Friday, July 30, 2010

Harbour View Cafe

No. 66

I was shopping at The Bay when I thought, "how about having a coffee at its Cafe?"

I had never been inside it. It is huge! It probably seats around 100-120 people.

The thing that stroke me, as I walked by so many empty tables, was the magnificent view of the harbour. Victoria does not have many tall buildings, and even less, public access to their top floors. The windows of this side of the building are probably the best view anybody can get of the harbour from above.

It is a cafeteria, and I was disappointed it didn't have espresso. I don't like soft drinks, so I chose a small apple juice. In retrospective, I should gotten a tea.

Then took a table next to a big window, and enjoyed working on my laptop with a very comfortable chair and table. They have the perfect height for working on a laptop.

People come and go, but the place is so big that it feels empty. Which is also an advantage when I am working on my laptop, as I don't feel any pressure to leave.

Come for the view.

Verdict: Recommended for the magnificent view from the top floor of the Bay Centre.

Paid: 1.11

Update: It is a loss leader for the Bay. As I was leaving, I bought way more than I originally intended.

For more information, including its address, visit:
Harbour View Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tibetan Kitchen Cafe

No. 65

<2010-07-30 Fri>
It was 2:30 and I was looking for a restaurant to have lunch. I canvasesd many streets trying to find a place that would still be open (note to myself: "myself, you really need to keep a listing of opening times").

I was walking by Douglas when I saw The Tibetan Kitchen Cafe. I decided to try it.

Their lunch service ends at 3:00 PM. They had a big sign on the outside advertising their specials: beef curry and chicken butter.

I walked in and was offered to sit anywhere. As it is usual at this time of the day, the restaurant was almost empty. My waiter was a middle age man, very friendly, who offered me a menu. I quickly reviewed it, and noticed it was a dinner menu. I asked about the specials, and he said, yes, there were specials, and to go out to check them out (to see the sign). Asked the kitchen, and informed me that, indeed, there
were specials: butter chicken and beef curry (the episode was a bit awkward, but he was honestly helpful the entire time). I opted for the chicken. I was offered a choice of brown and white rice, and selected the latter.

I have never been in a Tibetan restaurant, and hence, I didn't have any expectation at all. I suspect that the name creates positive goodwill on the people who pass by. Would "Lhasan" create the same feelings than "Tibetan"? As one would expect,
the center of the decor was a photo of the Lama.

My food arrived. It was nicely presented. It came in four parts: two small nans, lentil soup, curry and rice. The smells were very inviting. I like to stop and smell the food before I have the first bite. This was a nice combination of the smells
of the curry (is butter chicken a curry?) and the lentils. It was very inviting.

Eating it was a bit disappointing, though. The food lacked seasoning. The chicken was nice and tender, but its most flavourful part was the cilantro on top of it. I felt the same about the soup.

The basmati, my favourite type of rice, was dry. Basmati rice is fragrant (after all, that is what basmati means in in sanscrit: the fragrant one). When properly cooked it is delicious to eat, even by itself. When it is dry it loses a lot
of its appeal.

The service, however, was excellent and the price hard to beat. Given these two factors, I am going to give it a neutral review, hoping that this was a bad day in the kitchen. More salt would have fixed the dishes--although the rice is more of
a problem, because it shows lack of quality control (but at that price point, it is hard to blame them). In conclusion, I'll try it again before I can really make up my mind.

Victoria suffers a lack of restaurants from these parts of the world (India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Tibet) compared to many other cuisines. Perhaps that is one another reason why I am inclined to give it a second chance.

Verdict: Neutral.

Paid: 7.50 + tip

For more information, including address, visit:
Tibetan Kitchen Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Puerto Vallarta Amigos

No. 64

<2010-07-29 Thu>
Finally, a real taqueria in Victoria.

Taco is a generic name as much as sandwich is. Essentially, a taco is a
tortilla (preferable corn) wrapping some food. As there are an infinite number of types of sandwiches, there are an infinite number of tacos (although I have never dared to try a peanut butter taco, but some people have tacos of banana and strawberry jam in flour tortillas).

Tacos are fast food. Most Mexicans eat their main meal at lunch time, hence tacos are usually a later afternoon/evening snack. In fact, many taquerias do not open until late in the afternoon. Arguable, Mexico City is the world capital of the taco. Around one year ago, the Guardian had an editorial listing the The
50 best things to eat in the world, and where to eat them
. It included "El Pastorcito"', in Mexico City as the best place to eat tacos. I have eaten at El Pastorcito many times (I used to live blocks away from it and I can vouch for them being some of the best, if not the best). They open from 5-6 PM until later in the night (2-3 AM); Tacos al Pastor are their signature dish. The meat is cooked
in a spit, like a shawarma, and sliced on demand. Your taco is filled directly by slicing the spit loaded meat (pork), and frequently adorned with pineapple, cilantro, onion, and equally important, salsa.

