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David Cruz Likes Changing It Up at Lupo
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Monday, January 15, 2024
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KATE DALY

An after-dinner request to meet the chef at Lupo, the newly renamed restaurant in Ketchum, felt like a scene out of the show, “The Bear.”

“Chef!” longtime server Evan White called out to the small kitchen. David Cruz burst through a black curtain with a harried look, quick smile and handshake for his customers.

By contrast, during late morning a day later, all was almost quiet as Cruz and one helper prepped for lunch while bartender Olevia Chaffin inventoried what she described as a good selection of Italian wines.

Welcome to the reincarnation of Il Naso, a mainstay on Washington Street for many years.  After partnering with Jim Fosler several years ago and becoming the chef, Cruz started changing everything on the menu.  Then last spring when David took over the restaurant, he redecorated the space, painting the walls lighter and swapping out the curtains.

This winter—just in time for the 2023-24 ski season—Cruz debuted his brand, Lupo, which is Italian for wolf.  Don’t be misled though--the new menu is more Mediterranean than strictly Italian.

“I grew up in Italian restaurants making meatballs and lasagna.  I’m trying to get away from that,” said Cruz, a third-generation restaurant, hotel and night club entrepreneur.

Cruz’s goal is to serve “just simple food, good, clean, organic ingredients, that if we can’t get it, we don’t serve it.”

He tries to source as much as possible from Idaho.  For example, while the durum wheat for the house made pasta is from Montana, his herb flatbread is from Boulart in Boise.

A fun fact, he pointed out: Eighty percent of Italy’s durum wheat is imported from the United States, thanks to high demand.

Cruz was raised in Acapulco, Mexico, where his parents owned restaurants and night clubs for more than 35 years.  Many of his recipes are theirs with a nod towards his mother’s Italian heritage and his father’s Mexican roots.  His Caesar salad dressing, for instance, contains no mustard because its true origin was Tijuana.

Cruz trained at the Culinary Institute of America in upstate New York, then worked in New York, San Francisco and Las Vegas during his formative years as a chef.

For 10-plus years he lived abroad, helping celebrity chefs open up restaurants all over the world including Dubai, Marrakesh, Shanghai, St. Petersburg and Rome.  He worked with restaurant developer Elizabeth Blau on Parq Vancouver Resort & Casino before returning to the Wood River Valley.

Cruz figures he has lived here on and off for 30-plus years.” He keeps coming back because his sister and brother-in-law have a ranch in Bellevue and he likes to snowboard and climb.

When he first came here a few decades ago, he worked as a chef at Evergreen Restaurant in Ketchum.  More recently, he helped open Tundra in Hailey.

Lupo is Cruz’s first solo owner experience, and he cooks every day, putting in anywhere from 10 to 20 hours.  It helps that he lives nearby and walks to work, saving on the time it would take to commute.

His staff of 15 has been with him for more than three years.

“Without the team I have, this place would be nothing,” he said.

Darting around the kitchen, Cruz is in a constant state of multitasking. He’s on the phone a lot, checking on seafood deliveries several times a week.  For now, the clams are from Puget Sound, the diver scallops are out of the Northwest, the swordfish is from Hawaii.

“The feedback I’m getting is that we’re trending in the right direction, being a seasonal organic restaurant with an everchanging menu,” he said.

In fact, sometimes the nightly specials menu is printed out 20 minutes before opening to reflect fresh additions.

Cruz is pleased when he sees locals come in three times a week; the staff knows their favorite tables and drinks.  Most of the restaurant’s reviews posted online, however, are from out-of-towners.

For the future, David is contemplating adding live music in the bar area twice a week, or maybe making Tuesdays Ladies Night with “customer pluses,” such as glasses of wine and a “free nosh.”

“I tried at one point to get out of this business, but here we are,” he admitted with a laugh. “We just want this restaurant to keep growing and get better than the day before.”

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