Tiffin Project

Road Trip – Young Victoria

by Canucklehead on November 25, 2012

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A few weeks ago I was seriously burnt out from my day job (do you know hard it is to get the caramel into a Caramilk bar?!) and I really needed a break. I decided to head over to Victoria to get some quiet time. Plus I LOVE the ferry rides. While those who regularly commute on the ferry may disagree with this sentiment, for an urbanite like me, it is a welcome maritime respite from the constant hustle of the city.

I called up my friend Shelora Sheldan who knows everything worth knowing about Victoria and Vancouver Island. She is genuinely the most thoughtful and generous person you could imagine, a great writer and editor with an enthusiastic and discerning sense of food. Check out her blog Cooking with a Broad. We spent the next couple of days eating like maniacs.

Though I knew about some of the going on’s of the Vancouver Island food scene, what amazed me was the level of audacious energy in Victoria. Unfettered by Vancouver real estate costs, young people were throwing themselves into new ventures with a fearlessness that was kinda breathtaking.

Bows & Arrows Coffee Roasters
483 Garbally Rd.
Victoria BC
Website | Twitter | Facebook
My friends Drew Johnson and Leesha Sabine opened Bows & Arrows about a year ago, roasting small batches of single origin coffees. The emphasis is to bring out the best of the beans, letting the inherent fruit and nuances come forward rather than obliterate the flavors with overdark roasting. The result is a genuinely thoughtful and elegant cup of coffee. You can sample B&A coffee at Habit in Victoria or Innocent Coffee and Vincino in Vancouver

Fry’s Bakery
416 Craigflower Road
Victoria BC
Website | Personal Twitter | Facebook | Tumbler
Byron Fry who has apprenticed as some of the best bakeries in Victoria, opened up his shop just across the street from where his great-grandfather had his shop at the turn of the last century. How crazy is that? Using a hand built a wood fired oven and incorporating local red spring wheat, the bread is deeply flavored with fantastic texture. The croissants and pastries have a wonderful rustic edge.

Fol Epi
101 – 398 Harbour Road, Dockside Green
Victoria BC
Website | Facebook
Absolutely epically delicous bread. I cannot overstate how much I love the baking at Fol Epi. Owner/Baker Cliff Leir is the reluctant rock star of baking in Victoria, a guy who got into bread making simply ’cause he loves good food. Fol Epi takes no chances with the final product, milling their own flour, using their own starter, and baking in wood fired oven built by Cliff. The baguettes are crackling crisp, the interior soft with just the right amount of pull and chew; and the flavor, my goodness – toasted wheatiness, slightly sweet against the tang of natural leavening. The pastries are killer too – they have a fruit and almond puff pastry tart that will have you in tears.

Hilary’s Artisan Cheese
1725 Cowichan Bay Road
Cowichan Valley, BC
Website | Twitter | Facebook
A trip to beautiful Cowichan Bay is not complete without a visit to Hilary Abbot’s cheese shop (a Victoria location has recently opened). I can’t think of a better quiet lunch than a big ploughman plate with a selection of Hilary’s cheeses. The cheeses have a fresh sweet dairy roundedness, the fleeting flavour of a local cheese produced with loving attention and care.

The Whole Beast
2032 Oak Bay Avenue
Victoria, BC
Website | Twitter | Facebook
You step into Cory Pelan and Geoff Pinch’s shop, which shares a space with Village Butcher in Oak Bay, and the immediate sense you get is that these guys know what they are doing. There is a no-nonsense competency that underlines how they approach their products – no false swagger or romanticism – just great tasting chaucruterie. The salami I had were absolutely delicous, tightly compact, sweet tang of cure lifted by just the right amount of spice for a real clarity of flavors. My only regret from the road trip is forgetting my leftover Whole Beast salami in my hotel fridge. Bah!!!

Chorizo and Co. Spanish Delicatessen
807 Fort Street
Victoria, BC
Twitter | Facebook
What a dream of a little shop. Owners Tomas Dosil and Antonio Escude aim to bring some real Spanish warmth our rainy corner of the world. We stopped by just before lunch and had a slice of luscious Spanish tortilla and one of their deep fried empanditas with a spicy pork filling. Let me tell you, that empandita was crazy – the pastry soft yet slightly chewy, puffed and golden, the filling rich and savory, spiked with sharp notes of heat. Deilcious! Now that they have their liquor licence, Chorizo & Co. are doing set multicourse dinners served wine and beers pairings. I would make a return trip just to try one of these meals.

Norte Street Food
Locations vary (closed during winter)
Website for Norte Street Food | Website for Tortilleria Monterrey | Twitter
Using their own GMO free corn tortillas from Tortilleria Monterrey, Ryan Acheson and Claudia Garza have put together the tastiest taco stand I’ve been to since leaving California. The slightly smoky sweet scent of their tortillas toasting on their flat top lets you know that you are in for treat. Chicharron sprinkled over pork cheeks, char grilled cactus leaves, spicy ground beef with bacon and potatoes, or deep fried jalapenos stuffed with cheese – the fillings were all stunning. How these two find the energy to run taco stand everyday with a multitude of fillings and manage a fresh tortilla company are beyond me, but I am thankful they do.

Ulla Restaurant
509 Fisgard Street
Victoria, BC
Website | Twitter | Facebook
Smart, ambitious and delicious. It’s no wonder that Ulla won a coveted spot on Enroute 10 Best New Restaurants last year. Highlighting the best of local ingredients and using cutting edge techniques, owners Sahara Tamarin and Chef Brad Holmes have brought a real sense of excitement to the Victoria dining scene. Sounds easy, but I’ve seen other restaurants go astray, with pretension and preachiness leaving the diner cold. The focus at Ulla is on mouth filling flavors; slow cooked eggs with yolks so creamy, you wonder if they were injected with hollandaise, a striploin steak that was proof positive that you could have rich beefiness without sacrificing any tenderness, housemade ice creams that woke the senses with intensity and freshness. The service was seamless ease and comfort, which only happens when there is sharp eyed attentiveness (that never makes itself known). Everything just seems to happen perfectly. Ulla is a spectacular dining experience.

I came away from Victoria refreshed and my appetite renewed. Much has been made of how Portland is the culinary mecca of the Pacific Northwest – but as a Canadian, it won’t come as much of a surprise that I disagree. Certainly in the realm of incorporating Asian influences, Vancouver has got just about any other city in the world beat, but Victoria really has taken to heart the notions of sustainability and locality despite the added costs of doing so. In contrast, Alan Richman’s excellent piece in GQ on Portland notes that cheap rent and low cost dining seem to be the real drivers of the explosive growth of their food culture.

So let’s hear it for Victoria, she is a saucy little lady.

~Canucklehead paid for all of his own food and drinks. Shirley Temple’s are his preferred libation.

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