Recap: Blink, a Pedway Pop-up

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.

Blink Edmonton: Pedway Pop-up

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.

Blink Edmonton: Pedway Pop-up

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.

Blink Edmonton: Pedway Pop-up

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.

Blink: Pedway Pop-up

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.

Blink Edmonton: Pedway Pop-up

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.

Blink: Pedway Pop-up

Chef Cowan prepares his amuse

Blink Edmonton: Pedway Pop-up

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.

Blink Edmonton: Pedway Pop-up

Fluorescents on

Blink Edmonton: Pedway Pop-up

Fluorescents off

Thankfully, nothing else major cropped up that evening, and we were able to enjoy ourselves.

Blink: Pedway Pop-up

Sweetbread terrine amuse

Blink: Pedway Pop-up

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

Blink: Pedway Pop-up

Fish – Alberta pickerel, sesame oil, fresh chili, fried shallots, pea shoots, smoked sea salt (one of my favourites that night)

Blink: Pedway Pop-up

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)

Blink: Pedway Pop-up

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)

Blink: Pedway Pop-up

Cow – Heritage Angus striploin, lobster croquette, bernaise, cabernet demi-glace, sauteed peas

Blink: Pedway Pop-up

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!

Check out what Paul, Liane and Linda had to say about Blink!

Blink: Edmonton’s Pedway Pop-up

When I first saw pictures of Diner en Blanc, I was absolutely transfixed. Hundreds, if not thousands of people, all dressed in white, dining al fresco with the most gorgeous urban backdrops imaginable – the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the New York harbourfront. The scenes just looked so surreal, so serene, that I immediately started imagining what such an event would look like in our fair city. Would it take place in Churchill Square? The Legislature grounds? The 4th Street Promenade? But with autumn fast approaching and winter not far behind, it wasn’t feasible for the season.

Months later, I still couldn’t let go of the idea. I especially loved the instant community created as diners gathered in underutilized or public spaces, transforming them into unique settings for elegant picnics. It was the same principle behind the locations we chose for the two What the Truck?! festivals Mack and I organized last year, hoping to make use of often overlooked areas of downtown.

This was the germ for Blink, a pedway pop-up restaurant Mack and I have put together, with the help of Chefs Paul Shufelt and Tony Le of Century Hospitality Group, and the support of the Downtown Business Association, GWL Realty Advisors, Morguard and the Downtown Edmonton Community League.

Pedway between Commerce Place & Scotia Place

On February 26, 2012, the pedway between Scotia Place and Commerce Place, overlooking 101 Street, will be transformed into a sixty seat restaurant. Diners will be seated at a communal table, and will enjoy a six-course menu highlighting some of the best local ingredients available.

While we know other restaurants in Edmonton have hosted dinners featuring guest chefs in unfamiliar kitchens, we’re really excited about this opportunity to gather around food in an unconventional space.

Pedway between Commerce Place & Scotia Place

Tickets for the dinner are $65, and can be purchased online. A cash bar will also be available, separate from the ticket price.

We hope you consider joining us for this dining experiment!

You can read Mack’s take on Blink here.

Off-Menu Extravaganza: Lux Steakhouse

Birthdays provide me with a yearly excuse to try something new, in a price category that is normally out of the question (particularly in light of having recently taken on our first mortgage). Last year, we checked out the decadent Sunday brunch at the Hotel MacDonald. This year, I wanted to do something a little different.

It was at the Grilled Cheese Olympics back in March where Mack and I first met Tony Le, the Executive Chef at Lux Steakhouse (he and his colleagues at Lux are undoubtedly the most active chefs on Twitter in #yeg). It turned out he was an avid reader of our blogs, and at that time, he generously offered to prepare an off-menu meal for Mack and I.

I had pocketed his proposition until I started thinking about where I wanted to celebrate my birthday this year. A posh steakhouse seemed perfect – it would be a nice break in between packing and cleaning. We provided Tony with a price per person ($75), and confirmed the date. I couldn’t wait.

It was a quiet Saturday evening in the restaurant – the perfect atmosphere to relax after a busy day (and of course, meant that Tony would have the time to prepare our dishes). Also – I’m not a fan of the dim, masculine, almost gothic nature of traditional steakhouses, so Lux’s open room with wood paneling and visually intriguing glowing red portholes was a welcome change.

Our server Robin was great throughout the evening. Attentive without being overbearing, he gave us the space we needed to enjoy such a meal. After we were settled, he drew our attention to the half-price wine promotion Century Hospitality is currently offering this summer (with Lux’s turn on Saturday nights), which applies to all bottles of wines available by the glass. We took his recommendation of the Quails’ Gate Reserve Chardonnay, which would pair well with some of the meatier dishes Tony had in store for us that evening.

In addition to our purchased wine, however, Tony was kind enough to provide us with a bottle of Sumac Ridge sparkling wine to start us off (Robin asked if we would be driving; as public transit users, we were safe). He said when he first tried the wine, he thought it would pair perfectly with truffled bacon popcorn, and set off to experiment.

Sparkling wine

Cheers!

