July 26, 2015

Juma Food truck, Food Truck Fest, Victoria

The food truck fest was a wash out for me this Friday.  I got downtown as the heavens opened, so hardly had a chance to scout around and see what interesting things were on sale. Once the water starts dropping down the back of my t-shirt, I'm done.  I met my (damp) friends and then headed to a small silver caravan that had a chalkboard offering steak specials and an organic lentil dahl.  I thought about a steak or the Chinese five spice chicken wings, but this wasn't the weather for meat al fresco.

I got the dahl.  3 minutes later, I had a medium sized cardboard tray filled with Basmati rice, wilted greens and a healthy spoonful of a rich brown lentil stew. We headed to my friends apartment to eat, and on the way back, the poppadum shards took the worst of the rain.  I can't really rate how good these were.  Even the best in the world would have gotten soggy.

The rest of the meal was great.  The lentils with spicy, but not with an intense heat.  A flavourful, wholesome mouthful.  The greens counter-balanced the earthy tones of the curry.  The rice was cooked perfect.  I liked it.  I'd order more if I can find them again.

So looking to find out where they were from, I found the website, and discovered it's a farm-to-fork operation, producing their own meat and veg to serve.  The lovely brunette of my acquaintance would approve of their home raised, happy chickens.  I guess it's now a case of following them on twitter and seeing if I'll be nearby again.

As for everything else there... my friends said the Mac and Cheese from the Mac truck was awesome, and the burger was big, fat and delicious.  Sorry for the lack of details.  It wasn't a detail sort of day.

EDIT: https://streetfoodapp.com/victoria/juma ; This will help you find Juma, and I guess other food trucks in town.

July 19, 2015

Northern Quarter, Downtown Victoria

The Friday Night Quiz at the old Fort Street Cafe was a night of legends.  Much loved and admired, so much so I still get hits on my post about it years after the Fort closed down.  But Benji and his team are back, with Torin Egan.  Torin ran the food at the Superior Cafe.  Another place I really liked, and that is also closed now.  So if two old favourites team up, you expect good things.

The Northern Quarter is the result.  Looking to have some of the vibe of live music and entertainment from the Fort, with interesting food and drink of the Superior.  It captures aspects of both, I feel in my two visits, but with something different.  It misses the rough, underground (literally) feel of the old Fort Cafe, and also the high art decor of the Superior.  Instead, it feels more like a big open loft apartment, with a big open space from the up front stage to the square bar at the back.  There's copious art on the walls.  There's lots of solid, tough wooden tables, regimented into rows.  The floor is polished concrete, the ceiling has a wavy set of slats hanging from it.  These probably do wonders for the acoustics.

I went in for a quick brunch this past Sunday.  In short, it's pretty good.  It didn't hit the top level of places in Victoria (Glo, Blue Fox, Picnic Too, etc), but it's a solid second tier in Victoria.  The best features of the Eggs Benedict I had were the bacon jam under each soft poached eggs, and the house made tomato ketchup.  Both had pep and zing to them, that worked with the dish. The eggs were soft with a nice runny yolk, but a solid white, so the whole thing kept it together, rather than being underdone and oozing.  The garlicky hollandaise was fresh and not over rich.  I would like to have seen a bit more garlic bite in it, but not everyone wants their breakfast to make them reek all day.

The coffee was plentiful, smooth and rich.  It was kept topped up by an efficient floor staff who made an effort, and went that bit further than just asking for my order.  Benji was working the floor, making sure all his guests were looked after, saying hi to everyone he knew, and making friends with those he didn't. The staff were all great.

I like the space, and I like the effort they are making to get good local music in, have social events, and bringing back the Quiz night.  They have a firm vision to have good food and good entertainment, to build a local scene for all sorts of talent.  I will hopefully convince my group to dine here again for a second opinion.

