Read the rest of Ton-Ton's Journey: Vancouver 2007.)
Flush with success from our visit to the Cannery, Ton-Ton, Cat, and I decided to try out luck with another Vancouver hot-spot; the trendier and well-hidden CRU. Finding the restaurant wasn't anything like our adventures trying to get to the Cannery, more the pity. However, we did end up walking past its unobtrusive, unmarked door twice.
Critically acclaimed in both Canada and internationally, CRU has garnered rave reviews from such luminaries as the Zagat Survey, Fodor's Travel Guides, and Bon Appetit Magazine. At the time, their $38 CAD Prix Fixe menu was a hot topic amongst Vancouver foodies, who considered it a very good value. Like our hero, Paddington Bear, Ton-Ton and I are always on the lookout for a bargain. CRU was an easy choice.
As the name might imply, CRU is first and foremost a wine bar. It's tiny, well-decorated area belies the size and variety of the wine selection. The cost per bottle is very reasonable, which is one of the reasons for its popularity. On the other hand, since its focus is liquid rather than solid refreshment, CRU's menu is comprised entirely of high-end small plates. Lower prices, yes, but equally scaled-down portions.
CRU's "Prix Fixe" Three Course Menu allows you to choose from a subset of their regular small plate menu. The options are limited, with more appealing items like Foie Gras Terrine, Syrah-braised Beef Short Ribs, and Twice-Baked Goat Cheese Soufflé only available a-la-carte. However, Ton-Ton and I were fixated on getting a good deal, so Prix Fixe it was. We knew going in that Ton-Ton might be the only one to leave satisfied. It was a risk we were willing to take.
For their First course, Cat and Ton-Ton had the Organic Butter Lettuce Salad with cherry tomatoes and sections of braised light and dark beets. Other than the beets, which Ton-Ton really enjoyed, it was fresh and forgettable. Cat was unimpressed.
I chose the Beef Tenderloin Carpaccio. Sliced paper thin, the tender meat had been seared on the surface, but was still raw within. Tart caperberries, creamy drizzles of truffle aioli, and a generous mound of shaved Parmesan cheese provided punchy accompaniments to meat so fresh that it was like eating the sinful love child of the finest rare filet mignon and juiciest roast beef imaginable. I would fly back to Vancouver just to eat this dish.
Cat and Ton-Ton picked the Roasted Halibut for their Second Course. We'd been told that the second courses had been scaled up for meals, but Ton-Ton was unimpressed by what was presented. A piece of fish the size of a deck of playing cards, half a cup of basil smashed potatoes, a few haricot verts and two grapefruit segments. The halibut was perfectly roasted, but the orange beurre blanc served with it added little. The potatoes and haricot verts weren't distinctive enough to comment on. It followed government portion control guidelines to the letter, but for a dish priced at $28 CAD a-la-carte, Ton-Ton had expected more in both size and flavor.
The Tamarind-Glazed Pork Tenderloin was my selection. Like Ton-Ton, I was a bit shocked by the tiny amount of food on my plate. The pork tenderloin, which was about the size of a roll of quarters, was exquisite. The tamarind glaze was subtle, but its flavor penetrated every inch of the juicy meat. I tried to accommodate for the lack of food by cutting up everything very small and taking tiny bites, like Mickey "Bob" Cratchit in Mickey's Christmas Carol. Even with my strategic dining technique, the jicama mango slaw was gone in a bite. The organic farro, al dente and seasoned well, was gone in two. Maybe my American brain had been addled by too much super-sizing, but I was shocked that this was what $27 CAD got someone ordering a-la-carte.
The Third Course was dessert, which meant Cat and Ton-Ton instinctively went for the Classic Crème Brulee. It was a fine example of its breed, although the praline shortbread biscuit served with it was powdery and tasteless.
My Goat Cheese Cake was a goat cheese lover's dream. The mild acidity of the goat cheese helped alleviate the richness, as did the wine soaked cherries served with it. I wish they'd added a little more orange caramel, though. Actually, I could have done with a bit more of everything.
(Looking for more.)
The entire time we were eating, I was wondering about the portion sizes. Intellectually, I knew that we'd been served a balanced, nutritionally sound, and utterly delicious meal. I'd also known that a wine bar specializing in small plates would have small food. However, after the "Prix Fixe" Three Course Menu, I found myself in the oddly uncomfortable position of being neither full nor satisfied. Now, although I'm definitely deserving of the "chubby" part of my moniker, Cat is willow thin and she felt the same way. Maybe we should have had more wine...
CRU - Great food at a steep price for what you're paying. Most people probably won't get enough with just the prix fixe, so you might want to consider getting a few additional dishes to share. In my opinion, filling up entirely on wine is probably cheaper. I'll definitely come back, but I'll be ordering a-la-carte and planning to spend a few more loonies (Canadian dollars) next time.
The Bill (in Canadian dollars):
Prix Fixe (each) - $38
1459 West Broadway
Vancouver, BC, V6H 1H6
Here's a tip to anyone looking for the restaurant. It's kitty corner to the Chapters on the corner of West Broadway and Granville. Head a few stores down West Broadway, away from the Chapters, and look for a small door next to a larger Chinese restaurant.