When you’re looking for a place to eat, are you more concerned with food or atmosphere? I’d rather eat amazing cuisine in a dump than have a mediocre dinner at the coolest spot in town. But the restaurants of Michael Morton (partner with his wife, Jenna, in the Morton Group’s La Comida Downtown and La Cave in Wynn) have always appealed to me more for their vibe than their cuisine.
That’s not to say the food at either has ever been bad. It’s just played a supporting role. The same can be said for the Morton’s new shared-plates restaurant in MGM Grand, Crush (tagline “Eat, drink, love.”) Its two rooms are gorgeous. There’s a great atmosphere throughout. And the food ranges from good to very good, with a few exceptional dishes.
Crush is in the space that housed Nobhill Tavern—the most underappreciated restaurant of Michael Mina’s local empire. But the rooms, which have been expanded to reach farther onto the casino floor, have been completely renovated.
The Atrium in the front has a casual, outdoor garden feel, with lighting designed to mimic the sun’s movement across the sky. The Bodega in the back is a more romantic setting, with white brick walls and a barrel-vaulted ceiling that make it vaguely reminiscent of New York’s Grand Central Station. It’s also home to a sizeable private dining room, one wall of which is lined with beautifully crafted crystal decanters. The restaurant’s sound system plays an eclectic mix of music from ambient to new wave to opera.
A single page lists the menu of salads, flatbreads, pastas and steaks. The peasant soup—a thin broth packed with sausage, Tuscan kale and sage—is a standout dish, as is the octopus ceviche, marinated in grapefruit and pickled jalapeños, and served with taro chips. The chef’s pillow-light ricotta gnocchi are also outstanding, although they tend to get overpowered by the accompanying braised short rib. For my taste, I’d prefer them with the Bolognese sauce that comes heaped over polenta. (The next time I dine here, I may ask the chef to switch the sauces on those two dishes.)
The roasted cauliflower—made with garlic, chili and mint—is almost good enough to make me rethink my distaste for that vegetable. Although the rectangular wood-fired pizzas are fairly simple, their thin, New York-style crust and sweet crushed tomatoes make them worth a try.
My visits weren’t without disappointments, however. The lamb sirloin wasn’t gamey enough for my palate. The shrimp risotto was a bit too soupy. The yuzu vinaigrette on my hamachi overpowered the delicate fish. And the sea scallop Benny, made with a sunny-side quail egg, chorizo and chipotle hollandaise sauce, was clearly designed more for how well it reads on the menu than for the way those flavors complement one another in practice. Moreover, my eggs were overcooked. (The quail eggs on my sliders upon my second visit, however, were executed perfectly.)
Given the great atmosphere at Crush, I would gladly tolerate even the few flawed dishes to soak up the vibe. But when executive chef Billy Demarco is at the top of his game, the restaurant delivers a level of quality I haven’t seen at one of Morton’s restaurants since Nove Italiano.
In MGM Grand, 891-3222. Open for dinner 5-10 p.m. Sun–Thu, 5-11:30 p.m. Fri-Sat. Dinner for two, $40-$85.