Hush may be the most ironically named restaurant in America. Granted, we were there on a night when they were having a benefit for Haiti, complete with live music; but previous visits confirm that this is not a place to go for quiet conversation unless you go on a weeknight very early or unless you’re on a blind date that’s not going very well.
The least expensive, although the noisiest place to eat, is at the happening bar that seems to be very busy and buzzy almost all the time. The dining room is tastefully contemporary with a welcoming fireplace, candlelit tables, comfortable banquettes, booths and chairs, all in soft beige tones with dark accents. A large outdoor patio is open on warm nights.
We went back because the new chef, Ronnie Arnold, is in the process of changing the menu to something more like “world cuisine" exploring spices and new ingredients. The menu is still in transition but we like what he has done so far.
If you’ve got the big bucks or are on an expense account, you can start with an ounce of golden Oesetra caviar for a mere $245. If not, you might try the delicious watercress and Israeli couscous salad. Mistitled, it should be called couscous salad with watercress. A beautiful presentation with an oblong mound of couscous is bordered by little hillocks of dried cherry compote and toasted hazelnuts. Bright green pesto and red chili oil were decoratively daubed in the corners. The watercress garnished the top. The Israeli couscous was dressed in a lovely light citrus vinaigrette. If you’re not familiar with Israeli-style couscous, the kernels are larger and taste like the pasta they are, rather than the very fine grainy type with which we are more familiar. The fun part of eating this vibrant salad is that you can get different flavor combinations depending on which way you move your fork. Pick up some crunchy bits of hazelnut to mix with the pasta, then, move to the mild habanero chili oil for some kick. Next forkful, add the excellent dried cherry compote to go sweet or pick up a bit of pesto to go savory or mix them all together and your mouth will thank you.
We have found our beloved seared duck breast to be somewhat of a disappointment these days, yet we keep ordering it, hoping to be pleasantly surprised. At last, we were. This appetizer, which we requested rare, was nicely seasoned on the outside and moist and tender on the inside. The slices were cleverly paired with a mixed mushroom ragout, resting in a red wine reduction and topped with a poached egg on a toasted bread round. The slightly salty but deeply flavorful, earthy mushrooms were the perfect complement to the duck, especially when you broke open the egg yolk and let its richness seep into them.
Fish served in miso broth is all the rage in upscale restaurants these days. Hush prepares it with mahi-mahi, a great fish with seasoning but a bit characterless on its own. The fish itself was OK, but the red miso broth was quite good. The dish came with jasmine rice and perfectly cooked Chinese broccoli with peeled stems, a nice touch.
The majority of the entrÃ©es will appeal to zoophagans with six red meat choices. From short ribs to veal porterhouse or from rack of lamb to Angus shell steak, you’re bound to find satisfaction. Once again, high rollers can go for the surf ‘n’ turf with a 10-ounce lobster tail for $58 and your choice of steak for an extra $17 to $36.
You don’t have to break the bank if you order the roasted free-range chicken with rustic bread salad and whipped potatoes or one of their three pastas: rigatoni carbonara, seafood paparadelle or the priest strangler pasta with sun dried tomatoes, chicken and pesto. You may be as curious about the title of the last pasta as we were. Priest strangler or strozzapreti is a noodle in the shape of a rolled towel. It gets its name from an 18th century priest who choked on it while eating too much too quickly because it was so delicious.
Hush is one of the few restaurants in town that has an actual dessert chef. She makes her own ice creams and sorbets, which can be ordered as a trio. Her fromage blanc ice cream adorns the apple crisp galette (a galette is like a tart). The bottom is a thin crisp, flaky hazelnut pastry. It was topped with flavorful apples and drizzled with a Chardonnay caramel. The ice cream had a subtle sour cream undertone, which was very interesting and tasty, providing a nice contrast to the caramel.
The crÃ¨me brulee is spiced pumpkin. The “grown up" banana split has caramelized banana, pine nut brittle and whiskey whipped cream. Chocoholics can revel in a dark chocolate mousse cake with orange marmalade and crÃ¨me anglaise. A selection of artisanal cheeses is also available, garnished with dried fruit, candied nuts and honey.
It must be mentioned that Hush has a world-class wine list "” “list," being a euphemism for something like a tome. It’s a wine connoisseur’s delight. A nice little Laetitia Pinot Blanc will set you back $32, but even an expense account may feel the pinch of a 1990 Romanee Conti La Tache Grand Cru at $9,500.
We are excited to see what Arnold will be doing in the future with his new World Cuisine. Good things are already happening.
If You Go
What: Hush Restaurant; (949) 497-3616; hushrestaurant.com
Where: 858 South Coast Hwy.
When: 5:30 to 10 p.m. daily; lounge menu until 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday
Appetizers: $10 to $28
EntrÃ©es: $19 to $94
Desserts: $10 Wine:
Bottles: $32 to $9,500
By the glass: $10 to $18
Corkage Fee: $25
ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ can be reached at email@example.com.