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THE GOSSIPING GOURMET: Too good to keep mum

We are going to let you in on a secret. Why it’s a secret, we have no idea. Maybe you can figure it out. Hush Restaurant is offering a terrific three course pre-fixe dinner for $29 every night of the week. If we’d eaten there a month ago it most certainly would have been on our annual top 10 list as the best deal in town. Although they advertise it in the Coastline Pilot, you must ask for the pre-fixe menu because it will not be presented as a matter of course. In any case, we were very pleased with the selections and amazed at the price, especially when combined with impeccable service and the lovely setting.

Entering on a cold evening, the sight of the candlelit dining room with a fire burning in the corner, presented a warm and inviting ambience. In this attractive contemporary setting, sleekly styled in tones of beige, cream and chocolate, we were seated at a banquette next to the fireplace. At this time of year, it’s often too cold to dine on their spacious outdoor patio, but weather permitting, it’s a very pleasant choice. People often joke about the irony of the restaurant’s name "” since it can be incredibly noisy "” but during the week it’s much quieter. Of course, all restaurants are quieter these days.

The regular menu was presented, as well as the tome that is their wine menu, but we had to request the winter pre-fixe menu, which they happily provided. On Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, they also offer 30% off selected bottles from their world-class wine list. The pre-fixe has two first courses to choose from "” a salad and a soup, five entrée selections and two desserts.

The roasted tomato bisque had a lovely tomato flavor with just an underpinning of cream, not the usual cream soup with a bit of vegetable. A subtle combination of spices gave it depth and character, and a drizzle of tarragon oil added yet another layer of taste. Floating on top was a crostini covered with a mellow melted cheese, which oozed into the soup. The only problem was that the toast melted into the soup as well. It would have been nice to have that bit of crunchiness for contrast.

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The usual baby green salad mix was spiked with a few segments of pink grapefruit and scattered with toasted sliced almonds. It was dressed with an excellent organic honey vinaigrette. The well-balanced dressing was just sweet enough while the vinegar and subtle spices made it sparkle.

The night we dined, the entrées were Shelton Farms roast chicken with mashed potatoes, little neck clams with linguiça sausage and rice noodles, potato crusted mahi-mahi, short rib ravioli in green peppercorn cognac cream sauce, and Fisherman’s Daughter shrimp. This well-thought-out variety made it hard for us to choose only two.

Whoever this fisherman’s daughter was, her recipe for shrimp is top notch. In fact we were so curious about this title that we trolled the Internet and found that the Valdez-Cervantes family have fished for generations and are now leading the way to sustainability in the Sea of Cortez. The story they tell is that their youngest daughter came home from school and asked if the family shrimp boats were the reason that there were fewer fish in the sea. Her parents decided then and there that it was time to do things differently and for the past 10 years they have been developing a more sustainable way to harvest shrimp. Their product is appropriately named Fisherman’s Daughter shrimp.

The three giant crustaceans had been grilled in a sweet, slightly spicy marinade with a hint of Asian seasoning. They were succulent and very fresh tasting and came with a sensational chickpea salsa, zipped up with onions, garlic and cilantro. The accompanying jasmine rice was surrounded with a buttery beurre blanc sauce flavored with a touch of tangerine.

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Chef Ashley seems to have the ability to compose complex seasonings where no particular flavor dominates but the subtle combinations add an intoxicating depth to each dish she turns out. Although we know from her excellent crab cakes, for example, that she can amp up the flavors when she has a mind to.

The potato-crusted mahi-mahi had a lovely thin, crunchy julienne potato layer topping the perfectly cooked fish, which was moist and silken in texture. Our only caveat of the evening was that the fish itself could have had more seasoning. Parsnip and mashed potato puree plus a few al dente asparagus completed the dish.

The portion sizes on all of the entrées are ample. However, the menu is still changing and you may find some variation, particularly with the accompaniments. For instance, the most recent preparation for the mahi-mahi includes cracked pepper honey butter sauce, wilted spinach and creamy mascarpone risotto.

A trio of house-made sorbets arrived on a long oval plate garnished with lovely sweet raspberries, a nice surprise in the middle of winter. The three distinctive sorbet flavors were mango, passion fruit and blackberry Cabernet. All were good.

The crème brulée was perfectly bruléed, meaning there was a thin crackly layer of well-caramelized sugar on the top. Beneath this crunchy candy was an incredibly rich creamy version of this classic dessert. It was more creamy than custardy, maybe a bit too creamy and soft but still sinfully delicious.

Restaurants everywhere are looking for ways to attract customers in these times of financial insecurity. There are small plate menus and pre-fixe menus all over town but very few offer this kind of quality at this very reasonable price every night of the week and even on the weekend. The only restrictions are that the pre-fixe dinner may not be ordered for take-out, there are no substitutions and no sharing of a single dinner.


ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ owned a la Carte for 20 years and can be reached at themarkos755@yahoo.com.


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