February 07, 2016

Free Birthday Food - Denny's and Red Robin, Mayfair, Victoria

This past Monday I turn another year older.  I went in search of free stuff you might get for your birthday.  Plenty of offers for 2 for 1 deals, or 25% off.  But the two good offers I found (and used) were:

a) Free Denny's Grand Slam
b) Free Red Robin Gourmet Burger.

So as part of my birthday fun day, I went off on my bike to try out these two (and get in a 25km bike ride as well to burn of some of the calories).

Denny's, 3100 Douglas Street

Denny's offer a free Grand Slam breakfast for you on your birthday.  You can mix and match four items from their list, so I decided on pancakes, bacon, hash browns and sunny-side up eggs.  Coffee is extra, but a three bucks for bottomless coffee, that's not so bad.

It was a very wet and raining Monday morning, so I had the place pretty much to myself.  This didn't stop my table having a good speckling of toast crumbs for whoever was their last.  The staff were pretty fast attentive all throughout, and the coffee was kept well topped up.  Two of my friends joined me, including a big Denny's Breakfast fan ("I love me some Denny's" - true quote).  We all got slams.

Mine was fair to good.  The pancakes were the size of large side plates, fresh, and cooked beyond the point they taste like paste and before the point they taste like cardboard.  There was a whipped scoop of butter on top.  Don't think this is a tiny ice cream scoop. It's not.

The hash-browns are the real deal, grated potatoes, fried up and still slightly greasy, yet crispy on the outside.  The eggs were done okay...  I could have tested them further with scrambled eggs, but as I had a long day ahead of me, bad eggs would have put a damper on things.  But based on what I got, I'd try it next time.   The bacon was probably mostly water when it was put on the grill.. as it came out as two shriveled rashers, crisped to nothing much at all.  Sad loss of a pig to the world.

Everyone seems to have a Denny's horror story, about how there local one is the worst in the city/province/country.  I've heard it about Victoria, but it's been there so long, in a town with lots of breakfast joints, it can't be the WORST.   It was just breakfast done the way it's done in 2,000 other places.  No flair, but the same meal every time, more or less.

Still, it did what it said, it wasn't bad, it filled me up too.  It was free. Same time, same place next year?

Red Robin, 800 Tolmie Avenue

I went off from Denny's, avoiding a rainstorm, and headed out toe Cecelia Creek Gorge park.  I went down the mountain bike trials course there a couple of times (easy route, I've got a road bike, and bad balance).  That was fun.  Then I head over to The Pedaler to start a loop of Victoria they've designed and I'm writing a puzzle hunt for.  More to come on that, hopefully.

18km later, I was outside the Red Robin, which sits proud above the triple-lane highway into downtown core.  It has no bike parking outside, so I strapped my bicycle to one of the concrete posts that hold up the signage.

The building is under renovations, so half the place is torn up, and a lot of the walls and floors are bare, or tarped over.  It's not so bad that it's dusty and dirty, just a bit battered while they work on it.  I got a seat in the bar area (it might have been called the club lounge, which is a five dollar description of a twenty-five cent place).  Found out the free burger deal, which had just gone to an online club I had to join. They have about twenty burgers on the gourmet list, which is the birthday freebie, plus another set of premium sandwiches.  And the normal hodge podge of starters.

But I wanted free, but nothing super heavy, so went with the turkey burger.  Topped with lettuce, tomato, cheese and bacon, it's a super with extra cheese and turkey.  I wasn't expecting much, and had the broccoli option as my side.  You know, for healthy reasons.

The burger was actually damn fine.  Moist, flavourful and the veggies were all crisp.  The ciabatta bun soaked up some of the juices, which made it extra tasty.  The bacon was far better cooked than the rubbish at Denny's.  All over, a good burger.

The broccoli was cooked to the bright green (or a little beyond), not soggy.  Covered in butter, I think, so maybe not that healthy, but still, felt better than a bunch of supersized fries. The sides are meant to be bottomless. I would have got more broccoli, but didn't see a server again until checking out to leave, and I really didn't need it.  I did quite like the Red Robin special flavouring salt, which has a bunch celery salt, dried tomatoes, garlic and onions in it.  This tasted good on the greens.

I would have paid $10.49 for this burger normally.  That's a pretty good price.  On the flip side, the beer isn't.  I paid $8 for a 'jumbo size' Sam Adams. It looked like a normal sized beer to me.  And no where did I see the price quoted at such a rip off price.  I drank better beers for less at Churchill later on in the evening.

Would go back again for the food.  Was very pleasantly surprised by the quality for the price.  Would not drink there. Was unpleasantly surprised by the quality for the price.

January 31, 2016

Agrius by Fol Epi, Downtown Victoria

Fol Epi has a reputation as an artisanal bakery, turning out bread thats made with the best flour, wood fired ovens and an 'old time' feel.  They've recently moved into a space on Yates Street, and opened up a restaurant to go along with the baked goods and coffee sales.

So, my intrepid breakfast eating friends and I descended this morning to try out the brunch.

