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Cru vs Bin 942 --- A Study in Contrasts

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Cru vs Bin 942 --- A Study in Contrasts

cabrales | Feb 19, 2004 01:43 AM

The bottom line: Cru is a restaurant I would revisit. Bin 942 is a loud, younger scene-type place (although I did not sample the cuisine at Bin 942) with very loud, aggravating music.

The decor at Cru has been improved a bit in the last 4-6 weeks, according to my dining companions. Lounge-type sofas in medium and a lighter brown have been added to the left-side of the restaurant (accommodating dining there, but adding a bit more of a lounge, comfy type feel). Each sofa has cushions ranging from a matte light blue to a medium blue in color that were appropriate-looking. Also, three pieces of modern art have augmented the decor.

The decor is pleasing to me, although not entirely unexpected for a restaurant of this type. The space is a narrow one, very close to Broadway and Granville, on the side that is not the side of the large Borders store. When one enters the narrow area, the initial area is painted a fairly vibrant medium blue, and lit by lights that includes lights from the floor. A nice sense of light and of color. The restaurant has the sofas described above to the left (maybe 3-4 tables), then a bar area, which is then followed by the kitchen. To the right is a long row of tables for roughtly 2-4 persons on average. The seats appeared to be of a slightly yellow/beige seude-like material. Pleasing lines and colors.

I had a fairly good meal at Cru, at reasonable prices. I suppose the prices would have been even more reasonable, had I had less wine. However, C$150 for three after tax and before tips is a good deal, given the number of by-the-glass selections sampled. (Approx USD 120, at the current weak USD)

My two dining companions and I started by sharing the foie gras off-menu special.We ordered from the a la carte (aka "Small Plates") menu. The Hudson foie was not a large piece, but it was appropriately prepared. It sat on top of a bed of cooked down, dark lentils that had a hint of white truffle oil. Ordinarily, I strongly dislike white truffle oil for its superficiality and its overuse by some restaurants, but here it was alright. On the side was a salad that included thin slices of (red) apples (without the skin edge) that were lightly covered with a light consistency oil that was a bit similar to, but a bit more acidic, than olive oil (perhaps apple cider-based oil??) This dish was nice, although my personal preference would have been to have had the foie cooked ever-so-slightly less. I paired this with Select late harvest Risling, 2001, Quail's Gate, Okanagan (C$12 for 3 oz) -- which was a bit more acidic and less sweet and thinner on the mouth than an ice wine would have been. A nice pairing, although the darkness of the lentils and the likely meat stock-based saucing for the lentil/foie part of the dish could have suggested a light red. One of my dining companions had the seafood soup, which had 4-5 mussels and certain other items. He liked it.

An aside on the way the wine list is arranged. Wines by the bottle and by the glass are listed in categories labelled Crispy, Mellow or Luscious for the white wines, and Juicy, Smooth or Big for the reds. Wine list had some BC local selections, but also covered wines from Australia, France (to some extent) and the US. Each dish on the menu (prix fixe or a la carte) contains a color coding that is matched to one of the above six wine categories (e.g., Juicy). Some dishes have two categories that the dish could be paired with. That helps diners with less wine knowledge to navigate the pairing of wines and food. I tried to focus on local wines for my choices, although the bottle of Bollinger RD 1990 at C$239 somewhat tempted me (not indicative of the general level of wine pricing at the restaurant).

Our dining party of three then proceeded to share 2 orders of the Moroccan-spiced lamb on cous cous (C$14 each). Each order was substantial enough to have been filling to me, on its own, and had two lamb chops with protruding bones. They were arranged on top of cous cous (tapioca-type texture) and a nicely prepared, possibly veal-stock (??)-based, medium thickness sauce that had non-sweet mini black currants in it. The lamb was appropriate-tasting. I sampled a glass of the Cabernet Franc, 2000, Poplar Grove, Okanagan (C$14). The serving of the by-the-glass wines is a bit more than a typical glass; it comes in a mini decanter that is smaller than a Batali quartino, but larger than the volume of a glass. That the Cab Franc was stark and unappealing was not unexpected, for the Okanagan region has always had more difficulty with its reds than its whites. One of my dining companions ordered an Australian Shiraz by the glass, which might have been C$16 or environs. It would be the appropriate pairing, among the reds available by the glass, for the lamb.

We also shared a single order of the Syrah-braised short ribs with macaroni and cheese (C$12). This was a large serving. A dining room team member advised that the short ribs were Alberta beef. This was average-plus, with a contiguous amount of short rib meat, including a portion of bone. The saucing was a medium density, appropriate, dark one. The mac and cheese was presented in a small round ceramic container, and was average at best. There was a slight crunchiness to it unassociated with the browning of the cheese on top; perhaps that type of texture emanated from bits of breadcrumb in the mac portion. I couldn't really tell.

We finished by my sampling Pinot Blanc Ice wine 1999, Sumac Ridge, Okanagan (C$18 for a 50 ml mini-bottle). This is a very different icewine than Inniskillin (incl. Vidal or Riesling). The Sumac Ridge is lighter, coating the mouth less. It's also slightly less rich and slightly more acidic. I thought it was an interesting (in a good way) sampling. Our dining party shared an order of the sticky icewine cake. I'm always tempted to order icewine-based dishes, including the pork dish at Feenie's with an icewine and mustard sauce. The dessert was appropriate, although the stickiness was not obvious to me.

Interesting that bread and butter are charged for separately (C$4 per order). True, the breads are Terra, similar to that at Lumiere. Still, I rarely find restaurants where even bread and butter have a separate pricing.

The dining room team assistance was appropriate. Cru is a restaurant, instead of a wine bar, in my eyes.

Contrast this perception with my short-lived experience at Bin 942, which is less than two blocks away from Cru and a very easy walk on the same side of the street (but across Granville). A very loud, weirdly decorated, trying-to-be-hip-and-young-but-not-so-type establishment. Although I was too full after Cru to sample the cuisine at Bin 942, the thundering, trying-to-be-modern music alone would have dissuaded me from taking in any food at Bin 942. Whereas the dining room team at Cru seemed somewhat knowledgeable and earnest and interested in food/wine, the team at Bin 942 seemed not quite that way :( I took in a 2 oz pour of the Fonseca LBV 10-year port, which was acceptable. There was also a Warre's and a Taylor Fladgate 1996, I believe, in port. The wine list at Bin 942 is inferior to that at Cru. I exited Bin 942 after less than 1/2 hour.

Cru represents significant competition to two very different nearby establishments -- Star Anise (which does not have good food, and charges more than Cru and Bin 942) and Cheesecake Etc. (a dessert specialist). It will be interesting to see whether Cru may become the final nail in Star Anise's "coffin" :> (West is clearly better than even Star Anise in its prime, let alone the declining Star Anise now. So, in some ways, Star Anise was sort of doomed anyhow. I gave it less than five more years. Cru might accelerate that process, because Cru has better food, at cheaper prices, than Star Anise.)

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