Padella Italian Bistro

The former Paprika restaurant, remerged last year as the Italian themed Padella. I loved the idea and thought it was a good business move to make the restaurant more approachable, but the menu was a bit unusual. I’m now happy to report some recent changes, including a new menu and new chefs that has really brought it all together. It’s a well constructed menu with something for everyone. Prices are reasonable and the execution of menu items exceeded expectations.

Patty started with the zucchini frito ($8), or sexy zucchini strips as I’m calling them. The portion was generous and the long thin strips very crispy. The chili aioli was very tasty, perhaps even a little too tasty… I could have eaten that little bowl of fat with a spoon.

I had the Calamari ($14).  The big, thick slices of calamari were very tender and served on chick pea puree (think very smooth hummus) and topped with arugula and olives. Being one of the higher priced items on the menu, I think it would have greater perceived value had it been served on a larger plate with a little more garnish (like a buttery crouton to scoop up the puree), but the actual portion of seafood was totally acceptable.

For our main courses, Patty had the Vitello ($23), veal scallopini with polenta and tomato sauce. The veal was tender and properly cooked, the polenta was light and fluffy and the accompanying vegetables pleasantly firm.

I had the Pork Milanese ($20), a big fat pork chop, breaded and fried crispy. Who doesn’t like that!? The accompanying rhubarb agrodulce sold me on the menu item in the first place and while normally I would mutter to myself about the traditional culinary faux pas of serving a cold condiment on a warm protein, everything else on the plate was so incredibly hot, it didn’t matter that the agrodulce was a little cool for my taste.  It certainly didn’t disappoint in terms of flavour and I'm always happy to see a clever use for rhubarb.

We were too full for dessert, but the dessert list was printed on the lunch menu and we were quite keen to see some tasty looking sandwiches for future daytime visits.

The wine list is paired down, but has lots of good choices at a fairly modest price point, with a few special occasion selections.

The service was as always, friendly and efficient. The ambiance is somewhat refined, but with a comfortable, familial feel.  Our bill was about the same as we’d spend at the pub and the food was incomparably superior.

2524 Estevan Ave. tel: 250.592.7424

Chorizo and Co

The wave of Spanish influenced menus and restaurants that has flooded the culinary world over the past few years has for the most part left Victoria dry. For all that Spanish cuisine seems like an easy sell, Victorians have been slow to jump aboard. With the familiarity of European cuisine, but with a bit of heat and a smattering of North African flavours, there tends to be an earthiness to Spanish dishes that put some people off (not to mention some very pronounced seafood flavours). It’s nothing that a holiday to Bilbao or Barcelona wouldn't take care of, but if you haven’t had the opportunity to eat mysterious fishy things in a sketchy bar in the middle of the night, your romance with Spanish cuisine may not yet have begun.

Chorizo and Co is a good starting point for Victorians who lack experience with Spanish food. The menu is basic and  approachable, but with a sincere attempt at authenticity. The sandwiches are a little more tarted up than you might find in Spain, but the extra garnishes are well within the confines of the theme. The bread from Frye’s bakery is well above average and is reminiscent of something you might receive in Spain. The proteins, from chorizo, to squid, to Serrano ham and cheeses, are lovely, fresh and genuinely Spanish. The tortillas are exactly what you would be served in Spain and will make you nostalgic if you've ever wolfed these satisfying eggy wedges down while recovering from a late night.  Other items such as soups, salads and empanadillas (filled pastries), round out the menu. Desserts are simple and again, refreshingly Spanish.   

The deli counter provides several meat and cheese options and there is a very small retail area, with some unique Spanish imports, like tinned cockles. It would be interesting to expand this area a bit more. Spanish food imports are hard to come by in Victoria.

Prices are reasonable, the ambiance comfortable and the service was excellent.

807 Fort St 250 590 6393

New Cookbook

Check out our new cookbook from Touchwood Publishing!

An anthology of recipes from the Island Chef's Collaborative, edited and compiled by Little Piggy's Christabel Padmore, and including recipes from Christabel and Patrick Simpson

Look for it in bookstores, including Bolen Books, Munro's, Russell Books, Ivy's and Tanners

The Tartan Toque

The Tartan Toque is Victoria's first winghouse. The absence of a local winghouse had never affected me directly, but hey, why not. 

