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Cranes - Chef Pepe Moncayo's "Spanish Kaiseki" at 9th Street and G Place NW, Penn Quarter


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My cousin was in town for a conference and she comes from a place of very limited restaurant choices so I wanted to take her somewhere different and unique, and I have to say, I crushed it on the restaurant choice!  😉 I mean, how could I go wrong with a Spanish-Japanese mash up?!!?

We opted for the omakase meal and we completely blown away from start to finish.  Every dish was as beautiful to look at as it was wonderful to taste, and every part of each dish was just fantastic ( there were no throw away components).

Shockingly, the place was fairly empty on Thursday night, but I'm hoping that's because it's so new.  The only complaint I had was with the lighting.  It was too dark to see the beauty of each course without using the light on my phone.  When we were leaving the chef was at the host's stand and we raved about the meal for a bit and then, since I had a captive audience, told him my complaint about the low level lighting.  He said they just turned the lights down tonight for the first time because the restaurant designer/stylist told him that with the lights turned up it made the place look like a fast food joint! 

Unfortunately, neither my words, nor the photos do justice to the experience, but here goes.

First up was Hamachi/Citrus Dashi/kumquats - we were encouraged to eat the components and drink the broth at the end.  Amazing! They could have served the broth alone and it would have been a successful dish!  The fish was so tender that I "chewed" it with my tongue!  It was also served at the perfect temperature for maximum flavor.

Chawanmushi/tempura oyster/seaweed was next, and it was another wonderful combination of tastes and textures.  The tempura oysters were topped off with roe and they were great on their own, but the real star was the chawanmushi.  I think I could eat a gallon of that stuff!

Botan Ebi/ponsu jelly/uni/crème fraiche was the third course and it was another combination a dozen different flavors and textures.  We were told to stick the spoon all the way to the bottom and get a bit of each layer.  This dish was very hard to photograph, but I included two photos below so you see the layers.

Steamed Cod/Gazpachuelo/Potato Trinxat was up next.  The description is how it's written on the menu they gave us to take home, but it was described as Black Cod vs. Cod.  Either way, it was amazing.  Again the cod was tongue-chewable...so tender!!  The fish was amazing but the other components were equally impressive the potato thing was shockingly good, as was the foamy broth on the bottom (visible on the left side of the photo).  I don't know if that was the gazpachuelo or just part of it, and I don't care!  It was fantastic.  I'd also like a gallon of it to take home!!

Nameko Mushroom Rice/Scallop/Guanciale was next.  It also included the soft, internal part of burrata cheese (not visible in the photo below).  We were told to mix the rice and burrata together and eat it like that.  The scallop was absolutely perfectly cooked and absolutely delicious yet it was the least impressive part of the dish!!  The mushroom/rice/burrata combo was mind blowing.  SOOOO GOOOOD!

The final dish was Quail/Salsify Puree/Foie Gras Escabeche.  The quail was very tender and moist and the foie was ridiculously tender (much more so than what I had at Clarity earlier in the week).  The salsify was also a surprising hit.  I'm not that familiar with salsify, but I'm considering growing it now!!

Dessert was a "Gin and Tonic" - I have no idea how to describe this and the photo below is awful.  It was a wonderful and unique and had little bits of cucumber in it!  Whatever it was, it was a great success! We also got a Winter Citrus Tart/yuzu curd/mandarin sorbet/coconut which was very good, but probably the most standard/least interesting dish of the night.

The final little bite (not described on the menu) were two little candies.  One was gumdrop type of dish that was good, and the other was combination of miso, caramel and salt.  This was an amazing bite!  It was one of those dishes that makes you wonder why no one ever combined those flavors before!  Fantastic!!  I wanted a dozen more!

I did the wine pairing which was nice and included a couple sakes, including a rose' sake that got its color from red yeast.  Who knew that was a thing!

I can't recommend this place highly enough!  This was the most interesting and memorable meal that I've had in a long time and two days later, it's still all that I'm thinking about!

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Located inside the space once occupied by the former Ruth Chris’ steak house in Penn quarter, Cranes welcomes you with a tasteful and minimalist decor, accented by the recurring motif of the eponymous crane (obviously…), including in the holders for the chopsticks.

The restaurant defines itself as a Kaiseki (haute cuisine) establishment. The chef, Pepe Moncayo, a Spaniard who has lived and worked in Singapore for ten years, offers a Spanish/ Japanese fusion menu constituted of small and medium plates.

We visited Cranes a few days ago and tried a large assortment of meat, fish and vegetable dishes. These included the madai aburi (torched red snapper), the cauliflower with persimmon and guanciale, the leaves and roots sunomono (that is, marinated in a traditional vinegar-based dressing), the grilled young onions, the octopus with squid ink potato puree, the bacalao tempura, the cold capellini, the bao ban with prime rib, the kurobuta pork in sherry sauce and the duck gyoza with celeriac puree, water chestnuts and rostit (presumably in reference to the traditional Catalan way of pot roasting with vegetables in an earthenware vessel). They were all delicious and quite unique in their creative mixing of Japanese and Spanish flavors.

In general, the fusion between Spanish and Japanese cuisines is achieved by using a mainly Spanish chief ingredient with condiments or sauces inspired by Japanese typical gastronomy. Or, conversely, by using a mainly Japanese chief ingredient with condiments or sauces in the Spanish tradition. The grilled young onions and the Kurobuta pork provide two examples.  

