Monday, February 3, 2014

Padella - Friendly smiles and Fabulous Food

We are blessed in Victoria - yes we have lots of restaurants and yes we have great choices when we want to eat out. More than anything else though, it is the people behind each of those establishments. In Victoria, often choices for a great restaurant are made by who runs the place and their personalities. So many of us know the graciousness and smile of Greg Hayes at Brio or Marc's consummate and accommodating welcome at Brasserie. How about Willis, Lee and Vince at Fiamo OR Kyle and Zoe at Padella!

I have been lucky to eat at Padella a few times in the last month or two, and every time I go, I am reminded about how great the food is, but more so what a great atmosphere has been established in the room. Vince does a terrific job of welcoming guests as they enter and getting them seated. Leave your wine guidance to Vince and you are sure to get some great  choices as you travel through your food for the evening. I have tried a few wines the last couple of times I have been there, that I will admit, I would not have chosen, yet they have knocked my socks off, including a white Pinot "noir".

Of course, then comes the piece de resistance: the food. The magic that Kyle and Zoe are weaving in the newly renovated kitchen at Padella is quite fantastic. Breads are made fresh, pastas are all made fresh and of course your every morsel is created fresh for you. I have simply said the last couple of times, let Kyle make what he would like, and have never been disappointed. The menu is rustic Italian with some creamy pasta choices to recent fresh ones with shellfish and tomato broth or gnocchi.

Kyle makes a point of getting around to tables to see how customers have enjoyed their meals,
a special touch that I think makes diners feel great about the food they have just eaten. A great food connect the dots kind of game.

The desserts including the Balsamic chocolate truffles are decadent and wonderful, as is the coffee to cap off the meal. Service is superb, food is fabulous and the experience is excellent. Padella is worth the trip into Estevan Village. You will be back! I was!

Gnocchi with wild mushrooms in a cream sauce a la Kyle!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Thanks...Its all about the peeps!

Our lives are a series of opportunities and meetings. We come across diverse and varying people as we traverse work, play, children, rest and holidays. I have always believed that every person comes into our lives for a reason. It might be to enrich it in some way, it may be to teach us something, it may be that they are there to ride along with us for a while, or for a long while, but each person enriches us somehow, perhaps in the short term, and hopefully in the long term.

Regardless, cherishing the people in our lives and being thankful for what they bring to us is important. Often we just go about life and forget how much the people around us make our lives better, support us, help us, lift us up, whether truly physically or mentally. These people make our lives what they are. Some of these people are “supposed” to, like parents and relatives. Some of these people have no obligation whatsoever. Yet give so much to us in terms of our overall being.

Of course acknowledging the people around us and what they give to us should be something we do on a daily basis, every time we see our friends, loved ones, relatives, special friends or acquaintances, but we are not always perfect about doing just that.

It’s interesting that this weekend, in Canada, we will gather around the dinner table and marvel at the turkey or ham or lamb leg or prime rib and all of a sudden remember what we are thankful for – maybe it is because we will gather with people we care about, maybe it is because sometimes an occasion just allows us to open up and be thankful for people and things in our life.

To me, things are of little relevance – they come and go, but people are amazing! I am so lucky to have so many fabulous people who are somehow involved in my life. Who teach me different things each day, who take me to places that I perhaps never thought I would go, to who pull at my heart, who challenge my brain and who quite honestly bring a smile to my face so often. Life is never perfect, things do not always go the way we want, but people help to make life great everyday. There are ups and downs and hollow times and happy times, those around us, whether they live down the street or half way around the world, keep us ticking and smiling and thinking about how lucky we are to enjoy the life we do.

So this weekend there will be great food, fabulous wine, grand company, but my mind will be with everyone, whether here or not who helps to make my life so terrific…thanks…. All of you!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Little Elephants, Cocktails and Baring One's Soul....

For many years  bars and their tenders have been known as places to go, to let it out, have a drink or two and get the advice of the all-knowing and all-hearing bar person. Cheers certainly comes to mind as that iconic bar. When it's time for a chat or advice or support, I often find myself at a favourite local watering hole with someone who I trust to "hash it out" and find a space that leaves me further ahead than when I walked in. Such was the case recently. As I have written, lots has been swirling in my head of late precipitated by all sorts of events happening in my life. Writing here has helped, but seeking the advice of good friends always brings some clarity too.

