Last June, I remember writing that the first What the Truck?! very much unfolded in the way I had envisioned. I am very happy to say that Blink, the February 26, 2012 pop-up restaurant that Mack and I helped organize also held true to what I hoped the event would look and feel like. In this instance, a lot of that was attributed to our partner, who understood from the get-go what we wanted to achieve.
Pedway from street level
Blink had been inspired by Diner en Blanc and the spontaneous community those gatherings facilitate. As I mentioned in my introduction to Blink, I knew it was too late for an outdoor meal, but we knew of several underutilized indoor spaces in Edmonton just waiting to be colonized with good food and new friends. Mack and I centred on closing a pedway, and as he has already so aptly described, set about garnering the right support and permissions from the Downtown Business Association (DBA) and building managers.
I had initially approached Chef Tony Le of Lux Steakhouse (part of the Century Hospitality Group) about this concept back in December. Lux’s proximity to our desired pedway overlooking 101 Street was ideal, but more than that, CHG had a penchant for forward-thinking initiatives (alley burger and CHG Top Chef being two of them). And true to form, Tony embraced the idea even before we had all of the details ironed out – I really appreciated his trust in our collaboration and faith that we could pull this off. Though Tony took charge of designing the six-course menu, CHG VP Culinary/Managing Partner Paul Shufelt got involved in securing the necessary health and liquor permits for Blink. Paul’s knowledge and existing relationships and contacts really made this easy on Mack and I – Lux was able to get a caterer’s extension to stage a kitchen adjacent to the pedway (thought he majority of the preparation and cooking would still be done in Lux proper), and after a fire inspection, the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission granted us permission to offer alcohol with dinner.
Chefs Paul, Tony and Matt Phillips hard at work plating dessert
To create the dining room itself, Paul was adamant about using proper chairs, to ensure it felt more like a restaurant as opposed to a banquet. That meant carting sixty heavy leather-backed chairs up one floor. Props to the Lux staff who did this over the course of many trips – I wish I could say I helped! The tables were dressed with linens from Lux; overhead costs were definitely reduced because we could borrow and poach from Lux, especially since they are closed Sundays anyway.
Table setting, with custom Blink menus prepared by CHG
That left the lighting to Mack and I. Commerce Place, who controlled the pedway lighting, agreed to turn off the fluorescents, allowing us to add appropriate lighting to contribute to the mood. A friend of mine was nice enough to lend us two hundred feet of white lights she had purchased in advance of her wedding, saving us from having to rent them. With some money we had been granted for the event from the DBA, we could afford to purchase some battery-powered paper lanterns. Strung in the centre of the pedway with fishing line, I thought the room was tasteful but didn’t take away from the street view inherent from the location.
Pedway in daylight
We were lucky Blink sold out quickly – twelve hours, in fact – but I know we failed in setting up an official waiting list (or a proper cancellation policy), something we will improve upon in the future. Still, we appreciate the patience afforded to us by ticket buyers as we worked through the learning curve.
Something else we’d change for next time is also allowing dining room access earlier. We used Scotia Place as a closed lounge area for the cocktail hour, in order to hold off the pedway “reveal”, but given the number of drink orders taken at the table, it would have been wise to have had guests seated at least twenty minutes prior to serving the first course.
The cocktail “lounge”
Mack and I were very lucky that we didn’t have to work during the actual dinner – along with sixty other strangers, we got to experience the communal table firsthand, which of course, included all six of the exquisitely planned dishes.
Chef Cowan prepares his amuse
Busy staging area
Never does everything work out perfectly, and in our case, we had some trouble with the lights – the fluorescents came back on just after the first course had been served, half of our string lights shut off on one side of the pedway, and the kitchen staging area went dark. We actually didn’t get to “run through” the shut off with Commerce Place prior to that night, and without a maintenance worker on-site, it was touch-and-go as to whether or not the problem would be fixed. With some scrambling, the pedway lights were shut off soon after, but we weren’t able to rectify the two other issues.
Thankfully, nothing else major cropped up that evening, and we were able to enjoy ourselves.
Sweetbread terrine amuse
Bread & butter – focaccia, lardo, pink peppercorns, Himalayan sea salt, brown sugar, fresh rosemary, ciabatta, bacon butter, peach chipotle jam, fresh thyme, rye crostini, quails egg, fried sage, sriracha ketchup
Fish – Alberta pickerel, sesame oil, fresh chili, fried shallots, pea shoots, smoked sea salt (one of my favourites that night)
Ravioli – roasted beet and Smoky Valley goat cheese stuffed, fennel marmalade, micro arugula, chili-mandarin beurre blanc, toasted walnuts (the beet and goat cheese worked incredibly well together)
Rabbit – confit rabbit pot pie, braised bacon, fresh arugula, Yukon Gold chips, northwest truffle (only Tony could get me to eat rabbit, or as he said, “the cuter the animal, the better it tastes)
Cow – Heritage Angus striploin, lobster croquette, bernaise, cabernet demi-glace, sauteed peas
Sweet – macaron, oreo terroir, micro greens, cinnamon chocolate truffles (I loved the “potted plant” presentation!)
As I mentioned above, Blink couldn’t have happened without the support of a number of parties. We cannot thank GWL Realty Advisors and Morguard enough for allowing us to use the pedway, the DBA and the Downtown Edmonton Community League for sponsoring us, and last but not least, Paul, Tony and the rest of the staff of Lux for helping us make Blink a reality.
We hope those who took part enjoyed themselves! We really appreciate that people embraced this idea, and were willing to try something a little unique. Based on the response, we know there is an appetite for dinners in unexpected places, so we are working on another Blink – stay tuned!