Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Starbucks Chinatown



Coffee Review

<2010-08-31 Tue>

No. 93

A Starbucks in the middle of Chinatown (or more properly described, at the opposite corner of China block, as I prefer to call it). Not much different than many other Starbucks: the coffee tastes more less the same, it uses the same standard furniture, and, in general, provides you the same bland experience that you expect when you walk into Starbucks.

The location, though, is very nice. It has floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall glass windows, making it very bright and no matter where you sit, you can do people watching.

In this Starbucks there is usually a group of elder Chinese conversing. It is interesting that, of all the coffee shops in the area, they have chosen Starbucks.

Verdict: a comfortable and large Starbucks.

Sura Revisited

<2010-08-31 Tue>

I decided to visit it again, and try their Bibimbap (something I recommend people to try in a Korean restaurant).

I was disappointed. First, my bibimbap came in a plain dish, not a stone bowl as the real one is supposed to be served. This mean that the egg had to be fried in advanced, rather than cook with the heat of the bowl. The bowl was cold, and my bibimbap got cold very fast.

The rice and the vegetables were very good, but still, this is not what I was expecting.

For that reason, I no longer recommend it for lunch.

Verdict: Inconsistent; some dishes are better than others.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Cornerstone Cafe



<2010-08-30 Mon>

No. 92

Coffee Review

Grindstone is one of the coffee shops that I have passed by numerous times, but never went in. One of the main reasons is that I already have favourites in the area, to which I am loyal.

Located in a corner, with windows in two sides, it is a bright, decently large location. I sat by the bulletin board and it was fascinating to read all those ads. Many of them advertising artistic events in Victoria. It was mesmerizing.

The coffee was not bad. I would put it at par with Union Pacific or Bean Around the World, which are its main competition.

Verdict: Decent coffee.

The Reef



<2010-08-30 Mon>

No. 91

The Reef is one of the few Caribbean restaurants we have in town (perhaps the only one)? "Reefs" have been multiplying. According to their web site there are 4 locations (including Victoria).

I arrived at the Reef around 1:30 and it was almost empty (only other person having lunch). It is a large, bright location, with plenty of seating.

The have a lot of lunch options, and decided to settle for the West Indian Curry (Goat). Caribbean food (and this type of curries) is peasant food, and not meant to look pretty.

My curry was not bad. I enjoyed it: the portions were large, the curry tasty--although the rice wasn't interesting at all. It was one of those lunches that I am satisfied with the food and the price, but it is not exciting.

The service was very good.

Verdict: Decent food, at a good price.

Paid: 11.50 + tax

For more information, including location, please visit:
The Reef on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 27, 2010

Black Stilt Coffee House (Hillside)



No. 90
<2010-08-27 Fri>

I like the Black Stilt. I wished it would be closer to my home (or downtown). Their coffee is very good, their space is large, bright, inviting, and has lots of different styles of sitting to match your requirement (comfy chairs, benches, tables). It feels like a place for everybody.

Furthermore, the business seems to have a social conscience, that is demonstrated all around the store (for example, that they compost and recycle as much they can and ask you to help in the sorting).

It has very good music and free Internet. It was a pleasure to be there.

Its main downside is that you really need to live or work at walking distance. It is difficult to find parking in the area for more than few minutes (unless you are willing to pay for it).

Verdict: Recommended

For more information, including address, visit:
The Black Stilt Coffee Lounge - Hillside on Urbanspoon

KFC Hillside



No. 89
<2010-08-27 Fri>

I suspect I am not the only one who has fond memories of going, as a child, to Kentucky Fried Chicken. I used to love their mash potatoes with gravy.

While the corporate name is now KFC (some argue it is to avoid the non-so-healthy word "fried" in their name), this one still has the old "Kentucky Fried Chicken" emblazoned in the outside. As I entered, I was surprised to see that this one is really a take out place. There are some stools with around a high bench, a park bench (yes, a park bench), but no tables. The place was almost empty (it was around 1:20). It feels like this restaurant has seen much better years in the past. Today it feels run-down.

Like McDonals, I felt totally lost trying to decipher their menu. I ended ordering a 2-piece special, with salad and mash potatoes (included a drink, but converted it to water).

The most remarkable part of my visit was the quality of service I had. The two ladies that served me are probably underpaid, had no motivation from tips, and yet they were ultra friendly, and I got excellent service from them.

