Friday, December 31, 2010

Passero's on Yates

I was looking for somewhere to eat last night and used to Urbanspoon to find a Greek restaurant.  I decided we should try Passero's on Yates as neither Sheila or I had been there before.   The reports on Urbanspoon sounded good.

I had always passed it by because the exterior decor looked tired, this does not mean the food would be bad but I find it is an indication of the relative effort put into the restaurant by the owners.  I have been surprised in the past by some places, but in Victoria I have found it is generally a good indication of the quality of the food.



We decided to go because of the good reviews on Urbanspoon, normally the site has been a good guide but this time it let us down.

The inside of the restaurant made the outside look new and spiffy.   The large unwieldy and dusty plants made it all look cramped and tired.   Sheila noticed a car pine freshener hanging on one of the plants.

The service was very good from the start and led us to have good hopes for the food.  What did concern me a bit was that the diners in the restaurant were almost all seniors, this is often the signs of a restaurant that is tired but works for a faithful crowd.

We ordered the kalamari to start.   I have to assume it was an error, that something went wrong that day with the kalamari.   The squid itself was clearly of a good quality and was not over cooked, I hate rubbery squid.   The problem was with the batter, it was mealy and under seasoned.  Along with this problem it was also clearly cooked in a deep fryer that was not quite hot enough.  

The presentation was heavy handed.   It was as if someone coarsely chopped an onion and just dumped it on top.   There was way too much of the onion.  The whole plate looked like a heap dumped on it.

This is some of the worst kalamari I have ever had.  I really have to assume it is because of a mistake with the coating but the onion heap is just wrong

I had the roast lamb as a main course.  It was decent but not stunning.   The vegetables were bland.   There was this piece of kale on the plate with a dusting of paprika on it I think, I do not like raw kale.

Sheila had the souvlaki wrap.   She found it to be just acceptable.  The Greek salad was bland as the ingredients were not freshly picked local seasonal tomatoes and cucumbers.

They redemed themselves with the desert.   I aksed first what they made on site and what they brought in.   They make it all expect for the cheesecake - frankly they should drop the cheesecake because there is no way it can be as good as what they make fresh in the kitchen.   Restaurants do themselves a huge disfavour bringing in deserts as this is the last food a diner will have in the restaurant and will strongly colour their experience.

They gave Max his ice cream on the house because he was a good boy.  Sheila enjoyed her baklava.   I had a bougatsa for the first time and it came to me straight from the oven piping hot.  I had never had bougatsa before and I was impressed with what I got.

Overall it was pricey for what we got especially considering the quality of the food.    I highly doubt that we will be going back even though the service was some of the best I have seen in this city.

Could I have done better at home?  Yes, but the reason I go to Greek restaurants is because many of the things they offer are things that are a pain in the ass for me to prepare at home.   I do not have the deep fryer for kalamari and rarely can afford to buy a large piece of lamb to roast.

Passero's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Taste for 2011

This came across my email today:
Kathy McAree is pleased to announce 2011 dates for the third annual Taste: July 21-24. The 2011 schedule of events will be spiced up with even more indulgence. Taste uncorks with The Main Event on July 21st abiding the tradition of fresh and local cuisine and wine in abundance! 


Stay tuned for a full listing of events in the new year. If you’d like to peruse the 2010 events, please visit www.victoriataste.com/2010-schedule-of-events.


We’re always looking for food and wine lovers to join our team of enthusiastic Taste volunteers. Drop me a line if you’re interested: info@VictoriaTaste.com.


Best wishes for the holiday season,

Kathy


Keep up on what’s happening on the Victoria culinary scene. Listen to Kathy’s “In Good Taste” on CFAX 1070 Saturdays 1-2pm. Listen live www.cfax1070.com

Monday, December 13, 2010

Stage

On Saturday night Bernard and I took his niece, Laurel, and her boyfriend, Thomas, out for a grown-up dinner. They are in their twenties and have been living with us since September and providing childcare for our 2 1/2 year old. As they are departing soon, we wanted to take them someplace we knew they, two students, would not take themselves.

We were, as often we are, somewhat last minute about the whole thing and not wanting to eat late we took advantage of the 'no reservations for parties under 8' policy at Stage Small Plates Wine Bar to eat around six. The weather was appalling which meant that we easily got seats - and more miraculously, given this is Fernwood (1307 Gladstone), we are talking about, got parking right across the street. The first thing I noted as different from my last visit was the addition of a small curtained off area around the door. This was a great addition as it preventsthe frigid breeze every time the door opens (one of the low points of my previous visit). Constructed out of a wrought iron frame and some heavy felt-ish fabric curtains that appeared removable, it was a simple solution to a problem that plagues many a small restaurant. They may want to consider a light over the area though as it is a bit dim within the curtain.

On to the actual food! Stage, for me, offers one of my favorite ways to eat - small plates of wonderful, flavourful food. The menu changes over time, though some things seem quite eternal - including the only pate I have ever eaten - their "chicken liver parfait". I was lucky enough to get all the fun of picking our food.

I could go on in great detail about each dish but I am going to try to be more efficient. First, a list: two orders of fried langoes (potato bread) with garlic, seared tuna salad, haloumi and tomato salad, gnocchi with butternut squash and boar pancetta, pomme frites with lemon aioli, pork sausage with mashed potato and a roast garlic reduction and an oso buccho with risotto Milanese. Those were are mains courses. Though we had nary a bad things for me some of the highlights were the light, melt-in-your mouth gnocchi, the langoes ('cuz deep-fried dough is unbeatable!),the lemon aioli that came with the frites, and the incredibly rich and tender meat of the oso bucho (which came with a big bone full of roast marrow).

We then had dessert. We got two orders of the dessert langoes (these with cinnamon sugar, creme fraiche and caramel sauce), a creme brulee and a chocolate pate with raspberry coulee and creme fraiche. On this course I we had some division of opinion. For me the creme fraiche with both the chocolate and the langoes provided a lovely acidic punch cut throught the delicious richness of the dishes. For Laurel and Thomas the caramel sauce was the langoes accompaniment of choice, Laurel also could have passed on the raspberry with the chocolate but the rest of us thought it was divine. Laurel and Thomas had never had creme brulee though so I suppose the winner with all spoons in was that creamy pudding with the perfectly golden crust that gave a thoroughly satisfying crack when broken.

In line with the general yea/nay rule for Bernard and I - Could we have done this at home? NOPE. Some of it we could have, some I know we couldn't (we still can't get our aioli to the right thickness, and our gnocchi, while improving, don't even come close!)and overall trying to produce the variety and scope of what we had would have been impossible. That is always one of the draws for me with Stage and similarly styled places - I get to have many wonderful all at once and not work for hours and then go crazy trying to get them all out hot, or cold, in order, looking beautiful. The co-ordination factor should always be part of a restaurants charm but the small plate/Tapas style places bring that benefit to new heights.

