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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Identity Crisis

Noelle Chorney
Published Wednesday March 4, 02:00 am
Boffins’ move from private to public needs some tweaking

BOFFINS PUBLIC HOUSE

#106 111 Innovation Dr.

306-249-5344

 

For those of us in Saskatoon who don’t work at Innovation Place, the food options there may seem like a long way to go for lunch. But over the years I’ve found many excuses to go there — either to meet a girlfriend at the Concourse Coffee Lounge for an affordable hot lunch (different soups and specials like enchiladas every day), or to Boffins’ unparalleled patio in the summer for after-work drinks or the occasional special dinner.

 

Besides Boffins’ beautiful Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired design and décor (which is worth the trip just to see), I’ve always enjoyed tucking into many of the public spaces that Innovation place has to offer — whether it’s the comfy armchairs at the Concourse, the desert-themed plants and zen garden in the Galleria building or the modern, high-ceilinged spaces in the Atrium. If I have a meeting at Innovation Place, I tend to find reasons to hang around for a while longer.

 

Until last year, Boffins was a private club, meaning you had to be a member or know someone who is a member (or know the chef) in order to get in. But after a change in chefs, last summer Boffins Club changed its name to Boffins Public House. So they’re no longer a club, and anyone can dine here.

 

I was super excited to try them out now that we had free access, so at our earliest opportunity we made a reservation and went for dinner with some friends. (Our earliest opportunity turned out to be later than I’d hoped, because the first time I tried I discovered Boffins isn’t open Saturdays. So be warned: it’s only a “public house” from Monday through Friday.)

 

Our first hint that the Boffins we had once known had changed was the menu — a single page, with the title “After Work Menu”, which started with House Fries and Onion Rings. What? We asked the server if there was a different menu for dinner, and she assured us there was not, pointing out the daily features at the bottom of the page.

 

When we sorted through the list of appetizers, we could see there was more than just pub food, although there was a lot of that: wings, pizza, poutine, burger and nachos were offered up alongside blackened mackerel, salt cod fritters, leek and coffee tenderloin carpaccio, and oysters on the half shell. Again, what? There seems to be an identity crisis going on — the struggle of trying to be both a high-end establishment and an after-work pub for people who work at the research park.

 

The wine list (which, to be fair, we were told is still under development) was equally puzzling. There were no bubbles to be seen — not even by the bottle — which was disappointing, since I had some celebrating to do. Sure, as a group, we’re hard to please when it comes to wine, but Copper Moon as the house wine? You’d think that a venerable restaurant like Boffins would choose something better than box wine.

 

While most of the wines were offered by 3, 6 or 9 oz. pours as well as bottles, we were hard-pressed to find something that we actually wanted to drink. Many were familiar to us, and there were many grape varietals to choose from, but none were wines that I’d buy to drink at home.

 

We sampled a few of the fancier appetizers along with a winter greens salad, which was topped with bacon, a fried egg and homemade ranch dressing. I had to order oysters because I love them so much, even though I knew deep down that the only way they could probably keep their oysters fresh, in light of inconsistent demand, was to freeze them and then thaw them when we placed the order.

 

The carpaccio was interesting, although a little mushy and with no hint of the promised leek ash or coffee flavour. The pickled quail eggs that it was served with were delightful as always. We also sampled the blackened mackerel, which was tasty, but if I were to hold Boffins to the standard that I’ve come to expect of them over the years, I’d say I expected more. Mackerel is a fairly distinctive fish, but in this dish it could have been any white fish. And Cajun spices combined with lime chili soy sauce and Israeli couscous was a strange blend of culinary traditions and flavours.

 

Our friends opted for the braised lamb shank, which turned out to be a great value for $16. It was served with fresh grilled gnocchi and topped with feta cheese. My husband and I opted for the wild game or fowl daily feature, which was Cornish game hen that day.

 

The meal was tasty, with a side of sundried tomato cannelloni and roasted beets and zucchini as the vegetable. The chicken was tender and well-seasoned, and the tomato-based sauce was quite nice. I was enjoying my meal until I took a mouthful that was raw. And that was the end of that.

 

I discovered that night that the only thing worse than taking a bite of raw chicken is being told by the chef (who didn’t come out, but instead sent the server to tell me) that it wasn’t raw. It just “looked pink” because there was a vein there.

 

I’d be willing to allow that occasionally mistakes get made, and that the grill may not be evenly calibrated or that some sections of the bird are denser than others. In an effort to not overcook something as temperamental as game hens, undercooking at the joint can happen. But if that happens, admit the possibility of the mistake instead of transferring the mistake to your clientele. Believe me, “looking pink” wasn’t the issue: I know raw chicken when I taste it, and I know the feeling of a stomach that’s just been dealt something it’s not happy with.

 

We were offered dessert to make up for the gaffe, but at that point we weren’t looking for more food — we were looking to go elsewhere. We declined, paid for our meals (including the offending chicken dish) and headed out to Ayden (which has bubbles by the glass and fresh oysters flown in daily) to decompress.

 

My girlfriend pointed out that the whole experience smacked of a lack of respect for the patrons at Boffins, and I was forced to agree. Along those lines, when I was back at Innovation Place later that week for a meeting I saw a poster from Boffins Food Services at the Concourse. It said, “Give Respect, Get Respect.”

 

Wise words that should perhaps be followed.

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