Crustacean is Open and Better Than Ever

After eight months and a $10 million renovation, Crustacean has returned to Beverly Hills with not one, but two new restaurant spaces. The high-end upstairs section, named Da Lat Rose, will not open its doors until May, but downstairs, Crustacean offers a new menu with innovative Euro-Vietnamese fusion delights prepared by chef-owner Helene An and executive chef Tony Nguyen.

IMG_9707Outside the reopened Crustacean is a cherry blossom tree that changes colors throughout the night. Walking through the opening of the Vietnamese style double doors, one of the first people I noticed at the grand opening dinner was Executive chef Helene An, also known as Mama An. Wearing her crisp, white linen chef coat emblazoned with her name and title in gold cursive lettering, she stood near her daughter Elizabeth. Together they welcomed guests upon arrival with warm smiles. “What do you think of my new restaurant?” Mama An asked me. The first word that came to mind was – exquisite. IMG_9599
Mama An took me on a stroll along restaurant’s signature “walk on water” aesthetic pathway. “The looking glass floor has doubled in size,” An said. This water feature runs from the entrance on Bedford Drive to a window looking out to Santa Monica Blvd.

Mama An is a true American success story, as one of 17 children, she was raised in the Northern region of Vietnam. In 1971, her mother-in-law bought a 20 seat in San Francisco. During the fall of Saigon, the family had to leave everything behind when the Communist took over South Vietnam. After fleeing by boat in 1975, they arrived in San Francisco and soon turned the space purchased years ago, into Thanh Long, San Francisco’s first Vietnamese restaurant. “Elizabeth was seven years old,” Mama An said as she led me to my table. “She helped me in the restaurant.”IMG_9710-2 First impressions are lasting, and beverage director Peter Barriga bar program mirrors Mama An’s Yin and Yang cooking philosophy, by adding Asian spices and flavors to give a twist on cocktails. The classic Mule is served in a tall glass with turmeric-infused gin, turmeric syrup, ginger syrup, citrus and soda water. It’s visually pretty with a long cucumber slice ribbon for garnish. I ordered the coconut enhanced margarita garnished with orange, lemon and lime slices.IMG_9612
An innovative cocktail and food pairing started as an elegant cart was rolled to the table, and our server Ryan made us a High Tea Penicillin cocktail using black tea-infused Chivas scotch blend, with ginger and honey syrup added. Black tea and lavender steaming from an elegant pot created a cloud of aromatic steam. Elizabeth An came over to our table after our cocktail was made and asked “What goes well with Chivas scotch? How about a cigar.”IMG_9620
Ryan arrived at my side with a cigar box. Since, I’m not a cigar smoker, I was a bit perplexed until he lifted the lid and a pleasing smoky vapor revealed three beautiful, perfectly shaped cigars filled with tuna, instead of tobacco. What made this dish even more appealing was the black Tobiko (flying fish eggs) caviar at one end to give the appearance of a lit cigar. The crispy outside of this spring roll was made with brick de feuille, an authentic French non-buttery dough.

Other dazzling presentations included the surf & turf sashimi presented with thin slices of wild salmon and A-5 Wagyu beef. On top were crispy garlic, purple potato, and a splash of tobacco chili vinaigrette. The tuna and uni’ air bread looked like bite size pillows of tuna with a dollop of citrusy yuzu cream fraiche. IMG_9655The Karate salad arrived next with a mound of shredded kohlrabi, offering the taste and texture somewhere between cabbage and broccoli stems. This was enhanced with black truffle, crispy Kennebec potato, and garlic blossom.IMG_1475
The winner for best presentation was the Hearts of Palm vegan style “crab cake.” Served in a unique white serving dish that’s shaped almost like a taco shell, the raised side was decorated with chopped yellow, orange and purple nasturtium flowers. On the flat part was a generous sized pan fried cake that tasted just like crab, yet is made with Hearts of Palm and a swirl of spicy aioli.

Another vegetarian dish was the Kung Pao eggplant sticks. Instead of cubes, the eggplant was cut into long pieces and glazed with a slightly sweet and spicy sauce.IMG_9698
An elegant dish was the roasted bone marrow with Burgundy escargot and peppered lime. It was served with sprigs of rau ram, also known as Vietnamese cilantro.

I really enjoyed the two different types of dumplings paired with a flute of Moet & Chandon Imperial champagne. The Pho soup dumplings were topped with Holy basil, a popular Southeast Asian leaf that offers a slightly spicy anise and licorice flavor. Kaffir lime was squeezed into the rich broth balancing the onion, garlic, ginger, possibly star anise, cloves and cinnamon. The floral looking red dumpling was filled with braised lamb, Galangal Japanese sweet potato and butternut squash. Little puffed rice floated in this heavenly broth.

When a large Himalayan salt block was delivered to our table we appreciated the slices of prime all-natural rib eye still cooking. This paired nicely with a glass of Kaiken Malbec.

Steaming plates of An’s garlic noodles and a garlic roasted whole Dungeness crab arrived after the beef. We applauded our server Ryan as he expertly removed the shell revealing succulent meat. Elizabeth An walked by our table and told us to pick the pieces of crab up with our hands “It’s finger lickin’ good,” she said. We paired these dishes with a pour of Illumination.IMG_9658
Desserts included a black plate with passion fruit and pavlova chips, chopped tropical fruit, strawberry gel and coconut sorbet. The sweet potato pudding cake had a little miso cream, goji berry and a small scoop of cinnamon ice cream.

Before leaving Elizabeth told us we must come back in May for the opening of the upstairs Da Lat Rose at Crustacean. “It’s named after the beautiful city in Southern Vietnam’s Central Highlands, where Mama An grew up,” said Elizabeth. “It’s also the home of the graceful and rare Da Lat rose, and Mama is that very rose.”

The restaurant is closed on Mondays. $$$. It is open Tuesday through Friday for lunch and dinner from 12 to 10 p.m. On Saturday it opens at 5 to 11 p.m. and Sunday, it opens at 5 to 10 p.m. 9646 S. Santa Monica Blvd. (310)205-8990.

My review was featured in the April 5, 2018 issue of the Beverly Press –


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