He was right. I love dishes that taunt the nose first, and this was definitely one of them, with the almost earthy notes of truffle a harbinger for the savoury flavours to come. The addition of bacon fat (from Irvings bacon) made for an irresistible combination, each tasty morsel leading to another, in between sips of the sweet bubbly. Pretty soon, I found myself staring at an empty basket (and I finished before Mack did, which almost never happens).

Bacon Truffled Popcorn

Truffled bacon popcorn

As each course was served, Tony came out of the kitchen to explain the dish, something we really appreciated (the opportunity to hear the creator describe his piece firsthand really enhances the product). The second course, he said, was inspired by the fact that we are avid market shoppers. He went to the City Market that morning to shop for some ingredients, many of which ended up in our heirloom tomato salad – including tomatoes from Doef’s Greenhouses and bee pollen from Lola Canola (two of our favourite producers!). It was an undoubtedly beautiful dish, with the tomatoes sliced mandolin-thin, with the white balsamic reduction and ancho chili oil subtly highlighting the freshness of the produce (I love that the tops were left on the tomatoes). The bees pollen had an interesting, almost malted texture to me, which Mack really enjoyed.

Heirloom Tomato Salad

Heirloom tomato salad with white balsamic reduction and ancho chili oil and bees pollen

The lamb salad rolls that followed helped showcase Tony’s range of inspiration. The shredded, perfectly cooked (rare!) rack of lamb had been rolled up with soba noodles and apple kim chi for a bit of heat – I adored the different textures. Served with a watercress and dill salad with an amazing pickled ginger mirin, I can’t see why this course shouldn’t become a regular appetizer on the Lux menu.

Lamb Salad Rolls with Ginger Mirin

Lamb salad rolls with pickled ginger mirin

Next, the pan-seared halibut reminded me that I am but a humble cook – no halibut I’ve ever made has tasted like that, so flaky and moist. Served with a bacon broth that had been cooked with sea asparagus (from Mo Na), the broth took the salty edge off the sea asparagus, but left them with that signature crunch. I requested a spoon to make sure no part of the dish was left unconsumed.

Pan Seared Halibut with Sea Asparagus
Pan-seared halibut with sea asparagus in a bacon broth (I’m a terrible food blogger – I was halfway through the dish before I realized I hadn’t yet taken a photo…it just looked that good)

We were a little disappointed that the duck used in the subsequent dish wasn’t sourced from Greens, Eggs and Ham, but we understood Tony had his shopping limitations. The Brome Lake duck had been finished with a cab demi glaze, and was served with a grilled apricot and potato gratin. The breast had been well-prepared, and I liked the accompanying sauce. The apricot was a nice touch too, ensuring our palate wasn’t overpowered by the protein and cheesy starch.

Duck with Cab Demi Glaze and Potato Gratin

Duck breast with cab demi glaze, grilled apricot and potato gratin

Our final entrée was an espresso bison shortrib with a peppercorn glaze and topped with potato frites. While it’s difficult not to enjoy any meat tender enough to fall off the bone, I have to say the bison was overshadowed by the bed of corn. The grown-up cousin of our starter, this was decadence at its finest, the kernels just danced in my mouth with a coat of sumptuous bacon fat and truffle oil (thanks, Matt!).

Espresso Bison Shortrib with Truffled Bacon Corn

Espresso shortrib with a peppercorn glaze, potato frites and truffled bacon cream corn

As we readied ourselves for dessert, we couldn’t believe that we were already into our second hour of dining. The time warp was attributed to the skill of the kitchen that ensured the courses were properly paced so our stomachs weren’t overwhelmed.

The first of two desserts (you read that right) was a flaky pastry with sour cherry compote, poached pears, champagne sorbet with raspberry coulis (the raspberries and pears were sourced from the City Market). It was the perfect plate to follow several dense courses – funny how fruit can help settle an ailment of overeating, no? Both Mack and I agreed, however, that the best thing on the plate was the light and refreshing champagne sorbet.

Flaky Pastry with Sour Cherry Compote, Poached Pear, Raspberry Coulis and Champagne Sorbet

Flaky pastry with sour cherry compote, poached pears, champagne sorbet and raspberry coulis

What was the final course, you ask? A birthday cake in the form of cream cheese and chocolate cupcakes, accompanied by coconut and walnut chocolate truffles.

Birthday cake!

Cream cheese and chocolate cupcakes and truffles

We were really happy that Tony was able to sit and chat with us for a while at the end of the meal. Though we’ve had conversations in passing, it was great to finally have the opportunity to get to know him a little better. It was easy to see his passion for Edmonton, and he stated his intentions to remain here, in order to continue to contribute to the community. I think the city is lucky to have such a talented and committed chef in Tony!

Mack, Tony, Me

All smiles

Thanks again to Tony and the rest of the staff at Lux for a wonderful night, and for one of the best birthday meals I’ve ever had.

Lux Steakhouse and Bar
10150 101 Street
(780) 424-0400
Steakhouse hours: Lunch, Monday-Friday 11-2:30pm; Dinner, Monday-Thursday 5-10pm, Friday-Saturday 5-11pm, closed Sunday