May 01, 2016

McRaes Bistro, Saanich

Myself and the brunette of my acquaintance took an evening stroll down Shelbourne.  We headed for McRae's for a pint and bite to eat, enjoying a spot of sunshine on a glorious May 1st.  We had decided it'd be nice to see a different local bar from Maude Hunter's.  And I really needed a beer to unwind from a long day.  So a short walk and we found the bistro half full and buzzing.  There was space on the patio, but no-one up front to seat people.

I just deleted many paragraphs on how long it took to get seated and served a beer. I re-read it.  It wasn't actually interesting.  Summary: it was close to twenty minutes.  The two servers were busy, the bar staff were busy, and no-one seems to have given the front of house staff a quick overview of how to deal with days when there's too much to do.  The experience is what your are selling when eating out. Make the customer feel welcomed and comfortable, and that goes a long way to making them happy and coming back again.

Good food and cold beer also helps but isn't enough on it's own.  So while getting served a pint of cold Hop Circle and Pimms Cup took far too long, there's no complaints on the beverages.  The Pimms came with a suitably large slice of cucumber and a shaving of lemon.  Something that always helps.  The pint of Hop Circle was $5.00, which is a great price for a good beer.  So that made up for the wait.  A little.

On to the food.  A Salmon Flatbread and McRae's salad.   The flatbread was side-plate sized, but smothered in cream cheese, big chunks of smoked, pink fish and a pile of arugula. Had to shove that aside and put it in the salad.  The bread was crisp on the base, but the dough was soft on top, golden and slightly chewy.  A really pleasant mix of textures. The fish and cheese were complimented with capers, making a savoury, salty mouthful that just combined things right.

The salad was a big.  I always think $10 for a bowl of greens is a little excessive, but they did a good job here, with some sunflower seeds, dried cranberries, shaved carrots and beets.  Lots of greens, from a variety of lettuce leaves. And tasty dressing, which was slightly sweet, but mostly tangy flavour.  I just guessed it had balsamic vinegar in it, which on review of the menu is correct:  a maple balsamic dressing.

Sitting out on the deck with a cold beer and good food and good company is a very pleasant way to spend a sunny Sunday.

http://www.mcraesbistro.com/ - 1652 McRae Avenue Saanich, BC 


April 17, 2016

Saveur, Downtown Victoria

Saveur has a website that looks like Save Ur Restaurant (http://saveurrestaurant.ca/).  This might be a service like Bar Rescue, to come in to turn around failing food joints.  Maybe complete with a fake Gordon Ramsay to tell someone to F--- Off.  Perhaps it's really cheap, fast-food diner that offers quick Mesopotamian cuisine, served for the modern palate?

Instead, it offers modern French-inspired food.  According to the website, at least.  The space is starkly modern.  Matt-black walls.  Hardwood floors. A bar and cash register that wouldn't be out of place in a fancy hair salon. The kitchen eschews the little window you can peak into, instead, the range and prep stations open on to the dining floor.  Concrete flooring marks the edge of the chef's domain, and the start of the maitre'd's empire.

The restaurant is just one block up from Jam on Herald Street, and the long narrow space has suddenly reminded me of 'Solomon's', my ideal bar that's long been closed.  Space is going to be limited here, with maybe 30 covers.  The menu is concise, with the Chef's tasting menu looking like a fine array of good things, like Pork Belly with Fiddle head ferns, and Halibut with cheese grits.

BUT, this was brunch. And for brunch, there's the traditional breakfast; a hangover cure breakfast of  all the meats for $23, and my old favourite - Huevos Rancheros.  Plus a variety of Eggs Benny and a couscous porridge served with apricots and dates.

A photo posted by Chris (@thecesspit) on



I went for the Huevos. Before they arrived we got ultra tiny scones.  Served with a house-made blackcurrant jam, these bite sized scones were warm and buttery.  The jam was sweet and tangy.  As my friend said... we could do with a bag of these to take home.

We also got coffee. It wasn't bad coffee, though I'd like to have had a teaspoon to stir my cream in with, and not to have to use the end of a butter knife.  And then use the thick, paper napkin to dry it on.  Just saying.

The Huevos were excellent.  A well toasted tortilla, topped with refried beans that had been cut with peppers and (I think) cilantro.  This lifted the flavour up a notch, and combined with the cheese and eggs and tortilla to make a great mouthful.  The eggs were served sunny-side up - no option was given on when I ordered, but I'm guessing they could have been done another style.  I don't mind my eggs that way, but I know some people -hate- it when the eggs white doesn't cook all the way through.

