Remember when the NHL tried to make its hockey players wear long pants? The redesign of McLean's restaurant feels just as awkward.
So awkward that I don't even know how to begin describing this confused Gastown eatery. Is it:
a) A feminine sports bar?
b) A swishy steakhouse where the food's gone downhill?
c) A vainly bizarre shrine to its owner, former Canucks goalie Kirk McLean?
d) All of the above.
Whatever you want to call it, the 1911 heritage room restoration certainly is a beauty with its pressed-tin ceilings, rustic fir beams and original mosaic floors.
Mind you, the restaurant was just as stunning when it opened 3½ years ago. Back then it was (again, awkwardly) called So.cial at Le Magasin and Mr. McLean was a silent investor.
Now that the new Colorado Avalanche goaltending coach has asserted himself front and centre, you'd think the dining room would have been roughened up a bit. But no, it's still very frilly, with billowy sheers, ornate chandeliers and fresh-cut orchids on white tablecloths.
If you want to get cozier with Mr. McLean, head to the lower-level lounge, which has been recreated in the image of the owner's rec room.
"He has the same furniture at home," a bartender informed, pointing to a bookshelf adorned with his old goalie pads and a vast collection of Anne Rice novels.
Cushions stitched with the names of his former teammates are tossed across a corner daybed, which is surrounded by a precariously arranged display of black-and-white portraits. It's intimate, to say the least, but not very practical for a hockey-watching den. A few high-fisted cheers during an exciting game and that whole row of frames will surely topple.
The restaurant reopened as McLean's on July 1. But in mid-September, when I dined there, the manager was still fiddling with the table settings and cutlery lineups. I hope they decided to do away with the napkin rings made from hollowed slices of petrified baguette.
The kitchen has seen heavy rotation over the years. Eddie Szasz is the third executive chef since Sean Cousins, an original partner, departed.
It's sad to see the demise of Mr. Cousins's excellent butchery program – no more dry-aged steaks on the menu, or double-smoked Irish bacon being sold in the adjoining deli. But I suppose it's been gone for a while.
The new team offers a contemporary West Coast grab bag – steaks, pasta, seafood, with Italian and Asian influences – that's been seen many times before.
The chef uses lots of seasonal ingredients, but not always with great skill. Corn soup ($9) is thin and tastes of everything – smoked sablefish, chorizo, chipotle oil, cilantro – but corn.
The diced chorizo gets another play with Humboldt squid ($12), which is spongy and relatively flavorless, save for its burnt char.
Wild mushroom risotto ($22) is mushy, drowned in a bland chicken broth that appears to be poured overtop. It's stirred with shredded duck confit that tastes so indistinct it could well be roast chicken.
The only saving goal of the night is the Sterling Silver Pork Chop ($26) and it does score very high. Thick, tender and pink, it's a monstrous-sized, premium-grade cut that's served on the bone and edged with a sizzling layer of char-grilled fat. Lentils, sautéed with maple-glazed pork belly and wild mushrooms, make a hearty, rustic autumnal side dish.
Why bother with dessert when you could have a Pick-Me-Up, Lemon Drop or other equally unenticing digestif from the eighties-era cocktail list? The wines, on the other hand, are very attractively priced.
If you must have dessert, skip the chocolate bread pudding ($8), which is made from croissant, but has nothing else to tickle the taste buds. Dark chocolate mousse ($8) lacks heft, as does its watery Chantilly foam.
The waiter kindly takes the latter off the bill. He is friendly, attentive, a little wet behind the ears, and appropriately star-struck.
"We get lots of players, past and present," he excitedly shares. "I've met Alex Burrows and Trevor Linden. It will get busier when the season starts, but there have been lots in already."
I hope for Mr. McLean's sake that his friends drop by often.