Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How Paprika became Stage

The Times Colonist has a feature article about George Szasz, the owner and chef of Stage.

I haven't been at Paprika since he sold it in 2009, but I have been at Stage, and I like it. It is, however, out of the areas where I am usually, and I don't think about it frequently. I think I'll try it this weekend. I wish they would open for lunch. Definitely one of my favourite restaurants in Victoria.


Ocean Garden

No. 127

Located at the corner of Government and Fisgard, I consider it the most "tourist" oriented of the restaurants in China Block.

If you ever walked by it, you will see that this place is usually full of non-Chinese. Yet, the signs are written in Chinese and English.

I wasn't sure what to expect. The place is large, clean but feels run down. Its best times are long past.

The lunch menu is massive. Items range from 7 dollars to 10. As I have learned, at Chinese restaurants I avoid the preset lunches; instead I try to find interesting dishes in the menu. Its menu, like it is frequent in Chinese restaurants, is really a bunch of "combinations": do you want rice or noodles? soft noodles or crispy noodles? do you want pork, beef, shrimp, seafood, chicken? do you want sauce X, Y or Z? It would be significantly easier to decide if the provide a "choose one of each" type of menu, rather than listing every possible combination.

I settled for "Schezuan prawns on rice".

The dish is huge, full of vegetables, but too much sauce on it. It disappoints. It is messy and lacks good flavours. There is nothing special about this dish. My suggestion? there are better restaurants in the block, hence avoid, unless you are looking for a lot of cheap food.

Surprisingly, the restaurant always looks busy from the outside. Go figure.

Verdict: Avoid

Paid: 10 + tip

For more information, including address, please visit:
Ocean Garden Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Bagels on Broad

No. 126

<2010-10-09 Sat>

When I am downtown and want a quick sandwich, I turn to Bagels on Broad. Ok, it is not a sandwich, it is a bagel, but the objective is the same: a quick bite.

I like their California Bagel, which is essentially a vegetarian one. The bagels are good (I think they come from Mount Royal). It is not a "gourmet" dish, but very satisfying nonetheless. It is comprised primarily of artichokes, spinach and cheese.

You have to wait few minutes for the oven to do its magic, time you can invest sitting by the window looking at the people passing by.

There are one fast food alternative close by: the taco truck of Puerto Vallarta Amigos. They are very different products and types of locations, and my choice will depend on my mood.

Verdict: simple, cheap, but good fast food.

Paid: It was around 6.50, but was treated, so I didn't keep track.

For more information, including address, please visit:
Broad Street Bagels on Urbanspoon

Shanghai City

<2010-10-07 Thu>

No. 125

This is a huge restaurant, in the second floor of a building in China block. It probably sits around 200 persons, and at 1:30, I was the only one. Perhaps it is the grey weather outside,

It feels as Chinese as a restaurant in Canada can be: many round tables with a lazy Susan. There is Chinese music playing softly in the background. A small water tank shows the customers that the crab is fresh. And there is the usual Chinese paraphernalia found in any Chinese restaurant in the world (including China).

The entrance advertises crab, and I was tempted to order it. Next time, when I have a little more time.

I was seated at a table next to the window. It is a nice view of the street from up here.

The lunch menu is full of options: around 20, plus 2 "typical" specials (what every Westerner expects in a Chinese restaurant). The full menu is also available at lunch time, but didn't look at it.

I ordered the "Shanghai Style Beer Brisket Noodle Soup". It is a mouthful to pronounce. At 8.95 it is one of the most expensive lunch specials (the cheapest is 5.95, which sets a new "record" for places I have visited). I reckon that, if the name of the restaurant is Shanghai City, then a dish with the name should be a speciality.

And it is also a mouthful to eat: it is a huge bowl. Brisket is a hard meat to cook, and one the best ways to do it is to braise it. The meat in this dish has been braised, and had a slight sweet flavour in it, which I enjoyed (but some pieces were still a bit tough). The noodles are nicely cooked, but the broth could improve with some zest. I liked the large vegetable in it (I have to look it up). I finished the bowl, and I am absolutely full. I need a walk!

