Friday, December 4, 2009

FoodTrek: I've got a Crush on you

While no formal engagement has been announced, I can totally admit to crushing on Crush, the little house built with culinary love. The Prime was most grateful to receive an invitation to a private dinner, celebrating seasonal flavors and ingredients, complimenting cocktails featuring the dinner's sponsor, Plymouth Gin.

Cheers to you, Crush, Plymouth and honored guests - Photos courtesy of Red Box Pictures

I'm not gonna lie -- the largess of writing a food blog sometimes includes the very good fortunate of events like these. When a PR agency gets in touch with me, I'm both appreciative and flattered they know this blog exists, as I maintain that I am the Invisible Girl in the Foodie-verse. Posts are not guaranteed, since due to my Nobody-status, this blog is not beholden to anyone, and that is a delightful bit of freedom. Therefore, the things I make a point to write about contain things I genuinely fancy or support. Crush had been on a list of restaurants I had wanted to experience for a while, so this invitation was the proper kick in the rear I needed. I've passed by its quaint location many times, a lovely house off Madison. I've experienced meals at restaurants in the past that have converted houses into dining establishments, and there's an instant charm that is both intimate and personable, as you know you're going to have the privilege of a truly precious experience. You walk through the front door of Crush and are immediately bathed in the distinctive glow of a home's lighting, there is a small bar to the right, and seating is scattered throughout the main floor, featuring modern white chairs to contrast the cozy interiors.

Chef de Cuisine Andrew Lanier, preparing the night's delights - Photo courtesy of Red Box Pictures

The dinner took place upstairs -- a glamorous loft, replete with glowing candles and brightly-hued centerpieces atop smooth white tablecloths. I dare anyone to experience this and not feel inspired to renovate one's attic into a secret dining parlor. A table was set up to display the different aromatics and herbal ingredients that reflect the autumn season, as well as illustrate what makes a distinctive gin. I don't know if they were meant to interact with, but I had to take a heady whiff of the dried orange peel and the juniper berries, as they created a wonderful perfume to prepare the palate for a beautiful meal.

Botannical stars of the evening - Photo courtesy of Red Box Pictures

Chef de Cuisine Andrew Lanier prepared the night's five course menu, which paired five distinctive cocktails with each course. I had heard the praises of Plymouth Gin sung before, by cocktail guru, Robert Hess, at a Drinking Lessons event at the Sorrento Hotel. He had commented how it was one of his own personal favorites for mixing drinks because it possessed a balanced flavor of multiple botanicals, distilled in the traditional method for a proper English gin. I admit that gin was not my first love, but a recent interest in craft cocktails and their colorful history has opened both my mind and my liver to new possibilities. As a result, I have rekindled a new appreciation for this spirit, and we are working towards a successful long term relationship. I may even consider wearing its letterman jacket or its class ring.

A Field, Forest & Vine cocktail with braised rabbit - Photo courtesy of Red Box Pictures

The distinct pine flavor from the juniper berry made the gin a welcome guest in the cocktails served at the dinner. There was a twist on the traditional French 75 in the evening's first beverage, the Crimson 75, combining beet juice as a natural sweetener and giving it a vibrant red hue. They also served a creamy egg white drink called the Cornucopia, as well as a fragrant Sangria de Inverno. My personal favorite of the night was the Field, Forest & Vine, a cocktail highlighting the gin flavor, lightly sweetened with apple, and as fragrant as the holidays itself. The second favorite was the Cardamom Cappuccino, a warm after dinner beverage, heady with nutmeg, mace and cardamom, with the creamy texture and froth of eggnog. I have listed the drink recipes for my two favorites below, but if you're curious about the other drinks, I have posted a PDF of the drink recipe menu here.

A meal for all the senses - Photos courtesy of Red Box Pictures

Upon being seated, we were presented with a lovely amuse-bouche of savory salmon eggs and a creamy, smoky mix of cream and bacon-infused maple syrup. The first course was a brightly-flavored roasted beet salad and farmstead chevre, with navel orange slices -- this paired well with the Crimson 75 cocktail, both complimenting each others' beet sweetness and citrus highlights. A beautiful and delicately-flavored rabbit loin in a matsutake mushroom consomme followed. The third course was a flavorful coriander crusted Hawaiian mero sea bass with sweetbreads, winter squash, pancetta and collard greens. They paired the egg white Cornucopia drink with this course. I enjoyed a few of the cocktails separate from the edibles, only because with such complex and unique flavors for both the food and drink, I didn't want one to overpower the other. My favorite course was probably the fourth: the juniper-scented Colorado lamb loin, served with celery root, black trumpettes and Syrah lamb jus. I'm quite a fan of fungi, so really, you had me at "black trumpettes." Heady, deep-flavored and rich with seasonal flavors, I felt like the character Remy, from one of my favorite Pixar movies, Ratatouille, as he explains how when the right flavors mix, you can picture the jazz-like expression of savory joy appearing like a symphony of sound and color in one's mind.

