Monday, March 31, 2014

Waffle and Berries

Waffle & Berries on Urbanspoon
Waffle and Berries specializes in large waffles that are basically $4 ($3.95), plus simple toppings (around $2). If you are even thinking of going to pricey-store-rent downtown Vancouver for a waffle, then you're probably not balking at the price, which is on par with Cafe Medina and less than Jules Bistro. You get a freshly made waffle, fresh fruit, lots of whipped cream, and pleasant ambiance (picture by qasic).
This latter is up to you to decide of course, but it's clean, bright, and feels spacious: For a small store, they have rather large tables and comfortable chairs. They aren't sandwiching you in with the seating arrangement, and your table is big enough to not be crowded by your plates and drinks. This may sound like a trivial point, but seriously, just notice how tight things feel next time you're at different diners and restaurants.

They use liege waffles. Despite the picture on their sidewalk advertisement, the waffle is slightly long rather than simply roundish, so you're getting slightly more waffle. It is otherwise like a waffle: Almost crispy on the outside, "meaty" and soft on the inside. Of the available toppings, speculoos is probably the most unusual thing on the menu. It is basically a spread that looks like peanut butter but tastes like speculoos cookies (which in turn kinda just taste like they were slightly spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg). Jars of them are available for $8.50 each at the store if you are inclined. I found the flavour to be on the subtle side, and it definitely tastes like a biscuit. This tasty goop is apparently very popular in Belgium.

A large hot chocolate is $4.45. No decaf coffee, apparently.
Orders are taken at the counter. I picked up my drink when they called it out, but our waffle orders were brought to our table (huh?) so pay attention! If you order waffles, throw in a tip when you pay, or just leave a little something at the table (unless you're taking advantage of pay-at-the-counter to shave off that extra ~15% tip that comes with dining out).

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Boursin Spiced Fresh Soft Cheese - cranberry and pepper

Boursin Spiced Fresh Soft Cheese - Cranberry and Pepper

Previously I mentioned having $1-off coupons from All You Need is Cheese, and I purchased two Boursin cheeses on sale at Superstore. The cranberry and pepper flavoured "spiced fresh soft cheese" is very much the same in consistency as the Boursin shallot and chive, except the flavour is more disappointing:
  • If there were any pepper flavour, it was very subtle.
  • To get any cranberry flavour, you really need to have at least a chunk of cranberry. Otherwise, the cheese tastes like cheese only. It's not so much flavoured cheese as it is dried cranberry bits mixed into the cheese.
If you do get this, I recommend being generous with the portion to ensure that you have a good amount of cranberry included in whatever you have spread the cheese on. The cheese does have a richness which lends well to thicker spreads but won't give you that sick feeling from too much fat.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Deposit required for group reservations at Fable Kitchen

Fable Kitchen has added themselves to the Mealshare charity, and I decided to drive some business their way to appreciate their participation. Initially I had thought to make a late-seating reservation for 8 persons (second seating typically means no busy third seating behind you and you can take your time, especially if you are in a larger group). However, the restaurant policy has sort of thrown a wrench into things, with not just a group menu, but requiring deposits.

I should first say that I am not upset at the restaurant. Every restaurant has to contend with no-shows, and the busier the restaurant, the more upsetting it is for them since those seats could have been easily snapped up by another party or a few walk-ins.
Fable does have quite the comprehensive policy including deposits, which in turn means you really need to be able to count on your party to show up. That, sadly, is pretty hard to do with the dining club I am in. Over a year ago, I tried the buy-to-share Premeditated Gluttony option at Wildebeest and it was sort of a scheduling disaster. 12 persons were expected but only 6 from our dining group showed. Duh.

There are two options for parties of over six (6) guests. I've split up the information provided by them into the two options.

