November 15, 2014

La Taquisa, Downtown Victoria

Burritos and Tacos and Tex-Mex were a holiday treat for my Dad.  He never loved the pseudo-Mexican you could get in London, but whenever he came over to the US, he'd always try and get one meal in based around spicy beef, beans and tortilla.

I liked a big burrito, stuffed full of protein, beans, cheese and good dollop of sour cream.  The best, fast burrito I've had is about 3 minutes walk from where I am right now, Qdoba in Seattle airport.  He said name dropping to prove his jet setting ways.  For airport food, especially, they make a great tasting, rolled right in front of your face, hot burrito.  The meat is spiced, but not hot. The tortilla is steamed and looks like it could be placed over your face as a refreshing hot towel.  But it tastes nothing like a hot towel, being doughy and flexible, keeping in the contents all in place.

I like to grab a burrito there on lay over between Victoria and Seattle, filling my stomach up before a long distance flight; or refuelling after a long flight in.  Much better than anything high salt and high fat they serve on planes.  I recommend it, while sitting at a table watching the planes taking off.

Qdoba Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

In Vancouver, I have fond memories of eating at Red Burrito on Robson Street near my friends apartment.  Coming back in after a evening playing poker or watching a BC Lions game, we'd grab a burrito, wrapped in a red tortilla and dripping in bean juice.  The meat was not up to much, but the filler always seemed fresh and, well, filling.  But it need a plate, you couldn't transport this and eat in one handed.

Looking at Urbanspoon, it seems it has gone now.  It always looked like someone had put it up in a hurry, with a simple wooden counter and daubed on paint work, cheap Formica tables and plastic chairs.  You weren't encouraged to stay around, really. Get in, get food, get out to wherever the night was taking you next.

So, as this becomes a column of burritos I have known and loved, we go back to Victoria and La Taquisa.  They started in a small shop in Cook Street village, and have now grown to two outlets, one down town and one out in the West Side Village.  They are going for fast and authentic, with certified meat from BC producers.  You can choose your meal, meat and salsa to build up your own burrito or tacos.

The first time I went, I ordered the Chicken Mole burrito with a medium mild salsa.  It was not for me.  The chicken tasted too bland and gritty, and the mole really didn't compliment anything else in the burrito. There was nothing wrong with it, I just didn't care for it.

But I went back again, and got the Cowichan Chicken Tinga El Gordo.  Shredded chicken cooked in a chipotle stew, and then wrapped with grated cheese and beans.  And extra beans for the El Gordo (big sized) wrap.  The tortillas are fresh and you can see the staff making them in the kitchen as you wait.  The meat complimented the rest of the filling, and the fresh, spicy flavour came through to make a package that worked together. Filled me right up, and no complaints.

I sat at the bar table talking through the world and it's worries with a good friend.  There's space to sit and relax over your food. They've made a bright, open space, with a few bench tables.  And decent sized too so you can spread out.  The only odd corner is the drinks and utensils alley way that has the recycling centre.  It seems like a dingy little space where I'm dumping my waste, but also getting a fresh glass of water.  I don't know, but those two things seem like they shouldn't go together.

I am not sure if La Taquisa will somewhere I remember in years to come, but for now, it's good spot.

La Taquisa on Urbanspoon

November 09, 2014

Hernande'z, Downtown Victoria

I used to love Hernande'z when I worked down town or I had cause to be downtown for a fast and fresh lunch.  The mixture of a lightly spiced burritos and fresh local food was a delight.  As I've moved out to the sticks to work, I'm not there as often, and have tended to eat at the Interactivity Board Game Cafe before or during my weekly evening gaming sessions.

But I had noticed a regular weekend brunch with my very favourite meal : 'Huevos Rancheros' taking centre place in the menu.  I prepared with a  fifteen km run with Andrea, then met with the lovely Brunette of my Acquaintance and two of my best-est friends.

We got seated in the walk through mall that Hernande'z lives in, on a little table opposite the closed coffee shop. We ordered in shop water and my friends got in a small basket of nachos to warm up with.  The server was young and had the slight confusion of a teenager in her first job, but with plenty of enthusiasm, so no real problem there. One of the chefs did mention they wished there was coffee available when they opened on a Sunday, and it is one miss on the menu for brunch.  I wonder if there is a quick and easy, but authentic coffee substitute they could offer?

I ordered the standard Huevos, served on thin corn flour tortillas, while the Brunette went for the Huaraches Rancheros.  These are much the same but with one big, thicker corn tortilla that looks a bit like a sandal (and where the name comes from), made from a maize dough and lightly fried.  Both dishes were served with fresh eggs, fresh made beans, fresh salsa and a small heap of a potatoes.

