This is no ordinary wine bar. It is anything but ordinary with its exceptional montage of creative cuisines expertly paired with fantastic wines from their massive selection of old and new. I am no wine expert so although I thoroughly enjoy sipping it, I will not even attempt to review it. Cru Cellars is South Tampa’s newest and best-hidden secret. Although located in a prime location on South Macdill with a clear street view and a large sign, Cru Cellars appears as a mere wine market. Up until a couple of months ago, like many, I too was oblivious to the dimly lit, posh lounge nestled discreetly in the back of the market. This little secret has gradually been leaked to more and more wine and food-lovers alike who have been steadily making their way to wine and dine at this classy and quaint eatery. Cru Cellars has only recently opened up their kitchen, enabling them to be part of Tampa’s ever-growing culinary community. Word of mouth has worked well for this up and coming food and wine gem and it seems they are responding well to the recent buzz. Having visited the establishment twice now, both times a packed house, the ambiance, service and fare have been satisfyingly superb.
With both visits to Cru Cellars, I have been blessed with wonderful service. This wine bar may be refined, but in no way do the employees act pretentious. Not only are they extremely knowledgeable with their wines and appropriate pairings, they are also friendly and very quick to please their guests. The carefully crafted menu includes a large list of chef-inspired eclectic small plates as well as a charcutterie board selection with a wide variety of tasty cured meats, exquisite artisanal cheeses and small bites such as olives and bruchetta. These choices are accompanied by an array of delicious jams, mustards, nuts and crostini.
My friends and I began with a charcuterie board. We chose the two year-old gouda, the Cabot-cloth bound cheddar and the Kiev Russian-style salami. The board was presented attractively, though I did expect larger portions of cheese. The salami had a nice salty bite and was particularly delightful with the gouda and crostini. The cheddar was not as sharp as I had hoped and was slightly harder than I expected it would be. The mustard and pecans were flavorful and added a perfect touch. If I were to order a charcuterie board again, I’d probably lean toward the goats and sheep's milk cheeses instead.
We also ordered the half portion Roasted Mushroom Orzo. Wow. This dish was incredible. Who knew orzo could be spruced up like this? The fresh rosemary and thyme defined this glorious recipe and the bite from the Parmesan and the earthiness from roasted mushrooms was just outstanding. The orzo came studded with bright red cherry tomatoes that served to add a pungent tang to the otherwise aromatic and rich ingredients. Although not too complex, it was divinely rich and rustic with flavors my palate now constantly craves.
Per suggestion of our server, we then ordered the Coriander-crusted Pork tenderloin. This plate was beautifully presented with Spanish olives and Yukon Golds as its tasty accompaniment. The pork was melt-in-your-mouth tender and had flawless essence from the coriander. Refined comfort food with its meat and potato front, the scrumptious reduction and the salty Spanish olives make it a creation worth the “ohhh’s and Ahhh’s” it received. A rather large “small plate,” this dish was perfect for sharing amongst the four of us.
To add to the already marvelous mix of cuisines, we ordered the flat bread with fig jam, arugula, bleu cheese and prosciutto. The flat bread was delivered to our table bursting with colors. The crust was crisp and tasty and the diverse flavors from the bold ingredients on top created quite the party in my mouth. Intense bleu cheese, salty prosciutto, super sweet fig jam and the bitter arugula fashioned a brag-worthy combination I would recommend to all.
The only disappointment we encountered was the Steak, egg and polenta plate. The steak was prepared medium rare and was very tasty with its divine juices. However, the polenta, though creamy, was slightly bland and the poached egg was overcooked. We all had our mouths watering in the anticipation of this dish as we had envisioned the yolk spewing with the prick of a fork and generously covering the steak and polenta with its yellow goodness. We were let down when this was not the case. This plate has a lot of potential, just needs better execution.
Because seafood is near and dear to my food-honoring palate, the Seafood Bouillabaisse was a must. Loaded with fresh mild white fish, enormous tender pink shrimp and topped with impeccably cooked mussels, this bowl of seafood and cherry tomato wine broth was extraordinary. Normally not a huge fan of fennel, it played a delightful role in this sensational seafood concoction. Dill and rosemary were no secret either, for these herbs added a flavorful touch. The bouillabaisse was also served generously making it a “small plate” that could easily be a full meal for one. It was truly up to par with similar dishes I’ve had at 5 star seafood restaurants. Well done, Cru Cellars.
If you haven’t visited Cru Cellars yet, you are seriously missing out. Delectable dishes are present as well as enough wines to satisfy the snobby. They aim to please the hungry and the thirsty and do so with such eloquence; not a soul should leave disappointed.