Sushi, step aside. Raw fish—Italian style—has arrived in Phoenix and local food lovers are catching the wave. It’s all happening at Crudo, an eatery in Gaslight Square serving up new Italian cuisine.
When Chef Cullen Campbell and his wife, Maureen, launched Crudo four years back, modern Italian cuisine was sweeping the country, leaving the sushi craze floundering in its wake. Crudo, meaning “raw” in Italian, is a creative fusion of Japanese-style sashimi and bold flavors found in a variety of oils, spices and seasonal local ingredients.
“I wanted to do something a little bit different and I was looking to open a sushi restaurant. But everybody was opening sushi restaurants and I never like to do the same thing that everybody else does,” says the Memphis-born chef, whose culinary roots are in Japanese- and French-style cuisine. “I was just starting to get into Italian food and at that time, nobody was even serving a crudo dish in town. So I based my entire menu doing half-raw fish dishes, and then just doing some kind of roasted meats and fish. And that’s kind of how it started.”
Today you can meander into the intimate, relaxing dining space at Crudo and be entranced by a vibrant culinary experience built on the distinctive flavors of sashimi-grade fish fused with bold Italian flavors, meats seared to perfection on a custom-made wood-fired grill, fresh Italian cheeses and the highest quality, locally grown produce.
One of Campbell’s signature dishes is yellowtail crudo, drizzled with olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt. The delicate dish is sprinkled with locally grown l’itois onions and Controne chile flakes, then dusted with bottarga, a finely grated dried and cured mullet row. Another standout on the menu: raw Ahi tuna paired with pistachio and horseradish.
“I get a lot of my inspiration from travel and from reading,” says Campbell, who loves to experiment with innovative flavorings like savory black garlic; cacao e pepe (a peppery, cheese-infused pasta); and the bright, summery spice, fennel pollen. “I love finding old cookbooks and finding something kind of out there and wacky, and try to include it in my dishes.”
On the cooked (cotto) side, guests can enjoy precision-crafted dishes like risotto paired with squid ink, chiles, tuna and tomato; or gnocchetti served with the cruciferous rapini, charred onion and grana sugo (a fine Italian sauce). There are plentiful grilled (griglia) dishes to tantalize the tastebuds and flavorful cheese (mozza) plates featuring fresh-pulled mozzarella paired with exciting flavors like bacon relish and caramelized onion.
For brunch seekers, Crudo serves up savory dishes featuring the likes of olive oil whipped goat cheese and grilled beets, smoked olives, and Campbell’s popular crispy pig ears.
“We smoke them overnight and do a double fry on them, then we top them with pickled chiles and herbs,” he says.
The beverage bar, overseen by award-winning mixologist and certified sommelier Micah Olson, showcases classic and modern cocktails that complement Crudo’s delectable dishes. Olson’s signature Scotch Baio blends Pig’s Nose Scotch, winter orchard peach, ginger and lemon and ginger ale. On the lighter side, Dazed & Infused blends sparkling wine, strawberry-infused aperol, fresh lime juice and passion fruit syrup.
Of course, flavors speak louder than words and a sampling of Chef Cullen’s coastal Italian cuisine and bartender Olsen’s innovative cocktails is all you need to know what the splash is all about!
3603 E. Indian School Road, Phoenix
Designed for everyone from the consummate foodie to the hungry locavore, Bite Magazine is all about celebrating Arizona’s food and drink scene. Satisfying readers’ cravings for restaurants, chefs, dishes, drinks and destinations, the magazine showcases the best Arizona has to offer.