There has been talk that the quality at Hernande'z has gone down hill in the last few years.  This is not apparent in the brunch.  The eggs and beans were as fresh as promised, and tasted wonderful.  The beans had that mushy, grainy feel with a savoury and, well, beany flavour. The salsa was  lively and tangy but not hot, just a bite from the tomatoes.  And those breakfast potatoes were parboiled, fried up a bit and served hot, and kept the new potato taste in there - slightly waxy, slightly earthy.

The tortilla was fresh, soft and you could taste the corn flour, the gritty, savoury dough warm and just a bit of a resistance to the bite. The huarache as more of the same but thicker with a slight crumble to the texture.  Both meals were plenty for one hungry person, and my friends shared a plate between them and were well satisfied.

A great brunch pick up for fresh and fast food.

EDIT : Quote from the Brunette 'Probably the best Huevos I have ever had'.

Hernande'z on Urbanspoon

November 02, 2014

Heart of Asia and Noodlebox, Mount Tolmie, Victoria

After watching Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in 'The Trip to Italy', the lovely Brunette of my Acquaintance and I were hungry.  The film (watched at Cinecenta at UVic) has the pair eating at a bunch of gorgeous Italian restaurants and goofing off about famous people, their careers, being middle-aged and active comedians.  Both the original 'The Trip' and this are well worth watching if you like British Comedy and food.  Or food comedy and the British.

So, watching them gorge on pasta and well cooked food, we were hungry and fancied eating more than a small plates meal at Little Jumbo, and decided to try the Heart of Asia.  Previously, the venue was Jojo Jajangmyeon, but that has closed down, and has been replaced by the Heart of Asia. They've had at least two days with a 'Grand Opening' sign outside, so they've been up and running for a couple of weeks or more now.

We went in and got seated.  The decor hasn't changed much, a few small rooms for private eating and nice wooden tables with open lattice dividers in the main room.  We were handed two tatty looking menus and a nicely printed drinks menu.  Except, they only had bottled beers to serve. No cesars or highballs.  Slightly odd.  And bottles of Canadian were $5.25.  A 12oz bottle.

We got into the menu.  I think I should have checked the menu through before hand, and the rest of the rest of this review is possibly a collision of my expectations with reality.  The menu included Griddled Bull frog, Spicy sheep's intestines, Vegetables and Tripe, and Beef brains.  The Chicken Wings were 6 for $13, though they promised that the fat was well rendered for a crispy texture.  $2 a wing is a bit steep...

Throughout the menu, items were crossed off, in different coloured bits of sticky tape.  The whole thing had been scotched taped together from what looked like two halves, with staples hanging out of one side.  From a restaurant a month old?  Items were in Chinese first and English second, with many items having no price in dollars. I assume the Hanzi next to the items said something equivalent to 'market price'.

We asked about the noodles, and these were off the menu. The hot and sour soup was not vegetarian (no reason why it should be), but we were then informed it could be made that way. At $11, I assumed it was a massive bowl.  But wanting a vegetarian dish, there was nothing that appetizing.  As was pointed out afterwards, Asian food is not very often vegetarian.

So, we decided this was not for us tonight and Noodlebox was going to serve us better.  I was thinking I'd come back solo sometime and try the spicy intestines, just to see what it was like. But tonight, the Brunette and I wanted something simpler and with meat from known sources.  Again, I understand my expectations for the restaurant were wrong.

We told our server we decided we didn't want to eat tonight and to get the bill.  She looked confused and left to find the host.  The host, dressed in a baseball cap (a very different look from the well dressed waitresses) told us that we could have the soup, as it was vegetarian.  We said we didn't want soup, sorry, we'd be leaving.  We were then informed there was a minimum $20 charge.  We'd had two beers and been there for 10 minutes.  There wasn't a queue and it wasn't busy.  Nothing on the menu said about a minimum spend, so I refused to pay this minimum.  The host walked off obviously annoyed with us.  I got up to the cashier, paid the $13 for the two beers, slightly miffed, and the host explained that it was a 'temporary menu' so it wasn't all there yet with the words for the base charge, and not all the dishes were ready yet. Kind of hard to play guess what you actually have.  But still, I'm thinking at this point, maybe I'll come back and try something.  Clearly the cuisine is different from my usual expectations of Chinese food.

But the killer blow for me was when they took my twenty dollar bill, handed back five to me and stuck a toonie in the tip jar.  Without asking, without offering me the chance to tip. I'm done with them now, and I head out rapidly, fuming, with the Brunette just behind and trying to get me to calm down.

As I said, on reflection, I should have checked the menu.  We walked back by later, and the place was pretty full, and they seem to be doing a good trade.  I'm guessing they serve much more authentic Szechuan than this Brit expected, and this mismatch led to the poor experience I got, and the expectation of a full menu and more regular 'chinese' food.