Cardamom Cappuccino with a delightful Napoleon - Photo courtesy of Red Box Pictures

Dinner would not be complete without a sweet adieu, so the final course was a delightful Napoleon of quince, sandwiched between cardamom tuilles, with a ginger caramel semifreddo. It was supposed to be Seckel pears, but they did a last-minute menu change, to take advantage of the lovely blessing of quince in season. This, paired with the warm hug of a Cardamom Cappuccino was a wonderful sendoff for the night, especially since the day had been drenched in rain and wind. The very talented team at Crush composed a celebratory feast that truly captured the flavors of the season, reminding us how fortunate we are to have such culinary talent so close to home.

Warmest Wasabi regards to Crush, as well as a very special thanks to Plymouth Gin for hosting such a sumptuous meal, and providing a bottle of their English gin for our own cocktail adventures at home, plus a copy of Hemingway & Bailey's Bartending Guide to Great American Writers. Thanks also to Danielle Ferris of Access PR for the invitation, as well as providing the wonderful photographs of the event, taken by the talented team at Red Box Pictures. To quote F. Scott Fitzgerald from the bartending guide book: "First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you." Indeed.

As promised, here are the recipes for the two favorite cocktails of the evening:

Field, Forest & Vine

1 1/2 oz. Plymouth Gin

1/4 oz. fresh pressed heirloom apple juice

1/4 oz. Verjus

1.2 Douglas Fir infused simple syrup

Small spring of rosemary

Gently muddle rosemary in mixing glass. Shake with gin, apple juice, verjus and Douglas Fir syrup. Fine strain into a cocktail glass that has been lightly rimmed on half the circumference with finely ground alder smoked sea salt.

Cardamom Cappuccino

1 oz. Plymouth Gin

1/4 oz. nutmeg, mace and pear infused syrup

1/2 oz. filtered water

1/2 oz. egg yolk

1/4 oz. heavy whipping cream

1 oz. cardamom and Tahitian vanilla bean chantilly cream

Vigorously whisk together gin, nutmeg syrup, water, cream, and egg yolk over a low flame. Be sure to whisk constantly as to not cook the egg! When the mixture is gently warmed, strain into a warmed cordial glass. Place a dollop of cardamom cream on the top. Garnish with freshly-grated nutmeg.

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  1. I simply enjoy the small yet cozy aenvironment of this restaurant. That kind of restaurant always adores me! Staff are attentive, place is neat, food is delicate......

  2. Simply. incredible. R&R

  3. Now I'm having a crush on Crush too! I'm bookmarking it... Maybe I'll be lucky enough to travel to your neck of the woods sometime... SOON! Great post as always and great pix too!

  4. What a wonderful post, what a wonderful meal, I really enjoyed this, simply beautiful!

  5. A lovely meal and nice drinks, sounds like it was an awesome experience!

  6. Looks like you had a great time and captured some amazing photos. I'm not a fan of hard liquor but the food does look fabulous!! Must bookmark Crush!

  7. wow wheee!

    What a lovely place. Crush. Mmm-mmm. those pictures are aboslutely darling, and so are you! what a delightful treat to share. =)

  8. Can't say the food compels me, but these gin concoctions sound incredible! I've got a bit of Plymouth left in my liquor cabinet, so I'll have to try a few for the holidays :D

  9. Wow! What food porn! I like hard liquor and great food so this looks like a lot of fun!

  10. Beautiful post. Cardamom is my favorite spice for both sweet and savory dishes. I used gin to season my last batch of gravlax.

  11. What a beautiful restaurant and an incredible meal! I was salivating over your photos.

  12. I love the cozy look of the restaurant and the food looks and sounds delicious! Thank you for sharing it ... :)

  13. Wow, I thought it was done at home. The dishes look incredible. It reminds me of working in the kitchen before. Sometimes I do miss it although sometimes I don't. You're beautiful writing will catch other readers' attention.

  14. What a splendid restaurant! The meal looks amazing. I'm sure it taste like heaven....


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