The new restaurant and lounge wakes up the culinary scene in Solana Beach
Venus clam linguine
With the demise of Blanca, and its ongoing culinary black hole, Solana Beach has been in dire need of new eateries, so the arrival of Crush was highly anticipated and, now, much appreciated. The tired interior of the old Pacific Coast Grill has been transformed into a modern lounge and restaurant with savvy details like Hillcrest artisan Gustav Rooth’s fabulous chairs and tables, stylishly handcrafted from wine barrels, a clear nod to the restaurant’s moniker and thoughtfully curated wine list. A fireplace cozies up the lounge, while the bar area sports a 30-person communal table for convivial daily happy hours both early and late.
The creative team has concocted a few keen sippers like the El Patron, smooth reposado mingling with lime, strawberry, basil, and PatrÓn CitrÓnge—a lively little ode to tequila. Organic “skinny” cocktails, like their mojito (at 120 calories a pop), blend organic Crusoe rum with mint, fresh lime, caramelized pineapple, and coconut water for imbibers determined to keep their svelte figures.
Chef Jason Colabove delivers Italian coastal cuisine. The food may not be mind-bending, but he’s created a solid menu overall. Requisite cheese and meat boards, fritto misto, and ahi tartare are no surprise as appetizers, but an intriguing original appears as 500-year-old “ancient grain” polenta served in a mason jarand laced with herbs, garlic, and mascarpone, and further jazzed with a balsamic reduction, truffled mushroom nuggets, and Parmesan. Giant roasted mussels bathe in spicy tomato broth, flamboyant and afire with fennel, caramelized shallots, and garlic aioli. Mom’s Meatballs nestle in roasted tomato sauce, but the pork, veal, and beef orbs lack pizzazz.
For salads, the gorgonzola “chopped” seems overdressed and messy, while the burrata “handmade” feels more refined and elegant—a pretty collage of roasted beet chunks, avocado, and tart vibrant citrus. Old World pasta-lovers will appreciate the simple bolognese tagliatelle, with its hand-cut, perfectly al dente ribbons in a coat of six-hour simmered ragu with Gioia ricotta and a smattering of herbs. The slow roasted Duroc pork, Colabove’s signature, is tender and competently prepared as the chef opens the shoulder and rubs it with herbs, fennel pollen, and olive oil, then ties it up so it can sit overnight for an immersion of flavor. Marinated prime hanger steak, with notes of sherry vinegar, garlic, basil, and parsley, is another safe bet, while the swordfish special felt overpowered by the red bell pepper sauce.
As wine is the name of the game, the California dominated list has over 160 choices with standouts like Orin Swift’s Saldo and The Prisoner, and other interesting boutique wines like Hudson Vineyards’ Chardonnay, a Belle Glos Meiomi and Abigail Adams’ Cameo Pinot. Service runs the gamut from old-school pro—ask for Patrick—to the not-quite-so-polished-verging-on-cocky-types who need a little more schooling in the wine list.
Despite the pervasive butterscotch pudding trend on dessert menus across town, their budino is a devilish enticer—creamy, rich, and comforting layers of chocolate and butterscotch with the magic of sea salt at play. Sticky toffee pudding is another sugar fest that’s making a major comeback and Colabove’s is worthy of the calories.
While live music fills the space Wednesday through Saturday, the Larry White jazz trio lends too much of a grown-up La Jolla-esque feel, with its renditions of Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass standards. The vibe calls for an ambient groove and a DJ spinning unobtrusive tunes to appeal to the younger bar set.