Monday, July 2, 2012

Tight Squeeze at Black + Blue

Black + Blue on Urbanspoon As of the time I am writing this blog post, Black + Blue's popularity on Urbanspoon sits at a measly 41%. However, on the Saturday night I went for dinner and drinks at 7pm, the place was absolutely packed. OpenTable showed no reservations available between 5:15pm and 9:45pm, and around 7pm, the hostesses said they had 375 people booked for the night (in a 320 seat restaurant).
The incredible busy-ness of this place suggests there's something good going on there, and despite the low rating, if you're thinking of it, I recommend you give it a go. BUT that recommendation also depends on what you're planning to do there and how you're going to go about it.

First off, if you want a sit-down meal, make a reservation. Don't settle for the lounge because the small tables there are very low, around knee-height. Plus the lounge area is quite narrow, so things can get tricky in moving around and in trying to keep a route clear for the servers. It can really be a tight squeeze in there.

That said, they can somewhat easily squeeze diners in at the bar, which is first-come-first served, and it may not be that hard to get two chairs side-by-side. The bartender can take your order, plus you have the benefit of your beverage order served immediately. Besides, the music is quite loud downstairs, and you'll have to lean in to properly hear your dining partner anyway. If you're dining alone, the bar is probably the best way to go for a drop-in meal.
Something else curious about the bar is the seating. The round seats are literally packed one against the other, so to get in or out, you need to pull it all the way out. On the other hand, this seating neatly portions out the bar space. You can't slide your seat around along the bar, so everyone gets an identical amount of elbow room and table space, the latter being important if you're going to have dinner there.

Black + Blue also features tableside preparation of various classic desserts, such as Crêpes Suzette. I had had tableside service at (the now closed) William Tell, and if Black + Blue has similarly entertaining and personable waiters, it's a nice treat to have for a nostalgic older generation or for date night (to pass the time when you've run out of stuff to say, I guess). You'll want a proper reservation and table to do this, of course. Plus, if you're bringing a date, you're more likely to get male waiters rather than the mini-skirted hotties serving in the lounge.

As there is a lounge, it's tempting to bring friends down for a get-together in a hip joint. But if you have more than a party of six, I recommend against Black + Blue. The lounge is quite narrow, and the music is loud. Plusses include being able to reserve at least a portion of the lounge, however. And if you like people-watching, it's elevated from the ground floor and you can see just about everyone. For larger groups, and especially for a casual no-reservations drop-in, I recommend the expansive lobby of the Fairmont Pacific Rim instead. It's loud in there, but there's room to move, and you can wander upstairs to some of the plush couches for a quieter venue. Sometimes there's a bit of dancing as well, especially in tandem with the frequent live music events.

Vegetarians are largely limited to soups, salads, sides, and drinks. Plus it's got cuts of meat on display in their see-through Himalayan Salt curing chamber -- which vegetarians (not even vegans) have outright commented on as being "disgusting". Check this place out before you invite just anybody.

You can expect steakhouse prices, of course, so your main plus side will probably come in at $50. If you think this is inflated, it probably is, to accommodate accepting American Express, which is said to be tough on merchants when it comes to taking their cut.

On to the food!
  • No bread or anything else to start you off. Possibly because I ate at the bar. However, at steak houses, especially if you're having steak, it's not like you really need the extra filler.
  • P.E.I. Blue Ribbon Bone-In Rib Eye (16 oz, $44).
    • The blurb says, "The cattle are raised in lush seaside fields of Prince Edward Island. Superior marbling is the result of longer grass feed times & natural aging. The Blue Ribbon program selects the top percentile of Canada’s highest grade, Canadian prime."
    • I ordered Medium Rare, and perhaps because they've got a lot of steaks on the go in the kitchen, it came with a little wooden sign that read "medium rare". The steak was very juicy, and nearer the bone in some places it looked a bit raw. Mostly it was very red inside, so I think  they may have rushed this one a bit and it came out rare. Still, what liquid came out of the steak wasn't reddish or blood-like, so it might have been an extra helping of jus. Definitely more wet and very slightly chewier than a medium rare from Gotham.
  • Creamed Corn with crispy jalapeño ($9)
    • At Black + Blue, you are forced to separately choose a side. After my experience at the other mainstay Vancouver steakhouse, Gotham, I was cautious of ordering too much, and had my eye on dessert ("20 layer chocolate expresso cake"!). However, I was assertively told that the steaks aren't stand-alone, and in any case, it's a relentless amount of meat, and a side to help it along was recommended. This part, at least, I did agree with. I didn't particularly like being forced to order a side, especially as I wouldn't have anyone to share my dessert with. Still, when in Rome...
    • The creamed corn comes in a small, deep-dish cast-iron pan and there's maybe one large bowl worth. It was quite thick, and the slight bite from the jalapeño juxtaposes very nicely with the sweetness of the corn. Even if you ate the baked-to-a-grey jalapeño crisps, there wasn't any burn-your-tongue heat to this.
    • Overall, very nice, but as portions go, it's really a sharing portion. For one person, on top of a good-sized steak, you had better go hungry.
  • Louie Lobster ($18)
    • My incidental dining partner picked a Louie Lobster salad. I didn't know her very well, so we weren't into sharing and I didn't get to try this.
    • Presumably based on Crab Louie, and also served on a long lettuce leaf. You can imagine the shape to be either lobster in a yacht, or a lobster tail in the shell. The portion is about the size of a large lobster tail, and it looked like the chunks of lobster meat was definitely the dominant ingredient.
    • My dining partner was initially disappointed as it looked like just chopped up lobster on a lettuce leaf. However, her final verdict was that she did like it, and it had more complexity than how it first looked.
    • Somehow her item ended up on my VISA bill. The bartender had taken the initiative, said we looked good together and therefore more or less assumed we were together. We were both a bit surprised as we were only just acquaintances and had met just that night. I didn't make a fuss and let it go.
      • Some good and bad here, depending on how you want to take it. Obviously being at the bar might help you if you're looking to impress someone and you've got the right bartender playing wing man.
  • Ginger Beer / Fruit conconction (complimentary / experimental)
    • I'm a non-drinker, and they can do tea, but this time around I wanted to see what other non-alcoholic and hopefully cold drinks they had. Strangely, the bartender was stumped. He suggested he could whip up a non-alcoholic ginger beer, which I had had before at Nuba. Some time later, a drink appeared in front of me in a short "Old Fashioned Glass" style tumbler. The bartender said it was ginger beer plus some fruit juice. Some sort of mash-up drink. And since it was experimental, he wasn't going to charge me for it, and said he'd be happy to make something else.
    • I tried it, and ginger was the dominant taste. No real burn/heat to it, and not too sweet. Nice bite from the ginger. Barely any fruitiness came through clearly. Good enough to offset any potential heavy feeling or fattiness in a steak.
    • I'm a bit surprised and disappointed they didn't readily have any non-alcoholic beverage on hand. At the same time, the easy-going eager-to-accommodate attitude of the bar staff scored points with me.
TIP: Have an early dinner. The bottom of my bill reads...

Alberni Doorbuster! Order 2 appies + 2 mains and receive 2nd main FREE
4-6:30pm 7 days a week!

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