I get to go back later this week for drinks with my sister - I might just have to try something new too. There were many choices I turned from that had appeal.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Futaba Sushi

Not a pic of Futaba sushi, but a pic from Wikipedia
We have been looking for a good source from which to order sushi here in Victoria and have had mixed results from different restaurants and often having an annoying problem with people finding our house.  We live on a moderately busy street that is not hard to find, our address can be seen clearly from the street but from some reason there has been regular problems getting the food to our house on time.

We have ordered from Futaba a couple of times and the last time they were also late but they not only reduced the price of the late sushi, the offered us a credit on our next order.  Last night we ordered from them again for Daniel's 16th birthday dinner and they made good on the credit and arrived on time.

My oldest son Daniel has been a fan of sushi since he was six years old and we ate at sushi restaurant on Commercial Drive in Vancouver.   Catherine and I were in Vancouver and met up for dinner with Daniel's name sake Daniel Gawthrop.   The restaurant was basically empty and while the three adults sat our table, Daniel sat an the counter and watched the sushi being made.   That seems to he the moment he fell in love with sushi and became a true west coaster.

Daniel has since learned how to make sushi and we always have a supply of sushi rice, nori and rice wine vinegar on hand.   His rolls are decent for flavour but he has trouble rolling them.

I am actually amazed at how many sushi restaurants there in Vancouver now.   Back when I was growing up in the Lower Mainland there were a few but not like one on every block.   Sushi seems to almost have become Vancouver's primary cuisine,  but I digress.

View Larger Map
Futaba has their whole menu available online and it is easy to read.   It is amazing how many restaurants do not have a good online menu especially ones offering take away food.   The one thing they could do to improve their online menu would be to have a picture link for each menu item, I knew what I ordered but when it came I was not 100% certain what was what.

I ordered 8 pieces of nigiri and and 10 rolls.   This, along with the gyoza we cooked at home, were more than enough for the six of us.   Thesushi came nicely arranged on a large tray and not in small styrofoam containers.   I was impressed with how it looked when it arrived because I could just put the tray out on the table.   They gave us a very generous portion of wasabi and pickled ginger.   I meant to ask the boys to save the extra after dinner, but I was not paying attention and it ended up in the garbage, 'ton pis'.

The nigri was salmon and shrimp, it was good but not excellent, the salmon was a bit thick for my liking.  I did not order a lot of it because it is something that I am the only one that really eats.  Certainly no one else touched the shrimp nigiri.  

I ordered beef teriyaki, California, tempura, dynamite and salmon skin rolls.   I meant to order some negitoro rolls as well, but I forgot.  They were all well formed and tight with decent flavour.  There is nothing I can say against them but on the other hand they were not so brilliant that I was stunned by their amazing nature.    If I were to raise an issue of complaint, and complaint is the wrong word, it is that I would have liked a little bit more vinegar in the sushi.  I think that is what it would have taken to move it from decent day to day to something extraordinary.

Futuba is very good value for money.   Having all this sushi delivered and handsomely displayed on the tray came to only $66 before tip.   We will be ordering from Futaba in future when we want sushi delivered.

Can I make sushi better at home?  No I can not, I can make sushi that is of the quality you buy in a super market but nothing like what I can get from a sushi restaurant.


Futaba on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 9, 2010

End of the line for the chickens?

My generic brown layers have reached the end of their egg laying life.   Shortly they will meet their maker.

My plan is to rebuild the coop and chicken run for the spring.  Having done this for several years now, I have a much better idea of what I would want in a chicken enclosure.

I want it a little bit larger though it does need to be quite as tall.  I want to build a better laying box that one could access from the outside.  I also want a place that the food could be stored.  A bigger door would help as well in being able to muck out the enclosure.  

My plan is to have this new enclosure built for early May and then bring in eight or nine chickens this time.  I would get point of lay hens again but it would be nice to get a mix of some different breeds.  I suspect the brown layers I got through Borden Mercantile will be the least hassle.  I found out the other day that Borden brings in hens more often than I had known, hens are available almost all year round.

This not having our own eggs and having to buy them at the store is an odd situation after several years of having our own.  I had no idea how many eggs we go through every week but it came home to me lately since I have had to buy eggs.  
We recently lost our pizza stone because someone left in on a stove burner and it cracked.   I was initially not enthused with the idea of a pizza stone and thought it would be an under used unitasker in the kitchen.

Turns out it has been much more useful than we ever expected.   Sheila tried making biscuits on it and it baked them faster and gave them a crisper bottom.   Sheila makes biscuits for breakfast about once a week.  Free form rustic tarts work on it very well as does anything with puff pastry.   So it turns out to have been much more useful that I had ever thought and we needed to replace the broken one.

 I was not thrilled by the price, pizza stones cost significantly more than a basic unglazed tile and that is really all they are.   And since that is what they are, so I thought we would go buy some and try them out.   I ordered them through Tile Town and they were very reasonably priced

The picture to the left is the results of the first set of biscuits.   Quite a reasonable result, but I noticed some small cracks in the tile.    The tile did not deal with the heating and cooling well.   Sheila tried making some pizzas on the other two and they suffered much worse, they slowly shattered in the oven.

So it was an interesting experiment but ultimately failed.   We have ordered three regular pizza stones.

I know that there are tiles out there that should be able to endure this, it is just a question of ones that have been fired to a high enough cone  - I am thinking stoneware should be the right level.   I think I will try to make some at the pottery studio.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Zambri's


The restaurant has recently moved into the ground floor of the new Atrium building at Yates and Blanshard.   This is a dramatic improvement from the last location close to the London Drugs on Yates Street.   The ambiance of the old location kept me away, so I was glad to see the move to the new location.

The restaurant is one of the first ones in this city that feels like it belongs in Seattle or Vancouver.   It is another sign that slowly but surely we are becoming a better place for restaurants.

After having to be downtown for various errands on Friday, Sheila and I stopped in at Zambri's for lunch - we both really wanted to try it.   We got the the restaurant right on the dot of noon and it was almost full.   We ended up sitting at the bar because the tables available in the atrium part of the building were a bit too cool to comfortably sit at.

The service quick and attentive.  The staff was really making sure we were being well served and were willing to answer any questions.   This was not one of those situations when the server comes back while you are mid bite and asks if everything is fine.

I ordered the prosciutto pizza.  It was not a wood fired pizza, but it also did not have the burned bits that I often get on the Prima Strada pizzas.  The crust was good and the sauce was clearly made from roma tomatoes slowed reduced over a long period.   There is a certain sweetness that comes with that process.   The only complaint I would have is that the mixed greens on top would have worked better as a mesculn and not the full sized leafs they used.   It made it hard to eat with such large pieces of the greens.

Sheila ordered the gnocchi with sausage ragu.   She had expected a tomato based sauce simply because of the ragus she has had have been tomato based.  The gnocchi themselves were decent but not stellar.   They had a little bit more tooth than we expected, though when eaten with the ragu it worked well.   Sheila is still of the opinion that best gnocchi she has ever had was at Ulla.

We got our meals quickly and managed to be out of the door again at 12:30 but it did not feel rushed.