But I also don't expect to have tips forced off me, minimum spends imposed, an open restaurant to have a barely there menu (literally and figuratively), and a bar to not be able to do simple mixed drinks.

Heart of Asia on Urbanspoon

So we walked over to Noodlebox, and got fed a good Pad Thai.  Rice noodles, lots of peanuts, a decent fire in the medium-hot chicken and a full belly.  I agree with another poster on Urbanspoon that the sauce is a little watery, but the food there always fills me up, has a good combination of spice, flavour and texture.  Asian food for the western palate, I guess. We got fed and served to our expectations, so all was right with the world.

The Noodle Box on Urbanspoon

October 26, 2014

Il Covo Trattoria, James Bay, Victoria

The Superior Cafe  served up some excellent food, for both brunch and evening meals.  Apart from its questionable live music choices, it was one the best lesser known eateries in Victoria.  Sadly, there was ownership changes of the building, and the chef and restaurateur moved on, and it became a supper club.   And then nothing...

Until this summer, when Il Covo opened.  I'd vaguely heard about a new place opening, but hadn't really enquired much, with a list of other places I wanted to try for evening dining, and a limited set of opportunities.  Then I had a Wednesday evening booked with the gorgeous Brunette of my Acquaintance, and I'd seen a re-tweet of a BC Hydro candle-lit evening offer.  With the Il Covo on the list, and after looking it up, I decided this was the place to try out.

We arrived early, and had to wait outside while they prepared the candle.  The Superior used to have a cluttered feel, with a lot of art, odd tables scattered around and an awkwardly placed stage.  This has been considerably cleaned up, with a more formal lay out of the seating. The stage has gone, opening up the room with a large picture window at one end.  The high ceilings, lit by a huge chandelier (dim electric bulbs, not candles even for this event) made for a much more open, easy feel.

The place was dark and intimate for this BC Hydro special: being green by dining out by candle light.  Even if candles are probably more expensive in terms of energy to produce than the hydro-electric powered bulbs.  But also a little more romantic.  And it made us realise how dark it must have been living in candle-powered houses in the 1700's.  It also made the menus a lot harder to read, though I noticed one expert diner had their own pocket flashlight.

We settled in with a cocktail.  The Brunette opted for a Negroni, made specially with an Artichoke based Vermouth, which she had loved at Be Love.  The bartender went and found it in their back bar when asked, which was good of them to make a substitution. I went for a saffron infused martini.  Which was a little dry for my tastes, so they sweetened it up.  This made it perfect to sip along with my meal, keeping the taste buds alive and interested.  The Negroni got a full thumbs up too.

For starter, we shared a platter of 'Antipasto mistto della casa', a mix of vegetables and meat.  The pickled and roasted peppers were fantastically sweet.  The pesto and mozzarella piles with a juicy tomato had all the flavours that you expected in Italian food.  The fatty mouth feel of the cheese, the basil and olive oil richness and the tart sharpness of tomato. The other parts were almost as good, but these two items stood out. We were also served two bowls of bread, with an olive oil and balsamic vinegar dipping mix.  I made the school boy error of eating far too much of it before my pasta arrived.  But it was so good.  Light and crumbly with a just crusty enough crust.

Still, I had just room left for my 'Pesto alla Genovese'.  A pile of linguine, covered in a rich pesto sauce and mingled in with new potatoes and green beans.  The potatoes were waxy and had a rich, earthy flavour, set off with the pesto sauce. I could have eaten a pile of these without the pasta. The pasta was al dente, cooked just right to carry and cradle the sauce. And the green beans didn't disappoint.  Blanched beans are one of my favourite foods as they work well so many cuisines, and give a firm bite to food but with a tender, almost sweet flavour.

The Brunette went for the seared yellow fin tuna.  I've often had over-cooked and tough tuna steak, or worse still, its seared to a mush on the outside, but a cold purple on the inside, with neither part having any flavour.  Il Covo turned my views on tuna steak around.  This was juicy and flavourful.  There was a touch of the brine in the steak, setting of the meaty, umami flavour of the flesh.  The vegetables included more of the roasted peppers, with a zesty sauce on top.

The meal was finished with a small morsel of chocolate truffles.  We got those to go, stuffed to the gunnels with the bread, entrĂ©es and antipasti.  Our server boxed them up nicely, though the cream and strawberry topping had gotten all a little smushed around the tin foil tray.  After a spot of digestion back at the VicInPerson ranch, we ate them with a cup of tea, and they were much appreciated.

The downside to the romantic candles was the inability to see the food.  I think it would have looked as great as it tasted, but we just don't know... until we go back.

Il Covo Trattoria on Urbanspoon

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