Wednesday, August 20, 2014

#VislandGetaway: Sooke


this the second in a series of #VislandGetaway posts to satisfy

your travelling tastebuds without having to leave the Island!


Untitled

Growing up in Victoria I remember Sooke as a faraway, remote place that I really only visited once in a blue moon to en route to exploring the proper West Coast beaches that can be found beyond. These days Sooke seems closer than ever, but still remote enough — and pristine enough — that when I visit it holds a sense of magic, and peeling back the layers I have realized there is a thriving food community out here that really is worth exploring! 

Sooke Fast Facts

  • Meaning: from the T'sou-ke First Nation, the name of the Stickleback fish that live in the estuary of the river
  • Distance from Victoria: 40 kms
  • Approximate Travel time: 45 minutes
  • Population: 11, 435
  • Major industries: Tourism, Logging, Fishing
  • Nearest city: Victoria
  • Transportation options: 
    • Car — less than $20 for gas
    • BC Transit — $2.50 on the #61 bus or #64 bus from Langford
My visit to Sooke was prompted by a lovely & generous gift certificate I received at Christmas from my colleagues on the local Slow Food board to stay overnight at the Sooke Harbour House. This prompted a mini-moveable feast with my food loving friends to dine in their dining room. (Obligatory disclaimer! I sit on the board with founder of the SHH, Sinclair Phillip, and our Convivium Leader is Brooke, their Sommelier whose partner Oliver is the head chef (you may remember them from my delicious dinner at their Wild Mountain supper club!). So while I harbour (pun unintended) no illusions that I am arms length or as objective on this one as some posts the certificate was given with no request or offer of a blog post). 

We took a caravan-style drive out to Sooke on a lazy, sunny Saturday afternoon. Although our stops along the way were mostly stifled by a terrible lack of direction & impromptu "planning" it was definitely a convivial group that arrived at the Sooke Harbour House property in the late afternoon. Our gift certificate included a deluxe room & breakfast the next morning, so we checked in and arranged our things before heading off for a bit of an exploration.

Quimper Park
Quimper Park
Although I am unclear on exactly what part of  the area is meant to be Quimper Park this area seems to be kind of a dedicated historical site in Sooke. Along with the Quimper Park sign, which designates the symbolic landing point of the Spanish in 1790, there are also sign posts dedicated to some of the original settlers of the harbour area. 

Whiffin Spit Park Whiffin Spit
Whiffin Spit Park
The spit separates and protects the massive Sooke Harbour from the harsh waters of the Juan de Fuca Straight. The long strip of pathway was a decent walk, full of wildlife and local dog walkers. When the tide is out, the surrounding beach on both sides extends quite far, although is pretty rocky. We stopped near the end of the spit to watch an eagle fishing, so that was pretty incredible! 

Sooke Harbour House
Sooke Harbour House
Sooke Harbour House is one of those institutions of our food scene that has left an undeniable impact on what we consume and how we consume it here on the Island. Their meticulous dedication to supporting locally sourced, ethically produced & socio-historically relevant foods has produced a ripple effect. Although sitting on the Slow Food board with Sinclair, Sooke Harbour House's owner, has cemented into my head the depth of the vision that he has for our food culture it wasn't until this visit I think I truly realized the extent to which his vision has elevated not only our local food scene, but local food on an international scale. Seeing the long wall of publications, citations and commendations they have collected over the years really helped me realize the significance of the level to which they helped to instigate an entire movement, and have helped to make space for a re-emergence of the celebration and consumption of local. 

The Passion Flower Room  In-room Port
 The Passion Flower RoomThe Passion Flower Room
The Passion Flower Room
The Harbour House is definitely a destination restaurant — for the kind of wining and dining you are setting yourself up for you want nothing more than to tuck into a comfortable bed within walking distance of the dining room and to wake up with a luxurious soak in a tub looking out over the Juan de Fuca Straight. 

Our dining companions, who had not initially intended to stay over, reconsidered their options after taking a peek in our room and were delighted to discover that the same-day rates were within budget and they were lucky enough that a room was still free for them!

Each of the rooms is decorated with a unique theme and design inspiration by co-owner Fredrique Philip. Our Passion Flower room was full of blossom inspiration, and our friends stayed in the Chef's Study — complete with rolling pin inspired banisters and a fantastic collection of cookbooks. 

Sooke Harbour House

The grounds of the property are as unique and curiosity-inspiring as the food and accommodations. These fences that separate the main parking area from the front entrance way were made by none other than Renaat Marchand of Wannawafel fame from his days as a woodworker before waffles stole him away. Gardens, chock full of herbs and produce, wrap around the property. 


Philip family totem pole
This gorgeous totem pole, each member representing an individual in the Philip family, looks out over the harbour and was carved by Sooke-based Master Carver Carey Newman. It overlooks bluffs down to the beach, and is surrounded by even more edible plants and local art. 

Once again, full disclosure: one of our dinner companions was Sooke Harbour House's lovely Sommelier, Brooke Fader, whose own partner-in-food-and-life is none other than their Head Chef, Oliver Kienast. Although Brooke & Oliver met while working at SHH many years ago, one or the other (or both!) have both also worked at pretty much every other delicious restaurant you can name in Victoria. They have only returned to both working at the Harbour House in the last few months, and she was quite excited to come and dine as a guest rather than having to work. Our group have been partaking in their side project of Wild Mountain Dinners, so were excited to see the duo in action with a larger team behind them. Although dining at the Sooke Harbour House was a completely different experience to the highly choreographed presentation of one of their intimate supper club dinners it was no less meticulously prepared and no less delicious. 