Option A: Four Course Group Menu - $45 +12% tax +18% gratuity = $58.50 per person
Parties of over 6 guests usually dine on our four course group menu (attached) so our small kitchen can run smoothly. It is $45/person plus tax & 18% gratuity. The menu is personal salad to start, family style appetizers from our popular choices, choice from four of our most popular entrees, and dessert served family style. Menu items do change as seasonal product does, and I know that Chef Bird and Chef Rogers may well make changes, but the 'bones' of it will remain the same. We have served this menu a number of times now, to rave reviews. We have no problem accommodating any special requests or dietary restrictions for any of your guests, please let us know of any of these in advance.
The sample menu provided (2014-Feb-8 version, apparently) was:

1st Course
Local Greens (Seasonal ingredients from our local farmers)

2nd Course (Served family style)
Chickpea Fritters (Pickled red onion, pea shoots, curry mayo)
Mussels (Chorizo broth, cream, apples)
Canned Tuna (“The best canned tuna”)

3rd Course (choose one)
Slow Cooked Steelhead Trout (Kale & mustard salad, mushrooms, carrot purée)
Free Range Chicken (Barley risotto, heirloom carrots, soubise sauce)
“Steak Frites” (Triple cooked potatoes, mushrooms, broccolini)
Roasted Vegetable Cassoulet (Beans, roasted winter vegetables)

Final Course
Assorted Desserts - determined by chef

Option B: Family Style Platter - $50 +12% tax +18% gratuity = $65 per person
We have a second option for groups. It is a 3 course meal which has the same appetizers and desserts served family style, but the main course is a family style meal, served on a platter (or platters) to the table. This meal has a great 'wow' factor, and has been extremely well received. The most popular of these has been pork 3/4 ways, but we have also done whole roast duck and whole roast fish. This meal is $50/person, plus tax & 18% gratuity. If this is of interest, please let me know which style of entrée you would be interested in so that I may consult with Chef Bird or Chef Rogers if it is expected to be available at the time of your booking.
If you are interested in making the reservation, we take a $10(four course)-$15(family style) per person deposit to hold the seats and for the advance preparation required, depending on the menu chosen. If all guests reserved for arrive the night of, or we receive at least 48 hours notice of a change in the numbers, the full deposit will be applied to your bill the night of your reservation. (Or refunded to you the night of if that is preferred.)
The group menus and fixed prices add up to a minimum spend per table (before drinks) of around $60 per person. If this looks daunting to you, you should try booking an 8-person table at Bistro Sakana -- $500 before-tax minimum spend was the quote last time I checked.

In the end, given that I generally can't rely on people to even give me 24-hour cancellation notice, I decided to ask instead for a 4-person table. We could, however, be sneaky and have a second person make a separate reservation (like we did at Hawksworth) for 4...

Monday, March 24, 2014

Dress code at Jules Casual French Bistro

Jules Casual French Bistro on Urbanspoon Saturday brunch is typically pretty slow at Jules Bistro, so if you're thinking of a walk-in, you probably have a good chance of it up till 1:30 pm or so. Before 1 pm or so, it will probably be empty, giving you a great chance to walk about a bit and look at the posters, paintings, and old piano on which are a collection of intriguing flasks and brandy warmers. Also be sure to check out the chandeliers with blue birds.

On this last rainy Saturday, I arrived very early for my brunch reservation, and it was happily very brightly lit inside. While I was waiting, I also got to witness an aspect of running a business in Gastown: Vagrants. The large umbrellas on the patio were apparently a great place to stop for a cigarette, and one casually dressed person did just that. While he was idling for his smoke (rather too close to the door based on current smoking laws, which require a 6-meter buffer zone), an even more disreputable-looking person stopped to talk to him. That was enough for the maître d', who went outside to speak with them -- that is, drive them off.
Since the restaurant was still empty at the time, I asked him about the incident. I think it was with no little frustration that he not only outlined his no-exceptions policy on vagrants, but also mentioned various incidents in the restaurant's seven year history.
With respect to vagrants and smokers, their presence was not only too close to the door but generally a deterrent to the restaurant's customers while at the same time attracting even more shady denizens. An aggressive no-exceptions policy apparently kept their restaurant front clear and inviting. Mental illness, he said, could involve things like coming in to all your potted plants uprooted by someone looking for drugs.

