April 20, 2014

Visting, revisiting around Victoria.

A short series of revisits this week rather than a full on review. Mostly as I've not eaten anywhere new that merits a super long post and I think it's good to go back sometimes to places you like.

The Reef - I want the Reef to be better than it is.  The Jerk chicken roti and johnny cakes are a firm favourite of mine.  I like how they handle larger groups, the staff are always welcoming without being over familar, and super competent.  But whenever I go off plan, sadness entails.  We went down their for brunch, fuelled by a Groupon (lucky timing, as we had plans already to visit) and a booking with OpenTable.  The best quote was "well, I'm glad we got the Groupon discount for that".  It wasn't terrible, but undercooked eggs and generally rushed food made us cross this one of the brunch tour. Obviously, giving the ratings, many people disagree.  But it seems once you go off the core food, the just can't deliver great food.

The Reef on Urbanspoon

Little Jumbo - Following the twitterfeed of @LittleJumboBC, I noticed they had Greenalls Gin in stock.  When I drank a lot of G&T in blighty, Greenalls was my favourite, mixed with a slice of lime and Schweppes' Tonic.  Drank long and slow, G&T was a favourite summer drink, and I recall it being cheap.  Or at least the same price as Gordon's.  So, I got back there to rekindle my association, along with the Brunette of my Acquaintance.  After a fine showing of 'Alan Partridge' at the Victoria Theatre, we went for an snack and a drink. Greenall's wasn't listed on the menu, but asking for it by name brought us both a double measure and a bottle of Fentimann's finest tonic.

And it was every bit as good as I remember.  Slightly peppery, slightly sweet, and damn fine with lime and this fancy, drier tonic.  The price point wasn't as cheap as I recall it being in London, but I suspect import duties and rarity here have something to say about that.  But it was worth it for the memory and the new enjoyment of sharing it with the Brunette.  Plus we had food, which was also excellent, but it always seems to be.

Be Love - I've kinda been thinking about how to recreate the Be Love bowl at home. I love the simplicity of it, but also the big stomach smile I had inside. Or more, just wanting to.  But being lazy, I haven't done it yet.  So after an awesome morning run around Thetis Lake with Andrea (whose blog contains warnings and is meant to be humourous), we headed there.  I tried the Brahma bowl, just to try something else.  It was also great.  Spicy lentils, brown rice, greens and a raita.  Good stuff, though a little fussier than the standard bowl, and I'd want a little more spice to the dahl (just shaking on the cayenne wasn't enough).  I'd avoid the Americano next time (sorry, Almond Milk doesn't work as well as full cream for me) and go back to the herbal tea.

I also tried the almond butter and chocolate cheesecake (cashew cheese).  Tasty and rich, but I didn't love this quite as much as the vanilla one the other week.  Andrea, however, was in some sort of rapture, and I had to sit quietly while she finished communing with the spiritual side of Victoria.  I guess Almond Butter is not my addiction.   I will be back again this coming week for more of the Love Bowl.  

McRaes - A Monday night softball game, and we took ourselves afterwards to McRaes.  Monday night is half priced wings.  $5 for a ten with any drink.  Great deal, the blue moon wings (blue cheese and franks) are cheesy and hot with bite.  Best of the ones ordered... the hot wings themselves were just a good example.  Beer choices were limited but a passable mix of local drafts but you'll not find anything rare or unusual.  Just  place to go when in the area, I guess.

McRae's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

April 13, 2014

Zocalo Cafe, Courtenay

Myself and the Brunette of My Acquaintance went up to Courtenay so I could run the half marathon there and she could find Le Cache, a fabric and design store from Quebec that has much love.  Though it was just happen stance that we came across it once we got up there, it FEELS like it was her reason to come along.

So we had a nice relaxing time up there, apart from two and a quarter hours where I ran through some very quiet and tranquil farmlands of the mid-island.  As running 21 km goes, it was good run, and I felt pretty psyched afterwards.  But I needed fuel for the drive home, and we went into this cafe on the corner of the high street that felt like it had a good vibe to it.

It seems to be 3 parts cafe, 1 part casual venue and 1 part gallery.   Big open space with wooden floors, wooden tables and art on the walls.  There's some smaller tables in the corners to be a little more intimate or space for larger groups eating family style.  The toilets are down a staircase, and possibly needed a bit of love and attention the day we were in.  But nothing serious.

