Dinner at Crush, with questions
I had dinner last night at Crush, and I won't rave but I will go back.
The menu is evenly divided between small plates (9 of them, though one was out) and somewhat-larger-plates (8). Each item and its sides get described, as in "Maple-Bacon Sausage Stuffed Chicken Breast / Truffle Tagliatelle, Chanterelles, Sugar Peas & Baby Squash / $24". There's a small foofy drinks list (walnut manhattan, etc.), a full bar, and a long wine list ordered mostly by grape varietal.
I've learned not to ignore the foofy drinks list when in Seattle. I had an alcohol-free, somewhat sweet cucumber and mint cocktail, and although I could have done without all the simple syrup, it's a reminder what nice pleasant summer drinks come from cucumbers. Today in Seattle the temperature was 85 deg F.
Wagyu Flank Steak Salad & Black Truffle Vinaigrette / Chicory Greens, Roquefort & Pickled Pearl Onions. The meat came medium rare, as ordered, and a pretty charcoal color on the outside. The black truffle flavor in the dressing was lost, but the bitter chicory was not. Better than either, though, the Roquefort: a large triangle, and its strength of flavor and buttery texture stood up easily to the acid in the dressing, the bitterness of the greens, and the salty-umami meat. (I sometimes think that restaurant menu writers -- never mind the chefs -- just insert the word "truffle" for effect.)
Heirloom Tomato Salad & Fried Spanish Anchovies / Lettuces, Balsamic & Lemon-Basil Aioli. Again, a dish with a one-too-many-flavors problem, but salads make that easy to forgive. The anchovies are dipped in a thick batter and deep fried, not just dusted in flour and pan fried, which is a more usual treatment. Frankly, they would be a good introduction to eating anchovies for someone who had not yet graduated from the phase where you use anchovy paste when you cook them broccoli, they love the delicious flavor, but they have no idea what makes it taste so good. Anchovies for those who don't like anchovies but do like fish-and-chips. I asked my friends if you could grow tomatoes here in Seattle, and one of them said, "If you are lucky enough to have an especially warm spot in your garden, and it's hard". I don't know where the tomatoes came from -- maybe the other side of the Cascades -- but they were sweet and summery and lightly acidic. The salad was mostly the tamer sorts of lettuces. Fried anchovies and fresh tomatoes would have been simpler and just as good.
Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras & Blackberries / Cornmeal Waffle, Port & Endive. A dish straight out of a very decadent medieval feast, except for the presence of corn and the existence of sweet port. This was, in fact, the sweetest of all the things we ate all evening, including dessert. The blackberries -- which you can't help but grow here in Seattle -- were like candy, and the port reduction a syrup. The foie gras itself, seared on the outside and beet red within, might have been rich enough to stand up to all the sugar, but we weren't. And it was on a waffle. And the endive was utterly gratuitous.
Hawaiian Kampachi with Summer Herbs & Olive Oil / Cauliflower 'Tabouleh,' Spicy Peppers & Tomato. You probably noticed that that is a strange description - no note of how the fish would be prepared, and the enigmatic 'spicy peppers'. Well, the fish was herbed and then broiled through, and rich and delicious, but it was the bed of mint-laden bits of cauliflower that stood out. Recently back from Rome, I've been missing all the wild- and domesticated mint flavors that characterize summer meat dishes. Crush didn't disappoint. The tomatoes here were little red ones, probably Sweet 100s, and the spicy peppers remain enigmatic. (But neither spicy nor peppery.)
Wild Salmon Belly, Hamachi & Ahi Tuna Tartare / Avocado & Vanilla Spicy Citrus Vinaigrette. Again, Crush can turn out wonderful dishes. In this case, I don't know if I should make fun of the 'vanilla' or the 'spicy'. They were evanescent in their presence and alleged spiciness, but maybe they made this dish so good. Just a cylinder of finely chopped -- but not minced -- high-grade fish that worked surprisingly well as a combination. On top, a quail egg, some roe, and minced greens. Altogether the best of the small plates.
Side dish: "rappini" (one of only two misspellings on the menu) in butter. Good, buttery, bitter, salty. Not a great companion to anything, but fine in itself. Rapini is getting more air time, it seems; lucky diners.
I don't have the menu description of the dessert, but it was a piece of corncake, prepared as an upside-down cake with blackberry topping (that is, bottoming), licorice ice cream, and a wafer. Not a bad thing if you like that sort of thing, though the licorice flavor was more theoretical than otherwise.
One standout at Crush was the presence of the difficult-to-get marsanne and roussanne blend White Coat from Turley, 2005. This particular wine had more assertive flavors than most of the dishes. If you look through the list, you'll see that at least half of them were tough challenges for any wine. But with the Roquefort cheese and especially with the kampachi and cauliflower, the wine and the food just made each other better.
I had an espresso at the end: too long a pull, and the cup was not hot enough. Oh, well.
Crush, on the whole, is pricey but not exorbitant. The small plates run about $10 to $20, and the large plates (only the kampachi above) $20 to $30.
My two questions:
What is the deal with the extra flavors? The kitchen at Crush clearly pay for good ingredients, know how to chop-and-simmer-and-sear, and put together interesting sides with each course. But there's just no reason for the black truffle or the licorice. Is it possible that these add-ons are really just there for their seductive effect on the menu? I mean, are they just an edible form of marketing-blub?
What does the word "spicy" mean in this context? It doesn't refer to piquancy, but it probably means something.
Crush, 2319 E Madison, Seattle. 206 302 7874. www.chefjasonwilson.com.
Couldn't agree more. Also, congrats to Holly Smith of Cafe Juanita for just winning the James Beard award for the PacNW. She beat out the chefs from Crush, Union, and Tilth. Looks like cooking skillz overcame lobbying,marketing and kissing ass this time around at the ol' show. Bravo.
i think we may be overrating the influence of peer pressure here...i would venture a guess that people who say they like Crush (or any other restaurant) aren't just saying so to be "fashionable", but actually do like it, and people who don't like it are quite willing to say so in public...c'mon, give us all some credit for independent tastes and opinions here ;)
I went recently and I thought it was amazing. And I didn't think it was trying too hard at all. I have only been twice and both times have been in the last six months. Perhaps people that think the food is convoluted should check out the menu and, if you want to, try again? I really think it's innovative and balanced food.