Verdict: good value, but not a lunch that gets me excited.

Paid: 10.02 + tip

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Kim's Vietnamese Restaurant

<2010-10-06 Wed>

No. 124

There is something about soups and stews that makes us feel comforted. It might have to do with the belief that, when we are sick, a soup will cure us.

Seafood soups are some of my favourites, in part because they bring me back memories of my childhood. This, in my opinion, is the power of food: to take us back to places and times long gone. Our palate send a signal to our brain that reacts in an amazing way. Think about it. There have to be dishes that do that for you.

At Kim's I tend to order their "Seafood bouillabaisse" (a loose translation of a seafood soup). It is an amazing dish, full of flavours. This is a list (which is surely partial) of what I could recognize: lemongrass, pineapple, tomatoes, celery, sprouts, basil, scallops, squid, shrimp, fish, mussels, ginger, some type of chili pepper, and I think thai basil. It is very tasty, and has to be one of my favourite "soups" at lunch time. The small version is large enough for me. It comes with noodles that you poor in.

Kim is a small-to-medium restaurant, that sits around 30-40 people, located in Johnson, between Blanshard and Pandora. Some dishes are better than others. I have been disappointed in the past.

Verdict: I'll keep coming back for their seafood bouillabaisse.

Paid: 12.95 + tip

For more information, including address, please visit:
Kim's Vietnamese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Ulla: how to cook perfect octopus

Click here for my first review of Ulla.

In my first visit to Ulla, my very first plate was their octopus appetizer. After the first bite, I knew I was in a special place. I wondered how they cooked it, because it was absolutely tender.

Brad Holmes, head chef and co-owner of Ulla, shows us his kitchen and in the process explain us the simplicity of the dish (courtesy of A-News).

Thank you, Brad!


Monday, November 22, 2010

Looking for a warm soup?

It is a cold day, the type that calls for a warm soup. Here are some suggestions:

* Pho Vy, on Fort Street, almost at Blanshard. Try their pho.
* Green Leaf: on Douglas in front of the Old Bay Centre. Very good pho too.
* Kim Vietnamese, on 748 Johnson. Excellent "Seafood bouillabaisse". Go for small, it is large enough.
* I Kyu Noodles, in China Block. Home made noodles. I enjoyed the hot and sour soup during the weekend.
* Wah Lai Restaurant, also in China Block (next to I Kyu). They have great dumpling soups.
* Relish: Pandora and Quadra (in front of the Conservatory). They have a soup special every day.

Does anybody have any other recommendations?


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ferran Adrià and his view on eating

Ferran Adrià is one of the persons in the world that I most admire. He has not only created a new entire way of approaching cooking (what he call desconstructivist), but he has been sharing his discoveries with the world. His influence and legacy in the craft of cooking is undeniable.

I was surprised to discover that Harvard had a class on the science of cooking, and one of the most important components of it was bringing star chefs (and by star I don't mean TV stars, but truly visionary chefs, i.e. Michelin stars) to give a public lecture.

The first of them was a "conversation" between Harold McGee and Ferran (whose translator was José Andrés, one of his disciples, and from who I learnt to appreciate Spanish food via his TV program).

I have always wanted to eat at El Bulli (good luck!). I have been lucky to have eaten at two of Andres restaurants (although I still hope to eat at the Minibar one day--which is inside Atlantico, where I have eaten).

Harold McGee is responsible for the On Food and Cooking: the Science and Lore of the kitchen, and his book is the best bible on the "why" of cooking. If you are a cooking geek, you MUST get this book.

The lecture is well worth the time for anybody who values the food in front of them.

And enjoy the answer to the last question of the day (which he misunderstands). Yet, his answer is a gem of insight on what eating is (and I paraphrase): what we choose to eat, how we do it, and how we enjoy it depends on when we do it, where we do it and with whom we do it.



Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The tourist season is over, brace for Christmas

It is that time of the year in which I have entire joints for myself during lunch time.

