Gastown’s Blacktail reinvents itself

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      A trip to Blacktail Restaurant + Lounge may well be an evening of firsts. That’s because chef Geoff Rogers is so damn inventive.

      Take his freshly shucked Royal Miyagi oysters. He “cooks” them, just slightly, in a sous-vide circulator to 60 ° C. The approach might offend raw-oyster purists, but it does wonders for the taste of the bivalves. The process forces their own sea-salty liquid inside, amplifying their character. Rogers tops them with a tangy cucumber-horseradish mignonette.

      It’s a beautiful dish unlike any other in Vancouver and a striking example of his modern style. Rogers, a contender on Top Chef Canada in its third season, comes from Calgary, where he worked his way up at some of the city’s hottest spots before opening his own restaurant, called Market. He then moved to Vancouver because of an offer from fellow Top Chef alumnus Trevor Bird to take on the role of chef de cuisine at Fable. Now, he’s rescued Blacktail—with its minimalist décor of blond wood and furniture to match in the former home of Le Magasin—from its shaky start as Blacktail Florist.

      Even though Rogers has all the flair of a chef working in a Michelin-starred restaurant—you’ll see things like candy-apple gel and thinner-­than-paper beet crisps on the menu—he also manages to keep things down-to-earth by playing with ingredients you’ll recognize.

      “Our approach is to take the best ingredients we can get our hands on and apply modernist techniques to enhance what we have without adulterating the flavours in any way,” Rogers says in a phone call with the Straight. “We’ll do things like use a vacuum sealer for cucumber to intensify the colour and the flavour. We focus on techniques we can use to make it the best that we can.”

      Sous vide is a method Rogers is clearly fond of, using it on the current menu for Cache Creek strip loin, chicken from Salmon Arm’s Farmcrest Foods, and steelhead trout. Translated from French as “under vacuum”, the method involves sealing food in a plastic bag and immersing it in a water bath. What makes it so effective is the precise and uniform temperature control and the ability to hold a target temperature for long periods. The result is food that’s evenly cooked throughout—no overdone edges or insufficiently cooked centres.

      It certainly makes that natural beef strip loin a pleasure: it’s thick, tender, and succulent. The meat comes with roasted Brussels sprouts and quite possibly the most delicious starch in town, Rogers’s potato pavé. Over 10 thin layers of scalloped spuds are interspersed with cream, Parmesan cheese, and a smidge of garlic, and the result is cut into hefty cubes. I’d come back just for this.

      Less successful is the trout. Although it was perfectly cooked to slightly pink, there was something fishy about this dish. Served with fingerling potatoes, mussels out of the shell, and delicate artichoke in a creamy, foamy dashi broth, the fish had an overly strong taste that disappointed.

      That was the only letdown of the night, though. Rogers also has a knack for comfort food, best illustrated by the house-made gnudi. Similar to gnocchi (which are made with potato), these tender dumplings are made with ricotta cheese and chives, then tossed with Swiss chard and cherry tomatoes in a basil-pesto sauce. It’s soothing and sublime.

      Unlike so many upscale dining establishments that leave you hungry after a meal, Blacktail’s plates sate. Served with spelt crackers made in-house and a dash of truffle aioli, bison tartare is a generous and exquisite starter. Even the picture-perfect beet salad, which consists of big chunks of red, golden, and candy-cane beets, beet purée, and those aforementioned ultrafine crisps, is plenty for two to share despite being listed under the menu’s “Small” heading. (The other categories, of course, are Medium and Large. Prices range from $25 to $30 for large dishes and $14 to $19 for medium ones, with the exception of the oysters, which top out at $30 for a dozen. Small plates are $9 and $10.)

      Desserts, too, show Rogers’s creativity without leaving you wanting more. The After Eight offers dense chocolate cake, smooth chocolate mousse, shards of mint meringue, and dabs of extra-bright mint gel. A goat cheese cheesecake comes with very sweet crumble and crispy honeycomb. The original tiki theme in the lounge downstairs has been replaced by warm lighting and lots of wood.

      We got unlucky with the service, only because our server’s timing was terrible from start to finish, and she never made eye contact so it proved impossible to flag her down. That shouldn’t keep you away from checking out one of the most exciting additions to the city’s culinary scene, though.

      Follow Gail Johnson on Twitter @gailjohnsonwork.