Can I do better at home?   Not really.   I could not make a pizza that good.   I might, if everything went right, manage to make comparable gnocchi, but most days I would not be able to.

I expect we will regularly go back to eat there.   I am looking forward to eating dinner there as the setting is more conducive to an evening out.

Zambri's on Urbanspoon

Cafe Rustico - 3136 Main Street Vancouver

The other weekend I was over in Vancouver and needed to go for lunch the one day while Sheila was at her course and I was looking for somewhere in the Mount Pleasant area. I was looking for an authentic pizza and thought Cafe Rustico was going to fill the bill.  I should have left once I had entered the place as it was clearly not going to be what I expected.   It looks like a thinly stocked deli that serves some food.

I ordered a pizza, it was bad.   The crust was thick and hard and the there were too many toppings.  I was having a late lunch and therefore was hungry, but hardly hungry enough to make this pizza palatable.  

Could I do better at home?   Yes, without even thinking at all.   If this food is there norm, I wonder how they manage to remain in business.

I will be giving this place a miss.

Café Rustico on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 15, 2010

A winter garden

I am trying to put in some sort of winter garden this year, but I hate the cold wet rainy weather, I hate to go outside.   I know I should do something, but it is just a weather that I hate.  

I have a lot of fall rye that should have been planted already.

I have a set up to have some cloches for the plants so that I could plant various greens like spinach, mache, kale and lettuce.  I would even try some radishes.   I know from the UVic Weather Network that I have very little danger of a killing frost at my house most years, especially if I have covers for the plants.

So what stops me?   A damp outside is soul destroyingly depressing to me.  If the weather dries up a bit tomorrow I will try and see what I can get done.

home baking


Recently I have been increasing my home baking and have been rather proud of the results. Last week I actually made the same thing twice in an attempt to get the result I was after. My goal was a nice, spicy ginger-pear upside down cake. Both attempts were quite edible and I am constantly amazed by how pretty upside down cakes look.

The basics of an upside down cake are very simply. You make a white cake batter, melt butter in a cast iron or other oven safe pan, add brown sugar to the butter and stir until the two are integrated, add fruit and bake. One of the trickiest bits is turning out the cake. You must do this immediately or the cake sticks. I have read you can leave it and just heat the pan on the stove top before turning out to plate later but I see burnt caramel or incomplete detachment written all over that option! I make Bernard do the flipping out because I had trouble managing our large cast iron pan one handed while holding the receiving plate against the top of the pan.


The original version of the recipe (my Mom's Joy of Cooking)calls for pineapple rings with maraschino cherries in the middles but I have never actually done that type. I generally have do plum or peach which both work very well. I have also used apple and pear now, which also work well though I find that they are a bit drier than those made with softer fruit. The first try is at the top and the second is the one on the right.

I also have been excited to discover a pastry recipe that is reliable. I love the Re-Bar cook book for baking. I do use all butter and I suspect if I used their recommended butter and shortening combination I would get a less fragile pastry I do not usually have shortening and the full butter experience is super tasty. Here is an apple pie I made with some of those windfall apples Bernard made apple sauce out of.

Cascade Room 2616 Main Street Vancouver

On the Saturday night when we were in Vancouver recently we were looking for somewhere to go for dinner that was no Japanese and was not downtown.  In looking through Urbanspoon we found the Cascade Room on Main Street close to Main and Broadway.

The restaurant screams out hip and urbane, a place for young professionals to hang out and be seen.   These are not qualities that lead me to have faith in the quality of the food, but the reviews on Urbanspoon where good.   Having access to a restaurant review webpage on your smart phone makes going out to dinner so much easier assuming no one is gaming the system.  The Cascade Room has a decent number of positive votes and many good reviews.

A quick digression here.   It is interesting to see how Urbanspoon is not completely the same in each city.   In Victoria it is very hard to find a restaurant with a low percentage of people that like it, but in Vancouver it is normally to see places with more people that dislike it than like.   I would seem that people in Victoria are willing to accept a lower quality of restaurant than people in Vancouver.

The restaurant is loud but not painfully so, you can still hold a conversation.  The decor is nothing fancy but works for the space, to my mind the decor does not live up to the name.   Cascade Room says a 1950s hotel lounge to me, something one might expect to see Don Draper to be having cocktails in.

The menu is decent sized, clearly focuses on local sourced products and is reasonably priced.    The portions are much bigger than I expected and we could not finish what we ordered.   I had the pork loin and ordered a side of the maple glazed beets, I did not need to do so.  The roast potatoes I had with the pork were amazing.   Sheila had the salmon, which she said was cooked to perfection, but was more than she could eat.

The restaurant has a long and detailed cocktail list.   Clearly they are going for a excellence on the drinks side.  You name it, they seem to have it.  They have received some dramatically good reviews.

So good food, decent price, warm ambiance and interesting drinks, it is worth going to and is an experience I can not replicate at home.

Cascade Room on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Gyoza King on Robson Street in Vancouver

View of sunset over English Bay from hotel room
We were in Vancouver over the weekend because Sheila had a course she was attending,  during that time we had a chance to go to a number of restaurants in the city and I will give my impression of a number of them over the next day or two.
Entrance to the Gyoza King

I am starting with a favorite of ours, the Gyoza King on Robson Street near Nicola in the Westend of Vancouver.   We had managed to get a good deal on the ferry and hotel room from BC Ferries through their new travel packages program.  We stayed at the Coast at Denman and Comox and were upgraded to a suite at no extra cost.

Sheila was insistent that we go to the Gyoza King on one of the nights, so we went there on Friday night.   We arrived at 5:25 because we know that there are no reservations and if you get there after 6 on a Friday you are likely going to have to wait in line to get a seat.   There are not a lot of tables in the restaurant.

I grew up in the Lower Mainland and spent many hours downtown and in the Westend in the 1970s and early 80s.   The area restaurants have changed a lot, there is a huge selection of Japanese restaurants in the Westend, it seems to be almost every second restaurant in the area though the focus of most them is in sushi which makes the Gyoza King a bit more unique.
Sheila excited by menu choices

The menu as more interesting things to choose from than we can eat and really require us to come there numerous times to work our way through the whole menu.   I was overwhelmed and left the ordering to Sheila.

Agedashi Tofu
Sheila is not a fan of seafoods which meant all those options would not be among out choices.   She started us with the agedashi tofu.   On teh surface it looks like a large block of tofu sitting in some broth, which I guess is what it is, but this does not tell you anything about the dish.   The tofu is of a much better quality than I have ever found in a store to buy, it has a subtle flavour and a delicate texture.   The broth has the right edge and saltiness to compliment the tofu.   The tofu has a small ribbons of seaweed and bonito flakes on top for some other texture and flavour.
Chicken and pork gyoza along with deep fried prawns

This being the Gyoza King, we needed to eat some gyoza and Sheila ordered us two different types, a chicken one and a pork one.   I try to cook gyoza at home but I never manage to get something like what we get at this restaurant, I will admit I use frozen ones and not ones that I made myself, I am sure it would make a difference if I made them from scratch, but the skill needed to put together the pouches intimidates me.