Located in the Old British Fish and Chip space in Stadacona Centre, the Tartan Toque features a selection of 20 housemade wings sauces, burgers, hot dogs, wraps, salads and fries.  Operated by the proprietors of the Shine Cafe, the Tartan Toque is the epitome of casual dining (busy, loud and counter service). Family friendly with cheap beer ($5/pint); I know a lot of people who will like that combination. The basic menu is well composed and very price conscious. The interior is as dark as it always has been and the seating is not especially comfortable for the buttocks, but new paint and artwork has improved the space considerably. The service was incredibly friendly, cleaner than I thought possible in this antiquated space and there were three quality checks performed during our visit. They're not slouching on the front of house side of things.

We split a beef burger with cheese and slow cooked onions ($7), fries ($2.75) and one pound of wings with BBQ sauce ($9). The burger was appropriately greasy and there was plenty of cheese and onions. I liked it. The fries were crispy and fresh. Our baby Maeve ate most of them, so she was happy. The wings were indeed served with housemade sauce. If you're used to regular BBQ sauce, you might think the scratch made type is a little light in flavour and doesn't stick to wings as well as the commercially produced variety. Yes, that's true. I liked the flavour, but they might want to work on the recipe a bit for use in the wing context. Longer cooking time and maybe a dash of cornstarch might improve the wing adhesion. To be perfectly honest, I'm a bit of a wing purest. I like hot wings, and when I'm mixing it up BBQ is as far as I go, so some of the wilder wing sauces on the Tartan Toque menu are lost on me. That said, if maple, candied bacon, coconut, pesto etc... are up your alley, this would be fun for you. All in all, I liked the wings. They were plump and juicy - that's the important part. While they do have vegetable crudités and dip on the menu, I would have liked to see some wing dips. Buffalo wings at the very least are well served with a creamy dip. I would also have liked to see a 'very hot' option for the buffalo wings. I'm not talking suicide wings, I know it's not 1989, but hot hot wings are delicious for those of us with a taste for the spicy side of things and it is a winghouse after all.

I will return for a hot dog. I didn't have room in my belly on this visit, but the bacon cheese dog is calling my name. I'm similarly interested in the onion nest...

1507 Pandora St, tel: 778 265 9464


Ca Va?

Ca Va Bistro Moderne has opened up in the former Kulu location in Fernwood village. If you've lamented the loss of fine dining options in Victoria, you might be pleased with this new addition. The food has a definitive 'nouvelle' design. Yes, that might read as small portions, but it should also read as careful attention to detail and high labour. Personally, I don't need to roll out of a restaurant after consuming enough food for a small family, at least not every time I eat out. The prices are in line with the quality and labour, but in my experience they might be better off clientele-wise, increasing the price and portion by 15-20%.

I had the quail with burnt orange and pistashio puree ($9) as a first course. It was complex and well composed. The pistashio puree was very good and neither hummusy nor peanut buttery, the burnt orange was a little flavour explosion and the quail was lovely and crispy. Patty had the scallops ($11). They were small. I didn't know you could buy such small scallops commercially, but they were tasty. We both agreed, this dish would have been better had it cost more and had more scallop represented. For our main courses, I had the short rib with celeriac puree and prunes ($23). It was elegant and full flavoured. Everything on the plate was perfect. The meat portion was fine, but it needed a little more garnish to be a crowd pleaser. Patty had the salmon ($21). He was delighted with the perfect medium doneness and the carefully executed 'crackling.' For dessert we had the chocolate 'souffle' ($8). I think they should take the quotations off the souffle and call it want it is, a chocolate fondant cake. Like most things at Ca Va, it was again perfectly executed and served with sour cherry ice cream. The ice cream was a little grainy, but the flavour was very nice.

The ambiance is fairly sophisticated and some minor changes has certainly brought us some of the cleanest aesthetic enhancements to the physical space for a long time. They will need to buy an air conditioner in the summer. I don't know why no previous owner has bought one, but if you've ever eaten there you know it's a sweatbox in the summer.

