I'm hardly a wine connoisseur, during blind tastings in the past, I've invariably preferred the least expensive wines, but when friends suggested we meet Sunday afternoon for drinks at Crù, a wine bar in Austin's Domain shopping center, I was up for the experience. I figured at the very least it would offer a quiet place to talk. I've grown tired of trying to communicate, much less connect, in noisy restaurants and clubs.
And I was right, the atmosphere was definitely conducive to conversation. One of my friends commented that the wine bar looked a little like a library, with the floor-to-ceiling custom wine shelving on one wall. Oversize wine labels and elegant light sconces graced another. We sat at a comfortable table for four, and although the place was full, I don't even remember the neighboring diners. We had enough quiet to hear ourselves talk and enough space to avoid overhearing others' conversations.
We shared a bottle of Grenache recommended by our server, who was quite knowledgeable. She fended my wine-savvy friends' questions admirably, explaining that this particular wine was not fruity, nor was it too dry, either. She described it as "having a lot of earth." Given my track record with choosing wines, I won't attempt to describe the taste, but one of my companions said, "It has a slightly fruity start, with complex layers of flavor, and a smooth, slightly drier finish."
Crù offers full dinner and dessert menus, as well as a "sharing menu," a concept that seems to be catching on in many restaurants. Crù's version includes stone-fired pizzas and cheese flights, but we settled on shrimp potstickers and three-cheese fondue with white truffle oil. The fondue was flanked with apples, pears, green beans, carrots, and rustic bread. Both appetizers were delicious, and neither was overly filling (especially when shared with four people).
The knowledgeable staff came through again after our meal, when one of the cooks in our group wanted to know what cheeses were in the fondue. Our server graciously fetched the chef, who came to our table and reeled off the ingredients: fontina, Gruyere, and Gorgonzola, and, of course, white truffle oil. When the same friend asked about the sauce on the potstickers, he practically gave her the recipe from memory. The kitchen staff here knows what it's doing.
Fondue always fires a conversation, but I think the sharing-menu concept overall does the same thing. It also allows you to try a variety of items, while saving money and calories. Count me a fan.