Bar Crudo is one of my favorite restaurants in San Francisco. Jack and I developed an expensive habit of frequenting this restaurant back when we lived in the NoPa (North Panhandle) neighborhood from 2009-2014. Bar Crudo is a fabulous neighborhood spot with a killer happy hour ($1 oysters, $4 beers, $6 wine), incredibly fresh and sustainable seafood, a lengthy beer menu (including several sour beers), and arguably the best seafood chowder in San Francisco.
You’ll want to make a reservation in advance if you don’t feel like waiting a good while for a table or a spot at the counter. You can usually grab a decent reservation with just a couple days notice, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to snag a same-day reservation (you can also expect to wait in line if you show up for their popular happy hour which starts at 5pm). It’s definitely worth the extra planning to experience the delicious food at this special spot.
Bar Crudo’s menu is organized into three distinct sections: Crudo (raw), Cold (cooked, served chilled), and Hot (cooked, served hot). In addition, there are raw oysters, cooked shellfish (mussels, clams, prawns, crab, lobster), and platters of the aforementioned shellfish. Jack and I have eaten at Bar Crudo enough times that we have our ordering down to a science; we have a formula that we follow and we usually end up with just the right amount of food for the two of us.
We always start with some raw oysters; on our recent visit we ordered two each of the Kumomoto, Shigoku, Kusshi, and St. Simon oysters ($4 each). We also always order the Crudo Sampler for 2, which comes with eight pieces of fish for $28. The sampler includes four types of raw fish: Arctic char, scallop, Tombo tuna, and butterfish. The Arctic char is Bar Crudo’s signature crudo, and the simple and delicious preparation never changes: it is served with horseradish crème fraîche, wasabi tobiko (flying fish roe), and fresh dill. The horseradish gives it a spicy kick, and the salty tobiko and fresh dill balance out this delicious raw fish. This is almost always our favorite crudo and we always save it for last. During our most recent visit the scallop was prepared with soubise (a rich onion sauce made of butter, onion, and cream), kumquat (one of my favorites fruits!), and chive blossom. The butterfish came with chorizo oil, Espelette pepper (a mildly hot pepper cultivated in France), and cucumber. The Tombo tuna was served with citrus, chili, and yuzu (Japanese citrus fruit) tobiko. Yum!
We always order the Lobster and Tomato Salad which is served with burrata. In the winter, this decadent dish changes with the seasons and beets are used in place of the tomatoes. On this recent summer night the salad was served with burrata, Little Gems lettuces, white corn, basil, and Banyuls vinaigrette (Banyuls is a sweet French wine that can be made into vinegar). This salad used to be served with one of my favorite lettuces, the clover-shaped mâche, but on recent visits it has been switched to Little Gems. I’m a tad Little Gemmed out these days as it seems to be every restaurant’s go-to summer lettuce; I would love to see the greens switched back to mâche. Another cold dish that we love at Bar Crudo is the San Sebastián salad: tuna confit, asparagus, roasted red peppers, soft boiled egg, olives, caper berries, Piparras (pickled mild Spanish peppers), Manchego cheese, and tomato bread. It takes us back to Spain!
We never leave Bar Crudo without sharing a cup of the Seafood Chowder. I know it’s hard to visit San Francisco without eating clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, but I beg you: please do yourself a favor and skip the tasteless bowls of cream at Fisherman’s Wharf and visit Bar Crudo in NoPa instead! This seafood chowder is unlike anything you’d ever tasted. It has a rich umami flavor, likely from the salty bacon and I suspect some slow-cooked tomatoes. The soup includes a variety of seafood including fish (tuna?), shrimp, mussels, and squid, as well as potatoes for structure. Jack and I share a cup so we can have a few bites each; it is too rich for us to order more than that (we’ve made that mistake before and I ended up with a tummy ache). Ask your waiter for some bread and don’t leave one drop of this delicious soup un-dipped!
In addition to oysters, the Crudo Sampler for 2, the Lobster and Tomato (or Beet) Salad, and the Seafood Chowder, we usually order one additional entrée. If steamed mussels are on the menu, we often go for that (the mussels are often served bathing in a flavorful broth, with a spicy sausage and cooked leafy greens). On this visit, the hot mussels were not on the menu, so we opted for a different hot item: we went with the Seared Black Cod with asparagus, white beans, oyster mushrooms, and salsa verde. The fish was cooked perfectly the the flavors melded well together. We were very pleased with our choice.
Bar Crudo has figured out how to succeed in this restaurant-saturated town: it has found its niche (fresh seafood) and it keeps the menu short and simple, focusing on doing a few things very well. They don’t have a dessert menu, just the option of a few truffles if you’re craving a bit of chocolate after your rich, salty meal. They only serve beer and wine, but they have an incredible selection of these beverages. The fish is fresh and sustainable, and the menu changes with the seasons. The restaurant is appropriate for a special occasion, without being stuffy or pretentious. This is why we keep coming back to Bar Crudo.
Bar Crudo: www.barcrudo.com (415) 409-0679 firstname.lastname@example.org 655 Divisadero St (at Grove), San Francisco, CA 94117 Open Tuesday – Thursday, Sunday 5-10pm; Friday-Saturday 5-11pm; CLOSED Mondays. Happy Hour 5-6:30pm Tues-Sat. Reservations via OpenTable.