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.