I suspected for a long time that Canoe was another one of those “safe” fine dining establishments. You know the type: take grandmother on her 80th birthday to have something that is exquisitely prepared yet thoroughly boring. I also know that it’s not the cheapest of establishments, so enter lunch.
Although a restaurant shouldn’t be reviewed solely on the merits (or lack thereof) of its lunch service, it does tell a lot about the establishment. If there is true passion behind the food, then at the lunch service will be accessible and slightly muted, but a willingness to please its core audience and a menu that is still representative of the character of the dinner service should shine through.
Canoe, I believe, does this with aplomb.
Canoe is, if anything, a very elegant restaurant. White tablecloths, open-hand service, impeccably polished table setting, and fabulous lighting provided by the large windows that oversee the river. The staff is extremely gracious and always address you by last name if you made a reservation.
So yes, this place is perfect for granny, but it’s also perfect for someone that just wants to eat well. Like any great restaurant, it bakes its own bread. They do a sourdough and a flatbread, both of which are delicious and served with sweet cream butter.
We didn’t have an appetizer in this visit, but I can testify that the “Shrimp Spring Rolls with Cilantro and Yuzu” starter is pretty spectacular. The careful balance between the yuzu, the spring roll and the small salad served with it shows great skill from the kitchen.
Sadly, every time that I’ve been to Canoe for lunch, I’ve ended up eating a sandwich. Once again, I don’t think it’s fair to review a restaurant based on sandwiches, but a great sandwich is a laudable thing. I’ve tried three sandwiches so far: “BBQ’d Beef Short-Rib Sandwich with Pickles and Fried Onion”, “Roasted Colorado Lamb Sandwich with Green Apple & Whole Grain Mustard Sauce” and the special of the day, an open-faced roast beef sandwich with blue cheese and shiitake mushrooms.
I can confidently say that the green apple and lamb sandwich is superb and one of the best sandwiches I’ve had in this city. I don’t even consider lamb to be in my top 5 proteins to eat. Yet this sandwich is remarkable and beautifully executed. This sandwich is so good, it should make Muss & Turner’s nervous.
The BBQ’s Beef Short-Rib Sandwich is also a very strong effort. It’s served on a poppyseed bun with a very large, beautifully crisped onion ring inside and pickles. The textural effect of the bread, the short ribs and the onion ring is wonderful and the flavor profile is a classic flavor combination.
So now it’s time to nit-pick. The fries were overdone. Don’t get me wrong, they were nice and hand-cut, they were obviously blanched, rested and fried like a proper french fry should be. But they were still far beyond golden brown and tip toeing dangerously into the leathery brown territory. This normally wouldn’t be a problem. But this is Canoe, and Canoe isn’t cheap and certainly isn’t marketing itself as a bastion of culinary populism.
Whereas Abattoir is very toned down in the decor and unassuming with its kitchen towel napkins, its paper menus as placemats, its homely tables and even homelier chairs, Canoe is by design a classic fine dining establishment. I expect my fries to be perfect. There are some serious cooks in that kitchen, that show tremendous skills in everything else I’ve eaten there. This isn’t a Fuddrucker’s with a few kids looking for a summer job.
Finally, the plating of the sandwiches is very crowded. The plating of the shrimp eggrolls was delightful, but the sandwiches, fries and salad were simply overwhelming the plate. Also, while I’m at it, whereas the lamb sandwich was perfectly eatable with your hands, the short rib one was not. This is a big deal. There is an elegant way of dealing with this and it’s called an open-faced sandwich. But the folks at Canoe have produced a very, very good sandwich with their BBQ short rib attempt, and an integral part of that sandwich is the generous fried onion ring nestled inside. But either make the onion ring smaller, or somehow work the sandwich into a form that’s reasonable for normal human beings to handle.
Nitpicking over. The restaurant is actually quite fabulous. I’ve been to dinner once a long time ago, and I need to revisit with a pad in hand to carefully deconstruct here. Until then, there’s hardly anything to complain about, so I’ll give it a temporary score of 3.5 out of 4 knives.