Canvas @ 1206 has the feel of a dim jazz club, with a low stage in a front corner and walls lined with black-and-white pictures of musicians.
There was no band playing when we arrived, just a few couples dining and others eating at the bar. The layout at first raised concerns that Canvas was more focused on its role as a performance space than a provider of nourishment. Those doubts faded when the food started arriving.
It's a compact menu: three salads, seven appetizers, three sandwiches and six entrees, plus specials. (The night we dined, entree specials included chicken Marsala or piccata, and meatloaf.)
We chose the Seeds & Berries salad, with sunflower seeds, strawberries, blueberries and feta cheese ($10), pommes frites tossed with shredded cheese and herbs ($5), crab cakes with remoulade and pineapple jalapeno salsa ($11), and French onion soup ($5).
For entrees, I chose the gnocchi with pancetta, shiitake mushrooms and peas in a béchamel sauce ($15). Cat asked for the chicken roulade, stuffed with roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts with creamy feta béchamel sauce ($17).
We only had an hour to eat, and told our server so. She made it happen by hustling, even though she had to care for the other diners and serve as bartender in her spare time. She expertly whipped up two martinis with dispatch.
The salad arrived quickly, a huge pile of field mix dotted with fresh, crunchy homemade croutons, small blueberries, sliced strawberries and sunflower seeds. The sweet honey balsamic vinaigrette was applied with restraint, and crispy seasoned tortilla chips added more texture and interest.
I liked the sum of its parts but thought the good stuff was hidden in too much greenery. Cat disagreed, calling it "hearty, not heavy," with welcome variety – "a very entertaining salad."
The frites were properly fried and the herbs added some aroma, but the cheese welded the fries into a clump that didn't seem worth fighting.
Cat appreciated her onion soup under its crouton and blanket of cheese, praising its comfort-food credentials. A few spoonfuls and I agreed it was superior to most versions I've had recently, with a beefy tang even without wine flavor. Squares of onion were sweet but apparently added toward the end, not the beginning, of its creation.
The crab cakes were a lively twist on the Buffalo standard. Five, two-bite-sized cakes were crunchy in fried crumbs, but not greasy. I could have done without the flavored mayonnaise topping, but the pineapple jalapeńo salsa made me crave more.
The gnocchi came flanked with three slices of cheese-topped garlic bread, which was fresh but didn't much interest me by that point. The dish was on the heavy side but tasty enough that I had to discipline myself to put my fork down. Its pork quotient made it quite rich, a good candidate for two people to split.
Cat's chicken roulade was notably tender and moist, accentuated by the mildly salty feta cream sauce. The side vegetables, so often an afterthought, were treated with respect: zucchini, yellow squash and onion were sauteed with thyme, but still retained an al dente firmness.
On a musical note: Canvas schedules jazz ensembles and other musical acts on many Fridays and Saturdays, and a few Thursdays and Wednesdays. Check the schedule at www.canvas1206.com.
Canvas @ 1206 showed a decent grasp of Buffalo standards with a few creative touches that made its dining experience feel worthy of an encore.
> RESTAURANT REVIEW
Canvas @ 1206
Review: 7 plates (Out of 10)
Musical venue doesn't fall flat ?when it comes to Buffalo standards.
WHERE: 1206 Hertel Ave. ?(939-2725, www.canvas1206.com)
HOURS: 4 p.m. to midnight Tuesday ?through Thursday, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday and Friday. ?Closed Sunday and Monday.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers, $3.75-$12; sandwiches, entrees $11-$26.
PARKING: Street.WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes.