The flagship restaurant that sank

The flagship restaurant that sank

Blake in Canmore boasts lofty ideals, but its international menu and name-branded products can’t make up for poor execution

Lunch hour at Blake restaurant in Canmore, Alta. on July 21, 2017.

810 Bow Valley Trail

Canmore

403-675-3663; blakecanmore.com

Cuisine: Global mish-mash

Price: $4.25-$135

Atmosphere: Former automotive garage filled with banquettes and tables

Drinks on offer: Short wine and cocktail menus, but decently stocked bar and a fair selection of beer

Best bets: Miso charred broccoli, coal miners’ chuck, curry cauliflower steak, Vietnamese coffee cheesecake

Vegetarian friendly

There is plenty of parking as well as a patio if you choose to sit outside and enjoy a nice view of the Rocky Mountains. Also, very accommodating to gluten sensitivities and vegan diets

Technically speaking, there is nothing wrong with naming a restaurant after one’s self, but those types of restaurants are few and far between throughout North America. Although, a few do come to mind.

International restaurateur Daniel Boulud has no shortage including Café Boulud in downtown Toronto, and Dominique Crenn’s Atelier Crenn in San Francisco is about as whimsical of a culinary patronymic that one can experience. Then, of course, there’s Susur Lee’s Lee in Toronto, David Hawksworth’s Hawksworth in Vancouver, and Michael Noble’s NOtaBLE right here in Calgary.

Canmore? Well, it has Blake.

Leaving aside the meandering stacks of namesake-branded bar soap and house-made bottled ketchup named after Blake’s owner on a shelving unit across from the host stand, it was sawing into the brûléed, raw green apple (seeds intact) accompanied by a wedge of ice-cold brie that was the first sign a meal at this Canmore restaurant was going downhill.

Built into a former automotive garage, owner Blake Flann proudly proclaims this establishment as his flagship, a term that’s typically reserved for a restaurant that is above the rest in the company or chain.

Blake’s miso charred broccoli.

At Blake, the high-ceiling dining room is devoid of any personality or design thought. Grey paint plagues the artless walls that tower above the black upholstered banquettes and low tables. Save the communal table and the singular lighting fixture, it feels as though you are sitting in restaurant that was hastily constructed inside of a garage. Likely because it was.

Onward and upward and, most important, what to order? The “beets by BLAKE” and the “burgers by BLAKE” sound somewhat interesting. Maybe “The Mechanic” burger featuring a “BLAKE co-lab” milk bun is the best way to go.

Surely, I can’t be the only person who has sat down here and thought, “What is happening here?”

A young restaurateur’s career is filled with hits and misses and going global with a menu is a major, typical and predictable growing pain of a chef. Mr. Flann’s around-the-world menu falls in line with this, offering everything from grilled avocados topped with Mexican street corn to an Indian-inspired beef tartare, some peculiar hybrid Japanese-meets-Chinese dumplings and plain old Alberta steak with roasted garlic and green peppercorn mayo.

Umami Ketchup for sale at Blake restaurant in Canmore.

After looking up and down a menu chock full of puns and innuendos, we decide on 10 different dishes. The menu includes a warning, in lowercase letters: “plates arrive as they are prepared.” Even so, we weren’t prepared to have all dishes land within 10 minutes.

Bizarre sweet-leaning plates such as char siu pork sitting on overpowering cilantro rice and the mushy coconut and corn risotto as well as an unusual compartmentalized beef tartare surrounded by mango puree, turmeric aioli and papadams showcase the chef’s international approach to his menu. No prominent culture is left unscathed.

That said, a handful of dishes do show a glimmer of hope. The miso-charred broccoli is one of the cheapest items on the menu, but one of the most impressive. It is unfussy and well executed. The broccoli boasts a hearty crunch, and the light touch of miso brought a nice umami factor to a brassica that is stereotypically drowned in a cheese sauce.

Blake’s char sui pork tenderloin.

Ripped straight from the pages of chef David Chang’s Lucky Peach magazine arrives BLAKE’s take on ramen cacio e pepe. This minor twist on the classic Italian dish made with salty pecorino, olive oil, black pepper, as well as the added addition of garlic and egg yolk, is comforting and well-seasoned.

The Vietnamese coffee cheesecake was a fine end to a perplexing dinner. The velvety cake filling pays fulfilling homage to its inspiration, but is diminished by an ejaculation of condensed milk splattered onto the plate. The crumbled chocolate wafer and vanilla icing sandwich cookie topping also does the dessert no favours.

Grasping one of the cookies, I flipped it over, expecting the wafer to be stamped with “BLAKE-O”, but discovered “Oreo” instead. I guess you can’t make everything in-house.

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