Cru: Dining highlights downunder in Westport
Updated 1:37 pm, Friday, January 24, 2014
That it is on a lower level underneath The Gap facing the parking lot in downtown Westport did not sound very sophisticated to me.
But the lower level is a mere four steps into a wide door with big windows, and even at first glance, Cru emotes a breathtaking contemporary sophistication. It's a comfortable urban respite at lunch, and at dinner a hidden hot spot for fashionable drinks and eclectic food.
The vibe here is a cross between city slick and old-time speakeasy. Just going down a few steps seems a tad private and the curtained-off lounge adds to the intrigue. Plush leather and fabric chairs, muted colors and subtle lighting encourage fine wine, colorful cocktails, and lots of good conversation. Nicely spaced tables in the equally decadent dining room play off an eclectic menu that features samplings from three distinct cuisines in three distinct sections -- American, Pacific and Mediterranean.
Because there are so many little plate offerings, it is indeed possible to share a meal from around the globe. Like most new restaurants today, small plates and sharing are de rigueur, and almost always overshadow the few more traditional main courses. Smart servers here give good advice on how to navigate the menu, and space out each course for an optimum experience.
125 Main St. (lower level)
203-222-0924 / www.cruwestport.com
Our overall take on this menu is to lean a bit on your chosen cuisine, and only augment lightly for optimum flavor satisfaction. Because we tend to like our sushi in Japanese restaurants, we didn't expect a lot from the Pacific side of the menu here. So we were pleasantly surprised when the house signature roll of tuna, spicy crab salad, micro greens and mango arrived as six dainty, tasty, and prettily served tidbits at lunch, though there was a lot more rice in the dinner version.
Small plates crossovers from East to West are lobster Rangoon with wontons, onion and siracha sauce, hamachi tartare with coconut milk, jalapeno and plantain chips, or pork belly dumplings with black truffle and corn puree.
Both the sesame-crusted tuna burger sliders with wasabi mayo, and the Asian steak wrap with goat cheese, Asian mustard and shitake mushrooms, are fun takes on an East-meets-West theme. Just don't expect a top-notch sushi bar here, but do expect inventive takes on such conventional salads as an Asian Cobb with five-spice grilled chicken and sesame vinaigrette. This Asian food is more for tasty fun.
On the other hand, this is America and one can indeed expect the best from the local side of the menu. And it delivers. Cru's "darn good" sliders define themselves. Two plump, juicy burgers on a golden pretzel bun with melted gouda, caramelized shallots and apple mustard are as "darn good" as we've tasted in awhile, especially with a heap of golden shoestring fries lightly drizzled with sea salt and vinegar.
Salads from the Mediterranean side are equally interesting, including a Greek chopped salad with romaine, feta, fava beans, olives, pita croutons, and a oregano vinaigrette, or a duck a l'orange salad with smoked duck breast, baby beets, orange vinaigrette, and a brie topping.
A hearty pasta option is rich short rib gnocchi with braised onions and Gruyere cream sauce. The veal meatball grinder with grilled red onion and basil is a fine lunch, as is the classic croque madame with Black Forest Ham, Gruyere bechamel, mushroom duxelle, and a golden sunnyside up egg.
Desserts, like the rest of the menu, are seasonal. If you can get it, most definitely order the fried apple pie, which are actually ginger-sugared fried wonton turnovers filled with perfumy Fuji apples and drizzled with a brilliant miso-spiked caramel sauce, finished off with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Yes, the chocolate mousse with sea salt caramel whipped cream, the gelato slicers with waffle cookies, and the coffee panna cotta are lovely. But those apple pies, they are for dreaming about.
Cru is quirky, contemporary and sophisticated. It is also very good.
Cru restaurant, 125 Main St. (lower level). 203-222-0924 / www.cruwestport.com