Restaurant Cru, the Kitchen serve the suburbs fresh gourmet

Both restaurants offer distinct takes on sophistication

BEFORE RESTAURANT CRU opened this summer, the finest dining on the northernmost stretch of Central Avenue was a toss-up between the Bloody Mary breakfast at Nicklow's—seven days a week!—and the Planet of the Zombies Taco Burger at Space Alien's Bar & Grill. But thanks to a Heartland alum, chef Rob Moore, Blaine now has its own taste of upscale locavore fare.

The restaurant sits in new strip-mall digs, right around the corner from Menard's. But there's nothing DIY about Cru's dining room: It's dark, clubby, and sophisticated, with brick walls, black leather booths, and a wine-bottle decor. The restaurant's masculine vibe reminded me of Pittsburg Blue in Maple Grove, though the stemware set on the tables seemed to make Cru feel more posh—and perhaps a little standoffish for today's recession-conscious, downscaled mentality.

Moore's short menu is designed for snacking and pairing with the restaurant's carefully sourced, global wine list. On Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, for example, he offers a raw bar of ceviche, tartare, and carpaccio. Typically, a half-dozen types of fresh oysters have also been flown in—Cru is the only place in the area with such a broad selection—served with a spunky red wine-shallot vinaigrette. Moore's approach is fairly ambitious, and when I dined at Cru, the enthusiastic staff seemed a little out of its league with the menu. When I asked about the differences in taste between the Kushi and Barron Point bivalves, my waiter looked slightly terrified. After a bit of stammering, he conceded defeat and headed to the kitchen to find out the answer—though I always prefer that choice to an uninformed bluff.

The Kitchen's crab cake: Best one on the planet?
Jana Freiband
The Kitchen's crab cake: Best one on the planet?

Location Info

Map

The Kitchen

324 S. Main St.
Stillwater, MN 55082

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Northeast Minneapolis

Details

THE KITCHEN
324 Main St. S., Stillwater
651.342.1556; Web site
appetizers $9-$12; entrées $9-$24

RESTAURANT CRU
10340 Baltimore St. NE, Blaine
763.717.2235; Web site
appetizers $6-$15; entrées $9-$25

Moore's former boss, Lenny Russo, has a penchant for showcasing underdog ingredients—elk, hazelnuts, zucchini blossoms, headcheese—and Moore's menu follows suit. He gives nearly ubiquitous ahi tuna a fresh spin by pairing it with soffritto (the Italian term for a sautéed diced-vegetable base), wheat berries (whole wheat kernels), and anchovy coulis (a pureed fish sauce).

Moore's chicken salad doesn't follow the typical ladies-who-lunch formula. The meat is heavily smoked, which helps it marry with the flavors of poblano and red bell peppers, contrasted with flecks of fresh sweet corn. The salad is served with a grilled baguette and lightly dressed mizuna, a lesser-known peppery green. Not all of Moore's flavor pairings work. The homemade Parmesan Chèvre ravioli were a delight, but the Bolognaise sauce had a chili-powder taste that seemed a little off, as did the accompanying spoonful of olive tapenade. (At a place where most entrées cost less than $20, the ravioli seemed a tad spendy, at three for 12 bucks.)

Heartland's influence is strongest in Moore's signature Hunter's Plate, an autumnal platter of bison sausage link, leg of duck confit, purple cabbage, and a ramekin of slow-cooked rabbit tucked under a mashed-potato crown—it looked almost like a cupcake. Each element held its own but could have used a punch-up in seasoning—star anise, cinnamon, clove, or the like—or perhaps a side of fruit chutney to elevate it further from its meat-and-potatoes roots.

While I liked several other things I tried—a creamy asparagus vichyssoise topped with micro greens and chili oil, a strawberry-rhubarb buckle with citrus goat cheese—the most memorable dish was one of the simplest, a small side of glazed fennel. The celery-green vegetable was roasted until it was luscious, golden on the edges, and glazed with hints of sweetness tempered by bits of salty porcine flesh. The recipe wasn't exotic, but it showed how underappreciated things can really shine when approached with extra care. With a little fine-tuning, I think Cru will be just such a place, if it isn't too far ahead of its time. 

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