The seasonal "restaurants" have closed (Blue Fish/Red Fish, and Barb's) and it is clear that restaurateurs are bracing for the low season. We, Victorians, become the main source of customers for many restaurants, particularly around the inner harbour.

It might also be the rain. It tends to affect the mood of people, who are less likely to go out.

It must be hard in some restaurants. I can't imagine a place can stay in business if there is only one person for the entire lunch service. In the case of that restaurant, they were doing prep for the dinner service, so it is not really wasted time--but still.

I think ultimately we, Victorians, benefit from this seasonal imbalance. If tourists were around year long, restaurants could charge more. Their low season depends on us to go to their restaurants, and that means providing food and service of a quality that will attract repeat local business. Those who don't might face extinction.

Business will soon pick up for Christmas. Nov, and Jan. must be the hardest months for restaurants in Victoria.

And while some restaurants are almost empty this time of the year, Christmas is another story. Suddenly people remember they have friends and want to enjoy a meal with them (love at Dec 24 sight). At my favourite joints, Dec. is crowded, and I need to plan to arrive early.

So, brace yourselves for this season variability: enjoy the almost personal service of Nov and Jan, and plan ahead for those crowded restaurants of Dec.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Zambri's at the new location

<2010-10-08 Fri>

For my previous review of Zambris, please see this

The big question that was in my mind, is the new restaurant still Zambri's?

Few days ago I was talking to a person who said that she did not want to have a fancy dinner in the back of a London Drugs, thus never went to Zambri's for dinner.

The new Zambri's opened in an-almost-finished building: the Atrium. This building is a good addition to Victoria, which lacks good architecture, and its atrium lives up to the name of the building. It seems to be destined to be a gathering place. Pig BBQ Joint was packed. Maybe there is something in that little hole in the wall that has sprouted two people's favourites (the other being Hernande'z). Habit is getting ready to open.

The lunch service now feels like dinner. This is no longer the "family" style trattoria. It has changed dramatically, and it is now a fancy restaurant. I recognized some faces around the tables, but most of them were probably curious of the "new" restaurant. The bar is now large and it is a center of the new restaurant. Gone is the "order from the board" style. Now you have to wait for a table. Perhaps what I liked the most of the old Zambri's was the ability to greet the kitchen staff. Now that is gone. They are well beyond the prying eyes of the audience. Throughout the years I had build a relationship with them. They knew how to cook my food, and usually asked me for my opinion. It was one of the reasons I soo much enjoyed Zambris'.

I feel like a foreigner. This is no longer the Zambri's I knew. The question is, do I like the new restaurant.

The restaurant is in a beautiful location. Its floor to ceiling walls of glass overlook the corner of Blandshard and Yates. It will be interesting to see what happens during the hot days of August (although it seems to have air conditioning). The old furniture is gone, and replaced by modern, swanky one. A computer system has replaced the old "hand-written" ticket system.

The service staff has grown considerably too. From 2, there are now around 6-7, including a metre die. Many are new to me.

Coming by myself, I was offered to sit at the bar. I originally declined, but decided that it was a good idea.

The menu is printed, and the big novelty is pizza. Yes, there is a pizza oven. I am not crazy about pizza, and decided to ordered the salmon.

When it arrived it, I was surprised it came with a separate salad (simple lettuce dressed in a vinagrette). The smells of the dish were Zambri's. The olive tapenade was absolute delicious. But the salmon was dry. I mentioned this to the bartender, Brendan, who relied the info to the kitchen. I was offered a replacement. I hesitated. i don't like to be a pain. But he really pushed it and I accepted. Ok, New-Zambri's cares.

What came back was delicious, and reminded me why this has been my favourite restaurant since I came to Victoria.

I like the place, the extended hours.

It is hard to accept that the old cozy place is gone. Like many things over time, change comes whether we like it or not. Zambri's continues to serve good food, and that is, or should be, my primary concern. It is time to build a new relationship.

Verdict: Beautiful restaurant, serving excellent lunch food, but it is a different Zambri's.