I got my food, but the stools were taken, so I had to eat standing. One piece of chicken was enjoyable (leg), the other not (back of the chicken). The salad had a green radioactive glow. Both the salad and the potatoes had an artificial flavor, and didn't ate much of either one. I think the next time I am at a KFC (there is no next time at this one) I'd just order the chicken, and it will be the non-crispy version. I don't think this chicken is worth this level of security for its recipe.


Verdict: Avoid

For more information, including address, please visit:
KFC (Hillside) on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Legislative Dining Room

No. 88



<2010-08-26 Thu>

This is the best kept secret of Victoria. Its slogan should be "Eat where and what your representatives eat". Is there a better exercise of democracy that this? Like Ali-Baba, you need to know how and when to utter the magic "Open, Simsim" to get in. At some point you need to exchange an identification for a badge that will make you feel important (or an alien in the building, depending on the type of person you are). You will be given a map to follow your lunch adventure, and some hints on how to unlock the secret passages.

You will pass by the tourist who are touring the building, pass by security guards who are going to keep an eye on you from the distance, but finally, you will get to the Dinning Room.

This is a quaint restaurant, that probably hasn't change much in generations. It has the feeling of an old British restaurant. You will be assigned a table, that has been set for dinner service, and an older lady will be your server, and she will make sure you feel special.

The food is good, the prices are good too (some claim they are subsidized, but I can't attest to that). I was treated to lunch by my friend MZ, so I don't really know much my meal was, but it was in the 10-12 dollars range.

Our waitress is probably used to conversation with the frequent visitors. She told us that right there is where the MPs and their staff eat when they want to eat, and it is the same food.

Frankly, even though I enjoyed my lunch, the food is secondary. Coming here is a demonstration of the greatness of BC and Canada. I, one of its citizen, is allowed to visit and eat at the restaurant few meters from the people who represent me. They, my representatives, see me as one of their constituents, not as a threat, and don't mind my proximity. How many governments in the world would allow this? It makes feel proud of being Canadian.

Everybody should try to have lunch here at least once. It will allow you to see the inside of our Parliament a little beyond the tours. Be a tourist for one day! Or, the next time you have visitors, give them a totally unexpected lunch treat that they will probably not forget for many years to come. I know I won't.

Verdict: A must for any British Columbian, Highly recommended.

Paid: below 15, but not sure exactly how much.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Fairfield Fish and Chips

<2010-08-25 Wed>



No. 87

It was one of those days in which I am not sure what I want to eat. I was planning to go out for dinner and wanted a quick and light lunch. I decided to canvas the Fairfield area, starting with the Fairfield Plaza, but nothing interested me. I thought about going to Cook St, when suddenly remembered that Fairfield Fish and Chips offers lunch.

The place is tiny, has some stools inside and few tables outside. Fortunately it was late, and there was plenty of space inside and outside. They had a lunch special with a piece of fish plus chips, which I ordered. The lady who took my order was the only person there. There is no service whatsoever. Fairfield Fish and Chips is a take out place, that has some space for you to eat in-site if you so choose.

I decided to sit outside, and ask her to yell when my order was ready (they have a take out window). I usually don't like sitting outside by the road, but Fairfield is not a very busy street at that time of the day. It was very pleasant. I thought about the importance of the place when it comes to food, and how, to recommend a restaurant to a person you need to understand what type of experience they are looking for in a particular occasion. While my original constraint was to have a simple, light lunch, I truly appreciated the calm of sitting outside, enjoying a beautiful day.

My order was ready for pick up and I was surprised by how much food it was. This was not going to be light lunch. The fish was nicely cooked, but the batter is too thick for my taste, so I removed pieces of it, and left them on the plate. Later I discovered that they offer a "light battered" version, which I must try next time. This was not the light lunch I was planning, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Yes, there will be a next time. This is an unassuming restaurant, that offers good food at hard-to-beat prices. In my opinion, Fairfield Fish and Chips is one of the best deals for lunch in Victoria. Of course the downside is that you increase your calorie intake. The world can't be perfect.



Verdict: Unbeatable benefit/price ratio, recommended.

Paid 6:72

For more information, including location, please visit:
Fairfield Fish & Chips on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Hernande'z

<2010-08-24 Tue>

No. 86



Hernande'z secret to success is extremely simple: hand made tortillas, a very good salsa, and fresh ingredients. They are absolutely the best tortillas in town. I am not surprised they have stopped selling tacos to go (you can't have a taco 1/2 hr later, it would have disintegrated by then).

