Exploring Cranes’ Japanese + Spanish Fusion Concept
November 15, 2021 @ 2:00pm
If you’re like me, you’re somewhat wary of “fusion” restaurants, places where two disparate cuisines are combined to create a unique culinary experience. It takes a talented chef to pull off such a feat properly. And you’ll find such a chef — and such a delicious destination — nestled in the District’s Penn Quarter neighborhood.
Among the downtown high-rises of the energetic mixed-use corridor lies Cranes, a “Spanish Kaiseki” restaurant which earned its first Michelin star this year. Cranes is the product of Chef Pepe Moncayo, a native of Spain who built an omakase-style experience living in Singapore for a decade as the founder of Bam! He’s got the pedigree to back up his aspirations, having worked under famed Catalan chef Santi Santamaria at Santi in Singapore and serving as executive chef at two-Michelin-starred eatery Dos Cielos in Madrid, under the Torres brothers. He’s also spent time in Japan, and in 2020 he opened Cranes to fuse together his knowledge of Asian ingredients and culinary methods with the cuisine of his native Spain.
I visited Cranes and sat for “kaiseki,” the traditional multi-course Japanese dinner. Moncayo himself spent a few minutes introducing me to the goal behind the six-course omakase, or “trust the chef” tasting menu. While food items can be ordered a la carte, this tasting menu is unique in D.C. and is carefully constructed by the chef to combine both Spanish and Japanese elements.
I have a confession, however, and a terrible one for any food writer — I’m allergic to most seafood. It’s been mostly a lifelong struggle, learned the hard way through discomfort and the repeated reassurance that I simply got a “bad piece of fish.” I avoid most seafood as a rule, but also I don’t feel comfortable asking a chef to substitute ingredients; It’s like asking Picasso not to use blues, or reds or greens. I did inform them of my allergy, however, and I was accommodated, gracefully and without question.
The omakase menu was in six parts, with a wine or sake pairing accompanying each element. Courses included a sublime mushroom soup, made from freshly-picked mushrooms by their forager; a brioche of celeriac puree and a smoky, savory black garlic shoyu; leek and salt-baked beets; a sous-vide egg with ponzu sauce; presa iberico; and although I typically don’t’ eat sweets, the final entry was irresistible: chocolate cabra, a smooth and delectable goat-milk ice cream served with caramel and rice puffs.
For each course, they paired a sake (typically a filtered Junmai) or wine, but also permitted diners to order off the menu. For example, for one course they recommended vermentino, but I strayed, preferring a Petit Chablis which they promptly served me. I very much enjoyed the Sauternes that accompanied the chocolate cabra, and finally wrapped up the evening with a glass of Hidalgo Amontillado sherry — round and sweet and dry.
Traditional fine dining wisdom holds to serving a small thing on a huge plate, but the kaiseki at Cranes didn’t feel pretentious. While they try to capture some casual crowds, like after a Capitals game, without a doubt Cranes is fine dining — a place where the decor doesn’t distract. It’s a clean and austere environment where you’re meant to focus on the food, sake and the pleasant sound of an open kitchen making world-class food. It’s a delight.
Cranes: 724 9th St. NW, DC; cranes-dc.com // @cranesdc
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