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Crush, Seattle, WA, tasted on March 19, 2005 — I look forward to new restaurants opening up with quite a bit of excitement. Especially when they open near me. The truth is that I really want to love new restaurants. I want to find a gem. I want to go back again and again. I want to add a new restaurant to my list of favorites and tell everyone how great it is. The truth is also that this rarely happens. It's certainly not because I don't want new restaurants to be great, it's just that often unfortunately they are not.

Crush, a recently opened restaurant in Seattle, is doing everything right. They are doing everything right if you want to be a successful restaurant in Seattle. Unfortunately that doesn't necessarily equate to being a special eating experience. Fresh local ingredients? Check. Frequently changing menu reflective of the seasonality of the ingredients? Check. Open late? Check. Hip designy decor? Check. Small Plates? Check. Open kitchen? Check. And you know what? I think that's a great checklist. I think just about every restaurant should follow those guidelines. However, all these things are just a baseline. And they are not even foundational really, they're not what makes for great food. They're the trappings of potentially great food, as well as cues that today's sort of food educated dining public looks for. But you can make great food without any of those things. Because ultimately you judge the quality of the food with your mouth.

Crush is designed for success. It hits all the right notes the eating public is looking for as well as being housed in an cute and hiply remodeled house in Seattle's central district. The black and white decor as well as the plastic, Starck-ish chairs, make for a neat interior. It's not off putting though, and in fact the combination of the design, the beautiful open kitchen behind a bar, all situated on the first floor of a house works. Kind of innovative, interesting, and yet comfortable and not snobby. I assume that's kind of the way they'd like their food to come off as well.

We started off with Spring Carrot Soup with Ginger and Mint Cream. The soup had a nice texture. The flavor was simple but not super interesting. Bland. The Citrus Marinated Beet and Cress Salad with Sultanas & Warm Blue Cheese Toasts wasn't particularly special. It's not that I wouldn't love a great combination of citrus, beets, and blue cheese. It's just that this wasn't it. I don't know any better way to say this than, there was a whole lot of stuff thrown together. At least that's how it felt. The Grilled Asparagus and Goat Cheese Salad with Prosciutto Chips, Balsamic, and Hazelnuts was sort of thrown together as well but this dish worked. Mostly I think because the asparagus was perfectly cooked, and the prosciutto chips (sort of a ham jerky) were full of flavor.

Next up was Sautéed Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Brioche, Endive Pear Salad, Huckleberries. The flavor was quite good though the composition relatively typical. The main distraction was the cold center of the foie. I don't mean luke warm. I mean truly cold. Like the center of the piece had just been removed from the fridge. We also had the Seared Scallops and Sweet Onion Risotto with Duck Confit, Tangerine and Arugula. The scallops were ok. The risotto was sort of just there. A touch gloppy. Not really interesting. The duck got lost in it. The main challenge was that the seared surface of the scallops had so much salt on them that you couldn't help but get a mouth full of saltiness that distracted from everything else. Finally we got  the side of Sautéed Spinach. It was pretty delicious. The diced bacon didn't hurt. I don't think it's a coincidence that one of the simplest dishes we had, was one of the best. I don't know why diners are looking for things that are complicated. I assume they must be as many new restaurants zero in on dishes with lots of stuff going on. I admit this may be a bias, but I'm a fan of simplicity. Complexity just makes it harder to make a coherent dish. It can be done (and some chefs do it beautifully) but why try to make thing complicated when simple dishes can be so delicious.

Dessert. Chocolate Cherry Honeycomb with Chantilly, Decadence, and Meringue. This was good. Debbie was surprised by the power of the liqueur, but she quickly got past it and enjoyed the dish. I had the Warm Apple Tart with Caramel Ice Cream, Spiced Apple Balls, and Chips with Calvados. I admit I'm hard pressed to not like Apple/Caramel/Ice Cream combinations, but this one was particularly good. Yes, a lot of stuff was going on, but the tart was an ooey gooey foundation for everything else that brought it all together.

Crush will be very successful no matter what I think. I knew this when I walked in the door. I knew it more certainly when I watched every diner stop at the open kitchen and thank the chef profusely for their fantastic meals. I don't think these people are tasting their food. I think they have some idea of what good food is and where you find it, and the trappings of Crush conform to those ideals. Some might say I'm being unfair. If they like it, who am I to say they are wrong. Fair enough. That said, I bet I could put two carrot soups next to each other... one sublime, with subtlety and strong flavor and show them the difference between food that looks cool, and food that tastes great. I bet they could tell the difference if they had the chance. Given that Crush is relatively new I'll probably try it again. But I won't get my hopes up.











Tastingmenu is focused on superlative restaurant experiences from two perspectives: behind the plate and behind the stove. Tastingmenu is written by Hillel (professional eater) and Dana (up-and-coming professional chef) in Seattle, Washington.

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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