The guacamole was fresh, the pico de gallo tangy, and the cumin creme fraiche and great twist on serving it.  A good scattering of friend potato cubes added to the dish to make a sizable (though not super large meal).  A really good Huevos, and the price ($15) matched that... this is not a cheap and plenty type place.

For the price and vibe, I'd like to have seen the settings one step up.  The things I've not liked would get a pass at other places which weren't going for a fine dining vibe.  The food is excellent.  The service staff friendly.  They were doing plenty of trade, and feel there's plenty more people coming there to discuss their latest business projects and deals.  There's a seriousness about it all.  And good for them, it's a good addition to the scene in Victoria.

658 Herald Street, Victoria BC - info@saveurrestaurant.ca - 250.590.9251

April 03, 2016

La Taqueria Pinche, Downtown Victoria

La Taqueria is the fourth shop in a Taco chain stretching from North Vancouver to Victoria, by way of central Vancouver.  Okay, so it's not Taco Bell, but it is a mainland import, snuggling into the crowded taco/burrito market, with La Taquisa, Tacofino, Hernande'z, Taco Justice and all the other places that sell you filling wrapped in a thin corn dough shell.

Seriously, there's a LOT of it about, and it seems every version possible is for sale, and every odd, gourmet version is out there to be tried.  Not that having good tacos is a bad thing, given the jokes about the poor quality of Mexican food in Canada I've heard.  I'm just saying it's time to start a new fad, a new cheap-street-food-done-to-the-extreme to take over.

I went to La Taqueria with Andrea for a catch up.  I have proof.  She took a selfie of us.


Yes, I can look like a swivel-eyed loon.  Why do you ask?

We went in, with a very skeptical Andrea, who a bit later told me her reticent was that it looked like the interior of a very clean public bathroom.  The white walls and tiled floors do, I guess, look a bit like the communal bathroom on a very clean hospital ward.  I thought it was her concern that the queue was not long enough... as long queues are always a sign of great food.  You only have to see the line up at a MacDonald's after 11pm to know that.

We walked up to the cash desk and ordered from the wall menu. I went for a pair of veggie tacos (Kale and Mushroom) and a pair of chicken tacos (La Tinga).  Her Andreaness went for the fish tacos she was craving.  One Tuna, one beer battered white fish.

The Hongos Con Kale had a great name.  This is the best thing about them if you love kale.  If you love the taste of stewed mushroom, where the mushroom produce that rich, liquid juice that mingles with the rest of the sauce, you'll like them too.  Personally, I though it was all mushroom juice and nothing much else going on. Certainly no brassica savoury bite I was expecting from my favourite green leafy plant.

The Tinga Del Pollo also have a good name to say. Not as great as anything names 'Hongos', but pretty good.  They tasted fantastic, with the pulled chicken merged in with slightly sweet tomato-ey sauce, but with a bite of the chipotle in there too.  The sauce is not a runny goopy mess, but just a bit to mix up in the meat.  The topping of cheese and sour cream doesn't over load the main flavours, but just compliments it nicely.

Andrea said the white fish beer battered tacos were great, much to her surprise.  I won't describe exactly how she talked about the consistency of them, as it doesn't sound like a good metaphor.  Though it was meant to be, I think.  I was a bit confused on this point.  I'm pretty sure she said she'd go back.

All the tacos were double shelled, with two small, soft corn tortillas per taco. As there are no utensils provided, this allows you to mop up any spillage when eating. Worth it, as the fillings are generous; though not over flowing.  I was pleasantly full after the four tacos, and also felt well nourished.  This was not heavy, greasy food.  It was fast, but fresh.

I'd go back for more.  It's another good addition to the food scene in Victoria.


March 20, 2016

Dak, Downtown Victoria

So, someone asked, where were you last week?  Does that mean you lost your ongoing blogging challenge with Andrea?  Nope.  We've agreed to go biweekly... though nothing stops us over posting.  Both of us are a little busier with other projects... and I'm eating out a little less as I tighten the belt as I start up my own business.

Though the belt seems to be plenty tight enough at the moment, which is another story entirely.