Paid: 19.04 + tip


<2010-10-05 Tue>

No. 123

In what looks like a converted gas station and/or car garage, it is an all-day restaurant with a southwest influence. It is located at the intersection of Cook and View.

It was very late when I walked in (2:30) and the restaurant was almost empty. I was given a menu, and told to choose my table of choice. The tables are uncomfortable: they are too high for the height of the chairs. Pluto's has space for around 50 people. Its high ceilings and large windows make it look large and pleasant (except for the uncomfortable tables). Its decor is American Southwest. There is also a patio that might be useful during the warmer days of the year.

I ordered a "nut burger". The menu claims that they have been serving it for 22 years, so I imagine this would be dish they know how to make.

The burger is not bad. The bottom side of the bun only had butter, and I think it will greatly benefit from having something to make it moist, since the patty is(naturally) dry. The burger is not bad, but does not excel either. I had the same feeling about the soup: it wasn't bad, but it wasn't interesting either. Considering the price I paid, I'd rather choose going somewhere else (like the Pink Bicycle, that has a superior burger).

What gives Pluto's the edge is that they stay open for most of the day.

Verdict: Average food.

Paid: 11.70 + tip

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


While I have not posted a review yet, I can say that, as of today, I consider Relish the best lunch destination in town.

Review will follow.


John's Place

<2010-10-04 Mon>

No. 122

John's Place is located in Pandora, few meters from Douglas. It is a local's favourite.

Having woken up at 5:00 AM to take the first ferry to Victoria from Vancouver, I was very hungry at 10:00 AM.

Lively and noisy was my first impression as soon as I stepped in. The restaurant was playing very loud music, and it was surprisingly full for this time of the day.

John's Place is a "full day" restaurant, that offers a large breakfast menu.

John's place is a visual feast too. Like Pagliacci's, one can't stop looking at the walls. It is full of posters and photographs that cover music, sports, and entertainment. Here and there you can find photos of "John". The center piece is a large mural of the now defunct Tiger Stadium in Detroit. Under it, the wall is peppered with photos of famous players of the Tigers. No other subject is as heavily represented. John must be Tiger fan, I reckon. There are Canadian icons too: a photo of Joe Carter running the bases after his famous home run that gave the Jays the World Series (I still remember that moment, soon after the roar in the neighbourhood caused by the play--I was living in Jay's territory at the time); a faded poster of Gretzky in his early years holding the Stanley Cup along Geoff Cournall.

The breakfast-lunch is populated with pancakes and eggs. I ordered the "John's Special": two scrambled eggs with chorizo patties. The eggs were dry, the patties had only a faint flavour to chorizo, but a heavy one to cheap grease. It was a forgettable breakfast that makes me wonder: why is this place so popular? The other two times I have eaten here I left wondering why I did. The food has always disappointed me. The food, in my opinion, does not deserve this restaurant's popularity. And this is a question to you, the reader. If you like John's place, would you mind explaining me why?

Verdict: Avoid

Paid: 9.24 + tip

For more information, including address, please visit:
John's Place on Urbanspoon

Cranberry's Coffee Cup

No. 121

<2010-10-01 Fri>

Coffee Review

Located in Pandora, almost at Quadra, this is a beautiful small cafe. Recently opened, there are few locations in Victoria that exude love like Cranberry Coffee Cup.

I had passed by the place around one week ago, and liked it, and made a mental note to come to visit. I arrived at 3:30; they were getting ready to close the till, but were happy to accommodate me.

Cranberry lives up to its name: its decor is bright red while and black, lovely little tables with matching table cloths. It is definitely beautiful.

As I walked in, there was certainly cheerfulness in the air. It felt like a family gathering, the ones that talk highly of good vibe between the staff.

I got my coffee (a good cup of espresso) and chat with them. I learnt that this is a family run and operated business. "Mom" runs it, as one of them explained it, "and the family helps".

The offer light lunch at very good prices. The place is small and cozy, and I love their bench by the window where you can people-watch under the sun.