They have two menus: the slow and the fast, depending on how long you are willing to wait. It is unfortunate the pressure that some customers impose on the speed of preparing food in a restaurant. Some of us would prefer a richer, better cooked meal than a fast one. I think Hernande'z approach is the right one: state, upfront, that some items in the menu will take longer to prepare, and let the customer decide. When you order you get a card. It is a "Loteria" card, which is similar to Bingo but for kids. They will call your card when your food is ready, and bring it your table; you can sit and relax while waiting for your food (other places in Victoria should learn from this simple method of keeping your customers happy while waiting).



I tend to order el Huarache (they call it "La", which is wrong. It is "El"), which is a central Mexico staple. Their version is not very authentic but I enjoy it. A true huarache has beans filling sandwiched in the "masa", not on top. This huarache is closer to a big "sope". Their interpretation is a also "healthier" (it lacks the lard that enriches the authentic ones) and has a good salad to top it. The flavour of fresh cooked corn and the salsa does to me what good comfort food should always do: brings me back memories (in this case, of my years in Mexico). I have tried other items in their menu and I have enjoyed them, but keep going back to the huarache.

A final note: they stay open for most of the day, from 11:30 to 21:00, making it an ideal place for a late snack.

I am a regular.

Verdict: Very good prices, and highly recommended.

Paid: ~7.50

For more information, including location, visit:
Hernande'z (Yates St) on Urbanspoon

J & J Wonton and Noodle House

<2010-08-24 Mon>


No. 85



I used to eat lunch at JJ around once every two weeks, but I can't remember why I stopped going there.

The restaurant is popular, and if you come at the busiest times, you you will have to share one of the big tables (something I kind of enjoy, although many people bury their heads in their plates,
oblivious to the rest).

Usually, JJ has two specials, and at least one of them is a soup.I Ordered the Szechuan Halibut soup. It promptly arrived.

The fish was good, but the soup tasted like canned tomato with a hint of sugar. The good fish wasn't enough to overcome it. There was no Szechuan flavour, in my opinion. The noodles in the soup felt soggy (uncoooked, I think). Overall, a complete disappontment. I would think twice before coming here again.

Verdict: Mediocre food.

Paid: 9.52 + tip

For more infromation, including address, visit:
J & J Wonton Noodle House on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sockeye Sushi

<2010-08-23 Mon>


No. 84





As I have mentioned before, entering a restaurant for the first time is an interesting experience, and says a lot about a place (whether intended or unintended by its management).

Time and time again, I am surprised by the storefront of a restaurant, and I am starting to believe that the entrance is not the way to judge a restaurant. For example, one of the best restaurants in Montreal, Le Club Chasse et PĂȘche, has no external indication that it is a restaurant, except for the crest of the restaurant next to a huge door. You cannot see anything from the outside.

The entryway of the restaurant is non-inviting, but as I entered Sockeye, my first surprise was how it tries to mimic a Japanese street, with the wooden walls, and roofs leaning towards the centre. It just looked out of place. It has some private areas, while the "patio" is centered around sushi bar.

The second surprise was the metal chopsticks, which are Korean, not Japanese. When my friend from Japan visited Vancouver, he commented on how many Japanese restaurants are actually run by Koreans. Sockeye is one of them. Looking around, I could see several signs in Korean, that confirmed it.

I was hungry, and decided to order their expensive lunch special (which range from 8.50+ tax to 15.95).



My food came in a large place, and was beautifully presented: 3 slices
of sake, 2 maguro, 1 California roll, and 4 nigiris (2 sake, 1 maguro,
1 ebi). The maguro was the star of the show. I happily enjoyed all of it.




As I was finishing, I was asked if I wanted complementary ice cream, and opportunity I immediately took advantage of.



The good food was complimented by good service.

Verdict: Good good, I'd certainly come back.

Paid: 17:86

For more information, including location, visit:
alt="Sockeye Sushi on Urbanspoon"
src="http://www.urbanspoon.com/b/logo/1541312/minilogo.gif"
style="border:none;width:104px;height:15px" />

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Roger's Chocolates Soda Shoppe

For an second visit to this location.

<2010-08-21 Sat>

No. 83

Coffee Review



On the East side of Government, right across the street of the Empress, The Soda Shoppe is in one of the best locations in downtown. I was surprised to learn--thanks to Your Restaurant Sucks, that they are no longer are a Rogers outlet.