We ordered some deep fried prawns for me because I like them and they were done to perfection with a nice spicy sauce.   I need to learn how to bread with panko bread crumbs.

We got out of there for just over $50 for the whole meal with drinks and tip.

Can I do as well at home?   No, I do not the skills or learning to be able to replicate the food.

Gyoza King on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Beacon and Eggs

This is a small cafe in the same strip mall on Beacon Avenue as the Safeway.   I was there for a lunchtime meeting with Wally du Temple who is running for North Saanich council.

The setting is generic but clean.   There is nothing about it that says you should go out of your way to go here.   The first issue of concern for me was the coffee, it was bitter with an almost burnt flavour but at the same time not very strong.   Entirely unforgettable though still better than Tim Horton's.

The service was friendly and good, what I would expect of this sort of restaurant.

I ordered a BLT with a salad.    The salad was decent enough and not just some iceberg lettuce and a few tomatoes.  The greens were fresh and there was some shaved beet on it, problem is I am not big salads, for me it was all about the sandwich.

I found the bread overly toasted and very dry.   There was not enough mayo on it to counter the dry toast.   They were light on bacon and used tomatoes that were about texture and not flavour.   I am not sure why any restaurant would have a dish on the menu that used fresh tomatoes if they can not source good local ones?   Drop the BLT till next year if you are not getting juicy amazing local fruit.

Can I do better at home?   No problem at all, especially when it comes to the coffee.  Am I being harsh on a local small cafe?  Not at all, the basics needed to make simple stellar food is around us and too many people are willing to accept 'OK' as good enough.

Would I go here again?   Sure, if someone wanted to meet at this location, but I am very unlikely to choose to go there on my own, there are too many other places I would like to try in the area.

Beacon and Eggs Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bon Rouge

A little talked about French bistro style restaurant brought to you by the same people that bring you Pescatores and Oyster. I rarely hear about this place but we have gone twice now and I have been impressed both times.

In the summer we went with another couple and sat in their enclosed patio which felt very secluded from the street while still feeling lively and a bit boisterous – particularly when we had a seagull come and visit. Our more recent visit was just the two of us and we were inside. The experience was a quieter, more intimate and had a more lush feel to it. On both occasions the service was very good - knowledgeable, well paced and attentive.

But for the main show. The food. The prices ran a range from the mid-teens to the high twenties for a main course. The selection was fairly large and featured seasonal options – though they didn't change between our mid-August visit and our early October visit, except dessert. The best deal in the house is a three course prix fixe option. You get a set appetizer (prawns), two choices for the main (steak frites or bouillabaisse) and your choice of desserts – all for $30 which is a real bargain.

On my first visit I had halibut wrapped in sage and bacon that was lovely. I skipped the appetizer and had the creme brulee (served with truffles) for dessert. It was just the way I like it best - lightly chilled custard with a crispy brown bruleee. The brulee was not neither burned nor soft, and thick enough to truly crack when you hit it.

On my last visit I did the three course prix fixe. I dithered over this as I do not eat prawns (the mandatory starter) but on request to the server I was given a house salad instead. I was delighted, the salad was perfectly dressed with excellent quality vegetables and a bit of goat cheese added some tang. My steak was perfectly cooked medium rare, the fries were nice and crisp, obviously made in house they still had skin, were thin and still hot. I finished with a red velvet cake with cream cheese butter-cream icing. I was less overwhelmed as this was almost too rich and a bit bland. The cake was moist the the icing tasty but I didn't think the combination really soared.

Bernard has stuck with the prix fixe both times and had nothing but praise for the prawns and the steak, which has come blue rare as requested both times. On our last visit he had the raspberry cheesecake for dessert and it was a winner. The raspberry flavour was strong and had a nice acid bite that paired very nicely with the sweet chocolate crumb crust.

The cocktail menu is extensive with multiple champagne cocktails and the wine selection was quite good and reasonably priced. On our first visit we had the waiter match a wine to our food – two steaks, one halibut and one salmon – and he served us a white that fit the bill.

Bon Rouge is a restaurant that is doing all the right things. A nice environment, great service and wonderful food, that they are actually making themselves. This trifecta is a hard one to achieve in Victoria and I know we will be going back in future to enjoy it again.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Planting for the winter and thoughts about the yard in the depressing time of year

This year I am going to try and plant so that I get some greens all winter long.   I am thinking lettuce, spinach and mache.   I am also going to plant a bunch of fall rye as a green manure, the soil seems to be a bit light in power at the moment.   I also need to turn out the compost and the chicken manure on the bed soon as well.  

I should have done all of these things last weekend as we now have hit the waterlogged time of year.   I need pay attention and work outside for an hour or two when the weather permits even if it is a weekday.

I had been thinking about planting some broccoli in the fall to have it for the spring, but I left it too late to sow into the ground.   I should have had that done in September, maybe next year?   I still have not managed to make that transition in my mind to year round veggie gardening after all those years in Lillooet.   I also have to admit that I hate rain, I really, really hate rain, I can not stand to be out in it and even find the sound of it at the moment from the cars on the street depressing.  

Beyond veggies, I have some major outdoor jobs that should be done but I am avoiding because of the damp cool weather.   I have a fence to finish and I need to majorly prune the fig tree - the think is an unruly monster and I have to bring it into some manner of control.

I have thought about cruising the nurseries and seeing if anyone has any deals on trees or perennials, we could still plant them and expect them to survive.

Should it clear up, I will take some pics.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

McRae's

What can I say about McRae's?   Meh is about it.   I had hopes for something good here, but what I got was a non-chain White Spot/Applebee's sort of place.

The menu was nothing to be excited about, the decor was a bit odd with one wall reminding me of Big Bad John's.  I had an $11 chicken burrito that did not measure up to Cafe MexiGo where I could have had the same thing for a lot less.

I know a lot of people were hoping for something more upscale because in that whole area of the city east of Quadra and north of Hillside there are basically no decent restaurants

So what are they trying to do?  I think they may be looking at trying to be a quasi pub for the area and focus on pub snacks and beer.

I really doubt that I will be going back anytime, I may end up there sometime if someone suggests going there for beers.

Bard and Banker on Urbanspoon

Apples

last 1/3 of the apples

Apples drying in the oven
  A friend has been giving me some of her windfall apples.   This is the third batch I am processing.  I dry a lot and make apple sauce with the waste.   The whole process is very fast and easy and something almost anyone could do.  I admit I have one tool that really helps, the apple peeler/corer, but it is cheap to buy and readily available to find in stores.
Close up of the tool
Apple sauce will come out of this, trust me
Apples ready for use

For drying I gave up using a dehydrator and switched to the oven a couple of years ago because the dehydrator could not handle the volume I was trying to dry.   I set the oven at 65 degrees C and dry them for about 8 to 24 hours.  It works very well and allows me to produce a lot of dried apples at once.

