An oasis of calm. Walking into Cru takes one to New York City, where unique little restaurants dot busy streets, havens of peace, atmospheres of elsewhere.
The façade is unassuming, yet welcoming – soft grey with large windows, a restored door framed by decorative grasses. Cru. It means "raw" in French, a concept further expanded by the words under the name: Green Food Salon, and further explained when it becomes clear that the co-owner, Patricia, is from Quebec, in Bulgaria for eight years and speaking Bulgarian almost better than English now – so she jokes.
Magazines cosy up in a wicker basket, one or two find home on a coffee table. Jazz, blues and funk glide from the speakers. Though the interior is small, the space is cunningly used, allowing areas for both dining and sipping something warm. Or invigorating.
A good portion of Cru’s menu is fresh-squeezed juices – and not just orange or grapefruit, but mixes like Green & Cru (broccoli, apple and parslaey, smooth and sweet in the mouth, with notes only of life and health) or Orange & Cru (carrot, apple and ginger, mild and soft, with a very slight zing) or Red & Cru (with beetroot). Though the ingredients could sound like bad childhood memories, there is nothing in the taste that would support such a conjecture, instead the juices providing a refreshing treat. (Prices range from about two to six leva, depending on the size.)
A blackboard on the back wall – next to a wide mirror reflecting the street and its agitation – shows the menu of the day, which does change daily. A salad or two and a soup, a few main dishes and a sandwich option, plus a couple of desserts, are available individually, or ordered as combinations: soup + salad, salad + sandwich and so on.
One time, I ordered the tower of mashed organic kidney beans (about nine leva), lightly spiced with cumin and served like an island in a sea of mixed fresh greens. A sweet red pepper aioli added to its simple sophistication. Another evening, we chose to share the hoummous with bread crisps, and found it unctuously smooth, yet light on the palate, good enough to just eat plain and thankfully without any overpowering garlic. It went well with the avgolemono (Greek lemon-egg soup, about four leva) that was being served that night, and my order of sautéed tofu with steamed fresh vegetables (9.80 leva), which came charmingly served en papillote and daintily decorated with an orange sauce. A green Thai curry with chicken was also on the menu that evening.
On other visits, there are items like smoked salmon sandwich (7.80 leva) or various dishes using quinoa – in casseroles, in croquettes... One time, it was made into a sumptuous fruited pudding dessert.
About the desserts – I was recently quite impressed with the almost gooey peanut butter cookie (three leva), in which what, at first, appeared to be chunks of chocolate turned out to be molasses-y gobs of brown sugar. Yum. Coming from a household that prided itself on its homemade cookies, I can say that it was a laudable example of baking.
The fixed menu has the tofu-vegetable papillote, along with steamed chicken or fish options (the chicken comes perfectly cooked, succulent and tender, seasoned with thyme), some soba-noodle bowls, and other fresh, tasty items, like yoghurt with homemade granola. I’ve heard that the granola is fabulous...
Where possible, ingredients are organic. This also applies to the wines – Bonterra, from California, and another brand – which are available by the glass or by the bottle.
And to not forget the chef. Jun Yoshida, formerly of Brasserie, was behind the creation of Cru, which opened at the very beginning of January 2009. It is said that he wanted somewhere where he could experiment a bit while serving up delicious, healthy food.