Photos By Nicholas Karlin, Words By Josh Phelps
Crane & Turtle sous chef Kyle Rubin uses the term family often when discussing Chef Makoto Hamamura and his team. It’s fitting then that it’s a dedication to family that draws Makoto closer to his in New York after April 24. This also draws the final curtain on his creative Japanese-French cuisine for what will be the Crane & Turtle family’s final service together as the space goes dark. Or does it?
The wonderfully intimate space already has events planned for 15 nights between closing and May 15. On Monday, May 4, highly anticipated Anxo cidery inches closer to its summer opening with 10 nights of chef Alex Vallcorba showcasing his small plates against a rotating cast of ciders.
But first, at the suggestion of Makoto and with the blessing of owner Paul Ruppert, several members of the Crane & Turtle family will reclaim 828 Upshur St. NW for a series of pop ups: Kyle Rubin’s Mona Moon dinner, Guillaume Bouscavel and Angelina Dirina’s Natural Wine Night, and Bar Otsukare from Jesse Salvagn and Eddie Kim. These “passion project pop-ups,” Ruppert explains, allow their team to take night or two to focus their talents and expertise on projects that “may eventually develop into something more.”
We sat with Paul and Kyle to discuss the genesis of the project and how Crane & Turtle fans will be able to sample the exemplary cuisine and spirit programs crafted by the same dedicated family that drew them back to Upshur Street NW over the past two years.
Find tickets to Tuesday’s and Friday’s Mona Moon dinners here. Wednesday’s Natural Wine night and Saturday and Sunday’s Bar Otsukare are walk-in beginning at 5 p.m. For reservations to the Anxo pop-ups, call 202-810-2696 between the hours of noon and 3 p.m., Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Brightest Young Things: What inspired you to take on this pop-up week which dovetails directly with the closing of Crane & Turtle?
Paul Ruppert: We’ve known for several month that we were going to close Crane and Turtle but we wanted to do it in a way that gave us a chance to do some things that were fun. In the restaurant industry, lots of people are interested eventually in doing their own projects and this is an opportunity for some of the folks: Kyle (Rubin,) Guillaume (Bouscavel,) Angelina (Dirina,) Jesse (Selvagn,) Eddie Kim – to do one night or two nights of a project they may eventually develop into something more.
We came up with this idea to do a week of pop ups, basically three different events during that week. Kyle is doing two nights, Angelina and Guillaume are doing the natural wine night, Jessie and Eddie are doing two nights of their Bar Otsukare. This version of that will be focused on Sake. They’ve done nights focused on Japanese whiskeys, some nights focused on sochu in the past, and some nights focused on sake. This will be back to focusing on sake.
BYT: Bar Otsukare will be a walk-in event all night?
P.R.: Come in whenever you want from 5 o’ clock to midnight, everything a la carte. Have a sake, have a couple sake’s, hang out. There’ll be loud music and darker lights than we normally keep at Crane & Turtle. A fun, raucous night. They’re taking examples from the small, neighborhood sake bars in Japan and in NY. Small spaces with large number of sakes available, a wide range of styles, and the Japanese that go with it. They’re extremely knowledgable about sake and get really excited about sharing that knowledge and experience.
BYT: Can you explain to me and others who might not know exactly what you mean with “natural wine”?
P.R.: Guillaume and Angelina’s idea is to import some wines that aren’t normally imported into DC: Italian wines in the natural wine style. Natural wine is grown in an environmentally sustainable way. There’s not specific rules connected to it – for instance, organic wines would fall under a natural wine rubric but there’s other winemaking processes that would fall under natural wine. These are wines from vineyards who want to process the wines as naturally as possible. Natural fermentation as opposed to pushed along by additives. No pesticides. They also tend to have a wider range of flavors. People who do this are attracted to more unusual grapes so the flavors might be a little broader, funky. It’s interesting because they look back at tradition but aren’t necessarily restrained by it.
At this point, Ruppert exits to presumably check in on his other businesses in the immediate vicinity: Upshur Street Books, Petworth Citizen, and the upcoming Slim’s Diner. As I sat down with Kyle, he was open to discussing the inspiration for his two Mona Moon dinners but more coy when it came to actual ingredients and dishes. So, it was definitely to my delight when I saw the menu drop on the event page. Local fresh catch like blue crab and rockfish served alongside with a wide range of seasonal vegetables and flowers. How local? He strolled into our meeting fresh from checking on some flowers in Maryland he’d be picking himself for the dinner.
BYT: OK, first the name. Talk a little bit about where Mona Moon came from.
Kyle Rubin: The name Mona Moon came from two things in my life that were very important to me. My dog, her name was Moonie. She was the most important thing when I had a rough day, she was there. The connection I had with her was so special so I had to incorporate her in the name. And then my grandmother, who’s a huge cooking influence in my life, her nickname was Mona Moon. Sort of an expression of “my love” and I wanted to incorporate that as well.
BYT: The event pages describes your pop-up nights as “contemporary American style of gastronomy with French influence.” What exactly does that entail?
K.R.: The food is definitely gonna be extremely focused on the ingredients. Everything on the plate will have a meaning. There’ll be a lot of flavor combinations that people haven’t had, not odd, but off the beaten path. At the same time, it’s actually really classic because I don’t wanna do too much to anything. When things are great and you catch them at the right time you don’t have to do too much and, if you do, you could possibly ruin it. Everything from the finest piece of wagyu you can get in Japan to a carrot that you pull out of your backyard should be treated with the same attention and respect. That’s what we’re going to do.
BYT: The concept of local ingredients seems pretty important to you.
K.R.: The dinner will be as many things that I can get from Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania as possible. Each state has their own beautiful things. I am going out and picking it and lot of it. There’s a guy who’s raised the chickens in Maryland and is giving me the livers for a chicken liver dish. We’re gonna get local Amish butter.
BYT: Will Chef Makoto get to try the food?
K.R.: He won’t, unfortunately. But he’s been a great family member and friend to everyone here. He’s done so much for me I could never… he just deserves all the credit in the world. I’ve developed so much because of him, it’s unbelievable. He’s the most humble guy I’ve ever worked with, for sure.