Sunday, June 29, 2014

Cenote

Address: 768 Yates Street
Phone: 778-433-4848
Website: http://www.cenoteloungevictoria.ca/
Price: ~$10 for a main
Notes: A casual watering hole with plenty of personality


Cenote

Although I know Cenote has been around for several years it didn't really make it onto my radar properly until pretty recently. I think this was because when they took over from Whitebird Lounge and kept the "lounge" aspect I kept the association with the events I had heard being offered there — which were mostly after-parties that occur after I am tucked up in bed snoring. However my partner-in-food-and-life overheard someone talking about their stuffed hot dogs and ever since then we've been meaning to visit.

Cenote seems to roughly translate to 'place where you find water underground' which seems like a very appropriate description. The lounge space is tucked away next to the Yates st Odeon theatre, down a staircase. They half share the space with a vintage clothing store, and the entrance way opens up in the sunshine to let fresh air and sunshine through. In many ways it reminds me of a slightly less food-centric, slightly less hipster-centric version of the sadly defunct (but apparently possibly soon reborn... Fort St. cafe). The front entranceway has comfy couches set up kind of like a small livingroom. To the left there is a large bar area and then a series of booths. The walls are adorned with the kind of art that fascinates me (but I would never want to hang in my living room). It looks like they also still have quite a few events & entertainment options on certain nights as well.

The menu is definitely mostly designed to be food that accompanies drinks. The majority of the mnu are sharing plates & their stuffed dogs — a hollowed out Portofino bun stuffed with a variety of toppings and a Glenwood Meats wiener. A few sandwiches and mains are supported by a daily fresh sheet as well for those who want more than just a nibble with their cocktail or pitcher. Although prices have risen since they last updated the menu on their website it's not by too much, making it one of the more affordable options for good food & drink in Victoria!

Food:
July 26th 2014
Sandwich Board Daily Specials app
the Thursday Cenote feature
as discovered on the Sandwich Board Daily Specials app

Our visit was prompted by a new sponsor for the Victorian Food blog! I've teamed up with the fine ladies from the new Sandwich Board daily specials app (now available for iOs or Android!) who will be sponsoring some of the meals posted here in the next little while! They're solving the problem that I frequently had before starting to blog — I'm hungry, it's 6pm & I only have $20 to spend on dinner... where can we go that's nearby? Tonight's answer was Cenote! 

G&T and Whiskey Sour
G&T Special & a Whiskey Sour
I got sucked into the special and went for a G&T and my partner-in-food-and-life chose a Whiskey Sour. Both excellent choices to start our evening off. 

Eggplant Parmesan
Eggplant Parmesan Special
I've been on an Eggplant Parmesan kick lately... all the cheesy, breaded vegetable goodness you can handle with a spicy tomato tang and a side of garlic toast. This did not disappoint! It was satisfying, flavourful and well executed. It was also just the right size for the price ($12!). The salad on the side had really excellent local greens as well, which made me happy!  

The Cenote Dog
The Cenote Dog
Yes, that's a stuffed hot dog alright! Definitely a new paradigm of hedonistic comfort food. I could see this hitting the spot left behind after a few beers perfectly! This was the single dog, but for $2 more you could also include a second wiener in  your stuffing. If you dare to be so bold. 

My lactose-intolerant partner-in-food-and-crime had to scrape a little bit of cheese out (not realizing dairy was the key ingredient of the spicy Cenote sauce) but I benefitted nicely from this as usual, so I wasn't complaining. We will definitely try a few of the other varieties in the future. 

Chips & Salsa
Chips & Salsa
We decided to stick around for a second round and enjoy the perfect view of the adorable courtyard in front of us with the sunshine streaming down, so we nibbled on some chips & salsa. Again, great value for $5, and a good nibble to fill the gaps between sips and conversation. 

Ward Eight
Tea Mocktail & the Ward Eight
For the second round I asked for a non-alcoholic option, and was delighted when I was offered a custom creation vs just a soda or juice! This had earl grey syrup, I think something berry that I couldn't identify and fresh mint and lemon juice. My partner-in-food-and-life opted for the Ward Eight, a bourbon-based cocktail that ended up looking pretty fancy with the grenadine. 

Service:
July 26th 2014
It was pretty early on a Thursday night when we stopped by, so we were one of only a handful of diners. The servers were attentive, making sure we had enough of everything and checking in often. The food was definitely not quick on the draw — but I think the staff team is pretty small and we weren't in a rush. Plus, I know they were prepping things fresh rather than relying on mass production which definitely showed in the food.

available NOW for iOs or Android!


Cenote Restaurant & Lounge on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 9, 2014

Cold Comfort

Website: http://coldcomfort.ca/
Address: 2 – 1115 North Park Street (next to the Parsonage)
Price: $15 for one pint with discounts for multiple pints, $10 for two ice cream sandwiches
Notes: Incredible local ice cream available at HQ or at select market/store locations




Autumn, the owner of Cold Comfort ice cream, has taken the Victoria dessert scene by storm in the last few years. She started out making ice cream at her gig at Devour. She moved on to making ice cream full time in 2011, first delivering door-to-door and at markets before starting to sell wholesale and as of spring 2014 operating a full time ice cream shop on the edge of Fernwood and North park!

