menu features Crudotinis. These savory crispy ciabatta rounds sport a variety of toppings, including the shrimp with fennel and tomato basil sauce, the smoky grilled vegetables with goat cheese pesto, and a super creamy buratta with tomatoes and sundried potato pesto. At my recent dinner, my favorite Crudotini was topped by a very well balanced salmon ceviche with ricotta, herb tapenade and avocado. With a total of eight toppings, you can choose three for $10 or six for $18.
Yes, Crudo serves several crudos, and on the night I dined, raw choices included salmon or beef tartare, and a shrimp ceviche for $14 each. A great option is the Crudo Tasting for $19, with a trio of tuna, branzino, and salmon.
And then there are the Carpaccios—thinly sliced morsels of deliciousness featuring beets, seafood or beef and priced from $14-$17. The tender, super-fresh yellowfin tuna we enjoyed immensely was topped with shaved artichoke, arugula, and truffle balsamic. The artichokes added a pleasing acidity that played well with the earthy umami of the truffle accents in the balsamic.
From the appetizer menu, I went for the Mussels & Prosecco. Instead of the very European wine and garlic broth I would usually expect, these mussels were bathed in an amazing broth redolent of lemongrass, onion and celery, with hints of coconut and ginger. The $14 dish conjured up tropical nights on a beach in southeast Asia, and opening each mussel felt like unwrapping a precious gift.
My friend and I also shared an entrée, choosing the house special that evening. The roasted whole striped sea bass was delightfully moist yet flaky, with an enticing aroma and flavor resulting from the fresh herbs with which it was stuffed. Accompanying the fish on the plate was a serving of wilted spinach snazzied up with garlic and almonds.
Desserts at Crudo are a mandatory indulgence. Even including all the butter and cream that are completely absent in the rest of the menu, the desserts still manage an airiness that made me seriously tempted to lick the plate. None are cloyingly sweet and each one I sampled had interesting elements of flavor and texture. In fact, I wish I could just jump in a big vat of the Chocolate Pot de Crème and paddle around with my mouth open. Creamy chocolate caramel mousse topped with a fluffy layer of house-made vanilla whipped cream—yes, it was as good as it sounds. The Meyer Lemon Tart isn’t a tart so much as a small cup of perfectly crisped phyllo dough filled with a vibrant, saucy lemon custard, accompanied by dollop of kumquat ice cream that harmonized beautifully with the citrus/sweet compilation. Lorange’s enticing interpretation of a Mille Feuille, the classic French pastry, features luscious strawberry cream with just a hint of mint, and fresh raspberries atop and between the thinnest of crispy pastry wafers.
Speaking of desserts, kids who dine with their parents at Crudo are given a raw cookie to decorate with all kinds of goodies when they first sit down. During the dinner the cookie is baked, and the kids can enjoy it with a scoop of ice cream at the end of the meal.
For those who want to learn how to cook like Pascal Lorange, cooking classes for both kids and adults are given every couple of weeks.
Crudo by Pascal Lorange is open daily for lunch and dinner, as well as brunch on weekends. Chef Lorange plans to open a second location in Costa Mesa in March. Will there be more restaurants in the future? “I honestly don’t know,” the chef answers. “It’s important to me to balance work and my life with my family. So, probably not too many other restaurants.”
San Diego should consider itself very fortunate to have Lorange’s flagship restaurant right here.
Crudo by Pascal Lorange
The Village at Pacific Highland Ranch
5965 Village Way Suite E 107
San Diego, CA 92130 858-847-2797