Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cru Fort Myers Artisanal Quality, Great Pricing, Brings ‘Em In!

NOTE: CRU CLOSED IN DECEMBER, 2008. TODAY, 2/10/09, CO-OWNER LIZ KAGAN CONFIRMS THAT CRU REOPENED JANUARY 20TH, WITH A MORE COST EFFECTIVE STAFF SIZE. CRU OFFERS LUNCH AND DINNER, WITH AN INNOVATIVE MENU THAT CHANGES DAILY. LIVE ENTERTAIMENT IS SCHEDULED. THERE'S A TWO YEAR LEASE COMMITMENT, SO CRU IS SOLIDLY BACK IN THE SADDLE AT THE BELL TOWER SHOPPES.

CHEF BRIAN ROLAND, DESCRIBED BELOW, NOW IS EXECUTIVE CHEF AT M WATERFRONT GRILLE IN NAPLES. CHEF RICHIE WILIM, JR., THE ABLE EXECUTIVE CHEF OF CRU, SHALL CONTINUE TO PROVIDE VERY GOOD MEALS AT PRICES THAT ARE QUITE ATTRACTIVE IN THIS ECONOMY. CRU IS WELL WORTH A VISIT.

Happy Hour Appetizers Packs 'Em In

Cru, in the Bell Tower Shops, continues to lead the pack in Lee County in culinary creativity, taste and beautiful presentation. Portions are large, and the lowered prices gives unbelievable bang for the buck. They just celebrated their Fourth birthday, and are going strong, with many loyal patrons. Pricing proof? The Crispy Calamari, are the same $8 as at several better quality national chains I like, who offer the standard marinara sauce, however Cru’s Asian style grilled pineapple and sweet chili glaze sauce is, well, addictive!. (Over the past few years, both national chains and mom and pop restaurants have been raising the bar on quality while maintaining or lowering prices, and you reap the benefits.)

What’s the secret to reaching a successful 4th birthday? Executive Chef Brian Roland, for one. He constantly invents, and reinvents Cru’s dishes, and loyal people just keep coming back for more! His artful presentations could easily grace the pages of Art Culinaire, the chef’s quarterly that presents the nation’s top chefs, with photos and recipes for their dishes, as well. In a tightening economy, he has created a new menu for summer, with reduced pricing, and the same high quality.

Chef Brian Roland
He personally visits Fort Myers Farmer’s Markets and buys the freshest local fruits and vegetables, often organic, when available. These delights are incorporated into regular dishes as well as specials.. He gets fresh local Florida seafood from select fishermen, and you benefit from the great taste and the lower price point. The taste tells all. Crisp, picture perfect Bibb lettuce, tantalizing squash; yes, it’s not grocery store’s pretty yet tasteless food served here! Yep, he even a trademarked the apt name-Florida Fusion Cuisine. What drives him? He says: “Food is the only way to hit all five senses at once…That is what fuels my passion”.

Chef Roland is Culinary Institute of America trained-a very good thing. He was then selected to spend a year with legendary Chef Daniel Boulud- a superb thing! This apple does not fall far from the tree, and you and I benefit from Chef Roland’s passion for bringing out the best of each fresh ingredient.

He notes: “People are looking more and more to “healthy””, and they return to Cru, year after year, happily putting their money where their appetite is. One Naples gourmand said “ I don’t like making the trip to Fort Myers much, however when I’m going to visit Cru, I just don’t notice the drive”

Ok, back on track for Secret number two-The knowledgeable staff is friendly, and “cover” for each other. You can ask a server other than yours to get, say a fork to replace one that fell, and you quickly receive the fork. Elsewhere, you may hear “I’m not your server” or “I’ll tell your server (if I remember)”.

Secret three- Customers that recognize high quality food. Cru’s creative cuisine holds it own, when compared to similar high quality dining around the country, and does so at a better price point.
I visited on a Thursday, a slow day in this off season. There’s valet parking right outside-a nice touch. The greeter does that, with a warm smile, and my party selected a very comfortable booth. Service was prompt, the server had a solid knowledge of the menu and specials.