You go up to the counter to order, which is small and over shadowed by a large display case of fruit pies and cakes. Then grab a table and someone runs the food to you.  And then makes sure you have cutlery, sauces, and general happiness.  They were so good at the latter, ensuring we were enjoying the food, and if we needed anything more. We were both really impressed by the chef checking that my meal was how I wanted it.

Possibly as I had ordered the Veggie burger with egg and bacon.  The burger patty was a great mix up of carrots, nuts and pulses.  Just how I like a vegetable patty. No fake meat here.  The egg yolk flowed over it, like a simple hollandaise, and the bacon was just there because I really like my veggie burgers with bacon.  Served with a mountain of green salad, this was fast, fresh and contained some vitamins I am sure I needed.  And bacon fat than I am sure I deserved.  The Brunette ordered the Salmon burger which was yummy (or a quote similar to that), and I have been reminded several times that I needed to write about how good this place was.

We also got a side of the oven cooked potato wedges.  Baked and crispy, these were giant sized fries, with garlic and rosemary in the pan.  Lots of rosemary, and enough garlic to get the flavour without monstrous garlic breath.  Tasty chunks, with lots of soft floury potato in the centre.  A little heavy, and I'm glad we shared a portion.  Rather than trying a full portion with my meal, these were perfect to share and served with a nice portion of chipotle mayo.  Good chipotle mayo is a wonderful thing, and this was indeed a wonderful thing.

Very happy with the meal, the service and the venue.

Andrea turned up with her crew just as we had demolished the food.  They ordered burgers, and we dissected the run, the town and the drive up.  They had been in Atlas the night before, and also enjoyed their fine vegetarian selection.  I'm not sure of their thoughts on Zocalo, I did note they left the Potato wedges behind.

One of the problems I sometimes have with blogging is not remembering all the details if I come back after two or three weeks to write a place up.   A couple of pictures and receipt often help, but I am trying to get into the habit of writing earlier and making notes quicker.  If other bloggers have trade secrets to share on how they keep information fresh, I'd love to hear about them.  Though live blogging may be tried out with Andrea in the near future.  If you have a suggestion of somewhere to try, please leave comments.

The Zocalo Cafe and Gallery on Urbanspoon

April 03, 2014

BeLove, Downtown, Victoria

After a good training run, I met up with @RunnerChicWC (aka Andrea, of almost as many mentions as the Brunette of my Acquaintance).  I'd done a nice gentle run around the work place, she'd run about 300km, wrestled two bears and bench pressed the Himalayas.  Or something close to that, I'm sure.  The restaurant we ended up in had a noise problem (or I had soap in my ears) that met some of the conversation drifted into the wooden rafters.

BeLove advertises Vegan, gluten-free food, free of processed sugar, added additives, no dairy and mostly organic, local produce.  Yes, it's a place like that, which some folks will scoff at while others will think it's the single most beautiful list that a restaurant could have.  Just to add to the hippy vibe, lets chuck in part of their manifesto : 'heal the body, mind & soul. here to honour our earth community'.  Oh, the cynical bones in this authors body are starting to twitch and spasm.

Oh yes, pre-expectations and biased views abounded, but having been told by Andrea it was good, and one her personal heroes eats there a lot, and knowing that trying new stuff is the whole bloody point, I got in touch with my softer side.  And just like a five minute breathing exercise to connect with the karmic energies, it might be hippy mumbo jumbo, but I felt fantastic after the meal.  So, they've got something there.

The weird item on the menu, for me, with a place so free of everything I'd call fine is the inclusion of libations.  Gluten free beer, cocktails and wines. On the other hand, fermentation happens naturally, so why not turn some sugars into alcohols as part of a healthy meal?  Though I drove down, and stuck with a Lazer Beam Cream Soda.  A flash back to my youth, but sharpened up and slow drinking.  Did the trick to start it all off right.

As out came the Falafels (for me) and Yam Chips with Gucamole (for her).  Warm and lightly spiced with a creamy sauce (made from cashews, some how) these fritters had a savoury chickpea satisfaction.  Just about cooked right, they crumbled but only once you stuck a fork in them.  Well turned out.  The Chips and Guac were okay, the yam chips didn't make me cry out for more, but Andrea seemed to polish them of with a happy smile, and we carried on discussing meditation and thought cleansing.  Of course, the venue just led to it!

