We went to Rush last week for a staff lunch. 5 of us with a reso. Upon arrival promptly at noon we were greeted by hostess and manager. We were led by our server after a small delay to our table in the middle of the dining room. From the outset I was impressed with the effort the staff were making to elevate the service level. Jackets were taken and hung, hooks were brought to the table for handbags. Chairs were pulled out, etc etc. All of these subtle movements reminded me of fine dining meals I have had at the likes of Trotters, Lumiere etc. I think the restaurant is truly trying to be world class and on the level of these top tier kinds of places.
I was optimistic because of the beginning of the experience. Our server came and explained the water system.....bottled in house, free, still or sparkling - a nice touch to be sure. We ordered cocktails, asked for the wine list to be brought as we were thus far only offered a small by the glass list. At this time our server explained the food menu "works" - prix pixe with pricing for either 2 or 3 courses. The server seemed a little nervous. She was lacking in personality but she had all the right information. After some consultation with the sommelier - who also seemed a little uptight - we made our wine selections and after that ordered our food. I like the layout of the menu and I appreciate that there are not too many choices. This tells me that the chef and kitchen team should be able to execute the limited offerings nearly perfectly. A small menu is purposefully created to be able to do this. For lunch there are 5 first courses, 5 mains and 4 desserts. I ordered a vegetable salad, with the suspicion that there would be some interesting surprises in the dish. The dish was simply called "Vegetable Salad" with no details beyond that. My companions ordered the coconut pea bisque, the risotto and a goat cheese and beet tart. The chef Justin Laboe has an impressive background. He has worked at such culinary luminaries as The French Laundry, Inn at Little Washington and Accolade. Previously he had been a Hotel Chef in Bermuda. We trusted that with this wealth of world class experience surely we would be blown away.
An amuse bouche of cheese shortbread? was brought and it was tasty...really great cheese flavour. Bread service came next with no offer for more at any point in the meal. I like to be given the choice of more bread. The butter came out soft enough to spread, a good thing. There was a little bit of maldon salt on top. There was a little side dish brought and left on the table with salt and precrushed black pepper. The pepper looked dried out. This surprised me.
The first courses came out and from first glance we were impressed. My salad was underwhelming however, consisting of no more than simple, albeit impeccably fresh, greens, slices of carrot and parsnip, and some sunflower seeds in a light and barely tastable vinaigrette. This salad was disappointing to me. Good, yes. Interesting? Nope. The soup was interesting but I didn't really understand it. The combination didn't seem natural to me and I had to really bend my mind into making the connection between the coconut and pea. Smooth texture, simple presentation. Underwhelming was the general consensus. The risotto was very well made and of a high quality. It was tiny. Not more than 4 or 5 bites. Perfectly cooked and sauced with a beautifully reduced veal glace. I thought the addition of some extra virgin olive oil, maybe some sort of fresh green herb or even a shard or two of parmaggiano would have been nice to give a finished quality. The goat cheese and beet tart was pleasing to the eye but not really very technically innovative. A thin disk of filo or some sort of light pastry was spread with goat cheese, then topped with baby beet slices, orange segments and baby arugula leaves. This dish was the most detail oriented of the bunch. There were no surprises in the flavour. It tasted as it should.
Our plates sat for a long time before they were cleared. The server was at our table too often during the eating portion and not there for the clearing. I asked for a bottle of the water to be left on the table and I was answered awkwardly. The answer was no. Then I made it clear that I really did want the bottle to be left. The server said ok but that she would have to pour it first for everyone. What?? I think that the service team had been rigorously trained and thats great, but there must be room to allow for a customer to do their own thing according to preference. A memorable aspect of my best meals has been the service staff's ability to accomodate naturally and seamlessly the requests made of them. People are not all the same.
For our main course I had the St Canut Pig with apple and peas. This was a spectacular dish. Cooked sous vide with a little milk inside the vacuum packed bag, the pig was incredibly tender and hadn't lost any moisture. The flesh was pure white with a slight pink hue. The fat content was impressive and the fat itself was silken. I loved this piece of meat. On the plate were some slices of cooked pears in a veal reduction sauce. Superb. The menu indicated that it would be apples but they were in fact pears. The peas were fork crushed, barely cooked, with some fresh mint strewn in. This dish was a great big success all around. Also at the table was salmon with creamy grits and chorizo emulsion. The salmon was also prepared sous vide, finished in a pan to sear the flesh a bit. The chorizo flavour in the "emulsion" was negligible if noticable at all. There were some parisienne balled zucchini pieces on top. A well executed dish, but the chorizo component was certainly a disappointing non factor. There was a braised short rib dish with chive puree. The ribs were served boneless, which I prefer. They had a small amount of the braising liquid around them. The chive puree wasn't good. It tasted like powdered potatoes with a green color added. This did not complement the rib meat. The dish was amateurish seeming. Finally there was a garganelli pasta with mushrooms. This dish was tasty but perhaps a bit oversalted. The pasta was cooked properly and the mushrooms added depth, but the creamy sauce was too thin. Kind of an average dish was the thought shared by all.
Once again our plates sat for too long.
The decor is striking. There is no art on the walls at all. The room is beautiful but it feels soul-less. The service was efficient but felt similarly generic and lacking personality. Everyone was obviously trying hard.....perhaps a little too hard.
Desserts were good to average all around. The desserts were not on the same level as the brilliant desserts of St Germain at one time, which have become my measuring stick in Calgary. I don't know if the same pastry chef is still at St Germain but man, were they ever good at the beginning. The Pastry chef at Rush is Lisa Cheah, from Vintage and before that I think River Cafe. I had a citrus dessert that was simple but not memorable. It had a slightly sweet risotto arancini, some citrus sabayon, mandarin segments and a crumbled cookie thing. Decidedly average. There was an apricot crepe dish that had been browned way past the french standard of little to no color. I can't recall what the other desserts were. We had coffee when we asked for it after our desserts.
The bill was really high. Well over 450 dollars before tip etc. High prices are fine but in this case we felt that the value was not there for the price paid. I think Rush does a good job but they will need to figure out some kind of identity soon. They are certainly excellent for Calgary standards, but is that good enough to be considered truly world class? I could go on but this is long enough. Am I picky? You bet I am. When I am being cooked for by a chef that has the experience of this one, I expect to be wowed and blown away every time.
The bathrooms were a shocking let down for me, but that will have to wait for another day!
I plan to come back to Rush for Dinner to round out my experience here. Hope you enjoyed this review. Cheers!