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.
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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.”