Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Culinaire, a woman's view

Not too long ago Bernard and I attended Culinaire. For those of you who have never heard of it, Culinaire is, well, Bernard called it “speed dating for foodies and restaurants”, basically a bunch of restaurants put together small plates and you get to exchange a ticket per item.

We missed last years inaugural event because we didn't get a ticket in the week before we sold out. This year they had two servings, one at 5 and a second at 7:30. I sold out in a month. No surprise, at $28, this is one on the most affordable foodie events in Victoria.

On entering, we each got our commemorative wine glass with 10 tickets tucked inside. We headed onto the loud, deliciously scented floor. I will mention that a map of the booths and a list of food served would be an excellent addition to my wine glass next year.

Starting upstairs, I had a moment of concern, beer and pulled pork sliders served on a multi-grain rolls that I have gotten on airplanes. Our first taste didn't reassure me. The advertising was promising – a handmade ravioli filled with braised oxtail and a red wine demi - but the actual food was uninspiring. I got a bland filling in tough pasta.

Highlights, in order tasted. Haro's, two fancifully shaped baguette crisps, one with tuna tartare and the other with a sage-y chicken rillette. The Copper Fire Grill, a polenta cake topped with a panko breaded, deep-fried braised meat ball skewered together with some sort of dry noodly thing were the presentation winners. Pablo's smoky-spicy tuna tartar was another winner. Vic's Steakhouse, braised beef on a bed of cardamom red lentils, a very more-ish flavour. Pig, a slider featuring hot sauce dipped schnitzel, bleu cheese mayonnaise and pickled vegetable on a soft white bun. In a fateful piece of placement, I moved one booth further to FOO and had a delightful green mango salad that was the perfect acidic chaser to Pig's slider.

Lowlights? I only had a few. I mentioned the ravioli, definitely a sad start. Pink Sugar Cupcakery looked great, with macaroons, the flat, smooth ones that I have never had, on a cake plate right up front. I reached for one and verbally had my hand slapped as I was informed they were for display only. WHAT! The actual choice were either chocolate with strawberry icing or lemon with lemon icing cupcakes. I chose the lemon, expecting a tart treat. The cupcake was dry and bland. No lemon flavour. Blah. Needing to use more of the extra tickets we had bought, ($1/ticket) I tried a pulled pork slider, after all I had about 8 to choose from, bad plan. The meat was gluey, bland and dry

Bernard tried several others, including another pulled pork slider he had me try. By sharing the tequila cocktail served up by the Oak Bay Marina restaurant he restored beauty to my palate though, so I forgave him the slider.

Plant Swap

There will be a plant swap in my area on Saturday April 16th at the corner of Carey and Tillcum.   The swap will run from noon till 3pm.

You can bring and take plants, but please make sure they are well labeled and in boxes or bags.   You will be able to sell as well.

If you are not bringing plants to swap and want to take some, please make a cash donation.

The swap is being organized by the Mount View Colquitz Community Association.  Contact them for more information.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Pig BBQ Joint

Nice spot to eat and people watch
 We finally made it to the new location in the northwest corner of the Atrium building.   I had been avoiding it because we have pulled pork everywhere and none of it as a good as I can do at home.   I see Greek Restaurants offering pulled pork, at Cullinaire it was on offer from a slew of restaurants, it is the 2010/11 version of the potato skins or zucchini sticks.  

Given the bad experience I have had with the food from Smoken Bones Cook Shack, and people tell me this is the best BBQ in Victoria, I was not wanting to try Pig.  

After meeting for worship on Sunday, Sheila and I ran some errands and then wanted to eat lunch.   She chose Pig, I tried some lame excuses about parking as a reason to go there (I was honestly holding out for Dim Sum).   She got me to go and I was impressed.

The setting is interesting, the tables and chairs are really basic.   The chairs look like basic school chairs from decades ago.   The tables all come with rolls of paper towels - when I saw this coming I knew the food would messy, which is how BBQ should be,

I ordered the pulled pork sandwich and the fried mac and cheese.   Sheila ordered the schnitzel, I will leave it to her to talk about here food.

Pulled Pork Sandwich
As I said earlier, I have utterly underwhelmed by restaurant pulled pork in this city so my expectations were not very high, the bar they had to hurdle was low.   What I got was the best pulled pork sandwich I ever had.   The meat was perfect, not stringy, not greasy, not dry and not mealy.  If I had any comment on the meat, it would have been nice to get a bit more crunchy crust, but with a large shoulder being BBQed, there is only so much surface to work with.   The bun was a fresh soft white bun that soaked up the sauce and the juices from the pork.    The pork was topped with slaw like things, I honestly did not dissect the sandwich as I just wanted to eat it.   The sauce was too sweet for my personal taste, but that is me, I prefer BBQ sauce that is not sweet at all.   That said, the sauce started a bit sweet, but it had a long and very interesting finish.   I suited the sandwich very well.

Deep fried goodness
I did not know what to expect from the fried Mac and Cheese, what I got was this small block of Mac and Cheese that has been crumbed and deep fried.   Very cool and interesting.   It is not something I could make at home.   It is the crust on the Mac and Cheese that we always fight over in the house, with this preparation there is the equivalent to four servings of crust on one small block.

