Cru Food and Wine Bar

Cru Food and Wine Bar, 9595 Six Pines Dr., Suite 650, The Woodlands, TX (Market Street)
Price: $$$ / $$$$$R Cru 2018
Ambiance: 3.5/5
Service: 3.5/5
Food: 4.0/5

Cru, a French term meaning growth but is generally taken to mean terroir or more specifically the quality of a wine grown and produced from a specific terroir. Premier Cru and Grand Cru terms are typically associated with outstanding to excellent quality wines from distinct geographic regions such as a top-level wine labeled Premier Cru from the Medoc region. Cru in Texas appears to be associated with copious choices for savoring tasty whites, bold reds, and all the colors in between; with and without bubbles.

Cru Food and Wine Bar, originally a Texas establishment, is slowly dispersing across the country and currently has 15 locations in the US; 10 in the Texas cities of Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, and Houston; 2 in Atlanta, Georgia; 2 in Denver, Colorado; and 1 in Lexington, Kentucky. Cru is dedicated to offering superb wines by glass and bottle along with a nice selection of California coastal style entrees and appetizers.

This is our first visit (7 March 2018) to Cru in The Woodlands.  My wife and I stopped in around 8 o’clock in the evening for a glass or two of wine and maybe a small bite of something tempting.  The bar and restaurant occupies a cozy little spot along the North Commons strip, across the street from the diminutive Central Park.  You have three options for seating: a patio for observing the street scene and people watching, an indoor bar and a few small indoor tables that by themselves seat 2-4 comfortably. The interior is tastefully done with blown-up wine labels decorating the back wall.  The interior space was clean and very quiet though there were only 3-4 couples seated around us. A casual and friendly atmosphere.

The waitress was very prompt greeting and seating us, and since it was our first visit, she was very pleasant in explaining the menu, which physically, was a thin wood panel with the food selections on one side and the wine by glass on the other.  I’m not sure who originated this type of menu but it sure is common, albeit nice, for wine bars all across the country.  They had a separate menu for libations and their extensive wine by the bottle offerings. The waitress continued to check in on us for orders and to see if all was well. The only small censure I had with the service was the visits to our table were a tad too spread out; 15-20 minute visit frequency, but I’m likely being overly critical.

W Valdisanti 2012While we studied the food menu we started off with a couple of glasses of a 2012 vintage Tolaini Valdisanti Tenuta S. Giovanni Toscana IGT from Tuscany, Italy at $20 per glass (I’m relying on my memory for the prices so I may be off a bit). A wonderful wine of dark fruits, full-bodied, well structured, with velvety tannins that leave you wanting more.  The wine is a red blend of 75%  Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Sangiovese, and 5% Cabernet Franc that I rate at 90, maybe 92.  The serpent in the wine glass is the universal symbol for St. John the Baptist, “San Giovanni”, and is also the name of the Italian vineyard from which the wine hails. This wine retails, if you can find it, for $22-30 per bottle.

We eventually decided to have a few small morsels of cheese to go with our wine.  They have 4 different “flights” of cheese boards that include 3 samples of various cheeses along with bread, grapes, sliced apple and pear. We chose the Chef’s Pick flight for $16 that consisted of Testun Ciuc, a bold Italian cheese aged in a wine barrel;  a sheep’s milk Pecorino Brillo, aged in Chianti; and a cow’s milk Cashel Blue, an Irish blue-veined cheese.  All were delicious but we really like the Testun Ciuc.  The powerful flavor paired well with the Tuscan wine.

Our visit was delightful and we will be back, especially to sample some of the more interesting items on their menu such as Lamb Lollipops with blue cheese and prosciutto, Salsiccia pizza topped with goat, roasted peppers and Italian sausage, or the Cast Iron Seared Sea Scallops with spinach parmesan risotto.  Their extensive wine offerings we didn’t even begin to scratch.  They offer an ever-changing selection of about 30 wines by the glass and around 10 times that amount by the bottle.  So little time to experience and enjoy, but we will persevere and try.