I don't want to start taking sides about this issue in this blog post. There was enough to-do with Pidgin about gentrification in 2013 that there are bound to be people passionate about various views. Where it could affect your dining experience is your dress code: Jules Casual French Bistro, having a hard line on being free of potential troublemakers, may greet you with suspicion or outright rudeness (depending on your experience of their approach) if you like dressing like a gangster or have a crude T-shirt.
Their house, their rules. I suppose you could test them if you don't have your heart set on dining there. If you are the host and one of your party shows up "too casually" dressed, try to intercept them just inside the door and by your greeting make it clear to the restaurant that they are in your party.

If you are waited on by the same hard-arsed doorkeeper, points of service might be abrupt as well. We were firmly told that orders are taken one course at a time (no, you can't pre-order your dessert until he comes around to take dessert orders after everyone's finished their mains). And it's one bill per table. No negotiation, apparently.
This latter point proved to be more trouble for everyone because we were seven. Some persons had alcohol, which involved liquor tax. Some paid by cash and just left it on the table, which wasn't picked up and therefore not factored into the bill. And of course I completely forgot one menu item (my bad) which screwed things up even more. Huge mess. Separate bills would have been so much easier. Another of our party has a review on Yelp and you can read her take on the whole sorry outing.

I hardly ever do brunch because often brunch menus just aren't very interesting. Everything I ordered here, don't order it. Not interesting. This is not to say that Jules Bistro doesn't have good or interesting food. In fact, the items appeared to be well and carefully prepared. It was just the items I ended up with were not particularly interesting.

Bread basket ($9?)
  • Small triangles of toast and some lovely, soft, brown rolls with chocolate inside. Looks like this, but with smaller wedges of toast.
  • Plain butter, some jam. I think this was actually $9 for what amounted to less than a loaf of bread in volume.
    • Total waste of time. If you're looking for an appy to share while everyone makes up their mind on what to order, get something else. Fries, maybe.
    Waffle with Grapes and Pine Nuts ($8.50)
    • Each of the square intents on the fresh, thick waffle had one half of a grape (no seeds). Sprinkled with pine nuts. Came with a mound of cream on the side.
    • Nice fresh waffle, but overall, felt overpriced or just boring. Are pine nuts expensive? Is that why this was $8.50?
    Melting Chocolate Cake, Caramel Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream ($8.50)
    • Rather smallish portion of cake. Looked like an oversized cookie or small thick pancake because it was flattish.
    • Quite a few people really liked this, but I thought it was too wet and had a strong eggy aroma.
    It seemed like everyone else had a tastier dessert than I did. The two standouts:

    Vanilla Crème Brulée ($8.50)
    • Typically you get either the narrow round dish that's deep, or the wide dish that's shallow. Here, you get a wide dish that's in between the aforementioned in depth -- i.e., You get more.
    • Basic but expertly done. A safe choice for dessert, and at a good enough portion to share.
    Oranges in a Mint Caramel, Orange Blossom Sorbet ($8.50)
    • Thin slices of orange in tasty sauce. Combined with the sorbet, it makes for a very refreshing feeling. Makes a great choice for ending any large or meaty meal.
    Don't go for weekend brunch if you want to properly experience what the kitchen can do. And watch your dress -- it's more strict than "no shirt, no shoes, no service".

    Thursday, March 20, 2014

    Boursin Spiced Fresh Soft Cheese - shallot and chive

    My free Spring 2014 copy of All You Need Is Cheese included a number of expires-in-June coupons for cheese products. Somehow I ended up with two copies of the magazine, so I decided to get two different flavours of Boursin Spiced Fresh Soft CheeseBoursin is a type of Gournay Cheese.

    Red Chili Pepper flavour was sadly not available at the Metrotown Superstore where they were selling for a whopping $5.57 per 150-gram box. It is apparently not a particularly hot selling item because the ones I got had an April 2014 expiration and they were being discounted to $8.98 per two boxes.
    After applying the two manufacturer coupons from the magazine, the price still came out to a rather pricey $3.49 for each small portion. (Right now, Save-On-Foods is advertising Western Family cheddar cheese at $7.99 for a 700 gram block, and Safeway is advertising Kraft Cheez Whiz at $4.99 for a 900g bottle).