Unfortunately they have one of the toughest competition next door (Relish). Food wise, I will choose Relish (yes, I haven't tried the food here, but such is the power of Relish in me). In terms of coffee, I'd choose Cranberry. Cranberry's coffee is head and shoulder above the Wildfire bakery (where I had undrinkable espresso the last time I was there; I should admit I have not tried the coffee at Relish).

I thought it had been open longer, but it is only 5 days old (at the time I wrote this review, Oct 1). I wish them the best of luck.

Verdict: They are the type of business that I love to support.

For more information, including address, please visit:
Cranberry's Coffee Cup on Urbanspoon

Saigon Harbour

No. 120

<2010-10-01 Fri>

Saigon Night is located in the most competitive block of town (Fort/Douglas/Blandshard/Broughton). It is within few meters from some of my favourites: Devour, the Pink Bicycle, and Pho Vy. It is no surprise I haven't visited it in a very long time.

It was 1:22 and it was full! I was in a hurry, and this took me by surprise. This is a place where I have eaten in the past and it was never this full. Finding a full restaurant is always a pleasant surprise.

It is medium sized place, with a dark decor. I perused the menu. I ordered the "Pho dac biet". I got the largest supply of sprouts of all the pho restaurants I have visited. They were very fresh too! The meat was good, and the broth decent. I enjoyed it.

I guess the question that I should answer is: how does its pho compare to Pho Vy's? Saigon Harbour has less pho options, its meat and broth feel a notch below Pho Vy, but its vegetables (sprouts and herbs) were more abundant and fresher.

Saigon Harbour is very similar to Saigon Night in terms of options. Saigon's pho included pinker meat, but it might have been the particular type of pho that I ordered (I am not expert in this type of food, after all).

On the other hand, it is no competition versus Devour or the Pink Bicycle.

Verdict: Decent Vietnamese food, but with very tough competition.

Paid: 10.25 + tip

For more information, including address, please visit:
Saigon Harbour Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 12, 2010


No. 119

<2010-09-30 Thu>

Once I went in, but left without ordering. Nando's felt too much like a chain restaurant, and I felt the prices were expensive compared to restaurants in the area.

Since starting my quest, I had been in front several times, always wondering if it should be the day to review it. Every time I headed somewhere else.

A friend gave me a coupon that had one week left before its expiration date. She likes Nando's and urged me to try it.

Nando's is a fast-food type of restaurant that serves relatively slow food. Contradiction? Yes. They make the chicken to order.

Nando's is a South African chain. It is easy to guess its origin: the walls are covered with African artefacts. The location is beautiful. The restaurant occupies the corner, with plenty of Sun light, and sitting space.

You order from the wall. The options are straightforward: choose the type of chicken part you like, the amount, and add sides (and there are not that many of them). They will bring the food to your table.

The prices vary from 9.49 to 13.69 plus tax.

They offer it in 4 levels of spiciness. I asked for a double leg, hot (the hottest, next time I'll ask for medium).

I really wanted mash with my chicken, and the option of a potato sounded too dry for me. This is my main complain about Nando's: the sides do not seem to go very well with the chicken. I asked for the coleslaw.

The chicken had a very rich lime, and hot pepper flavour. It was so juicy that I had to check the bone: yes, it was cooked, and it was perfectly cooked. It was delicious.

With regard to prices. Nando's is one of the restaurants that has a single menu for the entire day. At dinner time, its prices are cheap, at lunch time, they are average, towards expensive. You can eat in China Block for a lot less.

With regard to competition: Nando's is in a difficult location, again, just a block from China Block. But if you are looking for chicken, this is a very good destination. Just don't bring a vegetarian along: he/she will be utterly disappointed.

Me? If they add mashed potatoes to the menu, I would become a regular. As it stands, the lack of good side dishes makes the meal boring.

I received very good service too. This is particularly remarkable because it is a fast-food style restaurant.

Verdict: Unexpectedly, I liked it.

Paid: 10.63 (minus coupon).

