Walking into Crush Tasting Room & Kitchen, I felt like a kid in a candy shop. With a delicious menu, more than 20 inventive wines from small-batch Central Coast producers as well as kombucha and regional beer on tap, and a convivial atmosphere ripe for striking up conversation, the East Haley Street establishment made my head spin like a child entering the white gates of Disneyland for the first time.
Fortunately, Michael Amador, who owns Crush with his wife, Lisa Amador, was there to stop me from falling. After greeting me with a smile, he pointed me toward their pièce de résistance: the Napa Technology wine dispenser.
“Our system allows us to pour 20 wines and keep them all fresh,” Amador explained of the device, which uses argon gas to preserve the bevy of bottles. The only other nearby places where this technology is being used are in Buellton (though Bottlest recently closed) and Ventura, said Amador. One simply needs to buy a card, insert it into the dispenser, and press a button for either a taste, a half glass, or a full glass of wine.
As a wine lover who enjoys tasting and discussing before deciding on a full glass — but would prefer not to drive her server insane — this system is perfect. It also allows for a self-guided wine exploration and a chance to chat with others about their favorites.
“I want to teach people about the different varietals that are out there,” Amador explained after offering a taste of a delicious riesling from winemaker Graham Tatomer, which bucks the grape’s stereotype of being cloyingly sweet with every crisp sip.
It’s no wonder why Amador has such a smartly curated selection of wines: His 20-year career in restaurant management included jobs at top locations, such as working as food & beverage director at San Ysidro Ranch and, most recently, serving as food and beverage director for the La Cumbre Country Club through the past decade.
“I was also the wine buyer and sommelier and was — and still am — regularly introduced to a lot of new wineries,” said Amador. “To me it was always exciting finding and offering something new that no one had heard of, and seeing eyes brighten when wowed by the quality from an unknown winery.”
He also watched many smaller producers have a hard time selling their wines due to the distribution system that rules the industry. Many distributors won’t take on winemakers who only produce a few hundred cases, so the vintners themselves must peddle their wines from restaurant to restaurant, bottle shop to bottle shop, with the hope that someone will buy them. And most of them would rather be focused on growing and improving their wines.
“I thought it would be a great idea to have a tasting room for these garagiste winemakers, a place where we can showcase the up-and-comers from the Central Coast,” said Amador. “Basically, a wine collective for local wineries that most have never heard of.”
Notable winemakers with side projects to try at Crush include Two Wolves’s Alison Thompson, whose delectable L.A. Lepiane Barbera is on tap; Au Bon Climat’s Jim Adelman, who makes a great merlot under his Makor label; Jaffurs’s Stephen Searles and his Leitmotif pinot noir; and Press Gang Cellars by Stolpman’s Kyle Knapp. Said Lisa, “We want this to be the place where people discover the next label.”
You may discover your soulmate as well, for Lisa is putting her background as a matchmaker to work. She plans to have her Amador Matchmaking singles group meet there once a month, and the couple will also offer wine education classes.
“It was really a perfect combination of our passions,” explained Michael, whose love of cooking shines on their menu, full of grilled cheeses, flatbreads, a popular cheesy pretzel, and more. The wild mushroom and truffle sacchetti is the perfect dish to get lost in, especially when paired with a robust red. These little purses enclose a savory mushroom blend and are coated in a generous blanket of sage cream.
And it’s not every day you find a wine bar with lobster rolls — on the West Coast, anyway. Crush’s lobster sliders served warm on buttered rolls with generous portions of the star shellfish make you wonder why we don’t. “Everyone likes lobster and butter,” said Michael. “I didn’t need to add a bunch of stuff to it.” I was equally wowed by the food’s modest prices. Said Michael, “Everything in here we want to be delicious and affordable.”
As I said goodbye, the Amadors were jovially chatting with guests, and one of their new friends hollered, “See you tomorrow!” It’s clear that with their thoughtful wine selections and dedication to nurturing community, the two have made good on their aspirations and piqued a curiosity for more.
432 E. Haley St.; 690-4590; crushsb.com