Originally published in Properties Magazine
Facing southeast from the intersection of Chagrin Boulevard and SOM Center Road in Moreland Hills, one begins to understand what visual feasts can be found while traversing the French countryside. An authentic representation of a rustic French château – with impeccably manicured grounds – is home to Cru Uncorked, a 9,000-square-foot, French restaurant on two acres at 34300 Chagrin Blvd.
With every detail attended to, dining at Cru Uncorked will be unlike anything you’ve experienced in the Cleveland area in recent history. From the grand landscape, to the choice of four themed dining areas, to the relaxed lounge area and outdoor dining terrace, wherever you turn, you’ll find yet another reason to linger and relish this welcoming atmosphere.
Finding the niche
“We saw a real opportunity for a fine dining French restaurant in Cleveland – a place where we could combine the best of European and American traditions in a unique way,” says Sandy Cutler, co-owner of Cru Uncorked. “In many ways, this restaurant is a big bet on Cleveland. A city of our size should have this additional type of fine dining experience available.”
“Imagining the ideal restaurant for this area, back in 2012, my son Bill and I envisioned a French restaurant set in the countryside, not a Parisian restaurant,” adds Cutler. “We didn’t want the formality. Rather, we wanted it to be approachable, a place for our guests to linger and to relax.”
For a location, the corner of Chagrin and SOM Center was enticing, as the last piece of commercial land available before the long drive to Chagrin Falls. Home in its former life to a gas station and a nursery, the corner had been inactive for 18 years.
Original offers to purchase the property were not accepted, but Cutler persevered and made repeated attempts to secure the numerous parcels. In 2014, even though the deal still eluded them, the Cutlers wanted to begin design work.
They sketched out their concept of four intimate-sized dining rooms, a private function room and a small wine bar. With the concept firmly in mind, they set about assembling their team in 2015 to bring their sketch to life.
The team comes together
For exterior architecture, Richard Kawalek, also based in Moreland Hills, served as Design Architect. Jim Larsen of Larsen Architects was the Architect of Record for the overall project.
Sally Cutler, working with Barbara Gisel of Barbara Gisel Design, led the interior design. Barbara Gisel was also responsible for sourcing the fabulous art collection and memorabilia from France.
Outside, Impullitti Landscaping has created multiple gardens, topiary and plantings to complete the feel of a country French estate.
Rounding out the team, A.M. Higley was selected as construction manager for the project. “The very first meeting that I had with Bill and Sandy Cutler, I was handed a sketch they had drawn,” recalls Larsen. “It represented an intimate dining ‘experience’ not seen as yet in the Cleveland market. That philosophy of creating a warm atmosphere in which wine would be the ‘hero’ has always been the foundation of Cru’s development. As we progressed from that original sketch, there was an evolution of thought and the design became better, but it always remained true to their original concept.”
For you non-Francophone’s, Cru is French for vineyard, when used as a noun, or it means vintage when used as an adjective. The addition of the word Uncorked, according to Cutler, helped to soften or make the name more relaxed.
[A] philosophy of creating a warm atmosphere in which wine would be the ‘hero’ has always been the foundation of Cru’s development.
“Since the restaurant was to serve fine French American cuisine with an extensive wine list,” says Kawalek, “we studied examples of French wineries, villas and vineyard architecture and tried to incorporate their design elements into our building and grounds. We tried to evoke the historical narrative of a family winery and vineyard graced by a country villa – a place where one would expect to experience fine dining and fine wines.”
With a more detailed plan for the project in hand, Sandy Cutler met with the property’s existing owner, says Keith Hamulak, vice president with CBRE, who helped the Cru Uncorked team to acquire the site.
“We brought the two owners together so that the true vision for the project wouldn’t get lost in translation,” Hamulak says. “Sandy [Cutler] helped the former owner to understand the strategy behind repurposing the site, which made a big difference.”
After the land was finally secured, the team was able to break ground in April 2016, recalls David Meehan, project executive for A.M. Higley.
“Much of the project was enclosed throughout the winter, so that exterior masonry could continue,” Meehan says. “Fortunately, work proceeded on plan, and while at times we had people working over top of each other, we achieved their soft opening on May 9, 2017.”
