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Kru has a doubly good split personality
By Greg Sabin
If you haven’t heard of Kru Contemporary Japanese Cuisine, it’s only because you haven’t been paying attention. Perennially on top-10 lists, frequently mentioned as a regional dining destination and consistently known as one of the best eating spots in the city, Kru is a shining light in the Sacramento restaurant landscape.
In its new digs in on Folsom Boulevard at 32nd Street, the Sacramento restaurant is bigger and takes in a more diverse set of diners than it could in its previous cozy location. An accommodating sushi bar, a substantial drinking bar and a comfortably sized dining room are all under one roof.
The new space covers a lot of ground, which provides plenty of opportunity for new flavors, but it also comes with its share of frictions. Kru tries to lubricate itself out of those frictions by presenting two faces simultaneously. This cognitive dissonance is, more or less, successful.
The Jekyll-and-Hyde routine starts with the design of the place. The dining room and sushi bar whisper minimalist elegance, a fine comingling of Japanese and California influences. The wood beams of the ceiling and the natural—wood, stone, floral—decorations create a beautiful, calming room. Turn your head the right way, however, and you’ll see one full wall covered in an excitingly garish mural, more influenced by tattoo art than traditional Japanese painting.
Look next at the dishes coming out of the kitchen, in which some of the best cooking in the region can be found. An absolutely stunning small plate of lacquered game bird comes out, the delicate, perfectly cooked flesh of the dainty thing perfectly coated in a soy-yuzu glaze that gives a fine snap in the teeth and tang on the tongue.
Compare that gorgeous execution and impressive restraint to the Sunshine Roll. This 11-ingredient sushi roll is a triumph in “party sushi” construction. Combining green apple, lemon, fried shrimp, spicy tuna, fried leeks, garlic sauce and five other ingredients, the dish is a baroque undertaking of flavors and textures. It’s a bit shocking to see this dish come out of the same kitchen.
Swing the pendulum back with another sushi order, Sashimi Tapas. This epically beautiful plate features five separate fishes, mostly raw, with the most delicate accompaniments. The first bite is some of the finest, fattiest salmon you’ve ever put in your mouth. With just a simply dressed bed of seaweed underneath, it’s as expressive a bite as you can have. If some dishes let ingredients sing, then this one just opened at the Met.
Or grab a plate of loco moco. This down-and-dirty Hawaiian favorite of hamburger patty and fried egg over rice and gravy gets the Kru treatment with the use of Wagyu beef for the patty and Japanese curry instead of brown gravy. The ingredients are of the highest sourcing, the cooking expertly deft. But again, this feels like the product of another kitchen altogether, or at least of another menu planner.
Perhaps what makes this two-faced culinary approach work is the one-faced approach to service. That face is excellence. Each dish, each water refill, each glass of wine, each cutlery reset is handled smartly and professionally. The team of servers, bussers and managers works together seamlessly.
There’s also a distinct difference in price depending on what you choose to eat at Kru. The chef’s tasting menu will run you $75 per person, or $110 with drink pairings. The omakase, or chef’s sushi choice (served only at the sushi bar and with limited availability, so make a reservation) can run you $125 per person. A selection of small plates and sashimi or nigiri selections can add up to $60 to $80 per person with a drink.
On the other hand, the same menu offers you the option to make a meal out of sushi rolls and a pitcher of beer. That may come to about $30 per person, not much more than your local casual sushi joint. Of course, have a glass of one of Kru’s rare Japanese whiskies and you’ll double that bill.
Kru is what you make of it. The food is consistently lovely, the preparation excellent, the service on point. You can have a fine-dining experience or a casual sushi fest. Just be ready for Japanese flavors with some clever Hawaiian and Californian influences coming out of Chef Billy Ngo’s kitchen no matter what kind of night you plan.