The wine list is simple, a little bit creative without being alienating and reasonably priced. The service was surprisingly good. Usually new restaurants, especially chef driven restaurants, tend to be short on front of house training. Our server was very professional.

This style of food is a tough go anywhere, and I think it's going to be a tougher go in Fernwood. If you want to see this kind of restaurant in Victoria, you should make a point of heading out and supporting Ca Va now, not in six months. 1296 Gladstone Ave 250-590-7982

Burger Saturation

Burger, how much do I love thee? Well apparently, Victoria really loves a burger judging from the selection of burger restaurants we’re currently enjoying. One might think we’ve reached the saturation point, but hey, only time will tell.

I can only imagine that there’s a little teeth gritting over at Pink Bicycle, who were the first out the door four years ago. That said, their restaurant is small and given the consistent queue out the front door, there was room for competition.  The Pink Bicycle menu has grown over the years to include not only a variety of burgers, but also a selection of salads and side dishes, and an extensive list of garnishes and condiments. The theme is very local, with special attention paid to local proteins. Pink Bike has a comfortable atmosphere, particularly in the cooler months, as it’s fairly cozy inside. Prices are moderate and consistent with industry standard.

The new Bin 4 Burger Lounge is a lot like Pink Bike, but with a more modern ambiance, more booze and a longer menu. Their burger selection is extensive, seriously, they have a burger for everyone.  If you’re a Pink Bike devotee Bin 4 might bug you, as there are many similarities. That said, it’s burgers, you can’t deviate from the formula much without compromising the theme. Bin 4 is a lot slicker than Pink Bike, so if you fancy a little more selection and more sophisticated atmosphere, this is going to be the pick for you. The quality of the food is very good, with similar attention paid to local products and attention to detail. In contrast, Bin 4 local includes more BC products while Pink Bike is truer to the Island interpretation of local. To be fair, it’s hard to have an extensive menu selection and reasonable prices if you don’t include BC in your local purchasing.  Prices are comparable to Pink Bike.

If you’re not looking for a formal table service restaurant, but you want the premium burger experience Big Wheel Burger is your newest option. The brainchild of Peter Zambri, Jeff Heatherington and associates, Big Wheel is the no-chain option for fast food burgers. The menu appears to be modeled after the American In and Out Burger, with simplicity at the forefront (i.e. limited selection of carefully chosen items). They have burgers (beef with one veggie option for non-beef eaters), hot dogs, fries (including chili and poutine), shakes and cookies.  Unlike most fast food restaurants they have beer and wine. That’s a bonus.  Like Pink Bike and Bin 4, they use BC raised beef and further distinguish themselves from fast food restaurants with scratch preparation methods. Less expensive than a sit down restaurant, Big Wheel is pricey for takeaway, but the ambiance is swankier, the service a bit more thoughtful and the food tastier.

If you just want a greasy old burger and have had a enough of the froufrou, Victoria has recently gained a downtown Burger King and Fat Burger. To be perfectly honest, I’m a huge sucker for a Whopper and am especially fond of the Angry Whopper -  but only on special occasions.

UPDATE: I missed one! Check out Jackalope Bistro for the 'quirky' burger options in Odeon Alley. 

Vis a Vis

2232 Oak Bay Ave 250-590-7524

UPDATE March 2013 - Vis a Vis gave up. Yep, it's over. They're re-launching the space, integrating it into the pub next door, but with restaurant licensing. The only bright side, if you wanted to go the Penny Farthing Pub with your kids, there is now a space licensed appropriatly.

UPDATE March 2012: Great news - Jeff Keenliside is the new chef of Vis a Vis and the Penny Farthing! A very talented guy, I'm looking forward to checking out how he makes his mark.

