Don Bauder 3:30 p.m., Oct. 8
Your New Crush
A popular Chico restaurant has decided to branch out in Solana Beach. Crush Restaurant & Wine Lounge is nestled in the corner of a strip mall off the main drag (HWY 101). This is where Pacific Coast Grill used to be, but now they are in the process of moving to Cardiff.
Crush has made the space its own, removing the eclectic, colorful art and tiles of the old grill and creating more of an elegant monochromatic decor that sufficiently takes second billing to the food.
Feast your eyes on what I got to try during my recent visit. Of course, most evenings of gut-busting decadence begin with a cocktail. This "Ginger" cocktail contained Belvedere, cilantro (a strange, but surprisingly refreshing addition to the drink), lime, ginger beer, and sake.
This one is called "Carefree," and contains 10 Cane Rum, lime, bitters, and Pelligrino Orange.
These drinks were tasty, and if you're going for beverages, I highly recommend splurging on the alcohol (cocktails are $11 each) because the price of virgin drinks is downright obscene. For example, simple Earl Grey tea is $4, and a soda is $3.50. Because the wine is so reasonably priced (a mere 2 to 2-1/2 markup), they seem to be making up for the difference by seriously overpricing the simple stuff. I know the coffee probably comes in a French press, but $5? That's more expensive than a Tall Latte at Starbucks. But I'll move on, because as turned off as I was to see the beverage prices, the fairly priced and exquisite food I got to taste quickly made me forget.
We began with pass-around morsels from the menu, like these "cheese and crackers" combos.
Other pass-arounds included Ahi tuna tartare, bruschetta, and scampi prawns, the lattermost of which deserves a spotlight. For such a big crowd (this was a media event), I was surprised and delighted at how perfectly each shrimp was cooked, and the flavor was plate-licking luscious. When I go back for dinner (and I will), the shrimp will be a must order.
After sips and tastes on the patio, we moved inside to a table. Here's my beh beh looking adorable, with the fireplace of the lounge area behind him.
The water glasses were reused wine bottles, a fun touch.
We started with a burrata salad, with roasted beet, avocado, citrus, and crushed almonds. Yes, it was as good as it looks.
After that, we moved on to a pasta: housemade "black & white" tagliatelle, with crab, shrimp, lobster, and smoked tomato. What struck me most about this dish was how, again, the seafood was perfectly executed. It was fresh, lightly sweet, and not a bit overcooked. The pasta was also exemplary in its al dente-ness.
Next we were served Barolo braised short ribs with local corn (some of the food is sourced from Chino, which is right around the corner), and a chive potato cake. This dish was in line with the others in terms of taste, though one wouldn't expect the sweetness of a Barolo-braise. It was more reminiscent of a barbecue sauce than a wine reduction, but don't get me wrong, it worked, even if the pairing (a shiraz) did not.
Finally, and we ended the evening on a scrumptious note, we had the butterscotch "budino" with housemade beignets and chocolate bits. The beignets were fluffy and light, and the salt atop the chocolate in the glass prevented the dish from being overly sweet. My mouth just watered in memory of this one, and my only regret is that I was too full for more than a few bites of it.
So here's my take in a nutshell (I can't talk about service, as this was a media event I attended) -- superb food, fair wine prices, relaxing atmosphere (with a subdued live band in the corner), and obnoxious virgin beverage prices. But if you go for a bottle of wine and anything on the menu, you're bound to be satisfied and well-fed, and your taste buds will remember the fare for days. My only hope is that the kitchen stays consistent, because after my experience, the bar on food was set high.
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