Raw ambitions

Kru Restaurant

3135 Folsom Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95816

(916) 551-1559

Sacramento’s love affair with (read: glut of) sushi restaurants has become such that it’s hardly worth mentioning. We have everything from humble takeout sushi joints to gleaming hot spots, and more are slated to open this summer. Kru, one of the first of this new wave, opened in late spring in the spot formerly occupied by J. Lee Bistro and Sushi Bar and definitely has positioned itself on the hot-spot side of the spectrum. The question is whether it can keep up this status in the face of stiff competition.

On a recent Saturday night, our group arrived early. By the time we left, the waiting crowd was filling up the sidewalk outside. The attraction of the restaurant is plain to see. Not only is the design hip, featuring lots of red, water cascading over rocks on a wall fountain, and graceful bamboo on one side, but also the ever-popular sushi is complemented by a long and inventive list of small plates and main dishes—what the menu calls “contemporary Japanese cuisine.” Translated, that means everything from white-asparagus tempura to an array of raw-fish dishes like a Hawaiian-inspired poke trio of spicy tuna, hamachi and octopus. The wine and beverage list isn’t long, but it’s well-priced and interesting. There are selections like a delicious Dr. Loosen Riesling from Germany, plus plenty of beers and crisp, tart Two Rivers pomegranate cider.

It’s a tossup whether it’s better to go with a big group, so you can try more of the intriguing small plates, or just a couple of people, so you can get more of each thing. With five in our party, we fell somewhere in between. There was much discussion of how to order, and in the end we just went around the table naming the dishes we wanted—a haphazard method that yielded just the right amount and variety of food.

One of our first dishes was age-dashi tofu, golden-fried and custardy cubes of tofu in a salty, fishy soy broth. Simple as it was, this was one of the dishes I wanted much more of for myself.

Similar in looks, but not in flavor, was Chilean sea-bass kara-age, also fried in chunks and offered with a vinaigrette enriched with shreds of snow crab. I know all about the reasons why one shouldn’t order Chilean sea bass, and because of the overfishing crisis, it’s become rarer on many menus. I felt guilty getting it, but it really is far too delicious for its own good.

Less appealing was a tempura of white asparagus, which was tough yet stringy (the stems hadn’t been peeled) and oily. This was the least successful of the dishes we tried, and it was the only one where the kitchen didn’t show a light enough touch with the deep fryer. Crisp-fried, tiny calamari with spicy breading and a creamy dipping sauce were much better.

We attempted to balance out all that tasty fried food with Kru’s warm mushroom salad, a huge bowl of greens topped with savory sautéed mushrooms in a mix of types. Their deep, meaty flavor and texture contrasted nicely with the greens, and the kitchen made even this visually challenging dish look dramatically appealing by topping it with a spray of antenna-like white enoki mushrooms.

One person in our group didn’t eat fish, and she ordered teriyaki chicken from the entree menu. It was juicy and gingery, served with a bright array of vegetables, plus rice and miso soup. Other options on the main-dish menu include steak with truffle-butter teriyaki sauce, rack of lamb and even a teriyaki duck breast, meaning that those who prefer meat to fish won’t go hungry. Vegetarians, however, may have a tougher time. Even many of the salads are garnished with shavings of bonito, so inquire before ordering if you’re concerned.

With all these options before us, it was almost easy to forget about the sushi, despite the presence of a sushi bar front and center and the fact that the restaurant’s name plays on the French word for “raw.” The sushi list is nicely restrained, emphasizing simple presentations of nigiri and sashimi, plus a short list of well-conceived specialty rolls. Alas, advanced pregnancy means that I’m currently enjoined from sampling raw fish, especially tuna, but my friends assured me that the spicy liz roll—incendiary tuna plus cucumbers topped with coral-colored slices of salmon—was flawlessly fresh, as I looked on enviously. I could try the restaurant’s take on a caterpillar roll, which included tempura shrimp, avocado and grilled eel. This lovely combination was thankfully not as over-the-top as many sushi restaurants’ creations.

Of the three desserts available, I was simultaneously intrigued and repelled by the idea of tempura cheesecake. The latter impulse, and my friends’ preferences, won out. We instead sampled a subtle green-tea-poached pear, sprinkled with matcha powder and accompanied by vanilla-bean ice cream, and an excellent if simple crème brûlée, with a tiny spoonful of mango chutney. The pear was surprisingly good, given that the fruit is distinctly out of season at this point.

Kru is run by the same team that owns Taka’s Sushi in Fair Oaks, and its experience and commitment to freshness shines through in this new Midtown spot. Sacramento might not seem to need another sushi restaurant, but the excellent and inventive small plates, the alluringly simple sushi menu, and the cool and attractive interior should bring in the crowds—and keep them coming back for more.