Usually we focus on the worthy task of reviewing some of the area’s less expensive establishments, letting you in on spots where a decent dinner won’t set you back more than $15. But for a change of pace, we’ve decided to take on some of the area’s pricier restaurants without losing our focus on quality cuisine at a good value.
This week the search for exciting food led us to the Bell Tower Shops in Fort Myers where I sat down for dinner with a friend at Crü, a restaurant that breathes trendy sophistication. Maybe it’s the dimly-lit dining room draped in red and black that creates this aura. Maybe it’s the wood burning stove that sends flames dancing up the back of the bar. Maybe it’s the refreshingly young crowd sipping wine from oversized glasses with no one of their parents’ age in sight. Probably it’s a blend of all three combined with a menu that speaks for itself and a staff that answers questions without even a trace of attitude.
Crü’s motto is “lush wines and pure food,” an idea that sounded all right, but didn’t give any insight into their culinary style. After getting past the goofy, completely unpretentious pictures of the restaurant’s chefs on the menu’s front and back covers, we discovered an eclectic array of options touched by influences as diverse as Japanese sushi, Spanish tapas, and Mayan chocolate.
My friend and I got started with Crü’s signature fried spicy crab rolls ($10), the only appetizer I’ve ever met that has its own business card. With one bite, however, all became clear. These puppies are goooood. Drizzled in a designer mayonnaise and nestled in pairs on a trio of small plates, Crü’s crab rolls are a little like stepping into spring roll heaven. Soon they’ll be available for retail sale at fancy grocers like Fresh Market so you can wow people by saying you made them from scratch.
With appetizers out of the way, we got down to the business of choosing entrées from chef Rueben Silva’s collection of modern, habit-forming dishes. My friend settled on the half rack of lamb ($36, full rack $65), which arrived with the “chef’s meat partner,” an array of baby eggplant, brussels sprouts, onions, corn and sausage. Cooked to a classic medium, the lamb was a wonderful meat alternative to simple steaks and chops. I opted for one of the evening’s specials: a hefty cut of perfectly cooked Chilean sea bass ($36) served atop a crispy cheese and pancetta laced polenta cake, on a bed of sautéed spinach in a shiraz demiglace. Both were beautiful, both were tasty, and ultimately, we both cleared our plates.
Despite being semi-stuffed, I couldn’t resist a look at the “candy man’s (dessert chef Dave Funaro) special desserts.” At $15 each, Crü’s pastries cost more than a second glass of wine, but won’t leave you with a hangover at least. We split the milk chocolate mousse, a light creamy dessert served with almond cookies and also tried out a pair of homemade truffles made with chili powder, and almond paste ($2 apiece), a nice ending to an exceptional meal.
Intrigued by the atmosphere, indulged by the staff, and impressed with the food – I left Crü a believer. And I’m not the only one. Riding its popularity and a successful visit to the James Beard house in New York, Crü is in the process of adding expanded patio seating to accommodate a thriving Friday night bar scene and is making plans for a members only dining room to be appropriately dubbed Crü Privé. If you’ve been looking for a young, creative take on fine dining, check out Crü.