The staff set us up a table for eight, moving together a set of two-person tables into one long affair.  They were super happy to organize us into the space, and took care of us quickly once seated, bringing out coffee and water as a platoon, not just one server dealing with one table.  Though the space is large, and would appear to be noisy, it was very comfortable to sit and have a good conversation, while still seeing across the restaurant, into the kitchen and behind the bar.  One guy was squeezing ALL the oranges... so if you need OJ, you knew it'd be super fresh.

We could also order house made 'ferments'.  Which I assume is Kombucha and other items that are made by invoking the right mold and bacteria to grow in a liquid or solid... and instead of throwing it out as spoiled, serving it.  And why not 'black mushroom tea' is kinda of tasty, even if the mold culture that transforms the sweet tea into the slightly fizzy, slight sour drink is gross looking.

But I choose the coffee.  It was dark roasted.  it was hot. it wasn't bitter.  I liked it.  I choose coffee over the APA beer on tap, as it was 10.30am, and I had just driven down.  I can adult sometimes.

For my meal, I ordered the eggs, sausage and hashbrowns.  The eggs were soft poached, but not overly tasty... the pale yellow yolk suggests these weren't from hens with a wide diet.  There wasn't a richness in flavour I've had from other eggs, though my reading suggests the yolk colour isn't really a great indicator of the provenance of the ovum.

The sausages were house made, and a great combination of rich dark meat and a enough herbs to bring the flavour up with out overpowering the meat.  Very good.  The potatoes were cubed and friend 'country style'. They were advertised as hash browns.  The lovely Brunette was not in attendance, so she my monthly gripe.  They were good solid cubes of potato, and set well with the rest of the food.  Two slices of an airy, floury bread were served with the meal as well.  And a big dish of house made ketchup as well. The ketchup was good.

The house made hot sauce was really good.  Served with a eye dropper bottle, this added a little kick to the eggs, but also added flavour more than pure heat.  Really nice way of serving it, and a really good sauce.

All in all, I thought it was done well, but without amazing me in anyway.  The prices were a little bit of a premium to other places, and some of their competition other out does them on the creativity, or on portion sizes.  And some can easily match the quality of the source material as well.

I'd probably return for the dinner service, as there looked to be several interesting choices, and the bar drinks where interesting and wide ranging.  But for brunch...  I'd rate Relish, Veneto and Glo ahead of Fol Epi, all of whom serve a similar style of menu and food.  It's not a bad fourth place to be, and there's a lot worse places to go.

Agrius by Fol Epi, 732 Yates Street, Victoria: www.folepi.ca

January 24, 2016

Describe My Lonely, Catador Theatre, Victoria

In an aside from my normal talking about food, here's a theatre review.

But to start, I did grab a quick rice and chicken meal from the Cozy Place, 1692 Douglas. Fresh made, in an open kitchen.  Not fantastic, but it was fast cooked rice, with plenty of veg and cubes of fried chicken.  And a big portion of it, with some egg stirred in too.  Tasty enough, definitely filling, and definitely made to order.  I suspect the veg was frozen before it hit than pan, but with sweetcorn and peas, that always seems the best way to get it almost as fresh as it was in the field.

The Cosy Place used to house the Green Wasabi, which had made a play downtown from it's base in Sidney.  I really couldn't see much difference, except the menu is fast chinese food, and the windows don't give any indication of the price of the dishes, just the range of them.


So onwards, and into the Intrepid Theatre, where Catador were presenting Robbie Huebner's "Describe My Lonely". Originally created as a one-act solo show about dating; it was revised to play almost the same story twice. First,  the story is told by a character male (dating female) Cooper and then female (dating males) Cooper.  The challenge to the audience is to consider the differences in the stereotypes and tropes and challenges in dating from each genders point of view.  The challenge for the staging was to keep it interesting for the audience while telling the same story twice.

A smart reviewer would now write two reviews of this show, broadly similar, one for the first act, and one for the second.  I am not that smart reviewer.

I think they succeeded overall.  While the story was broadly similar, some of the puns were different.  The characters were imagined differently by the two leads.  The small changes kept you engaged, trying to spot the divergent parts, and then to think about if these changes are because of the gender changes (and how society expects men and women to behave, especially when dating), or just because it helped to keep it interesting.

Cooper is nerdy, obsessive and takes a scientific approach to dating... reading all the self articles they can find. Hoping that online, the facts they can learn hold the key to happiness.  Their best friend (who is probably the biggest difference between the two acts) tries to help as well, though I am not sure if they are really the sort of help you'd want.  In all cases, the single act takes on almost all the parts, playing Cooper and the other party, flitting between the roles.  In both cases, the leads did it was an apparent ease, making it clear by positioning and voice which character was speaking.

My biggest thought at the end was if they staged the show male/female every night. They don't, and alternate nights switched the order of the acts.  Which means some people would have a different feel for the two tales than I did.  Which reminds me a bit of the Clue: The Movie.  The same story, two results motif has recurred before... in 'Two', their 2015 fringe show.  I didn't really enjoy Two, as the motif didn't work for me.  In "Describe My Lonely", the acting was crisp.  The way they showed the use of the internet (with sound effects) was done very well, with me 'seeing' the computer interface they were showing.

