September 14, 2014

The Rathskeller Schnitzel House, Downtown Victoria

Oddly,  have not yet written a review of this German style restaurant.  I thought I had, with a long and fulsome praise of the amounts of meat I had eaten, cooked in different ways and from different animals.  I haven't, it seems.  Possibly, because the food coma I had afterwards took too long to recover from, and by the point I came around, it was yesterdays news, and hazy in my mind.

So, that introduction has given most of the game away.  If you are vegetarian and don't want to eat four types of potato and sauerkraut, don't come here.  Move along.  It's not for you.  If you don't like piles of meat of unknown provenance, don't come here. If you insist each pigyou eat comes with it's own biography, don't eat here. If the cows you grill have to have signed a waiver that they really are happy to be eaten, and would you like to try the specially massaged flank steak (*), don't eat here.

I'm not intending to cast aspersions about the meat quality.  I have no doubts about it.  It's just not a west coast, organic granola hippe place.  It's a German-style Tavern.  The food is plentiful, the tables are your gran's old oak affairs, the décor not changed since opening day, and the staff are dressed in dirndls.  I like to think out back the chef has on a full lederhosen, but maybe that doesn't pass BC Health regulations.  But on the right night, you can be serenaded by a proper Om-pah-pah band or a guy on accordion, bringing back memories of the Fatherland, hiking in the Alps and wining multiple World Cups.  Yes, as Englishman, I am a little jealous of their continued footballing glory.

The Germans didn't boil the hell out of everything they came across, turning it into grey mash.  They breaded, bashed, fried and grilled it.  They pickled the cabbage before serving, and didn't leave it on the stove for 22 hours, just in case.  They also made great beer.  The English do as well, so we can call that one a tie.

What we had at the Rathskeller was the family style meal.  Twelve of us gathered at a big long table, and ordered the sit down, plate sharing meal.  For $20 (plus tips, taxes and beers), they will bring out plates of all the good stuff.  Bowls of sauerkraut, red cabbage and Spätzle to fill out the corners of the plate are then followed by Vienna Schnitzel, Jager Schiztel, Cordon Blue Schnitzel, Bratwurst, Rahm Schitzel (not to be confused with Ramstein) and potato pancakes.  Oh, and some cubed potatoes too.  There's also apple sauce, sour cream and the VERY important jugs of gravy.  Pro-tip Number 1... order extra gravy.

The meat is all delicious.  It's not lovingly spiced or delicately flavoured.  It's meat.  Cooked well, greased up with fat to make your taste buds happy.  The cordon blue schnitzel has gooey cheese insides, and look like huge fangs.  The Rham Schniztel is pounded flat and served with mushrooms.  The Jager Schitzel is that breaded, flat veal type that I associate mostly with Schitzel. I could eat about 20 of these.  Not at once, but maybe in a week.

The good news about the family style meal... you ask for more, they will bring it, as long as you don't look like you are wasting food.  What more bratwurst, but have some Wiener Schitzel left over... you aren't getting any more, until you finish what's on your plate. Like a good Bavarian should. But if you do polish off the heaps you've been served, the kitchen will bring out more.  It's easy to think this will be rounds and rounds of food, but after you've tried a little of everything, and little bit more of the things you really liked, you will be stuffed.  Meat takes up room.  It makes you feel full and statiated.  The Rathskeller will do that for you.  And with this style, the conversation flows, even if it's asking John to pass over the gravy boat, please.

The beers are also good.  You can get decent Oktoberfest there at the moment.  Malty, just a shade darker than a pilsner with a heaping of extra flavour.  I tend to order it in the straight glass, but the Pro-tip Number two is to order the Boot..  A beer in a glass shaped like a boot. And that is all I can say about the boots of beer without ever being ostracised from my friends.

If after a beer or two, and plate (or three) you are still hungry, they serve dessert. I have never been hungry enough to eat dessert.  It might be the world's best apple strudel. I have no idea.  I suspect I will never find out.  You can also get a shot of schnapps, for sipping on,  If it's your birthday,  you HAVE to get an after dinner schnapps.  It's required under the Reinheitsgebot (**).  

In short, a great place for family style eating. Provided you like meat.  And whatever family you are eating with, be it blood family, adopted family, or the awesome extended friends I have in Victoria that are a bit like distant cousins I like hanging out with, so I do so, not because there's any real kin relationship, but because they are fine people.

The Rathskeller Schnitzel House on Urbanspoon

(*) Thank you, Douglas Adams and the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
(**) Obviously, it isn't.
(***) Pro-tip Number Three - always choose the black toilet.

