Tales from the Social Scene: I’ve Got a Crush on You

Ernie Pino

It was my absolute pleasure last week to attend the seven year anniversary at Nicole and Jason Wilson’s Madison Valley restaurant Crush.

The fact that we were celebrating such a milestone was reason enough to raise a glass; add to that the reality that many restaurateurs and their investors breath a collective sigh of relief once they’ve past the testy year-five benchmark when most eateries make or break. Mercifully, Crush has survived the routine growing pains, industry fluxes and today’s ‘new’ economy. With that in mind, the team at Crush wholeheartedly welcomed the seven year itch and celebrated with a select group of folks, all of whom have played a part in their success.

Many of Seattle’s stylish were in attendance, including Doctor and Mrs. Michael and Heather Battaglia (above, from left), along with Michael F. Cameron, PhD (above, right) filmmaker John Jacobson and his fashionista/author wife, Pia, and DeLille winemaker Chris Upchurch along with DeLille partner, Jay Soloff, to name a few.

For me, there were several good reasons to attend, but first and foremost, my spouse, Rich Gray, and I have been friends with Jason and Nicole for well over a decade.

We consider ourselves the unofficial godfathers of Crush, having been front-and-center during their grand opening on Valentine’s Day, 2005—a dinner we still recall and relish. And, there’s also the fact that I married the Wilsons in September of 2001, after they asked me to go online and apply for a cyber-ordination, something I didn’t even know was possible.

Yet, I think the single most outrageous and special memory I have of Nicole (shown above, right) and Jason Wilson and their brainchild, Crush, stems from a telephone call I received from Nic, asking me and a group of friends to meet her at the corner of Madison and 23rd on the Friday after Thanksgiving, 2003… and to bring an umbrella.

That day was particularly soppy, even by Seattle standards, and so I didn’t think twice about the bumbershoot statement.

Upon arrival, we were all greeted by Nicole and Jason, who asked that we follow them into a two-story, turn of the century house that had seen better days.

Do you remember the dilapidated house that George and Mary Bailey’s friends turned into a love nest on the day of their wedding in the film It’s a Wonderful Life? Well, if you’re a devotee of that film as am I, you’ll recall that the Bailey’s celebrated their honeymoon in that handsome, rundown, leaking-like-a-sieve Victorian; got the picture? Good, because that’s just about what I saw upon crossing the threshold of what is now Crush.

At the time, Nicole Wilson’s career was in real estate management and this ‘fixer-upper’ caught her eye when her husband, Jason Wilson started to seriously make noises about setting up his own shop. We all, especially Jason, wanted very much to support Nicole’s vision for this house and were as supportive as possible while touring the ravaged place (I swear, I remember it was raining more inside the house than out, but maybe that’s just a romantic recollection that isn’t entirely accurate; it sure felt that way!).

Long story short, the Wilsons purchased the old house at 2319 E Madison and, with the help of some talented folks, rolled up their sleeves and eventually turned the place into the sleek and stylish Crush we celebrate at year seven—loved by fine diners, near and far.

Did we eat and drink well at Crush on the night of their anniversary party? Of course, WE WERE AT CRUSH!

Appetizers included stellar Japanese Wagyu beef tartar, Chiogga beet sweetwater prawns, and busting-with-goodness gougères—with Duval Leroy Champagne Vertus flowing freely. These starters were a meal unto themselves, but as we sat for dinner I was relieved to have exercised relative self-control during the reception; the menu was outrageous.

What followed started with a miniature bowl of cauliflower black truffle soup, perfectly paired with 2010 Leitz Weingut Spatlese Riesling.

Next up was crisp wild Alaska King salmon (above) with celery, stinging nettle and shaved geoduck (stop making that face; it rocked). The salmon was paired with a magnum of 2007 Conundrum Rutherford Hills—mercy.

The next course was a Pleasant Valley duck breast bathed in a profound cognac sauce and served with elderberry and kumquat, turnip, red brussels sprouts and sunchoke puree. A 2007 Vieux Telegraphe “La Crau” Châteauneuf-du-Pape ideally complemented the duck. 

Feeling full? Well, loosen the belt a notch and keep reading.

Just when I thought the kitchen had reached new heights, the pièce de résistance appeared: Anderson Valley lamb three ways—mouth watering shoulder, rib chop, and saddle, enhanced with cardamom, black trumpet mushrooms and smoked parsnip, accompanied by a 2008 Doyenne Grand Ciel Vineyard Syrah, which some folks at our table were shocked to discover was not French, but indeed produced by the good folks at DeLille; local boys making good.

Is it over-the-top to talk about dessert? What the heck! On came the sweets—tiers of them—then chocolates and, finally, an inspired sweet-no-savory, no-sweet delight that I’ve previously only seen produced by master pâtissiers along the lines of Albert Kumin or the U.K.’s Cake Boy, Eric Lanlard: A seared foie gras s’more…I kid you not.

Was it an evening of unrivaled excess? Of course, remember, we are talking Crush.  And, after all, it was a celebration.

How will the Wilson duo mark their eighth anniversary and beyond? Time will tell. But, if year seven is any indication, there are wondrous things still to come out of that cozy restored kitchen. I look forward to all that lies ahead at this mighty little Madison Valley house-that-could.




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