A central location and cosmopolitan atmosphere make Crush one of the coolest new places to drink and eat downtown. With heady wine choices and filling dishes, the bistro caters to a broad audience from the early morning latte crowd to late-night pinot snobs.
Crush opened on summer solstice and developed an early group of regulars. "We aimed for a soft opening," said co-owner Scott Anaya, "but we literally flung the door open, and that night became one of our biggest ever."
Until last Friday, perhaps, when Erin Pollock's art show generated buzz and customers gathered in a short line past 10:30 p.m. With tables lined in tight rows, sets of strangers often sit at the same four-top and even share some of the plates of food, Anaya said.
He describes the decor as slightly edgy with a warm, homey feeling, and I agree. The place feels contemporary in a conservative way with a couple of couches near the entry area adding a bit of casual Bernie's Bungalow chic. Spare but intentional furnishing make Crush feel clean and efficient, while color adds a genial appeal.
Though the restaurant was crowded both times I stopped by, I found a seat fairly quickly and noted the jazzy, worldly music choices, low enough to allow conversation but loud enough to hear.
Anaya and Robert DeLucia envisioned Crush as a place where people can have a glass or flight of wine without breaking the bank, the kind of bistro where you can go for "a cheap night and quick bite, or a nice sit-down meal with a $1,000 bottle of wine," Anaya said.
Food matters but mostly as accompaniment. The menu includes four salads in two sizes ($6 and $12) and nearly 20 tapas-like plates for sharing, also in two sizes ($7 and $14). The chef also puts out two to three dinner specials such as lamb shank or salmon every night ($19 to $21).
Plate selections range from comfort food like meatballs and macaroni and cheese to stylish comfort food like drunken mushrooms and a hummus plate. We went a little overboard the first time, ordering five small plates and a salad, easily enough for two.
The Nicoise salad (only served in the larger size) consists of an ample pile of mostly potatoes, asparagus, lettuce and ahi. The dressing could have used a bit more tang, but the fish tasted wonderfully meaty and lush.
Of the five plates we tried, the hummus won the battle of flavors with two small scoops of enriched chickpea mash that rival most other options in town. The basil pesto humus countered the red pepper version nicely. Other dishes such as the empanada and broken po' boy satisfy on hardiness alone.
Though the Caprese skewers could have used a bit more vinaigrette and the drunken mushrooms lacked a certain buttery quality, we managed to clear both plates.
The second time I dropped in, I went for a late-night nibble of cambozola croutons, a wonderfully simple and hard-to-beat snack. When it comes down to the gritty details, the dish consists only of chunked toast with cambozola drizzled on top. Easy on the palate, easy on the wallet.
Desserts run about $6 and include a nicely light bread pudding and far richer pot de creme.
The beer menu covers the bases from Stone IPA and Midnight Sun Arctic Rhino Porter to Stella Artois, but wine is the focus at Crush. Wine flights cost $8 to $10 and include three samples each. I went with the malbecs and pinot noirs in my first two forays, both satisfying, but I would love to see more syrahs and zinfandels on the "by the glass" menu.
Not that an Italian or Washington red wouldn't do.
With a cellar opening upstairs this month, Crush will give wine fanatics more than enough choices in the months to come. The owners still hold day jobs and consider Crush a venue for getting people to try wine rather than a way to get rich, but downplaying the business end of things ignores their good fortune.
After a good deal of looking, they found a top-notch location in the 5th Avenue mall across from Nordstrom, making Crush hard to miss and harder still to resist.
Find Daily News reporter Dawnell Smith at adn.com/contact/dsmith or call 257-4587.
Location: 343 W. Sixth Ave., Suite 100
Hours: 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday, closed Sunday; lunch: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., dinner starts at 5:30 p.m., coffee and pastries in early hours
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By DAWNELL SMITH