July 24, 2016

Victoria Sushi, Victoria West

I'm currently using some space in Vic West to rehearse a show for the Victoria fringe (see: aQuietSeason.com).  The scary part about doing my own show is that someone out there will be reviewing it with the same critical eyes I've done to other fringe shows.  But I'm pretty happy with what's been built so far, so we'll see how it goes.

And as a bonus for me, it means I can check out a couple of places in Vic West for dinner beforehand. Last week, I walked into Victoria Sushi, in Westside Village Mall.  This square is just over from the Dockside Green development but has been around far longer than that new build.  The Sushi restaurant is on one corner, so has plenty of natural light to offset the black and dark brown tones inside.  The lighting is kind of moody in there, with diffuse light, and there are lots of glass panels with bamboo strips stuck to them...

Service didn't blow me away.  I was sat on my own at a large table (six-person table) in one corner.  It then took a while to get an order taken, once I had green tea served.  And then a while for the food to arrive.  I went for my typical choice of Pork Katsu and BC rolls.

The Katsu was served on a small bed of lettuce, with about three tablespoons of rice and a ramekin of a thick, brown sauce.  The Tonkatsu sauce was the best part of the meal.  It had a tingly spice and a pleasant gingery flavour, as well as being unctuous and gloopy over the breaded pork.  The pork had been pounded flat o make a very thin, crisp cutlet.   It was a bit dry but otherwise was okay, but nothing superb.  I've had better.

The BC Rolls were also fine, but again nothing wonderful.  They also arrived so late into the meal, I thought they'd forgotten about me.  I have kind of forgotten about the BC rolls now, so it's a mutual disinterest.  But I did note that there wasn't much of the crisp, BBQ-smokiness to the salmon skins the role.  Which is the combination of flavours I love to have in my food.

I'd not pass up on Victoria Sushi if I am over there again, and the ambience did start to grow on me.  But there was nothing that made me want to travel to visit.  And nothing that made me completely avoid ever again

July 10, 2016

A First Nations Potluck Feast and 200 posts

This is my 200th blog post on Victoria in Person.  I hope someone made a cake for me.  Ah, here it is... but is looks like it got mostly eaten on the way.

The above is a pretty awesome cake made with yoghurt by the Brunette of My Acquaintance. And it was not made for this blog, but instead for a potluck.  This was held outside the Mungo Martin house, next to the BC Museum, in honour of a visit from Kamloops by one of her friends. Forty of her friends and family gathered to meet up and share food from all sorts of places.

There was a massive pot of fish soup which was damn tasty.  Or the portion I had without Oolichan oil (aka Grease) was.  I was warned by the First Nations's folks who invited me to share the meal that it was a rather distinctive flavour and an acquired taste.  Super fishy, and strong, cloying smell.  Reading up on the fish itself, the smoked or fresh meat was a big part of the diet for the coastal peoples, and the oil was traded extensively into the interior. Creating the trade routes known as the 'Grease Trails'.

There was also Bannock.  Bannock was a Scottish way of prepping bread, mostly by frying the dough on hot stone. It was either taken up by the First Nations or very closely aligned to a way of preparing maize before the Scots brought their version over, and the two things became aligned.  In any case, the style here was plain but tasty.  If you took all the bad things on a Krispy Kreme donut away (the terrible sugary coating, the nasty oil taste), and squished them down in a flat patties about the size of your palm, you'd get this Bannock.  Except I'd probably eat it before you got it.

Finally, for dessert, there was Sxusem, more commonly known as Indian Ice cream.  This is a whipped mix of soap berries, water and sweetners.  It makes a big pink-orange frothy mousse, eaten with a spoon.  Soap berries are well, soapy tasty, and bitter. The soap flavour sort of fades after the first taste, and it's a pleasant sort of bitterness, not unlike the pleasant bittering of hops in beer.  What is neat is that berries are a source of saponins, that have the effect of creating the foamy mass to make the dessert.  The saponins might have some positive effects on digestion and reducing inflammation, though the research is still out.  The lady who gave me some of the juice left over swears by drinking some very day, diluted with water.  Though she also said harvesting the berries is not the easiest thing to do either.