Her wares include an ever-changing list of pints and ice cream sandwiches. The only constant flavour is vanilla bean, everything else is constantly changing based on seasonality and the whim of their creator, wracking up a list of very curious flavours! Since moving to her new Headquarters where she is the sole proprietor of her kitchen she has the ability to do special batches for allergies as well, as well as consistently offering a delicious range of dairy free options.

New releases of flavours, specials (like a slice of pie & ice cream for $5) and special ice cream cakes are frequently posted on the Cold Comfort Facebook page.

In June of 2013 I sat down and recorded a podcast episode with Autumn where she talked about her favourite flavours and history in the Victoria food scene. Check it out here.

Food:
June 9, 2014
Untitled
Vanilla Bean & Blueberry "ice cream"

When I realized I hadn't updated this post since 2011 I was shocked. This is silly, as we nearly always have a pint of Cold Comfort in our freezer (like this one!), and splitting an ice cream sandwich (or not as the case might be) has become a regular treat. We can't go back to regular ice cream anymore... truly spoiled!

November 5, 2011
Crimson and Clover Pint via foodspotting.com

I have been chasing down different flavours of Cold Comfort all summer, but I am extremely excited that Autumn has partnered with Leon from my neighbourhood store, Aubergine, to sell her ice cream. I have picked up severa flavours of ice cream and sandwiches over the last few weeks, although it has been selling out fast so tracking down this flavour in particular took a few tries!

Totally worth the wait! Subtle cinnamon and clove spices in the ice cream, plus vermouth-soaked cranberries sprinkled throughout. Stellar flavour for the season!

May 28, 2011
Coffee & Danish Ice Cream Sandwich

Oh my goodness! Now this was a foodgasm. I'm sorry the picture was so terrible. Either my camera lens needs cleaning or this thing was so close to godliness the camera couldn't focus on it. I'm voting for the latter... we were moaning with pleasure around the rest of the market. 

The cookie on the outside was kind of like a brown sugar cookie, maybe like the crunchy top of a butter tart. The inside was a combination of caffe fantastico coffee and foi epi danish. Yes, probably 13,000 calories but worth every single morsel! 


May 22, 2011
Fresh Mint & Dark Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwich

This was my partner-in-food-and-life's choice. I had a bite (naturally. sadly only one!) and the mint was ever-so fresh and blew far away the idea you have in your head about mint ice cream. The chocolate cookie on the outside was also amazing quality. I love the shape of this - thick and chunky!


Cheese Cake Ice Cream Sandwich

I originally going to go with the blueberry ice cream with lavender oatmeal cookies (if I recall correctly). Autumn was very sweet and warned that the ice cream was "a bit crystalline" because of all the blueberries. I was still sold until I heard about the "one lonely" cream cheese cake ice cream sandwich hiding in her truck. I do love me a good piece of cheese cake, and I loved this sandwich! The ice cream was perfect because it wasn't too sweet, and was set off nicely by the chocolate sandwich.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Great Victoria Bacon-Off

Welcome to the Great Victoria Bacon-Off!

This is an ongoing post featuring a semi-competitive, semi-silly comparison of the different sources of 'house-made' bacon in the city.

The bacon-off will take place in a single-elimination or 'knockout' tournament style, with two different kinds of bacon going up against each other in each round until only one bacon is left standing, and can be endowed with the coveted bacon crown*. The bacon is placed on a baking tray lined with parchment and place in a cold oven, which is then turned on to 375º F for 20 minutes on a convection bake setting, at which point the bacon is flipped and then baked for 5 more minutes (if required).



Quarter-Finals

Round 4: Glenwood Meats vs Ravenstone Meats

IMG_3754 vs. IMG_3756
June 7, 2014
Another year, another round of the bacon-off! The best news is that waiting meant a few new additions to the bacon scene in Victoria, and that we are finally finished the 1/4 finals, so in theory... things should move faster after this ;)

Both bacons were cooked from fresh in a hot oven at 375 ºC for 10 minutes, flipped and cooked for another 5. My partner-in-food-and-life did not know which bacon was which, but we came to a unanimous decision!

The Glenwoods bacon was the underdog in this one. The bacon was about half the size when uncooked compared to it competitor, and had no fancy name or branding. I had to ask the Chop Shop staff where they source their bacon from. It released a moderate amount of grease during baking, but with not much shrinkage.

Ravenstone meat's bacon, found at the Victoria Downtown Public Market, was definitely the strongest contender in my mind! Called "whiskey smoked" it was cut to my taste and massive. However, it shrunk down to the same size as the other bacon during the cooking process, releasing just a little more grease than its competitor.

In the end we actually could not tell the two bacons apart. They were both very deliciously bacony... and it was almost a tie. However, I realize that with a fancy name that didn't pay off and slightly higher price point I couldn't suggest opting for the Ravenstone if you had a choice between the two. A very tough call, however... both were meaty, well smoked and quite delicious.

Winner: Glenwood Meats (found at the Rootcellar Chop Shop)

Round 3: Sloping Hills vs The Market House Smoked

Sloping Hills vs. The Market House Smoked

August 24, 2013
After another long pause for some more (delicious, bacony) research into locally-sourced bacon I have returned with another round! Both bacons were frozen for about a week, thawed and then cooked in a hot oven at 375 ºC for 10 minutes, flipped and cooked for another 5. My partner-in-food-and-life did not know which bacon was which, but we came to a unanimous, although still difficult, decision!