The store is divided into two sections: the ice-cream parlour, and the rest. It is a large place, with large windows offering a beautiful view of the area in front of the Empress. It was a very hot day, but I needed a coffee. In retrospective, it was the worst day of the year to come here. The Sun was blazing and I sat, you guess it, by the windows, under the Sun.

I love that view. It is soothing. I makes me feel like a tourist, and enjoy the fact that people pay to come here to have a similar experience. Unfortunately the person who designed those sits never sat in them. They are the most uncomfortable in the world. Perhaps it is by design: they want tourist to keep moving. Thus a high turn-over and lots of business, who will never come back--at least not for months. The locals, the regular, can come, but the sits seem to scream "please don't stay for long". It is a shame, because I'd be willing to come for that view on a regular basis, and pay top-money for it.

Service is slow. And it is annoying to have to wait by the counter for my coffee for what feels like an eternity. They need a way to streamline that. Shoppe, if you are listening, hire a busboy, and people will love the extra pampering (I would).



The coffee was ok but a bit bitter for my taste, but it had good thickness. The small Lindt chocolate that came with it was melting by the time I ate it, but I enjoyed it. I like the treat of a small chocolates with my coffee.

Verdict: Nice location, awful sitting, recommended with reservations.


--dmg

Update: Nov 10, 2010. I received one of the worst coffees in a while. The problem with the baristas here is that they are young people with no skill. Order something other than coffee.


For more information, including address, please visit:
Roger's Chocolates Soda Shoppe on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 20, 2010

Ulla



Update (Nov 21, 2010): See how this dish is made.

<2010-08-20 Fri>
No. 82

(Dinner only)

Out of the 82 restaurants I have visited so far, Ulla is the first that truly wows me.

I was busy with work and I didn't have time to fix dinner. I decided to go downtown and find a place to eat. My idea was to visit a restaurant that didn't open for lunch. My first thought was Wild Saffron, but as I passed in front of it I recalled that Ulla had opened just around the corner.

As I entered Ulla, my first impression was of a bright, modern, and comfortable restaurant. I liked it (some restaurants in town should learn from them). I was by myself, so I decided to eat at the bar.

I wasn't too hungry. Because I eat well at lunch time, I find full entrees at dinner time too big for me. I can eat out every day for lunch, but I can't at dinner time; it is just too much food. For this reason I tend to order apetizers. Another reason is that they tend to be more creative, both in content and presentation, than the entrees.

I ordered the tuna tataki, and the octopus. Both were delicious. In the tuna I particularly enjoyed the chanterelles, and I liked the way the avocado had been spread at the bottom of the plate as a "surface" in which the rest of the food rested. Its only defect is that some of the toasted garlic was chewy.




The octopus was sublime. It was as tender as butter and full of flavour. I could not stop eating it.



I usually don't order dessert, but I was enjoying the time, and had more work to do. I followed the bartender suggestion and ordered the chocolate cake. It was, like everything else, delicious.

The service matched the quality of the food.

In this first visit, Ulla delivered very interesting food in terms of flavours and presentation. More important, it was delicious. I can't wait to come back for more. If Ulla is consistent, and continues to deliver this level of food, it will be in my top 3 dinner destinations in town (perhaps the top one). I wished it opened for lunch.

Verdict: We need more restaurants like Ulla.

Paid: 35.84 + tip (2 appetizers + dessert)

For more information, including prices, visit:
Ulla Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Willie's Bakery



<2010-08-20 Fri>

(Coffee Review)

No. 81

Even though Willie's serves food, I don't like it. After 1:00 PM, Willie's slows down, and it becomes a better place to only come for a coffee (it is too busy in the morning and lunch time with people eating).

I don't recommend their coffee. I ranks around decent (some days better than others). If you want good coffee, go to Habit instead (on the other side of Market Square).

The main reason I come here is that I like to sit at the window, and look at the people pass by.

Verdict: I come for the view.

Paid: 2.75

For more information, including address, visit:
Willies bakery & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Puerto Vallarta Amigos (visit #2)

<2010-08-20 Fri>

I had a craving for tacos, and was planning to eat out, so I thought to pay them a visit. I was originally going to ask for their 6-tacos special, but they convinced me to go for their daily special: the fish tacos. They were very good.

My recommentation of the place stands. I consider them a good option for fast mexican food.


Interestingly, they are becoming a focal point for Mexicans (or those who have spend time in Mexico).