In taquerias you frequently eat standing, from a plastic plate, and order tacos by the unit, and eat until you are full. They are a great snack if you are hungry after a night of parting with your friends. I have many fond memories of eating at El Pastorcito very late (1 to 3 AM) to "end the night". Tacos are usually served in small tortillas (two tortillas, to make sure that if one breaks, the other does not), covered slightly with a small coat of oil (that makes them more resistant to moisture, and less likely to break).

Puerto Vallarta Amigos is a taqueria, and also sells other fast food (like tortas, which the Mexican sandwich). I tried to find it on Tuesday, but failed. I thought it was ocean-front (like Red Fish, Blue Fish). It is not. It is exactly in the corner of Wharf and Yates, right next to Matisse. It is a food truck.

Today I walked from Yates to the waterfront, and passed right in front of them without seeing them. It was until I saw people eating what looked like tacos, and asked them, that I realized I had missed them by meters. (The people I asked recommended them: "they are very good").

As I approached it I was greeted in Spanish by a middle aged man, clearly from Mexican ascend. I asked him what he recommended, and without delay replied "the tacos".

Amigos has only four options: tacos, tortas, quesadillas, and a "combo". But each of them comes in six different flavours: chicken fajitas, beef barbacoa, chopped pork, potato and spinach, beans and cheese, and soy chorizo. He suggested I try the sampler of tacos (that included one of each). They added a free extra taco of barbacoa.

While my order was prepared (I was the only person), I had some time to talk to them. They are a family from Puerto Vallarta, who have been cooking long before they came to Canada. They were proud that the use family recipes and try to be as faithful as possible to the original recipes and ingredients as it is possible in Canada.

I received my tacos; they included a wedge of lime. I was indicated where the salsa was.

For the taco newbie the salsa might seem unnecessary (in fact, why have it, they might wonder, when some of the tacos are already spicy?). But salsa is a condiment that, when properly prepared and matched to the food, it enhances the flavours. In Mexico it is often said that, in the quality of the salsa, you can evaluate the quality of the taqueria.

When I saw the salsa from "Amigos" my eyes brighten up and my mouth watered: this is a green salsa, made with cilantro and avocado, with hints of lime. A type of salsa that I enjoy. I proceeded to add a good amount to each of my tacos.

The tacos were delicious. The best was the beef barbacoa. Their beef barbacoa (which is nothing like the barbacoa of Central Mexico) is exquisite: the meat is nicely braised for a long time, to the point that it is soft and tender; and the chillies and spices make it a full package of flavour. It was followed by the potato and spinach taco, which worked extremely well with the green salsa. Then the soy
chorizo. I joked with them that ""soy chorizo" should be renamed "artificial chorizo", but they didn't appreciate my humour. They interjected that their chorizo is very real! I was honestly surprised by the balance of the soy and the rest of the ingredients. It worked. In Central Mexico Chorizo is typically made by combining
ground meat with chillies, spices and vinegar; the mixture is turned into a sausage (made with the external part of the tripe) and let to cure and dry for a while for the flavours to develop. It didn't taste like "real" chorizo, but it was very a good dish, nonetheless. The chicken was ok, the pork was a bit overcooked, and I am not a fan of bean tacos (those are the "poor" version of a taco--if you can't fill
it with anything else, at least you should have some beans to put inside a tortilla). It was a nice contrast with the rest of the tacos, but I would not order only bean tacos.

My lunch was perfect for the day: I was on the run, and had only 15 minutes to eat. I got my tacos in a three minutes, eat them in 7. But more importantly, fully enjoyed them.

The only thing I missed was some eating surface where I could rest my plate while I ate my tacos. They only have three chairs, which means that in a busy time, you either eat standing or sit on the ground. I was told by the owner that most people take their orders and eat them on the grass across the street, next to the ocean. It was exactly there where I found the person who pointed me to the truck.

The owner mentioned that they will have specials once a while. He recommended for tomorrow the ceviche, Puerto Vallarta style.

My only wish is that they would open late at night.

Verdict: Recommended for a quick snack. Best tacos in town, and a solid quick and
inexpensive snack for the middle of the day.

Paid: $6.00

For more information, including address, visit:
Puerto Vallarta Amigos on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Marina Restaurant

No. 63

<2010-07-28 Wed>

A magnificent view that transforms lunch into a positive tourist experience.

As I parked at the Marina, I was surprised by the number of people looking in the same direction. A quick glance was enough to discover the reason: there was a whale watching boat, and where there are fully loaded, standing whale watching boats, there are usually whales.

I waited for few minutes, and from the distance I think I recognized the spray pattern and the movement of the water associated with the mammals. That I didn't see a dorsal fin didn't matter, as I had gained bragging rights "I saw whales at lunch time". I noticed a glimpse of two persons having their lunch inside their cars, parked right next to the ocean.