The Market bacon was much darker which imparted a distinct, delicious smoky flavour. It is smoked "in house" at their location in Langford. It was quite long, although it shrunk up a fair bit during cooking. The man behind the meat counter at the Market informed me that the pigs are raised in "Saskitoba" aka it could be either Saskatoon or Manitoba depending on the shipment. This was delicious bacon - smoky, not too salty and cheaper than most other gourmet bacons on this list. 

I stumbled across the Sloping Hills package of bacon in the bacon section at Peppers in Cadboro Bay. This is the same source of pig that Choux Choux uses, although I am unclear if this is bacon shipped out of the farm or if it is made at Peppers with Sloping Hill pigs. This bacon was much more red in colour in comparison to the Market's bacon. Although the strips looked quite short, they barely shrunk at all during cooking. Again, this bacon wasn't too salty which makes me very happy! Sloping Hills pigs are raised on the island as "happy pigs" so no questions about sourcing this time, and the added bonus of ethical farming methods! For me, this one of those "taste the difference" moments because what I could taste was undeniably... meaty! Not a lot of smoke, not a lot of caramelization... just meat. Although I like smoky bacon a lot, the flavour of this meat was really amazing. 

Winner: Sloping Hills

Round 2: The Whole Beast vs Hertel's

Whole Beast vs. Hertel's

February 3, 2013
After much anticipation, the Bacon-Off is back! I moved the weeks around a bit from their original configuration to make it a little bit easier, as I discovered that the Village Butcher also carries Hertel's as their 'house' bacon, meaning I could one-stop shop at one location for both sources of bacon. As I tweeted, my purse was full of bacon; it was glorious. Also a note for full transparency: I am on the board of Slow Food with Cory (owner of Whole Beast) and I have heard him talk passionately about curing meats so many times I have decided that if he a) had ingredients labelling, and b) was a hippie, 'love' would be pretty high on the list of ingredients. Also: I just finished a gumbo made with his delicious andouille (so there might be a bit of unintended bias on my part).

The Hertel's double-smoked bacon is the bacon many people are familiar with. Hertel's is located in Port Alberni, but resells their bacon to many shops such as Island Meat & Seafood in Cook St Village, Slater's and the Village Butcher. It was much thicker than the Whole Beast bacon, and ultimately a 'meatier' bacon. However, in comparison the vast majority of its flavour came from salt.

The Whole Beast bacon is also their house bacon, a rosemary-infused bacon, available pre-sliced by the strip. It was much thinner with much more 'marbling' than the Hertel's bacon, so cooked up faster. It wasn't smoky, but was packed with flavour, and it was pretty obvious why... the bacon was covered in little flecks of fresh spices. I'm pretty sure it was also 'maple' bacon, and I normally shy away from any kind of bacon labelled 'maple' anything, this had very little sweetness, even when compared with a very 'plain' bacon. 

Winner: The Whole Beast


Round 1: Choux Choux vs. Red Barn

Choux Choux vs. Red Barn

December 2, 2012
This bacon has been in the freezer for... a while... but, life happens, and life happened a lot this fall so I am trying to let go and just be okay with a bit of freezer burn. Both bacons have been in for approximately the same amount of time, so it feels fair to compare them even if I recognize they were obviously not as delicious as if it was fresh out of the deli counter. 

The Choux Choux bacon is their house bacon. Thick and smokey with a fair bit of caramelization. This bacon had more fat than its Red Barn counterpart while baking. I felt like the thickness and width meant they could have used a little longer in the oven, but after they had sat in a warmer while the potatoes cooked up they were just about right. It was less smoky, but had more complex flavour than the Red Barn Bacon.

The Red Barn bacon is their double-smoked bacon. It is thick, but the slices were inconsistent in width meaning some of it was burnt and some of it was just right by the time it came out. It released less fat than the Choux Choux bacon, but the grease was thicker in consistency. It was more smoky, but had less overall flavour than the Choux Choux bacon. 

Winner: Choux Choux 

Semi-Finals

Round 1: Choux Choux vs Whole Beast


Round 2: Sloping Hills vs Glenwood Meats


Finals

Championship Round: ? vs ?


* may or may not be actually made of bacon... but the internet tells me this is possible!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Camille's

Address: 45 Bastion Square
Phone: (250) 381-3433
Website: http://camillesrestaurant.com/
Price: ~$25-30 for a main
Notes: West-coast, seasonal ingredients, stellar wine list and superb service make Camille's my favourite place for fine dining in Victoria.

Camille's Restaurant Front

Camille's defines its cuisine as 'Westcoast Fine Dining.' I am always surprised how it often falls under the radar in the grand scheme of all of the top-notch places to eat in Victoria, but the value is absolutely unparalleled to my amateur, but well-travelled, tastebuds. While restaurants like the Brasserie serve high quality rustic food at great value, Camille's is just a little bit more and the food on the plate is that much fancier and more unexpected.

You enter the old and reportedly haunted building by stepping down a flight of small stairs in Bastion Square into an old brick basement. After passing through the entrance, you enter the first of the two dining spaces. It is a smaller room, with a 1920s feel with muted colours, fancy glass lamps and chandeliers. Down a hallway and down another flight of stairs is the main dining area with a bit more brick, wood beams and apparently a bit more ghost.  My partner-in-food-and-life describes the first room as more 'feminine' and the second room as 'masculine.' In talking to other food-conscious people, the one complaint I heard about Camille's was the lighting. We usually sit in the front seating area which had been redesigned since our last visit and has three large chandeliers in addition to candles on each table and small side-table lamps.

