Cafe Brio

944 Fort St. tel: 250-383-0009 dinner from 5:30 pm every day

Review Update - March 09

The new Cafe Brio menu is positioned to give shining star Stage, a run for their money with a new menu of innovative small plates and charcuterie. The new Brio menu is very, very strong. Presented with small and large plate options, Chef Laurie Munn has also developed a charcuterie selection, that will make the meat eatin Victoria population do a happy dance.
Cafe Brio has always been a good restaurant, but on a readers recommendation we ventured back to explore what was totted as a new Brio. Good stuff. The menu is innovative and the execution exceeded expectations.
We started with a a charcuterie sampler with venison pate and lomo. Presented with housemade pickels and sharp mustards, it looked as good as it tasted. I was impressed. Charcuterie is hard. It takes a lot of trial and error. The items were distinctive and of very high professional quality.
We shared the pheasant, monkfish and veal dishes in their small plate format.
The pheasant was succulent, the demi full bodied without being excessively rich, the leg meat croquette was clever and beautifully executed, the apples were tender morsels of joy.
The monkfish dish expressed the awkward oddity of this peculiar fish with sincerity. Well accompanied by a loose risotto and tomato based sauce.
The only hiccup was the veal. The veal was itself was perfectly cooked, despite the fact that the rest of dish seemed a little rushed and the sweetbreads were overdone. The restaurant had become busy and this was our last dish. The course break was inordinately long preceding this dish, so I'll presume the kitchen had become backed up and this dish didn't get all the love it deserved. Considering those issues, it was still tasty and I'm sure would have been glorious if given the time.
The service dragged a little bit at times, but was not out of range of acceptable and was at all times professional. The visible presence of the owners was comforting and their character added to the ambiance.
The Brio wine list has a strong local component with a number of interesting bottles and reasonable pricing. We enjoyed a Church and State Syrah.
The restaurant decor is a bit Mediterranean for my taste, but it's very comfortable and definitely a crowd pleaser. That said, I'm stoked on Laurie Munn right now. He's been working hard and has developed some great dishes. Cafe Brio is worth a re-visit by folks who haven't been in a while.

March 2009

Review - May 2006

Cafe Brio is big on reputation. They've been around the block and don't really have anything to prove. The outcome from a consumer point of view is consistent quality, premium pricing and moderate creativity. If your relatives are in town from Toronto, Cafe Brio is a safe bet, but isn't going to knock anyone's socks off. Cafe Brio is a good restaurant - they do everything right, but don't take many risks.  

We were seated promptly and given a choice to sit in the restaurant's main dinning room or in the atrium off the front patio. We went for the somewhat more private atrium. Cafe Brio is known to many for the building's unusual Mediterranean design. While distinctive, to most it looks out of place on Antique Row. Happily, once you're seated, it doesn't seem so out of place. However, some of the decor, like the blue glass table settings, is a little dated. Patty also noted that the men's room, was not up to par - the pull-down revolving towel dispenser disturbed him.

We were offered cocktails quickly upon seating and were pleased to see Asti Spumanti by the glass on the wine list - a fun drink. We noted that they also had a selection of sparkling wines by the half litre. We'd never seen that before, as sparkling wine doesn't usually lend itself to a carafe.

Our server was very professional. The menu was loaded with cooking jargon, but the server was able to describe all the dishes we asked about. Seriously, as two professional cooks we were challenged (and amused) by the number of textbook terms on this menu.

We started out with the charcuterie plate ($14 for one, $22 for two) - chicken liver mousse, rabbit ballantine and venison and walnut salami. The portions and the presentation were good and the quality of the meats and accoutrement high.  All the meats had distinctive flavours and were well executed examples of charcuterie. We were impressed by the amount of energy put into the garnishes, including a variety of pickled vegetables, fresh items and aspic.  

For our mains, Patty had the Papparadelle with rabbit and mushrooms ($18 for the smaller portion). Not a ground-breaking dish, it was tasty and well-balanced. It did lack a garnish, for both presentation's sake and flavour contrast.

I had the pork belly with sordalise potatoes and sauce gribiche, no doubt the most interesting selection on the menu - I was in for a surprise. I love pork belly, the fat, the richness, it all works for me, but this dish seriously pushed the limits of my coronary system  (for those of you who don't know, pork belly is like un-smoked bacon). The dish consisted of about 8 oz of seared pork belly, with potatoes cooked in duck fat, served atop an egg-based sauce, with chopped egg added to it. I can handle a lot of fat, but by the end of this meal I felt my body screaming at me to stop the punishment. I liked the combination of flavours, but I wonder if a reduced portion would have been better as a first course, or if omitting the potatoes and replacing them with something fresher would have cut some of the fat - a little watercress would have gone a long way.

Clearly we were too full for dessert. I went for a coffee and Patty went for a grappa de moscato ($14). While they remedied the situation very quickly, the drink was served discoloured by a dirty measuring jigger.

The wine and beverage selection at Cafe Brio is good. I am hard pressed to find anything to criticise about the selection, but nor didn't I find anything in the selection that really excited me. The non-wine selections are acceptable, but not spectacular. Generally, the list could handle a little more creativity, but otherwise parallels closely with the theme of the restaurant.

If you're looking for a quality, no-surprise kind of restaurant, Cafe Brio is a good plan. I'd like to see Cafe Brio take a few more risks, and a balance their menu with a couple of protein-lighter selections (this is not a place for vegetarians).  It's quite clear that Cafe Brio has the talent in place to engage in a more competitive culinary approach, but lacks motivation.

reviewed May 8, 2006