October 19, 2014

Bon Sushi, Royal Oak, Victoria

It's been a long week, made longer by a Saturday morning in the office testing some code because this is not my full time job.  I say that with the conceit that most people reading this don't know me in real life, when I realize that my regular readers are friends and family (hi Mum!), with a scattering of people linked in from Urbanspoon and Google searches.

So for those people, on with the review.  I pulled off into the Royal Oak plaza for something to eat, and recalled there was a Sushi place there.  Perfect to keep me going for the day.  I duck in through the rear entrance, and am guided from the pick up area to a small table next to the cashier desk, handed a menu and left alone to decide.

My normal sushi choices at a place I haven't been before is BC Roll and Katsu Don.  No BC roll here, and no close equivalent that doesn't involve cream cheese.  Instead I order two pieces of Salmon Nigiri and two pieces of Tuna Nigiri, with their Katsu Don.

The nigiri is a large slice of fish, draped over a small block of rice arranged so it almost hides the white grains.  It's a long thin diamond shape, not too thick and the cut runs across the muscle, which makes sushi feel interesting in the mouth, as well as given more taste.   The cuts were fresh, and worked well with the light soy sauce provided.  The rice was was cooked just right, not too sticky, not too hard.  Very good indeed.

The Katsu Don was not served how I expected it.  I am used to a large bowl of rice, with some breaded pork cutlet, an egg and a few bits of fried onion.  Maybe a little bit of steak sauce dumped on top, or a teriyaki sauce squirted in lines over the sliced cutlet.

Here it was plated up, with a smaller pile of rice on one half of the plate, just enough to hide under the cutlet, which was a good sized piece of meat.  On the other side of the plate was a heap of greens and three yellowy slices of pickled something (beets, perhaps?), and a little ramekin of a gingery, thick vinaigrette.  The cutlet was topped with a good amount of the light brown steak sauce common to Japanese restaurants.  And it was good.  Cooked so it was still moist and tender on the inside, but with plenty of crunch on the outside, I was disappointed when I finished the last bite, even though I was satiated.  The salad made a nice counter point to the rich, savoury meat, with a crisp bite, added to by the dressing and the crunchy, acid of the pickles.

I was at first disappointed that I was given a knife and fork, but you know what?  It made it far easier for me to eat, and enjoy, and not make a mess everywhere.  With a bowl, one can lift it to your mouth and scoop in the rice.  Not so easy with a plate.

I also liked a couple of nice little touches here.  The green tea was softer and less harsh than some genmaicha (roasted rice and green leaf) teas I have had.  Refreshing and gentle.  I also liked the chopstick rest, which made it easier to manage your cutlery while chewing over the Nigiri.

Service was fair, they seemed to have forgotten about me at one point, despite there being four tables and two servers.  But once they recalled the guy hiding behind the plants next to the cashier desk, all was well.   Certainly would go back again for a longer meal.  Pleasantly surprised.

Bon Sushi on Urbanspoon

October 12, 2014

The Half Marathon

My second running of the Victoria Half Marathon happened this weekend.  So not much time to write long reviews of places I ate, or to describe in shocking detail the difference between hash browns and country potatoes.

Saturday was a day with the Brunette, and a nice cup of tea in the Bengal Lounge at the Empress.  Very nice tea, very nice service.  Must go back for the curry sometime.  This was followed up by shopping for running shoes (sales! discounts) and a quick Bento Box at Shiki Sushi.  Rice with steak sauce and little bits of Katsu Chicken.  Tasty stuff.  Filled a need.  Price is good.  Then home, lazy evenings and sleep.

I got up early my body clock decided 5am in the morning was a reasonable time to wake up, even if I did need my rest before the run.  Drank a lot of water, had a banana and jumped in the car.  Then jumped out as I discovered I was missing my race number.  Then back in the car.  And then back put again as I try to find my headphones.  And then finally off, down town, park up and walk to start line.  And the huge queue for the port-a-potties. Thanks to th guy who pointed out the men's standing, open air pillars.  Though it is weird to urinate with hundreds of people behind you....

And then we ran.  I was pacing myself and a friend to finish in two and half hours.  So we started near the back of the pack, to let the faster runners have free space.  Sadly, many people aren't that thoughtful and we spent the first kilometre dodging around walkers.  Annoys me no end.  If you are gonna be walking the course, just hang back.  The extra 3 minutes to cross the line doesn't matter, but lets everyone settle down earlier.

But apart from that, I had a fine old time.  The run down around Beacon Hill Park to Dallas Road fills me with joy and a light footed feeling.  The elusive runner's high and a state of sub-concious happiness that makes you forget you are exerting yourself.  The we saw the Brunette on the turn around at 13 km, provisioned with a banana and fresh electrolyte water it was a nice easy feeling back to Dallas Road.  The last two to three kilometres were harder, but my friend did a grand job sticking to the pace, and we cruised home about ninety seconds under our target time.