I arrived at the Marina looking like I didn't belong there: old jeans, a t-shirt, unshaven face. Fortunately this is Victoria, and there is no dress code at lunch time for any of its restaurants (at least I haven't found one). I was offered a lovely little table, with me facing the Ocean.

The view is magnificent. It made me realize how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful place. Yes, I bitch about the boring, small Victoria, but never about its ocean and its views. As I sat there I was thinking that, if I was a tourist, I'll be very happy to come to this restaurant just for the view.

And here I was, escaping from work to feel like a tourist for 1.5 hrs. I was sitting in a nice restaurant, in a very comfortable chair, next to a table with a lovely white cloth and cutlery, and there was a magnificent view in front of me. And this was my lunch break. I felt thankful.

The Marina prides itself as a seafood restaurant. It usually offers daily specials. I selected the pan-seared rock fish with jasmin rice. As I waited for my fish, a basket of bread arrived unexpectedly. It was beautiful. It looked like an Alessi designed one, with a thick white cloth wrapping the bread and the aerated butter. The bread was absolutely delicious. It was fresh and slightly sweet.

My fish arrived, its presentation was good, but feel it could have been better. The real downer was that the rockfish lacked salt, and was slightly overcooked. Also, I am no fan of rice with seared fish. I don't find the combination interesting. The vegetables, on the other hand, were very well cooked. I am starting to relate beets with the Marina, as it is one of few places where I always have them served. Overall, while the plate was not bad, it was nothing memorable either. It felt outdated. But it didn't matter; it was not going to spoil my afternoon.

The service was impeccable.

I finished my dish, worked for another 30 minutes and felt lucky that my lunch had being transformed into a memorable day: a lovely day, orcas, a beautiful view from a comfortable and pristine table, all combined to make my lunch much more than its food.

Verdict: The food is not up to the best view from a restaurant in Victoria/Oak Bay, but will not disappoint.

Paid: 17.92 + tip

For more information, including address, visit:
Marina Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Chef Suzi in the Square

No. 62

<2010-07-27 Tue>

This is a "wall-menu" restaurant, and, as it is usual for new customers, the first minutes are spent decoding it. The menu is full of options, primarily burgers, sandwiches and wraps. Everything from beef to vegetarian options.

I was greeted by Suzi at the counter (who was helping momentarily at the front), who took my order. It was hard to decide, and finally selected the scallops burger, which was tucked in a little menu under the main one (I suspect this menu changes more frequently, but I don't really know). I felt that this burger was different and unique to the place. She interjected that it was an excellent choice, to which I replied that if she said so, it had to be. She was proud to say that the scallops were from Eastern Canada, from where she is from.

Delicious burger. The scallops were cooked to perfection, and very flavourful. I was expecting them to be pan-seared, but they appeared to be deep fried, with a coating of bread crumbs. They kept falling off the burger (due to their shape and generous amount). The bun was fresh, but not particularly interesting. Overall, a burger that I'll be happy to come back to have again.

A minor complain: I believe that a dish is the sum of all its parts. When I ordered I was surprised I wasn't ask about the side, and there was no information about it on the menu. I was surprised when my burger arrived with a side of tortilla chips. They didn't work at all with the rest of the dish. There was no dip whatsoever and the first chip I ate hurt my palate (this is, of course, my fault, but it affects my dining experience).

I think it is a good destination for an after-hours coffee and/or a snack (they have a espresso machine with manual levers). The place is welcoming, and comfortable, and if you like the outdoors, it has a small patio where you can sit (and with no cars passing by to stink your food). Its staff is very friendly.

If I have to put into context, it is a better seafood burger compared to some of the competition around (Ferris' Oyster Bar), and I would not mind coming back if I am looking for a quick snack (which is its intended audience)

It closes early, at 4:00 PM and does not open on the weekends.

Verdict: Overall, a decent experience, good only for a quick snack.

Paid: 11.15
Chef Suzi in the Square on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 26, 2010


No. 61

<2010-07-26 Mon>

Food to devour: another of Victoria's secrets.

It is not uncommon that my conversations with strangers typically end around food and restaurants. I am always curious to know what people think about restaurants, and find out which ones they like.

It was around 2 months ago that somebody mentioned to me Devour as being really good, but didn't really paid attention to it. Then I started to notice how good reviews it was receiving.

It is located in the old "Metro" Spanish restaurant, one that I never visited, in what I believe is the most competitive food area in Victoria (there are at least 15 restaurants in that block).

I knew it was small, and it had its following. On Mondays I usually have to eat early, I thought arriving around 11:15 was perfect.

Devour is a beautiful little restaurant. It is comprised of a bunch of small tables, very close to each other. It also has two tables outside, if you like your food smoked.

Imagine a little Zambri's at lunch time. That is what Devour feels like. Like Zambri's, it is wall menu, cafeteria style. I ordered the Smoked Tuna salad---which was the special of the day--picked my cutlery, a glass of water, chose my table and waited for my food to arrive.