For the main course, I ordered the Love Bowl.  This has no fixed price, with the aim to turn no-one away.  I am not sure what would have happened if I'd refused to pay, but I do believe that being an arsehole leads to people noticing, repercussions and being unhappy. Karmic justice, with a practical bent.  So I did pay a little over the suggested price $8, was simply bet well fed.  It's a dish of carbs (quinoa for me), steamed greens and pulses (black beans) with a dressing (lemon-tahnini in my case).  Simple pleasures, you can make this at home easily enough, but I'm not quite organized enough to do so that often.  But the dish reminds you -can-, that simple food is tasty and good for you.  Because I really did feel content afterwards.

Andrea had the Green Bowl, which was a riot of green veggies, mushrooms and green curry sauce on brown rice.  It tasted damn fine too, though lacked the simplicity of the Love Bowl.  But perhaps I was feeling spartan.  Of course, that's why I ordered the Tiramasu to complete the meal.  This got quickly swapped with Andrea's cheese cake.  It was a heavy dense block, tasting of brandy and coffee and with that damp biscuit mouth feel, and too much coconut for me.  But I probably just got exicted by the towering, layered look of the meal, and forgetting Ièm not a Tiramasu fan.  Whereas the cheesecake was lighter, but still had that heavy, cream cheese mouth feel, and a tasty crushed base of toasted nuts and dried fruit.

But, I cry, how can you make cheese cake and Tiramasu without diary? Without gluten? Without refined sugars?  Possibly magic pixie dust and heavily disguised clay.  But more likely, cashew nut cheese, coconut milk, experience and skilled kitchen staff.  It seems less likely to get the health inspectors in, too.  And Pixies don't like sharing.  For the record, Andrea was also happy with the swap and I think her grin afterwards was even bigger than it was at the start.

Overall, I was very satisfied leaving.  I had a great meal, at a fair price for food that isn't my normal diet (but feel it should be more often).  I did feel great afterwards, and it's good to catch up with Andrea.  Though I seem to have not made enough direct quotes from her this time, she might fill them in the comments.

Be Love on Urbanspoon

March 30, 2014

Jojo Jajangmyeon, Mount Tolmie, Victoria

In the variety of shops near my house is a parade of store fronts that used to house the Fired Up paint your own ceramics centre.  I never visited it, because I felt no need to paint my own plates.  The stripey ones I got from Zellers do me just fine.  And cost me much less, even if they do appear in many different kitchens around Canada and the rest of the world.    I have now visited its replacement.  The K-Pub "Jojo Jajangmyeon".

Note first that the Urbanspoon entry has a spelling error in it.  Jajangmyeon is, according to my research, a dish of thick wheat noodles in a soy bean paste sauce.  I am not sure who JoJo is, but they obviously are proud of this dish. So they named their restaurant after it. And myself and the Brunette of my Acquaintance headed there one quiet and raining Saturday night.

Inside, this is a lovely-looking place.  Aesthetically, its got clean modern lines, in the big tables, high backed chairs, the thin dividers and lots of perpendicular lines. There's subtle lights around the bar area pikcing it out as the central focal point, though this is ruined by the flat panel TV above it. Korean (I assume) music plays in the background, not loud enough to interrupt your conversation, but enough to stop you hearing your neighbours talk.

The style is similar to many of the Asian-fusion eateries in town, but it feels like it came from the iPad generation.  Though, that might be the iPads on every table.  On which one orders.  There are two or three sliding doors on one wall which lead to more intimate rooms for groups, and the two front of house staff are left to prep drinks and bring out food from the kitchen.

The menu was limited as they had just re-opened (*).  But there was enough on their to choose a feast from.  Plus I love playing with technology, though I am sure the Brunette would have preferred me to engage in polite conversation.  And the downside of a menu on an ipad... no-ome comes around that you can ask awkward question about the contents of their dishes (everything seems to contain ground pork, by the way).

But we did get the helpful lady over to tell us about the food, and ordered up... no Jajangmyeon, but a seafood Pajeon, white kimchi, rice, and a soft tofu hot pot.  The Pajeon is a large pancake made from egg, wheat flour and rice flour, mixed in with green onions and in this case all sorts of fishy goodness.  Shrimp, calamari, possibly octopus and other shellfish.  It was rich dish, that filled me up a little too far by the end of the meal.  But very moreish.  Easily shared amongst 3-4 less hungry individuals.

