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Feb 9, 2008 08:11 AM

Crave Restaurant and Wine Bar, Ansonia, CT YES!

Crave Restaurant and Wine Bar is an unusual place for the quiet town of Ansonia, CT. Located at 102 Main, it is in the heart of downtown Ansonia. It is probably only 1,000 square feet in size and has about 15 tables, of which most are four-tops. There was one round table, smack dab in the middle, which could seat at least eight. There is a long bar along one side, towards the back. All-together I would guess it could seat about 90, if the bar was fully occupied. This Friday night, it was full at 7PM and after 8:30, it had only a few empty tables. The crowd was affluent late thirties to sixties. Nice cars were prevalent. Seems to me that Crave has been found by the upper-class foodies of Ansonia (and the surrounding towns in the Valley). They were in dire need of a restaurant of this caliber. It has been open almost exactly six months, with little fanfare. When I first stumbled upon Crave (on the internet) I thought the reviews (pretty much in one place) were unbelievable; they were so positive. The very next day a friend said he and his wife had been there. He said it was the real deal! Finally, I have first-hand information to share.

We made reservations and it was probably a good idea. I think we could have been seated immediately but it was close to full at 6:30PM. We were tended to fairly quickly and professionally and found that there were some nice wine selections and, like many better restaurants have wisely adopted, they had some better wines, by the glass. I guess you should expect this with the tag of “wine bar” on the name. We chose a bottle of Artizen (Zinfandel) @ $32 and were very happy with it. Later, we ordered one more glass of it. Bread was brought to the table right away and the butter (which was cold and hard) was infused with finely grated lime skin shards or possibly ground Kaffir lime leaves. It was an unusual and tasty surprise! I would have preferred a stouter, chewier bread than the almost “white bread” style of individual loaves we were served. There are so many artisan bakeries in the area that I think the bread deserves an upgrade. We shared a “Classic” Caesar Salad and I had a bowl of seafood bisque. The salad was delicious and perfectly dressed. Not to much, nor too little. This was a good sign! I thought it lacked in anchovy and lemon flavor for a “Classic Caesar” but the wonderful, garlicky croutons made up for it. The shaved parmesan was a nice touch, though I wouldn’t call it well-aged (i.e., expensive) cheese. Nevertheless, I am being nit-picky and will continue to do so. Also, I’ll whine about the seafood bisque, which was chocked-full of goodies and flavor, but a bit thin for my liking. Not so thin that it kept me from cleaning the bowl!

For our main course I had one of the specials, rack of lamb with a mustard seasoned coating and served with a nice red wine reduction coulis, which might have had some fruit jam and/or mint jam in it. The lamb and the accompanying green beans and roasted baby red potatoes were au point (aka, perfectly cooked) and very flavorful! I can’t say anything good about the fried plantains, however. A little like fries, they were dry, fairly hard and rather tasteless, except for the dusting of salt. A dud as far as I am concerned. I have eaten at several Columbian restaurants, so I know how tasty they can be. My mate had the jerk chicken, which we both liked a lot. The pinto beans were an amazing surprise because it’s exactly how I usually cook them (and I’m a Texan). They were cooked with peppers, tomatoes, onion (and probably garlic and a little chili powder) and tasted terrific! The really “sticky rice” was flavorful (like there had been chicken stock added) but it was terribly gummy and not to my liking. Like Marge Simpson’s hair, it never budged from its tall, mounded shape. All the food was classy in its presentation, but not over the top. Nothing was “growing” out of our food. Portions were average.
Ah, then dessert! We shared the “tres leche” cake. This is a whipped cream topped yellow cake or “rum cake” style of cake soaked in sweetened milk (and God-knows what else). It was fabulous and my partner, who usually doesn’t eat much dessert, couldn’t stop till she finished it. Nuf’ said. The couple at our side seemed to really enjoy their flan. There is enough Southern slant to the food we ate at Crave that I have to wonder if the owner or Chef is from Texas….. Whatever the case, the ethnic influences are varied and noticeable. I love it and its eclectic menu!

OK, what I don’t like: The noise level. Crave got very loud. So loud that at times we had to shout at each other. There was a small speaker mounted overhead, in the corner where we sat, and it added “black noise” with the steady drone of bass, to the already noisy restaurant. The place is nothing but smooth walls and glass and hard floor, so it is no wonder that it gets loud. I think some attention to sound deadening would be appropriate. The place looks nice and classy, but just gets way too loud. This doesn’t seem to stop anyone from coming though. I think I will time my future visits for when it is not so crowded.
Service was not perfect but far above average. We never had wine poured for us after the initial service. We had to request that the salad plate be removed. Beyond that, and slight slowness in service, I can say it was quite good and professional, especially for a very busy night and (I was told) being short a waitress. I can tell that attention has been paid to training the wait staff in good restaurant etiquette.
Price? We were out-the-door for a buck-twenty-five. About right. This is not your down-and-dirty eatery. It measures up well to New Haven’s best.
So there it is. A delightful, chic restaurant in the most unexpected place! An owner, who is on the ball, greeting us at the door and seating us. I introduced myself at the end of the meal and Libby sent us both a gratis, green apple liquor aperitif. Can’t beat that!