Ok, chow time. We had the Cru Classic Spicy Crab Roll, ($8, below), served hot and crisp, with a light touch of sweet teriyaki glaze, and placed next to swirls of sriracha hot sauce, so you can add your own level of heat. This twist on traditional Chinese food was fresh, and had a great “bite” to go with the rich texture of the crab. Yes, lumps of crab here, not the fake “surimi” that other places “switcheroo” for the crab, and charge crab prices.
The Grilled Asian Beef Satays ($8, below) stood out, vertically, as well as taste wise, with four generous skewers of beef, marinaded in soy, sweet chili, and mirin, then seared, bringing out a rich taste. The skewers support fresh baby greens, and are bedded in a crisp Asian slaw. The lime-basil chimichurri sauce was “alive” with a deliciously surprising crispness-perhaps from jicama, maybe apple; I bet the crisp vegetable varies with the season.
Chef Roland should also trademark the Cherry Chicken Lettuce Wraps, (9 below) with the natural, non-sweetened cherries and other spices adding a deliciously rich, earthy taste to the chicken, accentuated by crisp julienned carrots and green onions. The hoisin based sauce, served on the side, has something offsetting the sweetness with a touch of tartness. Add the slivered almonds and crispy noodles, wrap all in gorgeous Bibb lettuce, and this generous appetizer is a wonderfully filling meal.
The visually stunning Citrus-Miso Glazed Diver Scallops (23 below) had a generous 4 large scallops, pan seared and served tender, atop an orange sweet potato-Yukon gold puree. Scallops just don’t get better than this! Add garden fresh broccolini, and you have superb quality main dish, at a very good price, with large succulent scallops.
We completed our tasting with the more-than-generous portion of sliced Pan Seared Yellowfin Tuna (24, below), atop a bed of red and golden beets, with fingerling potatoes, accented with Chef Roland’s rich Ocean Herbal Broth. WOW. It gets better, with crunch wakami, a crisp green seaweed, and artfully placed fried rice noodles. Pretty as a picture, and it didn’t last long!

Next time, we’ll try the Herb Marinted & Grilled Cru Steak (23) or maybe the Seared Maple Leaf Farms Duck Breast (19) with vegetable cous cous, grilled asparagus, and an intriguing expesso-pomegranate reduction. We just had no room for the popular Trio of Gourmet sorbets-Passion fruit, tangerine and coconut scoops, for $7., or the Molten Chocolate Cru Cake (8). Even, um, take home is a delight. Tight sealing containers, a stunning black plastic waterproof bag, the attention to quality and detail encompasses all aspects of Cru.

Chef Brian Roland and Sous Chef Hugo
Happy Quartet!
Cru's Front Door
If I lived in Fort Myers, I’d go for the lunches! Happy Hour, food included, Yes! The bar was packed when we arrived at 6:30, with 2 for 1 bar tapas, from 4-7 pm. Try the Asian Beef Satays ($8), Gourmet Steak Sliders with Shaved Manchego and Signature Cru Steak Sauce ($8), with 6 sliders per offer, or the Lettuce Wraps for $9. Buy one, and the lesser priced second treat is FREE!
Aha, that’s why people were packing the outside bar, and tables, making a meal out of half priced apps and a drink! I’d go for the best variety in one; the truly Grand Cru Appetizer Tower, with Sun-dried Cherry Chicken Lettuce Wraps, Steak Sliders, Red Pepper Hummus, Kalamata Olive Tapenade, Artisanal Cheeses and Warm Pita Bread, for $28.
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Cru is offering monthly “Crusine Cooking Classes” starting June 22, 2008 with "Sauteeing and Searing", call for times/reservations, or check their site.

Cru Food and Wine-13499 S Cleveland Ave # 241, Fort Myers, FL (239) 466-3663 http://www.crufoodandwine.com/

*****ADDENDUM -August 08***
Chef Roland has finished up two solid years at Cru, and will continue in Naples at M Waterfront Grille, in the former site of Maxwell’s at Village on Venetian Bay. Richie Wilim, Cru's Sous Chef, will continue his fine work as Executive chef at Cru.

***Terminal Note December 7, 2008***
Orthopaedic physician Dr. John and Liz Kagan, owners of Cru, have closed Cru's doors.
Originally THE watering place for top food quality and entertainment in Fort Myers, when Exec Chef Shannon Yates was at the helm, Cru let go of Shannon, the charismatic draw for Cru as the economy started to fizzle, and were said to have started cost containment programs. No longer could Chef Roland, and then Chef Wilim, supply the same expensive high quality items that Shannon originally had access to. Dr. Kagan, trained at mending knees, not minding restaurants, called off Cru's CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) on December 7th. And what of Shannon Yates? He is successful, back at Bacchus in the Bell Tower shops, with a crowd of loyal followers. The problem at Cru was clearly not with Shannon's talents-the man cooks wonderfully, and runs a restaurant well. Brian Roland is doing well at Naples M Waterfront Grille. Liz Kagan, in a published interview, directly blamed "the economy" for the failure.

Funny. Do successful restauranteurs "blame" the "bad economy" for their successes? I give credit where it's due. The Kagan's gave Fort Myers a wonderful spot for dining, for several years. Who next will open a higher quality restaurant in town?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Cru as of now, anyway, features two relatively reliable and excellent chefs in house: Harold Balink (from the—sadly—departed Harold's on Bay) and Shannon Yates.
Worth visiting....

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