Water and a quick change in the View Street Parkade (sorry to the truck owner who had to see that) and met everyone (The Brunette, with her daughter; Andrea who run great despite some water issues, my co-runner and her man) at The Guild for a big fry up.  Lashings of coffee, sunny-side eggs and chunky sausage and a meatloaf sized slice of black pudding.  Thank you, The Guild.  Just what I needed.

A quick medicinal chai at Be Love and a dissection of the race with Andrea and I headed home, for a rest.  Now for Turkey dinner!


October 05, 2014

Purple Garden Chinese Restaurant, Mount Tolmie

The Brunette of my Acquaintance and myself had had a hard days doing things.  You know weekend things, like shopping, cleaning, delivering tickets for the Day of Boardgamers (plus one for cross promotion), generally Getting Things Done.  We were hungry, and had planned to go to the Heart of Asia on Cedar Hill Cross.  Except it was Opening Soon.  Which meant not open yet.  Despite there being a 'Grand Opening' banner up on Friday, and today.  I am sure it'll all be open and serve me soon.  But Saturday was not that day.

So instead we headed into the Purple Garden buffet.  A place that I had heard of from old students of UVic as being okay.  As I'd been past it about two thousand times, I figured it was time to actually go in the place.

Entry is through a parking garage and down some steps into bowels of the earth.  A faint damp smell came to my nose, and the paint work and carpet felt like it was possibly new around the mid 90's.  That certain air of ageing, rather than aged.  That aura of having been once a shiny pebble, but not having been kept up.  Still, it wasn't dirty, or fetid, or scruffy.  It was well lit, and tables were large and the seats comfortable (and far step up from the old school chairs I'd once sat in for a strange cafe curry in Sheffield, UK).  There was a large buffet selection, and the server brought us tea to the table straight away.

So we dropped our bags and headed to the food line.  There's about 40 dishes, ranging from your standard spring rolls and yam balls to green lipped muscles and fish curry.  Plus green, red and blue jello, and a side table with BBQ pork lettuce wraps.  I dug in with a little bit of everything that took my fancy.

The highlights were the ginger beef (is this made from red cows, we wondered), very gingery, crispy and a not over sweet thick dark sauce on top.  The black pepper steak had plenty of bite, with good thick slices of beef, just cooked to tender, not to tough.  The vegetables in it were fresh and crisp.  And the fat, flat noodles were delicious.  The salt and pepper shrimp was particularly spicey, and the bit sizes had a squeaky tender snap to them.

On the other side, the chicken balls were doughy and dry.  The muscles were over done and dry.  Or so the Brunette reported.  I avoid shell fish in a buffet situation.  I didn't need to find out if they were bad by sitting on the toilet for the rest of the evening.  The pork rice was really mediocre too.  A sort of blandness, punctuated with savoury undertones of over cooked pork.  The shanghai noodles weren't for me either.

The spring rolls were decent enough, and duck was not too fatty but also not with that gamey, meaty taste I love from the aquatic fowl.  The dessert chocolate peanut cake felt like it had been made for a kids party that had just been cancelled, by the birthday boy himself, on account of not getting the red bike he wanted from mother and father.  As they let me top it up with a big scoop of ice cream from the freezer, it finished things off well enough, and I figured it was his loss not to have his sweet course.

We paid up ($15/head, cheaper for kids of certain ages) and left.  With full bellies, and no repercussions.  If I went back, I'd hit up the beef and noodle stations for sure.  But can't think I'd rush back, as there's other places with better Chinese fair in town.

Purple Garden Chinese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

September 28, 2014

Catalano Restaurant & Cicchetti Bar, Downtown Victoria

Not to be confused with the Catalina Wine Mixer, the Catalano Restaurant & Cicchetti Bar is in the space formerly occupied by Prime Steak House and before that the sit down eatery part of Hugo's.  It also had a temporary chef running it for a 50 days as a 'pop restaurant' a couple of years back, and may have had a couple of other incarnations in the years I've been in Victoria.

Now it's a partnership between Tim Ferris (of Ferris's Oyster Bar), Dave Craggs (of the Ferris's as well) and Aaron Lawrence, formerly of the Canoe Club.  I read this afterwards, but the big clue to the Ferris link is the 'Weekend Crossword' on the brunch menu. Or the advert on your Ferris bill if you've been there.  Our server Kim was only too happy to tell us about the link, and how the Crossword is a signature dish of the head chef.

Catalano has been open over a year, and made waves in the Huffington Post as one of the top 20 places to eat in BC. Then again that list has Willies bakery at number 20, praising its brunch menu.  Which pretty underwhelming.  And they were writing about the Ciccihetti (basically Italian Tapas) and we were headed in for breakfast.  So different strokes for different times of the day.