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  1. do you have any ideas of the hours - is it dinner only?

    1 Reply
    1. WOW! Thanks for the great review. I live right around the corner and have wanted to try this place. It's so nice you took the time to give the valley a good plug! Richie

      1. Great, thanks for finding the link. Any other little places like this you know in the Valley area? Someone mentioned something good in Shelton recently.

        6 Replies
        1. re: MasterofLightChick

          You have posted on this thread:
          I don't personally know of any other restaurants I would recommend. You might try the Twisted Vine. I was critical of it, but the food was pretty good. Try looking on Yahoo.local for restaurants in various towns in the valley. There is some info there.

          1. re: Scargod

            No offense, but that is one of the worst places to find restaurants! When I lived up in the Valley this summer, I tried that method and ended up coming back down to Ffld County to eat. I'm finding alot of things right now, more than I thought existed in that little area.

          2. re: MasterofLightChick

            Liquid Lunch on Howe Ave on the corner of Center St/Bridgeport Ave downtown. They have great soups and sandwiches.

            1. re: javaandjazz

              am I the only one that doesn't like Liquid Lunch's soups? I do like their sandwiches and salads but for a "soup" place, I expect more from their soup.

              1. re: Ima Foodie

                No, I'm not a big fan either. They aren't horrific or anything, they just don't hit the spot with me.

                I work near the Milford one, so we do office lunches from there occasionally. The last time I had Tomato Basil soup it was pretty thin-tasting but very salty -- figured I just caught them on a bad day, but haven't really wanted to find out whether that was the case.

                Their sandwiches are/were a big hit with the office, but eventually the novelty wore off, and a number of people cited the sandwiches as too busy. As in, sometimes I just want a turkey with lettuce, tomato and mayo on whole wheat -- not turkey panini with smoked havarti and wasabi-garlic-cranberry aioli or whatever.

                1. re: Ima Foodie

                  You have to try Soup Thyme in Monroe.....The best Soup & the Panini's are amazing not to mention the awesome service.....i visit Soup Thyme five times a week..

            2. Last night we went to Crave for the second time. They were fairly busy at 6:30pm but there were a couple of tables still open. Coincidentally, we sat at the same two-top by the door. Some forty-ish ladies were finishing up at the other two-top in this corner and I heard them say that they liked Crave and had been there before. Crave has a following.
              We ordered a bottle of Archetype Vineyard's Shiraz, 2006 and for $30, it was superb. Libby said it was one of her favorites. We were in appetizer land when she stopped by to see how things were and she recognized me (and knows I write on Chow. I don't think this had anything to do with the spectacular meal we had.

              Neither of us are gluttons. I'm slender and my partner is normal. I say this because of the recent NY Times article about eGullet people. We often order quite a bit so we can get a good sampling of the food. That or bring help. On this occasion, we were alone and we just expect to take lots of "dogggy bags" home. I know that term is not used up here. OK, we had lots of things "wrapped". Much more civilized!
              Now that I have that caveat out of the way, I can say that we tried the shrimp avocado salad, which is spilling out of a avacado skin, the fried calamari, with an unusual, sweet dipping sauce, and the chirozo with cannelli beans and chard. They were all great. I mentioned that there were not enough peppers with the calamari and Libby said to ask for more. Seems some people don't like it hot. Some serious heat would work great with the slightly sweet sauce. Everything was very fresh.
              We liked the lime zest in the whipped butter, which was nice and soft. It went well with the soft rolls, though I (and Libby) desire something better for bread. She is working on it and I'm sure she will find something good. I guess Ansonia is not on the route for many of the boutique bakeries.

              I had the salmon and mussels for a main entree while my partner stuck with the beans and chorizo. Amauri, our waiter, asked if medium was OK. I said no, that I wanted medium rare and that is how it was. The mussels were some of the best I have had and stand up well against the green-lipped imports. This grilled fish was really tasty, with a buttery, lime/cilantro sauce and perfect seasoned rice and fresh veggies. So often the vegetable medly is a "throw-away"; much like a garnish. These fresh, perfectly seasoned and sauteed veggies were wonderful!
              Throughout the meal our waiter was attentive and kept the table clean and cleared in a timely manner. This was first class service.

              We finished at the bar where I talked to three guys who semed to be regulars. Libby was tending bar (though she seems to tend to many things). I had an espresso and we sampled the pineapple-infused vodka. This visit the music was not as loud. We left at 8pm and had a perfectly spectacular time for under $90.

              5 Replies
              1. re: Scargod

                Scargod, I enjoy reading your reviews. I have yet to get to Crave and I can walk there, I am that close! I hope she makes out well and brings other restaurants down to Main St. Thanks for another great review, Rich

                1. re: javaandjazz

                  Rich, what are you waiting for? Go to Crave already for chrissakes! At this rate Joanne and I will make it there before you. BTW, we will be off to Mario's Place in Westport tomorrow. I've been, excuse the expression, craving prime rib, so I thought I'd give them a try. I haven't been there in years so I figured I'd give them a shot to quell my prime rib jones. I remember years ago their prime rib was always on the money. Hopefully they haven't changed in that department.

