Sunday, October 14, 2012

Vis a Vis Wine + Charcuterie Bar

NOTE: Vis a Vis re-did their concept in 2013 and the post below no longer reflects what you would find when you visit.

Address: 2232 Oak Bay Ave.
Phone: (250) 590-7424
Price: $10-15 per tapas dish for dinner
Notes: Small plates and lush tapas dishes make Vis a Vis an excellent fine dining spot


Vis a Vis Wine Bar opened up on the 'high street' of Oak Bay Avenue just over a year ago. Their concept is small plates and good wine. When they initially opened the reaction was mediocre, but more recently several people whose opinion of the food scene I respect significantly have raved about the place, nudging it back on to my (mental) list of places I needed to visit. 

The restaurant style is a departure from the usual cookie cutter UK style "pub" started by the Vic Pub Co. The space is small - although there is significant amount of seating at the bar.  The space is perfect classic restaurant, with brick and soft lighting and dark wood. There is a little whimsy - there is a pig mounted 'through' the wall into the bathroom. Interestingly, you can pass between the Penny Farthing pub and the wine bar through a doorway at the back of the restaurant. They also own the liquor store down the street, and every wine on the menu is available for purchase by the bottle if it should strike your fancy. 

The menu is also small, but the dishes are well organized. One side of the menu is pure charcuterie, while the other is organized into pescatarian, vegetarian and carnivore sections. What I appreciated about the menu the most is that the dishes were quite unique in presentation and execution, which after eating out so much in the last few years was quite refreshing. The server recommended three dishes per person, but we found that two + dessert or charcuterie was just about the right amount not to get too full. 

The wine menu is unique in that it offers a chance to sample most of the selection in a 1oz pour or flight, and is also nicely broken down by 'style' of wine, featuring categories such as "light and bright," "soft and fruity" and "sparklers." The restaurant opens daily at 11 am,  which means I am adding it to my list of places for a weekend afternoon relaxing nibble and drink! 

September 28, 2012
Pan-fried potato gnocchi with peas, piave cheese, black mushroom sauce, pea shoots & lemon truffle vinaigrette
This is hands down the best gnocchi I have ever had in my life.  It surpassed all other gnocchi in terms of fluffiness and overall texture. The pan-frying added the perfect element of savouriness, and the pea and truffle accompaniment was fresh and decadent and the same time. I am just crossing my fingers it is a regular on the menu as I predict I will be consistently craving it. To be honest the only thing stopping me from heading in that direction right now for some gnocchi and a glass of wine is that I am vehicle-less and it is pouring rain. 

Pork Belly
Pork belly, grapefruit, endive, maple onion caramel
This was another excellent choice. The pork belly melted away under the fork and tongue without any resistance. The maple onion caramel was more like a barbecue sauce than anything too sweet, and the grapefruit endive in the middle balanced it out perfectly. There was the added bonus of a crunch pork rind on the side. 

Seared scallops, salted liquorice glaze, fennel purée
Although a relatively generous portion for seafood, the scallops didn't quite hit the mark, especially at the higher end of the menu at $14. By the time they arrived we had forgotten about the liquorice glaze and found ourselves stumped a little bit by the sweet flavour until we re-read the menu and placed the anise taste. 

Charcuterie Plate
Chefs daily special Charcuterie
This was definitely the weakest part of the evening, which I was surprised by as over half the menu was charcuterie. The pieces were all delicious on their own - pickled grapes, spiced nuts, a few kinds of meat and some goats cheese, but none of them went together particularly well, and the bread was too soft to stand up to being topped to the stiff texture of the cheese. It might have just been a poor selection that night however, as the overall selection looked excellent!

We also tried two wines, but the Pinot Gris from Ex Nihilo stood out as one of the most stellar white wines we have had in a long time. It has an intoxicating scene of ripe peaches and freshly-squeeze grapefruit that translated impeccably into the taste of the wine. Each wine comes labeled with the name of the wine, so you can stop by the liquor store on the way home and pick up a bottle of your favourites!

October 1, 2012
After our experience a few days before we opted to have a small family dinner there the following Monday. It turned out to be a great choice again, which was much needed after a phenomenally stressful week for everyone at the table. Even people who initially were unsure about trying certain things, having had unfavourable experiences with the flavours in the past, were turned around by some of the dishes which is the mark of a good meal in my books. We ended up re-ordering a few of the hits from the day before - namely the gnocchi and the pork belly, and taking advantage of the larger group to try some other things.

prosciutto wrapped dates stuffed with blue cheese
prosciutto wrapped dates stuffed with blue cheese
These came as a starter, 3 for $5. I could have eaten twice as many! The blue cheese was not too strong, and when paired with the salty meat and sweet dates it was the perfect teaser for our tastebuds of things to come! 

Bison Carpaccio
Bison carpaccio, smoked tomato, caper berry & shallot confit and roasted red pepper cracker

Carpaccio is delicious, but bison carpaccio was a rare treat. It was sliced so thinly and topped with the smoked tomato I was left regretting having to share. 

Maple-bacon sugar dusted churros
Churros, maple bacon sugar, white chocolate apple sauce
In the end, these were not the high finishing note I was hoping they would be. The maple-bacon taste was not as exciting as it sounded, and I really didn't like the flavour of the white-chocolate apple sauce for dipping although I was the only one at the table who thought that. It could be that the churros were lacking the greasy appeal of my Disneyland memories... which probably means I have not fully transgressed into a food snob just yet!

I also had a beautiful glass of a BC red, but unfortunately it seems to be absent from the online menu and the tag has escaped from my wallet, so I can't even share which one it was! Perhaps it is for the best if it is no longer available... I always feel like a tease sharing things that are not on the menu permanently.

September 28, 2012
We opted to sit outside on the heated, slightly covered patio as the weather had not yet realized that it was fall. Although dark (as you probably deduced by the photos) it was relaxing and inviting. The server was very attentive, checking on us regularly and bringing our orders quite quickly. 

October 1, 2012
We opted to sit inside with the larger group this evening. We had a different server this evening, but equally as attentive. We had ordered quite a bit of food, and it was nice that it came out in spurts but it didn't feel particularly deliberate. For example, several people at the table ordered gnocchi, but instead of all arriving at once two arrived at the start and one arrived at the end, leading to confusing about who had eaten what when we were all sharing. While it's a small thing, the feeling that your meal has been perfectly orchestrated to provide a seamless dining experience is definitely something I look for when I cross the line between pub food and fine dining, and it was notably absent this evening.