Thursday, April 26, 2007

Crush--When You Want to Feel Sophisticated While Hanging Out in Southfield

When I first heard about Crush in Southfield, my knee-jerk reaction was: Southfield? Ew. 13 Mile and Southfield Rd. is not exactly what I would consider the ideal location for a new boutique wine bar that is clearly aiming for ultra-chic. But regardless of my initial prejudice, I had read enough about the place to form a strong desire to at least check it out…after all, we don’t get to see many bonafide wine bars, well, anywhere, so this adventurous new dare-to-be hotspot was at least worth the investigation.

Crush is inside of a big square building, and unless you choose to utilize the complimentary valet service (which, complimentary or not, you’re still expected to tip the guy and I’m cheap…you wouldn’t know if from the monster tab I wracked up there, but I am), you basically have to walk around the entire damned building to get to the entrance.

That’s fine. I won’t allow this to sour me on the experience. It will be mildly irritating when I’m on my way back out with half a bottle of Malbec in me, but it’s fine.

I must admit, the décor of this very square building is aesthetically pleasing—even if it does scream “IKEA.” The theme of the restaurant is red, red, red—plush red high-backed booths, plush red seats, red lighting embedded in the bar in the downstairs lounge. It’s all very…red. Kind of like a va-jay-jay. But I digress. All this plush textured red is offset by the obligatory white tablecloths and dark wood accents. The entire back of the restaurant features a wall-to-wall rectangular mirror in a wide dark wood frame. To the right, there is a giant wall waterfall, like the kind you see in the Sharper Image catalogue only huge. To the left, the dark wood bar (is it oak? It doesn’t look to be quite oaken in quality, more like a cheaper wood that has been stained to look more expensive) with a wall of empty wine bottles stacked and backlit—the green contrast here is the only variation in color, and it looks cool despite the fact that it reminded me of Christmas.

There really wasn’t a whole lot done in the way of renovating the interior of this very square building; the dining area is broken up only by what is probably the most unique touch Crush has to offer: a temperature-controlled wine cellar encased in glass and all brilliant white. If you make nice with the sommelier, she might actually let you pop in there and sample some of the many wines not on the list (it helps to namedrop people you know in the industry). The other unique attribute of Crush is that they allow private wine storage for a minimal monthly fee, and in turn deeply discount their own holdings to the “tenants.”

Yes, Crush is definitely going for that trendy-Manhattan-wine-bar-that-took-a-wrong-turn-and-ended-up-in-the-backwaters-of-Detroit vibe, and they pull it off pretty well. On a Wednesday night, the place was pretty well populated (lots of old people—this is Southfield, after all). Our server was attentive and very much concerned with our satisfaction—like, overly so, to the point that his skittishness started making me nervous for him, so I found myself going out of my way to reassure him that everything was fantastic and we were having a good time.

Nice guy, though. The service industry needs more people like him. Truly.

My overall impression of the interior is that this is a simple place that does simple well. The menu reflects this as well. There aren’t many choices, but there is a nice smattering of different selections for different palettes. We started with the Greece Island Lamb Meatballs, Smoke Salmon & Gorgonzola, and Champagne Garlic Bread.

The meatballs in a minted pesto sauce were tasty but not earth-shattering. The garlic bread, made with a champagne-based garlic butter and baked with a nice crust of parmesan, was some pretty top-notch garlic bread. I mean, garlic bread is kind of hard to screw up, but this was good (hel-lo, Carb City, meet my thighs). Luckily the portions are not unreasonable and I was forced to stop after one slice. And a half. But that was it. I swear.

What DID impress me was the salmon carpaccio, paired with a hunk of gorgonzola cheese, a dollop of sauvignon blanc mustard, and roma basil picchio. I must sheepishly admit as your trusted reviewer, I steered clear of the mustard. I have some mighty adventurous taste buds but just the smell of mustard makes my gaggy reflex jiggle. I did take a little nubbin of a taste, so as to maintain my reviewer credibility, and I will say that if I liked mustard this probably would have been good. Then I almost gagged.

But I once again digress.