Which brings me to the real special feature of this restaurant: the food changes daily. I love that. Once I trust a restaurant, I love that the person cooking has the flexibility to cook as they wish, and wants to take advantage of it. Cooking is a form of expression, and I often wonder how disappointing it must be to be forced to cook the same day after day, particularly in those restaurants that are clones of another one, where the customer expects the same every day.

I believe Devour's secret is that its chef loves to cook, and it shows.

I tend to avoid salads, and particularly smoked tuna ones because I can buy exactly the same tuna from the Fish Store in front of the Wharf. But given that it was the special of the day, well, I had to have it.

I am glad I did. Good cooking is about transforming ingredients, and in the process, elevating their whole into a new level that by themselves could not achieve. That was my salad. Every ingredient was fresh and flavourful.

It was beautifully presented and it was full of colours, textures and flavours everywhere: quail eggs, wheat, tomatoes, olives, greens, the tuna of course. It was a delight.

To top it all,JZ. who manages a restaurant I like, was there having lunch too. We talked about food, restaurants, the restaurant business, and life in general. It was possible because the place is cozy, and promotes socializing (rather than the awful, uncomfortable booths so loved by many). JZ was having lunch in her table, I on mine, next to hers, and yet, we, unexpectedly, were able to make our meals into what they should be: an unplanned daily social event that celebrates life with food. And Devour was the conduct.

Verdict: Highly recommended.

Paid: $15.68

For more information, including address, visit:
Devour on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 23, 2010


No 60.

<2010-07-23 Fri>

Good and inexpensive shawarmas in an unassuming location.

What process do we follow to decide if we should, or not, go into a restaurant? I have frequently wondered.

I have passed by Al-Sultan several times, and I always wondered if I should have lunch there. The front is unassuming, and as I usually pass in a hurry, I never really stop to look inside the windows to find out more about the restaurant.

I looked for research that looks into the factors that determine our choice to select a restaurant, and one aspect it is mentioned is that deciding where to go is always stressing for the persons who have to make the decision. You are, in front of a restaurant, trying to decide if it will satisfy your hunger, and if its worth the money. After all, a bad meal is not something you can return the next day, as you would with a bad TV at Future Shop (sometimes I wish I could, though).

Wanting to visit every restaurant in Victoria has removed that apprehension from my restaurant visits. Now, when I see a restaurant, I know I am going to try it at some point; and yes, I'll have some bad meals, but I will also have memorable ones too.

Al Sultan wasn't my first option this day. It was late, LR and I were in China-block, and were trying to find a place that we would both find acceptable, when I remembered Al-Sultan. I quickly called them, and discovered they stay open from lunch to dinner time. Perfect.

We arrived and were surprised by the size of the restaurant. Like Shizen, it has two floors of tables. The menu is a full-day one, but they have daily lunch specials. Unfortunately it was late for it, so we chose instead to have shawarmas: LR ordered the falafel, and I ordered the beef. But there was no beef that day, so I had to settle for chicken.

The restaurant feels like a family business. The son and the father (I presume) were both using their computers as we walked in. The son was the one who served us. Visiting these places run by immigrants or children of immigrants reminds me of the greatness of Canadian's multicultural mosaic. The immigrants bring along not only their skills and dreams, but also their traditions, food being one of the most
important ones.

Granted, Victoria is not exactly the Mecca of international food in Canada. Yet, we have many of these restaurants.

As soon as we sat, the music system started playing some middle eastern music. A group of young middle eastern people soon arrived to make the place look alive.

Our shawarmas arrived. They were adorned by a dolma as a side, which as a very nice touch. We both enjoyed them. They were both freshly prepared, simple and good. The chicken and the falafel were both nicely cooked and tasty. The dressing of the shawarma was flavourful and combined nicely with the filling.

Our service left to be desired (he apologized by the end of our meal, acknowledging that he had forgotten about us), but the overall experience was good.

One final note: this is the only restaurant I have visited that explicitly labels its meat as halal, if that is an important consideration for you.

Verdict: Simple, yet good shawarmas at a very good price. Recommended for a quick, inexpensive lunch.

Paid: 7.75 + tip (I think)

Al-Sultan on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hong Kong West

No. 59

Guest photos by JD.

<2010-07-22 Thu>Authentic Schezuan food that feels like touching a 9-volt battery terminals with the tongue.

A friend, whose food taste I trust, recommended me Honk Kong West as authentic Schezuan food, and added: you need to go with a person that speaks Chinese. Apparently it changed ownership not long ago.

Today it is less a secret that many Chinese restaurants have two menus: the English and the Chinese one, that are totally different. Frequently restaurants think that non-Chinese will not like the authentic fare. In Richmond I have been "invited" by the waiter to change my order because I might not like it.

I enlisted my Chinese interpreter, HZ, by bribing him to a free lunch.

We arrived early, and were greeted by a family of Chinese immigrants who run the restaurant: they look like the grandparents and teenage grandson. They appear to be the front and back operation of the restaurant.As soon as we stepped into the restaurant, they talked to HZ in Chinese, and during our entire meal we exchanged very few words in English with them.