Camille's was founded by chef/owner David Mincey, a wealth of knowledge of local food and food production techniques. He ran Camille's for many years before focusing full-time on his delicious canned goods & bean-to-bar chocolate importing. Current chef/owner Stephan Drolet is certainly filling the space left behind by David with his own set of accolades and a high level of respect in the food scene.

Camille's will always hold a special place in my heart. The meal my partner-in-food-and-life and I had there on a special New Years Eve dinner — a decade ago — set my standard for the restaurant experience; it is the archetype that I compare to for every single meal I post here. I could write a whole blog post about just that night and its absolute, total perfection. There is no exaggeration in saying that I still close my eyes and can recall every flavour and sensation! I also distinctly remember being horrified - first that the meal cost more than my rent at the time [admittedly this wasn't that much; I was a student in very cheap shared accommodation], and secondly that I was letting someone else pay for it! In retrospect, I am very glad I gave in because without that meal, this blog probably would not exist.

Food:
May 15, 2014
I was shocked to discovered it had been more than two years since our last visit to Camille's! Far too long! I was delighted to discover recently they now do a lunch service during the week (although they are still closed on Mondays). I was delighted for two reasons - the first is that the lunch menu is slightly more budget friendly for a regular return visits. Secondly - the lighting during the day produced photos that did far, far better justice to the beautiful food on the table than anything I had captured earlier!

Disclosure: I do have to note that I did uncharacteristically reach out via direct message on twitter to inquire whether the front room was available for lunch to make sure I could get adequate lighting for photos... so they were aware that I was visiting, but I didn't identify myself when we arrived or seek out any special service & paid for our meal in full.

The Caesar
The Caesar
My Partner-in-Food-and-Life ordered this to get a bit of a sample of their cocktails menu. Most of the cocktails on the menu certainly didn't fit with the nerdy cocktail trend that is currently sweeping the city, but the caesar was very satisfying and Quite spicy. 

Beet Salad
Beet Salad
I'm not entirely sure I didn't consume a piece of art, not lunch! The server proclaimed there was "every kind of beet imaginable" in there, and I'm pretty sure she was correct! There were even dehydrated beets, and the yellow tracing paper-thin were also made of golden beets and quite fantastic tasting. The red powder, however, is not beet but tomato... but added a nice zing. We noted that the greens were delightfully un-bitter. 

The Westcoast Bowl
The Westcoast Bowl (sample)
The kitchen did send us a wee sampler of their Westcoast bowl as an unexpected surprise. As you can see by the giant paragraph although it was only a small sample but there was a Lot going on in this dish worth commenting on! I immediately regretted not ordering it as my main.  I was also sad to hear that nettles are almost out of season, so it's not going to be available much longer, so if my description appeals make haste for a visit before it disappears from the menu!

The green colour in the photo does not do the tone justice. The broth did not taste green, however, it was very richly flavoured with an incredible depth of flavour punctuated by the distinct tasting garnishes. The trout pastrami was my first bite - smoky and rich. Next came a fiddlehead, which just came into season as well. It was perfectly prepared, which I know from personal attempts in the kitchen is not necessarily an easy task! The slice of bullrush made me happy - I had a chance to try one on a local food forage hosted by Cowichan Chef Bill Jones and the cucumbery flavour is so unexpected. The needles left a refreshing piney taste in my mouth that paired incredibly well with the broth and lingered in my mouth even after the rest of the meal was consumed. I was surprised by the side stripe shrimp — I have been getting more educated about local, sustainable seafood through the Slow Food "Slow Fish" campaign, and I now there are other kinds of local shrimp out there that are just as delicious but far more sustainable than side stripe (such as humpback shrimp!). However, we are currently at the start of side stripe season, and I know the spot prawn has only just opened so I am guessing it was a case of what was fresh & available. I regret to say that the description of what the long, thin green leaf was escaped my attention. 

The Wild Game Burger
The Wild Game Burger
I am such a sucker for a burger, and I guessed that this would never ever be on their dinner menu so I took a bullet and ordered it despite more exotic things on the menu. Sometimes I find burgers with game meat to have an odd flavour or texture, but this was not so. Their house "cottage" bun was very crunchy on the outside and held together well despite the generous toppings! The blue cheese, pickled walnuts & seasonal fruit mustard was not overpowering at all, in fact its sweetness and coherence was a surprise, I was expecting a much stronger, vinegary taste. The chickpea fries were excellent - they were incredibly light and fluffy, but still crispy on the outside. They looked similar to polenta fries, but the texture was far, far superior! 

Seafood Steam Buns
Seafood Steam Buns
These were my p.i.f.a.l.'s choice, and reminded us both how much we enjoy steam buns! The wrap format was unexpected, but worked quite well. The seafood was plentiful and delicious, but the pickled vegetables didn't quite stand out or contrast as much as we were both expecting! Although I didn't try a bite, the dressing on the side salad that accompanied the dish was called out as especially delicious.

