Blink Restaurant and Bar
111 8 Avenue SW
Calgary, AB T2P 1B4
Restaurants don’t often get second chances. But sometimes a little luck, and the power of a strong review, can help save a restaurant doomed for failure. For Blink, they started off as a “Supper Club”. This restaurant/club combination was extremely trendy a few years ago, but never really took off here in Calgary. Generally speaking, it ended up being the worst of both worlds – a space not totally suited to being a club, and a place not really executing perfectly as a restaurant. With tepids reviews and scathing remarks about the service, it looked to be another in the long line of restaurant failures in Calgary. However, a new chef (Andrew Richardson from Araxi), a format change to strictly a restaurant, and an enRoute award as number nine top new restaurant in Canada in 2007 managed to get things back on track. From Supper Club to a focus on fresh local ingredients, Blink, perilously close to failure, managed to get back into the collective consciousness of Calgary diners.
The space was always very nice – hip, modern, yet fairly cozy. I find it doesn’t have the same noise issues that Divino has – where it is very difficult to hear someone sitting across from you. Of course, it’s never as busy as Divino either (which shares a similar layout…long and skinny), so that may have something to do with it. However, i’ve been comfortable there in a suit, and in jeans and a shirt. It’s a fairly versatile space.
One of the biggest complaints regarding Blink’s original concept was the service – and I’m pleased to announce that these issues have been fixed. Blink was initially lambasted for its poor service and terrible attention to detail, but the new chef has brought a much more professional attitude to the table. Service was efficient, friendly, and thoughtful, though a tad slow sometimes. We were, for example, discretely moved away from our table by our server after we mentioned we were a bit bothered by the lady who had bathed in here Chanel No 5 before coming to dine, with our companions at the next table none the wiser – an impressive feat. He thought we’d appreciate a “window view”…far far away from the lady in question.
Anyway, enough about my scent aversion, let’s talk food. Falling into what sadly constitutes middle of the road pricing, Blink offers some creative, high-end cuisine at much more reasonable prices than many other counterparts in town. On the given evening, I owed a friend dinner, so we splashed out a bit more than we normally would. A soup, 2 appetizers, and 2 entrees qualified as our meal. A lot of food, but an excellent way to sample a variety of things.
The soup was a seasonal soup ($9), which happened to be cream of corn (peaches and cream) with pancetta and some chive oil emulsification. The corn was sweet, and had been well strained, so you didnt end up with those annoying bits of kernel stuck between your teeth. The pancetta added the right amount of fattiness and flavour, resulting in great, balanced taste.
We ordered yellow fin tuna tartare ($13.50) as well, which was a decent sized serving of fresh tuna, and a heaping bowl of fresh fried potato chips. The tuna, while fresh, wasn’t properly balanced. Well-seasoned, it nevertheless lacked the requisite amount of acidity needed to balance out the dish. It tasted a tad too oily, especially on the chips, and failed to bring out the freshness of the fish itself.
The twice baked souffle ($12) on the other hand was fantastic, though a bit richer than my personal preference. It was an excellent dish to share though. Made of white grace cheese, it was fluffy, yet full bodied, but played well with the walnut and frisee salad that accompainied the dish. A triumph in harmony and flavour.
Our entrees followed with a reasonable pause to digest. My friend ordered the chicken, lemon and garlic roasted chicken ($28) served on cous cous, and I had one of Blink’s signature dishes – the double duck ($32) – duck confit served with the roast breast.
The chicken, which i had sampled in a previous visit, was tender, moist, and flavourful. The accompaniments were a bit light, but the size of the chicken made up for it. For a chicken dish, it was quite good. But compared to what was on the rest of the menu, i’m not sure i would order it again. It is, after all, just brined chicken.
The double duck was a bit more to my liking. The confit definitely fell apart on the plate, and the breast was done with a very crispy skin, but slightly overcooked meat underneath – it had ended up a touch dry. Which, when compared to the lusciousness of the confit, really stood out. With potatoes and cabbage, it was a much heartier serving. Good flavours, but I think i prefer the braised short rib i had the first time i was there. However, overall, a big issue remains for me – the entrees were not nearly as interesting, nor tasty, as the appetizers. The risk-taking attitude that they approach the appetizers with, suddenly disappears into the “safe and familiar” when delivering the entrees. A problem i’ve found in many fine dining establishments these days. It’s frustrating getting to choose between risotto, duck, beef, chicken, fish, and short rib all the time. That lack of innovation plays it a bit too safe for my liking.
Overall, avoiding the nitpicking, I have to admit i was surprised by Blink. Even with the format change, I didnt expect them to be able to pull it out of the fire. I honestly didnt even expect to like it. However, I feel that they’ve managed to establish a strong new presence serving good, fresh local fare at reasonable prices. It’s not my favorite restaurant in town, but i certainly would have no complaints if I found myself there again. Next to Divino, they offer a good alternative with a different take on fresh ingredients. Their appetizers are fantastic, and the space is really quite nice. They probably deserve more business then they are getting, but with the aborted start, it’s not surprising that people may be hesitant to go back. As for my issue with the mains, the menu changes seasonally, so I can understand that some dishes won’t appeal to everyone. But with a few modest changes, upping their game on the entrees, they may hit on the formula for developing a long history of prolonged success. I hope they find it.