February 15, 2015

Perro Negro, Downtown Victoria

Perro Negro means black dog.  I think Hemingway dubbed his depression as a 'Black Dog'.  He was in love with Spain, with his books on the Spanish Civil War and Bull fighting and other manliness.  I suspect this tapas bar is not named after clinical depression or Hemingway's struggles with it.  Much more likely, the owner of Ferris' is involved and he loves his pugs...  the logo is a pug wearing a pair of bull horns.

The space is reached through the upstairs bar at Ferris', but it looks like a more direct entrance will be available sometime, given the door and name plate at 538 Yates.  They've taken over space above one of the unused shop fronts, turning the brick and wood beamed interior into a smallish tapas bar, with a cosy, warm feel.  It is good to see Victoria using space in the downtown core, and not letting the upstairs of shops go unused.  There's a depressing amount of empty space downtown now, I hope a trend that gets reversed, else more people will head to the malls, leaving the vibrancy of Victoria's centre to fade.  Which is not good for locals or tourists.

So good on Ferris' to take on a new project, and add to the series of relaxed dining spaces it runs.  Everything on the menu is on shareable plates. The drink menu is long on wine and cocktails, a little short on the beer but has a great non-alcoholic section.  There's seating for about 30-40 people, with some bar seating and lots of decent sized tables for two or four, big enough to get the food spread around, small enough so you can lean in and talk.  There's a surround sound system playing flamenco, loud enough to cover up the ambient noise from the other diners, but quiet enough to hear your friends.

I started with a virgin caesar, sevred with a fresh shucked oyster, a single muscle, and a tasty green bean (the word 'shuck' is a wonderful one, after ;juggernaut', it might be my favourite).  The fresh oyster was juicy and briny joy, spiced with some hot sauce and a bit of horse radish. The caesar itself was hot, which I liked though was a bit of a shock on the first slurp.  Nice starter, and I prefer it served this way than adulterated with vodka.

We then got some serious business of tapas ordering.  I don't have notes on every single item, but among the memorable items there was a fantastic beef short rib 'estofado de carne'.  The rib was slow cooked to fall apart tenderness, offering up a huge, rich flavour. The sauce has olives and orange rind in it, which richens the flavour, and sharpens it up.  And you might get lucky to eat an olive in the gravy, with the very different mouth-feel.  Well worth sharing, even though the half portion is $10, and it's a small half.

The croquette of the day was oozey cheese wrapped with a spiced prosciutto, breaded and fried. Very rich, and I wanted more.  The dish comes with just three thumb sized torpedoes though.  A little snack with the wine and beer, I guess.

We also tried the quince and quail special. My good friend tells me she hates food which starts with a Q. This didn't change her mind.  The quail was served cold, which let the fat congeal and gave it a feeling of sucking a half defrosted raw chicken leg.  The quince didn't really complement the poultry, and the salad served with it go soaked in the meat juices, which really was not pleasant.  I was not a fan.

That was a miss, but the 'papas bravas' were excellent.  Cubes of potatoes, served on a tomato sauce base with a thick garlic sauce on top.  Plain, and simple, they went well with the other food and the more complex cocktails my friends were drinking.  I had moved onto a Moroccan Mint Iced Tea by now, and that was pretty good, though served with a little too much ice, so it lost some of the sweet, sharp flavour by the bottom of the glass.

There was also some baked oyster shared.  This didn't convince me to like baked oysters any more than I did already.  Which is not very much at all.  Nothing wrong with the dish, it was all cooked well, but it's a dish I've had exactly once (made by worked friends) that I've enjoyed.  Not enough crunch in there, I think.  We also shared some chocolate pate served on tiny toasts.  A rich, smooth ganache.  It went down a treat even in the middle of more savoury fare.

All-in-all, it's a good experience, with a good mix of food, great service and nice atmosphere.  Portions are a little small for the prices, I felt. However, it was filling up as when got there at 5.30, and by the time we left, it was humming along.  As was Upstairs at Ferris'.  A new spot to hit up for a small group of good friends, or a casual date night for foodies.  Which means I will be taking the lovely Brunette of my Acquaintance soon....

