Any chef trained in classic French cuisine will tell you that getting a recipe just right takes time.
So it's no accident that the much-heralded opening of Crudo by Pascal Lorange in Carmel Valley has become a moving target this year. The famed New York chef thought his restaurant might be ready in early 2016, then spring, then June. Now it's scheduled to open today.
Lorange, 43, said he didn't want to rush getting everything just right at his restaurant because he wants to create a signature menu and design that can travel. As he did for 10 years with the upscale national chain Fig & Olive, Lorange has plans to expand Crudo, beginning with a second outlet in December in Costa Mesa and two more in San Diego in the future.
The Belgian-born Lorange has cooked in some of Europe's finest Michelin-starred restaurants and for several international celebrities (he was singer Julio Iglesias' private chef for two years and has cooked for the Clintons, Oscar de la Renta and Princess Stephanie of Monaco). But in all his 26 years of cooking, he never had the chance to create his own name concept until now.
New York's food media were aghast when Lorange announced plans last year to launch Crudo in a San Diego strip mall. But Lorange, who splits his time between New York and a house in Carmel Valley, said the restaurant's concept is the perfect fit for the SoCal lifestyle.
Crudo is an idea he had kicking around in his head for six years before he left Fig & Olive last summer. He calls its menu a "junction between Mediterranean and Asian cuisine." The restaurant will celebrate the light, healthy, fresh produce, seafood and proteins of the West Coast with the influence of Asian spices and preparations.
Raw seafood (crudo, carpaccio, oysters, sushi) will have a prominent place on the menu, as well as his own invention, the "ricetini." The Italian-style sushi concoctions mostly feature raw fish, but they also include pesto-marinated rice, prosciutto, burrata cheese, olive oil and sun-dried tomatoes.
Lorange will introduce diners to his unusual international mélange as soon as they sit down in the 180-seat restaurant. As a free "welcome taste," guests will be brought a traditional fresh-baked pain d'epi baguette with a side of dipping tapenades you'd normally see served with sushi. The soy sauce will be blended with aged balsamic vinegar, mustard and house spices, the wasabi will include chili pastes from five countries, and the ginger will be mixed with kumquats rehydrated in garlic, cilantro and spices.
Where: Village at Highlands Ranch, 5965 Village Way, Suite 107, Carmel Valley
Phone: (858) 733-0775
Speaking of kumquats, the tiny Japanese citrus fruits are everywhere at Crudo. They're a central menu ingredient, they're growing on live fruit trees surrounding the patio, and a kumquat is depicted on the restaurant's logo. Lorange discovered the tangy fruits when he found a kumquat tree in his girlfriend Sylvie Jordain's Carmel Valley backyard. He believes the fruit symbolizes the restaurant's marriage of Asian and Californian culture.
The menus - dinner, lunch and brunch - will feature salads, soups, flatbreads on puff pastry crusts, and papillotes (proteins steamed in parchment paper and spices). Heavier fare will include a burger, fresh-made pasta, grilled seafood and lamb chops, grass-fed beef, and organic chicken breast and soy-glazed salmon. Once or twice a month he plans to offer a special with fish flown in from Nice, France.
Menu pricing is affordable, with most items $11 to $17 except heavier main courses, which are $22-$36. Lorange said he believes the era of ultraexpensive fine dining is dead, so that's reflected in his pricing and his interior design - only a small portion of the seating is "white tablecloth."
Because Carmel Valley is a family area and Lorange has a 4-year-old son, he put great care into improving the dining experience for children. Instead of getting crayons when they arrive, kids will receive a raw cookie dough animal that they can hand-decorate with sprinkles and other edibles. It will be baked and served to them after their meal. His kids menu is also unique, with items like a porcupine mac 'n' cheese (where the penne pasta is hand-positioned upright in the dish to create a spiky surface).
Lorange said he's been on the property 16 hours a day, seven days a week, for several months to fine-tune every detail of the design so it reflects from day one the brand that he envisions.
The glass windows were replaced with bifold glass doors, the Italian leather-upholstered chairs and bar stools and white oak tables were designed to his specifications, and he hand-picked the light fixtures and chandeliers from design houses in New York. Even the artwork has the Lorange touch. One set of paintings on the wall is decorated with vertical lines of the restaurant's signature spice blends glued on top.
"I've had a hand in everything right down to the very last detail, because I've been planning this for so long and I want to to reflect who I am as a chef," Lorange said. "If it takes a little more time, I'm willing to wait, because it's so important that we do things right."