A trip to Crepe Bar, chef Jeff Kraus' home turf, will likely yield inventive small plates for your table, so it was hard not to leap at the chance to see his creative mind unleashed in Crudo for the one night, no-holds-barred culinary adventure known as the Blank Space dinner. In fact, we weren't the only ones who felt that way as the approximately 30-person cap event was fully booked on a Monday night. There were a lot of whispers around town as to what the dinner might consist of, and, while some seemed too fanciful to be real, the truth was even more delightful than the rumors.
The table was set to start with handmade chicharrones and olives for snacking, which served as a nice icebreaker for those at communal tables. It's hard to not chat about the cacophonous crunching going on around the dining room as your fellow diners tried out the crispy fried pork rinds.
Starting out, Kraus and Crudo's chef Cullen Campbell collaborated on the first offerings: Kraus' crusty miniature bread loaf with schmaltz (clarified chicken fat) and espresso honey paired with Campbell's gougère--a meatball-like bone marrow dish with a side of seaweed pesto that we hope to see on Crudo's menu in the future.
It wouldn't be Crudo without a classy raw fish dish, so it was no surprise to see an ahi collar tartare topped with avocado, lemon ash, dashi olive oil, and the uni bottarga that wowed at Campbell's Day Off Dinner. Paired with a clean, crisp white wine, the dishes light acidity was brought out well.
Next a smooth red blend hit the table's wine glasses and a barbecue beef tongue and cheek with a sweet potato chip over a bed of wheat berries was brought out. Both tender and flavorful, our only real complaint (of the whole night pretty much) was the dish's not-quite-warm temperature. However, the best part of this dish was actually the plating, which, as you can see, used a splatter of sweet potato to rival anything Jackson Pollock has ever done.
Waiting for course four, the briny Liocco Pinot Noir hinted at the next dish's decadence, though it also paired well with its apple gastrique. No surprise here, really: lamb neck, seared foie gras, truffle, and fried sweetbreads are all obviously going to taste great.
Finishing off, a choice of an Ethiopian Heart coffee or Bellocq rooibos tea was served with a decadent espresso panne cotta, generous hunk of dark chocolate, beignet-like fluffy churro, and more for dessert. It's the kind of over-the-top dish that, when mixed with a caffeine jolt, fires all of your synapses at once.
The Blank Space series joins the ranks of Clever Koi's Day Off Dinner series, the Seven Chef series, and others in a line of chef-centric collaborative dinner events in the Valley, and, we have to say that we're totally digging all of the local love lately. Seeing Phoenix's best and brightest in the kitchen and behind the bar all join forces is a fun and refreshing show of solidarity that our growing culinary scene needs. It gives diners the chance to get to know the industry folk better and it gives industry folk the chance to test out new ideas on willing diners.
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Chef Josh Hebert of POSH Improvisational Cuisine was in attendance and put it best when he said that the best part of an event like this is the captive audience. It's a rare treat for chefs to get to fully experiment on guests without having to worry about adulterating their creations with modifications and substitutions at the diner's request. You get what you get and what you get is a damn fine, one-of-a-kind meal.
Hebert will get his chance at a Blank Space at Crudo on April 6, 2015. However, next in the line-up will be Citizen Public House and The Gladly's chef Bernie Kantak on November 3. You can reserve your place at that dinner by calling 602-358-8666. Consider it $75 (plus tax and gratuity) well spent.