January 20, 2012
Laughing Stock Blind Trust
In one of those wacky coincidences that happens so often in life, we got home and the wine we had picked had been profiled in the Globe & Mail! We opted for the 'Laughing Stock' Blind Trust red, a bordeaux-style blend. It was a happy surprise to see that our 1/2 litre only cost us $40 since the BC LDB price is $29 a bottle. Pretty reasonable mark-up all things considered! It would fall under the category of wines that we like to call 'very drinkable' by which we mean that it was not too sweet, not too tart but had enough flavour and balance to stand up. I also laughed, as the pairings suggested in the article fit perfectly into what we had each ordered!

Bread
This bread was some of the best bread I have ever enjoyed in my life! It even bested my Granny's bread (sorry Granny!). The browned crust on the outside added a lot to the overall texture, and the excellently salted butter was an excellent topping. Again - sorry for the terrible photos. I tried really hard to adjust them, but with only mediocre results!

Winter Chanterelle Salad
I opted for the winter-chantrelle salad. I immediately knew that the meal would live up to the long-ago meal of my memory! Such an incredibly savoury sauce without a hint of over seasoning... I cannot even begin to describe how incredible it was. There were two crispy pieces of garlicy crostini on the side, which I attempted to fill up like a cracker which was a bad decision, as it cracked enroute to my mouth. I am classy like that!


Roasted Beet Salad
My p.i.f.a.l.'s beet salad was also incredible, with a blue-cheese dressing to pair with the lightly roasted beets, greens on the side and half a hard-boiled egg. It all worked well together, even the unexpected egg, but I definitely had the superior choice.


Prosciutto wrapped Arctic Char
I felt like a lighter but still savoury main, so I opted for the prosciutto-wrapped arctic char. It was a very wise choice. What I think separates the food at Camille's into that amazing meal category was that I could have happily eaten a whole plate full of any part of that dish - includng the fennel, the parsnip (?) puree, and the vegetables - each piece was a masterpiece of flavour and texture that worked equally well on its own but was enhanced by combining with others. We were curious to know if the roe on the side was char (because wouldn't that make sense?) but the server was certain it was sturgeon.

Venison and Chili Polenta
My p.i.f.a.l. had the venison, which was perfectly cooked. It was crusted in pemmican, and the result wast so savoury that it blew away my mushroom starter. The side dish of smokey chili polenta is something I would love to try to replicate at home - we are pretty sure there was some bacony essence in there to enhance the smoke level. The chard on the side had been wilted in a pan that had cooked something extra specially delicious previously, and made my p.i.f.a.l. very happy.

Chai Tea Honey Cake
My 'excuse' for visiting was admittedly that it was partner-in-food-and-life's birthday, so despite the fact that the dessert was technically mine as my p.i.f.a.l. had overdosed on birthday cakes (plural!) earlier in the day it was brought to the table with a candle. Again, a fantastically executed piece of food! Crispy on the outside, soft and gentle on the inside with beautiful spices from the chai flavours. I didn't even mind the texture of the pear on the side, and normally pears dredge up horrid childhood memories.

Coffee and Biscotti
My one regret is that my last taste of coffee ended up being all un-stirred sugar and remnants of gingerbread biscotti, and it took away from all of the perfect flavours that had existed there just moments before. Still, our meal held up to the high standard built up in my memory from that first meal so long ago!  That meal was so responsible for my awakening of my passion for good, local food and I am so happy that they still match up to my high expectations.

Service:
May 15, 2014
As I mentioned above, I was nervous about being called out for food blogging, but if the kitchen knew our server certainly didn't give us any less fantastic service than any of the other tables! She was attentive, friendly, knowledgable and passionate to everyone I heard her speaking to.

The one thing I would note, and I know it's not quite something I always comment on but... I did notice a bit of a lazy dusting hand in a few places throughout the parts of the restaurant I visited. It stood out because it's not something I ever remember noticing in a restaurant before... and so it surprised me that for a restaurant with such attention to detail would have overlooked such a detail. However it is a pretty dusty time of year, and there has been construction in the area — it is quite possible this was a temporary situation. I am certainly the last person who should really be calling anyone out for a lack of dusting, I am pretty sure the bunnies under my bed are plotting to combine forces and strangle me in the night! [Update: Camille's wrote to say - yes, they had construction going on next door the week I visited, so this was a temporary situation!]

January 20, 2012
So the standard that Camille's set for us in terms of 'perfect service' our first visit wasn't quite upheld, but it was very close! The only thing that was 'off' was the pacing. My p.i.f.a.l. pointed out that part of that was probably due to the fact it was a standard dinner seating, and not a pre-set menu. Still - the fact that our bread arrived just moments before our appetizers felt uncharacteristically rushed... but I probably noted it especially because the time before had been so extra-exquisitely paced. Still, the staff were very attentive - there were maybe 5 tables of 2-4 people and one larger table in our section, and I saw at least four separate staff members serving at various times, all very friendly and helpful in their various roles.


Camille's on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 12, 2014

ulla

Address: 509 fisgard street
Phone: (250) 590.8795
Website: http://ulla.ca/
Price: ~$20-25 for a main
Notes: A fine dining experience of gastronomic proportions


When ulla joined the Victoria restaurant scene several years ago I heard exquisite details from locavores and food lovers about the tender loving care with which their food was prepared. Although a fancy restaurant by Victoria standards, Ulla still has a comfortable feel. The space is small and intimate, with high ceilings and lots of light. Bright, whimsical artwork and a bookshelf chock full of cookbooks (including the Star Trek cookbook!) line the walls.

