“I’m attracted to challenging businesses, because they force me to work hard, think hard,” says Paul Ruppert, the managing partner behind Petworth’s newest eatery, Crane & Turtle.
The cozy, 25-seat French-Japanese spot opens Tuesday for dinner, joining Ruppert’s eclectic roster of ventures that include the Passenger and Columbia Room, Hogo, Room 11, and Petworth Citizen. The last stands just across the street from the new restaurant and shares its team, including bar manager Kristi Green and chef Makoto Hamamura. Yet while Citizen’s menu plays to the bar’s laid-back vibe with American-style pub grub and ample beers, the new eatery draws from Hamamura’s more refined cooking background, which includes stints as a sushi chef and French butcher’s apprentice, and most recently, a six-year tenure at CityZen.
That’s not to say the menu aims for over-the-top expensive or stuffy. Ruppert has a background in pioneering bartender- and chef-driven spots in developing areas that still maintain an accessible, neighborhood feel; just think of the Passenger or Room 11 when they opened in then-cocktail deserts in 2009. The dinner-only menu blends flavors from Hamamura’s native Japan with French technique, resulting in dishes such as hay-smoked tuna tataki, crispy soft-shell crab with grapefruit, and a playful poached oyster and pork-cheek ramen with “noodles” fashioned from pork cracklings that soften in the soup. Besides snack-size “amuse de mer,” portions fall into traditional appetizers, entrées, and desserts (we’re eyeing that baked doughnut with green-tea ice cream).
While cocktails are a large focus in Ruppert’s other spots, Green focused on harder-to-find sakes, wines, large-format beers, and ciders for Crane & Turtle. Many play to the delicate flavors of the seafood-driven menu, such as a rose sake or a local heirloom cider from Monkton, Maryland. Spirits center on Japanese and American whiskeys, as well as 15 amaro liqueurs for custom Manhattans.
While many neighborhood places shy away from reservations, Ruppert says Crane & Turtle will take bookings by phone for all but the seven counter stools in the serene blue-and-white patterned dining room, designed by Nick Pimentel. A 15-seat patio, set for a fall debut, will expand the space. Those faced with a wait will eventually be able to browse the shelves at Ruppert’s next “challenging” venture: Upshur Street Books, an 800-square foot shop set to open across the street.
Crane & Turtle. 828 Upshur St., NW; 202-723-2543. Open Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday 5 to 10, and Friday and Saturday 5 to 11; closed Monday.