With its 600 square foot footprint, it might be easy to pass Main Street’s intimate new restaurant Crudo e Nudo, but doing so would be to skip out on a seafood experience unlike anything else in town.
Born from the turbulent waters of the pandemic, Crudo e Nudo has created a unique and community centered dining experience based on the principles of collaboration, sustainability and seasonality. Their patio parklet dining space offers a curated menu of top quality local fishes, while the indoor store hosts a seafood and natural wine market alongside a morning coffee shop.
The project began with a mid 2020 chance run in of two Santa Monicans — Brian Bornemann, the Executive Chef at the then shuttered Michael’s, and Leena Culhane, a musician, artist and bartender.
With the world on pause, the pair both faced an uncertain job market and felt a desperate yearning to do something. When outdoor dining reopened in the summer, they spotted an unusual area of opportunity. As bars needed a food partner in order to do business, Bornemann and Culhane began pitching up with an ice box, cutting boards, and some of the freshest local fish available to serve the dish that remains the centerpiece of the restaurant: crudo.
However the duo doesn’t only plate a classic hamachi or salmon crudo, they have also brought this style to a range of local fishes like vermillion snapper or halibut that rarely get this elevated treatment. This idea was born from their dedication to supporting local fishermen and only serving sustainably sourced, high-quality fish. Luckily, it has also been a big success and after many popular pop-ups, they sought out their Main Street brick and mortar location.
“We didn’t really know how much the crudos would take off, but fortunately it’s been our top seller…now we have people who come in and they’re bummed when we’re out of rock fish or bummed when we’re out of abalone, and that was stuff that even just months ago we had to convince people (to order),” said Bornemann.
The restaurant has decided to make its mark as true purveyor of local fish, which is a rarity in Los Angeles and something that has long been a dream of Bornemann.
“Haven grown up here in LA, like on the PCH, I was always just wondering why we had to bring fish from the East Coast, or Alaska, or New Zealand and why we didn’t have any kind of common culture around eating fishes from California and Baja and this area,” said Bornemann.
Part of the answer, according to Bornemann, comes from the high price point associated with West Coast seafood. He said that when all the other expenses of a restaurant are taken into account, food costs often get pushed to the bottom resulting in the sourcing of cheaper East Coast or foreign fish.
The Crudo e Nudo team has been able to surmount this barrier by making local fish the centerpiece of their restaurant and paring down everything else, with a small menu, a small dining area, and a small team.
“That’s why we chose such a small footprint, so that we could really keep that quality very high. I think that’s what resonates with people so much,” said Bornemann. “It’s very rare to have something maintain that higher quality.”
They have also been able to rely on the support of the Westside community, where many residents are wealthy enough to afford Crudo e Nudo’s fish and prioritize high-quality sustainably produced food.
“I think a big part of what we do is able to be successful because of the privilege that we do have here on the Westside,” said Culhane. “For me and Brian, we are also very interested in creating a place where it actually is more approachable for other people.”
In order to support this goal, the team launched a $15 weekday lunch special comprised of menu favorites such as the tuna tartare toast on a seeded gjusta loaf with onion confit, shrimp stock and black sesame; and the vegan Caesar salad with kombu, croutons, furikake and avocado.
Ever grateful of the support they received from hosting businesses when Crudo e Nudo was a pop-up, the restaurant continues to collaborate with other small companies.
For example, the female owned fishing company Get Hooked offers fish pick-up at Crudo, while the Echo Park based business Little Fish hosts pop-up dinners there every Tuesday. The coffee shop program called Lenny’s that Culhane runs out of Crudo e Nudo in the morning serves treats from Gjusta and small batch coffee from Long Beach roastery Blacklight Coffee, while 50 percent of profits go to local nonprofits.
“It has that collaborative like rising tide floats all boats point of view,” said Culhane. “We really don’t feel like anybody else being credited with a good thing is ever detracting from what we do.”
They also feature several small and sustainable businesses in their natural wine store and marketplace. While the restaurant aspect of Crudo e Nudo is already well known around town, Bornemann and Culhane are encouraging more people to stop by to purchase fresh seafood, canned seafood, wines and pantry items.
To that end they have launched a monthly wine club and tin club, offering a rotating selection of natural, organic or biodynamic wines and of tinned seafood with housemade pickles, preserves and supporting accouterments.
While the business is still very young it has already gained wide recognition and several awards, including being listed as one of 15 restaurants on The Infatuation’s “LA’s Best New Restaurants of 2021.”
“Brian and I really see those accolades as wonderful things that make us feel seen, but also as just the icing on top,” said Culhane. “The cupcake is what we do every day and… we feel very grateful for all of the support that we’ve gotten.”