The skin, cores and any other waste I put into a pot and make apple sauce with it.   Using the Victoria food mill it is a very easy process.   The final left over pulp ends up being fed to the chickens.

The apple corer is an amazing piece of 19th century technology.   I processed about 80 apples in 30 minutes.   Fast and efficient.   The tool leaves with apple rings ready for drying.

Some the apple sauce is going to get mixed with either blueberry, strawberry or cranberry puree and made into fruit leather.   Turns out we really do not eat a lot of apple sauce.

Sheila is also making a pie and a crisp with the apples.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bon Rouge Bistro


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Last night we went to Bon Rouge Bistro, we had been there in August with some friends and liked it especially the ability to sit outside on their enclosed terrace. I am sure they have other good food, but both times I have ordered the Steak Frites, the classic bistro dish.   My steak was cooked exactely as I wanted and the frites were hot, crispy and tasted of potatoes.  

It was a Tuesday night so the place was not full but it was also not deserted.   The ambiance in the restaurant is comfortable and reminds me of basic bistros I have eaten at in Paris.

I had the Andalusian prawns for a starter, nicely cooked and well flavoured.   My desert was a raspberry cheesecake, once again well done but in this case it was not really what I wanted.   I had some indecision and ended up choosing desert almost at random.

In the end for three courses and one drink for two people we came away having spent $83 with tip.

So can I do better at home?  No, with very hard work and everything going right I might be able replicate the dinner but not without a lot of work.


Bon Rouge Bistro on Urbanspoon

The Victoria Tuna Butcher! A Crime Against Fish!

I bought another whole tuna on Sunday from a boat at the government wharf in Sooke. I massacred the beautiful albacore tuna.

I did this a couple of years ago and discovered how different a tuna is than any other fish I have cut up.  I did an awful job of that one, I did not even know a tuna came in quarters and not halves.   I thought I had learned enough to do a good job this time.   I was wrong, so very, very wrong.

I started off fine, but soon my cutting actions were ripping the flesh in each quadrant and my handling of the fish was crushing the flesh.  I ended up with a lot less fish than I wanted and it was not in solid chunks.

It is depressing to even look at the fish let alone cook with it.   I am not sure where I am going to go with he tuna.

The prawns I got were amazing.

Heron Rock Bistro

Last week I was out for an appointment in James Bay and found myself with a craving for soup. Not a common thing for me and always a bit of a dilemma when eating out as so often the soup is not so good.

I decided I would try Sips, which is Spinnaker's bistro in James Bay. It was closed. But just around the corner is the Heron Rock Bistro at #4-435 Simcoe. From the outside it was a bit iffy. Nothing fancy outside, but the inside looked like it might be a bit for formal than I was looking for, or a bit more expensive. I decide to try it though as I was there.


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There were a few people there but plenty of seats and the staff greeted me promptly. I must admit I didn't examine the menu to closely as right at the top I saw what I was looking for – a soup and salad special with fresh bread. Perfection. There soup of the day was Carrot Pumpkin, which I found promising because I had never seen that combo on a box in Fairway.

With good speed I received a small cup of soup, a mixed lettuce salad and a giant bun/small round loaf. It was just what I wanted. The soup was just enough in terms of portion, had good flavour and was made there. The salad was nothing extraordinary but had a light vinaigrette of crisp good leaf lettuce so it was not a let down in anyway, and I could get all the leaves in my mouth without cutting them. The bread was a bit of a highlight I must say. I am quite certain it was made in house, it was fresh, tender and chewy without being hard to eat, it came with whipped herb butter and was slightly warm. Given I had been fearing a slice of brought in baguette or french bread, this was a very nice treat.

The whole thing, with a cup of coffee to finish cost me under $15 dollars and came with good service and a nice quiet environment. Having perused there menu on line at http://heronrockbistro.ca/web/index.htm I would go back to try out some more things. Their prices are reasonable, dinner being more than lunch or breakfast, but they have a menu that looks interesting. They have the option of building a canape platter to order. As they offer live music a couple of times a week I can see Bernard and I going for a drink, a canape plate and some nice music as a very grown-up treat.

Heron Rock Bistro on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 14, 2010

It was not all my fault, the overcooked turkey was actual mainly caused by a broken element in the oven.   Our bottom element died recently it seems and this has lead to disasters in the oven over and over again.   I finally figured it out today.......

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bard and Banker

I finally ended up at the Bard and Banker after having meant to go there for ages. I was at a municipal election fundraiser at the pub last night which featured free booze and appies for the people attending.

The location at Fort and Government is not one that is at all convenient for me, this is one of the few parts of town I almost never go to. Consequently I have never been to the pub and rarely go to the Irish Times which is a block north on Government.

The fundraiser gave me a chance to try numerous appies prepared by the pub and a chance to really test drive how they do food.

They had small deep fried fish bits which were very good and I had trouble stopping eating them. They were nicely battered and then deep fried.    The presentation was a bit clunky, they just piled them on a platter around a bowl with dip in the centre, but I can forgive that when the flavour is good.

They had cold cooked shrimp with a shrimp cocktail sauce - boring, bland and predictable, the shrimp was also over cooked and tough. Shrimp can be served in so many interesting ways and can taste out of this world, but when it is done so ala 1975 and even then badly it just makes me sad.  I have not idea who came up with this idea or why they thought it made any sense.  We have amazing local shrimp, but the ones they served looked like they were the types that come frozen and pre-cooked.

There were generic plates of veggies and dip, clearly nothing local and really just looked like the sort of party platter you could buy at an grocery store. These plates said to me there is zero attention to detail or to excellence in the food.  Local food is such a big thing at the moment and not to use it for this local election fundraiser was clearly an error.  The pub could have highlighted where the food came from.

There were small pizzas with a nice thin cracker like crust. They were not too bad, but not something that would make me want to back and eat more of it. It was also somewhat big and clunky as an appie, ideally they should be one bite that you can eat with your fingers while holding a drinking. Drooping pizza does not really meet the requirements.

There were also some small crab cakes with an aioli on it. This looked like the only appie on offer that took some skill and finesse. They were not bad, but they were not good. They were ultimately a bit bland. The aioli could have been Hellman's mayonnaise for all the flavour it had. The crab cakes themselves had a nice texture but nothing going on with the flavour, it was that I was missing some subtle flavours, they were simply bland.

It looked like the food had been over ordered for the event and plates of food were building up as people did not eat it fast enough. The staff should have been clearing them because there was a lot of food out that was no longer warm. The pizza and crab cakes really suffered when they got cold. It did no favours to the event or to the pub to have food that has lost its good qualities still available for people to try.

Thinking back to it now, I have to say that I am stunned that they would offer veggie plates like one I would expect to see at an elementary school pot luck. There was no attempt to even do something interesting in cutting up the veggies and even the pieces were not consistent in size.  We have a region in the middle of the harvest and all that was on the plate were generic veggies from Sysco.