Entering the property from either Chagrin or SOM Center, entry gates denote a feeling of privileged access. A circular courtyard then surrounds a typical stone fountain like you might find in a French village town center. A large, bordered, rough aggregate concrete drive simulates the fine stone used in France. Complimentary valet parking is available to all guests, and spots are available to those who would rather self-park.
Considering the rather tight, less than two-acre site, a substantial portion is devoted to just the entry courtyard. Intentionally designed this way, it creates an impression that will carry through the entire evening.
To the right of the entry, is a formal parterre garden, suitable for photographic keepsakes of the evening’s experience. Espalier trellises provide for climbing vines that will soften the walls of the kitchen wing. Further to the right is a chef’s garden – a subtle but correct reference to the fresh ingredients diners are about to experience.
“The front entrance features gas lights and a fringed marquee, as well as a snow melting system for the front walk,” explains Kawalek. “The rustic stone was tumbled to give the aged look and halftimber construction at the entrance hints at ancient lineage or an aged winery. The entry door surround is carved limestone. Even the valet key-box is designed to resemble a French business sign.”
Modern materials were used, but reflect those found in northern France. The mock slate roof shingles carefully mimic actual slate tiles, but like all exterior materials, provide improved performance and longevity with today’s technology.
Experience stage two
Entering the foyer, despite the lovely octagonal-patterned limestone floor, one’s eyes are immediately drawn to a pair of reliefs on the wall, discovered at a fruit stand on Paris’ left bank. Each portrays the dancer Josephine Baker in her infamous banana skirt in the production La Folie du Jour.
To the left are the restrooms and to the right is the complimentary coat room. The door to the secure, temperature-controlled wine storage room is also in this area. More than 5,000 bottles of wine are kept here and easily inventoried with an ingenious shelving and rolling ladder system patterned after a hotel in Paris.
After greeting the receptionist, patrons are accompanied through another pair of wood and glass doors into the entry hall with its detailed white oak parquet floor and barrel-vaulted plaster ceilings. From here, all four distinct dining rooms are accessible.
Yet another experience opportunity
Before or after your meal, you are welcome to enjoy the semi-circular lounge area, reminiscent of an old winery with stone walls and exposed timbers. Only available to diners, this comfortable area features banquette seating, small tables, as well as a curved bar area – simulating a giant wine barrel. The bar top is actually reclaimed wood from a German barn that was shaped and planed down from an original member five inches thick to its present two-and-a-half-inch thickness.
Three Mouton Rothschild original label posters (circa 1982, 1989 and 2011) hang on the wall, along with four original maps of Paris (circa 1910). Completing the wall-hangings are three antique grape baskets from the 1890s that workers would use to haul up to 80 pounds of grapes they had collected from the vineyards.
A door from the lounge opens to outside, with a covered porch that can be enjoyed by cigar smokers.
Stage four – the dining experience
Dining is available year-round in four distinctly different themed dining rooms, each holding 22 guests. While all are accessible from the entry hall, each is visually separated from the others, ensuring diners don’t sense the activity going on around them. Each is carpeted, keeping the noise levels as low as possible.
Exquisitely crafted wood beam ceilings are common in all dining rooms, as well as thick, rich draperies that can be closed along the hallways for even more privacy, should that be desired. All interiors are designed in French traditional style with historically accurate columns, beams and French paneling.
The first dining room on the right is called the Wine Cellar Room and boasts a collection of 40 antique tastevins from around the world. Twenty-five antique cheese knives and antique corkscrews adorn the other end of the feature wall. A beautiful fireplace sets the mood on the back wall.
The famous French Maurin Quina (circa 1906) wine poster dominates the adjacent Winery Room. Combination wood and glass doors on the far wall are curtained, and can be opened to the banquet room in the back.
The first dining room to the left is called Terroir, and features full-height photo murals of Napa Valley vineyards and an antique fireplace. The fireplace mantel is adorned with a collection of historic wine barrel markers, circa 1800s.
