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

January 11, 2015

Saltspring Island trip, Christmas 2014

I've been to Salt Spring Island more times in 2014 than I've been to Vancouver.  Once with friends, once with my mum, and now once with the Brunette (the one of my Acquaintance and often mentioned as being gorgeous).

We headed over after I found a good deal from the Salt Spring Harbour House.  It was in that Christmas to New Year limbo, my favourite time of the year, if I am off work. There's no commitments, nothing planned, everything is quiet and you can relax a little.  If you are in London around then, its the best time to see the place without too many people.

The hotel was fine.  We took the non-scenic view room overlooking a corner of a farm paddock and the air conditioning units on the roof of the backside.  It was large room with high windows and lots of pine.  And a paint job that seemed to be half covering some of the pine beams.  The room had two Murphy beds, so I am guessing it is used as a break out room for meetings when not having oiks like me sleeping there (the Brunette is not an oik, just to be clear, just me).  No table, so no board games. Because that's what I like to do in hotel rooms... play board games.

I had hoped to get a chance to tour the farm as well too, you know, as part of my continued understanding of where my grub comes from, but that didn't happen as a long lie in was more important for me in the morning.  As sadly, dear readers, I got a cold.  Everyone feel sorry for me now, please.


Still, I had a decent nights sleep despite my cold and woke up plenty rested.  I'd stay there again if I got the same deal.  I wouldn't pay high season rates, which I suspect probably means I won't be staying on Saltspring during the high season very often.

Before the hotel stay, we had a wander around Ganges.  First order of business was food, and from the choices on one side of Gracepoint Park (nothing to do with the TV show) we went to the Saltspring Wok Bar.  A small space with a bar, and prep area for the chef.  Who was in residence and happy to tell us all about the daily specials (something laden with peanuts), and his former career as a heavy duty mechanic on VIA Rail.

Saltspring Wok Bar on Urbanspoon

The food was great, big salty-savoury noodles covered in a Green Thai chilli curry with chicken.  Creamy, with some heat and a lovely combination of flavours.  The Brunette had the same thing with smoked tofu, something he was happy to let us try before eating.  She's not a tofu lover, but she dug his smoked tofu (locally smoked, which doesn't have the same cachet as locally smoked salmon).  This was all eaten up happily in The Local, a small corner of the liquor store dedicated to serving beer and letting people bring in food from the row of small eateries.  Great idea, and you also get a view of the harbour. There is a patio for the summer, but we kept well inside.

We then hit up all the craft and independent shops that were open, including Black Sheep Books and Fever Tree design.  The former, I think I have mentioned before, is an awesome maze of new and used books. The later sells wholesome clothing and interior design pieces, and was being run by Tarquin, an Aussie who has travelled far and wide.  Had a good chat with him before moving onwards.

For the evening libations, we stopped in at Moby's Pub for a pint. Seems to be the place for craft beers in town, and I had a very satisfying pint of Russell's Blood Alley bitter.  Russell's every day draft beers are terrible, cheap and have the flavour that you'd expect by wringing out a damp bar towel after hosing down the bar top on a Friday night rush.  Russell's premium line makes great, flavourful brews well worth finding and spending a little time with.  Go figure.  I had originally ordered the Mile High Mountain Ale from Vancouver Island.  Described as a American Red Ale, it was pretty damn good, but I swapped with the Brunette who preferred it to the hoppier Blood Alley.  She's insisted I mention this beer as it was 'fantastic'.

I also ran into my old next door neighbour from Victoria, now serving behind the bar.  He lived in the basement of his parent's house when I first got here, while I lived in the much bigger helper suite. Very odd to run into him, but was nice to be recognized after five years... it took me a second to work out who it was, but he knew me straight away.    Nice locals style pub, I would certainly drink there again.

We then took a cold, dark walk down to the Salt Spring Inn.  The Inn has a medium sized dining room, overlooking the main core of Ganges.  It's an open space with high backed booths but with large picture windows.  This gives it a cosy feel but not claustrophobic.  You can shuffle into a booth with your date, gossip about the day but still part of the general dining crowd.

Salt Spring Inn on Urbanspoon

I ordered up a lasagne, despite there being a tonne of options I could have chosen (burgers, steak, jambalaya) while the Brunette went for Halibut tacos.  The lasagne was awesome. Deep filled, lots of juicy sauce and crisp, gooey cheese on top.  It was grilled to finish it and that made it piping hot.  I was accused of 'Dyson'-ing it up, which I claim was an unfair description of someone enjoying their food.  The Brunette said the tacos were delightful, served with a crisp green salad.  The fish was well cooked, kept moist and flakey, not a dried out mess.

We finished with dessert.  The cream cheese iced carrot cake I had was expertly made.  Moist, light and tasting of sweet grilled carrots, while the icing had sharpness to it that offset the cake.  The 'Death by Chocolate' my date had was nibbled at and savoured.  It had a dark, rich ganache coupled with a dark, dark cake. I was allowed a small morsel, and I have to concur, it was an awesome, intense dish.  I couldn't have eaten a whole portion myself, preferring my carrot cake. But others would disagree.

We paid, said hello to the restaurant's very friendly, old cat and toddled back to the hotel, happy and full.  And I was about ready for a NyQuil and a long, long sleep.

