Monday, May 31, 2010

Molecular Gastronomy - Working with Liquid Nitrogen

So I found a source for liquid nitrogen and they offered a very reasonable price for 10 litres, rental of the container and delivery.

So now we are going to find a good Saturday for experimenting with it and then order it.  We are open to others coming to join us for the afternoon - evening and make foodie party of it.

I will let everyone know about the date and then report on what comes of it all.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Defending Our Backyard - 2010 ICC Local Food Festival

Sheila and I went out to the Island Chefs' Collaborative Local Food Festival at Fort Rodd Hill today.   We got there late and saw that there were long lines of cars all the way out to Fort Rodd Hill, they had a shuttle ferrying people back and forth.

The weather was turning and the crowds were thinning, which I suspect was good for us.   The rain never really started so we remained dry.

We ran into friends from the neighbourhood and the Tillicum Gorge Urban Farmers had a stand with Gabe Epstein there and Deb Heighway of the Donald Street Farm.   I will touch on what Deb is doing in detail on another day, she runs a small urban farm in the Tillicum Gorge neighbourhood using eight backyards.

Cliff was there with fol epi.   Bob Duncan of Fruit Trees and More was there.  

The festival was much more about booze than anything else we could see.   Though by coming late I believe some of the food stalls were already done.   We are also surprised that a number of the better known chefs and restaurants were not there.

On the food side Prima Strada was clearly the hit.   Even in the rain at the end they had long lines for their wood fired pizza.  This is the first I have had a chance to try their pizza and I was impressed.   With the new location open Bridge Street, I am much more likely to go.

On the booze side the three things that stood out. First the Saturna Island Winery 2008 Blanc de Noir.   This is a white wine made from Merlot grapes, the skins were removed right at the start of the crush.   The result was a very unique full bodied white wine.  I was finding I needed red wine words to describe it.   I would love to get some and I was told I could get it at Cascadia and Liquor Express in Tillicum Mall - this last one surprised me.

The beer that stood out for me was the Vancouver Island Brewery Sea Dog Amber Ale.   They have just come out this brew for the 100th anniversary of the Canadian Navy.   It was full bodied and refreshing, I can see drinking a lot of this over the summer.

The final booze was the Victoria Spirits aged gin.  I have never been a huge gin person, but Sheila as converted me to some extent, but I still drink more like I drink vodka than how I drink scotch.   This gin is aged in oak and it is much more like drinking a sipping brandy or a scotch.   It is not yet on the market, but when it is, I plan on buying it.

I would write some more, but I have to go for dinner, Sheila has made us pizza from scratch.

Shiki Sushi

Last night we ran way over on what we needed to do for the day and ended up missing dinner time.  Sheila has wanted to go to Shiki Sushi for sometime, especially since they moved around the corner, they are no longer on Fort, but at 1113 Blanshard Street, between View and Fort.

The look and feel inside is clean and modern, that sort of Swedish/Japanese sparse look, this is aesthetic that appeals to me.   There were no pretend Japanese accouterments.  The chairs are really comfortable, some of the best I have ever sat in for any meal, if they at all looked like they would fit in our dining room, I would consider going and buying some.  All in all, the decor makes it the sort of place I would love to sit, eat, drink and talk for hours.

We ordered two appetizers, neither of which did much for me.   The first was deep fried tofu in a consume like liquid.   The flavours were weak and the texture of the tofu left much to be desired.  The second was a beef tataki, Japanese carpaccio.   I was not impressed.  The beef was clearly good quality, but the pieces were not very thin and seemed to have little or no evidence of any pounding.   The sauce overwhelmed the meat, it was very heavy in soy and vinegar.  I am a fan of a good carpaccio, the best which I ever had was a pigeon one in this small town about an hour north of Munich in 1991.

We had some issues with the speed we were getting our food at, Max was with us and he was low on patience. If we had been on our own it would have been less of an issue, though still slow.   That said, the waitress made us feel comfortable having Max there and paid some special attention to him.

For the main we had four different rolls.   The first was a BC roll with bbq salmon skin, I happen to like salmon skin, especially when bbqed till crispy, though that is not what they did but it was good.   We also had the spicy scallop roll which was well done.   Both of these rolls had liberal amounts of roe on them, enough that I could lick some of it off and get a nice bit in my mouth.  I love the little bursts when bitting into roe.

The negitoro and yam rolls were decent enough, but nothing fancy, but then they are not intended to be fancy.

The big surprise came when we got the bill, we had only barely broken $38, a very good deal for the food we had.