A new place has opened in Victoria, Little Jumbo. It is the creation of Shawn Soole of Clives in the Chateau Victoria fame. Soole has spearheaded the cocktail movement in Victoria singlehandedly and given rise to the greater awareness and variety that now exists in town. He recently published a book on the cocktail culture to go hand in hand with his new bar venture. So armed with much to talk about and with a friend to listen and proffer up advice, it was time to check out Little Jumbo.

The bar is located down a hallway off of Fort Street close to the Keg restaurant. Hopefully it's obscuredness from the street will not mean people pass it up. When you enter, you feel like you have been transformed into a city anywhere, New York perhaps with a great bar, walls of liquors and just that perfect lighting. There is a din in the room that just speaks to groups of people chatting, giving advice, getting advice, enjoying each others company and plainly having a great time. The greeting at the door is warm and friendly, helped by the fact that Monica, whose broad smile helps to light up the room is a friend from the local crossfit gym. She is ready to seat us when Shawn Soole himself wanders up to the front and says hello. His Aussie accent is endearing and he makes you feel welcome as if you were coming to his house. He is excited about the wines he has on enomatic (there are four that rotate consistently) and quickly launches into how good they are. You can see that he is as excited about this side of things as he is about the cocktails Little Jumbo creates so adeptly.

The menu is varied and interesting. The key being that the prices are reasonable both for food and for alcohol. The bar is awash with action, but not intrusively so.I get down to talking about what is going on in my life and waiting to hear the advice. Some of it, I know is coming and I am ready for, some of it, I know is coming and do not want to hear, but all of it feels right for discussion at the bar!

The duck fat frites arrive with homemade ketchup and aioli. They are crisp and decadently yummy - I judge a restaurant, fairly or not, by its frites, a simple dish, but a deal breaker for me. So far - two thumbs up.
The winelist that Soole has compiled is varied, interesting, reasonable and offers everyone something to choose from. I am lucky to get a taste of the '99 Chianti on enomatic and then another beauty from Lebanon.  I opt for a glass of the Terravista Fandango - not to be found too often in Victoria at restaurants and settle back into the conversation. My friend had a Paulo Cohelo (?) - its frothee pinkness providing a great visual in the cocktail glass.

Soole checks back in - everything OK - as if he has been in the kitchen cooking up our food and just wanted to ensure he was doing a good job. You could be at his house as much as you are sitting at his bar. The bartenders play off each other well and are not afraid to ask each other questions or to simply play tag team with our orders. We opt for more food, this time the grilled kale and the gnocchi. I have always been a fan of Orofino winery and so go for the Gamay Noir next - it is fabulous!

The food arrives on one platter rather than two, well done barmen on the ordering and kitchen on the plating!
The gnocchi are pillowy and buttery while the kale has a fabulous spicy sweet sauce. It accents the wine well. More chatter, more advice, this time a bit hard to take, but necessary. Why is it that some of the more important things in life cannot be just a little easier?

The fun part of the evening was letting the bartenders know that there was a cocktail party happening later in the week where each guest had been assigned a particular bottle of alcohol to make cocktails from. All of a sudden cocktails were being thought of, created and offered for tasting. Clearly the bar staff were having fun and were pleased to challenge their minds in coming up with something unique - fun, interesting and playful. Certainly not necessary, or expected, but appreciated tremendously!

The "show" made the conversation, as tough as parts of it were, far more easy to swallow. The hospitality and friendliness made it a place to return to for future conversations. The variety means that no matter who I come with, there will be something to choose from.

As much as the name and the stir sticks are Little Jumbo, truly this is "Shawn's Place", he has made it his own and very successfully. Definitely worth a visit and then another...well at least that is my advice!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

It's not coffee, food or wine....It's just me.

It's been a long time, a long long time.
Have no wine on the desk beside me, I have no coffee brewing, and food was an hour ago....

I have just returned from New York City via my home away from home in Ridgefield, Connecticut. It was a great trip, but a real chance to ponder so much in life.

