Cru Uncorked creates fine dining experience with French New American cuisine
Originally published in Chagrin Valley Magazine
In the kitchen of Cru Uncorked in Moreland Hills, Chef John Stropki points out an ice cream machine, a pasta-making station, a blast freezer, a combi-oven and a 60-gallon steam jacket kettle. The first three are self explanatory. The combi-oven allows for moisture control while roasting and baking; the kettle is used daily for fresh stocks.
Cru’s kitchen is equipped to handcraft every element of a multi-starred, French-inspired meal. And, the dining room is designed to coddle diners while they enjoy it. In fact the entire facility was created for the ultimate dining experience.
Before the first shovel went into the ground, owner Sandy Cutler was polling diners about what — beyond food — makes a restaurant great. Armed with several hundred responses, he worked with Dick Kawalek Architects and Larsen Architects, Barbara Gisel Design and Albert Higley Construction to develop an experience that starts with pulling into the classic French chateau’s circular parking lot with a fountain and continues through a congenial “goodbye” as customers claim cars from the complimentary valet.
Mr. Cutler identified four pillars to a successful restaurant — ambiance, food, service and wine. Then he and son Bill set their sights on overachieving in each category. Bill, an experienced restaurateur with European training, operates the front of house.
The 9,100-square-foot restaurant, which opened in May 2017 on the southeast corner of Chagrin and SOM Center roads, looks like a French chateau inside and out. Just inside heavy oak doors, the lobby features two 10-foot tall, color plaster-cast reliefs of dancer Josephine Baker from her famous performance at the Folies Bergere in Paris. A central allee divides the space into four intimate dining rooms each with its own theme and character.
Each dining room seats about 25 to 30, while the patio seats 60 in good weather. Custom-made chairs offer broad seats and high backs, while tables are generously spaced. Two of the four dining rooms and the grand allee boast fireplaces imported from France. Another dining room displays antique collections of tastevins and corkscrews. The décor is elegant and meaningful.
The dining rooms artfully minimize sound. During their survey, the Cutlers found private conversation topped the list of desires. So, heavy curtains, carpet and baffling absorb sound from nearby. Custom HVAC – for example, heat radiates from the floor – is nearly silent. Thus diners can enjoy each other’s company without sound pollution.
A hallway between wine cabinets — framed by heavy, iron garden gates imported from France — leads to a cozy lounge where diners wait for tables or retire after dinner.
With the stage set, Chef Stropki’s kitchen sends out fully plated entrees. That means, for example, the lavender duck arrives with vanilla-parsnip puree with beets, plums and caramel orange sauce to complement its flavors. Meanwhile sides are completely different for the lamb. The seasonal menu changes four times a year, though customers have insisted Chef Stropki keep favorites like halibut with salty, sweet and sour accents from accompanying raisins, nuts, capers and brown butter. Chef Stropki also punctuates the menu with daily specials.
What diners don’t see is that everything — even butter — is made fresh daily. And, custom-blended cooking oils hold up to high heats thus minimizing any intestinal distress.
Servers are attired in the French-style with aprons, vest and ties. They start dinner by serving a complimentary amuse-bouche of the day. When entrees are ready for an entire table, multiple servers present all guests with plates — from the left — simultaneously. Ceremony contributes to the experience. Dining concludes with a custom-molded chocolate tastevin.
Each server has multiple weeks training on the list of 400 wines from around the world. The wine cellar of 6,000 bottles, which is 75 percent red, includes a range of Champagnes and sparkling wines which are stored, appropriately, in the dark.
The Cutlers see wine as an important component of enjoying food. To demystify the beverage they schedule wine education tastings ($50) and dinners ($150) throughout the year. For these Chef Stropki pairs either hearty appetizers or multi-course meals.
The restaurant also has a private banquet room that can be reserved for business or personal events.