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Vancouver / Victoria report, for what it's worth

blkery | Aug 7, 201306:19 PM

I don’t know if this contributes anything, but after asking so many questions for my honeymoon, I feel like I owe a trip report.

Night 1: Banana Leaf on Davie
We rolled into town quite late and Yelp showed us this as the most promising nearby option. I’m glad we went; Mrs. Blk hasn’t really experienced Malaysian food before and I’ve only had a few dishes from the cuisine. We did the 9-course prix fixe/sampler (minimum 2 people). I don’t remember all of the later courses, but the stand outs to me were the mango salad with dried shrimp (and I believe cucumber), and cumin mussels. There was a roti that was OK, a little greasy and underdone, and some chicken satay that was cooked nicely. Beef rendang came out cold and tough; the sauce was quite rich but falling apart. There was a shrimp/pineapple/tomato dish that didn’t really combine right for me, and for some reason I really don’t like the taste of their green beans sambal – there’s some sort of musty flavor in their sambal that I’ve tasted and smelled before and am quite adverse to – I choke a little; I think it might be an allergy. Dessert was fried banana and vanilla ice cream with frozen fresh cranberries – the banana was quite greasy, unfortunately, and the ice cream might have benefited from being coconut. I don’t understand the cranberries as they didn’t contribute anything to the dish, they were just kind of cold and flavorless. We paired with Steamworks Pilsner which was quite nice – good flavor, great mouthfeel. Our server wasn’t very good but the runners did a nice job filling in.

Day 2: Picnic from Whole Foods at Stanley Park.
Mrs. Blk tries to convince me that a brie and pesto sandwich is healthy because “duh, why else would it be served at Whole Foods?”

Night 2: L’Abbatoir.
Mrs. Blk knew the location as the former site of the Irish Heather. We came early and the staff provided us two complimentary glasses of house bubbly when they learned it was our honeymoon – I’m not sure what it was but it seemed like a fruitier cava; it was quite good. The Mrs. Blk had their twist on a Clover Club using fresh raspberry puree; I thought it was a great remake of the classic – well rounded and refreshing. I had their original Gastown Swizzle, which was Plymouth, Aperol, passionfruit juice, lime zest and Fernet. These are all things I like and an intriguing combination, but it didn’t work for me, despite my love for fruity and citrusy gin cocktails. The Fernet and the passionfruit were quite at odds with each other and didn’t really cohere in any sort of balance.

At the table we shared the Dungeness crab in bagna cauda appetizer, which was basically a small crab salad with poached prawns and crudités in an emulsified dressing; it was more of a mayonnaise than a bagna cauda but quite delicious. Our mains were halibut filets w/ basil crust, fava beans, and tomato fondue. This was quite a disappointment to me. The halibut was cooked quite nicely, but it was served with a breadcrumby coating on top mixed with a scant bit of dried or cooked basil. The fish was surrounded with fava beans that were slightly undercooked (I prefer my veggies on the crunchy side, but this was a bit beyond), and the tomatoes had been, perhaps, too cooked, as they lost most of their flavor. The best way I can describe it is as if someone had taken a nice piece of halibut, breaded it in shake-n-bake, and poured jarred spaghetti sauce on top with a shot of frozen lima beans. The flavors were flat and one-dimensional. I think we ordered wrong considering the focus of the restaurant – we wanted a summery dish, and the kitchen is obviously quite talented, but I think we might have had more success with something meatier and more northern-tasting, if that makes any sense. Ordering a Mediterranean-inspired entrée at a place that seems to be more influenced by northern and central Europe was probably a poor call. Mrs. Blk ordered sticky toffee pudding with ginger ice cream for dessert and it was amazing – I’m not normally a dessert eater but this was phenomenally good. The service at the restaurant was quite warm, gracious and professional.

Day 3: Picnic from Whole Foods again. I spend $25 on a portion of chicken salad.

Night 3: Dinesty on Robson.
We’re from Oregon, where there is no good Chinese, so this was a treat. We had pork and kimchi dumplings, some stir fried pea tips, and an asparagus and scallops in what tasted like a light oyster sauce. The dumplings were great, as were the pea tips - savory and seared, it’s amazing how good simple vegetables can taste when someone knows how to use a wok. The scallops were kind of lost in the last dish, and the sauce was barely detectable. The asparagus was essentially raw and it’s flavor took over the whole thing – unfortunate considering it’s supposed to be a mild and delicate dish.

Day 4: Pizza at Trilussa.
We ordered a sopressata slice and a porchetta slice, with salads. I love Connecticut and Neopolitan style pizza but don’t have much experience with Roman, so I can’t comment on the dough and crust – it was thin, dense, sweet, and spongy. The mozz they’re using is very good and the porchetta on my slice was phenomenal. We had a combo with mixed greens; the oil in the dressing had unfortunately oxidized. It was nice to meet the owner; he puts a lot of pride into his work and you can tell he does it with love.