Paid: 9.00

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Spice Jammer



No. 80

<2010-08-19 Thu>

It opens for lunch only two days a week (Thursday and Friday).

Spice Jammer has one of the least inviting store fronts of any restaurant in town. Its storefront is a large floor to ceiling glass door and windows, around 3 meters wide. But instead of giving you a view towards the interior, the entire view is blocked with burgundy red velvet. The door is kept close, which means you can't see the inside from the outside.

Its dinning room is located in the back of the building, lacks windows and it is dark. Another similar restaurant is also Indian (Curry House). I don't like it. I want to see daylight.

As I enter, the waitress (dressed with a Sari, although Caucasian looking) asked me if I wanted the buffet or the menu. I was taken by surprise, because the entrance said nothing about a buffet. I asked for the menu.

I am not keen on all-you-can-eat buffets. Unless I am starving (and eat like a pig), I find them overpriced. I also don't like the lack of pairing between the different dishes. A good meal needs to be designed in such a way that the side dish goes well with the main food. In a buffet, we tend to mix everything without regard to what goes well with what. The only buffet I enjoy is the Oak Bay Marina's (and that is mainly because of the desserts).

The menu was primarily dinner dishes, that felt too expensive for lunch, and would have required extra rice. The menu, however, had a "Chef's Lunch Special". It was basically built from the buffet, with service. I decided to order it. The menu was printed with black print on red paper, extremely hard to see in the low light conditions of the restaurant. Spice Jammer, if you read this, I would recommend you use a lighter paper (white would work much better).



It was 1 PM and the place was almost empty. My food started to arrive. First a salad. The salad was simple, copious, and very fresh, but was not Indian at all. It was a good start. The next items were the curries (chicken and potatoes) plus two pakoras. The chicken curry was below average and one of the pieces of chicken came from the back of the bird (more bones than meat); the potato curry was much better. The pakoras were cold, but I enjoyed them--a lot. I would say that for the price, I had a large ok lunch.



The service was excellent.

Verdict: It didn't feel very Indian, good amount of food for the money, but
quality varies significantly across dishes.

Paid: 9.58 + tip

For more information, including location, please visit:
Spice Jammer Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

McDonald's Pandora



No. 79

<2010-08-18 Thu>

When I tell people about my quest to visit every restaurant in Victoria, I frequently get asked if will go to McDonald's. After I answer affirmatively, I get ask if I will visit every one of them.

I thought about it. I know, it is basically academic to answer one way or the other. McDonald's, as a type of food establishment, fully qualifies for my list: it offers food, and it offers a place to sit.

What does a person who reads a review of McDonald's wants to know? I asked myself. Obviously it is not a food review; I doubt any of my readers has not eaten at least once in a McDonald's, and the brand makes a point of consistency. If I read a review of McDonald's, what do I want to learn? I have been at McDonald's in exclusive areas of big cities, where eating there was an event, and I have been inside somber McDonald's where I would not eat.

This McDonald's is large. It occupies the corner of Pandora and Vancouver, with ample parking space. Its drive-through had a good line of cars, including a red Porche Carrera. Ok, a Carrera is no Ferrari nor Bugatti, but still, it shows you that, even people with a significant income would still choose McDonald's. No wonder they are the largest chain of burgers in the world.

I entered the place, and while large, I was surprised by how small it felt inside. The East side is dominated by a large playground. The place was relatively clean, and the patrons spanned many ages and, judging by the looks, social brackets. McDonald's is a social equalizer. While there, I overheard a conversation in which a person was trying to explain to another the requirements to qualify for subsidize housing, while outside a significantly richer driver was getting his fix. There are not that many restaurants that can boast patrons in such a wide cross section of society.

One thing I learned during my visit is that there appears to be some stigma to eating inside the restaurant. I saw at least two cars whose drivers were parked and eating, instead of coming in. Are they afraid of being seeing at McDonald's? or do they fear its patrons? I wonder.

The line to order was long, and took me at least 5 minutes to order. In the meantime I studied the menu. I found it very difficult to digest. It pushes the specials (food, fries, drink) and makes it almost impossible to compare its price to the ones of the individual items. It is loaded with photos of the item, but it lacks consistency, or order. I was confused. I ordered (I will not review the food, it would be pointless), waited for my food, took it to my table.



The place was clean (not immaculate, but decently clean), and while not inviting, I felt ok eating there (I have passed by many where I would not eat at).

