Tuesday, December 2, 2008

My First Crush

Sunday night we splurged for one last $30 three course dinner with Dine Around Seattle. My choice was Crush, the darling of Capitol Hill's dining elite. Why not go somewhere with a standard menu beyond our reach? At Crush, the entrees are typically over $30, so getting a three course meal for that price felt like a bargain. One of Michael's co-workers, John, who is of the foodie-inclined, joined us. It's always more fun sharing an elegant meal with someone else whom you know will appreciate it.

Crush sets a mood right from the start - the decor is stark white and sparse, but without feeling cold. We took our seats in swoopy, snow white molded chairs and perused the menu. First up, a cocktail, although this was in addition, of course, to our $30 dinner. I've lately come to feel that when dining at a high end restaurant, a cocktail provides better value than wine. There's such a high mark-up on wine, and yet all the restaurant has to do is pull the cork. With the recent trend for finely crafted cocktails, however, it's not uncommon for even a somewhat average place to infuse their own spirits and experiment with novel flavor combinations. Chances are I would never make the "Perfect Pair", featuring house infused vodka and Oregon's Clear Creek pear brandy among other ingredients, at home, but I can easily find bottles of wine I enjoy for under $10 at Trader Joe's.

We sipped our drinks slowly and nibbled on the bread that arrived artfully arranged on individual trays. The first course arrived on stunning white dishes. I had ordered the leek and celery root soup, and found a small pool of creamy leek soup set before me, pretty as a picture, topped with a dollop of celery root puree, some perfectly places snippets of chive and miniature croutons, and a few precise drizzles of what I mistakenly believed was olive oil. To my surprise - and delight - it turned out to be an incredibly vibrant lemon reduction. The combination of the bright lemon with the rich leek soup and the clean tasting celery root was amazing. Michael enjoyed succulent pork belly, probably his favorite dish of the night.

The scallop with chowder vegetables made a rich, satisfying second course. I still think that the most perfect scallops I have tasted were at the Wild Rose in Bandon, Oregon, but this would be a close second.

While John and I both enjoyed the scallop dish, Michael was a little disappointed in his trofie pasta with braised short ribs. The meat, as one would hope, was meltingly tender, he told me, and the pasta was good, it just lacked the fuller flavors that he had expected.

The waitstaff at Crush is quick to discreetly remove your dishes once you have finished, leaving you with a splarkling clean table over which to converse as you await the next course. Enjoying the leisurely pace of the meal, I hadn't even noticed that our desserts were late in coming, when we were brought a complimentary tray of three housemade chocolates along with an apology for the delay. Thoughtful gestures like these helped put our experience above the ordinary.

Dessert was a decadent homemade marshmallow topped with a chocolate sorbet of sorts (I'm really not sure what to call it) served alongside a choclate cookie with a cup of rich European style hot chocolate for dunking. John chose the somewhat less decadent cranberry bread pudding. As a final surprise, we were brought two quartets of tiny treats with the check, including chocolate candied almonds, pomegranate marshmallows, miniature shortbread squares, and poppy seed madeleines.

As we left the restaurant and headed to the car, I was surprised to learn that we had spent more than two hours enjoying our meal. I also felt pleasantly full even though none of the courses had seemed large. Perhaps this is one benefit to a leisurely meal; since it takes time for your brain to register that you are, in fact, full, eating at a slower pace is a good guard against overeating, in addition to providing a more pleasureable experience.

Our meal at Crush was definitely worth the $30 (plus drink, tax, and tip) price tag, although I still don't think I would go there and pay full price. I'm just not interested in spending that much on food, and even the Dine Around Seattle dinners are a real splurge for us. I do get a little irritated when I read articles online about what a great deal Dine Around is because, yes, it can be a good deal, comparatively, but for many people this is still completely out of reach and a purely frivolous way to spend good money. And, as cool as Crush's chic white decor may be, the somewhat more casual feel of a place like Restaurant Zoe is more my style for a big night out. But for one night, it felt good to experience the incredible attention to detail - from the specially designed plates for each course, to the beautiful and surprising food, to the gracious service that made me feel immediately welcome - and savor a great meal at Crush.

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