I'm very grateful for being part of this gathering, even if my contribution was carrying some boxes, and chopping up a salad (which was not my finest pile of greens ever...).

So here's to number 300, I'm keeping at this, Andrea!

June 26, 2016

Famous Original Pizza, Downtown Victoria

I think calling your pizza joint 'Famous' is hubris, especially when there's only one in the chain.

I think calling it 'Original' when your knocking off the New York style seems odd, even if you acknowledge you are inspired.

I think calling it 'Pizza' is spot on.

The venue is hot, and narrows, funnel like into the gloom.  Up front you have big picture windows, brightly showing the city passing by on Yates Street. As you walk up to order, though, it gets darker, and the venue thins to narrow booth and a skeeball corner.  The heat from the lamps and ovens starts to wash over you, and the aroma of freshly baking pizza hits you.

You can see the pizza's ready to buy by the slice, but you do have to ask what they are... there's no signage or labels up to tell you whats currently on offer.  The harried staff must get bored of folks whats up and ready.  In between serving, pouring drinks, massaging the dough, prepping the sauce and piling on the toppings.

The pizzas here are BIG thin-crusted pies.  Generous but not deep on the toppings, baked onto a just thick enough base.  The base, in fact, is the single greatest thing with these pizzas.  Crispy at the rim, but soft in the centre, so you have to fold the slice to get enough structural support to eat the point. The point oozing with cheese and a flavourful tomato sauce base, and maybe anchovies, or bacon or pepperoni, or a medley of vegetables.

That base... it just has a freshness to it, and a mouthfeel to it that's a delight.  Often the crust is the worst part... here, it's not the -best- but after the rich toppings, there's something pleasant about the way the crust just crunches.

I'm not sure it's famous (yet) or original (really).  But I guess 'The Good NY-Style Pizza' isn't quite the marketing dream.

It's good pizza. Probably the best ready-to-go place in town.  A slice is a deal at $3.75... and you can wash it down with a decent craft brew as well. I would recommend getting your face around a slice.  And they have anchovies.

June 12, 2016

Crows Restaurant, Gorge Road, Victoria

The Crows restaurant is in the Ramada on Gorge, in the same space that used to be occupied by the Cecelia Creek Restaurant. The Creek did really good food when it first opened, but was marred by a very odd attitude to splitting bills and taking cards.  They had a change of ownership last year, but that seems to not have saved the venue; and it's now under a brand new name; and another set of owners.

So, we headed of for brunch on Sunday morning, as two of my friends have moved within walking distance.  No lines, but there was a good number of people eating in there. Quietly busy.  Which is probably the sweet spot for any brunch joint. Enough to keep things lively, but not crammed in so it's a rushed, painful experience.

The coffee is brewed dark and strong, and has kept wired until 11 o'clock. Cream is sadly single server creamer in plastic cartons, which doesn't jive with the hipster mason jars of brown sugar and a tiny coffee spoon. The water is provided in big glass bottles, so no waiting for the servers to keep you hydrated.  Much prefer little jugs of milk or cream.  It seems more homely and welcoming.

The menu is extensive, but doesn't over stretch itself into too many options.  You have a variety of benny's, a variety of traditional meat/eggs/potato combinations, some waffley/pancakes and a small set of specials.  Including Shakshouka, poached eggs in Moroccan tomato sauce, with garlic bread.  Which sounded awesome, but the Trueman grabbed my eyes.

Spoons and Floyd's have their own 'dealer's choice' options, and the Trueman is the Crows version.  Choose either breakfast or lunch, omnivore or veggie, sweet or savoury, and for $11, the chef will send out something random.

I like random. I like surprises. I also liked the $11 price tag.  So I went for that, and got a plate of potatoes and double deck burger bun stuffed with a sausage+chicken omelette, with big chunks of tomato.