I liked Cooper.  I liked their naiviety, their sense of wonder and nerdy obsessions.  And the finale moral was an uplifting revelation for Cooper, and for me too.


Couple of side notes:  I'm not sure (and I should ask) but Catador seems to come from the Spanish for a cigar factory... or the tradition someone reading out a novel or newspaper inside the cigar factory.  The later seems such a good name for a theatre group whose trying to tell interesting stories.

And, on the other hand, the Intrepid Theatre is small. 49 seats.  That's not a problem,  but, people, lets be smart and move into the corners and sides were we can when sitting down.  Sitting in the middle of the row is fine, but don't be surprised that people might have to climb over to sit down on a sale out night...

January 17, 2016

Cafe Veneto, Downtown Victoria

I'm surprised.  I could have sworn I had reviewed the Cafe at Veneto at some point in the past, but my search-fu suggests I have not published anything.  Or even mentioned before how much I like the cocktail bar and restaurant.  I would of sworn on my copy of Nigel Slater's "Real Fast Food" I once wrote a paragraph on how awesome the breakfast tagine was.  Pulses and lentils and eggs, all steamed and crammed together into a wholesome, filling brunch.  But, I must have been feverish that week, and dreamed the whole 'writing it down' part.

The tagine is no longer on the menu.  The list is relatively standard for Victoria: a classic breakfast, a benny, a hash, something super sweet, huevos rancheros and a lighter option.  This is not a criticism.  Having crazy or odd food is great. If you can pull it off.  Of course, if you can't pull of a good traditional breakfast either, then your not going to get a good review from me.

The Veneto Cafe can pull of their menu with good skill. I went for the traditional breakfast, and was rewarded with two perfectly, medium poached eggs, perfectly toasted bread (pre-buttered just right) and a pile of breakfast potatoes, crisp yet floury on the inside.  For the meat, I went with the bacon, and was rewarded with four rashers, cooked crispy so they crunched and shattered under my bite.  And there was hot coffee, medium roasted with just enough of an eye opening caffeine hit.

One of my friends ordered the short rib beef hash.  Piles and piles of meat in the bottom of the skillet, covered with potatoes and onions and arugula and curds and eggs.  Massive meal, he took half it home, after raving about how good the first half was.

January 10, 2016

Legendary Noodles, English Bay, Vancouver

I took a trip at the start of the year, which led to a very pleasant couple of days in Vancouver with the Brunette of my Acquaintance.  We had a nice couple of nights on English Bay, staying in the Sylvia Hotel.  The Sylvia is a 1912 block that once dominated over the beaches, big square, with rows of square windows, brick cladding and a creeping vine all over one side.  It imposes itself on the front, even if now dwarfed on all sides by apartment buildings.

English Bay is lovely to watch the sun set over, with the calm edge of the Georgia Strait in the foreground and the ridge of the University endowment land across the Bay.  And just out to sea there's always a half dozen big ships floating high up, waiting to be filled with whatever commodities Canada is sending over seas.  The red hulls stand out against the blue of the oceans, and the white super structures sitting like cheap apartment blocks against the sky.

The other good thing about the area is a whole abundance of good, cheap food from a variety of ethnicities. More on some of the other in the future... (Victoria, In Person maybe a little mainland based for a bit), but we stepped into Legendary Noodles on a whim one night... and super happy we did.

Legendary Noodles is small, seating maybe 30 people throughout.  The back corner is taken up with the kitchen, and one wall has two person tables, with a little shelf above for drinks... as the table is just big enough for the plates of food.  The kitchen is all open concept, and there you can see the chef hand stretching and prepping the fresh noodles.

I ordered the Szechuan Chicken noodles, first checking that they wouldn't be too spicy.  The server smiled and said they had made them less spicy than real authentic Szechuan food, to suit the tastes of Vancouver.  The Brunette ordered the Lemon Garlic Noodles with Prawns.

It seemed in the blink of an eye our food arrived.  Two steamy bowls of noodles, with a good, sized portion of food.  The white noodles on the chicken were streaked with little pieces of chilli and thick but clear brown sauce.  The sauce had some kick, such that I was glad they'd toned down the spice levels a bit.  I like a fair bit of heat sometimes, but tonight this was just the right level for me. The tangy of the spicy sauce coated the noodles, which had this beautiful silk like texture ate them, but were not a slick mess.  Instead they carried the sauce up to be savoured with the al dente bite of fresh noodle.

I tried the garlic lemon noodles as well.  These ha d a very mild spice to them, with a mix of flavours that had some complexity: the citrus tang of the lemon cut into the garlic and spice, and mingled with the green onions as well to create something more savoury than the sum of it's parts.  And again, the fresh dough of the hand-pulled noodles was a joy to eat.

At just a shade over $20 (plus tips) for two excellent bowls of fresh cooked food, this was a great meal, in a nice location.  The Brunette was impressed enough to get two 'to-go' orders to take back to the family in Victoria... who also enjoyed them, even after a four hour journey by bus, coach, ferry and car.

http://www.legendarynoodle.ca/ - 1074 Denman St, Vancouver,