    The cheese itself is rather inconvenient to use. It crumbles easily, and can also adhere easily to a knife. You can therefore cut an oversized chunk, let crumbs fall off, then scrape whatever you can onto whatever you are seasoning. Depending on how fastidious you are, you may have to scrape pretty hard to get most of it off your knife -- in turn, this means that fragile crackers (for example) may end up broken and hard to handle. If you serve this at a cocktail party, it'll be an ugly mess on the table.

    The cheese flavour of the Boursin is very weak, and easily overtaken by the shallot and chive. These flavours are themselves not overly strong, which means if you are moderate with how much you spread, it will complement (instead of overpower) the flavour of whatever you've spread it on. Overall, tasty enough but nothing superb here.

    Wednesday, March 19, 2014

    All You Need Is Cheese - Spring 2014

    Last year I mentioned a free cheese recipe magazine and you can subscribe to for a non-Quebec Canadian address. The Spring edition came recently, with interesting recipes as promised, and showcasing twelve cheeses, including grilling cheeses, and a variety of common and not-so-common cheeses.

    You won't get the $1-off coupons from the inside flap if you don't subscribe, but you can get all the recipes online, some of which have instruction videos.

    If you're into recipe books, I highly recommend subscribing for the hardcopy. Each recipe is accompanied by beautiful pictures, and the magazine itself is mostly recipes, with just a few articles.

    The only recipe not in the magazine is the Canadian Blue Cheese Crème Brûlée.

    Saturday, March 15, 2014

    Bubby's Kitchen

    Bubby's Kitchen on UrbanspoonBubby's Kitchen is quite a nice restaurant featuring interesting decor and local artwork, and several paragraphs on their menu about the intriguing corner bench featuring rough-hewn wood picked locally. On a sunny day, you can expect a brightly lit room with an energetic vibe. You can expect it to be quite busy, so try to avoid the lunch rush.

    The menu is quite extensive and features many vegetarian items and gluten free options.

    Truffle Honey Chicken Burger ($14) Grilled Rossdown chicken thighs, slow roasted roma tomato & garlic relish, pickled onion, lettuce, feta cheese & roasted garlic aioli. All of our burgers, wraps & sandwiches are served with your choice of soup, salad, or fries. Upgrade to Caesar salad, Yam or Truffle fries for $1. Substitute a gluten-free bun for $1.5.
    • As expected, the gluten-free bun was on the dry and grainy side. If you're not celiac, you're just paying to ruin your burger. Stick with the regular bun.
    • The truffle fries were passable, but compared others I've had (e.g., Joe Fortes), weak on truffle and parmesan.
    • I vaguely remember the burger to be good, but not particularly special. At $14, part of the cost is probably poultry that is hormone and antibiotic free (as all meats at Bubby's Kitchen are).
    Flourless Dark Chocolate Torte (GF) ($5.95) Moist, dark, mysterious! Rich enough for two.
    • This one might have been kitchen error. Came out more like an overdone lava cake: Dry and crumbly on the outside, a bit of damp mush on the inside.
    • I had expected something more like a sachertorte, or at least a chocolate cake on the moister like-a-brownie side.
    • Portion size for basically $6 was okay.

    Friday, March 14, 2014

    Il Terrazzo

    Il Terrazzo on UrbanspoonIl Terrazo is hidden in an alley that can look a bit dodgy at night. You might then expect it to be a smallish place, but it is actually rather expansive, though the area behind the bar is quite tight, including a wine "cellar" accessed by a ladder.

    Depending on which Italian restaurant you go to, you might be recommended to order according to the traditional Italian five-course dinner. You'd be in trouble with portions if you try that at Il Terrazo, and plates are not really structured for sharing. Even an appy + main might leave you too full for anything but a sharing portion of dessert.

