It’s a quandary. Every time we go into Vancouver or Seattle to eat we face the decision: try somewhere new, or go back to a restaurant that we know we love? We frequently opt for a new place, so as to expand our repertoire of great standbys for times when we just don’t want a challenge (like right after a long airplane flight). But some places are so great you just have to go back, if only to make sure they’re just as good as you remember.
We went to Cru a couple of years ago. The small plates/wine bar phenomenon hadn’t gotten nearly as widespread as it is now, and there was still a novelty factor in getting to choose a bunch of different dishes to share. We walked in off the street (through a very nondescript entrance), sat at the bar and proceeded to have one of the best dinners ever – all the more appreciated because we didn’t know what to expect. We’ve since eaten our way through a bunch of other great Vancouver restaurants, but Cru has remained our fondest memory, and we’ve always intended to go back.
So, we were in Vancouver last weekend, doing some damage at Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks (a dangerous shop if there ever was one), and decided that it was as good a time as any to check out Cru again. This time, of course, we made a reservation – but we made sure to sit at the bar again. It’s a great way of doing a small plates dinner, because the bartender is always handy to take your next order (although from what we’ve seen, Cru has great waitstaff). We started out with cocktails and a plate of bruschetta.
There were three different kinds: red pepper puree topped with avocado, edamame puree with oven-dried tomatoes and cheese, and cream cheese with cured arctic char and cucumber. The toasts were incredibly thin and crisp, so you could eat the whole thing in two bites. Perfect cocktail food.
Our second plate was the beef carpaccio. We got this last time we were at Cru, and were amazed at how wonderful it was. The beef is served with a drizzle of truffle aioli, a fluffy pile of parmesan shavings, and a few halved giant caperberries, alongside a large bowl of toast. Not only is this tasty, but it’s just plain fun to eat, because you get to build each bite just how you like it. We were so quietly intent on this dish that the bartender came over to make fun of us.
Next up was a mushroom tart, flaky and piled high with tiny mushrooms with a layer of sharp cheddar. This was served with a snappy green salad full of mustardy tatsoi leaves, which really cut through the richness of the tart.
Our last savory plate was a pair of lamb rib chops which were so good I could hardly believe it. The bartender claimed it was all in the marinade – whatever it is, it produces a perfectly seasoned, perfectly tender piece of lamb with a slightly salty crust. Wow. The lamb came with a good sized salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and feta, and a yogurt sauce. At this point we were sharing a glass of Burrowing Owl merlot from the Okanagan, and it was all just fabulous.
We finished off our (rather lengthy) dinner with a shared dessert: a tiny goat cheese cake with a drizzle of rhubarb sauce. It was tart and creamy, with a delicately crunchy crust underneath.
I had a glass of grappa, which I thought would suit well – most of the grappas I’ve drunk have had a slight apple flavor – but this one was big and smoky. Not the best match with the dessert, but a really interesting glass.
We wandered back out onto Broadway feeling extremely pleased with ourselves. There may be fancier restaurants in Vancouver, but I can’t imagine having a better dinner at any of them.