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A magical night with food: Dining at Enotria, then cooking into wee hours at Kru

Published: Friday, Aug. 16, 2013 - 9:15 am
Last Modified: Monday, Feb. 17, 2014 - 3:37 pm

One of the reasons Billy Ngo, the owner and chef of Kru, is such a compelling part of the local restaurant scene is because he’s always looking for new ways to get better.

He and a few friends dropped $2,600 at Meadowood in St. Helena to get a front-and-center look at Christopher Kostow’s 3-star Michelin food at the special $500-per-person chef’s table. And this past Monday, Ngo was on hand at Enotria to eat and gather intel during the restaurant’s monthly guest chef series — this time it was Michelin two-star chef Dominique Crenn of Atelier Crenn in San Francisco. By all accounts, the dinner was a tremendous success, with Enotria executive chef Pajo Bruich holding his own with this major talent from the big city.

But at the end of the night at Enotria, something special happened that showed the kind of chef Ngo is. Not only is he forever striving to be better, he loves Sacramento and, like Bruich, wants to help elevate its culinary reputation.

After the lengthy dinner service was over and the last guests had left, Crenn let it slip that she was famished — yes, chefs like Crenn and Bruich may cook magnificent food, but they often end up going elsewhere for grub at night’s end.

Michael Passmore of Passmore Ranch, the highly regarded fish purveyor, was also one of the industry guests in attendance.

“Dominique said, ‘Hey, where can we grab food on our way out of town?’ And Bill said, ‘Hey, I’ll cook for you,’" Passmore told me.

“I don’t know if the causal reader understands what it means to close a restaurant and then open it again. It’s very difficult. But Bill just wants to do it. He wants people to critique his food, and beyond that, he loves to cook for people.”

Ngo had to act quickly. He called the restaurant and found William Tan, the star waiter (and skilled sushi chef), was still there. It was close to midnight. Ngo then arranged to call several members of his staff back to the restaurant. This was big. And urgent.

Ngo hustled to Kru and started cutting up fish. He had a sushi chef working alongside him, two cooks in the kitchen and Tan was there to serve. Along with Crenn and a couple of her kitchen staff, there were about 10 diners total. They ate until 2 a.m., sampling some of Ngo’s Japanese fusion wizardy.

Ngo said he prepared "a bunch of nigiri" and roasted bone marrow. Many of the wee-hours guests drank sake, though Crenn stuck with wine.

“It was cool. It was awesome,” Ngo said. “She was kind of in a rush. She left around 2.”

I’m told they re-closed the restaurant at 3:30 a.m. and Ngo was in bed by 4.

Why is this kind of hustle and moxie important? Let’s say that Crenn, the nation’s only female 2-star Michelin chef, takes that experience back to San Francisco and word spreads -- about Enotria, about Ngo and Kru, about the city’s food scene in general.

The next day, Passmore, who got home at 3 a.m. after eating at Kru, said his chief fishmonger, Sean Boyle, was in San Francisco and paid a visit to Atelier Crenn.

Says Passmore, “They were like, ‘Wow! That was so cool.”

Call The Bee’s Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. Follow him on Twitter @Blarob

Read more articles by Blair Anthony Robertson

About Appetizers

Chris Macias has served as The Sacramento Bee's Food & Wine writer since 2008. His writing adventures have ranged from the kitchen at French Laundry to helping pick 10 tons of zinfandel grapes with migrant farm workers in Lodi. Chris also judges regularly at food, wine and cocktail competitions around Northern California. His profile of a former gangbanger-turned-pastry-chef was included in Da Capo's "Best Food Writing 2012."

Read his Wine Buzz columns here
(916) 321-1253
Twitter: @chris_macias

Allen Pierleoni writes about casual lunchtime restaurants in The Sacramento Bee's weekly "Counter Culture" column. He covers a broad range of topics, including food, travel, books and authors. In addition to writing the weekly column "Between the Lines," he oversees the Sacramento Bee Book Club, in which well-known authors give free presentations to the public.

Read his Counter Culture reviews here
(916) 321-1128
Twitter: @apierleonisacbe

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Sacramento Bee's food critic.

Read his restaurant reviews here
(916) 321-1099
Twitter: @Blarob

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Note: The Appetizers blog switched blog platforms in August 2013. All posts after the switch are found here. Older posts are available using the list below.

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