Mussels Casino
Mussels Casino
This little nibble arrived unexpectedly at our table after we were seated — Brooke confessed this was a little bit unprecedented that we were treated to this extra bite before our meal. As loyal fans of the chef we were appreciative of the gesture of appreciation back! The perfect small bite to whet our appetite before the meal ahead of us. 

I took advantage of our room and chose to do the wine pairings with our meal, and was extremely glad that I did! Brooke is clearly a master of her craft, and several weeks later when reminiscing about the meal to friends who were not able to join us we agreed that the wine pairings were incredible in the proper symbiotic situation where the flavour of each pairing was enhanced by the wine, and vice versa. 

Wild & Cultivated Lettuces, Herbs & Flowers 2011 Riesling, Kettle Valley
Wild & Cultivated Lettuces, Herbs & Flowers — 2011 Riesling, Kettle Valley
I chose to start my meal with a lighter option, the classic "Sooke Harbour House" salad filled with edible flowers from their garden! No bitter greens or dousing of dressing here, just a lovely mesh of fresh greenery. 

Albacore Tuna Carpaccio 2009 Sassi, Venturi-Schulze
Albacore Tuna Carpaccio — 2009 Sassi, Venturi-Schulze
Several of us at the table elected for the tuna carpaccio. The lightly smoked tuna was heavenly, and when combined with a bite of each of the toppings it took on several different dimensions. A relatively simple dish in finished product, but the kind of depth of flavour that wish I understood more about how gastronomic cuisine dishes are developed... 

Sweet Cicely Ricotta Gnudi 2010 Pinot Noir Noble Ridge
Sweet Cicely Ricotta Gnudi — 2010 Pinot Noir Noble Ridge
Another popular dish at the table! I really enjoy sweet cicely. It isn't a plant I had heard of before my first Wild Mountain dinner, but the delicate flavour is extremely lovely. I was doing some reading up and discovered it is sometimes used as a natural sweetener by people with diabetes, which I thought was interesting.
The gnudi was perfect, like light little pillows of deliciousness just like I can never replicate at home! The carrots were a bit crunchier than my clutzy coordination could handle to cut into bite sized pieces, but somehow I managed in the end. I loved the inclusion of seasonal ingredients like fiddleheads and nettle... we are so lucky to live surrounded by such delicious bounty!
This was my favourite wine of the evening, and again a delectable pairing! 

Seasonal Ice Creams — Strawbery, Sour Cream & Roasted Fig Leaf Hazelnut Crunch Strawberries
Seasonal Ice Creams: Strawbery, Sour Cream & Roasted Fig Leaf Hazelnut Crunch — Chocolate-dipped Strawberries
not pictured (because this was glass #4): 2013 Saturn (sauvignon blanc), Clos du Soleil, Similkameen Valley

Pastry Chef Matthias Conradi produced some incredible desserts for the final course! The dark chocolate terrine and strawberries three ways were very much enjoyed around the table, but I settled on the seasonal ice creams! They were all incredible, but I loved the slightly savoury nature of the sour cream the best. The final nibble, perfectly in season chocolate dipped strawberries sent the entire table leaning back with the glorious sighs of happily satisfied diners. Who wouldn't be after such a truly, truly luxurious meal! 

We stumbled back to our rooms all deliciously full of food & wine but somehow still managed to consume the lion's share of the complimentary port — and rose early and without the hint of a hangover. Perfection. 

In-room Breakfast
We were told by the staff who lead us to our room that they have only just started serving hot breakfasts again recently, but I am certainly happy that they were! It was possibly one of the most decadent breakfasts of my life, sitting on the patio over looking the water with a level of sensory pleasure that really can only be achieved by an epic amount of butter. A perfect hash brown & egg was accompanied by a flavourful sausage, wedge of incredible cheese (we think it was the Monterey Jill from Qualicum Cheese works) and a side of heavenly sauce. Even the toast - light and fantastically textured - was consumed (super unusual for me, I'm strictly a 'hold the toast' breakfast orderer!). 

Other Sooke Food & Drink:

Stick in the Mud Sooke

Stick in the Mud might just be the perfect coffee shop. I've heard about (and witnessed on social media) their enthusiasm and dedication for some time now, but the last few times we've visited it has been a holiday and they've been tragically closed. 

Tucked away parallel to the main road near the iconic Mom's cafe they're doing everything right here. They roast their own beans from ethical sources. They train their staff well, and they know exactly where they come from. We also just happened to be there on the day of the opening of their second location, in the lobby of the Best Western hotel (possibly the most surreal looking location in all of Sooke... but delicious coffee none the less!) 

Cold Brew
Cold Brew Dispensers
I was super impressed with the Cold Brew dispenser machine, complete with "growlers" to allow for easy refillability. I love the smooth, silky taste of Cold Brew, and this was perfection on a warm summer day!

Mini-cinnamon bun
Mini-cinnabun
This tiny cinnamon bun fit into the indentation on a saucer for a macchiato cup, which if you ask me is exactly the right size for a cinnamon bun! Despite the occasional craving for a sticky bite of cinnamon-laced pastry I can never justify the amount of gross I will feel after that much breadiness! This tiny one-bite perfection left as all completely satisfied.

Sooke Harbour House on Urbanspoon

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.


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