We sat and HZ was given a menu. In China, it is common that one person orders for the entire table. The plates are to be shared. HZ explained to me that this is an important responsibility that cannot be taken lightly: the choices should match between each other; and one must order meat and vegetables to have a full meal. The menu had more than 30 options, all written in Chinese. It reminded me of my days in Japan where food lottery was a common method of ordering until I got slightly familiar with the Kanji.

"Order as if you were at home, we will eat everything", I stated. JD nodded in approval. HZ enquired about our willingness to eat frog, to which both gave a thumbs up. We ordered three dishes: Poach Fish with hot chilli - 水煮鱼 (pronounced as Shui Chu Yu), spicy bullfrog - 香辣牛蛙 (pronounced as Shiang La Niu Wa) and dry-fried french beans with minced pork and preserved vegetables - 干煸四季豆 (pronounced as Gan Bian Si Ji Dou), plus some rice.

The first to arrive was the fish. We could immediately see it was going to be spicy: it was loaded with garlic and chillies. We promptly filled our plates and were surprised by that sudden rush that accompanies authentic Szechuan food. It is a sudden tingling of your tongue, like if it is getting numb (and one of the strong memories I have about eating in China). I have always being curious about what creates it, my gut feeling was that it was star anise (another typical spice of Szechuan food) and checked the wikipedia. I was wrong: the tingling is produced by the Sichuan Pepper and cites Harold McGee book "On Food and Cooking", a book that any kitchen nerd (like me) who likes food (like me) or likes to cook food (like me) should have in his bookshelf. Harold explains:

"The [..] Sichuan pepper [..] offers a strange and interesting version of pungency." and continues "[The pungency compounds in the Sichuan pepper] produce a strange, tingling, buzzing numbing sensation that is something like the effect of carbonated drinks or a mild electrical current (touching the terminals of a nine-volt battery [who hasn't done that!])." [They] appear to act on several different kinds of nerve endings at once, induce sensitivity to touch and cold in nerves that are ordinarily nonsensitive, and so perhaps causes a kind of general neurological confusion".

How true the description is, and how amazingly refreshing it feels.

You have to be warned: Szechuan food is not for everybody. It is loaded with chillies, so after your tongue feels numb and opens, the rush of the chillies kicks in. Amazing food. The fish, I believe it was basa, worked well with the dish and was well cooked. Overall a dish that will make me come back on its own.

The frog was ok. Interesting, but not memorable. The beans, on the other hand, were another delicious addition to an already rich meal.

It was spicy, we had to ask for extra napkins (to clean our dripping nostrils), and tea, and we ate and ate and ate, and could not finish the food. HZ gave the best compliment: "This is food as if I was in Shanghai--except for the frog".

As we devoured our meal we noticed the daily specials: the food that you would expect in any Chinese restaurant: the combos, with the rice, roll and some stir fried food. We could see the woman in the table next to ours ordering from that menu..

Like Antony Bourdain explains in one of the episodes of his tv show "No Reservations": in these Chinese restaurants there are two different worlds, few meters away from each other, one often unaware of the food the other is eating.

Get your translator and try it. Just bear in mind: Szechuan food is not for the weak of tongue, mouth or stomach.

This place is worth exploring. I have not been excited about a local menu for a long time.

One warning: some of these dishes take time to cook. We were the first to arrive and received our first plate around 15-20 minutes after we ordered.

Verdict: Authentic Szechuan food that feels home made. Another of Victoria's secrets. Recommended if you can handle it.


Paid: 15/person + tip

For more information, including address, visit:
Hong Kong West on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


No. 58

This is a dinner review. Stage does not open for lunch.

<2010-07-21 Wed>

Guest review by LW:

Aside from the lack of obvious parking, Stage delivers without any smoke and mirrors. When we first arrived, I was a little overwhelmed by the smell of meat and poultry afforded by the open kitchen. The service was excellent-- prompt and attentive without being intrusive. The first item was the best--the risotto. The trout was excellent. We were divided by the duck--dmg wasn't keen on the cabbage and I was indifferent to the poultry. I have eaten too many creme brûlée recently--this one was as nice as all the rest. Stage welcomes all types, theatrically dressed or casual, in a warm environment with decor that reminds me of its owners' Vancouver origins. Even those who despise restaurants and abhor eating should stop by to see the beautiful mermaid sculpture on the wall.

dmg here:

Stage is a very good option for those of us who like light dinners. One small complaint: they charge for bread and also for olive oil/vinegar, something that other restaurants do not; the bread, however, is top notch, but too much for one person only (LW didn't want any from the start). Perhaps Stage should offer a "1/2" order of bread, which I would not mind paying for. I was also surprised by how varied its clientele is, not only in terms of attire, but also ages.

Verdict: A solid dinner destination. I will come back.