September 07, 2014

The Malahat Chalet, South Vancouver Island

The Malahat Drive sweeps up the island, keeping the folks of Duncan and Nanaimo less bothered by the likes of me living down here in Victoria.  A narrow winding road, with a steep drop into the Saanich inlet on one side, and big forested slopes on the others.  Traffic can come to a stop at the drop of a suitcase from a roof rack, and it's been said that traffic problems here have stopped Vancouver reaching the number one ranked livable city in the world.  Which is much like blaming the Paris Metro for the failings of London Underground.

The peak of the Malahat is home to the Malahat Chalet and Moon Over Water Lodge.  This has had a variety of names and owners in the past, but new ownership has tried to add a little flair to the two buildings.  I headed up this past week to meet a good friend from out of town for a meal and catch up.  And to enjoy the much promoted view.

The view is excellent.  One side of the restaurant is windows overlooking a large patio and excellent vista right down the inlet up towards the bulk of Saltspring Island.  You can look down towards Brentwood Bay as well, and see much of the Saanich Peninsula. Views.. stunning.. check.

Inside, there's a slightly sparse feeling, though I think most of the seating during the summer is set up outside.  There just feels like the space is a bit empty.  On the other side of the entrance area, two large totem poles, from the original, burned down chalet, flank the wooden varnished bar.  These nicely set of the bar area.  One side of the main area is taken up with a chill display cabinet and line up areas for take out food.  There's a small sofa/lounge section, and then a few more tables.

I got seated with my friends who were in full flow already, and checked the menu.  Four decent drafts from Victoria, including Hoyne's Dark Matter were on offer.  I was driving so took the diet coke with refills with my meal.  There was a decent range of single malts too.  Maybe I should check the room prices if I go next time.

The food was good.  Not world class, but good, though prices were a little higher than I'd expect for what was served.  We got some of the Bannock dipping bread to start.  Served with a very savoury goat cheese and sharp jam, this went down well to kick things off between us all.  For the main course, I ordered the 10 oz rib eye with roast potatoes and veg.  There's a choice of potato, mashed, roasted, fries or dirty fries.  The latter are fries dusted with garlic and pepper.  Everyone who had them seemed to like them.

The rib eye was pounded or bashed, making it a thinner than I expected cut.  However, it was cooked nicely to a medium-rare turn, and had a smattering of onions and mushroom on top.  These were cooked to complement the beef, and worked well. Normally I like my steak unadorned and unfussed with.  This worked in it's simplicity.  The roasted potatoes were scattered underneath the steak, making it look a little bigger than it was. But ten ounces is enough meat for me.  With the medley of vegetables (including some weird tufty strands of something tasting close to aniseed... which I assume was fennel stalks) it was a decent meal.

The two strips of halibut in the fish and chips were huge curly pieces and filled up the eaters, and the chicken cordon bleu filled our friend up that he cried of any of the desert.  I tried a little of the seafood grill, and the fish was well cooked... possibly a little too far cooked for white fish.

We completed the meal with a slice of pecan pie a la mode.  Share between about four.  The pasty was short, crumbly and more-ish, and the topping a decent goopy mess of sugar and nuts.  Stopping by for a slice of pie on the way up island isn't a bad plan.

That's the one problem with the location. The view is excellent, but it's a good 30 minute drive on a good day from Victoria proper.  But not far enough to be a roadside stop on the way north if on a long journey.  Being a place to travel too, alcohol sales will be reduced, which will make turning a profit slightly harder.  The food is good.  No complaints, though I'd have expected to pay 2-4 dollars less for my meal.  It's worth the trip out for the view and somewhere a little unusual to eat.  They also serve a breakfast, so an early morning run north could be stopped by a meal here once on the way.

Malahat Chalet on Urbanspoon

August 31, 2014

The Pickle Pub Crawl, After Action Report

Today, we went pub crawling. The Victoria Harbour ferries run a crawl in association with eight of the local pubs.  You pay $15 for a day pass for the ferry and for every four people buying drinks at these partners, you get a plate of appys.  It's a self organized, casual type of thing.  You tour around all day, heading where ever you fancy, calling into the Harbour ferry from each pier when you want a pick up.  Get 10 or so friends together and see what happens.

We started in the Canoe club.  I continue to dislike the beer there, but love the patio and the food is reasonable.  I had the eggs diablo, a baked egg and chorizo sausage dish.  Not exactly filling, but very tasty and a good start for the day. The IPA was terrible, and I should have passed on drinking here.  But with fine weather and even finer company, the mood was set in for the day for me. The shared appy here was some just about passable calamari and a mushy, sour tasting white bean dip.  