I forgot how much I find writing cathartic. I forgot how much writing helps me to be authentic and to express what is truly important to me in life. And then, when I was out east, I did some writing, some truly emotional stuff, and I remembered.

Writing seems to make life real, it allows us to express emotion that perhaps we have a hard time verbalizing and allows us to say just exactly what is necessary or needed.

So I find myself back here in front of my blog on Coffee, Wine and Food, writing. Why am I back, why am I making this time? Because I need it, because I need to get back to what makes me tick, to be expressive, to be emotional, to be authentic and to create possibilities that give me the chance to live life to its fullest. Here I am!

Things I have learned lately:

Be ready for anything, you never know where life may take you and what might result. Be open and ready for that, don't let life blindside you. Take it in stride and be authentic. Listen to your heart, express your feelings, let "them" in, it's so worth it.

Emotions are delicate animals. They need to be listened to, they need to be attended to, they need to be nurtured. Too often we allow emotion to fall by the wayside, it's just not necessary - but oh it is and expressing it allows you to live that life you want, otherwise you are holding back, and that is not authenticity.

Tell the people around you what you think and feel. It is never too late. They should know, not tomorrow, not when I have time, now, let them know, tell them what you think, be upfront. If they know and you tell them, you can enjoy that communication and bask in its glow. Sometimes this does not have to be positive, and that is OK too, knowing and stating is better than carrying it around and allowing it to burden you.

Say yes, take chances, be open, have fun, live life, create possibilities. It's so worth it, so worth it. No pattern "has" to be followed, you can create your own pattern, anytime - do what feels right, say what feels right and live the life you have always wanted to.

So maybe all of this came from sitting with some wine, savouring some food and pondering life and its many facets. Perhaps the impetus came from people around me, people I care about, people that have helped me to live my life more fully. No - actually it did.

So, nothing prolific, but I am back here writing. Sometimes about food, sometimes about wine, sometimes about coffee, but sometimes about people I care about and life's experiences and sometimes just about all of the things running through my mind.

Thanks for providing the forum to put that out there. Feel free to provide your thoughts and ideas too. Life is about sharing, communicating, creating possibilities and laughing and enjoying with the people who walk the walk with you!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Hanging out at the Crooked Goose

Great spots for food and wine in Victoria ultimately come down to people. Who runs the place, what are their standards, how do they run the place and what is their vision for success as an establishment. The Crooked Goose is one of the newer players on the block in Victoria located at the "corner" of Helmcken, Interurban, Wilkinson and the other three streets that come to one set of traffic lights near Camosun Interurban. The transformation on the inside from what used to be the old pub to what is now an open, airy, humming room is quite remarkable. Much of the work was done by owners Steve Watson, Chris Bremner, Ben Peterson, Andrew Moffat and Steve's partner Gina Basra. Quite amazing for any of you who ventured into the pub in its old form.

Ultimately though, the test of a good restaurant is what they produce to eat and drink, and there is lots to talk about here. I judge a good restaurant by the simple things done well. Can they make good french fries, care in the kitchen to a staple like this is important. No problem here. Excellent fries that are used everywhere from Steak-Frites to some very well done poutines. The classic is currently my favourite. Tasty gravy, Quebec cheese curds and perfect fries, scrumptuous. The cream of mushroom soup is second to none, anywhere. What exactly they are putting in the soup to make it so darn good is a mystery, but wow. And no shyness from the mushroom here, lots of them to go with the richness of the rest of the soup. The house salad is not an afterthought. Good greens and additions, and the dressing is well done. I like the fact that the calamari is grilled and not battered and fried, a whole different mouth feel and taste. The onion rings that accompanied were good, but a wee bit greasy. Teething pains!

Of course when you enter the room, you are greeted with the beaming smile of Steve Watson behind the bar. I say that not in jest but truly because, he obviously is passionate about what he does, loves doing it and wants every guest to feel that warmth when they come in. Like he is pouring drinks in his own kitchen bar at home for you, while you wait for a quick bite to eat! The beers and wines that have gone onto the lists here are fabulous and there are certainly some choices you may not find everywhere on the lists. From the Fat Tug IPA from Driftwood to the Pffafenheim Gewurtz. Even Rocky Creek's Pinot Gris makes an appearance, great to see some Island fare in the mix.