    Despite not seeing any buzz outside the doors, you can still expect the restaurant to be buzzing and busy as late as 8pm. Seating is not tight, but sight-lines mean little privacy pretty much no matter where you sit. It is quite noisy with the buzz of many patrons, and dinner lighting is on the dark side of dim.

    Order-taking waitstaff might be a bit busy trying to keep up, but dedicated bussers means topping up your water and offering you fresh pepper or parmesan can be expected to be prompt. All hot items seemed to come to the table quite promptly and hot enough that it was likely not sitting around waiting to be served.

    At what is considered an upscale place, you can of course expect prices to match. If you're unsure of what to order, I recommend asking your server or the host(ess) which items on the menu have been around for the 20 years the restaurant has been open.

    Insalata Caesar ($9) Crisp romaine lettuce with traditional caesar dressing, shaved parmigiano Reggiano and house-made croutons.
    • Caesar Salad is Caesar Salad. Blow your money on something more interesting here.
    Zuppa di Pesce ($12) Fisherman’s soup - Black tiger prawns, halibut and mussels in tomato broth with peppers, artichokes, fennel seed, chili flakes, white wine and cilantro.
    • Pretty tasty!
    • Respectably composed with decently sized prawns and mussels. Not excitingly super-sized, but definitely not an embarrassing piece to be found. Every so often you end up at a restaurant where the prawns look more like shrimps. Happily, not so here.
    Anitra ($27) Sliced duck breast with juniper and cinnamon glaze. Served with poached pear, toasted hazelnut and goat cheese risotto with baby greens.
    • More or less non-existent duck fat/skin. I never understood how Western or European cuisines can miss how tasty that stuff is. If you're hoping for that, better ask the waitress first.
    • Reasonably thick slices add up to a solid meal here. Quite tender.
    • "Toasted hazelnut and goat cheese risotto" turned out strangely bland to the point of almost being unflavoured. Did they forget both ingredients? Too little goat cheese? Kitchen oversight?
    • This was my friend's order so I didn't get to try much else on the plate.
    Cervo ($29) Seared venison loin scaloppini, sour cherries, pickled ginger, balsamic vinegar and green peppercorns. Served with butternut squash cannelloni and creamed cabbage.
    • Not stingy with the jus here! Quite salty as a result. However, the interesting addition of sour cherries offsets this as well as any monotony that might come with eating a steak.
    • Combined with the cannelloni, I really wish the server hadn't recommended an appy as we also wanted dessert.
    Panna Cotta ($8)
    The items I ordered (soup, venison) were really nicely done. Combined with prompt service, I can see why Il Terrazzo is top-rated in Victoria.

    When I asked for the bill, the waitress already had it ready. This felt a bit presumptuous, like a sort of get-them-out mentality, but my dining companion who had worked as a server before said it was not uncommon because non-drinkers who have already ordered dessert are typically done afterwards. If it happens to you, I'd suggest it is meant as a snappy-service customer service optimization.

    Look for the risque paintings on your way to the washrooms. There are nipples!

    Proof that chocolate is a feminine product

    Chocolate is obviously a feminine product because you can buy one and get the other free.

    Yes, this is a REAL COUPON I got from a London Drugs store in Victoria (Vancouver Island).

    Thursday, March 13, 2014

    Skinnytato Polish Restaurant

    Skinnytato Polish Restaurant on Urbanspoon SkinnyTato is a Polish restaurant that prominently features gluten free and vegetarian options. For Dine Around and Stay in Town 2014, it seemed they went out of their way to have both options, including a gluten free version of Polish poppy seed cake.

    It's a really tiny place, more like a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop. Seats maybe 16 comfortably. As a small operation, it doesn't have the usual flight of floor staff like a full-time waitress or busser. You might find the service a bit awkward, but their care and sincerity comes through.

    My dining companion went with the $20 Dine Around menu while I opted for the regular dinner menu.