I am amazed that the shrimp was allowed to leave the kitchen if it was so over cooked as to rubbery. The rubber shrimp and the veggie plate says to me there is no passion in the kitchen and no attention to detail. The food reminded of that long term attitude in restaurants in this city that has only begun to change in the last few years, an attitude of "this is good enough not to be awful".  I had hoped for more from the Bard and Banker because of the attention to the detail in the decor.

The look and feel of the interior of the pub is amazing, I really like the styling and the attention to detail. They have done better with the Bard and Banker than with the Irish Times. But at the end of the day if the energy goes into the looks and not into food there is something not right with the management.  The difference the time and cost between generically bland food and good food is minimal, certainly at the price point the pub is charging for food there is no reason they should not be striving for excellence.

Based on the food, I am unlikely to ever choose to go to the pub as a place to eat, I am likely to go there for drinks if someone else suggests it but it is not going to be coming from me.


Bard and Banker on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Turkey massacre

Yesterday I cooked the worst meal I have cooked in a very, very long time. I am stunned at how badly it went as I know how to do the turkey thing. I am putting it down to a wicked headache I had yesterday, the sort that makes you nauseous.

Error 1 - I wildly over cooked the turkey. My pain addled brain meant I made an error in timing, I ended up cooking the turkey about 25-30% longer than I should have. Dry, that bird was dry like Lillooet in the summer.

Error 2 - I screwed up the cranberry jelly, it did not set and has still not set as of this morning. I have no idea what I did wrong, I make jams and jellies all the time and it goes right all the time expect for yesterday.

Error 3 - The beets and turnips were not roasted properly - this comes down to the oven is not really big enough to roast a turkey and do anything else. I tried to boil then fry the beets, they ended up being insipid. The turnips and parsnips were not horrible, but they were not exciting either.

Error 4 - The pumpkin pie was not setting. This was not my error as my niece made it. It was her first pumpkin pie and I have no idea what happened to make it not set.

What worked out was the stuffing and a warm roasted corn and scarlet runner bean salad.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Thanksgiving dinner

So I have turkey and I plan on brining it, but nothing else is appealing to me for all the sides for the dinner.

The North American traditional sides really do not speak to me.

I am looking for interesting inspiration for anyone out there - please give me your ideas or links - I have till Monday afternoon

Friday, October 8, 2010

Eating at Fairway Market on Quadra

After I was finished throwing pottery at Hands On Pottery Studio on Quadra, I released it was three o'clock and I had not eaten lunch. I knew the Fairway was nearby and offered various foods you can eat in the store.

I ordered the three selections with rice for $8.99. The portion was huge, actually too much for me to eat, though I did because I was very, very hungry. The food itself was mall food court quality, which was a disappointment as I had hoped for something better.

I had chicken and greens beans with black sauce - not too bad. The sesame chicken was gloppy and heavy. The honey garlic pork was gloopy as well. The flavours, other than the beans, were muted and forgettable.

As I said, this mall food court quality and is nothing more than fuel. It is still much, much better than what you can eat at Wings, but then I have yet to have had as bad a meal as I had at Wings. There was a meal with my parents in communist Poland in 1979 that still takes the prize for worst meal ever.

All said and done, I will still shop at Fairway, they have an interesting selection and good prices, I am not going to eat there again.

Fairway Market on Urbanspoon

Liquor Plus 2915 Douglas Street

I have never gone into Liqour Plus, the name and location said down market to me and therefore I gave it a miss.   I went in yesterday for the first time and I was impressed, very, very impressed with the wine selection.   I know of no other place near where I live that has anything close to their selection of wine.   They even had a Hillside Estate Riesling I have never seen outside of the winery.  I am going to need to go back and explore the shelves some more.

I found one product interesting, Just Over a Buck a Beer.  The beer is made for them by Kamloops Brewing, the former Bear Brewing.  This is a decent quality micro brewery, not some industrial beer.  I am going to get some and try it.

You can also connect with Liquor Plus on Facebook.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Scarlett Runner Beans

I have too many of them.   Do you want some?  Please drop me a line if you do.  Bernard at shama dot ca

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

JACK FM Burger Poll - seeking the best burger in the City.

JACK FM will be starting a poll on October 11th to try and find the best burger in Victoria.  The burgers in the run for the title are also being offered at a discount, either it is a lower price or 10% off if you listen to JACK.   The Canoe Club deal is $13.95 for the burger instead of $15.95 (not $3.95 as I earlier mentioned, the typeface and my aging eyes played tricks on me)

The burgers that will be in the running:

I know there are better burgers out there because I have been reading the Victoria Burger Blog, but I understand that this is really a marketing thing, but still I am going to follow it and see what comes of it all.  It certainly gives me some incentive to try them all out.  I will see how many I can get through in the next week.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Local Chicken News:

Hello Group!


A VERY fast note being sent to let everyone know the last of this great FIRST season of the Metchosin Poultry Swap & Sale will be on Sunday October 17th, 2010 11am to 12:30pm. This has moved from the 'second Sunday' (Oct 10th) to allow friends and family to celebrate a long Thanksgiving weekend.


I will send out another reminder email & do my post on UsedVic next week..........with more details, so stay tuned.


There is the possibility of some Point of Lay hens coming............if you are looking for POL let me know asap, to help encourage this breeder to attend! :-)


If you have poultry you will be bringing to sell, let me know and I will include in the reminder email next week to help spread the word of what you have.


There are now close to 120 email addresses in this group and many spread the word to other forums, friends and family, so do let me know so I can add what you have for sale or are looking for!


Until next week............enjoy the super Autumn weather we have been graced with.


Cheers,


Liz

Dunlop House Restaurant @ Camosun

This year I do not want miss eating at Dunlop House.   Dunlop House is part of the culinary program at Camosun College Landsdowne campus.   They are only open on Tuesday and Wednesday for lunch from October to March.

I last ate at Dunlop house in 1989 when I was a Uvictim.  I remember the food was good and interesting, but this was 21 years ago - Victoria was not a foodie place at all and I was only 24 and had not been introduced to much food in my life.   I have meant to go back for ages, but the limited openings simply means I keep forgetting.

This fall and winter their menu is as follows:


Appetizers

  • Soup du Jour - Our Student Chefs selection of the Day
  • Local Greens - Artichoke Hearts, Crispy Okanagan Apples, Sweet Baby Tomatoes, White Balsamic and Mustard Vinaigrette
  • Seafood Cakes - Red Onion Compote, Lemon Aioli
  • Benedictine Blue Cheese and Sweet Onion Tart Balsamic Reduction, Green Apple and Grapes

Mains

  • Cowichan Bay Farms Chicken Confit Veloute of Leek, Onion and Truffle Goats Cheese Potatoes
  • Smoked Pork Tenderloin - House Smoked Filet of Pork, Seasonal Veggies, Red Currant Demi
  • Halibut Nicoise - Filet of Halibut, Grilled Fennel Nicoise, Baby Roasted Potatoes, Asparagus Cream Sauce
  • Chef's Special Creation - Our student "Chef of the Week" presents their personal selection in every changing variety. Please allow for a greater amount of time for a quality preparation.