We then took a hop over to the Lido.  A small cafe and patio bar right next to the Hyack air terminal.  I've had a great coffee there before one trip to Seattle.  The beer menu is short, but good. Two jugs of Driftwood's White Beer were shared, and the conversation was set for the day.  The very attractive Brunette of my Acquaintance enjoyed her Pimms cup, served properly with cucumber and a basket full of raspberries.  The G&T drinker declared the mixed drink to be fantastic.  I love the space here, and for summer drinking, it's well worth it.  The appy was perfect drunk food, a cheesy garlic thin crust pizza.  No sauce, just cheese, bacon and garlic.  Served with a 'special' white sauce (sweet, thin and terrible) and a thick oregano paste (really good).

A real ferry ride took us to Spinnakers.  Not part of the official Pickle Pub Crawl, but one of my favourite places in Victoria.  Sadly we sat inside, so the day seemed to slip away and the energy lowered with the lack of sun light.  Still, I drank a fantastic saison from Gigantic Brewing. 8.5%, in a 13oz snifter.  Dry, slight fizzy, slightly spicy and crisp.  Too many would have made me slip into a happy coma.

Fresh air, and we left the Brunette behind for errands, while nine of us continued on to the Steamship Bar and Grill.  Their beer menu is super short.  Four beers, two pretty dull premium lagers and a really nice dark wee scotch ale.  Everyone else got stuck into the big fruity drinks.  The sangria was voted as worth a second drink.  And second were had.

The free appy here was more calamari.  Tender pieces, lightly breaded and served with also breaded and fried pieces of lemon and jalepeno pepper.  Really good, one of the better calamaris I have had in town.  The view here is great, the patio over looking the harbour gives you plenty to watch the world go by, and the service was super friendly outside.  Inside, the big high ceiling space looks a bit sterile, and I'm not sure I'd go for dinner... it feels more like a tourist bar than a local place.

Finally, we took the ferry over to Lure at the Delta Pointe.  We were reduced to six by this point, but this fine and hardy bunch took in the patio there.  Or we would have, but it was being maintained and the builders were in.  Odd, as I think it's just been opened, so maybe it was made from sketchy concrete.  We sat inside on a big long table. Really comfortable chairs, but that's about the best I can say about the venue.  The service was rushed, and they seemed to have much debate about a missing cucumber for the Hendricks and gin.  We saw the cucumber, but were told it was still missing.  I have no idea why...  Maybe I was just beginning to really feel the glow of the beers by that point, and cucumbers gained to much importance.

No matter, we finished off and headed back to the Canoe to wander home.  Or to friend's houses to write blog posts about pub crawls before going to fringe shows. 

August 24, 2014

Drake Eatery, Downtown Victoria

Apparently the name Drake has a lot of good connotations out east.  I'd only ever heard of the sub-prime rapper and Toronto Raptors super fan, but there's also an iconic hotel in TO as well.  So my friends told me, and it's a brave name to put on a new place, being loaded with expectations.

Or they may just have liked the name 'Drake'.  Or the owners like ducks.  Or... who knows.  There's not much information out there about any mission, vision or back story.

That's fine, there's no need to create a America's Got Talent back story about every new place.  But for the first week of their soft opening, even finding opening times was tough.  There's now info up on Twitter and Facebook.  But it's pretty low key.

All you really need to know though is to go down and you'll probably find space for a drink and some food.  The drink is pretty much a choice of twenty-five plus Northwest beers, on tap.  A few ciders and wines, no hard liquor.  No fancy tea or coffee.  This is a place for beer lovers, with craft beer front and centre.

Drinks come in 16oz and 13oz glasses.  The smaller glasses are for the stronger, bigger beers from places like Gigantic down in Oregon.  I did ask them about the glass sizes, as the 13oz looked kinda small to me.  It is the glass size, not the pour, and I can confirm via experiment it's just over 13 fluid ounces. And with the right beer, that's a fine amount to have.  They are charging between $5 and $6 a beer, but this is not a place to be slamming as many Molson's as you can. Not if there exists such a place in Victoria now that Soprano's has closed.

I am a big fan of the Lagunitas NightTime Ale.  A really dark beer, lots of pleasant hops and a nice dry, but malty taste.  It sits well over a course of a conversation and a bite to eat.  They also have beers in from the local breweries, Tofino, Vancouver, Deschutes and other big names from the brewing scene.  There's plenty to sample and get stuck into a few different styles and varieties, and in calmer surroundings than the Garrick's. The Brunnette and I on our first visit really enjoyed trying some new breweries out, and different flavours from old favourites.

Service is British style.  Sort of.  You come in, and one of the servers on the door will let you know it's order at the bar, but they will bring out your food.  You then find yourself a spot. Maybe at the bar, or the high tables in the back or in the more relaxed lounge section with deep over stuffed chairs.  There's a old-time feel to the place with bare brick walls, varnished wood fittings and lettering styles.  It's relaxed, but smart casual relaxed, not Big Bad John's sawdust relaxed.

