Arctic char crudo.
Uni and avocado toast.
The raw bar.
I've been a fan of ~BAR CRUDO~ since the day it opened on Bush Street back in 2005. I mean, come on, their chowder is legendary. But brothers Mike and Tim Selvera decided to move their beloved seafood outpost to Divisadero Street, and I think we're all a happier bunch for it: there's a longer bar you can perch at, the bigger kitchen means new hot dishes, the expanded wine list is on fire (plus there are even more of Tim's choice beers in the bottle and on tap), and there are more tables. Yup, it's an excellent 2.0.
The vibe is rock 'n' roll raw bar, with Led Zep in the mix, cool (and friendly) servers, a tattooed crew in the open kitchen, funky handmade light fixtures, handcrafted tables, an original mural from Kelly Tunstall, and an overall easygoing (but professional) attitude. The coveted seats are at the long bar overlooking the open kitchen (great for a date), and there's a back mezzanine that has a table for larger groups or those who want to be a bit more low profile.
If you're into raw seafood, this is the place to get it, since chef Mike is fastidious about his purveyors. Everything is so fresh--nothing ever smells fishy. Someday I want to celebrate with one of the grand platters of seafood (oysters, shrimp, mussels, clams, crab, lobster; $40/$80)--the arrangement of seafood on ice behind the bar certainly tempts. In the meantime, of course you'll want to start with a plate of briny oysters, like creamy Coromandels from New Zealand, or a kiss of Kusshi ($2.50 ea.).
Consultant Alex Fox's clever wine list will insure you have all kinds of things to pair with your oysters, like the lemony-brioche Dehours "Grande Reserve" Extra Brut. These bubbles can escort you nicely into your next course--which should probably be a selection of crudos, and in this case, one of them needs to be the Arctic char. It's a classic here: beautifully rosy cubes of fish, topped with the snap of horseradish cream, the crackle of tobiko, and the pop of wasabi.
Let's just make this clear: you're going to have a hard time choosing from the list of crudos, which can feature up to seven options a night. The combinations are all about studies in flavor, texture, and balance. Fortunately, you can choose a sampler of four for $12, or eight for $23. It's exciting to try all these different combos--it kind of reminds me of the first few times I started ordering maki at Japanese restaurants, many years ago (but as far as sushi is concerned, I have since gone back to being a nigiri purist).
I was blown away with the rich tombo tuna, paired with diced pear, a pomegranate reduction, and a fine Microplane grating of hazelnut on top. Hazelnut and tuna, who knew? The silky butterfish with olive, a mix of blood orange and cara cara vinaigrette, micro shiso, and nutty black garlic was another one toying with elements of acidity and texture. And the Rhode Island fluke in a spicy and minty coconut milk (with a crispy 4505 chicharron on top) is full of personality. The kitchen is not afraid to play around, to much success, and the seasons end up adding their own spin on the combinations.
There are a couple classic and beloved salads on the menu, like the San Sebastian ($13), a cousin to a Niçoise salad, with tuna confit, white asparagus, soft-centered egg, roasted red peppers, olives, caper berries, Manchego, and tomato bread. The lobster and burrata salad ($17) is another one that freaks people out in theory (cheese and lobster?) until they have a few bites. Uh huh. The salad comes with beets in the winter and tomatoes in the summer, plus mache, pistachios, and a Banyuls vinaigrette that brings it all together. The lobster meat hit a bland note on one visit, but I usually dig the mysterious umami in this salad.
And another classic is the chowder ($7/$14): a creamy, feisty bowl of decadence that has all kinds of tender shellfish inside (nary a rubbery bite in the bunch), chunks of potato, and of course, bacon. I would never even try to share this dish. Get your own, buddy.
Shall we talk about the dish I can't get out of my mind? Yes, let's. How about pieces of plump and briny uni (sea urchin), languorously placed on pieces of toast that are hit with a swath of avocado and a spritz of sudachi? It's magical. The side salad of herbs, frisée, and tangles of radicchio keeps things bright. And the $10 price point means you can come back for it every week once you're hooked on this evil dish. Wait until you try it with the Petit Manseng, Charles Hours Jurançon "Clos Uroulat" 2006, a pretty and perfect pairing.
Since the kitchen is larger (the last location only had a Holly Hobbie-sized stove), you'll now be able to take your pick from a variety of hot dishes, like the French bistro-inspired Idaho red trout ($17), served deboned, with fingerling potatoes and a violet mustard beurre rouge; or hamachi collar ($13) with oyster mushrooms, rainbow chard, and spicy mustard oil (an ingredient I fell in love with in Australia).
The Louisiana Gulf prawns that chef Mike gets flown in daily are literally fresh off the boat, and the kitchen honors them by cooking them juuuuust right. The latest incarnation is a dish with the prawns over a bed of South Carolina grits cooked with lobster stock (genius), plus chorizo, chicory salad with an orange vinaigrette, and the final punch of smoky chorizo oil ($15).
Things keep improving here--my meal back in September had a few missteps here and there (seasoning, temperature), but my most recent meal was quite on point. I just wish the bread was better--I want some chewy and crusty sourdough.
This place famously doesn't serve dessert, but the artisan cheese plate ($15) is a satisfying finish, paired with seasonal fruit, nuts, honey, and walnut bread. Or if you're game, you can also get set up with a "dessert beer," something dark, caramel-y, and coffee-like. (Or if you really have to have something sweet, there's Candy Bar just a few blocks away, serving all kinds of sweet treats.)
And brother/partner Tim is crazy in love with beer, so you're going to be hard pressed to decide between the total overflow of liquid possibilities here, both by the bottle and on draft. He's a maniac for suds. One recommendation is to come during happy hour (Mon-Fri 5pm-6:30pm), when you can score great beer and wine specials, plus select $1 oysters, $5 chowder, and $8 fish tacos (for two). Viva happy hour!