Best of Food & Drink
Best restaurant for amazement and adventure: Chef Billy Ngo's Kru Contemporary Japanese Cuisine
The French Laundry’s Thomas Keller once wrote that as a chef, “you’ve got to make something that pleases you and hope that other people feel the same way.” This is one of those sayings that sounds so obvious, but is seldom practiced. Which is why it’s so exciting to walk into Kru Contemporary Japanese Cuisine restaurant and catch Billy Ngo helming the sushi bar: You just know he’s got a few surprises back there that he can’t wait to share.
Of course, you needn’t go “off menu” for a formidable night out at Kru. There are rolls of all stripes, with calamari tempura and Hokkaido scallops, all prepared with organic Rue & Forsman Ranch rice. Or small plates: tuna carpaccio, beef tongue, fried squid legs. Plus, steaming bowls of spicy miso ramen with slow-cooked pork belly and complex main plates: pan-seared rib eye with heirloom tomatoes and greens, sake cream sauce, sancho peppercorns and crispy okra; or impeccably seared sea bass.
Yet going off menu is the true dining adventure. Trust in Ngo when he asks, “How hungry are you?” and just answer, without hesitation, “If you make it, I’ll eat it.”
Say yes, for instance, when he begins with slender cuts of Sloughouse sturgeon nigiri, firm and earthy in flavor, but also as mild as its pale complexion. Savor the fish specials—and never, ever slather them in soy-sauce-wasabi baths. Please.
Foie gras may be illegal in California—for now—but if Ngo slides a dish of ankimo (monkfish liver) your way, relish its velvety richness. It’s a popular Japanese delicacy, but still quite rare in Sacramento, and Ngo’s presentation is so wow-inducing it probably should be at the very least forbidden.
You’ll probably need something to imbibe during this culinary journey. The regulars at Kru order a mysterious “juice box,” so why not follow suit? It’s a small, square, 300-milliliter rice sake, Tamanohikari brand, that comes in a black-and-white squeeze box not unlike something a third grader would bring for lunch. But this juice box will pay its dividends washing down melt-away chunks of Ngo’s short ribs or crispy sesame chicken.
Just be sure to save a chaser for Sacramento’s most audacious amuse-bouche: pork belly with sea urchin. Watch as Ngo grabs a blow torch, blazes a thin slab of Kurobuta pork belly, then rests it atop a square of rice and nori—and then plops a generous dollop of uni (sea urchin) atop. He’ll set it in front of you, then smile, a chef so obviously pleased you can’t help but reciprocate. 2516 J Street, (916) 551-1559, www.krurestaurant.com.