The other day my friend Tom and I were talking about all the raw fish appetizers we've been seeing on menus lately. He mused, "What's the difference between crudo and sashimi?" I thought about it for a few seconds. "Olive oil," I said.
Actually, it's not that far from the truth. Sashimi is the Japanese approach to simple raw fish, often as simple as a few slices of the fish with or without the traditional backdrop of shredded daikon radish and maybe a shiso leaf. Some versions come with a dipping sauce involving a citrusy tang.
"Crudo" means "raw" in Italian. That country's counterpart to simple Japanese sashimi is a few slices of raw fish drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of crunchy sea salt.
Either way, it's a great way to start a meal. You're probably not going to open a special bottle of wine to go with it, but if you're having a glass of Champagne, either sashimi or crudo makes a perfect something on the plate to go with it. Other wines do well, too, as we shall see.
Crudo hit the American consciousness several years ago in New York when celebrity chef Mario Batali installed a crudo bar at his then-new restaurant Esca. The simple application of Mediterranean flavors to a few slices of raw seafood fascinated the restaurant's patrons, showed off the fresh white wines available by the glass from Friuli, Collio and Alto Adige, and the idea seeped into the upscale American diner's vocabulary. Now you can't open an ambitious Italian menu without seeing crudo.
Heck, you can't open any serious restaurant's menu without finding raw fish on the top line of the first course listings. As a longtime sushi and sashimi man, I love it.
Even if it's not on the menu, it could come as what the French call an amuse-bouche, a little pre-appetizer from the chef. Last night at Quince in San Francisco, chef Michael Tusk sent out a pristine slice of local halibut folded over a little bed of yellow watermelon slices, anointed with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt. Yummy with a glass of Prosecco (my wife's choice) or Tocai Friulano (mine).
Lately, I've been impressed with several raw-fish first courses. At Aqua, which is serving better food than it ever has, chef Laurent Manrique arranged a row of square-shaped slices of rich hamachi belly (the yellowtail equivalent of toro), separating them with spoonfuls of tiny fresh shiitake slices and tapioca cooked with fish broth and yuzu (a Japanese citrus). The tapioca tasted like some close cousin to caviar. Brilliant stuff, and ideal with the minerally, apricot-scented Zind-Humbrecht Riesling Heimbourg 2002.
At Ame, chef Hiro Sone called upon his sashimi and crudo bar to add sea grapes and Meyer lemon to the extra virgin olive oil and sea salt over five generous slices of sea bream. Annie's Lane Riesling 2005 from Australia's Clare Valley provided a nifty counterpart from the glass.
Bar Crudo, the new hole-in-the-wall seafood joint with great food (and virtually no wine list, a surprise in San Francisco), offers a raw-fish lover a fine assortment. You can get a plate with all four of the regular-menu crudo dishes for less than 20 bucks. But my favorite was a plate of four long strips of white albacore, nestled together and flavored with chives and lemon-flavored olive oil. Melville Chardonnay Santa Rita Hills 2004 was just the right weight for it.
Not surprisingly, the Italian approach, with its Mediterranean flavors, seems to work better with a greater variety of wines. With the Japanese style I like Champagne or a fine lager. What about you? What revelations have you experienced with raw fish and wine?
Danapat Promphan — Bangkok, Thailand — June 6, 2006 2:15pm ET
Hector Almeida — NY — June 6, 2006 3:06pm ET
Chris Seiber — Newport Beach, CA — June 6, 2006 8:01pm ET
Michael Mock — West Des Moines, IA — June 6, 2006 8:20pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — June 6, 2006 8:52pm ET
Jeffrey Ghi — New York — June 6, 2006 11:41pm ET
William Landreth — Irving, TX — June 7, 2006 11:03am ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — June 7, 2006 11:18am ET
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