The food here certainly is prepared with a monumental amount of effort. Plates come adorned with gastriques and flourishes carefully executed to accentuate the other flavours on the plate. They are one of the only restaurants in Victoria who uses molecular gastronomy in their food, which creates a finished product that is very precise and technical.  The only "criticism" I have is that I find that everything I put in my mouth is of such intensity and richness that there are no sensory peaks and valleys. Eating at ulla is like putting your pedal down to the floor at the start of your meal and not taking your foot off until the coffee...

There is no doubt the food at ulla is amazing! I have thoroughly enjoyed everything I have consumed. However... I think the fact that each dish comes with an explanation of what you are eating is either something you love or you hate, so if that's not your thing then this is not the restaurant for you. This is definitely somewhere to come if you're a fellow food nerd or just want to expand your palate a bit and order things you probably can't make at home.

Food:
March 29th, 2014


giant pacific octopus, grilled potato, herb puree, olives, pickled chili, squid ink cracker

This was my Partner-in-Food-and-Life's choice. We were all curious to see how giant the giant octopus was going to be, but in the end it wasn't hilariously massively giant. Our table of self-proclaimed comedians was slightly disappointed, but the first bite wiped that all away. 


stillmeadow farm pork, roesti, smoked cheddar, celery root, sauerkraut, crab apple sauce

I opted for the pork 3 ways! They really like their 3 ways selections here (I also could have had lamb three ways). The little pot contained a kind of a crab apple gravy which was unexpected and interesting (but makes much more sense now that I re-read it... at the time I was confused as by the time I took the first bite the description had gone entirely out of my brain). This was a super rich plate! I was so full by the end... delicious. Each bite worked well on its own, but became a different flavour altogether when combined with another one of the plate items. Again - very intentionally constructed food. 


coffee

Okay, the one surprisingly off-note moment was the coffee. They didn't have anything other than drip to offer... no americano option. I was kind of surprised and disappointed. Without a little bit of espresso crema to balance out the richness of my meal it didn't feel quite as luxurious... (yes, I am Such a coffee snob!)

Service:
March 29th, 2014
The service is fantastic at ulla because it's so small - there are really only a few tables for each server to focus on, and they had a fine tuned set of staff who clearly know their roles. We did comment afterwards that our main server was like a ninja! He must have had feedback on this before, as he would often touch us firmly on the shoulder before he refilled your glass to warn you that he was there, but there were several times when I would turn around and discover plates whisked away or drinks topped up without even realizing someone had come near me.

Ulla Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Boleskine Bistro

Address: 400 Boleskine Road
Phone: (778) 265-7745
Website: http://www.boleskinebistro.ca/
Price: ~$12 for a main
Notes: Something for everyone, huge portions, great prices and a little bit of Indian fare

I've popped by to the Boleskine Bistro a few times since their opening almost a year ago. Although the space has a bit of a utilitarian feel to it (although I can't quite put my finger on why...) and the menus could use a little polishing (in both the proof reading and design department...) the overall experience seems to be solid! They have plenty of specials, and lots of space for larger groups or private events.

The restaurant is located of in the semi-industrial, semi-residential dead zone in between Uptown and Tillicum, so a great spot for lunch or dinner after some intensive shopping. I cannot for the life of me remember what was in the location prior to the opening, but I think it is the first food establishment to operate in the location. The room is L shaped, with windows on two sides and a small bar area next to the kitchen. The decor is modern, with dark wood tables, beige walls and light tiles.

As always, I have a little bit of a pedantic rant about the over-use of the word 'bistro' as a synonym for 'restaurant.' If you're like me and think a bistro serves quick meals that are kind of european inspired then this isn't that - this is a pub style menu without the pub, serving a wide variety of hamburgers and sandwiches as well as classic mains and appetizers. They also cater to diners who need a fully gluten free menu, and are one of the few places that serves gluten free fries in Victoria! The menu sizes are generous for the price, and the service was quick and friendly.

Food:
February 10, 2014
Shepherds Pie
Shepherds Pie
This was my partner-in-food-and-life's choice. It was meaty and filling, well spiced and came with a nice side salad and plenty of dressing options. For $12 it was a great deal! The combination of ground lamb and beef made it nice and savoury, and I am certain the potatoes on top were from scratch - which is great to see!

Pakoras
Pakoras
I ordered these as my main, despite being on the appetizer list, after seeing a friend order them and fries the last time and being overwhelmed with the amount! They were very, very good - hot, fresh and flavourful. Even if they halved the portion size and charged a dollar less I would think it was a good deal! In the end my p.i.f.a.l. and I shared both of our meals 50/50 because as delicious as they were... perhaps not the healthiest of choices as my main caloric intake of the day! 

Lemon Meringue
Lemon Meringue
Since we had split an appy and a main we opted for dessert - a nice slice of lemon meringue with a very healthy meringue on top! The drizzle made it a bit sweet for my taste, but it was still a satisfying end to a good meal.

Service:
February 10, 2014
We came for a late dinner, so there weren't many people in the restaurant, but they were helpful and accommodating, but not overly attentive!