For more information, including its address, visit:
Nando's Flame Grilled Chicken (Government St.) on Urbanspoon

Mee Wah

No. 118

<2010-09-29 Wed>

It had been at Mee Wah two or three times for lunch before, and I had been very disappointed: the emphasis had been on volume rather than quality. One of my Chinese friends likes the restaurant, but I think he is heavily influenced by the price he pays.

As my plan is to visit every restaurant in Victoria again, I had to eat there. This time, I spent more time perusing the specials: 16 lunch specials at a hard to beat price: $6.50. Yes, 16.

I think at Mee Wah it is a matter of ordering correctly. The meals I had in the past have been huge, but they haven't been very good.

At lunch time the customers are not Chinese, and that probably biases the menu heavily. At lunch time, every time I have been here, I see a lot of old people, and I wonder if many of them are in a day trip from one of the many retirement homes in the area. Certainly the table next to me was such a case.

I decided to go for duck on rice. The meal was simple, yet good. For the price, I felt I got an excellent lunch. And this is the key to a meal: the ratio cost/benefit.

You can't expect a restaurant that serves food for $6.50 to match the one that is served by a restaurant that charges 13 dollars a dish. In fact, this was the case, when yesterday I ordered duck at Blighty's for $13 and today duck again for $6.50. If I didn't have to pay, hands down the Blighty's is a better choice. But once I pay, I would say this is a tie: Blighty's serves duck in a sophisticated dish at a good price, Mee Wah serves duck in a very simple way at a excellent price. My choice? I would eat either one of them, depending on how the days goes.

Verdict: ample amount of food, and rock bottom prices. Quality varies across dishes.

Paid: 7.30 + tip

For more information, including location, please visit:
Mee Wah on Urbanspoon

Brickyard Pizza

No. 117

<2010-09-28 Tue>

There are many, many Pizzerias in town, but somehow, I never think of pizza as a meal, or even a snack. I rarely eat pizza out, so take my comments with a grain of salt.

Located next to the Odeon, Brickyard pizza is a pizzeria and a bar. I think its strength is to offer inexpensive food in the evenings (particularly after a night at the movies, or out drinking).

I ordered a slice of spinach pizza. It was decent for the price, but I would not go out of my way to have this for lunch.

As a location, I like it. It has a good vibe. This might come from the fact that it feels like a bar when people come to mingle with each other.

Verdict: a decent place for a late-night snack, but not a lunch destination.

For more information, including location:
Brickyard Pizza on Urbanspoon

Blighty's Bistro

No. 116

<2010-09-28 Tue>

Blighty's Bistro is located on Oak Bay Avenue, just East of Fort. It is in an occluded place, even as I was walking towards it, it wasn't sure It was there. Long time ago it used to open for lunch, and just recently they decided to restart the lunch service again.

It was originally on Friday when I tried to visit. But I arrive 5 minutes before 2 and Rachelle, the owner apologized that the kitchen had already closed. I was sadden: I mentioned to hear that I had just read on the website that their service ended at 2:00. She replied that she felt guilty and she would get me some food. I said I was ok. She offered me a free lunch the next time. Deal.

I came back the following Tuesday.

This is a relatively small, place. Elegant, is how I can describe it as I walked through the door. Nice, leather chairs, but the leather cover on the tables seems a little too much. The art on the wall works great with the rest of the decor.

Rachelle recognized me. I told her that I was going to pay nonetheless. She stood her ground and said that, if I really wanted to pay it would go to charity. I thought it was a great compromise.

At first, I was annoyed by the insects flying inside the restaurant. But without saying anything, Rachelle apologized explaining that it is the location and the time of the year.

Rachelle works the floor at lunch time. And this is very important: she knows what is going on, and she wants the place to succeed. Hence, she takes good care of you.

The lunch menu is focused on light food: salads, sandwiches, soups (they had 2 specials of the day). I like duck (when properly cooked) and jumped at the opportunity of having a duck salad.

While I waited, I enjoyed the great smell coming from the kitchen. My salad and the duck were delicious. The duck rolls were not made with the best part of the duck, but that was expected (lunch time for this type of restaurants is an opportunity to take advantage of the ingredients they don't use during their dinner service).

