First Taste

Crudo at New Location: Get. In. The. Car.

When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).

Restaurant: Crudo Location: 3603 East Indian School Road Open: Over a month. Eats: Italian-inspired dishes, raw seafood Price Range: $30 to $60 per person.

Following my dining experience last week at Crudo, the newly opened and re-located restaurant serving inventive raw seafood, handmade pasta dishes, signature mozzarellas, and wood-grilled items from chef Cullen Campbell, I'm still asking myself: Where the hell was everyone? Perhaps it's the hidden-away location, in the back of the Gaslight Square Plaza at 36th Street and Indian School. Or maybe folks are waiting for the furniture to arrive in the bar area owned and operated by cocktail artist and sommelier, Micah Olson, formerly of Merc Bar. (Though I'd be perfectly happy to sip one of Olson's primo creations -- like the refreshing Modest Monk or the big-points-for-the-Mr. Show-reference Wyckyd Sceptre -- on the temporary patio furniture being used.)

Whatever the reason, the time to visit Crudo is now. There's lots here to be enjoyed.

If you are familiar with Campbell's menu from his former digs (a hair salon in Scottsdale), you will be happy to know that many of the dishes made the move along with their chef. If you are not, then you are in for a treat.

In the former Backstreet Wine Salon, the new Crudo is a warm and inviting space, with intimate bay-window nooks, smooth yet upbeat music, and a main dining area swathed in olive green with wood and fabric furniture and tiny flickering candles.

And the service is no less than exceptional.

During aperitivo hour (5 to 7 p.m.), it would be wise to take advantage of delectable mozzarella selections like burrata or the ricotta, which Campbell makes himself, for $5 each. Or, enjoy as part of a three-, four-, or five-course meal (why go a la carte?) with dishes from raw, cooked, and grilled categories. The grilled category did not appear on Crudo's old menu, but now Campbell has a new wood-fired grill, which fills the restaurant with the heady aroma of its labors.

When it comes to a beautiful balance of flavors, Campbell has the technique down cold. Included in the raw section, there is albacore ($12) with bits of black garlic and sweetness from apple slices the size of matchsticks; and butterfish ($12) topped with dried tomato and succulent bits of lardo.

Cooked fare is composed of dishes such as Campbell's must-try squid ink risotto ($14) and a couldn't-get-enough-of pillow-y soft dumpling ($14) resting in a light and exquisite butternut squash broth with pieces of tender pork. In the grilled arena, don't miss the luscious escolar ($16) with an out-of-this-world salsa verde Campbell says he makes with carrot tops. (Yes, carrot tops.)

After dinner, you could order a Tracy Dempsey Original, or better yet, if it's on the menu, a sweet treat from Campbell himself, who appears to be as accomplished a baker as he is a chef. On my visit, I was treated to a splendid Campbell-created bread pudding, wonderfully crispy around the edges, and topped with a luscious dollop of panna cotta covered in bright, sweet strawberries.

In my job, I am required to visit many restaurants. But on my nights off, chances are I'll be at the new Crudo.

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