Boleskine Bistro on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 4, 2014

PSA: A quest for putting Victoria's BEST restrooms on the map! Nominations OPEN



Frequent readers of this blog will know that I have an obsession with restaurant bathrooms. I just feel like when a restauranteur has put as much effort into designing the bathroom stalls that I can trust my food is handled with care. When a bathroom feels more like a bad elementary school flashback I get nervous!

For the 5th year running Cintas Canada is sponsoring the competition for Canada's Best Restroom. Our Langley Street Loo was the winner in 2012, but last year we were ousted by the Valleyview Shell Super Station in Alberta.

yes those are solid alder wood doors, granite countertops & chandeliers...
in a gas station bathroom!

Now, I admit... this is no regular gas station pit stop, but I say it's time that we put Victoria's bathrooms back on the map! The competition, dubbed the "battle of the bowls," is voted online by the public and open to any non-residential restroom in Canada that is accessible to the general public.  Entries are judged on cleanliness, visual appeal, innovation, functionality and unique design elements as well as their commitment to customer service.  In addition to national recognition, this year’s winner will receive the royal washroom treatment- a grand prize of $2,500 to be redeemed for Cintas facility services.

But really - this is all about bragging rights, Victoria! I know we have some amazing bathrooms to show off so get your nominations in!

Nominations are open from now until June 20, 2014. Get online and nominate a deserving Victoria area restaurant at www.bestrestroom.com/canada!  

Five finalists will be announced this summer, at which time online voting will begin. The winner and runner-up will be revealed this fall during a nationally publicized media event and then be enshrined in Cintas’ Canada’s Best Restroom Contest Hall of Fame. In the meantime, you can keep up to date with all things Best Restroom related on their Facebook page.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Join the Craft Beer Revolution




In case it wasn't clear already... I love craft beer. My path towards loving local really started with realizing I really liked Phillips Maple Cream ale... and that there was a real difference between something that was being imported from Esquimalt and something that was being imported from far away. As the years have progressed my ability to keep up with the craft beer scene was eclipsed by just trying to keep my finger on the pulse of the food scene, but I still try to pick up the best of the new releases from Victoria breweries and hit up the cask nights when I can. 

I got a chance to chat with local beer writer Joe Wiebe to go into glorious detail about the publishing process for his BC bestseller Craft Beer Revolution: The Insider's Guide to B.C. Breweries. Joe is the Thirsty Writer, a longtime BC beer writer who is in talks with the CBC to do a regular radio column on craft beer. 

This is one of those books that feels like a fantastic deal. I mean, you could spend years painstakingly researching every new brew, making notes, drinking more beers than Joe wanted to think about, drive across the entire Province and leap at any chance to dry a pint of something new. There is a certain appeal to the nerd in me for that kind of dedication and fastidious frontline research, but it is neither practical nor possible for most of us. Thankfully Joe has taken one for the team and served it up on 228 pages of ink and paper. 

His book is pretty much a primer for everything you ever needed to know to truly live local and drink exclusively British Columbia brewed craft beer. He starts with the basics - an introduction and glossary of terms - and moves into regional chapters, each with a little bit of history and a breakdown of available breweries. I love how this book is laid out - it has the same aesthetic and feel of my Tastebud Guides project. It is definitely meant to be used as a guidebook, not just read once and kept collecting dust on the shelf.  Joe told me he hopes that people carry the book with them on their beer adventures, and that it becomes beer stained, earmarked and notated. 

We started our conversations by laughingly acknowledging his Author's Note that the book was pretty much out of print the moment it hit print. It's true - even in the few months since publications numerous breweries and brewpubs have opened up all across the Province. Although he has plans for a 2nd edition next year, there is more than enough selection in the 1st edition to keep you busy until then! 

The change in our local food culture and the change in our local beer culture really have gone hand in hand. Brewpubs like Spinnakers, which was really one of the first (and the most enduring!), have brought along the local food mission along with their craft beer mission. We are so lucky to live somewhere like Victoria where we are spoiled for choice for locally brewed beers, but reading Joe's book made me realize that the same revolution is happening around the rest of the Province, too! I look forward to using it on my next adventure outside of my stomping ground! 

As I said above - I have trouble keeping up with our Island beer scene, let alone the whole Province. Craft beer has just gotten too big! But somehow Joe has managed it. The research in each chapter alone is enough to make a sober person very, very thirsty. Visiting Vancouver for the weekend and curious where to drink? Chapter 4 should suit you quite well. A quick reference chart on page 83 will get you started to find exactly the right location to meet your current needs - whether you plan for just a quick growler refill or you are looking for somewhere to eat, drink and perhaps (if you've had a few to many of the latter) stay the night. Once you have arrived at the ideal watering hole a quick reference of recommended selections and facts accompany the history of the establishment should not only help you order efficiently, but earn you a few smalltalk tidbits to open the conversation with your barman! A win for beer drinkers, socially awkward nerds or those of us who are in the venn diagram overlap of both. 


If you have any road trips planned this year Joe’s book is definitely the guidebook to have as your trusted companion. Copies are available through his website (http://www.craftbeerrevolution.ca/), at local bookstores as well as Spinnakers Pub and Cascadia liquor stores or online via Amazon

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Food Nerd Podcast Episode 20: The Nanaimo Bar

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This months topic for the the Canadian Food Experience Project is about a regional food of Vancouver Island. Head on over to acanadianfoodie.com to see all of the other bloggers from across Canada who participated in this topic as well.