Serving drinks in canning jars is fun but it has been done many times before, it is one aspect of the restaurant that felt a bit gimmicky and forced.

The food came on a plastic tray covered in butchers paper, a smart way to serve food that is by nature messy.  

All in all I am very impressed and I will be going back.   The price was good as well, very affordable, in fact the meal was cheaper than if I went to Macdonalds.

Pig BBQ Joint on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bon Sushi in Oak Bay

 I wanted to have lunch with my oldest son and when I asked where he wanted to go, he said sushi.   Daniel has been a sushi fanatic since he ate at a sushi restaurant on Commercial Drive at age 6 and had a chance to watch the chef make the food.

I looked through Urbanspoon and looked for a well rated sushi restaurant that was not downtown and up came Bon Sushi in Oak Bay.

I had been here before and my biggest complaint is the ambiance of the restaurant, it feels too much like a quick lunch restaurant.  I was not jumping for joy at the thought of going back, but it had good ratings and was located in the right area.   Daniel was driving so I did not want him to have to try and park downtown.
Daniel ordered us two rolls and a plate of assorted tempura, I ordered one roll.  Daniel's choices were the tuna roll and the California roll.   I can not remember the name of my roll, it is the one in the middle of the plate.

I was happy with the rolls we got, though not blown away.   Certainly they were made with a skill that neither Daniel or I could do at home - yes we both make sushi at home - but there were flaws.   The rolls did not have their rice evenly spread through out and a couple of the pieces that were end ones and should not have been served were served with their ragged edges.   I know this sounds picky, but I have eaten a lot of sushi in Vancouver and it is a different world over there when compared to the restaurants here.

The plate of tempura was Daniel's choice.  I am not a huge fan of tempura on its own.   That said, the batter was light and crunchy and the tempura was done right.

As places go, Bon Sushi is decent enough, but not good enough to make me cross the city to eat there.   They do have a second location in Royal Oak that will try the next time I am out there at lunch time.

Bon Sushi on Urbanspoon

I do not get this

The Fairway at the Gorge Plaza has a section of British foods.  The aisle brings back many memories for me of when I lived in London 20 years ago, not that I bought the stuff as most of their food is overly processed.   Last week I saw this product for sale

Suet is beef fat, how can it have 30% less fat???   I am not sure what vegetable suet is, but it does not

Atora is the company that invented shredded suet.  As someone that renders their own suet into tallow, it is much easier to work with the rendered tallow than the raw suet.   Shredded suet is somehow made shelf stable.  I thought that beef fat that was processed enough to be able to keep at room temperature was called tallow.

The shredded vegetable suet seems to be made with palm oil and some flour.   I still can not figure out how you get 30% less fat in a product that is fat?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Preserved Lemons

I just finished making a one litre jar of the preserved lemons.   Now it has to sit for three weeks.

Recipe for Preserved Lemons:

This is my own recipe and adapted from several I found online

    Get a clean 1 litre canning jar1) Get a clean 1 litre canning jar 
    2) Clean about five to seven large lemons - since you are putting the skin in you want all the crap off of the outside 
    3) Put 30 ml of kocher salt in the bottom of the jar 
    4) Cut the lemon into wedges and put them in 
    5) Layer from time to time with kaffir lime leaves - the recipes I read all called for bay leaves so will see what the impact of kaffir lime leaves are 
    6) Continue to fill up the jar to the top with lemons wedges - you need to force them in 
    7) When you reach the top, put in 30 ml more of kosher salt 
    8) Top up with lemon juice 
    9)Screw on a lid and leave for three weeks 
       I will post here how they turned out and what I make with them.

    Saturday, March 12, 2011


    Sheila and I went to Cullinaire on Thursday evening.   We missed getting tickets last year but were on the ball early this year.

    With your enterance ticket you get a wine glass to keep, which I did not know till after we left and I left mine behind, and ten tickets.  You can buy more tickets for $1 a piece and I highly recommend making sure you have enough so that you do not feel worried about running out of tickets.

    This is really a speed dating event for foodies and restaurants.

    Some of the best and most interesting restaurants in town were not there - Ulla, Stage, Brassierie L'ecole, Cafe Brio and Camille's to just name a few.  I also did not see Chinese, sushi, Indian, middle eastern or other ethnic cuisines on offer.

    Most of the offerings were acceptable but utterly forgettable.   The majority of them were something related to pulled pork or a slider, not a single one of them was great.   The sooner this dumb fascination with pulled pork ends, the better.   I rarely have seen anyone do something half as good as I can do my home oven.

    It was interesting to see the different scale of the portions you got, some it was a very small amuse bouche, others it could have been a restaurant starter and they gave you a drink.  Swan's did the best value for money.   Three pieces of corstini with a chicken rolade and a different sauce or relish on top of each along with a very generous pour of their beer.