    Dine Around 2014 ($20)

    Cup of polish borsch soup
    White sausage
    European style sausage cooked & served with sauté onion and mushrooms

    Spinach Crepe
    A large crepe stuffed with spinach and goat feta cheese smothered with rich creamy white
    mushroom sauce served with Nature or Skinnytato salad
    Plate of pierogies
    Three pierogies served with sour cream, polish sausage and salad of your choice

    Polish poppy seeds cake
    Apple cake
    Polish style cake topped with ice cream and smothered with Skinnytato plum sauce and
    whipped cream

    Overall most items we tried (borsch soup, white sausage, spinach crepe, poppy seed cake) were good, but not in a "wow" sort of way. This is value-priced comfort food. Dinner menu choices are really more like combos (dinner plates come with soup, pancakes come with salads), so you can expect dinner to come to about $20, but you'll be properly fed for your money.

    Klops & Kopytka ($18.95) Fresh minced sirloin steak served with ginger mint sauce and carefully paired with special breaded polish noodles and vegetable salad of your choice.
    • The description here (to me) sounds pretty confusing (why would you mince a perfectly good sirloin steak?). What comes to your plate is minced meat shaped into a large, thin patty. This was the "klops" part and was sorta boring.
    • What's interesting here was the Kopytka. "Noodle" is very much misleading because it looks more like longish dumplings. It was also strangely tasty in part because of the breading. Each "noodle" was coated in quite finely ground breading that was toasted/seared till brown but not black or too overdone, thereby giving you a nice toasted flavour. It's probably not super-appetizing the way I've described it, but it's strangely addictive. And there was certainly enough of it to make this dinner plate a rather filling meal.
    Nature's Gift salad Mix of shredded red cabbage, carrots, green apples, sunflower seeds, raisins, and raspberry vinaigrette.
    This was the salad I chose to accompany my dinner, based on the server's recommendation. At $5.25 as a separate order you'll probably get a properly substantial portion.
    The salad turned out quite tasty and interesting for its mix of seeds and fruits.

    Polish Poppy Seed Cake (gluten free)
    • My dining companion had a Polish heritage and she said the pudding-like thing that came to our table was quite tasty, but not traditional looking at all. The server confirmed this by explaining that this was the result of making it the gluten free way.
    Apple Cake
    • We probably had a kitchen error version of this one. The outer crust was quite thick and it looked overdone, dry and with a disintegrating crumbly-ness. Urgh.

    Avalon Restaurant

    Avalon Restaurant on UrbanspoonIf ever a storefront didn't match the interior, Avalon definitely qualifies. The signage is more suggestive of a bookstore. The interior is a colourful place with interesting artwork on the wall. It is also a tiny diner.

    Price for portion is fair here, and the food is properly done but nothing special. My friend got the skillet (good choice) and I tried the veggie burger (stupid choice) and split pea soup (rather like lentil soup).

    The veggie burger is a simple affair with lettuce and a fat slice of tomato. The savoury patty is rather tasty on its own, and too perfectly shaped for any likelihood of being made in-house. Sadly, the rest of the burger somehow smothered the taste.
    If you order this, open up your burger and eat the lower half with the patty as an open-faced sandwich. With the top, you can fool around with it a bit. Maybe make another sandwich with whatever else you ordered (e.g., steal some of your buddy's skillet order) or zap some of their rather nice not-too-hot and slightly sweet orangey house hot sauce on it.

    Nothing special here but nothing wrong with it either. A decent place for a budget breakfast / brunch / lunch.
    Service is polite, prompt, and unintrusive.

    Wednesday, March 12, 2014

    Dine Around and Stay in Town 2014 - Smoken Bones Cookshack

    Smoken Bones Cookshack on Urbanspoon Smoken Bones is a rather large restaurant that apparently specializes in BBQ meats. Nevertheless it has a fairly substantial menu of choices. Decor is simple and spacious and has televisions. The only thing to watch out for is the location of the washrooms. Large signs attempt to point you past the passage to the kitchen, but because these signs are both to the left and right of that corridor, sometimes people see only the one that points right at the corridor.

    Various condiments are available. The house blend of spices is pretty decent -- not too salty, and it actually has a slight sweetness to it.