We will go back, but not with Max.

Shiki Sushi on Urbanspoon

Not Good Food

I was surprised to find out about Beer and More delivery.   I had thought delivering booze was illegal in BC, I can not find any evidence on the site that they have a liquor license of a business license.   The best I can find is that they seem to be linked to Omega Pizza on Gorge Road.   They even deliver cigarettes.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Cheap Apples at the James Bay Market Tomorrow

The BC Tree Fruit Growers are coming to the James Bay Farmer's Market to sell apples for $0.12 a pound.  I will be going down to buy some.

So why are they doing this?  

The cost of production of apples in BC is lower than the wholesale price they can get for the fruit.   This year they have been paid as little as $0.12 a pound for their fruit.

You can read more about it all on the facebook group and see their opinion piece in today's Times Colonist.

This is a big issue for me and has been so for many decades.

I grew up spending a lot time in the summers in the Okanagan.  I can remember as a young kid walking with my father through the orchard of Helmut von Hahn near Oliver.   My father and Helmut talked about what it took to run an orchard and how he was doing.   My father had wanted to be a farmer of some sort and I expect would have loved to have owned an orchard, but my mother had no interest in being a farmer's wife.

In my teens I spent four summers picking fruit in the Okanagan.   Two years for Brian Hardmann in Naramata and two years for the Hahns.   I asked a lot of questions about the economics of tree fruit growing and was trying to understand how it was possible to make a go of it when the costs seemed to be completely against you.

I remember in 1983 writing in the Hahns guestbook that I would try and solve the problem of why growers can not get a good return on their fruit.   27 years later and I have had a few chances to try and address the issue, but I have yet to see any big over arching answer for tree fruit growers in BC.

Organic production was a solution for some time, but the prices are not much better there any longer.   Selling retail to the public through farmer's markets is partial answer, but really only works on a small scale.  I really have no idea what the solution is.

If there was a solution, we could produce tonnes of apples on Vancouver Island on all that farm land that is sitting in hay or fallow.   The east coast of the island could easily produce as many apples as the Okanagan.

Take some time on Saturday to visit the Okanagan apple growers in James Bay and learn more about the issue.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

This may be a useful online site

I am not sure if this will be helpful or not, but I am going to pay attention to it for the next bit.

Victoria Grocery Alerts

The site looks at all the flyers and then posts the information online.  I am not sure I like the interface at all.

Much of the flyer information for the latest week was posted at Vibrant Victoria, this format works better for me.

If anyone else uses this site, give me your thoughts on it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

BC Ferries - bad food for too much money

Eating on the ferry is something that we try to plan not to do, but it happens from time to time.

I tend to end up in the Pacific Buffet, but at $22 now, it is becoming unaffordable, especially given the institutional chaffing dish sort of meals you can get there.  Still it is better than the cafeteria.   We were coming back from the interior on Monday with the boys needing dinner.   If we had gone to the buffet, this would have cost more than the crossing.

We went to the Coastal Cafe.   $48 and four meals later we sat down to our very poor excuse for dinner.   The only good part were the BC burgers.  

The BC Burgers are supposed to be the White Spot ones, but they are not up to the same standard as White Spot.  The fries you get in the Coastal Cafe are I think the worst I have ever had anywhere.

I knew the fries were awful so I wanted to try something different.   I had the roast chicken.   I think it should be called Sahara roast chicken, it was drier than a desert.   It had obviously been roasted hours before and was sitting there drying out.  They had no veggies to go with the chicken, only salad or fries.   They did let me substitute rice.....

There has to be a better way to offer food on the ferries.  BC ferries should lease out the space to competing restaurants.   Imagine mall food fair in place of the Coastal Cafe and an Earl's or Milestone's in place of the Pacific Buffet.

Blog - Your Restaurant Sucks

Through a comment on the blog here, I was made aware of the blog "Your Restaurant Sucks".   I like what I have read so far of the blog, he pulls no punches and savages places that are just not up to the standard we should expect.  He speaks to my take on this city vis a vis food.

The 'mission' statement for the blog:

We live in Victoria, BC, Canada, and we love dining out. The problem is, good dining and service in Victoria is hard to find. Yet, no one in our local media seems to want to uncover this dark underbelly of our restaurant industry. Our aim is to give you the straight, ugly goods - as we see, taste, smell and experience them.
We are not culinary snobs. We love a good diner and dive as much as the next person. Some of our favourite places in the city are burger joints and places specializing in fast, but well-made takeout food.
In addition to sharing our bad restaurant experiences, we will sprinkle in some good ones. Victoria is not a complete wasteland of tourist trap eateries and prosaic West Coast Cuisine pretenders. There are exceptions to the rule.
We welcome comments, and anyone who wants to submit a review, if it's negative enough, we will consider publishing it here.

