Just a few days after the soft opening of Chef Pascal Lorange’s newest concept, Crudo by Pascal Lorange, we were welcomed to the grand opening party! For those who haven’t heard about Chef Pascal, he recently moved to San Diego from New York to launch this new concept. He launched his culinary career in some of Europe’s best Michelin-Star restaurants. Since 2005 he has been running the Fig & Olive restaurants on the East coast which highlight fresh ingredients prepared in a European costal style. With the launch of Crudo, Chef Pascal features Mediterranean-inspired cuisine with an Asian touch. The menu highlights local ingredients, is mostly gluten-free, and has plenty of vegetarian and vegan items.
The layout of the restaurant has an open feel with a large central bar. A huge glass case surrounds the bar’s ceiling featuring every type of liquor you can imagine. On the walls is a mixture of simple artwork and fresh produce. There’s even a small herb planter surrounding the kitchen exit. Outside there is plenty of open-air seating surrounded by planters full of herbs and small fruit trees. Every touch emphasizes the fresh and light atmosphere of the costal Mediterranean.
Upon arrival guests were greeted with glasses of a sparkling wine and kumquat slices, a very refreshing start on a warm evening. A DJ was keeping music going the whole night to set the fun and excited atmosphere. After a short wait, while guests continued to file in, the food started to be passed out. Tonight was a sampling of several regular menu items served on small crostini. First was a salmon, ricotta, herb tapenade and avocado. Followed by grilled vegetables, Goat cheese and pesto. Then, a Shrimp, fennel, and tomato-basil sauce. Lastly our favorite crostini, Foie Gras, smoked duck breast, fig chutney, scallions and soy balsamic. These were some very tasty bites that came around several times during the evening. Normally they will be part of the Ricetini menu items and served on a pressed rice block instead of the crostini here.
The next dish was a warm Lobster soup. This had so much delicious shellfish flavor, balanced out with a little spice and cream. Shortly following the soup was another menu item, the Mussels and Prosecco. They are cooked with onion, celery, and lemongrass broth then finished with coconut, ginger, white balsamic and a splash of Prosecco. Both of these dishes were excellent, and in their miniature form, just not enough of a good thing!
The last two Crostini that came around were: short rib, gorgonzola, hazelnut and apple slivers followed by Prosciutto, ricotta, dates and scallions. The chicken croquette served with roasted granny smith apple and olive oil dip was surprisingly light and paired very well with its tart dip. A beef carpaccio with simple Pecorino cheese, tomato, walnut oil and aged balsamic was one of the least fussy and delicious of its type we’ve had. No need for anything but fresh and bright ingredients to highlight the main attraction.
In the front corner of the restaurant, proudly on display was an entire leg of Jamon Iberico. This is the Spanish take on cured ham, versus its Italian counterpart, Prosciutto de Parma. A skillful worker was delicately shaving thin slices of ham for hours until it was nothing but a bone! After dozens of little serving dishes, the Jamon was just piled onto plates and people casually took a portion every time they walked by.
The last of the passed dishes was a trio of cooked delights. A chicken tajine with raisin, fennel, carrot, olive, tomato, Cipollini onions, garlic and escabeche spices had tender and juicy chicken balanced by the tart vegetables. Then a Chilean sea bass, seared off on one side and cooked to perfection over a bed of potato confit, asparagus, leek, heirloom carrot, green olives and herb tapenade was unbelievably light and delicate. The last of this bunch was our favorite of the menu items served and one you can’t miss when you eat here, the Lamb tajine. The lamb was so tender and lacking of any gamey flavors whatsoever, and cooked with bell pepper, apricot, carrot, onion, eggplant, tomato, celery and hawayej spices. Around this time we noticed people starting to congregate in one of the outdoor corners near the entrance.
Chef Pascal had made his way out of the main kitchen and together with another chef-friend of his began making an enormous seafood Paella. The huge Paella pan was sitting over a large outdoor ring of burners as the two chefs began stirring the base of the Paella, a saffron-infused tomato sauce. Then came the rice by the bucketload, followed by shrimp, calamari, fish and muscles. Then the whole pan, smelling incredible at this point was covered in foil to steam and cook for an agonizing 40 minutes. When it was finally opened, the crowd once again gathered to feast on the Paella. The rice had taken on all of the flavor and spices, and was fuller of flavor than any Paella I can remember! This was the perfect dish to end a spectacular launch event for Pascal’s new endeavour in San Diego.