Crudobar @ BREADBAR: One-Off Asian Creations in L.A.

Restaurant Los Angeles

Ali Chalabi's most ambitious BREADBAR location hosts creative pop-ups like Crudobar.

Breadbar co-owner Ali Chalabi hosted Ludobites at his West Hollywood café in December, showcasing Chef Ludovic Lefebvre’s cutting edge cuisine. In a continued effort to give inventive chefs a stage during transition periods, Chalabi invited Noriyuki Sugie, late of Asiate in Manhattan and Tetsuya in Sydney, to craft Spanish-Japanese small plates for Crudobar at Breadbar Century City. Sugie and Ludo have completely different styles, but for my tastes, Sugie’s cooking was more consistently impressive.

Ana Henton of MASS Architecture was so successful with Breadbar’s design that I almost forgot we were eating in a mall. There were clean wood lines, shelves of decorative bread loaves and lanterns that looked like clusters of lobster traps. The airy covered patio was too cool, so we ate indoors at one of the banquettes.

It was no surprise that Breadbar supplied us with an impressive bread selection. The wooden box contained three event-driven flatbreads – shichimi, nori and white sesame – plus slices of Breadbar raisin walnut, black olive-rosemary and yellow-hued hazelnut curcuma. The box came with a plate of high-grade olive oil, for dipping.

Certified Master Sommelier Brian Cronin wrote a sake, beer and wine menu to complement “the most pristine fish ever,” including 2-ounce and 4-ounce pours. We all ordered from Cronin’s menu.

I ordered Hitori Musume Nigori Sake, Ibaragi ($5 for 2 ounces), an unfiltered sake that was a little too dry and strong. Dr. Loosen Riesling “Dr. L” Germany 2006 ($4 for 2 ounces) was clean and crisp.

Japanese Beer Los Angeles

Since Chef Sugie is from Hitachi, Japan, Cronin featured his hometown brew – Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale ($8) – a “fuller-bodied ale made with red rice.” Cronin’s tasting notes described the beer as “rich and creamy.” Sounds about right. The red grain’s flavor was strong and sort of sweet.

Chef Sugie’s menu featured 18 selections, eight plates from the “RAW BAR//inventive sashimi” column and 10 from “LITTLE BAIT//raw+cooked=creative.” We wanted to try as many tastes as possible, so we ordered every LITTLE BAIT. Our waitress said there was a better option: omakase, with a taste of each dish for $75 per person. 18 dishes for $75 per person? That sounded like a deal that was too good to be true, but our waitress confirmed her offer. We went all-in.

Our meal began with a chilled shot of watermelon gazpacho with red pepper flakes, a nice palate starter. Unfortunately, it was the last food we saw for a long time.

One factor we didn’t count on was an adjacent table of ten people, headed by Chef Urasawa, from his revered Beverly Hills sushi restaurant. For some reason, Sugie focused all his attention on Urasawa, to the detriment of every other table. Once Urasawa and his crew finally cleared out, we finally got the attention we deserved, but the half hour lapse was inexcusable.

Japanese Food Los Angeles

Sea urchin blanketed with cole slaw-like potato noodle, dashi jelly and mountain caviar was the only dish that didn’t work. Creamy uni doesn’t need any help, flavor-wise, especially when that help comes in the form of kelp soup jelly.

Japanese Food Los Angeles

Silky sea scallop was much more successful, tossed with light mayo and topped with puff wild rice, seaweed and mountain caviar, served in mammoth mussel shell that was affixed to the plate with a pile of sea salt.

Japanese Food Los Angeles

The richest dish involved half dollar sized cuts of monkfish liver with kumquat miso, rosy seared bonito with pickled jicama and foie gras terrine with pickled plum chutney, plated with almonds. Like many dishes, this was garnished with chives.

Japanese Food Los Angeles

Black sea bass karaage were excellent, fried balls of luscious bass meat served with shishito peppers and tofu tomatillo dipping sauce. Sauce was inconsequential, but the main ingredients were stellar.

Japanese Food Los Angeles

Crab guacamole was excellent, featuring crabmeat mixed with avocado and preserved lemon puree, topped with a fresh slab of avocado and dotted with puffed wild rice. The color on the avocado was incredible, so vivid.

Japanese Food Los Angeles

Sugie’s take on a typical Thai soup featured tender Mussels cooked in coconut milk with nickel-cuts of spicy sausage, lemongrass and Thai basil. The broth was fragrant and spicy, with a hint of sweetness from the coconut milk.

Japanese Food Los Angeles

This refreshing Mediterranean salad involved tender octopus shavings, baby arugula and plum shiso pesto.

A purse of white paper was unfolded to reveal tender cuts of grilled squid, black olive tapenade, chorizo, pimento, hickory salt and artichoke hearts. Baguettes helped to sop up the gumbo-like juices. The broth could have used more kick.

Japanese Food Los Angeles

Sugie’s black cod slider was incredible, a soft bun cradling a delicately fried slab of luscious cod, mizuna and wasabi tartar sauce. The supreme filet ‘o fish came with cornichons and an addictive tomato-based red chimichurri, which had a nice kick.

Japanese Dessert Los Angeles

For dessert, Sugie provided each of us with a tiny bowl of white chocolate risotto with al dente grains of rice, dried apricot shavings, a dusting of cocoa powder and orange zest. It was a solid rice pudding.

Sadly, our meal didn’t live up to our waitress’ promise of all 18 dishes, but at least 12 of the 13 different tastes we did receive ranged from good to great.

Chef Sugie joined us near the end of the meal. He said he’s about to open a B&D (bed & dinner) in the former San Francisco home of Spencer House. He’s also getting set to open The Imperial in Reno, a 5000-square-foot space serving “bar food with a twist.” He and Mr. Chalabi began discussing the Crudobar concept three months ago. Three weeks ago, Breadbar got their beer and wine license and the idea was fast tracked.

I also spoke with Ali Chalabi, who plans to extend Sugie’s stay and host another chef in September, which he will announce via the Breadbar newsletter. Glad to hear it. Breadbar’s guest chef series makes the L.A. dining scene more interesting.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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