The Trueman
It was indeed delicious, as promised, and not so huge my stomach muscles were over stretched.  A hearty breakfast, not an idiot sized one.  I did have to ask for ketchup and hot sauce (neither were offered), but the mole spicy sauce was worth asking for, and added a pleasant level of heat and pepped up the eggs just how I like them.    The potatoes were cooked to a dark crisp.  They looked burnt and not incredibly appetizing... until I tasted them, and they were crunchy yet soft on the insides.  I am not sure it was intentional to have a couple of stray yams pieces in there as well, but there they were, and they seem like a happy accident.

Two of my friends ordered the Goat Benny, which was reported back as tasty, with a good (not great, but good) Hollandaise.  The sausages that came with Crow's nest (French toast with eggs) were huge fat boys.  Reported back as juicy and full of flavour, though they also looked like they had been over-cooked, they weren't.

The general verdict was to visit again.  It was a good price, and they were more than happy to split bills and let us pay in any way we saw fit.  The need to do it as one big bill seems to have gone with the new ownership.  Thank goodness.  The visual presentation possibly needs a bit of a tweak, but this was a solid breakfast, with no lines, no mucking around and decent size servings to keep you going all day.

The Crows space doesn't seem to have changed much.  Lots of big wooden tables, plenty of space and light making a farm house/country kitchen feel.  The owners are supportive of the gamer community in Victoria, hosting a regular Board Game night every month (see facebook for more details).  Being tied to the hotel as well should keep a good flow of customers through as well.

May 29, 2016

Gabriel's Gourmet Cafe, Nanaimo

Myself and the Brunette of my Acquaintance headed up to Newcastle Island for the May stat holiday.  Newcastle is my favourite of the BC campsites I've been too.  You can't drive in, so have to limit what you drag over.  This means there's no huge RVs looming over you, and no cars heading off at 5am as the driver has sobered up enough to head home.  It's quiet, and the sites have more space around them.

But there's still a shop, and lots of trails to walk, and the lights of Nanaimo are right there.  So you can head into the city if you've run out of beer, lost a can opener or just need to get back to the concrete jungle.  The foot ferry over costs $9 return, so you really have to want to make the day trip, but it's a comfortable safety blanket.

So we had a very nice relaxing weekend, cooking over the open fire some incredibly tasty burgers from Glenwood Meats.  All the wood smoke and good quality beef made for great outdoors feed.  The bean stew we made also was enhanced by wood fire and the fresh air.  And chicken we slapped directly on to the grill after weekend marinating was so tender and moist.

So after all that good food, the Monday morning we struck camp and headed in the city to grab breakfast before we headed home.   Gabriel's Gourmet is on the main street through Nanaimo.  They believe in local food from local farms and producers.  They tell you in great length on their website.  The cafe is full of pine wood, and fresh herbs growing on shelves, and art made from rusty old saws. They have a small patio, and about space for 20-30 inside.  You head to the back, order then get seated.  Means you have to think on your feet on what to order, but that probably speeds things up, and the wait staff not having to dance around through the coffee and perusal of long menus for twenty minutes will increase turn over.

I went for the Weekend Benny, which was a delicious pile of kale and bacon in a chive-enhanced Hollandaise.  Country potatoes rounded it out.  Every forkful was full of bright, rich flavours.  The bacon was thick cut, and cooked to just crispy.  Rounded out with coffee that was neither weka nor over strong, the day continued to maintain it's lvel of good.

The Brunette got the eggs on corn cakes with a mess of beans and salsa. The mouthfuls I tried were on par with the with the Benny.  Cooked well to combine the flavours, but not over cooked to a much.  And her daughters salmon wrap had perfectly cured salmon, with that rich, sea-salt sweetness that says to me it's great.

Overall, an excellent meal.  Kept me going until Duncan, where I did need to top off the caffeine with a can of Rockstar coffee.  Not a patch on the hot brew served in Nanaimo, or boiled up on the stove at the campsite, but the jolt was needed.