Desserts

  • Vanilla Bean Brulee - Pure Vanilla Decadence, One Spoonful at a Time
  • Lemon and Lime Tartlet with Hazelnut Biscotto
  • Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate - In Ever Changing Variations. Please Consult your Server for Today's Selection.

Reservations are recommended.

As I understand it, the food gets better over the year - this is being done by students and they are learning.

Anyone interested in joining in a week or two and go check it out? Drop me a line through a comment on this page. If there is interest, I will book a table.

Dunlop House on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 4, 2010

Tomato Sauce This Weekend - And Kaffir Limes at Root Cellar

I am have ordered 100 pounds of tomatoes from Glanford Greenhouses for Friday.   They are charging me $0.80 a pound this year for them.

My plan is to make a very basic reduced tomato sauce/puree out of them and can in them in 250ml, 500ml, and 750ml jars.   Sheila asked that I make as basic as possible so that it can be used for more applications.   The 100 pounds should net me about 15 to 20 litres of tomato sauce.   My Victorio food mill will get a good workout, one of the best investments I have made. The pressure canner is another one.  It is because of the two of these that I can process and preserve as much food as I do.

If I have the time, I will order another batch of 100 pounds and make more sauce, but also make some basic canned diced tomatoes as well.  

________________________

The Root Cellar has Kaffir Limes from Thailand available at the moment, I bought some and I going to try and experiment with them.


I have been reading up on them and it looks like I will have to make some sort of Thai food.  


The limes are very tart, almost antiseptic in their acid.   The skin and fruit are very fragrant.


I have to thank the Root Cellar for consistently have interesting fruits and vegetables to choose from for experimentation.   It is also amazing how cheaply they manage to do it for.

Garden 2010

OK, it has been a bad year for my garden, the start was late and the growth has been weak for everything but the scarlet runner beans, those I have more than enough of.

So why the bad year? 

I got a late start - I planted some stuff early but it suffered, then it took my a long time to get the bulk in.
The soil needs more fertilizer - I know I was low in what I added this year and I can see the results.  I need to add more manure and compost.   My plan is to plant a bunch of fall rye as a green manure crop.

I also seemed to be short of time to get outside to get into the garden this year - I know this had to do with the scope and scale of renovations I took on in the spring and summer.

I have a whole bunch of strawberry plants to plant, I just need a location, I think will simply dig a whole and plant them all there to keep till the spring.

The chickens are slowing down and one has died.  I am getting only about 2 eggs a day at the moment, sometimes less.  I wonder about how well they will do this winter and if they are coming to the natural ends of their lives.   I actually have had to buy eggs for the first time in several years.

Total value of my crops this year?   Maybe $1000 this year and most of that is from the eggs.  

Dry Dog Food

I have now made the dra dog food for the second time and  I am happy with how it turned.   Louie seems to love it, he prefers it to the kibble we used to feed him. 

 I know that the homemade kibble looks a bit like one bit brownies, but when you see and feel them, they are quite different.

Louie sitting on the stairs watching the world outside
The cost is also quite reasonable, my estimate is that it costs me about $12 to make this recipe.   The time it takes is also no very long, you can put the mixture together in ten to fifteen minutes.   The baking and cooling process will add another two hours or so, though you are not very busy during that stage.

Here is the recipe:

  • 5 cups of whole wheat flour
  • 3 cups brewer's yeast
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 cup skim milk powder
  • 9 cups stock
  • 6 eggs
  • 5 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 5 tablespoons peanut better
  • 3 cups of pureed vegetables
  • 1 tablespoon salt

  1. Set the oven to 400 degrees
  2. Steam and puree the veggies with about 1 cup of the stock - I use a lot of soy beans for the protein
  3. Combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix
  4. Mix all the wet ingredients 
  5. Pour wet into the dry and mix till a smooth pancake batter consistency
  6. Pour the mixture onto cookies sheets covered in baking paper - keep you depth to 1/4 - 3/8s of an inch.
  7. Bake for about 35-40 minutes
  8. Pull out the cookie sheets and let cool
  9. Take out of cookie sheets using the baking paper to lift it and turn over onto a cutting board.
  10. Cut the slab into thin long strips and return these strips to the oven and back for a second time for about 20-30 minutes, you are looking something that has the consistency of a biscotti.
  11. Take out of oven and let cool and then cut into chunks.
The recipe can be vegetarian, the only meat product I use is my stock.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Dry Dog Food

I made up the one dry dog food recipe I found online and I am impressed with the result.  It took almost no time to make up the batter.   It was of the consistency of pancake batter and poured really nicely into the baking pan.

When it came out of the oven 40 minutes later, it was the consistency of gingerbread.  When I cut it into chunks I saw that I probably should have baked it a bit longer.

Louie is a fan of this kibble, I suspect using salmon stock made it irresistible to him.

Next time I make it I will triple the recipe.  The amount this made is enough for a week for Louie, he is a big dog and eats a fair bit.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Dog Food, the Next Step

I am going to try and make my own dry dog food.   At the moment I pay $43 for 8kg of decent dry dog food, this is about 64 cups by volume.  Based on a recipe I found that will make 60 cups of dry dog food, I can do it for less than $20.

The reason I am going to do this is because I was struck by how expensive decent quality dog food is and how awful smelling the cheap stuff is.  It was as I was buying my latest 8 kg bag that I wondered what it would take to make my own and if their would some sort of recipes online.   I got home and found quite a few to try, I am going to start with a recipe from this page.

The core of all the recipes is effectively making a dough that gets baked into a hard cracker.   The doughs all contain a fair amount of fat which means it will go rancid fairly quickly, but if I make a reasonable amount at a time this will not be an issue.   Louie eats about 3 cups of kibble along with 1.5 - 2 cups of wet dog food each day.   A 20 cup recipe should be enough to feed Louie for about a week, though I suspect I will make more like 40-60 cups of the food at a time, the bin we have for the dry dog food can hold about 80 cups.  I wold prefer not to have to make dog food each and every week.

I will post some pictures of the kibble and write about how it all turns out especially the verdict from the hound.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Death

Yesterday one of the chickens died, I am not sure what happened but it was very dead by the afternoon.  I am going to ask Malcolm what may have happened and why when he gets back from Nova Scotia.

I am wondering what to do with the chickens in any case, they are closing in on three years old and production is way down.   I would like to build a new enclosure, the last two and a half years have shown me what I did right and what I should do differently.   I am also thinking of building it with two connected but separate enclosures so that I can add new chickens over time to my flock and I do not to start all new.   I would like to be able to try some different types of chickens when I get more.

I would like to move my flock up to eight to ten chickens.  Given the amount of baking we do and all the eggs I need to clarify stock, we need to have more chickens.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sous-vide Salmon

On Saturday I went to dinner at ulla and I was very impressed with the sous-vide chicken roll they had.   Sous-vide is not a cooking technique I have personally had much experience, I am not sure I have ever eaten anything sous-vide before.  I have seen the technique used on programs like Iron Chef America, but really no personal experience.   So what did I do?   I decide to sous-vide, how hard could it be?