Paid: 27.72 per person + tip


For more information, including address:
Stage on Urbanspoon

Sally Bun

No. 57

<2010-07-21 Wed> Sally Bun offers simple and inexpensive buns either for dine-in or take out.

My plan was to have dinner out, which means I had to have a light lunch. I wasn't sure where to go. I drove to Fort and Cook, and started walking and came across Sally Bun. It had been almost five years from the last time I had been there, and had forgotten about it. It was the perfect destination for the type of meal I had planned.

Sally Bun sells, well, buns, with various fillings, including vegetarian ones. It was a difficult choice, and settled for a cream cheese and mushroom. It was less than 4 dollars including tax! It is cafeteria style: you order from the wall, wait for your bun to be heated (if you so choose) and take it to your table.

I understand the need to warm them in microwaves (it would take too long to use a toaster) but I recommend that ify you buy them to take home, you invest the time and warm them in a "real" oven. Microwaves make the bread soft, rather than crispy.

It was 2:00 PM and there was only one other customer. I noticed the back garden was open, and decided to venture there. What a surprise! It was like being thrown to a different city and time. It was pleasantly warm and under the shade, and it was all for myself. Eating in the backyard is worth the price of the bun.

The bun itself was very good, but the filling was messy. The cream cheese overwhelmed the mushrooms. I will have to try others.

In the context of many coffee shops that sell expensive and bad snack food, Sally Bun is a gem. I recommend it as a quick snack, either for lunch, or to take out. Its only disadvantage is that they don't open very late (Mon-Fri: 5:30 PM, and Sat 4:30 PM).

Verdict: A very good snack at an unbelievably inexpensive price.

Paid: $4

For more information, visit:
Sally Bun on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Black Stilt Lounge

No. 55

This is a relatively new coffee shop. It is located in what used to be a laundromat.

It has lots of space to sit. The tables and chairs are relatively comfortable. I liked the copper tops of the tables. I saw many people using laptops, an easy demonstration that it provides free Internet.

The coffee was average. It is not what will bring me back. But the environment and the free Internet will. Unfortunately they close at 6 PM, and at 4 PM on the weekends.

It seems that the Black Stilt has a social conscience, as it is trying to raise money for developing countries coffee farmers.

Verdict: A good Internet location if you live close by, but don't except much from the coffee.


For more information, including location, visit:
The Black Stilt Coffee Lounge-Jubilee on Urbanspoon


No. 56

<2010-07-20 Tue> Daidoco is one of the best kept secrets of Victoria. It is a small restaurant located behind the Bug Zoo. It is cozy, with small, but numerous tables, and a very nature oriented decor.

I believe the owners are the ones who run the restaurant (the man, who is the chef, and the woman, who runs everything else). There is usually a third person helping them. They are some of the nicest restaurant staff around.

Surprisingly, they don't advertise it as Japanese, even though they both are Japanese, they communicate in Japanese, and their dishes have primarily Japanese influence (and some Chinese). Several of the customers spoke Japanese.

They are extremely proud of local-sourcing their vegetables (a good proportion is organic) from a Matchosin farm and from their own garden (I don't think there are many other places that can make such claim). Locavores, this is one of the places to pay a visit.

Daidoco is cafeteria style (think Zambri's at lunch time--in fact, it was Jo, the co-owner of Zambri's who called my attention to this restaurant).

They have a very small menu. It usually includes a special of the day, some appetizers (e.g. rice balls and noodle salad) and salmon and tuna don. The most expensive item is 7.00 + tax (not including rice). Its menu might be its only Achilles' tendon because you might not like anything they offer.

I ordered the special of the day (ling cod with ginger sauce and vegetables). I added rice to it. You have the option of white or organic brown rice.

It was soo good. Everything was full of flavour, starting with the fish, of which I got a large portion and it was properly cooked. The vegetables were fresh, and made a bed on top which the fish and sauce sat. I wanted to lick the plate, but opted to lift it to my mouth and pour everything left on it into it.

As I eat, the regulars were coming in, asking them how they were and how they have spent the weekend. It is obvious that they have built relationships, always a healthy sign of a restaurant. Most of the customers ordered take out.

Daidoco is the type of restaurant I love to support. When you come to his restaurant, you see friendly, honest, hard working local people, full or pride of the food they offer, and its sources, and it is not surprise they deliver healthy, delicious food at an inexpensive price. The food world would be much better if other restaurants learn some lessons from Daidoco's playbook.

Daidoco opens at 11 and closes when the food is gone or around 4. It does not open on the weekends.

Verdict: Highly recommended. Considering the freshness of the food, the amount that you get, and the price you pay, I'll place Daidoco as the best simple lunch destination in Victoria, and one of Victoria's best kept secrets.

Paid: 9.50 + tip (daily special + rice)


For more information, including price, visit:
Daidoco on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 19, 2010

Moxie's Classic Grill

No. 54

<2010-07-19 Mon> Dreaded Monday. If you have read my reviews before or eat out a lot, you know that Mondays are usually a day in which restaurants close. To top it all, I must be at work at 13:00. This reduces the areas of Victoria where I can venture for lunch.

