It’s always exciting when a new ethnicity drops like a crab apple onto the city’s vast culinary picnic. That cuisine du jour is Canadian and the newest outpost is called The Inn LW12, a nearly unpronounceable mouthful of letters and numbers that also proclaims itself a gastropub. That’s two strikes against it right off the bat. Let’s see if it has any balls to make up for the strikes.
Installed in the former home of Rio Mar, one of the last restaurants that actually belonged in the meatpacking district, The Inn looks so much like The Spotted Pig you might think you’re in the wrong place. The barroom downstairs is where you’ll be stuck if the host doesn’t like your looks. While the view of Gansevoort Market—a cobbled square once inhabited by pushcarts, later by transgender prostitutes—is enjoyable, the barroom’s heavy unscootable stools, cramped communal tables, and refractory overworked servers might piss you off. Decorated like the Northwoods cabin of a millionaire, the upstairs boasts an upright canoe made into a bookcase, with a bust of a Native American (Native Canadian?) displayed therein.
Canadian cuisine, it seems, should be all about maple syrup, poutine, and game. Find the first in the “maple leaf,” a cocktail of Canadian Club whisky soured with lemon and sweetened with syrup. Not bad, but the $16 price tag is a buzz-killer. Poutine (“pooh-teen”) is Quebec’s proudest invention, a working-class tuck-in of greasy fries, molten cheese curds, and canned brown gravy. The dish has always been fare game for innovation (in Montreal, I once wolfed down a version that one-upped the original with Stilton cheese and duck demi-glace). At The Inn, poutine is offered four ways, absurdly classified as side dishes. Eat one and you’ll never touch your entrée. The so-called classic poutine ($13) arrives in a cast-iron skillet—perfect bistro fries mantled with melted white cheese, modestly dampened with meat juices too thin to be called gravy. It’s wonderful. Other configurations are even more voluminous, one featuring a heaping of faddish pork belly ($17). There’s even a vegetarian poutine with the toppings confined to cheese and tomatoes.
Other things worth eating at LW12 include a compressed pig foot ($12), roughly the size and shape of a hospital gauze pad, resting on a salad of frisée and lentils. Memorable, too, is a crisp-skinned poached chicken offered with baby vegetables, and a flavorful lamb burger dripping harissa mayonnaise ($18). None of these are even remotely Canadian. In fact, the menu misses most of its opportunities to salute Canada. A fabulous creamy stew of leaks, potatoes, and smoked trout is made—the menu proudly notes—with Idaho fish. Pork chops served with “English peas” are Berkshire pork. I’m still trying to find the Berkshires on my Canadian map. Huh? I mean, Eh?
Even without the estimable poutine, Canada can clearly prove it has a cuisine, but one that The Inn is too timid to explore. You’ll find no Montreal smoked meat on the menu, no grilled northern pike, no bear chops, no braised deer or elk. The Inn LW12 simply isn’t trying hard enough. Or maybe it has a low estimate of your ability to withstand real Canadian food. Given the chance, who wouldn’t try a spoonful of Inuit seal-blubber ice cream with fresh cloudberries?