Crane & Turtle
Dinner & A Show
Petworth's Upshur Street is on fire in DC. Joining the likes of this Japanese must-try Crane & Turtle are Slash Run, the Hitching Post, Alex McCoy's anticipated Southeast Asian restaurant and Petworth Citizen to name a few. I have been chomping at the bit to try Crane & Turtle and I was pleasantly surprised by the experience.
Although the restaurant has only 25 seats, the staff were graciously accommodating to me and my boyfriend with no reservations. To my surprise, we were even able to sit at the bar overlooking the open kitchen! That's my kind of dinner and a show. We enjoyed some cocktails while gazing into the kitchen, where three chefs were completely submersed in concentration. The attention to detail in every dish is a marvel to watch. Super sharp knives thinly slicing fresh fish, small pots and pans heating elements that are made-to-order for each and every dish - I was in a state of euphoria, my eyes filled with wonder.
It was difficult to choose items from the menu, which was small - not overwhelming. A menu that is bound like a novel scares me, and also makes me wonder how well each dish is executed if there are 100 items on it. We were given some helpful recommendations from our server, Guillem, and were on our way to a delightful fish supper.
First up: Hamachi Tataki - hay smoked tuna with a bundle of micro radish sprouts, garlic chips, drops of miso cured egg yolk, and nuta dressing - a sauce of spring onions, sweetened miso and tuna. The smokiness of the thinly sliced tuna was reminiscent in flavor and texture to smoked pork tenderloin, which was a common theme throughout the meal. The richness of the fatty nuta dressing was a sinful accompaniment to the tuna that coated my mouth and left me wanting more. However, it seemed a little over cooked for me and I missed the cold, raw element of traditional hamachi.
I usually only write about my favorite bites of each meal, but every bite was so unique and surprising that I have to tell you about them all.
I was giddy with anticipation about the "Tako Wasabi.” Shaved octopus and fennel, a fried takoyaki ball, mountain wasabi jus, and orange oil. Tender, refreshing, spicy, ::sigh::. What could possibly go wrong with this dish? Nothing. I have a slight obsession with octopus and this citrus marinated shaved preparation was delightful. So tender and bright, with a fluffy, crispy Tako ball adorning the top like the star atop a Christmas tree - it was a struggle to share that tempura temptation with my boyfriend. The wasabi jus was intense but tolerable. It took me almost to the point of a nosebleed, but in the best way. Addicting and light.
I was never really full after each course, so the excitement for each new dish was genuine and welcome. The Szechuan style Ton Toro was another dish that not only looked like pork, it ate like pork too. The illusion was heightened with the discovery of the mystery ingredient: confit pork jowl, carefully paired with mapo shiitakes that were meaty and umami - a scrumptious segue from the light and delicate first courses.
My favorite bite was the “Finnan Haddie.” Sautéed halibut with smoked haddock, harekei turnips, haricots verts and coco beans. This dish was basically an insanely elegant chowder. The smoked haddock playing the part of bacon, flaky halibut pan seared and bathed in butter and swimming in a shallow pool of cream and baby vegetables. I ate this in about 10 seconds and could have eaten eight more bowls.
My boyfriend tried the Goan Brook Trout Vindaloo with eggplant, potatoes, almond ricotta, and a banyuls gastrique - a french dessert wine reduced to a syrupy sauce. Many of these "Japanese" dishes give a nod to classic preparations of Italian and French cooking. It was simple and tasty with a hint of spice, and fresh greens to add some bitterness and brightness. Not the most memorable dish, but certainly not bad.
We had reached the dessert round of our Crane & Turtle experience, and I must stay I was still kind of hungry. I am not a regular dessert eater, but was eager to fill my belly. We tried the Shichimi Ice Cream Sandwich - two layers of chocolate cake, with a layer of chocolate ice cream in between and then dipped in chocolate. Served with "milk chocolate bubbles," a line of cayenne and dark chocolate crumbles. It was great - I love chocolate and cayenne together, it really cuts the cloying sweetness of the decadent chocolate in the best way.
All in all it was a great experience with a wonderful ambiance, an engaging show of skills from the open kitchen, and lovely staff, who were eager to please. I was intrigued by every bite of food, curiously contemplating the elements of each bite, and anticipating what was coming next. I would love to return for the brand new Tuesday Ramen Project.
However, I left a little hungry. It's tough to fill up on such small portions, while being financially responsible. I went home and ate a sleeve of graham crackers.