I decided to give Moxie's a try. I tend to avoid restaurants that like cloning themselves. I know why they exist: they help the customer balance the information asymmetry between the customer and the restaurant: if we have visited one of the branches, we know (more/less) what to expect when we enter another one. Uniformity is the name of the game.

I have never visited another Moxie's. I think I have been in this one twice before; in one occasion I had an above average lunch, and in another a below average one.

Moxie's prides for having 44 branches across North America and a Web site soo generic that you can't find the opening hours of its Victoria one.

The restaurant is very large and its main floor has high ceilings. This makes it feel bigger, and it makes it a very welcoming space. Its tables and chairs are comfortable, and you get a servillette.

The lunch menu is primarily burgers, but they offer some lunch specials for the "season". It is clear that this is a corporate restaurant: they specials are printed in colourful plasticised pamphlets.

I opted for the cod tacos with a salad.

The tacos came in a "taco holder". A first for me. I thought for a second that I had crispy tacos (which I consider an aberration), thankfully I was mistaken. It is great for presentation, but to put salsa in them one needs to open them. So I removed them from the holder and placed on the plate. I realized the holder makes them look bigger than they are. The tacos were filled backwards: the main filling at the top, then the vegetables at the bottom; the reason they do it backwards is for presentation: they want to show the few pieces of fish first.

As you can see from the photo, each taco has two or three small pieces of deep fried fish and some vegetables (lettuce, red pepper). They were ok, but didn't have much flavour (the fish tasted like it had been frozen for some time); the guacamole (that green layer on the tortilla) felt like that spread sold in the supermarkets (what I call "artificial" guacamole, and did not feel or taste fresh, but it had a good lime flavour that worked with the salsa and the fish. The salsa was very good and it added flavour to them. Unfortunately some of the tortillas where cold to the touch. I am not talking tepid. They were cold to the touch as if they had just been taken from the fridge. Why? I don't know, because they had grill marks on them, the plate was warm, the taco holder was warm--warm plates is a sign of good service). Overall the tacos got a thumbs down.

The salad, on the other hand, was the star. It contain cranberries, feta and a good dressing. I craved for more.

The service on the other hand, was impeccable. I was asked how the food was, and I was sincere: one of the tortilla was cold as if taken from the fridge, which I didn't understand because it had grilled marks. I added I was ok with it, but that the kitchen should be informed. She guaranteed me she would do it. Minutes later the manager approached my table to ask me about my dissatisfaction with the food, which I stated.

The lesson? Moxie's cares about customer service, and seems to have good procedures in place to address it. I felt very satisfied with the way the restaurant handled my complaint, because I felt that it had not fallen in deaf ears (at least at that moment).

In a way, Moxie's is a contradiction: excellent service (both in terms of place, table, cutlery, servers, and management), but food that sometimes feels prefabricated and below expectations (particularly when I consider the type of restaurant it wants to position itself).

Verdict: Neutral

Paid: 14.56 + tax

For more information, including address, visit:
Moxie's Classic Grill on Urbanspoon

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Osaka Sushi

This is a dinner review. For my lunch review click here.

<2010-09-01> Update. I have come for dinner and lunch three times after I wrote this review. Unfortunately Osaka's quality varies dramatically from one visit to the next. I don't recommend it any more.

<2010-07-18 Sun> Many restaurants close for Sunday afternoon, so it pays to call them in advance. I was in the vicinity and decided that it was a good option to try for dinner.

The restaurant was relatively empty. It was around 7:00 PM.

We ordered the Sashimi Deluxe special, unagi nigiris, miso soup and a spicy tuna roll.

The sashimi was beautifully presented. It contained a large number of pieces and variety, as you can see in the photos. We had to ask what each one was, because there were many I could not recognize. It even included a quail egg! Unfortunately, the egg was sitting on top of the wasabi. When I tried to move it aside, I tipped it and dropped it onto the bed of ice. Oh well, I'll be more careful next time. The unagi was good too, and I think we could have been satisfied without it. The miso soup is also very good and full of flavour. The only one I didn't enjoy was the spicy tuna roll: the flavour of the tuna was obliterated by the others, instead of all of them working together.

One interesting detail about the sashimi box. We were told the seaweed was also edible, because many people think it is only for decoration. It was very good.

In retrospective, Sundays is probably the worst day to go to a Japanese restaurant for sushi, because the food is not as fresh as other days. But you really need to talk to your restaurant to find out which days they bring what. For example, at Sen Zushi, if you want the best uni, you need to have in on Thursdays (when they have it). One needs to build a relationship with the restaurant to start to know their schedule.

Verdict: a very good meal, and at a very good price. This is my second visit to Osaka and I'll keep coming back.