I met up with Nanaimo native Shalyn of VIreviews.com to nerd out about the Nanaimo bar. We managed to cover that in about 10 minutes... and just generally chatted about the state of Island dining. I also discovered that Nanaimo had a mayor that dressed as a pirate! (This made me very, very happy. I love pirates!)

Despite our efficiency in covering it the history of the Nanaimo Bar is actually quite fascinating... somewhere out there lurks proof of the origin of the Nanaimo bar. Make sure to check your cookbooks when you clear out your elders basements... you never know what proof you might find!


Upcoming events:

  • March 1-8th Victoria Beer Week — Prices and location vary
  • March 13th 7:15-9:15pm Wine & Cheese Tasting at the Victoria Public Market — $39 in advance via Taste Victoria
  • March 19th 6:30-7:30pm Good for you Gourmet Muffin Cooking class at Planet Organic — Free! Register in advance at Planet Organic or by calling 250.727.9888
  • March 20th Culinaire at the Crystal Gardens — Sold Out
  • March 27th 6-10pm Sip & Savour Sidney — $55 in advance from the Mary Winspear box office
  • April 30th 6:30-9pm Uncork your Palate at the Crystal Gardens — Fundraiser for the Victoria Conservatory of Music. $95 in advance via the VCM website or in person from the Strath liquor store

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Be Love

Address: 1019 Blanshard St.
Phone: 778.433.7181
Website: http://beloverestaurant.ca/
Price: $12-18
Notes: Alternative-diet friendly and delicious lunch and dinner options

I think many people who consider themselves foodies are also meat eaters. I count myself among this group. There is definitely a confusion deep in my soul about how anyone could possibly live without bacon. That answer, as we discovered during our visit... zucchini bacon! Actually, no. The answer is that when you focus on food flavours and combinations, not necessarily trying to recreate meat dishes, you can create amazing, well-flavoured dishes that tick all the dietary boxes. You just have to think outside the box a bit...

Be Love opened late in December of 2013, although the sibling co-owners have been operating Bliss, a small cafe with a similar vision, for years. Clearly there was a niche in the market for adding another restaurant to the scene, as they have been consistently busy pretty much since opening! The space is taking up half of what used to be the Alpine Market on Blanshard street, but extensive modern renovations have completely transformed the space. The tall ceilings have beautiful beams up to a skylight that makes you feel more like you are outside than inside.

Menu items run the gamut from curries that could just as easily be on any menu to adventurous items such as the "macrobiotic bowl." I was pleasantly surprised to visit fairly early in their lifespan to see that they really have their process down! Every dish ordered at our large table hit the mark, the service was solid, their bartender was fantastic and everything came in record time. I feel like we only just scraped the surface of the menu, especially because many of the flavour combinations are so completely off my radar I don't know what to expect from ordering!  All of the menu items are in a great price point for dinner, but I am surprised that they have not opted for a slightly less pricey lunch menu to feed the hoards of Victoria downtown lunch crowd! They seem to be trying to hit more the price point of Devour (around $15) but I feel like they could do well to rework things a little bit and offer some less adventurous options for closer to $10 or $12. What really impressed me, however, was the ever-changing dessert menu. Typically my partner in food and life and I have a difficult time with competing dairy/soy allergies... but not here! The "cheese" cake is actually made with cashew "cheese!"Everything ordered so far has been impeccable from presentation to flavours to value.

Food:
January 31, 2014
I visited with several other Victoria food loving folk as part of the monthly conviviality pledge. Everyone at the table, vegetarian or not, had an amazing meal although I did not document it all.

I started the meal with a few drinks... an important component to conviviality! We had also heard, and had reinforced, that the bartender was fantastic. My partner-in-food-and-life ordered a custom drink with their house-made kombucha and he came over and chatted about its creation, giving all the benefits of sitting at the bar without the compromises of only being able to seat a few people comfortably!

Red Cedar Swizzle
Red Cedar Swizzle
The Red Cedar Swizzle was a popular choice at the table. It was dry, and the cedar infusion flavour was certainly distinct! I love the fact that they use the Long Table gin. Although not quite local, it's still a BC born gin that is reported to be more consistent than our own Victoria Gin. 

Fernandito
Fernandito
Their take on a fernet and cola with their house-made "Quetzal Cola" was delicious. I have such a soft spot for house made cola and fernet, but now that the management has changed at Clive's it's harder to find. I was pretty stoked to discover a replacement here!

Masala Dosa
Masala Dosa
For my main I opted for the dosa, a fermented lentil pancake that I have never had before! It was pretty tasty, although one corner was oddly chewier than the rest (and I probably only noticed because it was my first bite!). The potato curry inside was well flavoured, and a bite combined with the riata and chutney was heavenly. 

Other menu items ordered, enjoyed and shared by the group at the table included the warm quinoa salad, the macrobiotic bowl and the sweet potato gnocchi. 

Tiramisu
Tiramisu
As mentioned above all the desserts were made without any dairy. Although normally this attempt to recreate the original confuses me, this time it works really well. The richness of the nut-based "cheese" (in this case hazelnut if I recall correctly!) works really well with the sweetness of the desserts.

Service:
January 31, 2014
Our service was great! Friendly, prompt and with a personal touch, especially from the bartender. Despite having a large group our food was well organized, came promptly and was without fault.

Be Love on Urbanspoon