Last Calls

The Perfect Storm. photo/The Fuge

An Almost Perfect Storm

When I first saw Plush West End, a bar and tapas joint that opened last year at the corner of High and Spring streets, I visualized a place full of fluffy, soft surfaces, deep chairs and couches you sink into like a stone. Stepping through the door, I was mildly suprised to see only a couple couches. The walls are rough concrete, like stucco, as is the heavily lacquered bar. The color scheme makes you feel like you’ve walked inside a Valentine’s Day card: deep reds and whites predominate.

That said, the interior mostly works. There’s an open lounge area in front and a high-ceilinged dining area toward the back. The music, a slightly dated and entirely background techno, works hypnotically. The only real issue I had became apparent when I sat at the bar. Either the stools are too short or the bar’s too high. Whatever the case, my six-foot frame was several inches shy of a comfortable position.

Plush offers tapas dishes ranging from $5 to $10, the exception being steamed mussels ($11). On my first visit, I ordered calamari that came out light and perfectly seasoned. Chef Kevin Heenan is a highly regarded talent poached from Vignola, and he’s not afraid to show off his culinary skills. His crispy polenta with red pepper sauce is delicious, as are the must-try $10 sliders, which have an uncannily rich, full flavor. Soups ($6) and salads ($8) round out the menu.

For drinks, Plush offers a selection of red and white wines, and has 14 beers on tap, including an intriguing mix of microbrews. There are no bottled beers at present, but the bartender said Budweiser or Cornona bottles may be added if the summer clientele demands it.

I’d heard mixed reviews about the service at Plush, but on my visits the bartenders were friendly and attentive. I also got the impression they take their mixes seriously.

The first cocktail I tried was the Prickly Pear Margarita, a deep red concoction with a Herradura Silver Tequila base and granulated sugar around the rim. It also contains Cointreau, prickly pear puree and a squeeze of fresh lime. The drink started thin, with the tequila riding the roof of my mouth and only the sugar to balance the agave. But as I pushed through, the Cointreau began to emerge, and by the last sip the lime found its place. Though all the flavors eventually arrived, the drink seemed too heavy on the tequila. A lighter pour would have helped the other flavors shine.

On my next visit I had the Plush Manhattan. They decided to forego rye whiskey in favor of a rather clean bourbon, Maker’s Mark. The aromatic Peychaud’s bitters dominated the nose, but the body had quite a hefty pour of vermouth, flattening the mouth. Plush also chose to add cherry nectar to this drink, presumably to sweeten it, but it hardly succeeds against the bitters. The bourbon lacks enough body to be buoyant and becomes lost. This drink has potential, but it needs a whiskey with more personality to keep the vermouth and bitters in check.

The first cocktail to impress me was the Perfect Storm. It consists of Gosling’s Rum, Disaronno (an Italian liquer) and ginger beer, with a bit of sour mix, served in a rocks glass with crushed ice. The result was true to its name. Absolutely stunning. The Disaronno lay perfectly with the Gosling’s, and the pluckiness of the ginger beer made for one of the crispest cocktails I’ve had this season. I could see this drink becoming a summer ritual. For this alone, I thought, Plush is worth the visit.

But wait. The next time I came in, accompanied by friends, things had changed. The food platings and drink presentations were different. With the food, presentation hardly mattered — it still tasted excellent and the portions were similar. But my Perfect Storm was now being served up, in a martini glass. Without the ice, the portion was larger but the drink didn’t balance as nicely. It was sharper. The melting ice had previously given the Gosling’s and Disaronno some room to open up. This lack of consistency may be minor, but in the future I’ll now have to specify the way I want the cocktail served.

All the specialty cocktails at Plush are $9. There are 20 varieties on the official drink menu. Chances are you’ll get a fair drink at the right price. But for Plush to truly put its stamp on the city’s cocktail culture, they should rely less on the brand names in the drinks and focus more on using unique bitters and syrups to elevate the craft.

Oh, and get taller stools.

— Carl Currie

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