Crave Restaurant and Wine Bar is an unusual place for the quiet town of Ansonia, CT. Located at 102 Main, it is in the heart of downtown Ansonia. It is probably only 1,000 square feet in size and has about 15 tables, of which most are four-tops. There was one round table, smack dab in the middle, which could seat at least eight. There is a long bar along one side, towards the back. All-together I would guess it could seat about 90, if the bar was fully occupied. This Friday night, it was full at 7PM and after 8:30, it had only a few empty tables. The crowd was affluent late thirties to sixties. Nice cars were prevalent. Seems to me that Crave has been found by the upper-class foodies of Ansonia (and the surrounding towns in the Valley). They were in dire need of a restaurant of this caliber. It has been open almost exactly six months, with little fanfare. When I first stumbled upon Crave (on the internet) I thought the reviews (pretty much in one place) were unbelievable; they were so positive. The very next day a friend said he and his wife had been there. He said it was the real deal! Finally, I have first-hand information to share.
We made reservations and it was probably a good idea. I think we could have been seated immediately but it was close to full at 6:30PM. We were tended to fairly quickly and professionally and found that there were some nice wine selections and, like many better restaurants have wisely adopted, they had some better wines, by the glass. I guess you should expect this with the tag of “wine bar” on the name. We chose a bottle of Artizen (Zinfandel) @ $32 and were very happy with it. Later, we ordered one more glass of it. Bread was brought to the table right away and the butter (which was cold and hard) was infused with finely grated lime skin shards or possibly ground Kaffir lime leaves. It was an unusual and tasty surprise! I would have preferred a stouter, chewier bread than the almost “white bread” style of individual loaves we were served. There are so many artisan bakeries in the area that I think the bread deserves an upgrade. We shared a “Classic” Caesar Salad and I had a bowl of seafood bisque. The salad was delicious and perfectly dressed. Not to much, nor too little. This was a good sign! I thought it lacked in anchovy and lemon flavor for a “Classic Caesar” but the wonderful, garlicky croutons made up for it. The shaved parmesan was a nice touch, though I wouldn’t call it well-aged (i.e., expensive) cheese. Nevertheless, I am being nit-picky and will continue to do so. Also, I’ll whine about the seafood bisque, which was chocked-full of goodies and flavor, but a bit thin for my liking. Not so thin that it kept me from cleaning the bowl!
For our main course I had one of the specials, rack of lamb with a mustard seasoned coating and served with a nice red wine reduction coulis, which might have had some fruit jam and/or mint jam in it. The lamb and the accompanying green beans and roasted baby red potatoes were au point (aka, perfectly cooked) and very flavorful! I can’t say anything good about the fried plantains, however. A little like fries, they were dry, fairly hard and rather tasteless, except for the dusting of salt. A dud as far as I am concerned. I have eaten at several Columbian restaurants, so I know how tasty they can be. My mate had the jerk chicken, which we both liked a lot. The pinto beans were an amazing surprise because it’s exactly how I usually cook them (and I’m a Texan). They were cooked with peppers, tomatoes, onion (and probably garlic and a little chili powder) and tasted terrific! The really “sticky rice” was flavorful (like there had been chicken stock added) but it was terribly gummy and not to my liking. Like Marge Simpson’s hair, it never budged from its tall, mounded shape. All the food was classy in its presentation, but not over the top. Nothing was “growing” out of our food. Portions were average.
Ah, then dessert! We shared the “tres leche” cake. This is a whipped cream topped yellow cake or “rum cake” style of cake soaked in sweetened milk (and God-knows what else). It was fabulous and my partner, who usually doesn’t eat much dessert, couldn’t stop till she finished it. Nuf’ said. The couple at our side seemed to really enjoy their flan. There is enough Southern slant to the food we ate at Crave that I have to wonder if the owner or Chef is from Texas….. Whatever the case, the ethnic influences are varied and noticeable. I love it and its eclectic menu!
OK, what I don’t like: The noise level. Crave got very loud. So loud that at times we had to shout at each other. There was a small speaker mounted overhead, in the corner where we sat, and it added “black noise” with the steady drone of bass, to the already noisy restaurant. The place is nothing but smooth walls and glass and hard floor, so it is no wonder that it gets loud. I think some attention to sound deadening would be appropriate. The place looks nice and classy, but just gets way too loud. This doesn’t seem to stop anyone from coming though. I think I will time my future visits for when it is not so crowded.
Service was not perfect but far above average. We never had wine poured for us after the initial service. We had to request that the salad plate be removed. Beyond that, and slight slowness in service, I can say it was quite good and professional, especially for a very busy night and (I was told) being short a waitress. I can tell that attention has been paid to training the wait staff in good restaurant etiquette.
Price? We were out-the-door for a buck-twenty-five. About right. This is not your down-and-dirty eatery. It measures up well to New Haven’s best.
So there it is. A delightful, chic restaurant in the most unexpected place! An owner, who is on the ball, greeting us at the door and seating us. I introduced myself at the end of the meal and Libby sent us both a gratis, green apple liquor aperitif. Can’t beat that!