    Strangely, they did not provide a change of utensils between appetizer and main.

    $20 Dine Around Menu

    1st Course

    Smoked tomato soup with creme fraiche
    Beet salad with Salt Spring Island Goat Cheese


    Flame-grilled pork buckeye with reduced demi and oven-roasted vegetables
    Pork belly & beef meatloaf with a potato croquette


    Bread pudding with honey caramel
    Bacon ice cream with bourbon whip cream

    I opted for the Dine Around menu while my dining companion chose from the regular menu. My Dine Around menu choices added up to a really decent-sized meal for $20, in part because of the chunks of beet in the salads, and the generous amount of meat in the main.

    Fried Pickles ($8)
    • These came hot. Each was about the size of a hot dog sausage and even so was only one quarter of a pickle (cut lengthwise).
    • Although there was a good volume of pickles, it still felt a bit steep at $8.
    Fried Chicken Waffle Sangy ($12)
    • Two waffles sandwiching a measly two chicken nuggets worth of white breast meat. Comes with token salad.
    • At least it's real chicken meat instead of some wooden-tasting mash, which is typically what you get when you buy chicken nuggets in the supermarket.
    • Dry waffles. Not enough chicken. This was terrible. Not even hot sauce or house-blend condiment could save this.
    Beet salad with Salt Spring Island Goat Cheese
    • This was a simple and quite refreshing salad mainly made up of chunks of not-too-sweet beets. It looked like a smallish portion of salad, but the beets made up for it.
    Pork belly & beef meatloaf with a potato croquette
    • The single potato croquette, about the size of a ping pong ball, was simple and tasty.
    • Came with token beet salad.
    • The meatloaf came in two chunks, each about the size of a hockey puck or can of tuna. It was pretty much a solid chunk of meat and therefore very filling. Sadly lacking in BBQ sauce, however, but more was available for the asking from the kitchen.
    • Overall pretty decent, but unlikely to really showcase what they can do with the BBQ. Nothing really "wow" here except portion for price.
    Bacon Ice Cream with Bourbon Whip Cream
    • I was initially drawn to this menu because of the bacon ice cream. However, if you look at the regular menu closely, the so-called bacon ice cream is really ice cream with candied bacon bits stirred in. Disappointing, but my friend loved it.

    Tuesday, March 11, 2014

    Afternoon Tea at The Empress Hotel

    Afternoon Tea - The Empress Hotel on UrbanspoonAfternoon Tea at the Empress Hotel is talked about like a sort of institution, a place that you "must" go if you are in Victoria. Sadly, marketers inevitably get their tentacles on anything that is a "must", and put the squeeze on anyone who "must" experience it.

    Afternoon Tea here mainly distinguishes itself from other afternoon tea services by being in a heritage dining room in a heritage hotel, though its exotic tea blends might be (or just sound) more exotic than others available -- for example, the intriguing Quangzhou Milk Oolong Tea: "A most unique character best described as 'premium oolong with sweet milk and
    light orchid notes peeking out from camellia depths'. The milky flavour of this tea is a result in a sudden and rare shift in temperature during harvest. This silky and smooth tea is produced in relatively small quantities from December to March. An amazingly profound tea indeed."

    Other than that, it is not particularly special, though there is clearly attention to finer details that can slide, such as cucumber sandwiches that are actually tasty and bread that isn't dry. The selection feels conservative, and if you are vegan or celiac, try not to just walk in and catch them off guard.

    Empress Tea ($49.95)

    Fresh Cut Strawberries with Empress Cream
    Smoked Salmon Pinwheel with Dill Cream Cheese
    Roasted Bone-In Ham with Tarragon Dijonnaise
    Free Range Egg Salad Croissant
    Cucumber & Ginger Mascarpone on Butter Brioche
    Moroccan Spiced Coronation Chicken on Marble Rye
    Freshly Baked Raisin Scone with Strawberry Jam & Empress Cream
    Grande Marnier White Chocolate Cake
    Chocolate Tea Cup with Matcha Cream
    Vanilla Bean Shortbread
    Salted Caramel Coffee Delice
    Lemon Curd Tartlet

    Tea is served in simple steel pots that hold a remarkable amount of tea and keep it hot. Nothing fancy to look at but certainly practical. The placement at the table may require that it be passed to you, but typically your server will look in on you and keep your cup topped up. Depending on how quickly your table drinks, this may feel intrusive.