I like the fact that there is an online foodie community coming together to share what we experience in restaurants in this city.   He is linking his posts to Urbanspoon, so we should have even better information about where to eat before we go out.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Amuse Bistro and Bakery in Shawigan Lake

To celebrate a success by Sheila in her new business idea, we went out to dinner last night.  Having my 23 year old niece is living with us for a couple of months makes going out easier.  

I heard that Amuse Bistro and Bakery in Shawnigan Lake was supposed to be a good place to eat and reading the review at Feast or Burden made up my mind to try it.

The space is not large, it is in a small converted house.  There are not a lot tables, but the various small rooms give it a wonderful ambiance.  There is also a very nice back patio as well.

The chef is Bradford J. Boisvert, an American with a record of being good, very good.   Few people get to take part in the American Bocuse D'Or.   He opened the restaurant with his wife Leah Bellerive in 2006.

Leah was the person that served us and she is a perfect fit for the restaurant.  She has a calm grace and a relaxed manner that enhances the whole experience.

The menu is short but focused on local fresh food.   It also changes constantly as different ingredients are available.  We were quickly seated and served.  After ordering we were given bread with a lentil or bean spread - I was not taking notes last night as I was too busy enjoying dinner with Sheila.

We got an amuse bouche of a white gazpacho before the starters.  It was a cucumber basil one and reminded me of how much I do like white gazpacho and really should make it more often.

I started with grilled spot prawns with lentils and a salmon pate/terrine.  Perfectly done, the prawns were on a bed of asparagus and green beans which was on top of the salmon..   Sheila had the house made chacuterie, some sausage and pate.  

Between the starter and main  we were given a lemon thyme sorbet.  A perfect scoop in a Chinese soup spoon.

Shiela's main was the cider braised chicken with a barley/lentil side - she had pickled veggies to go with it.  I had the roast lamb with white beans, asparagus and green beans.   The lamb was perfectly crusted on the outside and rare on the inside.   The lamb was tender.   This was one of the best dishes I have had in a very long time.  The white bean side was light in a way I can never manage with beans.   The use of lentils and beans throughout the menu has inspired me to try and make some dishes with them.  

We got deserts, Sheila had a cheese panacotta, I had a chocolate rhubard tart with a cranberry ice cream - big enough for two.

Drink - I had a nice gewurtztraimner for the starter and some Belgian beer the main.   The restaurant is the sort of place that is not pretentious and intimidating in a way that some upscale restaurants can be.   I did not feel foolish ordering a beer with the main and it went very well.

We both had coffees after dinner - locally roasted coffee from Moziro's two doors down.  The smell of the coffee was so good that we had to get a cup.   They finished the evening with two perfectly made truffles.

The price for our meal was quite reasonable, many lower quality restaurants charge more for their meals.

By my measure - can I do better at home?   Amuse clearly is not something I could ever easily do at home.  I will be going back there, ideally often.  There are few other places on the island that have the attention to detail and exhibit the definition of west coast casual dining.

All I can say is go there, try the place, you will not be disappointed.

Amuse Bistro and Bakery on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 9, 2010

An early morning visit to Fol Epi

I dropped by Fol Epi early Saturday morning with my son that is interested in being a baker.   I was mainly interested in taking some pictures, but also in giving my son a chance to see them at work.

Cliff runs an amazing operation.   He mills his own wheat, some of which will be grown on Vancouver Island this year.   Sounds like he will get about 15-20 tonnes and will be making flour available for sale to the public.

He told us that they start work at 3:00 am, Stephen did not think that was too early to start, so I may have a baker in my family in the future   Stephen is interested in high end baking, not run of the mill baking.   He wants to own the bakery.

I am amazed at the quality of his danishes, light beyond belief and not covered in a sweet syrup.  The bread it wonderful as well.   Watching him making it was interesting.

He bakes with a wood fire oven.   The look and feel of the oven is not like the typical commercial ovens in use elsewhere.  He has two small silos outside his shop for grain storage.

I highly recommend going in and checking out how they work.   You can look through the windows and watch.