The service was magnificent. This is a excellent alternative in an area that does not have many.

As I was finishing my lunch I mentioned to her that I was surprised to know that the restaurant had reopened for lunch service. We discussed the difficulties of bringing new customers through the door, and that worth of mouth is one of the most important methods.

I would suggest using a sign on the street (although, I would not be surprised that the rabid by-law police of Oak Bay might have some regulations against it).

In my opinion, I would like to see Blighty's succeed.

Verdict: Very good food. I need to visit it again to fully recommend it.

For more information, including address, please visit:
Blighty's Bistro on Urbanspoon

Wake up Victoria, 1/2 way through

As I finish my coffee, I have completed 16 out of 32 coffee shops in Wake Up Victoria:

- [X] *Liberty Café 708 Douglas Street
- [X] *Mirage Coffee 1122 Blanshard Street
- [X] *Mirage Coffee 733 Yates Street
- [X] *Penelope's 739 Pandora Avenue
- [X] *Picnic 103-506 Fort Street
- [X] *Sam's Deli 805 Government Street
- [X] *Serious Coffee 1280 Broad Street
- [X] *Street Level Espresso 714 Fort Stree t
- [X] Breve Bistro (Hotel Rialto) 1450 Douglas Street
- [X] Habit Coffee 552 Pandora Avenue
- [X] Legacy Art Gallery 630 Yates Street
- [X] Soda Shoppe 801 Government Street
- [X] Union Pacific 537 Herald Street
- [X] Venus Sophia Tea Room Coffee Bar 540 Fisgard Street
- [X] Wild Coffee House & Bistro 632 Yates Street
- [X] *Zazu 1028 Blanshard Street

I have not written the review for the ones prefixed by a star. I didn't try the coffee at Sam's; I will review its sandwiches.

So far I can say that the biggest surprise was Street Level Espresso. It is really good, perhaps the best coffee in town. I also enjoyed my visit to Picnic.

Of all of them, my favourite is, in terms of coffee, a toss up between Habit (if I want to work on my computer) and Street Level (if I just want the coffee). In terms of a place to work for a while, Legacy. In terms of ambience, Street Level.

I also like Breve as a good balance between place and coffee. Venus can also be a good option, particularly when they have free live classical music.

At the bottom of my list are the Soda Shoppe and Penelope's. In both the espresso was undrinkable. I truly mean it. In neither case I finished it.

I still have 18 days to visit 16 more. I think it is doable.


Subway, Pandora and Quadra

No. 115

<2010-09-27 Mon>

For some inexplicable reason, whenever I need take-out I always think of Subway (I am not sure it is a good thing).

This day I was in a rush, and in that area of the city there are few options (I had already being at McDonals!) and decided to get a sub.

The location is medium sized, with plenty of tables. It was clean and inviting. It was relatively busy when I was there. As you can expect from a restaurant close to "Our Place" homeless shelter, the washrooms sport a big sign: "Only for customers".

The sandwich tasted the same as any from another Subway (I presume most of you have been at Subway, so what would the point of a "food" review by then). The franchise has done a great job of making them totally uniform. And I think I am fed up with them. Time to find an alternative. Suggestions?

Verdict: Feels like any other Subway.

For more information, including location, please visit:
Subway on Urbanspoon


No. 114

<2010-09-23 Thu>

Location, location, location: in that part of town, there is no better coffee (sorry Bubby Roses fans). I wouldn't go out of my way to have a coffee at Khona, but if I am in that area, there no better place, in my opinion.

Its espresso is thick and full of flavour; the way I like it.

Today, my coffee was, as usual very good.

The restaurant is medium-sized, with a big communal table in the middle, and a fireplace with lounge chairs. It provides free Internet and it is a good place to spend one or two hours working, specially if you sit at the large table, not taking precious space from others. It also has some seating outside, but it is right on Cook, and you get a lot of smog.

I have read that Khona recently changed owners. My experience is based primarily on the previous owner, who really cared about the quality of its espresso. At least in this visit, I felt that the coffee was still good.

