Originally published in Cleveland SCENE
If it wasn't for the table settings, it would be easy to forget that you were touring a public restaurant and not the private home of the wealthiest family on the street — a street that also happened to be located in the ritziest zip code in town. Guests pull up to the circular drive, which winds around a central fountain built of imported limestone and is flanked by impeccable landscaping. Rising before them is a building that looks like it was plucked from the Normandy countryside, a stucco and half-timber chateau that might have come off as tacky if it wasn't painstakingly constructed using the finest materials over the better part of a year.
No restaurant project in recent — or distant, for that matter — memory comes close to Cru Uncorked with respect to spare-no-expense construction. The multi-million-dollar passion project in Moreland Hills is the vision and triumph of Bill Cutler, along with parents Sarah and Sandy, who is the retired CEO of Eaton Corp. Working with Larsen Architects and Kawalek Architects, the team endeavored to create the ultimate fine-dining destination in the region.
“We want our guests to stay, relax and enjoy their time here and the people that they're dining with. We're in the hospitality business; we're doing this because we want to take care of people.”
"Our biggest word here is experience," Bill Cutler explains. "There's an experience when you arrive at the restaurant. There's an experience when you walk into the restaurant. There's an experience when you walk into the dining room. And there's an experience when you go into the lounge."
Inside, soaring vaulted ceilings, sweeping stone archways, geometric parquet wood floors and original artwork exude sophistication at every turn. The sizeable restaurant is divided into a lounge and four small dining rooms, each with working fireplaces.
Just 108 chairs are divided among those five spaces, which creates a generous buffer between diners. Servers will be responsible for no more than 14 guests at a time, guaranteeing that no request goes unheeded.
"We don't want to turn and burn," says Cutler. "We want our guests to stay, relax and enjoy their time here and the people that they're dining with. We're in the hospitality business; we're doing this because we want to take care of people."
John Stropki, a classically trained French chef, will preside over a seasonal, Continental-style menu that favors high-end ingredients like foie gras, lobster, duck and tenderloin. Stropki comes from the Eaton House in Bratenahl, a company-owned residence that pampered VIPs with room and board.
All meals will begin with an amuse-bouche, a complimentary starter that has all but gone extinct. Appetizers, priced $10 to $20, include grass-fed beef tartare with truffle caviar and a quail egg; bordelaise-glazed escargot with a lemon herb salad; and lobster bisque with lobster meat and foam. Entrees on the spring menu, priced $30 to $50, include a sweet pea ravioli with braised radishes and wild mushrooms; striped sea bass with artichoke emulsion and favas; and a lavender-scented duck breast with duck confit-stuffed onions and hazelnut farro. Housemade desserts run the gamut of gateaus, parfaits, panna cottas and sorbets.
Fitting for a restaurant named Cru, a 6,000-bottle, 215-label wine inventory is spread among multiple temperature-controlled cellars and displays. The grandest lines both sides of the barrel-vaulted walkway leading to the lounge, a posh half-moon shaped gathering place reserved for dinner guests. Swaddled in ultrasuede wall coverings and capped with fragrant cedar beams, this clubby nook is the ideal place to meet for a pre- or post-meal cocktail.
An outdoor patio, shielded from the road and parking lot by evergreens, can accommodate 32 guests.
You don't have to be a food scholar to note the dramatic decline of fine-dining restaurants, the sorts of places that still boast free valet parking, coat check rooms and even umbrella stands. Cru is going to be such a place, a money-is-no-object retreat where one-percenters can dine in the lap of luxury. Whether or not it proves to be a financial success is likely beside the point.
"This location really caters to a clientele that would appreciate all of that," Cutler notes. "We have always known that we wanted to do fine dining and were excited to be able to offer guests an experience that is different: the experience of coming to a French chateau, enjoying the artwork and the ambiance and the formal service that we are going to provide our guests. There's nothing better or worse about it; it's just different, and that's important to us."
Cru Uncorked (34300 Chagrin Blvd.) will open for dinner only Tuesday through Saturday beginning in mid-May.