I kept observing the patrons. It was very interesting to see how different they were, in age (from children to retired people), occupation (some were clearly coming for a lunch break, others look like they were on vacation), and --as I mentioned before-- economic level (at least judging from their looks). I would see the occasional person coming in to use only the washroom, and quickly leave (something I have done myself in other cities).

People were coming in a steady stream. Business seems to be good at this location. This McDonald's open 24hrs a day, one of the few places in Victoria that does.

Verdict: If you want McDonald's, this is a good place. Good parking, and large space inside. 24hrs service.

Paid: approximately 7:50

For more information, including address, visit:
McDonald's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Black Olive

No. 77



<2010-08-17 Tue>

One of the defining features of any restaurant is the type of people who frequent it. In fact, this a way we use to determine if a place is worth to eat at. For instance, if a Chinese restaurant has lots of Chinese, we might think it is more "authentic" than otherwise.

I remember one trip to Paris with my best friend. He coined the following phrase: "In Paris, never go to a restaurant that is full of Japanese". That was the 90's, and Japanese tourists had money to spend.

I have visited approximately 100 different restaurants and coffee shops in Victoria (including the ones reviewed in this blog), but that did not prepare me to the shock of entering Black Olive: every dinner was well dressed (many with coats and ties). It was as if I had been transported, by crossing its door, into a different city. I felt under-dressed! Of course, it was all in my mind, because, compared to my experience in NYC, this time there was no questioning of my attire.



I was sat on a nice table. It is one of the few restaurants that during lunch service, has a dinner-type setting, with white cloth and wine glasses. It looks very professional and classy. Perhaps that is why it attracts people who are dressed up. It gives them a different experience than other eateries (such as John's Place, which is few meters away).

The menu included three specials, plus many lunch options. I decided for the lamb souvlaki.

A nice-looking basket of bread arrived. The bread was accompanied with hummus (instead of the traditional butter). It was very good.

My souvlaki was ok. It came with a good salad. It was a good break from more traditional restaurants, but not food that gets me excited. Nonetheless, I would not mind eating here, particularly on Mondays, when there are less options available (Black Olive opens on Mondays).

The services was excellent.

Verdict: It has no competition when it comes to Greek Food. A good option for Mondays.

Paid: 15.68+tip

For more information, including location, visit:
The Black Olive on Urbanspoon

Adriana's (and my view of Mexican Restaurants in Victoria)

No. 78

<2010-08-17 Tue>

Adriana's is no longer open. As much as I like Mexican food, I never ate there and I was looking forward to my visit. Part of the reason is the location. Adriana's was in the periphery of downtown, out of the typical areas that I tend to frequent, and didn't open every day of the week for lunch. The few times I have tried, it was closed.

Verdict: Defunct

I will take the opportunity to write about Mexican food in Victoria.

First of all, Mexico is a very large country. To put into context, Mexico has an area (1,972,550 km2) twice the size of British Columbia (925,186 km2), and closer to the size of British Columbia, Alberta (642,317 km2) and Saskatchewan (591,670 km2) together. But perhaps more important, it is more sparsely populated. While the population of Canada is concentrated in few areas (notably along the border with the US), the population of Mexico spans all over its territory. Mexico includes most types of territory, including glaciers, deserts, rain forests, and has cities that dwarf Canadian ones. Like Canada, it spans from the Pacific to the Atlantic. There are dozens of native languages still spoken in Mexico, remarkably Nahuatl (the language of the Aztecs--1.6 million people) and Mayan (.89 million). Mexico City is a city as cosmopolitan as any of the big metropolis in the world.

In conclusion, the food in Mexico is a kaleidoscope of cooking styles, ingredients, and influences, and every region of this rich and vast country has its own unique cuisine.

With few exceptions, restaurants outside Mexico do not make justice to its food. And I can't blame them. The typical person does not know much about the real Mexico, and instead, is looking for his or her perception of what Mexican food is. A Mexican restaurant has a difficult decision to make: do we offer authentic Mexican food? or do we offer food that our patrons will consider authentic?

So here is a list of Mexican Restaurants, and what I think about them. First the ones I have visited, although some of them not in a very long time. They are in no particular order:

- Cafe Mexico. It offers the Mexican experience as expected by many Canadians and Americans, and while their menu includes some typical Mexican dishes, they are below average. I stopped going there the day that I was given corn tortillas warmed in the microwave (they become cardboard in few minutes).