                  1. re: javaandjazz

                    Well, thanks! I don't get out as often as I would like. I am the cook in our house and cook regularly. There's so much out there to try. When we go out (about once a week for dinner) I like to chronicle the meal if it's a new, different or interesting place. It's now a new hobby of mine (as if I needed an excuse to eat at better restaurants). Often, I do considerable research before we eat out so I can keep it interesting and varied, and help keep the negative experiences at a minimum, especially if we are travelling.
                    You really should try Crave. They have a nice bar, a good, if not short, wine list and a good tres leches cake dessert!
                    When I first started reading posts about Libby's place I thought it was all hype, manufactured by friends. Now, I feel like I am one of them.

                    1. re: Scargod

                      I went to Crave for the second time on Saturday night and I have to agree with everything that Scargod said. A wonderful new place in the valley! I hope to become a regular!

                      1. re: jesoda

                        My husband and I went to Crave on Sat. night, June 14th for our 10th wedding anniversary/my 50th birthday. We arrived for our 8:00 reservation and were seated immediately. You defnitely feel like you are in New Haven. A very nice space. They have quite a large bar that fills more than 1/2 of one wall. Our meal was delicious from start to finish. I had rack of lamb and my husband had steak. I could have eaten all of my meal (because it was delicious!), but I saved 1/2 for lunch today. And also I wanted to save room for dessert! We shared Tres Leche and it was wonderful.

                        The service was great (very attentive) and Libby came over to our table and we chatted for a bit. She definitely made us feel welcome. I thought the prices were reasonable for a really good meal in a very nice place. If you haven't been yet, you've got to give it a try. I think you'll be pleased.

                2. Finally got to Crave last night. I give it two thumbs up. The food was excellent as was the service. Very reasonable prices, not cheap but reasonable and worth it. The menu leans toward the Latin side of the food spectrum. which is fine by me. The cocktails were well made and the wine list was priced sanely unlike many other places. Very nicely decorated place. Libby, the owner, made it a point to visit everyone in the dining room to ask how everything was. Very engaging lady. My wife and I assured her we would be back. Ansonia can now boast of at least one top notch restaurant.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Jimmy Cantiello

                    I, too, mde it to Crave for the first time last night, and everything was top notch. The staff could not have been more accommodating, and each of the dishes was delectable. For apps, we had the mango-crab spring rolls (positively yummy) and a special of pork loin with melted cheese on toast (I can't remember what the dish was called) which was absolutely terrific.
                    Mains were: scallops, duck, and short ribs...and each plate was excellent.
                    Echoing the above post, Libby, the owner, is very engaging and cast several smiles at our table as each of us was devouring our dinners. She came over, introduced herself, and made us feel like we were regulars! Upon leaving, she acknowledged me by name and thanked us for coming.
                    As stated in posts above, the only complaint is that it IS very loud when the dining room is filled (as it was last night), and while I know that in several instances, restaurants use nothing but hard surfaces in the decor (as is the case at Crave) to add to the "hipness," a little sound control would be welcomed! You know it's loud when you can't hear the waitperson reciting the evening's specials....
                    A comment about the location: My sons (14 and 19) were wondering where I was taking them.....entering Ansonia via Pershing Dr and other less than picturesque streets and seeing little else onn Main St that could remotely be termed "upscale" or condusive to supporting an upscale restaurant, but all doubts were completely erased after this wonderful dining experience.
                    We will definitely be back!

                    1. re: lsnhc

                      Funny how many chowhounders were there this weekend. We were there on Saturday night for the first time, and we'll definitely be back! The meal was delicious, and the service was very attentive. We also met the owner and appreciated her interest in our dining experience. Also, we're still talking about the meal a couple days later, so that's good.

                      The restaurant does seem a bit out of place in its location, so I hope it does well without other things/stores/restaurants drawing people to the area. We didn't find it too loud as we were tucked in a table by the window, and we were out of there by 8 pm. What we did notice, however, was the clientele seemed to be in the 50s plus age range with only a little variation. With all four of us in our late 30s, we felt young there.

                      We started with the fried calamari and the crab and mango spring rolls. The calamari was very tender. I only wish they had grilled calamari on the menu that night as I would have enjoyed that. The crab and mango spring rolls were delicious. They were packed with crab and had a nice hint of cilantro. For entrees, we had sea bass, scallops, short ribs, and salmon. All were good. The only two complaints were finding a couple very small bone shards in the short ribs and salmon that was undercooked for my liking. They usually cook it medium, I asked for it just under medium, and it was on the rarer side of medium rare. I just ate around the part not cooked to my liking and had plenty to eat. Unfortunately, I couldn't bring the rest home with me because my mom was coming over the next day and she's deathly allergic to fish--couldn't bring it in the house. For dessert, we shared the tres leches cake and the flan. Both were wonderful, but it was the flan I loved best. Very silky!

                      We'll definitely be back.

                      1. re: lsnhc

                        Now that I know that Jimmy Cantiello, Isnhc, & Scargod and have given the thumbs up I have to get there soon! Thanks for all your great reviews! Rich