Ultimately as a community restaurant, Crooked Goose will be successful, but they have enough to be a destination spot for those ensconced in the downtown restaurant scene and a great drive by for Camosun students and staff, as well as parents who are headed out to PISE to be a part of the Island soccer, volleyball or basketball scenes.

You will come for the consistent food, scrumptuous bites, great wine and beer, but ultimately, you will come back for the people, the atmosphere the serenity and the service!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Taste - The Main Event

Kathy McAree has been working with an amazing group of volunteers for a few years now to create a premiere wine tasting-food pairing event for Victoria. This year’s Main Event was a testament to the success she has achieved in this respect.

Many of BC’s top wineries were represented at the evening, pouring a wide variety of excellent wines. Additionally, there were some culinary masterpieces created by some of Victoria’s top chefs, pairing beautifully with the wines on offer.

As I entered the Rattenbury designed Crystal Garden, where the food and wine was showcased I was greeted by smiling volunteers offering me a Riedel wine glass to use for tasting for the night.  Next came a terrific smoked chicken Long John with cucumber salad and citrus yogurt from Garrett Schack at Vista 18.

Painted Rock is making some terrific wine and have added a Chardonnay to their arsenal of cult favourite wines. The Red Icon is still my favourite, but John Skinner’s stories about the making of the wine really made them all that much better. Skinner is the proprietor of the winery and has really sparked its success.

As I turned to check out the next food table, I was met by the fabulous meat concoctions of Corey Pelan at the Whole Beast. His offering was neither mainstream, nor everyone’s cup of tea, but, anyone who walked by missed out on a fabulous appetizer. It was perfect with the remnants of that Red Icon in the bottom of my glass.

                         Photo Courtesy of Rebecca Wellman Photography

Of course, there was no rhyme or reason to the order that I covered the room. It was hard not to run into the group from Lure at the Delta Ocean Pointe. They had created a fabulous dessert, so why not, did it really matter when I had chocolate in the evening? The dessert described in a fabulous French accent was a goat cheesecake mousses on a cocoa wafer with sour cherry and a chocolate covered coffee bean for crunch. Absolutely fabulous, and quite frankly the crunch was just perfect against the softness of the mousse.

I backtracked and came to Red Rooster Vineyard, where they are making a dry but very drinkable Gewurtztraminer. It was perfect with Sam’s, from Bistro 28, sablefish tartar with chili lime vinaigrette. A fabulous melding of crisp flavours and freshness.  Around the corner was Mount Boucherie winery producing an absolutely delectable Gamay Noir. They produce some other great ones too, but the Gamay Noir is far and above my favourite of all their wines. I re-traced and wandered by Moonstruck cheese. Perfect to get me going for the next wine. I ventured over to Hillside winery to try their Muscat Ottonel. A great glass of wine, with some elements of sweetness and fruit, but a good dry finish as well.

More dessert was brewing at the Paprika Bistro station where Anna Hunt had dreamed up a spiced chocolate shortbread with chocolate mousse and candied local rhubarb. It was chocolatey, but the rhubarb cut that richness perfectly. Of course the perfect pair for me was one of my favourite BC wines, the Pinot Noir from Blue Mountain. Christine Fawcett was pouring for Blue Mountain and it was just as expected a great glass of wine. She was quick to refer me to her husband at the station right beside hers who was pouring for Blasted Church. This is not a winery that I have spent a great deal of time drinking, but their Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot was the Gold Medal winner as the best red wine at the All Canadian Wine Championships. It was a well deserved accolade. I have been on a search at the liquor store to find myself some of that wine, it is full bodied, with great fruit at the front and some round tannins giving it a smooth finish and a wonderful taste on your tongue. An excellent glass of wine. I had to try it twice!

                         Photo Courtesy of Rebecca Wellman Photography

As I made my way upstairs to the second level, I was impressed to see the winemaker himself, Howard Soon pouring at the Sandhill table. Their Gamay Noir and Pinot Gris were both fantastic, as attested by the lineup for this station! Next it was wonderful fresh Morels at the Forrester’s table from Olympic View Golf club, They paired with some chicken liver pate, which went beautifully with the Gamay Noir!

