Great restaurateurs know they’re in the experience business. By themselves, food, service and atmosphere won’t get it done. It’s how harmoniously those elements come together that makes the difference, creating memorable meals and rock-solid regulars.
Crush, a restaurant with the subtitle “eat, drink, love,” was created with that harmony in mind. It’s a beautiful space, first an airy atrium with a long bar and communal tables perfect for big, boisterous parties—and they were there on my visit, large, loud, happy groups—and then a sexy, surprising dining room in the back with clean brick curving into a barrel-vaulted ceiling. The service is sharp, especially for a restaurant open for less than two months. The food is American with a few familiar speckles from Italian, Asian and Latin cuisines—ricotta gnocchi; a peasant soup ($9) with sausage, kale and sage; littleneck clams ($16) in a smooth chili-coconut broth; and a taste-bud-tickling octopus ceviche with powerful bursts of grapefruit and pickled jalapeño. There are soups and salads, plates large and small, terrific wood-fired pizzas and even vegan dishes with real flavor, like roasted cauliflower ($10) with garlic, chili and mint.
Crush feels and tastes like your new favorite upscale neighborhood restaurant, which is a little odd because it’s located smack in the middle of the casino at MGM Grand. The vast majority of new Strip restaurants are fancy casual, offering refined takes on laid-back food, if not specializing in a particular ethnic cuisine. Crush is not necessarily the place you go for must-eat favorites, but the experience is warm and broad enough to please just about everyone. It’s very much a brightened version of La Cave, the wine-centric restaurant at Wynn also created by Michael and Jenna Morton with food by executive chef William DeMarco.
But are there great dishes at Crush? Absolutely. The crisp, savory pizza crust is the perfect foil for sweet dates, caramelized onions and roasted artichokes. The gnocchi, already plenty rich, is paired with beautifully braised beef short rib ($18), decadence that must be shared. There are brilliant flavors in a carrot-miso broth that shows up with grilled salmon ($29) and tempura tofu and oyster mushrooms ($16). The bold bite award goes to the lamb sirloin ($39), perfectly charred and juicy with bacon-laced Brussels sprouts and celery root purée.
It’s a date night, it’s a dinner party at someone else’s place, or it’s a place to chill at the bar with some sliders and a glass of red. Crush is a multipersonality, multipurpose destination, one with its own comfortable style. You’ll probably wish it was in your neighborhood.
Crush MGM Grand, 891-3222. Sunday-Thursday, 5-10:30 p.m.; Friday & Saturday, 5-11:30 p.m.