Fol Epi on Urbanspoon

Szechuan City Buffet Burnside and Harriet

Since I live only one block from this restautant and it is by far the closest restaurant to me, I like to be able to gohere.   Since the remodelding after it was closed for a couple of months, the place has been disappointing.  I went again tonight because it was walking distance, I was expecting mediocore food, I was pleasantly surprised, it was decent.

They had a good spicy squid.   The muscles were well done, there was a shrimp dish that was also well done.   The selection was larger than I had seen and it was more interesting than it has been.

We got  there at around 5:30 and it was quite full, clearly others have noticed the food has improved.   The last time I was there I managed to get a table easily.

Szechuan City Buffet on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 7, 2010

Solomon Siegel is back serving cocktails - now at Veneto

OK, so it seems we will have to go back to Veneto to check out the work of Solomon Siegel,  I found this ad in this week's Monday Magazine.

I have issues with Veneto because the name and the style of food they claim make not sense in connection with the food they serve.  The food was decent enough, but I had some issues with it as well.  I suspect it would be worth checking out again as it could very well have matured.   I know, I have a very picky standard when it comes to fine dining.  They also suffered as I went to Poppy in Seattle almost at the same time.

Solomon Siegel operated Solomon's at the location of the Herald Street Cafe.  It was a cocktail bar done right, done really right.   He closed it done, I suspect because this town really is not ready for upscale dining and drinks.   We are after all a provincial town ;-)

He introduced us to Fentiman's tonic water.  They also do ginger beer, cola, lemonade and more and are very much worth finding and drinking..

Veneto on Urbanspoon

Fresh Bakery and Bistro - 3115 Cedar Hill Road

On my way to pick up one of my sons from his mother's house, I stopped by Fresh Bakery and Bistro. This is one of the former La Colina locations around town during their sudden expansion.

I wanted to drop in for a coffee and some baked good, after it was no longer La Colina, Fresh was still a decent place to get a coffee and baking. Today not so much.

The americano I had was decent, I drink it without milk so I have trouble with very bitter coffees. The problem was the baked goods. The selection was limited and frankly looked heavy and clunky. I had a pecan tart, nothing to write home about.

The place seems to shifting from being a bakery to more of a restaurant.   I feel like they are aiming to be something like Fifth Street Bar and Grill.  The focus is more on the nighttime food and the beer.  They are also promoting watching hockey games.

They are advertising themselves with these rather cool retro 50s looking postcards.   I think they say a lot about the image they are going for.

I hate to say anything bad about staff, but the staff in there at 4 pm looked bored and disengaged.  I am sure they are nice people and a slow afternoon in a restaurant does not get anyone going, but the image they put across is one of not caring.

If/when I go back, it will be to try it for dinner, assuming that they rating number your see below rises over 70%.

Fresh Bakery & Bistro on Urbanspoon

Yoshi Sushi - 771 Vernon Ave, across for Saanich Municipal Hall

Sheila and I decided to grab some lunch out today and opted for Yoshi Sushi in the Gateway Centre between Vernon and Douglas.  

I have seen this strip mall area for years but never been in there.   I had heard there was a decent sushi place in there, but it was never top of mind when going out.   Today it made sense as we were over at Mackenzie and Shelbourne.

The plaza was clearly intended to be a retail location, but almost every storefront was more of an office than anything remotely retail.   Several government offices are located here.    Yoshi Sushi is located in the southeast corner and has lots of space to park - one of the reasons I vetoed going downtown for lunch.

Yoshi Sushi is relatively big inside and has a lot of tatami rooms.   The sushi is made upfront in view of everyone, something I always like in sushi place.  

We ordered a decent selection of maki and shared a large Sapporo beer.  The spicy scallop was the best of the lot.   The prawn tempura roll was too big and not well formed, it was clumsy to eat it, one piece was the end of piece you would normally discard as the trimmings.   We also noticed that the nori on many of the maki was torn.  It looked like someone was rushed and made basic mistakes.   We also had a spicy salmon roll, great flavour, but the pieces were not consistent in size.   There was also a problem with the coverage of the rice on the outside, there were spots that were spotty.

The flavour was decent enough, but not something better than other places in town.  The price is a bit on the more expensive side, though not unreasonable.   Our meal was $44 before tip, $9 of that was the beer.

On my number one scale to judge a restaurant - "could I do better at home?" - Yoshi does not pass.

If you are going to have a website, try to update your stuff once in awhile.    The events page has the last event in 2005.  Online they also offer a sushi club which entitles you to a 15% discount.

Yoshi Sushi on Urbanspoon