Wait for It
Slow Service Holds Crush Back
"Do you think they'll bring us any more food?" one of my dining companions asked. It was 8:30 p.m. We had been seated at Crush (510 E. Belvedere Ave.,  278-9001) since 7. We had ordered wine, studied the décor to see if we could determine any changes made since Taste occupied this space (we couldn't; "I think the photos [on the wall] are even the same," said my other friend), and shared some appetizers. Our server told us that the restaurant wasn't expecting to be this busy on a Wednesday night (we had a reservation), but we had been waiting for our entrees for at least 45 minutes.
Four months after opening, Crush is still getting the kinks out.
This is a shame because they're doing some things very well. Chef/owner Daniel Chaustit's menu allows for the variety of dining options (small plates/traditional entrées/sandwiches) we're quickly coming to take for granted in a new restaurant. Appetizers range from $6 to $12 and include a soup of the day ($6), beets with goat cheese ($8), and an antipasti platter ($12) as well as more substantial plates such as risotto ($10) or fried oysters ($8). Only the size of your pocketbook would limit the combination of several plates instead of an entrée for a meal. Both steaks on the menu are available in two sizes (beef filet $25/$30; NY Strip $22/$30), and the price of the eight ounce hamburger increases with the choice of add-ons; starting at $8, diners add $1 for cheese and an additional buck for smoked bacon. Two women sitting at the next table tucked in to two of these huge burgers, rare as wounds and barely contained by the bun. They pronounced them delicious.
It's also hard to be disappointed with a restaurant that aids novice drinkers by dividing the wine list into descriptive categories (like "bolder reds") and offers quality, under-the-radar, inexpensive bottles such as Zestos Especial, a blend of Tempranillo and Grenache from Spain, for $20. Or with a server and manager that greet an infant guest with coos and genuine smiles, rather than rolled eyes and grimaces. Or with a menu that includes both a BLT ($9) and Beef Filet with lobster mac and cheese. And yet, if that food isn't presented perfectly and in a timely manner, disappointment is inevitable.
Our meal began auspiciously with a salad of halved ripe figs, bleu cheese nuggets, and slender, spicy wisps of arugula ($8). Topped with an updated, house-made version of crispy Durkee-brand style onion rings, one of our favorite guilty pleasures, the impeccably fresh salad was an easy pleasure. On the other hand, the duck appetizer ($11), sliced duck breast over duck confit over squash risotto, was more an amalgam of richness rather than a study in distinct flavors. And hoisin sauce overwhelmed three chubby cashew-crusted lamb chops ($12). This was unfortunate as they were cooked perfectly, the middle of each chop rosy and tender.
As noted, we had a lengthy wait for entrées, but they came within minutes of our server alerting us that they were up. The tuna (a dish served with two preparations, wasabi-encrusted and sesame-seed-encrusted, $25) was visually appealing: crusty with white and black sesame seeds and grapefruit-pink within (it also matched the red, white, and black décor of restaurant). Like the tuna, seared scallops ($25) were served atop truffle mashed potatoes. Although the dish was missing its promised mushrooms, the scallops themselves satisfied because of the contrast between the tender middle and the crisp, seared outer layer.
But darkly glazed short ribs ($27) atop a small mound of cheddary grits needed a strong hand to break the boneless meat into chunks, when it should have slipped easily into shreds. The meat was dry and chewy, not at all what it should be, and when the manager came by our table to check in, she quickly offered to take it back to the kitchen and replace it with something else, exactly what she should do. But when your companions are nearly finished with their meal, you hate to wait for another entrée, so I demurred and thanked her. "I don't want you to be hungry," she insisted. "Let me bring you something else." How about something fast, she suggested. How about a crab cake? And soon after, my companions and I were sharing one, laced with Old Bay, lumpy and piping hot.
When the bill came, we were charged $15 for the normally $30 crab cake, though not for the short ribs, a small matter that would have irked me more if the same manager hadn't also instructed our server to comp three desserts to make up for the long wait for the entrées. We were treated to an individual Jewish apple cake with a coffeecake-like texture and a hefty dose of cinnamon; a moist, pineapple crowned individual pineapple upside-down cake; and a tall root beer float served with both peanut butter and butterscotch-studded cookies.
Every so often while scanning the food blogs, I come across a comment about a restaurant that more or less goes like this: When I was at [name of restaurant] it was nothing like your experience. We had terrible/terrific service. The food was awful/delicious. I would never/can't wait to go back there. I hope eventually to read comments about Crush that testify to a better experience than mine.
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