You peruse a menu, then go up and give your order.  You can run a tab under your name, or pay as you go.  The bar staff will serve you there and then and you get to carry your glass of goodness back to your table yourself.  Ah, it's just like being back home.  Any spillage is your fault.  Food is brought direct to the table.  There can be a bit of a line for drinks at times, but I've seen nothing excessive.  My Miss Manners question is, does one tip 15-20% still for bar service?

Food options are short, but cover the bases of appy/snack food. But not the normal culprits.  There are awesome lentil sliders.  The lovely Brunette of my Acquaintance ordered them, and made fantastic choice.  Full of flavour and topped with a bit of mustard and cheese.  The roasted cauliflower 'Buffalo Flowers' are a vegetarian take on chicken wings.  Coated in hot sauce with a mild blue cheese dip, these are were my personal favourite.  The sauce picks up the more vegetal flavour of the cauliflower and then adds some pep.

The chicken bunwich sub I had was less impressive.  Chicken, with peppers and spicy mayo, cheese and a run under the grill.  It's bits of chicken rather than deli meat, so there was nice chunks of meat in there, but it felt rather uninspired and a bit dull really.   At $11, it's not good value to me.  It's not big enough to be filling, but also not flavoured enough to complement the other things on the menu.  The sliders go in the right direction.  This, just didn't.

The one last oddity is the toilets.  They are tiny.  Like aeroplane tiny.  So small, that the wash basin is outside the toilets in a little alcove that's in full view of the bar.  The handicapped toilet on one side is much bigger, and if you want a bit of privacy to reapply your make up, go in there.

Over all, I cautiously like it.  I'm not sold on the value for money yet, but I like the atmosphere.  I like the range of beers, and the menu is worth exploring further.  I don't mind the lack of table service, it allows you to drink and talk at your own pace.  It feels like a good place to grab a drink a bite, rather than a full on long night out.

Drake Eatery on Urbanspoon

August 17, 2014

Sura Korean, Downtown Victoria

Almost five years ago, I wrote about Sura. Eventually, I guess, you have to repeat yourself... I can't always be going to new, interesting or terrible places just to write reviews.  And in this case, I was invited along to a small gathering of my best friend's friends and family for her birthday.

After visiting there before and ordering the BBQ meal for two, and almost dying from meat ingestion, our party of eight wisely choose to share the five person meal with a little extra, including the seafood pancake, and some beef glass noodles.

We had a great spot at the back of the restaurant, in a quiet booth.  A lot of the space is open dining tables and there's not much privacy.  Which is not a real problem, this isn't intimate hot date dining, but a place for friends and family to eat, chat and be happy. Some tables have an inbuilt for the BBQ, or they use portable grills.  These can be run by the diners, or the servers will run past and keep an eye on things to make sure your beef ribs aren't charred.  And to keep things moving along.

I don't recall we were asked for a drink order at all, which was mildly annoying.  As was not being checked on for water... we got through the first two jugs they had left on the table relatively fast. On the flip side the servers were busy, and the restaurant was full.  Fuller than normal for a Tuesday night, as my friends who go regularly told me.

Food...  it was a conveyor belt of goodies piling up around us.  Little plates of pickles and kimchi led into fresh cooked vegetable tempura and pots of steaming sticky rice, and tiny bowls of dumpling soup - one dumpling and a lot of clear broth. With the glass noodles and the seafood pancake, we were warmed up.  The pancake is fantastic, full of all sorts of crustaceans and bivalves.  I'd probably be happy with just one of those and some rice.  The noodles were fresh, but nothing overly exciting.  The kimchi was spicy and flavourful, but not rocket grade hot.

The meat started to come of the grill.  First up, some beef ribs.  Followed by strips of beef steak.  The nice fatty marbling gave these a good, meaty flavour, especially from the grilling.  The chicken was okay, nothing special in the teriyaki sauce.  The pulled beef was the point some of my friends started to meat fade.  To me, it was the best flavour on the grill.  Savoury, juicy and great with the sticky rice.  The mouth feel and the umami taste all combined into a simple dish.

We then got some mushrooms, some pork and the remains of the yams from the grill.  I don't recall much about this 'course'.  I was wanting more water to wash down the overload of salt I felt like I was consuming in all this meat.  The finale, the seafood was happily accepted by the non-beef eater.  The green lipped mussels were good, but the rest did little for me, and the clams were tough and slighty sour to me.  I was happily stuffed though, and the rest of the table were all full to the gunnels.

We split the meal, and at $22 with the tip and taxes, that's a good price for a meal out with great friends.

Sura Korean Restaurant on Urbanspoon