The Eat Beat: Crave 'n Boone - Tapas and martinis on Boone Heights
To crave is human; to dine is divine.
Crave: World Inspired Tapas & Martinis offers both.
Owned by Josh and Jessica Grogan, formerly of Char and Bluefish Grill fame, the restaurant specializes in tapas and martinis.
By definition, "Tapas is the name of a wide variety of appetizers, or snacks, in Spanish cuisine. Patrons of tapas restaurants can order many different items and combine them to make a full meal, often sharing with their guest, so as to try as many flavors as possible."
Though Spanish in origin, the concept of tapas has taken on a worldly meaning at Crave, whose considerably sized menu spans the world over.
"We have about 100 items on our menu, ranging from $2 to $10," Jessica said.
The dishes are designed and prepared by her husband, whose 10 years' experience in the restaurant business is tastily evident, and Chef Robert Camacho, former sous chef for Char, who Josh sought out especially for Crave.
"He makes the meals fresh daily, not frozen or pre-made, and they take a lot of pride in it," Jessica said. "And with so many items, it's hard to do that."
"Our goal is to raise the standards of the dining experience in Boone," Josh said. "We want to give people a nice place to go, but without having to take out a second mortgage to go there. There's no pretentiousness."
The menu numbers between 80 and 90 items, starting with the garden and grain category, which features 22 dishes. One is the iceberg wedge, comprised of a wedge of lettuce stuffed with applewood bacon, tomato and buttermilk blue cheese vinaigrette.
The poached pear salad is loaded with arugula, toasted almonds, blue cheese and champagne vinaigrette.
"I never really worked with them extensively," Josh said of the pears, "but three different items on our menu come with them, and now we do a batch about every day."
Grain items, like a margherita flatbread pizza (with Roma tomato, buffalo mozzarella, basil and sea salt) and the pear and manchego flatbread with caramelized onions, applewood bacon and a balsamic glaze, are in good company with Jessica's favorite dish, creamy mac and cheese, crafted with smoked gouda and breadcrumbs.
On the topic of cheese, Crave offers at least eight varieties, including a mozzarella caprese dish, fried goat cheese, baked brie and pimento, or diners can enjoy a cheese plate with their choice of three - Australian (cow's milk blue), Spanish manchego (raw sheep's milk, aged 60 days), vintage Van Gogh (Wisconsin cow's milk gouda, aged 6 months) or English cheddar.
And Grogan and Camacho's creativity can be admired by land or sea, with the former delivering dishes like chicken and corn chowder, duck confit with blood orange sauce, five-spice roast pork belly (Asian plum barbecue, fried onions and romaine lettuce), lamb chop lollipop in a blackberry cabernet sauce with sweet potato nest, and the southwestern rice bowl (Cajun chicken, caramelized onion, apple poblano salsa and white cheddar).
Josh's particular favorite is the espresso dusted filet, comprised of filet mignon with Ghirardelli chocolate and fingering potatoes.
"It's one of those dishes we played around with at Char, but never had much success," he said. "But it was one of Jessica's favorites, and I have to give her credit - it's one of our top sellers now."
Crave sets sail with a bountiful seafood menu, starting with crisp calamari with sweet chili garlic sauce, crab rangoons (snow crab meat with cream cheese, wonton wrapper, sweet-and-sour sauce and rice), steamed mussels with bacon, shallots, parmesan cream and crostini, and parmesan-crusted grouper, served with tartar sauce and rice.
The Gouda mac and cheese makes a return, though complemented with grilled lobster, and diners can choose from a variety of shrimp and scallop preparations.
The Grogans intend to keep the menu in a constant state of evolution, with new items coming and others modified. When Josh first tried the Cajun grilled grouper with apple poblano salsa, he felt it needed more oomph, so he decided to add black beans, corn and cilantro to the mix. The result is yet another popular item on the menu.
The desserts are just as appealing, particularly one of Jessica's favorites, the s'mores pot d'creme, featuring chocolate custard topped with melted marshmallow and crushed graham cracker. Others include the coconut creme brulee, a chocolate pyramid, fried cheesecake and gelato.
Just as extensive is the martini list.
"We like to play around with alcohol," Jessica said. "We want to be world-inspired, so we started coming up with appropriate drinks and names."
In developing their martini list, the Grogans mixed three parts craftiness with two parts inspiration, gathering liquors, liqueurs and mixers representing different worldly regions.
For instance, the Sicilian limoncello features Absolut Citron, limoncello liqueur, lemon juice, a splash of Seagram's Seven and a lemon twist served in a sugar rimmed glass.
House favorites include the more traditional Dry London Fog, comprised of Tanqueray gin and dry vermouth rinse, shaken to a cold fog and finished with blue cheese stuffed olives.
The Sonoma Grapevine is tempered with Three Olives Grape, sour mix, Seagram's Seven and blackberry brandy, served with a skewer of frozen grapes. The Ice Blue Antarctic comes with Hpnotiq liqueur, Absolut Citron, sour mix and Seagram's Seven, while the decadent Chocolat Del Fuego is loaded with Godiva dark chocolate vodka, Smirnoff vanilla vodka, creme de cacao, cream, a pinch of cayenne pepper, all with a strawberry glazed rim and chocolate swirl.
And the list goes on.
"The martinis have been a big seller," Jessica said. "People seem to like the idea behind it."
And people seem to like the idea in general. Jessica said Crave has already seen plenty of repeat business, with the only complaints coming from diners who hadn't yet grasped the tapas concept. Fortunately, it's quite simple.
"Small plates, big taste," Jessica said.
Crave is located at 203 Boone Heights Drive (formerly Wings-to-Go). Hours are Monday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., though the bar is open till 2 a.m., also serving food. For more information, call (828) 355-9717 or visit http://www.craveboone.com.
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