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Raw Talent

BY Brandon Matzek | November 8, 2016 | Feature Features National

Carmel Valley gets a taste of fresh Mediterranean from chef Pascal Lorange.
Crudo's golden beet carpaccio with pesto goat cheese, almonds, tomatoes and arugula

Horizontal planks of gray-washed wood, brimming with wild edibles, form the perimeter of Pascal Lorange’s latest restaurant, Crudo. Think leafy citrus trees studded with kumquats and limes nestled next to fresh basil, parsley, rosemary and thyme. Before heading into Crudo, take a moment on the pristine, palm tree-lined pathway of The Village at Pacific Highlands and treat your senses to this abundance of fresh citrus and aromatics—a little preview of the flavors to come.

The Mediterranean-inspired menu at Crudo has a sizable selection of shared plates with options for both traditional and adventurous eaters. Either way, you’ll want to start your meal with a flight of Crudotini—small toasts topped with an assortment of flavorful ingredients. Rich foie gras is paired with smoked duck breast and a sweet fig chutney while thinly sliced porchetta is coupled with a punchy green olive tapenade. The creamy lobster slaw is an exciting bite with fresh pops of apple, basil and kumquat chutney.

Raw dishes come next, with inspired pairings like salmon and blood orange, yellowfin tuna and tomato jam, and branzino and seaweed tapenade. Chef Lorange (formerly at Fig and Olive) seasons the supple slices of fresh fish with olive oil and a house salt blend flecked with lavender, rosemary, oregano, dried kumquat, black pepper and piment d’espelette.

If you prefer a cooked dish to start, try the lobster carpaccio, a vibrant celebration of blanched lobster topped with tomatoes, papaya, avocado, greens and matchsticks of tart apple. The mussels and prosecco is a subtle yet intriguing appetizer flavored with coconut, ginger and lemon grass. You’ll definitely want to tear off a piece of pain d’epi—provided at the start—to sop up the aromatic broth below. The puff pastry pizzas are also not to be missed. Unique toppings like raw tuna and prized porcini mushrooms sit atop a golden butter-infused crust with the most satisfying crispy texture.

Cocktails at Crudo are also infused with fresh herbs and citrus. The Gladiator is a grassy tequila drink that balances sweet strawberry with freshly pressed grapefruit and lime. Muddled jalapeno adds a spark of heat. The Rancho’Fe is a smokier, bourbon beverage made sweet and complex with apricot liqueur, orgeat and fresh pomelo juice.

There are many unique offerings at Crudo, including their rolls—Japanese in format, but mainly Mediterranean in flavor. The Italian-style roll has a core of rich burrata and black olive tapenade surrounded by pesto rice, nori and thinly sliced prosciutto. A smoked salmon roll is flavored with tomato, cucumber, capers, dill and sharp horseradish. Order Lorange’s sampler to get a little taste of each option.

Entrees like the grilled branzino and white truffle chicken are sure to please, but select items prepared en papillote (“in parchment”) are worth exploring first. The Crudo lobster fish soup en papillote is presented tableside sans parchment. Succulent lobster, shrimp and salmon are bathed in a rich seafood soup infused with leek, carrot and onion. Served on the side, crunchy bread slathered with saffron aioli is perfect for dipping into the aromatic broth.

The strawberry carpaccio is a sweet way to finish your meal. Rounds of ripe strawberry are topped with strawberry mint marmalade and coconut sorbet. A small glass of strawberry yogurt espuma provides a tart contrast, while a petit pistachio macaron adds a moment of airy crunch. The white chocolate cake, a dessert that chef Lorange developed when he was just 17, is stacked with luscious layers of almond cake, walnut praline, white chocolate mousse and chocolate ganache. No matter what direction the menu takes you, Crudo’s dishes are a fresh take—literally and figuratively—on San Diego’s fine dining, culinary scene.

Photography Courtesy Of: