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

August 10, 2014

The Parsonage Cafe, Fernwood, Victoria

So, on a quick whim, I suggested the Parsonage Cafe for breakfast with my friends this Sunday. Immediately a debate started as to if the coffee sucked (Andrea was on the yes side, others on the no or unknown).  This obviously meant it was worth a visit so we can find out for sure.

The venue is just of Cook Street, near Logan's and had an eclectic bunch of people outside drinking coffee, chatting and petting their dogs.  One wolfhound, one pug, one bull terrier and a mongrel of inter-determinate parentage were all hanging around outside... with their owners.  This was not a cafe protected by a pack of wolves, ensuring the hipsters, homeless and hippies behaved.

Inside, there's a lot of varnished plywood.  A lot.  Everything is made from plywood, it seems.  The tables, the chairs, the cash register and the coffee machine.  It's a small space, crowded in with a line almost to the door surrounded by three booths, a snug area, a window bar and two tables.  The tables are constantly loomed over by the queue of patrons waiting for coffee and snacks.

I started out with an Americano.  They use Fernwood coffee,  which is not surprising, as Fernwood Coffee own the place and are housed just next door. It was good. Smooth, dark and just roasted enough for me.  No complaints from me, though Andrea's London Fog was a little odd tasting.  Not the worst fog ever but had a weird bitterness to it.  Better than a mouth full of razors blades, she told me.  A low bar for a cup of hot beverage to cross, but it sailed over.

My best friend and her partner (who is also among my top all time people in BC, just so he doesn't feel left out) then turned up, looking for some respite from the sun.  They went up to order while we chatted and then swapped over to order.  Bit awkward of a shuffle, but this place is tiny and doesn't really need a server.  I went for the Breakfast Sandwich and a round of toast. My stomach was groaning from running off the excesses of the week around Oak Bay. But that, and a another Americano was still under $12 with a tip.  Bargain.

The toast was a huge pair of doorsteps, with marmalade containing chunks of rind from three different citrus fruit. Good wholesome brown bread, toasted and buttered so you have that soft buttery taste rocking out with the crisp brown edges.  Mmmm.

The sandwich was bagel with a good slice of thick bacon and a egg done omelette style and a dose of mayonnaise. That might be a turn off to some, but I loved the creamy mouth feel with the bacon.  It added a little tang to the meal.  The cheese was melty on top, getting into the pores of the bagel.  You can get it with creamed spinach and tomato if you want, but that was far too much vegetables in my breakfast.  A solid breakfast.

Andrea devoured the lox bagel she ordered, so I assume it was good.  I haven't had text messages from her complaining of stomach cramps, or cursing my name for choosing such a stupid venue.  I class that as a success.  The huge veggies sandwich ordered was only half eaten. On account of it being huge, I think.  And the frothy coffee was served with a fancy fernwood leaf design on it. So that was good too.

Overall, it's good and cheap.  It's not the most comfortable place in the world, and in this hot weather was feeling a bit like a sweat box sauna by the time we left. However, as you can get it all to go, you can even solve that problem yourself.

Parsonage Cafe on Urbanspoon

August 03, 2014

Random Thoughts Week.

The Lefsetz Letter, a highly readable blog about the music industry, often covers a variety of topics in one post.  The ephemera of ideas and thoughts that don't make one single post.  This week, it's one of those for me.  No new place to write about, but just some thoughts on eating, drinking and going out...

1) Your steak may look over done in this light. Our server told us this in the Keg in Yaletown, Vancouver.  I've never heard this before, but she was telling me to check the taste before sending any steak back.  The evening light made everything look darker.  The steak, a medium rare, Chicago-style New York steak tasted great.  I didn't notice it not looking pink enough in the middle.  Though the warning made sense, it also worried me that I was about to get a bad slice of meat.  I didn't, as ever the keg delivered its consistent level of good food.  Good but not stunning.

2) Outdoor tomatoes taste better.  Eating outside in the sun makes things taste different.  It might be the air, or the wind, or the smell of the woods and sea, but somehow, a juicy tomato on a picnic bench in Sidney is far better experience than one eaten at my dining room table.  Even if I have all the windows open.  Maybe it is the juice dribbling down my chin, or the paper napkins. Rather than the metallic knife and fork, and the clean china plate.  But the simplest foods taste better outside.

3) Open Markets everywhere.  This Canada Day in Victoria seemed to be dominated by the markets.  Celebrate the anniversary of the country by spending money of maple smoked salt, printed t-shirts and sugar-lollipops.  The mix of what feels like mass-produced "hand crafts" and expensive real originals looks identical across the island.  In Salts Spring Saturday market, Moss Street or Duncan, it's the same. Not the same vendors, but the same over all whole.

There is not that certain original feel to these venues.  Here's the hippy selling bunches of Kale, there's the home mixed spices and over in that corner is the pottery mugs... that might have been made in china before being hand stencilled in a barn just of the Pat Bay highway.  Thing is, wandering around one is enjoyable, as you might find something you like, or pick up a restock of something you got before, or find the perfect curry paste. But when you've seen four in five days you realize the formula is the same, and is is not necessary to go to a fifth tomorrow.

4) Making a good restaurant. I have no idea of all the formula to make a great place to eat or drink out.  But I think part of it is that the experience counts as much as the food.  The way the staff treat you, the seats, the decor, the sounds.  And this has to come from the management, or the experience you got one week will be different the next.  And that can lead to disappointment.  Which leads to telling your friends about how it was -quite- as good this time.

You want an experience you can share with friends and family.  One's who were there at the same time... and people who weren't.  Telling people about a great night out is satisfying.  People want to share new experiences, and hopefully get validation back from them that they too had a great time when they went there.  Getting the thanks for recommending a spot adds to the general good feelings about a place, reliving the original experience, which pays of for repeat visits.  You want to recapture that night, that meal, that joke.  Sometimes you do, sometimes it's even better, or just as good but different.

Those places stay in your mind and keep paying back after the credit card bill is paid. That makes a good restaurant or bar or just place.  That's what sells to me.  Until it fades and a new shiny bauble comes along to entertain us.

But the new and the old can run along side each other. Keep looking, and keep coming back.

July 27, 2014

The Churchill, Downtown Victoria

The Garrick's Head empire has expanded.  Or at least mutated.  The Ledge, an upstairs bar and eatery above the Bedford Regency has closed, and it's liquor licence been moved into the space once occupied by a coffee shop next to the hotel reception.

The bar looks good, using the long narrow space effectively, filling one side with a gorgeous long wooden bar.  The other side is a series of small booths, with a couple of larger tables at the back.  Above the back wall is the chalk board of beers, though this due to be replaced with an electronic list above the bar soon.  The bar features about fifty taps and a lot of decent brand label liquors.  And Fireball, which is a bit odd, given it seems to be going for a more traditional cocktail/beer bar than a trendy bro-bar serving Coors and Shooters.

But, none the less, the fifty taps are impressive, and have a rich variety of interest kegs and local standards.  The down side to the chalk board is it only has the breweries on it right now, and not the beers themselves.  Our server was quizzed and questioned on what was on offer, and passed that test.  As there's going to be some high turn over, and it's only been open 2 weeks, quite impressive.  Also impressed she knew enough of the beers to make recommendations when asked.

Any bar playing the Pixies is going to get an extra mark, and I'll double it because though I could recognize the tracks being played, I could also talk to my friends sitting next to me without screaming like Black Francis.  I hope they keep the volume just as it is.

There are 4 huge high definition TVs above the bar, each showing the same feed from 'armchair tourist', a channel dedicated to showing serene pictures from around the world. By around the world, I mean Salts Spring Island, Victoria and parts of Scotland. The bar has them playing in black and white, which gives a nice relaxed vibe, and they aren't too distracting.  Unless you are me, who insists on looking up every clip on the website to find out where the highland cows being shown are actually from.  The Scottish Highlands, of course.

So, beer. And whisky.  I've been twice, and had a great variety of beer.  They've had the Driftwood Gose-uh, a speciality wheat beer, slightly soured and very refreshing. I also enjoyed the Green Flash palate wrecker, a hugely hoppy, strong beer. Bittered to just before the point of stupidity.  The server recommended the Tofino 'Reign in Blonde', and this went down a treat.  Tofino Brewing is building a fine selection of session-able, tasty brews.

On the whisky front, there's not a huge selection, but they've covered the selection well, with a mix of peaty drams and lighter, spicier ones.  The Aberlour 12 is good value for a Speyside single malt, and much enjoyed by my friend, who came back again for my second trip of the week, just to get a double to relax over.  I had to get the Laphroaig Quarter cask.  Big woody, peaty flavour that gets in your face, and then massages itself into your skull as you drink it over and relax into the chat with your friends. They serve it how you want, with ice on the side, neat or any other way.

The cocktails, I'm told, weren't bad.  Nothing exceptional, but served right, and fast.  I don't think it'll beat out Clive's any time soon, but it's not trying to.  It is a little more relaxed, but counter points the Garrick's by going for a more refined approach to the d├ęcor and beer lists.  A bar you go to to meet your friends, and not new people.  For two's and four's to sit in a booth and chat, or at the bar for a sharpener. Not for ten's and twelve's at a long table.  We did get seven in one of the booth tables, but that was a squeeze.

My friends also ordered some sharing platters.  The calamari was excellent.  Al dente, retaining it's bite and flavour, but with a crispy coating that was not oily or over powering.  The five layer dip looked expensive, but was served with a whole packet of toasted pita breads.  I was surprised (though I shouldn't have been thinking about the logistics) that it all came from the Garrick's kitchen, given that I've not thought the food that side was worth the time.  Maybe it was the plating, a good day for the chef or just what was ordered.

So, all-in-all, I've had two relaxed bar nights in there, and been very happy with it.  It's moved to the top of my list of places to meet and drink.  I even whispered in hushed tones that it might even be as good as the best days of Solomon's for range and atmosphere. But with faster service.  I think I need a few more trips to decide...

Churchill on Urbanspoon