Carla Meyer

First Impressions: Kru moves into space befitting its food quality and prices

At the new Kru locale, gray walls evoke the more industrial-looking J Street space, yet the space overall is airy and warm.
At the new Kru locale, gray walls evoke the more industrial-looking J Street space, yet the space overall is airy and warm.

First Impressions visits dining spots that are new or have undergone transitions. Have a candidate for First Impressions? Email us at taste@sacbee.com.

The only knock on Kru Contemporary Japanese Cuisine, when it was on J Street in midtown Sacramento, was that the cramped, dark, slightly scruffy space did not match the restaurant’s fine-dining-level cuisine and pricing.

Problem solved. In October, chef/proprietor Billy Ngo and his business partners moved the restaurant to new, spacious digs next to the Selland family’s OBO’ Italian Bar & Table, in the old Andiamo space on Folsom Boulevard in East Sacramento.

At more than 6,000 square feet, the new Kru is three times bigger than the old one, and includes a roomy bar area – nicely outfitted by designer Whitney Johnson with a soft-pine bar that still smells of freshly cut wood, and comfortable leather stools – where patrons can sip craft cocktails or a highball made with a highly prized Japanese whisky.

The full bar is new to Folsom Boulevard (the old spot offered beer and sake), and Ngo is making the most of it. The new Kru soon will open a retail shop (doubling as a private dining room) that will sell bottles of whisky directly to consumers.

Menu: The much-beloved dinner menu from the old spot, consisting of nigiri/sashimi selections, special rolls, creative small plates and a limited list of entrees, remained mostly intact with the move. But Kru devotees always have preferred the omakase, or chef’s choice, option, which costs $125 per person (plus drinks and gratuity) and involves sitting at the sushi bar as Ngo and his talented crew offer a seemingly endless stream of delectables. (We ordered the then-$100-a-person omakase option on Kru’s last night in business a few months ago, and although the many individuals elements have now become a tasty blur, we recall eating barracuda and leaving very full and happy).

Lunch options include sushi, sashimi and bento-box options similar to what was served on J Street, and a new item: oyakodon, a chicken and rice dish with slow-poached egg, crispy chicken skin, pickles and green onion. Ngo first made it for the Tower Bridge dinner.

Price point: Here, as in the old space, how much one pays depends on one’s degree of hunger. Though some items seem low-priced, it can take so many to get full that Kru can easily move into Ella-Grange-Mulvaney’s pricing territory.

At dinner, nigiri/sashimi runs $7-$29, specialty rolls $9-$14.50, small plates $11-$18. Craft cocktails are $11. At lunch, a single-item bento box (each comes with salad, miso soup and rice) costs $15, and two-items box $17. These bento boxes are pricey when compared with those at midtown’s less-heralded but solid Ju Hachi, where a one-item box is $10 and two items $14.50.

Ambiance: With its muted color scheme and now-almost-industry-standard polished concrete floors, Kru is not as immediately striking as brightly colored neighbor OBO’. But Johnson did a wonderful job with the design. Gray walls evoke the more industrial-looking J Street space, and by extension, spare Japanese design. Yet the space overall is airy and warm, with whimsical touches like a high-backed bar booth fronted by a tree-stump table, a globe-shaped and sinuously spiny sea urchin – or “uni” – lamp, and a mural by Corey Bernhardt of Reclamare tattoo shop that evokes rice fields.

Drinks: Craft cocktails. Sake. Small list of wines by the glass and bottle. Beers on draft include offerings from local breweries as well as Hitachino White Ale and Coedo sweet potato beer from Japan. Though the Japanese whisky list is still being worked out, one can order a “highball” with Suntory whisky and soda, for $11.

First impressions: Our lunch last week included a nicely flavor-balanced $12.50 “Great White” roll housing calamari tempura with just enough chew, along with sweet chili and snappy green onions.

Since it was a late lunch (and daylight saving time somewhere), we sampled the frothy-textured yet crisp-tasting Hundred Acre Woods cocktail with Monkey Shoulder Scotch, triple sec and egg white, and the Suntory highball, the whisky in which tasted as smooth and smoky as Scotch and reminded us of the scene in “Lost in Translation” in which Bill Murray, playing a Hollywood celebrity, shills for this whisky brand.

Try it if: You like high-end Japanese food.

Skip it if: You are on a tight budget.

Kru

3135 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento

Information: krurestaurant.com, 916-551-1559

Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m Friday; 5-11 p.m. Saturday; 5-10 p.m. Sunday.

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