Labor of Love

A new restaurant in the hub of Madison Valley aims to prove that there can be romance in the workplace.

NICOLE WILSON came down the main staircase to meet me with her hair still a little wet from her morning shower. Since we were meeting in the foyer of the 1903 house Wilson and her husband, Jason, are currently refashioning into a restaurant, it occurred to me that the Wilsons were living their very own television show: something like Newhart plus Cheers, with a little of The Restaurant thrown in. As it turns out, Nicole and Jason are just temporarily crashing at the Madison Avenue home while it goes through its final transition before the restaurant opens in the third week of this month. They've got no plans to actually live in it and run it as a bed and breakfast like Bob and Joanna did, and I suspect that their standards for servers will be a little higher than the salty Vera. And no, there won't be a camera crew. At Crush, as the restaurant will be called, the "front of the house" staff will really be just that. The small, north-facing living room will be Crush's main dining room; the kitchen has been reconfigured to include a seven-seat bar, another small dining area, and an open cooking area for Jason and his sous chef. Downstairs, the Wilsons are building a basement wine cellar—with wine storage for customers and a tasting table for special events—and a large prep area. In the spring, the backyard will become a courtyard with another half-dozen or so tables. Eventually, the couple will build out the upstairs and you might find yourself eating in the master bedroom, but all these things will come in good time. Nicole and Jason aren't in a hurry. You know, you can't hurry love. CONVENTIONAL WISDOM SAYS that you should never work with your spouse or partner, but Nicole, a real-estate agent before her food days began, and Jason, a chef who earned his stripes at Flying Saucer in San Francisco and the now defunct Stars here in Seattle, have been working together since their wedding in 2001. The couple first ran a coffee cart together and then a catering and private-dining business, which was also called Crush. The name is so special that it predates their actual relationship. When Nicole saw Jason cooking at a charity event, she told a mutual friend that she had a crush on him (his response, as legend has it, was "Pinch me, I think I'm dreaming"). The mutual friend gave her a hard time for phrasing her interest in such a schoolgirl way, and the word stuck. Crush, with its updated French bistro style, is a coolly captivating and pleasing space, but, to its credit, it doesn't necessarily whack you over the head with romance. Sure, the small window table in the front dining room will be softly framed with draperies, and the spacious, uncrowded layout of tables means privacy and quiet conversations won't be hard to come by, but the Wilsons don't plan to push the romance angle any further than what will likely come naturally. "Crush may be romantic because of the two of us; we feel the fire between Jason and me, our passion for our work, our products, and our guests will translate to the atmosphere," says Nicole. But beyond that, it's about the food. The Wilsons have prepared a menu they call Modern American. The crab cakes ($13) will be paired with a green apple and celery root salad; the black bass ($18) comes with a semillon saffron sauce, artichoke-spinach gratin and glazed shallots; pear-endive stuffing and huckleberries accompany the Hudson Valley foie gras ($19). If the careful planning and attention to detail inside Crush are any indication of what the food will be like, you might want to prepare yourself for falling in love. 2319 E. Madison Ave., 206-30-CRUSH. Crush is booked for private dining on Valentine's Day. The owners plan to be open to the public by Feb. 18. www.crushonmadison.com

 
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