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First Crush

Reliable, Not Crushworthy

Set on two levels at and below street level on the corner of Cyril Magnin and Ellis, my first impression of First Crush was of an unsmiling host in a small foyer decorated with two bouquets of bright fake flowers. Puns in restaurant names are inauspicious. At First Crush, the pun doesn't end in the name. Burgundy walls and champagne-colored drapes continue the visual pun down the long, somewhat romantic, low-ceilinged upper floor, where I dined with my companion. The bizarre diorama just outside the front door, which includes ribbons and a paper mache wine bottle, also made a lasting impression.

The restaurant was busy for the early hour. Larger tables were filled with drab middle managers, smaller tables with awkward young couples on post-Valentine's day dates. All seemed to be enjoying their food.

The food was decent, but unexceptional. Pan-seared scallops, ($11.50) presented on a pool of saffron sauce, were tender, but the sharpness of the sauce clashed with the subtle brininess of the scallops. The Caesar salad ($8) was pleasant, but unremarkable. We avoided the asparagus and prawn spring rolls ($8.50), which seemed poorly placed on a menu of California French bistro food.

My grilled rack of lamb ($24) was perfectly tender. Its pleasant fattiness was cut by a tarragon reduction, generously ladled out on the plate. Asparagus tips jumbled in a saucy mess left me longing for the rest of the asparagus stalk, and a hand towel with which to wipe them off. My companion had filet mignon, which she ordered grilled instead of pan seared. The kitchen was pleasantly accommodating to that as well as some other unusual requests. The filet was buttery and as flavorful as can be expected from that cut, but the presentation and flavor combinations were sloppy and murky.

Although the names of the wine flights made me cringe (for example "Great White", "Ray of White", "Grand Chards") the three wines in each of the two flights we chose ("Ray of White" and "The Mixer") were well selected. The 2001 Selby Merlot, with its balanced plum and cherry flavors, was an unexpected delight which I may have otherwise avoided.

First Crush's decent food and dated setting might have been impressive in an isolated suburb, but both come across as frumpy and over-grasping in San Francisco's urbane restaurant scene.

California French Cuisine
Theater District/Downtown