Michael and Jenna Morton officially opened their latest Las Vegas restaurant, Crush, on December 4 at MGM Grand. Before touring the space with the couple two days later during a busy rodeo weekend in Las Vegas, we really only knew two things about Crush: 1. It was taking the spot formerly occupied by Michael Mina’s Nobhill Tavern, and 2. The menu would be built around wine-friendly small plates, perhaps similarly to the Mortons’ restaurant at Wynn, La Cave.
But the gorgeous, inviting design at Crush—a completely different feel from Nobhill—proves the new venue is something all its own.
“Our first customers—we always buy their meal and have them sign the bill for us so we can frame it—they were from Sweden, live in Boston, and they had a connection to this space. They loved Nobhill, so it was interesting for them to come back and see this,” Michael says. “All they could say was, ‘Wow.’ It’s very dramatic.”
Exploring this multi-experience, 230-seat, 7,000-square-foot restaurant begins in the first room, the atrium, long and rectangular and divided into three distinctive sections. The first bay is an open, airy lounge with a hanging swing-chair, comfy couches and chandeliers hanging overhead that look like sea urchins.
For the second bay, “We did everything at highboy height,” Michael says. “That’s your party height. And we can put the three long tables together for a big group, if you want to sit in the bar and watch the game.” Two flatscreen TVs on the wall can be covered up by wood slat doors. A long, solid marble bar stretches the length of this bay, brightened by a faux-greenhouse ceiling. Two rustic Aldo Bernardi streetlight-style lamps frame the separate spaces.
The third bay is the garden, six cozy booths tucked into the walls surrounded by smooth stones and complemented by birdcage chairs. The floor is tiled with slabs of a long-grain pine tree, each piece measured and intricately cut. At what appears to be the end of the restaurant is a cellar-like passageway flanked by giant metal doors. Each door is inscribed with passages from ancient texts, poetic philosophy cut into the metal with a laser torch and brightened by LED lighting. “It’s the philosophy of this space, really, and the whole point is that the philosophy is the party,” Jenna explains. “Some of the inscriptions come from the Harper’s Songs, which were inscribed in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs. It’s basically saying you can’t take it with you.”
Move through the doorway to discover a dark, sexy cavern covered in brick, a separate dining room with its own bar and a cutout window peering into the kitchen. At the rounded zenith of the ceiling is a high-tech video installation that will go live in a couple weeks, 17 frameless monitors covered in shiny glass that will change color and provide subtle visual influence. “It will change the whole vibe of the room,” Michael says. Head back to the restrooms and find a glowing satyr, the playful half-goat creature that serves as Crush’s mischievous mascot. The satyr pops up all over the place, if you keep an eye on the details.
The Mortons say this restaurant concept and design has been planned and evolving for a couple of years. “It just lends itself perfectly to this space. Sometimes you get lucky,” Michael says. At this stage of his career, the former leader of the Nine Group and its successful nightlife attractions is more focused on finding the right fit for the couple’s ideas, including Downtown’s lively La Comida and the isolated Strip gem La Cave. “The really heavy lifting is getting the right energy in the right space,” he says.
Of course, food and drink are just as big a part of creating that energy. Crush’s menu is similar to La Cave’s, also created by executive chef William DeMarco. While there are plenty of small plates for sharing—from scallops with quail eggs and chorizo to Angus mini-burgers—the offerings include some serious entrees, too, like a lamb sirloin steak served with bacon Brussels sprouts, sea bass with braised kale and tomato chutney, and pepper-crusted beef short ribs. Wood-fired pizzas and salads round out the menu, and get ready to fight your friends for desserts like the Nutella caramel ice cream sandwich or chocolate and raspberry terrine.
Crush is open Sunday through Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 5 to 11:30 p.m.