Grotto Italian Restaurant

Grotto Italian Restaurant, 9595 Six Pines, The Woodlands, TX (Market Street)R Grotto A 2018
Price: $$$ / $$$$$
Ambiance: 4.0/5
Service: 4.0/5
Food: 4.0/5

When in North Houston we always make an effort to stop by the Grotto for lunch. We’ve been coming here since 2014, if my memory serves me correctly, and I can’t remember a bad experience, either in the food served or the service.  When I think about it that’s an achievement that applies to almost no other place I can think of with the exception of a few extreme, pricey, high-end establishments.

The Grotto, with 7 locations in Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, and Texas, is one of the 60-some different Landry’s specialty restaurants. The Grotto, serving upscale and standard Italian fare, delivers a diverse menu emphasizing quality cuisine and attention to the details. The restaurant occupies a cavernous open chamber of tile, wood, and plaster in subdued but pleasant colors and stylish decor.  When busy this open area can reach into some fairly high decibel levels. The walls have various poems and quotes concerning Italian food and eating that I have only been able to partially decode with my limited vocabulary in the language. Overall the spirit of the interior is one of understated charm and impeccable cleanliness.

We have always had great service at the Grotto with the exception of parking, which is the fault of The Woodlands, Market Street town square shopping district; there simply is not enough parking in the area to accommodate all the shops and shoppers. We have solved this problem in 2 different ways depending on how lazy I am.  Either we use the adjacent Woodlands Mall parking lot and walk the less than 2 blocks to the restaurant or drive up to the front entrance and make use of the valet parking service. Seating is always cheerful and prompt. We have never had a reservation for lunch and had to wait for a table only once, but we just had a drink at the bar, passed a few moments in irrelevant conversation and in no time the hostess showed us to our table.  Once seated we are promptly served with water and a bottomless assortment of spicy and plain breads along with a very nice olive oil concoction of herbs and spices. The waiter has always been attentive in all our visits, quickly taking our drink orders and following up at appropriate intervals to take additional requests or just inquire about the service and or meal. The manager will usually stop by for a quick chat which is always a nice touch.

W O'Lillo 2014Drinks are always a meal prerequisite with us and the Grotto provides ample supplies of everything to satisfy our whims.  Beers to martinis, wine to mojitos, your thirst can be satiated in multiple venues but we usually just partake in wine and beer. They have my standard Italian beers of Moretti and Peroni and an adequate selection of wines by the glass.  They have a much more extensive selection of wine available by the bottle. For this visit we had a Baracchi O’Lillo Toscana IGT Super Tuscan, possibly a young 2016 vintage, that was very good. It was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sangiovese; brimming with full-bodied black fruits and leaving a lasting finish. I would rate this wine 90+, and for $10 a glass, a steal.

We started off our meal with an appetizer of their meatballs priced at $10. A pair of fist-sized monstrosities filled with herbs and breading.  Very flavorful but way too much if you are also going to have a meal.  These spheres of opulence would be a perfect complement for an after-work drink or two. In the past we have also tried their $14 Scampi Grotto: shrimp scampi, that is very good and definitely less filing than the meatballs.

For our entrees I ordered my usual, Meatzza Pizza for $17.  The ingredients have changed over the years; with and without bacon, with and without mushrooms; the current version consists of pepperoni, Italian sausage, and mushrooms all atop a wonderful thin, crisp crust cooked up in an open-fire pizza oven situated in the middle of the bar.  In my mind, close to a perfect pizza, onions instead of mushrooms would be perfect, but too large for one person. We ended up taking half the pizza home with us.  My wife had the Ravioli di Mare for $18. A delicious serving of seafood ravioli, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, and shrimp abounding in a wonderfully creamy and smooth white wine sauce.

We usually end our luncheon fare with something sweet but due to the excessive intake of the prior dishes we had to take a pass, but their ever-changing desert cart always  has something irresistible.  Mezzanotte, tiramisu, cheesecake, cookies, strawberry cassata among other seductive treats.  Starting with desert would be an acceptable choice.

The Woodlands Grotto is a fine place, a great place for lunch or dinner.

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