By far the Victoria culinary powerhouse of the moment. Great vision, execution and innovation. There's a lot of intellectual and physical work going into this menu. Patty and I have been sitting at Vis a Vis, rubbing our heads overwhelmed with the energy going into some of these dishes. We've been twice in November and we were delighted to see the menu had changed in several respects between our two visits - that means we can visit often, yay! The star of last night's dinner was the Phesant Sausage with Buckwheat Waffle. It was the last thing we ordered, but the flavours and textures of this dish and it's multitude of garnishes was a triumph. Other winners were the Oxtail and Foie Gras Ravioli, which was served in a luxurious consomme, and the Chorizo Corndog and Manchego Cheese Fondue.

Vis a Vis also sports a spectacular by the glass wine list. Wines are available in a variety of price ranges, but if you're in the mood for  something fancy, say a glass of Perrier Jouet, they serve high end wines by the glass - that's fun!

A note: It's a small restaurant and we have yet to secure a table, alternatly sitting at the bar. If you want a table, best to plan a trip outside of the busy time. That said, the tables are wheelchair accessible, which is a bonus for those of us with loved ones with mobility issues.

The Black Hat

The Black Hat by Bistro 28 has opened at Langley and Broughton St in downtown Victoria and in the process transformed the appearance of the entire block. Holly financial investment! They've converted the old Tony's Trick and Joke Shop into a flashy 85 seat restaurant. It looks great. This kind development is exciting and I always find the cohones required to execute these visions awe-inspring.  Owner, Sam Chalmers, however is cool as a cucumber - which made me feel better.  

Open for dinner - late, Wednesday to Sunday, it certainly is nice to have another option for us folks who work in the evenings. The menu is dominated by small plates, with a very reasonable selection of main course items. We had the Baccala Fritters with lamb ragout ($16), the Pan Seared Halibut ($28), the Pork Belly with Kim Chi Salad and Fried Egg ($22) and the S'more ($8). Everything was tasty, creative and well executed. Portion wise, I'd call the servings 'modern,' so if you're visiting with a big eater, I'd order heavy. The value is in the labour of preperation and quality of product, so penny pinchers beware - you'll have to be open minded. And, yes, that is a $130 steak on the menu. It's not a type-o. Not my style, I would rather spend that kind of money on a labour intensive presentation of less expensive products, but if nobody wants it, I'm sure they'll take it off the menu.

Also, worthy of note is a lengthy list of wines by the glass, available in 1, 3 & 5 oz pours. The selection is BC dominated, but is generally well balanced. Wine prices are quite approachable.

The service was a little spotty, but they're only a week in, so I would recommend having a little patience until they've had a chance to break in the new staff and get their procedures in order.

More Schwarma Love

I continue to be delighted by the increasing availability of Middle Eastern food in Victoria. I have now consumed all of the Beirut Express menu and last night's lamb schwarma platter ($11.99) and falafel platter ($10.99) definitely take the cake for variety and value.  The wraps are tasty too, but the platters are considerably more substantial for a moderate increase in cost. The lamb served with rice and tahina was tender and hot, similarly the falafel served with pickled cabbage, a couple of dolmades and tahina was generously portioned and a satisfying vegetarian option. We tried both the tabouleh and fataoush salads as part of the combos. Considering the composition of fataoush (vegetable and bread salad), I thought it might be soggy, but the pita was nice and crunchy. The humus side was not overpoweringly garlicky and nice and creamy.  While not loaded with ambiance, I like Beirut Express for takeaway. You can take it home and it feels like real food, not fast food.

The Whole Beast

The Whole Beast: Artisan Salumeria 2032 Oak Bay Ave (between Foul Bay and Elgin) tel: 250-213-1226,Tues-Sat 0am-6pm

Adjoining the new Village Butcher location on Oak Bay Avenue, The Whole Beast brings some new meat to Victoria shoppers. Unlike the raw products sold at the butcher shop next door, the Whole Beast serves a wide variety of housemade cured meats, dry sausage, pates and terrines.  If you like charcuterie and salumi, you're going to be excited about this place. For all that owner Cory Pelan apologized for being out of a few things, I couldn't beleive the selection. It's alot of work and planning to keep the shelves stocked with high-labour, specialty products and much to my delight there was plenty to choose from. We ended up taking a couple different types of bacon and a chunk of country style pate with morel mushrooms home for our dinner for a mere $7.  Well worth a visit for salumi fans and general meat lovers alike!

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