When Robert de Lucia and Scott Anaya decided Anchorage needed a first-rate wine bar, they launched Crush Wine Bar & Bistro in the heart of downtown Anchorage in mid-2008. It was the 49th state’s first wine bar and gained traction immediately. “Wine lovers came out of the woodwork,” says Anaya. The following year, chef Chris Vane joined the Crush crew. His eclectic, tapas-inspired menu made the small north-country enoteca into a local foodie destination, and thanks to the James Beard Foundation, it is a national foodie radar screen too.
Vane’s constantly changing, reasonably priced menu accommodates customers whose budgets focus on the lower end of the wine list, but the quality is suitable for the three-figure bottles. That’s what earned him a spot on the James Beard Award list of semifinalists for Best Chef, Pacific Northwest — recognition that is an honor in and of itself. Making it to the finalist list or winning would elevate the honor. Even with such talent and creativity in the kitchen, Crush is not a formal culinary temple but rather an attractive, casual street-level bistro serving good food and good wine. Upstairs, on the second floor, is the “cellar,” which is what Crush calls its wine shop.
When my companions expressed interest in the Sobon Cabernet Sauvignon, Scott said that he had both the 2007 and 2008, so he poured tastings of each for both of them. They both preferred the ’07. By the end of the meal, the ’08, which had been left on the table, opened up and smoothed out. Enlightening.
With art on painted walls and the option to sit at the bar or at a bare wood table, unpretentious and pleasant Crush looks more like a cafe than a ful-blown restaurant. The wine service is knowledgeable, and the wine prices fit every budget. Three-wine flights are $12, and wines by the glass are $8-$16. Bottles range from a $37 Neil Ellis Groenekloof 2007 Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa to a $1,2oo Chateau Pétrus 1974 Pomerol from one of the smallest terroirs in the Bordeaux region of France. Most of the reds seem to in the $80-$150 range and the whites somewhat lower, quite in keeping with prices of anything in Alaska that comes from “outside.”
Three of us went to Crush for early-evening eats and wines too. Here’s what we ordered.
Price check: At dinner, appetizer-style items, $5; small plates, $8; small plates with costlier ingredients or somewhat larger portions, $15; desserts, $7. There is also a $19 charcuterie and cheese plate, and nightly dinner specials are also available.