    At $49.95, afternoon tea at The Empress Hotel is a steep proposition; it is a further +$15 to try one of their more interesting teas. If paying for heritage ambiance and to literally dine as the royals did, then you will not blink at the price. If a tasty and interesting afternoon tea is your sole aim, then look elsewhere.
    Nostalgic seniors (age 60+) may opt for a Senior's Tea (January 6 to February 28) at $29.95.

    In May to September, evening tea is available from 7pm to 9pm.
    The small blue boxes of their "Empress Blend" looks a reasonable size, but contain a mere ten (10) packets of tea.

    Monday, March 10, 2014

    Dine Around and Stay in Town 2014

    Victoria's parallel to Dine Out Vancouver is Dine Around and Stay in Town, which seeks not only to lure foodies to downtown Victoria, but also out-of-towners. This year, it happened to coincide with an old friend of mine recently come back to Victoria, so I finally made my way over there.
    I'll post a few dine outs that I had there, but in this post I'll have an overview of getting to Victoria, staying there, and impressions of Dine Around and Stay in Town.

    First, if you are going to Victoria specifically for Dine Around and Stay in Town, have a look at the menus first! I cannot emphasize this strongly enough if you are vegetarian or vegan! The choices are very weak, bordering on non-existent. This is not to say that there are no vegetarian or vegan restaurants, or that restaurants do not have vegetarian choices. But for the Dine Around menus, the vegetarian options are lumped together with gluten-free options, and you might be hard-pressed to find yourself a veggie three-course.

    If you do not have severe dietary restrictions, then Victoria will probably be a nice change from Vancouver in that you typically get more bang for your buck. Even at $20, you are getting portions that you would normally find at a outside-of-Downtown-Vancouver value eatery. They feed you properly there instead of eroding your wallet with tapas.

    Downtown Victoria is small enough to walk just about everywhere, and typically safe (and pretty quiet on the streets) past 9pm during Dine Around and Stay in Town (that is, before the peak tourist season), so you might want to forget about your car and bus it. You can of course plot your own route with the ferry and the local bus, then grab one of the supposed hotel deals, or if you want one-call convenience, you can try Pacific Coach Lines, with which you can book a return ticket and hotel stay.

    My travelling companion and I stayed at the Chateau Victoria Tuesday night and departed Friday afternoon. Total cost, including return tickets on the PCL Coach, was $548.10 for March 4-7. Although it was listed on the Dine Around and Stay in Town website, the PCL agent confirmed that there was no special rate -- which led me to suspect that the "room deals" were really just advertisements for off-season rates.

    The Chateau Victoria has many plusses:
    • Super-close to the bus depot.
    • Very close to the tourist-worthwhile parts of downtown Victoria.
    • Free apples at the front desk.
      • Tip: Use the ice box provided in your room to get ice and chill your apples. The beer fridge in your room is rubbish when it comes to cooling things.
    • Free Globe & Mail newspaper every morning.
      • Tip: Try to cancel this to save paper if you're not into reading.
    • Free make-your-own coffee and tea, of course.
    • Recently renovated. Clean and feels "new".
    • Vista 18 Restaurant has great views, though you don't need to be a guest to go.
    I personally found Victoria boring and the restaurants passable. Not worth the extra expense of going there just to try the food. Try to pair your food expedition with something else to do in Victoria.

    Free Freshslice Pizza on March 17

    One week from now, on Monday, March 17th, 2014, Freshlice Pizza (only at the 771 Davie location) is having a "block party" starting at 10 AM. The back page of their recent flyer shows various goodies, including free whole pizzas to the first 10 customers, and free large pizza slices between 3pm and 4pm.