These Easy, Sustainable Seafood Recipes Will Transport You to the Beach
Delicious dishes from Santa Monica’s Crudo e Nudo, a sustainable seafood restaurant that serves a menu of exclusively local fish and zippy wines.
At around 11 a.m. every day in Santa Monica, the restaurants lining Main Street just two blocks from the beach start setting up for lunch: The patios built in the pandemic are swept, tables are put out, and the kitchens go into high gear. At Crudo e Nudo, the tiny kitchen is comparatively quiet: Pristine local fish that have been hanging on hooks in a custom refrigerator are broken down in a space as quiet as a high-end sushi bar. The fish is sliced at a counter just three feet wide, where it’s garnished with a splash of delicate sauce, sprinkled with a punchy spice mix, topped with strands of seaweed or local produce, and the new best version of California coastal cuisine is plated to be enjoyed by surfers coming in from their morning sessions, in-the-know locals, and travelers who’ve gotten wind of this gem by the sea.
Chef Brian Bornemann has come up with the perfect metaphor for this restaurant he co-owns with partner Leena Culhane: The restaurants he’s run in the past (the iconic Michael’s, the innovative Tasting Kitchen) are yachts with big prices and big ambitions. Crudo e Nudo is a dinghy. And in the few years it’s been open, it’s proven itself to be an exceptionally seaworthy one. It has been steadily and increasingly profitable, it’s a famously excellent place to work (several marriages have come out of its workforce), and it continues to become more refined as a dining experience (gone are the counter-only service and compostable plates; candles and waiters in the evening and a bigger wine list and menu have arrived). It’s a “less turns into more” model that is sustainable in more ways than one. Not only are those low-labor, high-flavor dishes high-profit-margin, they also are truly local. No fish on the menu is ever from anywhere but Southern California. Crudo e Nudo has spawned a sister restaurant up the street, Isla, which applies the same model to wood-fired food.
When it’s in full swing, Crudo e Nudo is a vibe, thanks in no small part to the efforts of co-owner Culhane, who runs the front of the house and serves as the restaurant’s creative director. The decor is a true Santa Monica surf shack, with shelves lined with seashells, mermaid art, and cans of tinned fish. It doesn’t channel another location, as many restaurants tend to: no reference to the Italian coast or other dreamy places far away.
As those surfers, locals, and tourists settle in, chilled natty wine is splashed into low glasses, Boy Genius plays on the sound system, and the plates of artfully assembled seafood come out, and diners tuck in at tables set up on the streetside patio in the sun. Halibut is elevated by the fruity umami combination of white miso and good olive oil; striped bass is punched up with spicy za’atar. A farmers’ market plate is studded with seedy dukkah and robed in black garlic hummus. And it must be pointed out that the vegetables come from the legendary Santa Monica farmers’ market.
On the following pages we’ve got these delicious dishes and more. The trick to these recipes is sourcing impeccable seafood and dialing in your technique. The result is our kind of health food: It sustains the planet, and it sustains the soul.