Last night I decided to sous-vide some fresh sockeye a friend drop off on the door step (this year my freezer is more than full but if I could I would get 20-30 sockeye and freeze them, but I really need a second freezer to do that).   I filleted the fish - my skills are no longer what they once were.   When I lived in Lillooet I would process between 20 and 40 salmon a year and I got fairly decent at cutting off decent fillets.   I also made some steaks that I am going to through on the BBQ tonight.

Four of the fillets went to make graavilõhe (also know as gravlax).   I used to make a lot of this from spring salmon in Lillooet.   The bigger fillets made cutting slices so much easier.  

Two of the fillets looked like perfect portions for one person for dinner and I thought about the preparation and quickly decided to try sous-vide.   I do not have an immersion ciculator so I had to cook the salmon in ziplock bags and a pot of hot water.

I seasoned each fillet, covered them with thin slices of onion and put them in the ziplock bags.  I added about a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice to each bag.   I removed as much of the air as I could from the bags, not enough and next time I will use a straw to remove more.

I put on an eight litre pot of water on the stove and aimed for 114-120 degrees Fahrenheit.   I easily reached it and the water rose up to 135.   I let it cool down to about 120 before putting the fish in.   I added a bunch of canning rings to the bottom of the pot to make sure the salmon could not touch the bottom of the pot.  I was also using a stick blender to circulate the water from time to time to ensure a consistent temperature.

I only needed to have the element at the lowest setting to keep the temperature consistent.

I cooked the salmon for just under 20 minutes at 116-117 degrees.   I kept the temp within one degree for the whole time which was actually not hard to do.   The air in the bags did make them want to rise and I needed to put a coffee mug on them to keep them under water.

The salmon that came out was amazingly delicate and perfectly cooked.  I had no idea I could make a piece of salmon that good in my kitchen.   The onion added a perfect light bite.   The flesh of the salmon was tender but firm, no mushiness.  Wow is all I can say to it all.

We had rice with the salmon which had been cooked in a stock I had made from the salmon bones and head. For the veg I made lemony almost Chinese style braised pepper and zucchini dish, the acid from this dish balanced nicely with the rest of the meal.

I was impressed with the sous-vide method and I will be trying it again sometime soon.

(not pics because we still have no camera, outs was stolen in Manning Park about a month ago)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Dinner at ulla

We went to dinner at ulla on Saturday night with Ross and Jennifer.   We had all been interested in trying this new restaurant.  I also wanted to take Sheila back to the site of our first date for our third anniversary, which was at 509 Fisguard but a different restaurant.

Coming into the space, the restaurant feels open and spacious and not formal, I would feel comfortable dining wearing jeans, t-shirt and sandals though we had dressed up for dinner.  Take a look on their facebook page for pictures of the space.  Overall the restaurant reminds me a lot of Poppy in Seattle for decor, service and the type of food, though the style of how it is served is different.

The service was attentive and friendly but not over bearing.   The waitress knew what she has talking about.

The menu was short, only six appetizers, six mains and two deserts.   I actually like seeing a short menu because it means the chef is thinking about what is realistic to deal with for ingredients and to cook.   The menu also changes consistently as the source of currently fresh food changes.

What is the style of the food?  I think it would be best described as modern fresh chef inspired.    The chef makes use of ingredients that are all basically all sourced locally.  He also makes use of one technique that I have not seen in use anywhere else in town, sous-vide.  It is a way to gently cook food at a consistent temperature by placing the food in sealed plastic bag that are immersed in a water bath to cook.   I want to be able to try this at home, but we do not have the equipment needed to do it well.   This is the first indication that this is food I can not do at home.

We deliberately all ordered different starters and mains to make sure we might be able to try a tasting from everyone on the table.   These guys would do well to do a tasting menu or something almost tapas like.   I think they might want to consider Poppy's thali idea.   The menu is short but I really wanted to try three or four starters and mains.

The best way to described what arrived the table was works of visual art on the plates.   The rectangular white plates really come across as canvasses with the food the painting.   I have seen elegant plating, I have seen pretentious plating and I have seen the boring and bland.  I have never seen a chef that plates as if he was a painter.

In the ordering, I seemed to the person that chose the weakest dishes.   My starter was a beef tartar.   People that know me know I am a bit of a freak for raw beef dishes.   I have had the classic beef tartar numerous times over the years with the whole table side preparation.  The most interesting one was at Hy's in Vancouver, this is the classic dark panel steakhouse with a waiter serving the dish table side working with a large dark wooden blow.  What I got was a something that reminded me of the current trendy raw meat mixed with peppers and other bits all formed into a puck with a ring mold.  It came with creme fraiche and potato chips.   It was decent enough, but not world shatteringly good.

Seems the tuna tataki that Shiela and Jennifer shared was earth shatteringly good.   Ross's pea soup looked and smelled prefect, it was my second choice for a starter.

For the main I had the salmon and prawns with quinoa.  The quinoa and veg were wonderful, when I have had quinoa in the past it has felt like a chore but should be eaten because it is good for you.  The prawns were perfectly done.  The salmon.....   it was a little overdone, it was a little dry, it was not the best I have had.

Sheila has this rolled chicken thing with a smoked chicken leg.  I had some of each meat and it was perfect, done in a way I could only dream of achieving.

Ross had the shortrib and the beef was cooked to perfection.   He also had these amazing cauliflower mash tortellini.   Jennifer had the lamb - once again perfectly cooked - and it came with what are the best gnocchi going in this city, maybe on the westcoast.

I had the sous-vide rhubarb on a dacquoise with a yogurt ice cream. Well done and I enjoyed it, the rhubarb was a quite unique texture from the cooking process and very nicely tart.  The others all had the chocolate desert which I can not remember what it was.

So what does it cost?    $9-12 for the starters and $22-25 for the main and $9 for the desert.

The food here is much better than I could do at home, it is worth the money.   It also shows me that the food scene in Victoria is continuing on an upward trend.   A place like ulla will set a new and higher standard for everyone else, which I think is a good thing.

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Thursday, August 19, 2010

Red Fish, Blue Fish

I was volunteering at the Dragonboat Festival all weekend and therefore had a chance to go to Red Fish, Blue Fish.  I love their tacones but so rarely get a chance to go down there and buy them.   I got two of the chipotle shrimp tacones for dinner on Saturday.

The shrimp we well cooked and not little rubber balls, the chipotle mayo dressing was enough to give it a bit of heat, but not enough to overwhelm.   The pickled onions are a nice addition.   The price is quite reasonable, they could charge 20% more and not see a drop in business.   It is $10 for two of the tacones, though they leave off the HST.

I love the fact that they use an old shipping container for their restaurant.  They have a new seating area at the end of the dock against the rock bluff, this was not there the last time I had eaten her which was in the summer of 2009.


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