    The stand outs of the night tended to be from hotel restaurants.   The restaurants I thought were weak all managed to live down to my expectations.   The one thing that comes out of this is that I will be looking much more seriously at the restaurants in hotels

    The Copper Rock Grill at Bear Mountain offered this interesting deep fried ball of pulled pork served on a small polenta cake with this very nice demi glace.

    Lure's Offering
    Lure - they made this little terrine and for the life of me I can not remember all that was in it other than the beetroot.   It was an impressive little bite and we will be going there soon.

    Oak Bay Marina Restaurant - They this amazing deep fried crab cake, cake being the wrong word as it was light and fluffy.   This was paired with this amazing Seville Orange Tequila cocktail that contained chocolate bitters.

    Next to the Oak Bay Marina Restaurant was Vic's Steakhouse that did this amazing braised lamb on lentils, I wish I could remember the name of the place.  Much better than all the dry and bland pulled pork.

    The Local Kitchen offered decent curried prawns, but not out of this world.

    The BC Hospitality Foundation was there and offering some nice little vol au vents filled with smoked trout and smoked some other fish

    Next to them was a restaurant offering some sort of pulled lamb on lettuce leaves.   After a lot of pulled meat and this presentation looking very unappetizing, I walked away without trying it.

    Charcuterie from Fiamo
    Fiamo was offering meatballs and a plate of charcuterie.   Sheila like the meatballs but I thought they were a bit dry.   I liked the charcuterie but Sheila felt it did not showcase cooking skill.

     Pig - I am trying to remember what they did, all I know is that I want to go the restaurant now because of it.

    Fireside Grill had a nicely done scallop with more, but with some much food I can not remember it all.   They did have this odd little bit of clear jelly that made no sense with the rest of the food.

    Prime Steakhouse has this wonderful little amuse bouche with beef, when I talk with Sheila, I will try and post the details.   I have to say they convinced me to try them.

    Nautical Nellies - I had a little deep fried tuna cake.    The oil was clearly not hot enough when they fried them.  They were heavy and dripping in grease.   The tuna inside was overcooked.   I simply could not eat it and had to spit it out.   Cullinaire is the speed dating event of the restaurant scene in this city, if you make something badly, do not serve it, not matter what.   This was their one chance to convince me to try their restaurant as I have been loath to try it because of a lot very mixed reviews at Urbanspoon and low rating.

    Flavour Bistro Ravioli
    Flavour Bistro - They had a raviolli that was filled with a shredded or pulled beef.   The meat was bland, the pasta a bit too thick and dough has been over handled as it was a bit rubbery.   We have no idea what the sauce was on top, but it was not memorable at all.  Part of the problem is that we had had ravioli the night before that Sheila had made and they were much better.

    They also served with a BC red that was pointless to drink as it was thin and bland.   I wish the obsession with local wines did not mean that people felt it was a good idea to serve BC red wines.   It is a rare BC red that is drinkable and I have only had one glass of red that I would match up with standard wines of Australia, but that was during a business meeting with Harry Mcwatters.

    Bon Rouge offered veal topped with thick prosciutto.  The veal was not well done and an awkward size while the prosciutto was too thick

    Next to Bon Rouge there was Aura and they were offering prawns wrapped in thin ribbons of phyllo pastry (or some other sort of thin dough) and then deep fried.   They looked impressive and they were tasty, I should have taken a picture.

    The worst food I had all night was from Smoken Bones Cook Shack.  They were offering turkey sausage with some sort of sauce.   I have no idea how they cooked that sausage, but it was dry and mealy.  The sauce did nothing for it as the texture was awful.   This is the only other thing I ate that I had to spit out.

    Canoe's Ice Beer Holder
    Canoe Brewpub had a flourless chocolate cake with a cherry compote - looked great but I had the beer.  I loved their ice beer holder.

    Rogers Chocolates were there with small lemon filled chocolates.   Others that like sweets said they were good, I am not big on sweet so I defer to others judgement.

    I am going to stop for now because I can not remember everything there was, I will leave it to Sheila to post as well.

    All in all it was a great event and we will come back next year.  I highly recommend that you go as well.

    Thursday, March 10, 2011

    Making Preserved Lemons

    I have been interested in preserved lemons since I first  about them close to 20 years ago on the original Masterchef out of the UK.   One of the amateur chefs had it along as their special ingredient for their cooking.   The very idea of preserving them intrigued me, but I never did anything about it.

    Over the years I have seen them for sale in specialty food stores but the price has always been too much for my to pay to experiment.   Because I have no background in Moroccan cuisine, I had no real idea how to make them or what I would use them for.  I do know I like Moroccan food.

    Lately I have been able to buy large amounts of lemons fairly cheaply at the Root Cellar.   If I buy five pounds of lemons, I have to come up with something to do with them.  Making a mousse took up a lot less than I thought it would - really only a couple of lemons.   I needed something else and I remembered preserved lemons.  

    I am going to make them later today or tomorrow.  I will photograph the process and write about what the process is like and eventually what the lemons are like and what I make with them.

    I will be using the recipe from the website Instructables  - generally a very interesting website to look and see what you can do at home in a huge variety of areas for food to cleaning to robots to almost anything.