Perro Negro on Urbanspoon

February 08, 2015

Raymond's, Saanich

I like to think I have a small reputation among my friends for knowing places to eat and drink.  Though the flak they have given me for the 'unfair' 4 Mile House review says they aren't frightened to tell me my opinions are sometimes very, very wrong. I'm now going to add to the evidence that I don't know what I am talking about by making a confession:

Raymond's is not very good, and yet I have eaten there on several occasions.  

I always do it on my own, and always having regrets a hour or so afterwards.  My only thought process when I drive by is I can get food quickly, and it really isn't -that- bad.  And every time I realize, it really is that bad. And more over, its getting more and more overpriced for mediocre food.

I hope by pushing out this review, the world will know my shame, and I will stop eating there, and find a better place when the buffet craving strikes me on the way downtown.  

Raymond's is a Chinese Buffer in the small strip mall at Cloverdale and Blanshard, opposite the Accent Inn. You can see it on from the highway, sitting there next to the Jenny Craig centre. It advertises a buffet and dim-sun.  I've never seen Dim-Sun served.  I have seen people order off a menu.  I have never been offered one, but I've never asked either.

I walk in, and take a seat on a small dining room chair, a nice white table cloth and single fork.  I see the central buffet bar, stacks of plates, and with no further waiting, head over.  The buffet area is tiled, and always feels slippery.  This should have be a clue.  But despite it being offered, I go ahead and take a good pile of fried rice with pork, a spoonful of salt-and-pepper salmon, some ginger beef and garlic pork.  And maybe a serving of vegetables.  Which are primarily bok choy leaves in a sauce that is very watery, but tastes of the tears.  Everything, they say in large labels, has MSG in it.  I would guess the sauce is actually just water, MSG and maybe a lemon.  

I carefully step back to my table, and the waiter offers me something to drink.  I get Chinese tea.  The Chinese tea here is good. I can't fault it.  Maybe I have developed an addiction to it, and that's why I go back again and again?

The rice is heavy on a sour spiced flavour, that seems to be in almost everything here. It's not unpleasant, exactly. It just lurks and hangs around for a good while afterwards.  If you want to keep tasting your food afterwards, this is just the place for you.  The salmon is crispy fried in the skin.  There's a chilli flakes on the thin batter that covers it.  It is a complete waste of salmon.  It feeds you, but the poor fish could have been jerked or candied.  Or treated with a little more care than the hard fried chunk dished up here for gluttons like me.

The ginger beef is better, though lots of expense is spared on the cuts of beef.  The gingery sauce is unctuous, sticky, slightly sweet and not huge on the ginger flavour.  It sort of covers the food in a thick film, protecting it from whatever harm the chef imagines it might come to out there in the wilds of the buffet land.  The garlic pork is a ear sized slice of pork, heavily battered and fried in the same grease as everything else.  There's that sour, spiced flavour again. Just in case you missed it.  Garlic might have been used too, but it's probably hiding with the ginger, to be used sparingly.  The pork used here is great if you are trying to up your fat intake. It satiates the appetite.  Sprinkle on some of the soy sauce, and it goes down fine.  The soy sauce, like the chinese tea, is pretty good.  Plenty of umami flavour, a slight sharpness to the saltiness.

Perhaps I should just work out what brand of tea and soy sauce they use and save myself.

I decide after all that I will try seconds.  It's a buffet.  That why I go to the buffet, to over consume.  My shame for eating here again needs to be assuaged, and the way I deal with this is to eat more.  The cycle continues, and needing my fix, I take some chicken balls, a piece of fried chicken and the shanghai noodles.

The shanghai noodles are thick, rubbery strings with onion and a coating of something that looks like a thin motor oil and tastes the same as everything else that isn't in the vegetable sauce.  That sauce is now feeling like a refreshing change.  The chicken balls are tough on the inside, and battered in a way that makes the batter crumble into powder when you bite in.  It reminds me of the flavour and mouth feel of the one time I ate gluten-free pizza base.  Which was made of dough.

The fried chicken is a trap.  First, the buffet centre is kept hot by a direct thermal jet from seven leagues under Victoria.  This is directed around the food and onto any metal serving spoon used for the chicken.  You might get away with just a painful sting, but I'm sure that at least one person a day will be getting first degree burns from the handle. 