The grilled young onions dish is a riff on the traditional Catalan calçots, typically served with romesco. The calçots are scallions--every year there is a festival, called the calçotada, in late winter/early spring, in the Catalonian town of Valls dedicated to this delicacy.  The Cranes version replaces the Catalan romesco with a Japanese-inspired horseradish kimizu (a sauce with egg yolk and rice vinegar), pine nuts and chives. Though we may still prefer the traditional calçots with romesco, chef Moncayo’s adaptation was excellent.

The Kurobuta pork centers on a high-end Japanese ingredient, namely the meat from the white-spotted black Berkshire Japanese pigs, heirs to the Berkshire pigs imported in Japan in the 19th century and raised according to very strict “organic” standards. These high standards translate into a very tasty “porky” pork, very different from the fat-less chicken-like pork that abounds in run-of-the mill supermarkets.  And Chef Moncayo accompanies this Japanese delicacy with a Spanish inspired sherry sauce.

In sum, Cranes is a truly interesting combination of Mediterranean and Asian flavors and a great addition to the dining scene in the DC area. We would have loved the dishes to be a bit more abundant, given our appetite... Other than that, well done chef Moncayo!

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July 3.  The area surrounding Cranes is devoid of both motor and pedestrian traffic.  We were able to park right in front of the restaurant.  Set out in front of the restaurant on the sidewalk were 4 tables and 8 chairs.  We occupied 3 tables and 6 chairs.  There was a party inside the restaurant, but no one went in or came out while we were there, from 6 to 7:30ish.  

The current menu is copied below, I bolded those that we ordered and underlined the best dishes.  Since they weren't busy and we ordered alot of food, I asked them to course the dishes so we can have leisurely meal.  

First to come out were the oysters with ponzu as the dominant flavor.  There may have been a drop of evoo on the oyster but I didn't look for it nor did I taste it.  Next were the jamon with tomatoed bread.  The shiitake croquetas were 4 balls, 1 order was enough for us to share.  These were cream of shiitake encased in spherical shells.  The shishito peppers were enhanced with shaved bonito flakes.  The maitake tempura is fabulous, possibly the best tempura I've had (alas, I haven't been to Japan or even even NYC just for tempura, but I've been to Jose Andre's tempura counter at Fish in MGM which I thought was mediocre at best).  The duck gyoza was made with pre-cooked shredded duck meat and I didn't feel any crunchy water chestnut.  An order of yakitori came with 3 skewers, the kids loved them so much I had to order a second.

The gambas (pictured below) were not traditional but perfectly cooked.  The arroz came with inch long fried whole baby squid with the rice cooked al dente.  Finally the suquet wasn't really a stew and the only seafood is a piece of salmon cooked medium with crispy seared skin.  

This meal is completely different from the meal we had at St. Anselm, but quality-wise equally good, and obviously much more creative.  I would definitely go back soon.

Tapas:

oysters / 3 ea
ponzu / evoo / espelette pepper
jamon serrano / 16
coca bread / tomatoes / sansho pepper
croquetas de jamón / 6
croquetas de shiitake / 6
patatas bravas / 6
all-i-oli / ketchup with yuzu kosho / chives / poppy seeds
shishito peppers / 8
sesame sauce / sesame seeds / bonito flakes
maitake tempura / 11
daikon dipping sauce
duck & water chestnut gyozas / 10
noisette vinaigrette
pork belly yakitori / 5
buckwheat / citrus
bao buns / 12
short rib / umeboshi mayo / tobiko
 
Entrees:
gazpacho / 12
cold vegetable soup
heirloom tomatoes / 12
fennel / creme fraiche / ponzu jelly
escalivada / 12
grilled vegetables salad with black olive sauce
cold capellini / 14
hazelnut-lime dressing / preserved lemon / tororo kombu
smoked hamachi / 15
apricot / ajo blanco / green almonds
gambas al ajillo / 22
shrimps / garlic-chili oil / sherry wine
arroz de verduras / 17
calasparra rice / seasonal vegetables / idiazabal
arroz negro / 21
squid ink rice / baby squid / piquillo pepper
arroz de conejo / 28
rabbit / carrots / Brussels sprouts / rice
suquet / 19
catalan fisherman's stew with saffron and salmon
kurobuta pork / 24
cauliflowers / sansho gastrique / miso
carrillera de ternera / 28
braised beef cheek / potato / mushrooms / red wine sauce

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NOW IS THE TIME TO GO TO DC RESTAURANTS!   

I took my son here in early August for my birthday and there were parking spots everywhere, so we literally parked right in front of the restaurant!  Traffic is also extremely light, so driving in during "rush hour" is a breeze.  We were the only ones in the place when we arrived at 6pm, and over the course of the evening only two other tables arrived in my part of the restaurant, and we were well spaced.  We ended up with one of the best tables in the place in the front corner with windows on two sides.

The servers all wore gloves and masks and they had a touchless menu.  Eating here felt no less safe than walking down the street or grocery shopping.

We got the Omakase menu again and it was wonderful.  Completely different from my only other visit in the Before Times in early March.  The only difference in the two meals was they didn't give a card with the description of the dishes this time, but I completely understand them trying to save a couple nickles here and there with a 90% empty restaurant.  ;-( 

The photos below show some, but not all of the dishes.  Everything was from the Omakase menu except the Patatas Bravas, which is on their Tapas menu.  

1.  Don't remember the name, but it's obviously tomatoes and Jamon

2. Patatas Bravas

3. Hamachi.  That may have been a fig paste, but I'm no longer sure.  It was not squash!

4. Red Snapper

5. and 6. Egg souffle over rice and chorizo 

6. One of the (half eaten) desserts.

 

 

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