The salmon was spread diagonally, covering one-half of the square-shaped plate, with the accompaniments artfully arranged in the other triangle. This was the first show of detailed presentation, and I was impressed. The pairings of the salmon with the gorgonzola and the roma tomatoes with chopped garlic and basil (but NOT the mustard) was a nice fit—the mild salmon and the strong gorgonzola struck a nice balance, complimented by the tomatoes (but NOT the mustard). This was a nice little dish.

Okay, so far, the place is good but not great. Pretty but not astounding. Tasty but not orgasmic (and good food really should be orgasmic). For the entrees, we sampled the Grilled Ocean Prawns and the Chateau Duck Breast. The prawns were good—they were prawns. A bit crunchy on the outside due to the preparation, but good. The veal pot roast ravioli in the Madeira cream sauce served with the prawns was fabulous, very rich without being overpowering. The duck breast was well-prepared in a peppercorn and apple cider demi (warning: it is a tad fatty, because it’s duck, and duck is a tad fatty. Stay away from this dish if you’re skittish about fat), but even better than the duck itself was the duck-fat-soaked risotto with apple chunks. That shit was good.

By now, our waiter has done his fair share of running around for us, checking repeatedly to ensure our contentedness (seriously—I thought that if we for some reason hadn’t been satisfied, he might have had a breakdown in the kitchen). We decide it is high time we go smoke, so we head downstairs into the lounge area, the only place you can smoke in the restaurant (yeah, total bummer, I know). The lounge can be rented out for private parties, which we were ever-so-fortunate enough to witness in the form of 25 cackling middle-aged women celebrating the half-century landmark birthday of one of their own, dancing HOR.RIB.LY. bad to the musical stylings of a signer/DJ who dared perform Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back.” No, you didn’t, honey. No, you didn’t.

This was a quickly smoked cigarette.

So we head back towards our table, our minds still trying to absorb the overall unpleasantness of the scene we just witnessed, and we are told the dessert selections by the waiter who was just ever-so-eager to be able to provide us with this service. After brief deliberation, we opt for the Madagascar Vanilla and Chocolate Crème Brulée and the Chocolate Bodini (soufflé). We then also ask for some espresso to accompany our desserts, which sends the waiter into another flurry of explanation as to why they don’t have espresso but they do offer a nice dark-roast coffee which is very similar. We concede to this.

From what I had read about this place prior to my actual venture out was that THIS is the place to go for wine and desserts. Crush certainly holds the appeal of the boutique wine bar that every wine snob will love—the selections are a bit eclectic, definitely listed with the connoisseur in mind, though still heavy in the Napa presentation which any real wine snob will tell you is not the earmark of a truly impressive and well-thought out list (though, thankfully, it is absent any Kendall Jackson)—take THAT, California! And the wines are reasonably-priced, so for those who want to feel like wine snobs but don’t want to pay for it can still have a pleasurable experience.

And now, for the desserts. With the exception of the salmon carpaccio, very little emphasis had been placed on presentation during the course of the meal (something which some chefs consider to be part of the art). It is with the patisserie that the presentation shines: the crème brulée is served on a granite slab in two separate, staggered deep square cups, surrounded by crème fraîche, one lone pirouette, and a decoratively placed sliced strawberry. The chocolate bodini was served in a shallow soufflé dish, situated on a large square plate with diagonal cuts of chocolate and caramel sauce and small mounds of crème fraîche. After admiring how pretty they both looked, we dug in. The crème brulée was good, though unexceptional (the crème fraîche, however, was fantastic—no sugar added to it, done just the way it would be if you were in Paris). The chocolate bodini started out being fantastic, but as we dug to the bottom we discovered cherries—lots of them, all sunk down to the bottom. The first cherry-infused bite was interesting; the proceeding cherry-ful bites became increasingly less pleasing. This was an otherwise fantastic dessert ruined by a flavor and texture that was too distracting—a chocolate soufflé stands on its own, and rightfully so. There’s a reason this bitch makes you wait.

Overall—well, it’s kind of like dating a model. Sure, it’s pretty, and maybe there are even a few interesting or unique qualities to it. But ultimately there is no real substance, and it is really no different than the others of its kind. Crush is off to a good start, but now it needs to find its niche to keep it enticing. Simple is great, so long as it’s not boring.

30855 Southfield Rd. Southfield. 248-220-1140
Appetizers $7-13 . Entrees $16-26