December 28, 2014

Sizzling Tandoor, Downtown, Victoria

Christmas shopping is hard work.  Or so it seems.  In reality, the ability to wander around many shops stocked with things that have been shipped from around the world, made from materials that didn't exist a few decades ago is a pretty amazing thing to be able to do.  The logistics, technology and engineering that allows it all to happen is the hard work.  Spending a five hours muscling through crowds to find a gift isn't hard work.  It's just a chore you do for the people you like, so you have the bright sparkle in their eyes (you hope) on Christmas morning when they open your gift.

And, there is often a place to sit down and get some energy again.  I have a good life.

So, as it was, myself and Brunette of my Acquaintance doing the last bits of shopping, and we decided to grab some food after completing the tasks.  We walked into an empty curry house, the lunch buffet having been cleared, but the early evening dinner crowd had yet to arrive.

So we had sanctuary and quiet.  Our server brought water and a beer for the Brunette, along with menus.  The space had used to house an older tandoori buffet that range from adequate to down right disgusting, but since the Sizzling Tandoor took the space over, they have refurbished.  The carpets are clean now, and the walls have large murals of various Indian themed images.  It seats about 40, on tables of four, covered in glass above the clean white table cloths.  Makes it easier to keep clean, which is needed judging by the mess I made.

Because I enjoyed it.  I order the Chicken Biryani, cooked medium-hot.  This was fantastic.  There was heat, but lots of aromatic spices as well, with tender chicken and al dente rice.  I love biryani's at a curry house, they are my go-to dish if I don't fancy anything in the vegetarian section.  This was among the best I have ever had.  It was served with a cucumber raita, whereas I am used to the biryani sauce being a small portion of mild vegetable curry.

The Brunette order the Prawn Saagwala.  This was a thick pureed spinach sauce, spiced with ginger housing plump juicy prawns.  This wouldn't be my choice to eat again, mainly as I am not a huge fan of unadulterated spinach, the vegetal flavour not being my favourite in curry.  That said, it was well cooked and well spiced.  The Brunette tells me she had dreams of this dish the night after, and I've seen this far away, wistful look in her eyes when I mentioned I was writing about the restaurant.

We also got a couple of naan breads.  The rosemary naan was a little dry, but had plenty of aromatic herb flavour and smell.  The paneer naan, a bread sprinkled on the inside with crumbly curds was softer, and very savoury.  Not masses of cheese that the 'stuffed' description would suggest, but a very good accompaniment.  For two very hungry shoppers.

Loaded up on the good food, we paid the cheery server who was attentive, chatty and knew the dishes well.  Good service, but given we were the only two people eating, it's what you expect.

Definitely the best curry I have had in Victoria, especially in the style of the British Curry Houses I knew and loved back home.  There's becoming decent competition in town, as Masala Bites is also good.  No longer the barren wasteland when it comes to Indian cuisine here in Victoria.

Sizzling Tandoor Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Post Script : So I have managed 52 weekly posts on food and going out in Victoria and the surrounds.  Very happy with completing it, and thanks to Andrea, the gorgeous Brunette of my Acquainttance, my best friend and the rest of the breakfast club for going out to eat with me at a variety of good, great and not-so-good places.

I hope this series will continue on into 2015... I do want to get my number ranking on Urbanspoon....

December 21, 2014

Lin Heung, Mount Tolmie, Victoria

Solo dining isn't as exciting as dining with friends.  But after a drive back from Nanaimo in the pouring rain, I wanted to eat fast and not cook.  So I turned into the Shelbourne Plaza and headed into Lin Heung.

It's a basic Chinese restaurant, Formica tables, bright lights and plastic covered menus.  No frills, no frippery.  The whiteboard (so I guess there's been a renovation in there at some point in the last dozen years) shows the lunch specials, but as it was evening, there seemed to be nothing up.

No matter, as I ordered the set meal for one... tea, spring roll, broccoli and beef, pork balls and pork chop suey.

The spring roll was pretty good, a little greasy, but then it's rare not to have a deep fried roll swimming in fat.  This one was crispy at least and filled with a mixture of bamboo shoots and mushrooms and carrots.

The main course was one big plate, with a half dozen pork balls, a ladle of the beef and broccoli and a veritable mountain of chop-suey in the middle.

The beef was tender, not chewy and well cooked in the dark, soy-based sauced, with bright green florets giving a nice crunch.  The balls were covered in that sweet orange sauce that reminds me of British Chinese fast food.  Not very authentic, but in my mind it says 'Chinese' food (as opposed to Cantonese, Szechuan, etc).  The pork balls were crispy, with a good chunk of tender meat.  I would have eaten ore of this too.

The chop-suey was a little disappointing.  Made with brown noodles, I was expecting this earthy, savoury flavour from them.  They had a little flavour, but nothing quite as I love from this style of cooking. There was lots of strands of char-sui pork mixed in there, pink edges from the glaze, and brown strips.  It filled me up, but I probably wouldn't order it on it's own.

All-in-all, for $12, I got a fast meal with some good flavours.  It's what I wanted and needed at the time, and I'd visit again... or order take out, they deliver free in the area.

Lin Heung on Urbanspoon