Vancouver is usually all fine and right and we pride ourselves on being city slickers folk, especially I who aspires for bigger and better. But it took just about half a day of getting away from the same-old, even to a slower pace, to kick ourselves for not striving for out-of-city excursions more often. Last weekend, we spent a few days on Vancouver Island with Victoria as the target. But we took a ferry to Nanaimo instead of planning a Vancouver-Victoria return trip and spent the first afternoon driving down the coast and being reminded that seeing anything for the first time is enlightening.
I’ve long enjoined NPY to take us to Nanaimo and he’s been perplexed why. Well, there’s a great spa everyone talks about in Parksville and Nanaimo might be go for something, being such a familiar name. I was only right on the first count and Nanaimo is famous just because of their confection bar. Otherwise, it is a bit of a drive-through town on your way to something prettier, like Comox Valley or what have you.
In any case, the ferry deposited us in Nanaimo, The Harbour City, and coming from a harbour city, I wanted to compare and contrast. (Halifax wins.) We also got some breakfast since we took a nice and early ferry and didn’t eat on board.
Dancing Goat Coffee has a nice deal on breakfast, $6 for eggs, bacon, potatoes, toast, and coffee. We couldn’t really argue and enjoyed its outdoor patio from which you can glimpse the harbour through some trees. We took a different path back to the car and came across Mon Petit Choux Cafe which was more happening and we’ll stop there next time we’re just passing through.
The 90-minute drive between Nanaimo and Victoria took us all day because we broke it up with many stops. After we hit a couple of tourist attractions in Chemainus and Duncan, NPY wanted something a little more grown-up and we started noting the winery signs along the highway. Cherry Point Vineyards was not a large detour after we left Duncan so we stopped by there shortly before they closed for the day.
We did the wine tasting and tried the 2009 Ortega-Siegerrebe (sweetness 1, very light and pleasant, we bought a bottle), a rose (tasted tart as expected and kind of artificial, we did not enjoy it), and Cowichan Blackberry (one of their dessert wines, a deep red with a nice spiciness that definitely pulled by on the sweetness which was rated 8; we also bought a bottle, just $19).
Upon NPY’s colleague’s recommendation, we hit up Ferris Oyster Bar the first night we were in town. NPY gave me a choice between Ferris and Il Terrazzo and I went for the one with flair and a more special meal.
We aren’t raw oyster eaters so I ordered the baked oysters sampler where we could try all six creations. I also ordered an oyster chowder and crab melt. We were not shying away with some non-seafood main!
I was really happy the oyster sampler arrived in separate dishes instead of in the shell as I meant for NPY and me to share every last one of them. We started with the Rockefeller which was a nice and savoury way to start. Then we had the Seahorse (horseradish, butter, lemon) which was tasty but you couldn’t taste the horseradish. Next we had Cornelius (cornflakes, butter, fresh thyme) which I thought tasted like candied onions–I kept trying to scrape the cornflakes off the dish. Half way through, we attacked the Bottecelli (pecorino romano, cracked pepper, lemon, breadcrumb) which was so pungent the toppings overpowered the poor oyster. In the home stretch, I finally got us to try Beach roast (fresh lemon, tabasco) which had a delayed heat sensation and it was a nice and clean oyster to be our penultimate. I saved the Webster’s boot factory (crab, smoked salmon, cream cheese) for last because it looks like a small decadent meal. It was indeed with great flavours of dill and the oyster in addition made it a most sinful seafood trio.
I loved how the server was considerate enough to bring each of our dishes separately so we did not have to worry about the next dish cooling, like the oyster chowder. It was thin but so creamy with delicate little halved potatoes and two plump oysters. I don’t know what the green oil drizzled over was. Crudely, I thought it tasted like a liquid Alfredo… but better. As we ate the last baked oyster, I realized that our crab melt might very well be topped with some similar mixture (minus the oyster, alas) and I was right. The previous two courses were quite filling so I was happy our “main” was just a baguette each with a salad preceding it to temporarily cut the rich taste. I ate the last baked oyster wanting more dilly crab goodness and the crab melt-topped baguette was perfect.
The next morning, we set out for Oak Bay which I vaguely recall running through during my first marathon back in 2006. While I just followed the other runners, NPY actually referred to the marathon route and a map to find places to meet me and so he recognized more than I did. Contrary to what I thought, shops and cafes do not line the beach so after we did glimpse the sandy stretch (pretty), we looked around Oak Bay Avenue for food. Ottavio is a perfectly groomed house abutting a gallery both elegantly set up for Oak Bay explorers.
All I ordered was a coffee and a caprese panini and the total came to over $11! What a tourist-oriented place! I was starving so I though the panini was perfect with thick slices of tomato, fresh bocconicci melted just right, and really savoury ciabatta that was generously herb-buttered.
For just a few hours later, I had planned for us to visit Abkhazi Garden and enjoy afternoon tea. I do very much want to visit the famed Buchart Garden but the admission is tremendously steep and I did not turn up any deals. Abkhazi admission was $10 each and I dragged NPY around slowly to photograph every neat and colourful flower and take portraits with the beautiful, lushly green backdrop.
I called in advance to inquire about afternoon tea and to make a reservation. I did not need to make a reservation and tea consists of a selection from three teas (all from Silk Road Tea) and three tea pastries. I ordered the Royal Abkhazi blend “Russian style”, scones, and a lemon bar.
