Raw fish is swimming on menus in San Francisco

The port city of San Francisco, where eaters obsess over omakase and ceviche, is a city that loves fish. But now we’re spotting a fresh craving: there’s a new school of crudo appearing on high-end restaurant menus. And we’re not talking about a single hamachi crudo in the appetizer section or a single raw scallop before a prix fixe, but entire menus or menu sections dedicated to the crisp flavors and delicate textures of raw fish. “San Francisco is a city that eats so much raw fish,” says chef Daniel Evers. “There are so many fancy sushi menus. So why not crudo?


Evers is the chef at Itria, this new cal-Italian restaurant that opened last summer in the Mission, where crudo makes up half the menu, balancing out the rich pasta. He, like all the chefs interviewed for this story, says that’s just how he likes to eat these days. “Raw fish is a great way to whet the palate,” says Evers. “It’s clean and sour. It wakes you up. And even in raw fish there is so much variation. It can be lean or fat. There are different levels of saltiness and sweetness. Itria has half a dozen crudos on the menu, with a goal of increasing to 10 or more. Diners explore these few different ways: snack on one or two; try one of everything; or do the new tasting menu, which is mostly crudo and some pasta.

Serving raw fish is deceptively simple, and Evers treats his fish lightly in a number of different ways, borrowing from Italian and Japanese techniques. The amberjack receives a quick salt cure and a vinegar rinse, before being thinly sliced ​​across the grain and finished with salsa de pane – finely toasted focaccia crumbs and citrus fruits dipped in olive oil. Ligurian olive. Greasy rainbow trout glides through an ice-filled smoker, then is topped with crunchy radishes, bright serrano and caviar-like hints of lime. The kombu cure is the most complicated, piling firm white sea bream between sheets of hard seaweed, and sometimes the kitchen preserves shells, so even though the spot prawns are raw and sweet, they’re laced with that distinct flavor.

Fantastic raw fish

Patricia Chang

At Fantastique, the new fish slash wine bar in Hayes Valley, the Bird Dog crew is also diving deep into the realm of raw fish. “It’s my preferred method of consumption – white wine and raw fish,” says chef Robbie Wilson. “I could eat it every day. It’s stripped down and clean. It is the purest expression of fish. Its menu defies categorization somewhat, as the gourmet chef takes his favorite raw dish and turns it into a complete experience. “You can call it whatever you want. I’m not offended,” Wilson said. “But it’s not sashimi, it’s not crudo, it’s just raw fish.”

Le Fantastique serves seven or eight different types of raw fish, caught in the Pacific, from the lightest fish to the oiliest salmon. The restaurant has a temperature-controlled room where the fish hang their tails until they reach “appetizing” textures, says Wilson. He dips trout in beeswax, seals it in floral flavor, before folding it into a sheet of tart sorrel; he encases the rich opah in animal fat and ages it for two months, turning it into a ham with a smoked vinegar finish. Compared to a rustic Sicilian plate with onion chunks, which Wilson also likes, the knife work is finer and the citrus comes in droplets or even atomizers. If it sounds like fancy fish snacks for a supposedly cold wine bar, diners appreciate it. Wilson reports that some tables order every plate, and those who start with a few invariably come back for more.

Meanwhile, at Sorella in Nob Hill, this new little sister bar to the Acquerello team, there’s just one star crudo on the menu, though it anchors a fish snack section. Chef Denise St. Onge serves up a fun menu of cicchetti, or small dishes, and seafood takes center stage. “San Francisco is a seafood city, and many of our quintessential Italian-American dishes are seafood-focused,” she says. The team also took into account how people eat and socialize differently these days, and wanted to come up with smaller, lighter bites. “Crudo is still so good to eat,” she says. “It’s not a heavy presence. We are still planning to have one on the menu.

St. Onge serves a hiramasa trevally from Australia, similar to amberjack or yellowtail, which she brines, dries and thinly slices, and garnishes with Sicilian olive oil and three forms of citrus: charred cara cara and blood oranges appear in both gel and powder form, and a crisp fried citrus zest takes over. “I look complicated, but it’s not,” insists the chef. She reports the crudo to be a hit, though the kushi oysters topped with sea beans and limes also pop, as well as her personal favorite razor clams with crispy breadcrumbs and octopus with charred suckers from the grill.

Trio of crudos at Penny Roma

Patricia Chang

Penny Roma, the latest addition to the Flour + Water group, also offers an enticing trio of crudos, and at nearby Ernest, a raw section variously calls sashimi and carpaccio dishes. Of those examples, there seems to be a preponderance of foodie dudes into it, so there might be some tweeze-bending going on. But even so, diners seem to be eating it. So what’s with all the fancy fish snacks? Did we emerge from the quarantine pizza delivery haze craving something fresh? Is it possible that we got tired of canned fish and switched to raw fish?

Perhaps, these leaders have allowed. But above all, it seems like a sea change in the way chefs and diners like to eat these days. “That’s how I like to eat when I go out,” says St. Onge. “You can mix and match, and have a little feast – without overdoing it.”

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