Night 4: Vij’s!
This was our second time here. We had the pomegranate, pineapple, and Bombay gin cocktail from Rangoli while we were waiting in line (excellent!). We started with beef and lamb samosas with a tomato sauce and coconut condiment – I’m not a samosa guy but Mrs. Blk is; she loved these and I could tell that they were a good version of something I don’t get excited about. The coconut was a nice touch that really brought everything together. We also had pork loin in a ginger curry and spot prawns in a coconut fenugreek masala with wheat berries. The pork was some of best I’ve ever had, the flavor of the meat really shined through and it had a nice, savory crust. It’s sauce was too rich for my tastes (I’m lactose intolerant and it felt quite heavy), but the flavors were great. The prawns were a disappointment – the waiter had told me that the catch had recently been smaller in size so they were putting more prawns on the plate. Unfortunately, the flavor of the resulting 9 bay-cocktail size prawns was lost in the sauce, so it was essentially wheatberries in a curry sauce, and didn’t really balance due to the missing sweetness and creaminess of the shellfish.

I also had a Dark Army cocktail, which was ridiculously good, and a Storm IPA, which is one of the most interesting IPAs I’ve tasted – it’s malt, yeast and hopping all stand out as doing something different. Each one says “pay attention to me!” yet they all work as a whole. Both drinks were quite impressive. I would love to see more items on the menu from the bar at Vij’s, whoever’s in charge knows what they are doing.

From Vij’s we moved over to the bar at West, where I first told Mrs. Blk I loved her several years ago. David Wolowidnyk was there and recognized us from that visit. We were short on time but had a great conversation with him on the general craft, as well as the making of specific drinks. He and his colleagues made a Last Word for Mrs. Blk – her favorite, which I make for her often, but upon tasting his I realized how much better he made it. I had a Pimm’s Cup (I feel like I haven’t been making them right and wanted to taste a professional version) and we shared a Papa Doble. It was amazing to watch David in the course of these 45 minutes, see how many regulars he recognized and had drinks ready for and watch the precision and energy he puts into everything he makes. I’m an out-of-towner so I don’t know how everyone here feels about West, but I wish I ran into more bars like this.

Day 5: Lunch at Devour in Victoria.
We got our meal to go for a hike, I wish we had stayed. Mrs. Blk had a miso sea-bass version of a salad nicoise; I had a chicken and bacon sandwich. Both were good and reasonably priced; I wish we had more places like this where we live.

Night 6: Ulla in Victoria.
We started with some panisse and an app of seared octopus slices with potatoes, pepper grass and an herb sauce. The panisse were quite nice with a crispy crust and soft interior. The octopus was regrettably quite chewy; the herb sauce was bland and didn’t taste of much anything, and the entire portion was quite small relative to the ingredients and their typical cost. For entrees the Mrs. had a combo of top sirloin and pastrami with some confit potatoes, an onion ring and a jar of jus; I had halibut with a basil crust (there it is again!) with some fennel and other veg. The Mrs.’s sirloin had quite a few outer membranes and was quite chewy; neither of us really enjoyed it. The pastrami was one very thick slice that had a nice flavor but, due to the thickness, again quite chewy. The halibut had been cooked sous vide and was nicely moist but had not seemed to be finished on the outside with any crust or surface texture. The basil crust was essentially a basil puree on top of the filet, with more flavor than we experienced at l’Abbatoir. There were a few token vegetables around the protein with a few drops of tomato sauce and a pitcher of a sauce akin to a very thin aioli. The kitchen here seems very interested in plating, but it felt like the food was a bit too fussy – I had three effective sauces for my fish, and one of them was in polka dots around the plate. The service was warm and professional.

Day 5: Brunch at Café Veneto at the Hotel Rialto in Victoria. Great Eggs Benedict!

Night 6: Sandwiches at Red Barn on the Saanich peninsula. Fabulous market, nice people, I wish I had time to explore more.

What I’m thinking about: BC is really fortunate to have so many great restaurants serving cuisine from so many countries, especially South and Southeast Asian, Cantonese and Japanese. It may have been the way I ordered, it may be my palate, or it may be the exchange rate, but I feel I can get a better value for Northwest-style cuisine in Portland. I was surprised how expensive mid-range dining can be in BC, as well as wine and beer. I loved the mussels at Banana Leaf, the app at L’Abbatoir, the greens at Dinesty and the cocktails at Vij’s. I also hit Blenz for coffee a few times; it’s amazing how much better it is than Starbucks and the other chains. I’ve been surprised after reading some people on this board who describe Vancouver as “not a great food town.” I think BC has a lot of strengths, especially compared to the NW USA, and I hope you enjoy them.

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