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July 12, 2015

Picnic Too, Downtown Victoria

My first comment to Andrea on Picnic Too was:

"better than Tim Hortons"

This was not acceptable, she said via her Twitter account:

"Saying picnic is better than Timmy's is like saying it's better than dogs*** #obvious #nocomparison"

I followed up on Twitter with:

"For the record, it was MUCH better than Timmies.  Flavour, fresh veggies, proper smooth Americano "

This passed the Andrea test. Or at least she didn't come around my apartment, knock on my door and leave a paper bag of turds on fire on the carpet outside my door.  And that is acceptance if you ask me.

I went back with my brunch crew this morning to go a for second round.   I got there early and hooked up to the WiFi, on the wooden table in the window. The inside space is small and comfortable, with a variety of low and high seating, and walls covered in a maze of wooden slats. The staff are all super pleasant.

I ordered my 'better than Timmies' breakfast of an Americano and Breakfast sandwich again.  Guess what?  It's just as good as last time.  For $8, this a bargain. The Sour Pickle may give you more for your dollar, but nothing I know is this level of quality for under $10. Tasty crisp sandwich with all the right textures and colours melting together.  The pro-tip if that you can double it for a lunch meal.

But even after that, I had buyer's envy.  The plates of full breakfast that came out smelled like home. A home where hot buttered toast and rosemary and eggs and bacon are on the breakfast table. A home where you have awoken from a deep sleep on crisp cotton sheets, and the thickest, most comfortable pillows imaginable.  Breakfast is ready, and you are just refreshed enough to function within twenty seconds of opening your eyes.  You walk to the sunny kitchen table, where everything is ready for you.

It smelled like that.  It looked like it smelled.  I assume it tasted that way as well.  The breakfast burrito was a tightly rolled mass of eggs and meat.  The red potatoes on the side of the platters had been squashed gently, spilling out their white insides into the buttery covering.  The bacon was crisp.  The yolks golden.  The congee was full of greens and 

The Empire doughnuts they sell are stuffed to the gunnels with fillings. They are not a sorry sad affair, with a squirt of fake jam into a defrosted sugary lump that has been made two thousand miles east. 

I need to go for a run again down Fort Street soon, and then go and eat at Picnic Too again.  The next time I will go beyond the sandwich.

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July 05, 2015

The Sour Pickle, Downtown Victoria

Hands down the best cheap breakfast and lunch in Downtown Victoria.

It's not fancy, it's not going to serve you free range bison on top of artisan bread rolls made by refugee farmers from the Okotoks.  The eggs are eggs made from battery hens, the bread comes from huge loaves, pre-sliced on delivery, the bacon is unsmoked and simple.

That's fine.  When my BLT and coffee give me change from a ten dollar bill, that's value.  Especially when the food is fast, fresh and well prepared.  Two slices of brown bread, a thick slice of tomato, crisp lettuce bed and a couple of rashers of bacon.  Nothing to complain about there.  It's not the world's greatest BLT.  But it's a good one.

To go with it, there's a small pile of crisp fries.  Wedged shaped potato chunks with the skin, they have a crispy outside and a fluffy centre.  There's not much of a potato flavour in there, but they are also decent, and work well with the hot sauce.  The hot sauce has a fair kick to it, just for the warning.  It's not just for flavour effect.

My friends got a thick Monte Cristo sandwich which looked to be overflowing with ham and chicken. The sandwich was scoffed up with no trouble at all and a happy smile on the recipient's face.   The two egg breakfast also got approval by my friend with a lighter appetite.

The service was friendly and kept the coffee levels topped up.  They serve water in thick plastic beakers, and for some reason, cold water never tastes right to me in plastic beakers.  But I have to stay hydrated. My neighbour told me so as I left the building this morning.

The Sour Pickle is small, maybe 20 seats, and simply adorned. Shoved in between Swans and a Hairdressers, they use floor area well, and it's close enough to main areas of the town to be convenient.  They are very welcoming to children, with books and crayons for them to be entertained with.

