A contemporary spin on Italian at Crush in Solana Beach

A contemporary spin on Italian at Crush in Solana Beach
Mamas Meatballs with roasted tomato sauce, sheep’s milk ricotta, and basil pesto at Crush. Photo courtesy of Crush

 

It’s been over a year since I attended the Crush media dinner and it was about time to get back and see how they have settled into the space formerly occupied by Pacific Coast Grill in Solana Beach.Partners John Luciano and Doug Guillan, already successful with two other Crush locations in Northern California, set out to combine innovative, coastal Italian cuisine, live music, and a wine bar in coastal North County and they pulled it off nicely. It’s a big space, but it feels warm and comfortable, with a contemporary feel. The wine bar features more than 150 vintages and 10 beers on tap plus some fun custom cocktails. It should be noted there is a very lively lounge scene at Crush as well.

Jason Colabove, their executive chef, developed the Solana Beach location menu utilizing local vendors whenever possible, including Carlsbad Aqua Farm, Chino Farms, Central Meat & Provision Co. and Specialty Produce. It’s always a good thing when a restaurant focusing on Italian cuisine has an owner and chef with that heritage.

That is immediately evident in their meatballs aptly named “Mom’s Meatballs.” These are on the appetizer list and consist of three, very nice sized meatballs sitting in a roasted tomato sauce, sheep’s milk ricotta and basil pesto. I am a huge fan of a good meatball and these were spectacular. They were moist, flavorful, and the combination of sauce, ricotta, and pesto, combined with some very nice bread for scooping and creating mini meatball sandwiches made for a very enjoyable experience. This could easily be an entrée for one person but is nice to split as an appetizer as well. Twelve dollars is a fair price for this dish and it should be noted that Monday’s are “Meatball Monday” at Crush with $1 meatballs.

Next up was the chopped Italian salad with green olive tapenade, salumi, bocconcini, radicchio and red wine vinaigrette. For those unfamiliar, bocconcini are small mozzarella cheeses the size of a mini egg. Like other mozzarellas, they are semi-soft, white and rindless and originated in Naples. Bocconcini have a spongy texture and absorb flavors nicely. This cheese is described by its Italian name which means small mouthfuls. Our helpful server suggested we split this and we ended up with two very nice size portions. Maybe it’s because I rarely chop my salads at home but that preparation really appeals to me. At $10 for a two person portion this is a heck of a value as well.

We made our way into the entrees next and this is where things got even better. My dining companion Emily went with the market fish of the day and that proved to be a good call. It was a wild caught salmon cooked over an oak fire with a roasted sweet corn gremolata piled high on top, served on a bed of crushed fingerling potatoes with lemon butter and herbs. I can honestly say that ordering salmon in restaurants is not always my first choice. Maybe it’s because every menu seems to offer it or I just over ordered it in my early dining days. Whatever the case, this preparation worked beautifully.

First off, it had a crispy crust that surrounded a moist and flaky center that held the oak fired flavor perfectly. All that, combined with the corn and fingerlings, made for a salmon experience that I will be back for, as it was not my entrée and I had to enjoy it in small portions.

I went with the Bolognese tagliatelle with an old school six hour ragu, sheep’s milk ricotta and pesto. Anything that cooks for six hours catches my eye and this did not disappoint. The portion was substantial and the cold leftovers the next morning were a very good thing.

We ended the evening on a sweet note with the butterscotch budino with valrhona chocolate pearls, and toffee crisp. Budino is the Italian word for custard or pudding. It can be thickened with cornstarch or cookies to make it more like a soufflé or ganache. It was my first experience with it and wow, it was really good.

Crush has a great happy hour that features 50 percent off all appetizers from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. daily and plenty of other good looking promotions that can be found on their website at solanabeachcrush.com . They are at 437 S. Highway 101 in Solana Beach. Call for reservations at (858) 481-2787.

 

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