The second part of the trap is the chicken itself.  They slice it into chunks the size of a small chocolate bar, straight from the fried carcass.  It doesn't matter what bones were in there, it's chop-chop-chop.  So the next task is to eat the morsel without stabbing yourself in the mouth with a splinter of bone. The meat you do get is typical fried chicken, crispy skinned and still moist inside.  I love fried chicken, and this isn't bad, if you can eat it with out lacerations.  It's not dried out, it still tastes like chicken, and the grease is possibly fresh.  I'd do better to go to Hanks or Pig, mind. 

By now, I'm full up, which was the main aim of coming in here.  So I head off to pay at the cashier's counter.  I fork over $20 and get no change.  I question my life choices, for the fifth time in thirty minutes.  

But it is a meal that keeps on giving. This time it was just the salmon sitting uneasily on my stomach.  In times past, my gut has sent my brain messages that though it was indeed full, it was not comfortably so, and the contents were not well regarded down there.  My brain however filtered out most of that message and merely stored the information 'Raymonds made the stomach full fast, yay!'.

And thus I keep the cycle going. Every few months I drive by thinking about where to eat, and turn off, past the Red Robin, down the ramp and park in front of Raymonds. Like a good little automaton, enticed by the '#1 Buffet in Victoria' sign.  

Except now, my dear friends and readers, by admitting I have a problem, I hope to end it.  If I am going to eat fast food, I can find better choices, and if I want a chinese food fix, there's better places a short drive away.  

I apologize to everyone that may have been misled in thinking I know anything about eating out.  Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.  Fool me ten times, I have no shame left.

Raymond's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

February 01, 2015

La Collina Fine European Bakery, Saanich

It was a wind and rain storm, which meant of course I had agreed to go running with Andrea.  She decided that I would make a good wind break, and she had just run 10km to meet me, so I guess I could step up.  We managed to avoid the worst of the rain, returning home after a couple of laps Cedar Hill Golf course just before the heavens opened.  I really like the golf course for a good solid urban trail run... lots of hard hills to build up strength and some nice level stretches to just bumble along and thing about the world before the next hard part.

Anyway's, though I had avoided the rain, I hadn't avoided the wrath of Andrea. There was no carbs in the house, so we went on a food hunt.  First, De Dutch (for some reason).  There was a big queue.  Next, The Monkey Tree. Not yet open.  Finally, as the heavens threatened to wash away Mount Douglas, and Andrea's carb deprived mind was beginning to lose it, La Collina Bakery.

This is a small cafe next to the Root Cellar, serving a small breakfast menu and an array of pastries and bread. I grabbed an apple muffin along with a two egg and bacon breakfast plate and a coffee. The muffin filled up my glucose stores (honest) and the coffee did something to calm down Andrea's rage, which by now was threatening the western world with annihilation via tweets.  I am not sure how that would have worked, but as it's two weeks later and we are all still here, we didn't have to find out.

The breakfast plate arrived, and had some of the finest hash browns I've had in town. Not a grated patty, which I love and would rave about for hours to my bored friends. But small strips fried and bashed together into a mashed up mess.  Crispy, browned and smashed up as well.

The eggs were done fine on my plate, over easy with a runny yolk, puddling into the mashed up tatters.  Andrea ordered before me, so her eggs were on the burner just a little longer, and they had solidified a little in the centre, more Over Medium, I suppose.  The bacon was all crispy and crackling and piggy goodness.  The toast was pre buttered, but dry and a bit tasteless for wholemeal.  It all worked out and got our energy back for the 10 yard dash back through the rain to the car.

A pretty good spot for emergency fast breakfast.

La Collina Fine European Bakery on Urbanspoon

January 25, 2015

Varsha Sips and Nosh House, Downtown Victoria

The word nosh comes from the Yiddish word 'nashn' which in turned comes from Middle German 'naschen' meaning to nibble.   Which makes it a fine word to use for a place that's not exactly a restaurant, and not really a bar, and certainly not a fast food joint.  I only checked the etymology, as I wondered if it came from India, as Varsha serves Indian style comfort food.  But nope, it's the Dodd family's move into dining.  And if they are as successful at this as moving furniture and lumber, it'll be around for a long while.

For those who don't know Victoria, Gordi Dodd is local legend for his cheap-o adverts for his home furnishings store, as well as his good prices and services.  My latest bed and sofa were brought there, and I've slept well on both.

