Ganache and flash
Roseville, CA 95661
As we sat in the foyer of Roseville’s bustling Crush 29, admiring the cool, polished cut-log coffee tables flanking the doors and wishing we had a table of our very own to sit at, wave after wave of people entered. It was a Saturday night, we’d been waiting for half an hour after the time of our reservation, and the gaggle of no less than five women at the hostess station seemed to be admitting everyone else. How many more people could the restaurant absorb before they had to take us?
Not many, it turned out, but we certainly had plenty of time for people-watching, and the throngs of overdressed women and underdressed men made it moderately entertaining. We also had lots of time to scope out the space, with its splashy wine-cellar-like design centered on a great big bar where people were drinking more giant cocktails than wine.
The restaurant has a nominal wine theme—the thoroughly contrived name refers to the wine harvest and the perpetually traffic-clogged highway that runs through the Napa Valley—and a tasting room, but the wine list is not terribly interesting, and even contains a few boneheaded wine mistakes, such as listing petite sirah, an entirely different varietal, in the syrah/shiraz category.
We were hungry and edging toward cranky by the time we were seated, and a buzzer malfunction—they paged us to say our table was ready before it was—didn’t help. What did help was the manager coming right over to apologize for the fact that we were kept waiting and to tell us that he’d be happy to buy us an appetizer and dessert to compensate for the inconvenience. We appreciated the goodwill gesture.
The menu, for a wine-focused restaurant, is odd, with lots of Asian-influenced dishes that would be a challenge to pair with most wines, as well as plenty of prettied-up bar food: among the appetizers, pulled-pork sliders (everywhere these days), crab Rangoon, ahi-tuna spring rolls with mango, sweet soy-braised baby-back ribs with Asian slaw. There’s also a variety of pizzas and sandwiches (“huli huli” chicken pizza, various burgers), some pastas that would not be out of place on a Chili’s menu (creamy “Bombay chicken” penne), and various salads and mains: lots of crowd-pleasing steaks, rotisserie chicken, ahi tuna.
The first page of the menu, our server informed us, always shows dishes from winery chefs that the restaurant is running as a special, such as Dungeness crab cakes over a plated corn chowder. We ordered that to start, plus something called a “tahini Caesar salad” that resembled a Caesar only in having romaine and a creamy-ish dressing. It was good, with the nutty tahini in the dressing playing off tangy citrus and the whole given extra spark by a sweet-sour pomegranate nut chutney sprinkled over the leaves. I liked it better than I’d expected to, and I liked the crab cakes less. Oh, they were light and crab-filled enough, but the gloppy chowder was reminiscent of canned creamed corn.
I had an entrée of macadamia-crusted mahi-mahi that sounded a little busy, but was in fact my favorite dish of the night. It was meaty, bone-white and cooked just right, with a light and crunchy crust. The macadamia flavor was mild, but there was plenty going on: It sat on lightly cooked white rice with a layer of sautéed spinach studded with cracked peppercorns, and was topped with what the menu called a “concassé,” a vibrant mixture of tomato, chunky ginger and zingy jalapeño. Bits of pineapple were scattered around, too, making the whole alternately mouth-numbingly spicy, sweet and meaty—a very successful mélange, and pretty to boot. The only part I wasn’t too crazy about was the “tomato broth” around the outside; it was too sweet and not interesting enough to earn a place on the plate.
My husband’s risotto, made (so said the menu) with Lundberg Family Farms rice from the Sacramento Valley, had a nice woodsy, dusky-flavored topping of portobello and shiitake mushrooms, but the risotto itself was bland and mushy, with too-soft grains. I’m all for using local items where possible, but Italian rice might have been better here—or maybe the problem was just overcooking.
The dessert menu is fairly de rigueur: There’s a crème brûlée (changing daily, butterscotch the night we went), a chocolate “bomb,” and what the menu designated as Key lime and coconut cream “pies.” I couldn’t figure out why the use of quotation marks; I know the bomb isn’t really a bomb, but were the pies not pies? It was baffling, but under pressure from my husband, we went with the bomb, which turned out to be a fist-sized, shiny lump of chocolate on top of a tasty, crunchy hazelnut crust, elaborately plated with skewered berries.
It seems like all restaurants these days have found a way to mold a giant amount of ganache into the shape of a dessert and put it on their pastry menu, and Crush 29 is no exception. It tastes good, but it’s an empty concept that happens to be reasonably well executed. That’s not unlike the restaurant, with its location in Roseville and flashy design, it’s pretty much guaranteed a measure of success, but there’s not a lot of innovation or depth behind it.