- Hernande'z. Hernandez is run by a Salvadorian (Jerson) and his wife (Tamara). They are lovely people. This place gets brownie points because they make their own tortillas (I have ask them if they sell them individually, and the answer is not) and they are absolutely the best in town. I am not surprised they have stopped selling tacos to go (you can't have a taco 1/2 hr later, it would have disintegrated by then). Their salsa is also very good. I tend to order the Huarache (they call it "La", which is wrong. It is "El"), which is a central Mexico staple, but their interpretation is a bit "healthier", although it lacks some of the flavours (the Mexican ones are usually slightly passed by lard). Very good prices, and highly recommended.

- Puerto Vallarta Amigos (what I call the taco truck). In less than 1 month, it is gathering a following. Run by a family who lived in Puerto Vallart and Acapulco, they make tacos in the style of the central part of the Pacific coast. They have some misnomers in the menu (their barbacoa is not authentic barbacoa, and their chorizo is made of soy). Nonetheless, they deliver at a hard-to-beat price. I love their tomatillo, avocado and cilantro salsa. It has become a gathering point for Mexicans. As authentic as it gets in Victoria. Like Hernande'z, very good prices and highly recommended.

- Rebar. Yes, Rebar. When I enter the Rebar, I feel like I am in a Mexico City restaurant. The decor, the Virgen of Guadalupe in a niche, the plastic table cloths, they all look like they belong there. There is clearly an influence of Mexico in the creation of the restaurant. Order the enchiladas de calabacitas plus a apple and pear juice (not in the menu) and it is as Mexican as it can be. I recommend it.

- Orale. It feels more like a cafeteria than a restaurant, and a bad one. The tacos feel overpriced, and made with no love. Their tacos al pastor as a misnomer (tacos al pastor are cooked on a pit, the way shawarmas are). Their tamales are small. I will review this place soon. Based on my previous experiences, it is overpriced for what they offer, and I do not recommend it.

- Santiagos. It has Mexican influence, but does not feel Mexican. I wasn't very impressed in my visit.

The other places in Victoria, that I have never visited (but will soon) are:

- La Fiesta Cafe (cafeteria style)
- Delicado's (cafeteria style)

In conclusion, we do ok in tacos, but we lack a good Mexican restaurant.

For more information on Adriana, including its address, visit:
Adriana's Cocina Mexicana on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Crumsby's Cupcake Cafe


No. 76

<2010-08-14 Sat>

As you enter Crumsby's, the first thing you will notice is the colour palette of the decor. It is bright, with saturated colours that you rarely see in restaurants in Victoria. The second thing, is the play area for children, filled with toys. The third, how few children there are.

There was only one family with their children there. Perhaps this is Oak Bay. Perhaps it is the time of the day. Perhaps it is that it was one of the warmest days of the year.

I love the place. Perhaps it is because I grew up in an environment full of these types of colours.

In general I see few children playing, and they never bother me (their screams or noise).

Once in a while a little one comes close to me with those enquiry eyes. Being kid-friendly could be good for some (who have children and are looking for a place to have a coffee while their children enjoy the time) or a bad thing (for those who dislike the noise of children).

Crumsby's specializes in cup cakes and coffee. I have ordered some of them in the past, and they are too dense for my taste (this does not mean they are bad, I don't really like cupcakes in general).

The coffee is in the good category, and a much better option than Pure Vanilla few blocks away, with no real competition in the area.

Verdict: The best coffee in the area.

For more information, including location, visit:
Crumsby's Cupcake Cafe on Urbanspoon

Nar



No. 75

<2010-08-14 Sat>

Oak Bay does not have many restaurants, thus it is always an event when a new one opens. Nar is a Turkish restaurant that opened just one block from the Oak Bay Marina. It is located in a small house, right in front of the park.

I need to state upfront that I don't know anything about Turkish food. I have no preconceptions, good or bad, nor I know what I am suppose to expect.

As we entered the restaurant, we were told that we had two choices: the patio or the inside. We were warned that the patio had no service, though.

It was a very hot day, and we chose to sit in the patio. It is a very pleasant one, and relatively large. I was very enjoyable to eat there. I also appreciated that the business acknowledges that the quality of service will suffer for the people outside, thus decides not to guarantee any level of service. It was also refreshingly informal compared to many stuffy places in Oak Bay.

We ordered (we had to do it at the counter). I chose the chicken kebab special. The food arrived was delivered to our table though.

