Address: 1459 West Broadway
Mon-Sun 5pm-11pm dinner
Eat Vancouver Editor
Monday, September 12, 2005
*** (of four stars)
Cru sits at the bustling Granville and Broadway intersection, but when you step through its doors you leave the hectic rush of the city behind you. In fact, there might as well be a sign at the door saying, leave your troubles at the door outside. From the subtle earth tones to the soft music playing in the background, Cru seems designed to soothe.
The main dining room at Cru is a long corridor with a mirrored wall and soft lighting emanating from tableside candles and rectangular lighting fixtures. The service is similarly subdued: helpful and intelligent but not overly eager.
The food and drink at Cru, for the most part, follow suit with the ambience. In line with its moniker, Cru is marketed as a wine bar style restaurant and it does, in fact, do wine quite well. The wine list is intelligently designed with several moderately priced options and relatively small markups. The sourcing of the wine could, however, be more adventurous – it’s not unusual to find a wine you have tried at Cru at your local BC liquor store. Or maybe this is a compliment directed at BC liquor stores. I honestly don’t know. The wine list is even color coded to match up with the menu, which is a very useful feature. But to focus on the wine at Cru would do a serious disservice to the kitchen.
The fare at Cru manages to do what so few upper level restaurants do; it is elegant and exciting yet remains unpretentious and homey. Take the herb crusted lamb loin on the prix fixe menu for example. The pairing of rich lamb with a sharp anisey crust is both inspired and comforting. Together with a rich cherry and feta cheese tart, it’s the food you wish mom used to make. The kitchen does make a few missteps here and there though. For example, on one night the cabernet mushroom demi glace on the beef tenderloin was so salty it was nearly impossible to detect the delicate flavor of the mushrooms and overwhelmed the overcooked tenderloin, which is not a very intense flavored meat in the first place. The dish is somewhat redeemed by the lusty blue cheese soufflé; blue cheese is almost always an excellent paring with red meat and the soufflé brings the dish together, wrapping the diner up like a warm blanket on a cold night.
Both the prix fixe and small plate menus contain similar hits and misses, heavily weighted towards hits. Making an appearance on the prix fixe menu, the cellar door Caesar salad is a delightful take on your traditional Caesar, this one being grilled to help bring the cheese, dressing and iceberg lettuce together. The beef carpaccio, also on the prix fixe menu is uninspired – the added caperberries lend nothing to the dish. From the small plates menu, the duck confit is taken to a new, yet comforting level, with a warm bacon vinaigrette. The beef short ribs with macaroni and cheese is another winner, further supporting this restaurant’s raison d’être with the very sumptuous pairing of flavorful short ribs with nurturing macaroni and cheese.
Regarding bang for your buck, I believe the prix fixe menu at Cru is a steal. Let’s face it, Cru doesn’t exist in a bubble. There are several restaurants around town that offer a $35 prix fixe menu, ostensibly aimed at diners on a budget, but seeking a special dining experience. To quickly run them down: Feenie’s has one, as does West, and Parkside’s is $45. From what I have sampled, Cru is at the top of this list, but they all, of course, offer very different experiences. For example, Feenie’s is much louder and caters to a younger crowd. I also think the cuisine and service at Feenie’s is a step below Cru, but that is another article.
Cru just happens to also serve a very excellent dessert. One thing this kitchen does well when it comes to dessert is in pairing the sweet with the savory. The lemon and basil tart works perfectly, with the basil elevating the lemon to heights it wouldn’t dare climb on its own. The sweet and sour in the goat cheese cake also works quite well. You also can’t go wrong with cheese (hey, this is a wine bar) and the portions are quite generous. The crème brulee, however, is nothing you won’t find in any crème brulee in the area, and the chocolate torte becomes redundant after a few bites.
If you are looking for an excellent place for a glass of wine and a bite to eat with good friends, or simply a place to nosh your troubles away, I would seriously consider Cru.
(photographs by Desmond Cheung, © 2005)