We were seated right at the back of the place, on the third of the three split levels, with on side of our table seated along a very comfy bench seat, at a trim and smart brown dining table.  Views saw us looking out across the Union Club and peaking through the streets to the Ledge and the Empress.  There's an array of booths and semi-private tables, with space for you and a half dozen friends to eat.

We got coffee, and the decaf double shot Americano was reviewed by Andrea as 'not the worst coffee she had ever had'.  I think this was praise.  And now I have fulfilled my contractual obligation to quote her this week.  I had the standard pot coffee and it was warm and roasty.  Not super dark, but good to kick start my braincells again after this mornings run along Dallas Road.

The brunch menu lifts from Ferris's with the aforementioned Weekend Crossword.  This is poached eggs, creamed leeks, English muffin and crispy prosciutto lightly topped with Hollandaise. I ordered this, not sure what else I really wanted.  It was damn tasty, with a good scattering of fried cubed potatoes.  The poached eggs were about as good as you can make them, just oozing the yolk over my food, while the white was cooked to a quiver.  If that's not the correct term, it should be...

I did pass on the breakfast tagine.  Not feeling overly adventurous, but I am going to try and convince folks for a second visit to try it now I know the food is well done here.  Other people tried the corn pancakes, which got demolished on both plates, and Andrea ate the Gina Lola.  This was a very light omelette with vegetables, onions and goats cheese.  With a side (topping?) of greens and toasted bread.  The cheese was held back for Andrea and she did seem to be apprehensive when it arrived.  Even though Kim, the server, claimed it was her go to.  A few minutes later and I think Andrea said something like 'You should quote me more in this weeks blog'.  And a few minutes after that 'That wasn't bad at all, I wasn't sure, but I kinda liked it after all'.

My fee for mentions of Andrea is quite high, by the way.  She'll be getting an invoice.

Meanwhile, another friend who doesn't want to be quoted (I think) ordered the flight of bacon with his meal.  This came put as a long narrow plate with six types of bacon, all labelled.  Double smoked bacon, back bacon and lamb bacon were among the samples.  Kim recommended he try the lamb bacon last.  All the bacon was eaten apart from the back bacon, as this appeared to be twice the thickness of a normal slice, and a little fatty rather than a nice medallion of porky joy. The other five types were viewed a success. A flight of bacon!  A taster of bacon!  Why this hasn't been more commonly mentioned, I don't know. It's almost as awesome as the glass of bacon you can order at The Guild.

Overall, everyone emptied as much of their plates as they wanted (rather than leaving some because it wasn't good).  We got the bills, and I was charged for Kim twice.  Apparently she's only worth $0 though, and just there to track the orders.  I'd say a little more than that to their bottom line, as she was chatty, engaging and informative.  She also encouraged us to try out the happy hour, with half price Cicchetti between 4 and 6pm or after 9pm.  If the beer menu is any good (looks okay to me), I'll try and encourage it to happen with the Brunette of my Acquaintance.  Well done on her cross selling us as well, and in a way that worked rather than feeling like a push.

Overall, a place I'll add to my list of place to go and recommend to others.


Catalano Restaurant & Cicchetti Bar on Urbanspoon

September 21, 2014

Stone's Throw, Downtown Victoria

Sometimes, I go to a place and have very little to say about it.

The Stone's Throw is something like that.  It's just a place to get breakfast.  It has triangle buns for it burgers.  Apart from that, there's nothing unique about the place that I could discern. Located in down town Victoria in the Best Western, it once was a De Dutch crepe house.  Now it's a locally owned and operated place serving food all day.

The space is large, functional and nondescript.  I have nothing interesting to say about it.  Our server was bright and smiling. I have nothing more interesting to say about her. Our menu was short and had a half dozen breakfast options and four Eggs Benny options.  I have nothing more interesting to say about it.

I settled for the two egg breakfast, and lashings of coffee.  The coffee was hot and coffee flavoured. The eggs were scrambled and pretty tasty, and the best part of the meal.  The toast was dry, but pre-buttered, and the potatoes were crunchy. Not in a bad way.  Just crispy.  The sausages were a good example of a breakfast sausage.  Lightly herbed but on the small side.  The Brunette of my Acquaintance reported enjoying her bean burrito.  One eggs benedict was eaten, and I think half it came home with the eater. I hope he ordered his eggs hard.  If he didn't, they missed.  Other people had other food.  They may have said something about it, but if they did, it was lost in the general conversation.  As I had a pleasant conversation, and could hear everyone, that's a big plus point.

I also ordered a side of pancakes.  Now, these were big, fluffy and soaked up the butter and syrup well.  I'd order these again with bacon and eggs.  If I ended up in the Stone's Throw again.  Which is unlikely. Not because it was bad.  It's just average.  I wouldn't recommend it and expect huge congratulations for a good choice.  But I would go there if passing early one morning with a half a dozen people and we wanted feeding.  No queue, okay faire, decent price.

But you know, even then, I might think about walking down to the Sour Pickle.

Stone's Throw on Urbanspoon