Between the Terroir and the Vineyard rooms is the wine hall, leading to the lounge. Here, on either side of the hallway are six, full height, custom-designed wood and glass wine cabinets. Each is climate-controlled for temperature and humidity – perfectly maintaining the specific wines therein. Separate rooftop units are dedicated for just the wine cabinets.
Twelve hundred bottles, representing over 215 varieties are kept in the wine hall. A stone, barrel-vaulted ceiling completes the impression of passing through a traditional wine cellar.
The second room on the left is the Vineyard Room and features actual photos of the winemaking process. The room also looks out onto the outdoor terrace.
Each of the dining rooms features its own color scheme and its own appeal. Repeat diners often request opportunities to experience each of them.
The Banquet Room is the fifth inside dining option and is available to seat 18 in a choice of multiple seating configurations. A/V hookups are available in this room for corporate events or presentations.
Outside, a sweeping panorama of seating for 32 can occur on the outdoor terrace under a curved pergola, surrounded by the Cru Uncorked garden and tall, slender foliage which will provide privacy from the street beyond.
Hidden from view
Much of what makes Cru Uncorked so fabulous is that which is unseen and unheard. A double-sized kitchen, representing 35% of the entire square footage, allows all their foods to be prepared from scratch. With over a dozen people in the kitchen, working at 30-foot-long worktables, patrons will still never notice the noise, due to deep, separate entrance and exit corridors that muffle the activity of the kitchen.
Each of the waitstaff undergoes an eight-week course on wines, enabling them to make knowledgeable suggestions for their patrons.
In the dining rooms, chair back-toback dimensions are never closer than 42 inches, enabling private conversations. In addition, all chairs were custom designed for maximum comfort during an extended dinner.
For environmental comfort, heating is handled by radiant heat in the flooring. Air conditioning is delivered almost imperceivably through slits in the wood ceilings or incorporated into the crown moldings, so diners are never troubled with cold drafts on the back of their necks.
“Between the HVAC system and the wiring for the electrical systems, it’s all so complex, and yet no one ever sees it or appreciates it,” Meehan explains. “Karpinski Engineering should be commended.”
Achieving this understated elegance, and having a sense of freshness and approachability is a key element in attracting people of all ages.
Lighting is experienced through a series of custom fixtures designed by Barbara Gisel Design, as well as miniature, high intensity lighting from Cooper Lighting, the lighting division of Eaton Corporation. A full-power backup generator with Eaton’s automatic transfer switch has already come in handy more than once during their first month of operation.
Without it being noticeable, most patrons have traversed the entire arrival, entry and seating portion of their evening without encountering a single curb or threshold that they had to step over. Entirely ADA accessible, most people will never realize there are no ramps or other special accommodations.
Their recipe for success
Cru Uncorked has already been named one of the best, receiving the OpenTable Diners’ Choice Award, and it’s likely many other awards will follow.
Moreland Hills Mayor Susan Renda agrees, saying “I am very pleased to have a restaurant the caliber of Cru Uncorked in our village. The food is exceptional and the wine list is extensive and impressive. The atmosphere, both inside and out, is inviting, cozy and absolutely beautiful.”
“It’s all about having the right team,” Cutler says. “Our design and construction teams kept improving on our original plan. Achieving this understated elegance, and having a sense of freshness and approachability is a key element in attracting people of all ages.”
“A person that deserves so much of the credit here is Higley’s senior superintendent, Harry Schatschneider,” says Kawalek. “He was the one that was here early and stayed late. He was the one who made it happen.”
“I sensed that the Cutlers were looking to ‘give back’ something to this community that they love so much. My personal experience with them has been one of kindness and graciousness at all levels and at all times – their gratitude never wavered,” Larsen says. “They saw ‘the best’ in everyone and I truly believe that all the individuals and contractors that built this restaurant understood the Cutlers’ appreciation of their work, and responded with outstanding workmanship.”
“I’ve had the pleasure of working with the Cutlers on several projects over the last 20 years,” adds Kawalek, “and they always evolved into something better than either of us had envisioned at the start. Our collaboration here with Larsen Architects, Barbara Gisel Design and Impullitti Landscaping has certainly resulted in our finest creation to date.”