Cru Uncorked, a new fine dining destination in CLE

Who said white tablecloths were out? Not so. A new fine dining destination is pulling out all the stops to reassure Clevelanders, and visiting guests, that fine dining is not dead in our culinary crazy city. 


Perched at the corner of Chagrin Boulveard and SOM Center Road in Morland Hills, Cru Uncorked is a French New American restaurant five years in the making.  


The property itself is impressive even before you walk in the double doors to the entryway.  It’s made to look like a French Chateau inside and out, and it delivers.


Inside you’ll find four intimate and themed dining rooms, The Wine Cellar Room, The Terroir Room, The Winery Room and The Vineyard Room.  All are decorated slightly different to reflect a certain mood.  General Manager Billy Cutler tells me guests can choose the “scene” they’d like to dine in.  Some are decorated with original vineyard photography, or murals created from such photographs. 


The restaurant seats about 100, plus space for private events in a separate banquet room drenched in natural light in the afternoons.  There’s also a spacious and secluded patio in the back. Everywhere you walk you’re reminded of the time and care that went into creating this space.  


There are thoughtful details like the cedar lined ceiling of the lounge which makes you feel like you’re inside a wine barrel, and the antique grape gathering baskets affixed on the wall.  I was fascinated by the collection of vintage corkscrews, cheese knives and tastevins (small metal cups worn around their necks used instead of wine glasses to taste wine) displayed on the wall of The Wine Cellar Room.


Inside the spacious kitchen I was introduced to Executive Chef, John Stropki, who said it is an honor to be at the helm at such a place.  He was busying working through a dessert from the menu.  No pastry chef here, Stropk says.  He’s behind every item on the menu, which ranges from a burger to halibut and beautiful pasta options. Prices range from $26-$55.  But side dishes are included in the menu price for each dish.  Reps say they believe this makes them competitive in the local fine-dining scene, as a la carte side dishes can add an $15-18 more per entree.


Guests will also be able to choose from more than 200 wines from all over the world, thanks to their massive wine cellar with the capacity for 6,000 bottles.  And for a sweet finish to a meal, they have several dessert wine flights to choose from.


Cru Uncorked is preparing for top of the line service and exquisite meals for those who crave the finer things in life.  They’re accepting reservations now, ahead of their May 16th opening.  Bon Apetite! 

Natural Wines: Zack Bruell Restaurant Group introduces organic, biodynamic vintages.

Have you ever tasted a wine that was truly alive?  I hadn’t, until I had my first sips (and glasses) of natural wines.  And now, I get it.  It was hard to understand, or believe, that a wine could change dramatically from first open, to first pour, to last sip.  But it happened, each time, as we tasted the new natural wine offerings from the Zack Bruell Restaurant Group. 

Restaurateur, Zack Bruell, recently brought on his son, Julian, as the Director of Service.  The younger Bruell brings with him experience from Michellin Star restaurants in New York City.  Inside his first three months, he and Direcotr of Operations, David Schneider, set about introducing ground-breaking wines to several of the ZBRG properties.  This week I was invited to taste some of the biodynamic offerings now available at Parallax and L’Albatros Brasserie.  


What makes a wine natural, or biodynamic ? They require a lot more labor, for starters.  They are made by small, passionate producers, with minimal intervention or modern technology.  No yeast, bacteria or sugars are added.  Simply produced, these wine makers stay true to traditional wine making.  The lack of things like sulfites (only added at bottling for stability) means you should drink it right away.  Alas, the minimum amount of sulfites, however, will not lessen a hangover, contrary to what some believe.  That’s according to Maggie, the wine rep who walked us through each variety. 


These natural wines aren’t filtered, so some, especially the white varieties, appear more cloudy than you’d expect.  And some, like the Chardonnary we tried had a bit of a yeast smell to them initially.  But inside five minutes of the pour, it tasted more buttery, like a classic Chardonnay you’ve come to expect.  These wines evolved rapidly, some “explode out of the bottle,” according to Bruell.       


The Chenin Blanc was a touch more sweet, warm at first.  But in minutes it gave off a green apple tartness to it. You can see how one like this would be a perfect pairing to the richness of Chef Bruell’s food.


The Nerello Mascalese, a field blend from Sicily, was produced from volcanic soil. It was light, like a Pinot noir, and had hints of kiwi and pomegranate.


My favorite was the French Syrah, from Crozes-Hermitage, Rhone.  It had more body, with raisin, tobacco and even light black pepper favors to it. 

The Mourvèdre out of Mendocino County was light, a little sweet and a little dry with strawberry and plum notes.  I thought  it would make for a lovely spritzer, come the warmer months. 


We had a great time sampling these food friendly wines, clearly the next trend in wine making.   To my surprise, the price points were much lower than I’ve seen such wines before. There will be 12 varieties, sold by the bottle on the menu at L’Albatros Brasserie and Parallax, ranging in price from $32-60.  Cheers!

Better Service: Elevating Cleveland Restaurants’ Game

When national names descended on Cleveland this summer for the RNC, they were wined and dined and entertained.  No one expressed disappointment in what was presented on their plates.  They did, however, criticize the service level in the city whose restaurant scene is exploding.  Recognizing that there is a gap between the level of cuisine and the level of service, Restaurauer Zack Bruell brought in the big guns: his son, Julian Bruell.  The younger Bruell comes with more than just a name.  The newly dubbed Director of Service for the Zack Bruell Restaurant Group brings with him years of experience at some of the country’s most prestigious dining destinations.  And he is ready to raise the level of service across the city.

