Cru

the restaurant review

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When a restaurant tries to give equal space to a prodigious wine list and an artful menu, you might expect one or the other to be overwhelmed—not at Cru. The food, from ex-Bouley chef de cuisine Shea Gallante, is tasty and innovative without being heavy-handed. You will be met with an extraordinarily expansive wine list and, after the meal is complete, will feel as if you deserved an advanced degree in wine tasting.

There are plenty of delightful amuse-bouches to start off with, which one needs in order to get all of one’s oenological ducks in a row. The 65,000-bottle cellar (yes, that’s three zeros after the 65), of which a mere 3,500 make it onto the two-volume, leather-bound wine catalogue and 50 of which are offered by the glass, takes some navigation.

Luckily, the sommeliers are willing and able pilots in your endeavor. By the time we meandered through the first round of amuse-bouches—delicious duck meatballs on skewers, fontina wrapped in proscuitto and small pieces of lobster—we had chosen glasses, a crisp 2000 Silvaner and 2002 Chasselas Vielles Vignes at a respectable $12 a piece. We drank them with the next round, tuna tartare topped with a poached quail egg, and discussed what white we should get. The choices were so mind-boggling that we ended up giving the sommelier a few pointers on price and style and a free hand, which he used admirably in recommending a half-bottle of lean and tropical 2001 Hirsch Gruner Veltliner.

The half-bottle turned out to be a great complement to the myriad tastes conveyed by the appetizers. On one trip, we ordered two plates of crudo: arctic char with smoked pepper, apple endive and vanilla oil, and white tuna dusted with olive praline, caper espresso and chive, both of which were slightly counterintuitive, but effective.

Seeing that I was again trying to make headway into the wine catalogue (in this context, ‘list’ seems laughably diminutive) the sommelier graciously made his presence felt. We asked him to help us choose a red: Bordeaux style, from the 80s, and within our price range—a real challenge.

Once our appetizers had been cleared, our waitress, who was charming without being overly familiar, brought us yet more complementary tasting dishes (I was beginning to love this place). These were fresh ravioli of young pecorino and a sticky and rich gnocchi. And for the extravagantly minded, you can choose to have white truffle shavings on top of select dishes for an extra $38.

As we were enjoying the pasta, the sommelier returned with his choice of wine in response to our requests: a 1985 red from Lombardy, named Ca’ del Bosco Rossa from Maurizio Zanella, which was, for $88, a knockout. As one of our party put it with a smile, “I have never tasted a wine like this before.” The wine’s age gave us a peek below the fruit that so often overwhelms all other flavors. This wine had, strangely but not unpleasantly, turnip in the nose. As the sommelier said, with a well-earned flourish, “I dare you to find wine this cheap and this good at Veritas.” I doubt you could.

For our entrées, which were made even more splendid by the wine, we had meaty dishes: a fresh and well-blended duck breast, a light but earthy lamb and a gamey venison dish. As we savored the last of our wine and mopped up our sauce, the dessert menu came.

But before we deal with that, let me say something more about the wine list. This is a wine lover’s dream. There are some blockbusters: an 1899 magnum of Chateau Lafite Rothschild for $13,000, a 1942 La Tache and a 1970 Ridge Montebello for $212. The selection is amazingly expansive, but the sommeliers are happy to help, and there are some reasonably priced choices—our delicious red, for example.

On our most recent visit, we ordered two desserts: the Hacienda Concepcion tart au chocolat and, because we were feeling experimental, the Sun, Sea and Sand. After we had ordered, two things happened that detracted from the wonderful ambiance of the restaurant: the couple at the next table began—much to the embarrassment of all—to allow their passion to get the better of them, and the waitress, still charming and with a (nearly) straight face, described what had inspired the pastry chef, Will Goldfarb, in making Sun, Sea and Sand: a ham and cheese sandwich on the beach at St. Barts.

And then the props to the dessert arrived, a spray bottle full of salt water representing the sea (which we should have used on our amorous neighbors), a vial of a bright-colored liquid, the sun, and a test tube of sand (pulverized shortbread) and then the dessert itself: a bowl of intermixed goops, one infused with parma ham and another with cheese. It is difficult to overcome the contrived pomposity of it all: a completely unnecessary addition at a restaurant as formidable as Cru. If the pretension was meant to be ironic, it was betrayed by the snickering and eye-rolling of the waitstaff. To be fair, we almost didn’t notice, but the other dessert was quite good—a bitter rich chocolate sweetened by passion and peach tea.

With the exception of the theatrical dessert, the meal is one of the finest you will find in New York City and an apt destination to take clients. The food is delicious as well as adventurous and it is a great opportunity to have access to such a magnificent wine collection. n Felix Leslie is a corporate lawyer in New York City

The lowdown

Address: 24 Fifth Avenue, at 9th Street, New York City, 10011
Telephone: 212-529-1700
Decor: Exotic woods and soft tones
Service: Friendly,helpful and generally unpretentious
Sound level: Busy but not overbearing
Price range: Appetizers, $9–24; Entrées, $21–48; Desserts, $9; Chef’s tasting menus, $95
Hours: Dinner, Monday through Saturday, 5:30pm–11:00pm; Sundays closed
Credit cards: All major credit cards accepted

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