Dak is another venue run by the people who brought you Picnic and Picnic Too. I believe the owner, John Perkins, has some interest in the Northern Quarter too. Dak means Chicken in Korean.  So they specialize in Chicken served Korean style.  Rotisserie chicken, served warm on rice.  Or on a bun. Or in salad.

They do other dishes without chicken. Spicy pork is one option, as is roasted mushrooms. Andrea's met me for lunch.  She goes for a Mushroom Bop Bowl.  I go for the Chicken Bop Bowl.  It's under $10 for lunch.  That's a bargain.  Even more so when you see the fully loaded bowl of sticky rice, meat and piles of vegetable matter on top.

There's a big helping of spicy kimchi.  The ferment cabbage isn't to everyone's taste, sure, but this is spicy, crunchy and sharp, without being overpoweringly 'savoury'.  There's a splodge of green onion pesto, which with the chicken combines into a very tasty mouthful.  The meat. The slight bite of the onion, coupled with the pine nuts.  So, so good.

There's some sprouts and greens too, and some sesame seeds sprinkled on top.  The rice is super sticky, chunk easily eaten with the chopsticks, soaking up the juices from the chicken, and the squirt of soy sauce I added into the bowl.  I felt almost as healthy and refreshed as I do when eating at Be Love.  That clean feel from a well balanced meal.

The venue is super basic.  A couple of plain wood with high stools along, sitting almost bar style. But one of those tables faces out on to the street, so you can watch the world go by.  And wave at random friends heading else where.  And you can have a super intense conversations about new jobs and spiritual rebirth with Andrea.

The menu is concise - nine options for lunch, four for breakfast.  And you have to like Congee for the breakfast.  I like small menus at times. You get on with the ordering without the problem of reading -all- the choices.  At it means the kitchen will be on point to make everything spot on.  They don't have to deal with twenty seven options, fourteen of which only get ordered once a week.  The kitchen is tiny, unless it's a Tardis.  There seemed to be at least two people back there, with one popping out to serve customers while the other one kept on prepping dishes.  Food was out in a matter of minutes after ordering.

So it's a fast dinner, at a great price, with lots of good stuff in the dinner.  What's not to love?  The fact it's an extra two blocks walk past Picnic Too, and that often captures me with the Breakfast Sandwich for a fast lunch.

One down side... the toilets in the space Dak shares with a bunch of tech start ups and incubators are camp chic.  They aren't dirty, or nasty.  Just basic plywood on the walls and some how feel... unwelcoming. That's not Dak's fault.



March 06, 2016

The Old Spaghetti Factory, Downtown Victoria

Reasons to go to Old Spaghetti Factory

  • It's Dine Around Victoria time, and they've made a $20 menu offer.
  • The lovely Brunette of my Acquaintance's daughter has wanted to go for ages.
  • It seems like a nice treat to take her, and not break the weekly budget.
  • They do family style food effectively and fast, with a good range of choices.
  • You like pasta dishes that aren't too crazy.
  • You like fresh goats cheese on your spinach salad... and fresh, rich green leaves mixed in with tart dried cranberries
  • You like a good, thick, New England style clam chowder.  One which will make you lick the bowl clean.
  • A decent chunk of cheese cake finishes a meal for you.
  • A pile of varied veggies in the lasagne makes a good meal for you, especially if it's enough for a second serving to take off to school the next day.
  • In fact, you like options that contain something fresh and nutritious for yourself, or your kids.
Reasons to not go to the Old Spaghetti Factory
  • You want panache and spark in the cooking.
  • You want anything that isn't pasta.
  • You want pasta that has complex set of flavours, rather than a cream and pesto dish with some random chunks of white chicken breast.
  • You think a broccoli starter should be more than fresh cooked florets drowned in grated cheese.
  • You like your dishes served with a style beyond 'shove it on the plate'.
  • You want the waiters to have a deep knowledge of the wine list.
  • You want a long wine and beer list.
  • Warm bread white bread and whipped butter is not your idea of a interesting start to the meal.

In summary:  It was a enjoyable family meal, at a fair price in surroundings that have been taken care of.  The staff are young and slightly naive, but enthusiastic, polite and fast.  The food is well cooked, but won't win awards for presentation or innovation. It's not trying to win awards for presentation or innovation.  Three of us ate a good meal and had good conversation.  

There's better places in town for pasta. They are catering to a different market and price.  There's place in town that do family-orientated food.  They are often tacky, dishevelled and serve crappy food straight from the freezer.