The restaurant takes over the corner that was home to Nando's (spicy roasted chicken, which I love, and everyone else seems to think is better done else where) and before that a conveyor Sushi place, where the conveyor was a large scale train-set.

Varsha has a much better set up, with a series of small booths around the windows, bench seating for slightly bigger groups and set of tables one one side for parties.  It's all clean lines, square edges, and certainly not the old British curry house.  No flock wallpaper.  It's modern, yet still relaxed with the bright prints and fabrics.

The menu is not heavy on lists and lists of curries and meats and variations.  It's doing comfort and quick plates with a Indian twist, not a full blown 3 course extravaganza.  The stand out is the Masala fries.  Served as poutine, where the gravy is butter chicken sauce, this is a fantastic combination.  Though I would love to try it with paneer rather than curds. The spicy dust all over the fries makes them incredibly moreish, with a got crisp bite to the potato.  Coupled with the gooey, creamy mess that the curds and sauce merge into, and you've got a winner.  And I ate them with my friend who knows her poutine, and she ordered it many times.

Elsewhere, there's burgers, wraps and tacos. I tried the fish tacos once, and the tandoori grilled fish was great, and the chef knows how to prep seafood it seems.  The crispy, pakora fried one was a mess of flavours and textures, and a real pain to eat.  My second visit, I tried the coconut fish curry.  This was good to, with a subtle spice to the dish, flakey white meat in the sauce, tender and tasty.  I spiced it up with Varsha's home brand chutney, which is nice enough, but not sure worth the extra dollar to order.  This dish came with a light naan bread and some fluffy white rice, and filled me up.  A cosy, happy feeling inside.

I got my meal with chai tea, which was also well balanced between the cardamom and other spices.  A steaming mug of this will set lots of things right on a cold evening.  I need to remember this place on the rotation of easy dinners to do down town.  I like the setting, I like the service and I like the unfussy, but original combinations on the menu.

Varsha Sips + Nosh House on Urbanspoon

January 18, 2015

White Spot, Victoria Airport

Apparently, if I've had a beer, I write better.  This seems unlikely, but lets see if I have hit my Ballmer peak.  Just watched the the NFL conference games with a beer or two at the Garrick's head, and I think the Disruption IPA from Category 12 has hit the spot very nicely indeed.

Or I'm about to phone it in.  I am reviewing White Spot after all.  

A chain of BC restaurants, which you can find pretty much in every town in the province.  They push the comfort food angle, with specials evoking Tuscany, top-end chefs, local ingredients and fresh produce.  But to me, they are a sit-down burger joint.  The rest is window dressing.

I've tried the pasta, and while I am sure their Red Seal chefs take some pride in their work, I could have passed the ribbons through a sieve with very little effort.  It was a gloopy, starchy mess.  Since then, I've avoided anything there that isn't between two slices of bread.

Victoria airport is small and modern, and houses two coffee kiosks and a White Spot ground side.  So, when dropping of my friend for a trip out east, we grabbed an evening meal before they took of on the last flight out of the city. Air side you do now have the option of a Spinnaker's franchise bar, which I have used and can recommend.

Seated in a large, padded booth, in an open plan restaurant, we had a view of the departure board and the TVs, tuned to the sports highlights on a never ending loop.  Our server bounced over and brought out two fresh glasses of iced water with asking, present two menu's... the standard thick tome and the two page Comfort Food special.  I read through, thinking about go off plan, but recalling the pasta, I went for the burger. My friend ordered the same, wanting half-salad and half fries, which they don't do.  But they do bottomless fries, so I ordered them.

The burgers came out fast and hot, and immediately delivered with a second plate of fries. I am sure that had something to do with the place being due to close not long after we sat down, but nice touch.  The burger was good... they char up the bottoms of the patties good, adding in lots of flavours from the crispy meat bits, without losing too much of the juice from the beef.   I am also quite partial to the special sauce... slightly tangy, slightly creamy (mayo and tomato ketchup probably figure highly in the mix).  While not the greatest burger, it's a good one.

The fries were fries.  A little soft, but not soggy.  Sort of just a little... wilted?  Or perhaps out too long?  Still, I polished of my serving and some of the second plate.  So that worked out.

It's burger.  It's a chain restaurant.  What they do as a main stock in trade they do competently well.  What more can I say?

White Spot on Urbanspoon