Paid: 22.40 per person + tip

For more information, including address:
Osaka Sushi on Urbanspoon

Pho Vy

No. 53

<2010-07-18 Sun> Pho Vy is a local favorite. It offers simple, inexpensive, and, more importantly good food.

It is a small restaurant, and it gets packed at lunch time, and it is not uncommon to see a small line at the door.

This is one of my frequent lunch destinations. I come here when either: I am in a rush; I crave Pho, or I want a small lunch. Today it was a combination of the latter two. Pho is served very quickly, and I prefer it to walking into a fast food restaurant.

I ordered the pho with steak, tripe, tendon and flank, regular size. The pho comes with a good portion of bean sprouts, basil, cilantro and few slices of jalapeño. Slice the herbs, and pour everything in.

The restaurant menu includes many options besides pho but I have never ventured to them. When I come here is because I want pho. After all, if the name is "Pho Vy", then Pho must be their speciality.

Service varies in quality, but when I order pho there is not much that I need. People are used to go to the cashier to pay for their food, or you can ask for the bill and pay from your table.

Verdict: A solid, reliable destination for inexpensive and good pho. I am a regular.

Paid: 9 + tip

For more information, including address, visit:
Pho Vy on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 17, 2010


No. 52

<2010-07-17 Sat> Shizen is located in the China block.

From the moment we walked in, it was a surprise. From the outside I would have never imagined that this restaurant was soo big. The restaurant has a main and upper floor. We arrived late, almost at the time they were closing lunch service.

The menu is large, and has a lunch specials section. Their bento boxes start at $7.95 + tax.

We simply ordered their "Combo B: love boat for 2 special". It includes sashimi, a california roll, 4 nigiris, fruit, miso soup and rice.

The food was plentiful and good. We were fully satisfied with it.

The service was slow, but it was understandable: they had finish serving lunch, and they (the servers) were already eating and to take care of us on the side.

Overall, a nice surprise. I'll certainly come back.

Verdict: Good, inexpensive food.

Paid: $12.29 + tip

For more information, including address, visit:
Shizen Sushi on Urbanspoon

Tamales at Moss St Market

No. 51

<2010-07-17 Sat> It was the Moss st Paint In, and to avoid feeling hungry we started by having some tamales at the Market.

I have never had good tamales in Victoria, and decided to give them a try (the other option was a sausage). We ordered two: a "rajas con queso" and a "chicken with salsa verde".

There is no sitting, so you either eat standing or sit on the grass. You might enjoy that or not.

They were both of a decent size, but the rajas, in both of our opinions, were better. The chicken was drier and had very thin shreds of meat mixed with the corn (see photo below, the second one is a close up); overall it had less flavour and felt overpriced.

As a snack, to keep your stomach busy for a while, they will work.

But at 5 dollars each I cannot recommend them as lunch, since you will need to have two to feel satisfied. And 10 dollars for lunch on a paper tray and plastic fork, without a place to sit is too expensive, in my view. I was surprised by how briskly they were selling them. Considering that they had to provide no service (no tables, no waiting staff, no washing of plates, etc), they were probably making a good profit.

My only problem is that I crave tamales, so I might come back, since they are the "best" in town (at least the ones I had). I should try the other options soon to get a more fair comparison.

Verdict: Underfilled expensive tamales.

Paid: 5 per tamal.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Tapa Bar

No. 4

<2010-07-16 Fri> I had visited the restaurant long before in my quest, but didn't write a review. Today, I had a "business" lunch and it was the perfect opportunity for the Tapa Bar, since it is usually better enjoyed with a group of people.

We sat outside. It was a pleasant day (but a bit cold for one of our friends). The problem of the alley is that there is little sun light in it.There was construction across the street and it was very loud at times.

We ordered 5 plates: the pesto pizza, the eggplant, the cubanette con pollo (chicken), the calamari fritos (squid) and the pollo al chipotle (chicken wings). Food was good, but the star of the meal was the pizza (everybody agreed).

In my opinion, the pizza, my favorite dish of the tapa, is well worth the trip. It is made with apple and pecans, on a bed of cilantro pesto and comes with fresh lime you can squeeze on top (I am not a big fan of pizza in general, so take my comment with a grain of salt).

The pollo was totally covered with garlic, and too spicy for some, but it was very good for me. The squid was properly cooked, although not a lot. The eggplant was good too. The cubanelle was just ok. Everybody was fully satisfied with the amount of food we ate.

The Tapa is a good destination. I might be pricey if you are alone, but if you are in a group, and you share, it is very affordable. Furthermore, their prices are the same all day long and are open most of the day and almost into midnight.

Sharing food is also very social. It promotes conviviality. I like it.

Verdict: a very good meal, at a very affordable price. Great destination for groups of people.

Paid: 14.56 per person + tip

Postscript: On <2010-05-29 Sat> I ordered a pesto pizza to go. It was as delicious as usual.

For more information, visit:
The Tapa Bar on Urbanspoon