It'll probably never win an award, or make any top hipsters lists. It will get my business again.

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June 28, 2015

James Bay Tea House and Restaurant, James Bay

Afternoon Tea is apparently a big English Tradition.  Something I only ever had once in the UK before I moved here, at a small, 70's decorated tea room in Halifax.  I was there collecting money for charity as a student, and we decided to have an afternoon tea after the lunch rush and before the commuters set off home.  I don't recall much about it, except there were little cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off and a massive pot of strong tea.

I've had plenty of Cream Teas (which involve piling as much clotted cream and jam on to a fragile scone as possible).  I've had Scottish High Tea which involves a lot of meat before the tea and bread and is effectively a dinner-time meal.  But Afternoon tea with tea cups and petit-fours and pinky fingers crooked out is something that is a special event, not a household thing.

Now, in the space of six months, I've had two Afternoon Teas in Canada.  The expensive, but incredibly practiced one at the Empress, and the lower budget version at the James Bay Tea House.  These are two different ends of the experience.  The first is all formal, in gorgeous surroundings and everything has to be just-so.  And the price point reflects it.

The James Bay Tea House is in a wooden heritage house (or at least looks like it from the outside).  Inside, the tables have white cotton tablecloths, and a pile of condiments in the middle. The walls are adorned with a variety of china plates and pictures of the Queen, Winston Churchill, and Kate Middleton and her baby.   With a pair Union Flags to set things off to show this is meant to be BRITISH and PROUD.  If you look at older pictures of the insides, the walls used to be crammed with double the amount of Royal memorabilia, the pillars covered in horse brasses, and high shelves with commemorative tea sets.  All a bit much, and I'm glad they've toned it down.

Myself, with the lovely Brunette of my Acquaintance and a friend of ours, visited on a quieter afternoon for a natter and a catch up.  I've been told to be nice about the Tea Room.  The Brunette enjoyed herself and thought it was a very lovely place.  Our friend also enjoyed the Afternoon Tea we got served.

I'll relay what I thought as we go through.  We got two smaller afternoon teas along with a veggie burger for the Brunette.  It was served with hash browns.  They were cubed, parboiled and sauteed potatoes for those on Hash Brown Watch.  Rich, red skinned ones, perfect for that sort of treatment.

The tea room had run out of clotted cream.  So we had extra butter to go with our jam. Not quite the same thing, and a shame, as the scones and crumpet served on the lower deck of the triple layer of food were excellent.  The scones were moist and crumbly with a good helping of dried fruit inside. The crust was crunchy, but not crisp.   The second layer had some more scones, which I think were of a slightly different provenance.  They did the trick too.

On the top, we had three small petit fours: a butter tart, a square of Nanaimo bar and something lemony. The butter tart was fantastic.  Buttery, rich and sweet.  I don't like Nanaimo Bars.  The coconut base doesn't do it for me.  This didn't have much of a desiccated coconut flavour at all, so I enjoyed it.

The teapots had little-knitted cosies on them.  This didn't help me much when mine had a bad case of spout dribble.  I'm afraid the table cloth was left a lot wetter than when I sat down.  The brew was good and strong. Not Red Rose, as far as I could tell.  I'd drink it again, for sure.  We got a nice china tea cup and saucer to drink out of.  I could crook out my little finger if I wanted.  I managed to drink using the handle, rather than a paw wrapped around it.  The Brunette has been training me to be seen in polite society.

The service was okay... we had to call back for cutlery, and it was a little slower than I'd have expected for a quiet afternoon.  But there was service, and we got everything we wanted with a smile and pleasant attitude, so not really a big deal.

Overall, this is a pleasant enough spot.  It serves a decent set of food for a fair price.  You don't get the silver service of the Empress, and the view is a crossroads on Menzies Street, not the Inner Harbour.  But at 25% of the price, and a short, short work for the Empress, I'd send a visitor here if they want English style tea room without breaking the bank.

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