Verdict: This are of the city, Khona's espresso has no competition.

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

Travelling Bean Coffee, Fort St.

<2010-09-22 Wed>

No. 113

This is a simple and small coffee shop at the corner of Fort and Quadra. I had passed many times without being interesting in going in.

Two women who looked like Japanese in origin were serving behind the counter. They were very friendly. It is not in one occasion that my decision to go into a restaurant has been swayed by their friendly staff. Coffee, in particular, is as much about ambiance as it is about coffee.

The tables are comfortable. It was also interesting to overhear the conversation in the next table. Middle age women were discussing the difficulties of finding good men. They didn't mind the others hearing. When three men sat in the table next they invited them to contribute to the discussion. It was, as it should be, the true spirit of the old coffee shops: where ideas were discussed.

One day I'll write a book of these coffee shop stories.

The coffee? Decent. Similar to what I'd get from Starbucks.

There are two Travelling Beans in town. The other is located in James Bay.

Verdict: Decent coffee, in a small location, with friendly staff.

Saigon Night

<2010-09-22 Wed>

No. 112

Update. In an early version of this posting I made a mistake. I confused Saigon Night with Saigon Harbour. What follows is the correct review.

Saigon Night is located in Fort St just east of Quadra. It is a medium place with a dark decor. The restaurant was relatively empty, considering the size. Some customers were clearly regulars.

Saigon Night has the typical fare: rice and noodles dishes and pho. Unlike Pho Vy, they have few pho specials. I ordered the one with meat.

It was very good in all aspects: the meat was tender, the broth flavourful, the sides were fresh, and the plate was huge.

I certainly enjoyed it.

Many would ask: how does it compare to Pho Vy. There are not many pho options at this restaurant, but what I received is comparable to Pho Vy. One of my complaints about Pho Vy is that it is sometimes inconsistent. Is Saigon Night inconsistent? I don't know. I would have to visit again. On the other hand, its was more expensive.

Paid: 13.44 + tip

For more information, including address, please visit:
Saigon Night on Urbanspoon

Shiki Sushi

<2010-09-21 Tue>

No. 111

I was prowling for a place to eat when I saw the restaurant. I was surprised, because I could not remember it being there. (Update: it used to be on Fort St, to next Beirut)

As I entered, I was shocked: this didn't look like a typical Victoria restaurant. It had a certain "posh" feeling. First, it is a very large place, very large. The tables are sparse, with lots of space in between that is occupied by planters. The sits are leather chairs, they are very attractive. The back of the restaurant is dark, intimate, and contrast with the bright area close to the windows.

I ordered the sushi-sashimi special (the most expensive special). The soup was ok, but I was surprised when a bento arrived. First, the entry in the menu wasn't labelled as a bento, second it was small, too small--I thought--for what i was going to be charged.

It included 2 hokkigai, 2 hotate, 3 maguro, 3 sake, all of them relatively small. In fact, as I looked more carefully, the one hokkigai was split right in the middle, to artificially increase the number of pieces.

The rice was covered with gravy. I don't like it, and I wish they would ask before they do it.

The sushi and sashimi felt average, and were overpriced.

Verdict: Expensive, average food. Avoid.

Paid: 16.74 + tip

For more information, including location, please visit:
Shiki Sushi on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Soda Shoppe: its coffee sucks

My original review is here here

As I write this, I am looking at a coffee that is totally undrinkable.

This was no surprise. First, I knew I was one of the first to visit this location. The machine needed to be primed. Would they have done it? As I watched the young person operating the coffee maker, I discovered that she hardly knows how to operate it. The answer to my question was probably no.

Then there are the subtleties: why make the coffee in a glass and then pour into a cup? The crema is wasted. They won't warm the cups. My cup was cold.

The small side chocolate used to be Rogers, then Lyndt, now it is Planters (filled with peanut butter). Feels it is going downhill since it was under the Roger's umbrella.

The view is magnificent, but I can't drink this coffee.


Paid: 1.95 for single espresso.