Bruell, former General Manager of Sauvage, and former Service Manager of Jean Georges, both in NYC,  is charged with  upholding, training and developing new and elevated service standards for all of the Zack Bruell restaurants’ front of house employees. This includes standardizing and creating beverage, food, service standards, and training materials.  He will also collaborate with ZBRG’s Director of Operations, David Schneider, with development of wine and spirits lists and human resources oversight. He and Schneider wear a lot of hats, according to Bruell.


“Our restaurant group’s goal is to be more polished at our craft than any group of restaurants in the United States. Ultimately, we want our guests to leave feeling like they had a memorable and non replicable experience at our restaurants. We want people to feel dining with us as an enjoyable escape from their every day life,” said Bruell.

Bruell believes that the Cleveland restaurant market is growing extremely fast, potentially oversaturating the city with a below standard service, beverage, and culinary culture. In response, he says, they will focus on educating employees and embracing the creative talent on their teams in order to combat this potential downfall. 

“We want to change and elevate the standard of service, cuisine, and hospitality not just in Cleveland, but throughout the world. We want our guests to feel like their experience in our restaurants is cosmopolitan, culturally enriching, and unique,” Bruell said.


The first two months of Bruell’s return to Cleveland was spent at L’albatros Brasserie + Bar, then two months between Cowell and Hubbard and Chinato Ristorante, and he has just begun training at Alley Cat Oyster Bar. At all of the locations he’s visited, Bruell says they’ve developed more attentive and detail oriented service standards. Some of these changes include teaching of proper verbiage with guests, standardizing day-to-day position training and service manuals, and using the knowledge and tastings of product to tailor and guide the dining experience to each guests desired tastes. 

“I have been really proud of all of the service compliments our staff’s have received, as I want them to take ownership of their craft. They have embraced the many service changes I have made, and are excited to learn more and provide a proper, personalized dining experience that our guests desire,” he said. 

As they move forward, Bruell says they will embrace and take all reviews seriously. 

“We have always understood that every day is extremely important and that we cannot afford to take an off day,” he says.

 

Bruell recognizes that social media and marketing are extremely important as they focus on capturing the millenial clientele, who is constantly engaged and driven by social media outlets.  In the future, look for ZBRG to focus social media and marketing on the feeling of being a part of their restaurant “family” and the feeling of being involved and intrigued with what they do everyday. 

“I was lucky enough to experience 5 years of cultural, personal, and hospitality growth when in New York. I was really inspired by the energy, drive, and new ideas and creativity in New York. I experienced and provided levels of service that were considered the best in the world, and I believe I can develop that level of service in Cleveland and within our restaurants,” he said.

I have already personally heard about the positive changes in effect because of the younger Bruell’s presence.  I’ll be interested to hear about the improvements from other frequent CLE diners. 

Brewing up something new in The Flats

Ambitious trailblazer, Chef Zack Bruell is taking on two new projects much different than his previous endeavors. The restaurateur is entering into the brewery business, launching a new brew pub in the old Cleveland landmark, The Watermark, on the East Bank of the Flats, just a stone’s throw from his oyster bar, Alley Cat.
The name is TBD, but the establishment will have instant street cred, thanks to his partner on the project, Luke Purcell. The Great Lakes Brewing Company veteran is leaving the Godfather of the local brewing industry after more than 20 years for the chance to brew out of his comfort zone.
julian-bruell

Source: Facebook

Bruell is also bringing his son, Julian into the mix in Cleveland. But this is by no means a passing of the baton, or changing of the guard. And Bruell tells me this is not the beginning of a succession plan. The chef tells me his son can teach him things about the front of the house that will help elevate the service and overall experience at all of his restaurants. Most recently, the younger Bruell has worked as the General Manager at Sauvage, and the service manager at Jean George’s in New York City, places with multiple Michelin stars.
Chef Bruell says after handling the tough crowd of NYC diners, his son is fully prepared for his role in Cleveland. He also admits, it was hard for him to accept and understand that service is more important than the food itself. But he now believes that it is. Bruell tells me he’ll put his food up against anybody’s in the country. This move, he says, will help take the restaurant group to the next level.
For starters, 27 year old Julian will be spending a month at a time at each of Bruell’s properties (Parallax, Chinato, Cowell& Hubbard, Table 45, Alley Cat Oyster Bar, L’Albatros Brasserie) to assess and raise the service and front of the house. The elder Bruell expects his son, a millennial, to relate to staff better than he can, and in turn, help recruit, train and retain good talent. That’s something he and almost every other chef in the city has been struggling with during Cleveland’s restaurant boom.
Then, the younger Bruell will contribute to the new brew pub. Chef says he doesn’t profess to be a beer person. For that, he’ll lean on Purcell.
luke-purcell

Purcell, right, will join Bruell in his new brew pub business.  Source: Facebook

What’s really interesting about this partnership is that traditionally a brew pub’s menu is developed to compliment the beer. But this time, Zack tells me, they’ll be developing beer varieties to compliment and cut through the richness of his food, much like wine usually does.
Purcell tells me he is looking forward to thinking in reverse. He expects to be working on wheat varieties with more of a tart finish, and some sours, very on trend now, to provide the acidity his partner is looking for.
Right now they are shooting for an April opening, which would require them to start brewing come February. Purcell knows it’s an aggressive schedule, but he is excited and eager to work on something so different. The Watermark is being gutted as we speak. Can’t wait to see what they brew up.