The soft tofu hot pot was great.  A spicy, sauce with tofu that had the consistency of a soft poached egg white. And little bits of ground pork. So don't be thinking this is a vegetarian dish.  Really warming on a wet day.  And the white kimchi accompanied it well.  This is pickled cabbage that's not been smothered in a chilli sauce, so it has the damp, acidic crunch but with none of the heat.

It being a Korean-style pub, we ordered beer and sake to go with it.  I got a Black Crown Bud.  Mostly as I had not seen it served anywhere (though that has a lot to do with me only looking at the craft beer normally, and not playing with an iPad to look at every option).  It didn't blow my socks off, but a cold beer with more colour and malt than standard Budweiser, it went very well with this meal.  The Brunette got some warm sake, which was much enjoyed.  I sipped it, and think I prefer my sake cold.  Not that either way is 'traditional', as some foodies will tell you in the more snobby moments.  Drink it how you like it.

Other things on the menu were piles and piles of chicken pieces that were available in massive party platters (several of which disappeared into one of the side rooms). There was a couple of noodle dishes and a Bibimbap.  And that was pretty much it.  Prices were good (we had more than enough food and a drink each for $44). I'd heard quotes of 25-30 dollar dishes, but none of those were on this menu.

I may well go back, even though I can go to Pho-Ever as well for Korean-style food.  I like the ambience, I liked the food, and really should try the signature dish sometime.

Jojo Jajamgmyeon on Urbanspoon

(*) The one worrying part about them just re-opening comes from their facebook page.  A Mr Adams of the CRD Environmental Health board wanted to know when the 'clean out' had taken place from their last inspection.  The day before we visited it appears.  I could read a lot into this, but right now the place is still open, so hopefully this all past them.

March 23, 2014

Poutine 66, Quadra Village, Victoria

Recently, I was trying to sell my old car, as I had replaced it with a slightly newer and much lower mileage model.  This is not a metaphor.  The new car will do me many years of service, as had the lovely British Racing Green one. But for some reason the rest of the world hadn't understood how simple awesome my old car was.  One of my best friends offered to re-write my Used Victoria ad, in return for poutine when the car sold.

Well, it finally sold at the end of February, to a car enthusiast whose very happy to race around in it and give the extra love and care it needs.  And my friend got her poutine dinner.

In Victoria, the Daddy of Poutine is La Belle Patate in Esquimalt.  It's been described as the best poutine west of Montreal by one emigrant from Montreal. It's grungy, it's out of the way, but serves piping hot tubs of gravy laden cheese curds and fries that warm your belly and make you feel alive.  I highly recommend taking it out to eat at Saxe Point at watching the cruise ships go by, and realizing that life is damn wonderful.

But, I'd seen somewhere a link to Poutine 66 in Quadra village, and convinced my friend to try somewhere new.  We took the short drive there from down town (in the new wheels) and dove into the store before anything bad could happen.  I don't know why, but Quadra village has this reputation for being sketchy.  I've lived in London... it's possibly less sketchy than most of that city, but for Victoria, I suppose it's just a little worn.  Or real, as you could define it.

I digress.  Food.  You can get Poutine. Or poutine with extras.  I got the Montreal Smoked poutine, in regular size for under $10.  Big fries, lashing of gravy, chunky cubes of salty beef and big fat peas, with a bit of friend onion chucked in for good measure.  All with that all important handful of cheese curds.  Melting into a gooey mess around the potatoes and merging into the gravy.  It's not for your diet.  It's central heating and comfort food. It was bloody great, except that certain 'squeak' of the curds just was not quite there.

My friend had the original recipe.  Gravy, curds, fries.  Same fantastic flavour and consistency, less salty and also missing the 'squeak'.  If it wasn't for that little detail, this would be 10/10 and mean a trip to Esquimalt was less necessary for poutine.  Instead, for quantity and value, it is one mark shy of perfect.  Seriously will consider it again when I need to comfort food pig out (and I'm out of baked beans on toast at home), but not quite enough to tell people 'you HAVE to go there'.

Poutine 66 on Urbanspoon