(A vegan’s dream come true dish. Photo courtesy of Crudo Nudo.)
By Betsy DiJulio
Sadly, I was late to the Crudo Nudo party. Until recently, I was under the mistaken impression that the storefront restaurant, open for four years, was charcuterie-heavy with little to offer a plant-based diner. The lushly laden table of our cozy booth on a recent Friday night serves as tantalizing evidence that I was so wrong.
Though my husband made inappropriate jokes about the name of this restaurant, the translation from Spanish is “raw knot.” While the kitchen certainly celebrates raw fish—in addition to meat and cheese boards—that same salt, spice, and citrus also infuses vegan dishes. Plus, nudo refers to the house made noodles and pastas, many of which can be made vegan. So, what was, in my mind, an off-limits spot for charcuterie, quickly became a coveted tapas bar with plant-based options a plenty.
Owner Eric Nelson, having trained in top notch restaurants all over this region—e.g. Todd Jurich’s Bistro in Norfolk, the erstwhile and legendary Trellis in Williamsburg, Chops in Virginia Beach, Riverstone Chophouse, and Vintage Tavern and Riverstone in Suffolk—imprinted Crudo Nudo with memories of the freshness and simplicity of Spanish cuisine. With a twist, or a knot, as it were.
Many of the dishes are naturally vegan while others can be cooked with olive oil instead of butter with just a simple request, and we ordered some of both. I was the only vegan in our group, so we all enjoyed my choices with the others ordering some additional items. Our dishes came out perfectly prepared and perfectly paced.
From the Snacks menu we devoured warm Spanish olives marinated in citrus ($5) and warm Marcona almonds with a slick of olive oil and sprinkle of sea salt ($7). And from the Veggies menu, we enjoyed sautéed spinach / apple / golden raisins / pine nuts, one of Nelson’s favorite Catalan combinations ($8), and cremini mushrooms ($8). These little orbs are roasted until quite dry before being vacuum sealed with vinaigrette while hot, so that they absorb loads of flavor, transforming into perfectly chewy flavor bombs.
The backdrop of our meal was the perfect accompaniment. Nelson credits his wife, Jennifer, with the establishment’s appealingly eclectic and tactile interior: exposed brick and ductwork, a live edge bar, fan-back wicker chairs, floating wood shelves, and a neutral painting on reclaimed wood. A vibrant wall mural and both striped and floral fabrics in the booths and banquets infuse the organic materials and palette with just enough energy.
Josh, our server, was memorable for all the right reasons. As Nelson said, “He is taking stock of you as you are taking stock of him,” adding with a laugh, “If you do well with snark, you do well with him.” We didn’t detect even a hint of snark, just wit, and Josh seemed to have our number from the beginning with a pace, rapport, and suggestions that were all on point. I may be naïve in thinking he wasn’t trying to upsell us with the absolutely perfect bottle of $70 wine on special, but he genuinely seemed to want us to have a peak, if relaxed, experience. And he knew that wine would have more than a little to do with it.
Incidentally, the wines, all Spanish, are not chosen specifically to pair with the food, though they do. Rather, Nelson explained, the team likes to serve what they like to drink, so they participate in casual staff samplings with the fan favorites taking their rightful place on the menu.
When I return, it will, be for all of the above plus the hummus and giant corn nuts, a staff favorite.
Want to go? Crudo Nudo, www.crudonudo.com , 727 W. 21st St., Norfolk, 757.351.6080