The portion was large. The chicken was grilled to perfection. It was uniformly cooked, juicy and tender, and full of flavour. It was dark meat (which I personally prefer, but I know some people don't). I certainly enjoyed my lunch.

Given the proximity to my work, I believe I'll eating here regularly.

Also, the restaurant stays open during the break between lunch and dinner to offer coffee and tea.

Verdict: A very good first visit for a new restaurant that will make me come
back for more.

Paid: Approximately 17 + tip

For more information, including address, visit:
Nar Cafe & Bistro on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Solstice



Coffee Review

<2010-08-12 Thu>

No. 74

I remember the days Solstice had just opened. I was very happy to see a place that felt so inviting and so comfortable open in this part of town. Solstice is located in one of old buildings of Market Square. Its walls are red uncovered brick with high ceilings. I became a regular.

One of my most memorable events in this coffee shop one night I was working on my laptop while sipping some coffee. It was a Thursday, if I remember correctly, and Solstice was open late allowing a "Philosopher's Cafe" to run that night. This was an eclectic group of people, with no formal organization, who would meet weekly to discuss any topic.

One night the topic was drugs. The discussion went on for a while, but then suddenly there was a commotion outside the coffee shop: there as a group of people demonstrating outside, and a news crew (from the local tv station) was there. The "leaders" of the demonstration (which was comprised of Cannabis club members and "enthusiast") asked for an "audience". A group of Representatives where allowed to join the discussion, which of course was just a bunch of people with no agenda, nor policy making power.

This event taught me a lot of what makes news in a small town like Victoria.

Back to Solstice. In the last 5 years the competition has increased tremendously. They are just few meters away from Habit, one of the best coffee shops in Victoria, and less than 1km away from a dozen coffee places.

What makes Solstice special is that it is a large place, with many comfy chairs or tables. It is a nice place to either, have a conversation, or sit and read or work (I think they have now Internet access).

MG, who was paying, wanted to have a large, 1 litre French Press (this used to be my home method, until recently, when I got a espresso), and he likes it dark. It was a nice touch that the press came with a timer, to remove the guesswork and guarantee better results.

The coffee was good, but strong. If you are in a group of people, or like a _lot_ of coffee, this is a good option.

Verdict: Good coffee. I would recommend it as second option in the area to Habit (my preferred destination for Coffee in Victoria).

Paid: 6 for large French press.


For more information, including address, visit:
Solstice Cafe on Urbanspoon

King Sejong



(I think the food would have look better if the rice was on the red part and viceversa).

No. 73

<2010-08-12 Thu>

When I reviewed Sura, I thought it was the only Korean restaurant left in town. I was mistaken. King Sejong is the other one.

I have passed in front numerous times, and its storefront has never "called" me. It has the menu and photos (many fainted) posted on the window, but it does not look very interesting nor appealing, even though I like Korean food.

I think the main challenge with Korean food is that we have no idea what the dishes are. Yes, I know what Bibimbap is, but other than that, I always struggle to remember what the dishes names are. For example, I really like the pork bone spicy soup, but I can never remember its korean name (it is gamjatang, I think, but I had to look it up).

The restaurant is narrow and long, and has around 40 tables, with around 1/4 of them in use, significantly bigger than what I expected. It looks outdated, as if King Sejong took over a failing restaurant and decided not to change the furniture nor the decor.



King Sejong has a long menu and lunch specials. the long menu contains many items, including some that are expected to be shared by at least two people (i.e. the soups).

I wasn't very hungry, so I opted for one of the four lunch specials: Jeyuk bupbap (fried pork with spicy sauce on rice).



The food arrived promptly. As it is customary in Korea, it included side dishes (3 this time, I love that of Korean food). They are called banchan, and they are expected to be shared. They were kimchi (a staple of korean food), shrimp flavoured (I think) tofu, and bean sprouts. My favourite was the tofu; the kimchi looked as if needed more time fermenting.



The meat was pork fried in a spicy sauce with onions, sprinkled with sesame seeds. It was very tasty. The food cooled quickly (the plates were not warmed--I can't blame them for that, at this price range) and it started to feel oily.

When considering the price of my food, it was very satisfying lunch, and I would certainly eat here again.

If I had to compare it to Sura, I think King Sejong is a notch below, but it is also a notch below in price (Sura specials are 10, Sejong King 8).

Verdict: Excellent value for lunch.

Paid: 8.95 + tip

For more information, including price, visit:
King Sejong on Urbanspoon