“Russian style” tea means to add strawberry jam to it and drink it black or with milk added. I was modest with my jam and did not really taste it. When I did, I must say I didn’t really take to it (perhaps because we were eating already sweet dishes), but I can try it at other times! Although the service was tremendously slow, the server was really nice and offered that we could have one each of strawberry and buttermilk scones. They are a generous size and warm from the oven. NPY enjoyed the scones particularly for even if they were mass-produced, they baked to comforting fluffiness. The lemon delight bar was garnished beautifully and it was a lovely treat to top off our afternoon tea on the patio overlooking the garden. The crust seemed to be partly mixed in with the curd which is different but with good crust, it was tasty anyhow.
Based purely on the menu, I selected Veneto Tapas for our second night. I was a little nervous because NPY doesn’t usually take to tapas so well and you just never know if it will be worth it. Reviews for the place were also quite good. While NPY nailed down a main dish, I wanted to maximize the tastes we would experience so I ordered a trio of tapas.
It was a little difficult to choose but ultimately I selected the chicken tapas trio (why must the vegetarian one be all spicy?) and was fairly pleased with the size of the portions. We dug into the red curry marinated chicken wings first which was pretty light in flavour. Only when the order arrived did I clue in that “chicken salad” meant the sandwich filling but I was not displeased because the chicken was smooth and tender, the bacon was smokey, nuts gives it flavour and crunch, and the baguette was Texan-style with herb butter. Then we moved onto the center bowl of tetrazzini that was very grown up pasta. The flavour of sherry was strong and the pasta was creamy, smokey, and addictive. The Thai shrimp linguine was the “meat” of the meal but it was weaker in my opinion. There was nothing special about the curry sauce used and the pasta was a little overcooked even, but the shrimp were big and fresh and we surprised ourselves leaving satisfied and full.
NPY requested a brunch place for our third day so with the help of Yelp, I picked Floyd’s Diner. I wasn’t quite prepared for just how retro and hipster the place would be. Their menu is super fun and I was torn between several items and NPY advised me to get the hash. He, of course, went with the eggs Benedict. I sincerely wished he would get the American Idol benny with avocado, bacon, brie, and pesto hollandaise sauce but he’s a big boy who can order for himself. At least he got the pesto hollandaise sauce, for what it’s worth.
After receiving my B.C. Hash and digging in for a few bites, I stopped the waiter to ask if it was a half-size they brought me and he confirmed it was, laughing that he is often asked that. I did not sign up for so much food! Until you get full (rather quickly), the savoury combination of salsa on eggs and potato and thick sausage is really good. I think the cheese pushed me over very quickly. Being so full and not even done my dish, I only had a bite of NPY’s Eggs Ben-Hur which had roasted vegetables.
NPY was the one interested in the Soda Shoppe and after I felt like the gelato shops were a huge rip off ($6.95+tax for two scoops), I was on board. While large boards showed beautiful ice cream creations in logo’ed cups, the disposable cups were nothing to photograph. Who wants to see an already melting ice cream float picture?
It seems most shops (at least the tourist ones) is on board with Island Farms and we were glad to have it, too. I merely got a Rocky Road cone while NPY got, of all weird tastes, a mint chocolate chip root beer float. Not being a soda drinker, I don’t really get floats. I thought the tastes would not work out but he quite liked it.
Haha, two and a half days away and we finally succumbed to an Asian meal. For this one, I let NPY find a restaurant as I felt my good-restaurant-finding mojo was drying up.
After Vancouver, the prices are just appalling with nigiri starting at $1.95, no udon noodle soups, and rice bowls starting around $12. On principle, we just weren’t going to go nuts. The salmon don salmon was fresh and NPY loved the rice. I ate my share of negitoro roll which was adequate.
We kept passing by a couple of similar-looking pubs on Douglas and one that stood out in particular, for personal reasons, was the Bard & Banker. The heritage building housing it is beautiful but when it came down to where to enjoy a pint (as they say), I picked Irish Times Pub which looked more happening, “cooler”, and piping out music from a live band. The only problem we found was that while trying to be cool on the patio, we were constantly inhaling secondhand smoke as there was a couple of spots that seemed to be logical for smokers to stand by and smoke. Ugh.
At Veneto I had seen they had a trio of desserts for $9 and I wanted to stuff that in as well but refrained. So it was do-over time when Irish Times had a trio as well. I love having a selection and feeling power in having a choice. There were four desserts to chose from and I ignored the Guinness chocolate brownie.
We started with the apple rhubarb crumble because it was warm and the vanilla bean ice cream was melting fast. We enjoyed it as much as we could with the tartness I think comes from rhubarb. Next we attacked the orchard fruit & white chocolate bread pudding. The white and dark chocolate was so wonderfully rich, punctuated with dried apricot and cranberry. We dipped each bite in the Irish Cream sauce that was pooled beneath and I reveled in bread pudding–I don’t know how I didn’t know it before. We took a short break before topping the dessert off with the Bailey’s Creme Brulee. It was good, grown-up and smooth and light and a perfect wrap to the trio.
After a couple of evenings in Victoria walking around the same streets along the waterfront, we got quite used to seeing The Local Kitchen at the corner of Bastion Square. It looked like a cool place to go and although there was no brunch items, the lunch looked really good.
NPY ordered the turkey club sandwich which I assured him would be cut into quarters and be good. Not only was it not cut into quarters (because it would then look ridiculous), it was supertall! NPY did not like it much and unfortunately I could not share my dish with him. I ordered the salmon burger which was listed to have Asian slaw and peanut sauce. It did not advertise that it was a spicy sauce. (I don’t think it did.) I certainly did not order it for the Asian slaw and flavour and learned through disappointment that salmon burger does not equal salmon sandwich as a burger means a patty. I also wasn’t very thrilled with the tomato basil soup that I ordered instead of fries. NPY pinpointed it when he commented that it tasted like pasta sauce.