Seven Stones is located in the Similkameen Valley just before you get to Osoyoos and always produce some excellent wines. I thoroughly enjoyed the Row 128 Merlot. It was full bodied, lots of raspberry and a great finish. Definitely going to pick this one up when I pass by their winery on the way to Osoyoos next month!

Sumac Ridge is a wine I like sometimes and not so much at others. My friends Blagica and Jess were pouring at this station, and I must say the 30th Anniversary Tribute Sparkling was fabulous as was the white Meritage. They went wonderfully with Gord O’Neill’s Porchetta a la Romana from Butchart Gardens kitchens.

I think that Venturi-Schulze produces some quality wine and balsamic and my tasting with Marilyn and Michelle at their station just verified that for me. The Brut Naturel was fabulous and the Brandenburg #3 was unmatched – sweet syrupy yumminess!

The vodka from Victoria Gin was mind numbingly strong in comparison to everything else I was having, but that being said, tasty and one I will seek out for my occasional vodka-soda!

What a fabulous evening of food and drink. As I prepared to leave at the end of the night and the chefs were making their exits, a multitude of local berries was proffered up for those who might want them to take home or to much on while leaving, wonderful sweet juicy raspberries and strawberries, just the perfect capper to the night!

Taste – The Main Event is just that fabulous evening out that Victoria needs in the middle of the Summer. A chance to get in touch with all of the wonderful food and wine we are so lucky to have access to in our beautiful city and province. Well Done Kathy! Well Done volunteers! A wonderful opportunity!

Monday, June 13, 2011

A little taste of Seattle!

Seattle seems to be on e of those cities that is just overlooked generally by the American public. People talk of their culinary and cultural experiences in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, heaven forbid, Las Vegas, but rarely does the Pacific Northwest and Seattle come up. Yet there is so much there. Maybe I should just shut my mouth and keep it to myself and continue to enjoy each and every visit over the border!

Really heading to Seattle is as much about the shopping, for so many different things as it is about Seattle itself. Certainly when you are travelling with an 11 year old, it is more about the shopping and the fun than ever.

Of course there are the two factory outlet malls, the have not and the have. First is the have-not, the original factory outlets in Burlington, Wa. Now really there are a number of great secrets at this one. First of all, LuluLemon. This is the only truly factory outlet LuluLemon I have come across. They have a store in Vancouver, but the pricing is not that much better than in the stores. AT this one, the prices are great, if you are willing to spend some time looking. The Coach and Gap outlets always seem to have deals that are way better than at any of the other outlets, maybe that is me imagining it all, so I can keep the romantic notion of visiting this very unvisited mall!

Of course, if you come to Burlington, you may as well hit up Costco too. And not for the electronics or the massive slabs of meat, which are all terrifically priced, but for the wine!!

Where else can you get the 7 Deadly Zins, a favourite of mine since a visit to the Napa Valley, for $10.99? This wine is $25 in the Fort and Foul Bay Liquor store. Or the Stag’s Leap Artemis for a mere $36? There are deals to be had here. You need to have your LCB guide with you or know the pricing well, but if you want to drink good wine each night, you can, and not pay much!

The first meal was at Applebees, I know, a chain and not known for their amazing food. But we needed nourishment and so in we went. They have Steamed vegetables and a side salad as an option for an entrée – wow are we in the USA? And they were good to boot? The salsa that came with the appies was fresh, as in, I think they may have made it, who knew! We had some wonton tacos with pulled pork, a steak quesadilla fried up and some boneless chicken wings, all white meat and surprisingly not bad. All that along with unsweetened ice tea, a personal favourite for $20 total, how can you go wrong. Great during shopping nourishment!

Of course that was the same night as game 5 of the Stanley Cup playoffs and after a vigorous soccer game, some nourishment was in order again. This time is was Bob’s Burgers and Brew in Tulalip, Wa, near the Premium Factory outlets, the haves! These outlets have Banana Republic to Adidas and Kenneth Cole. Some nice stuff, but the prices were still relatively high. Bob’s was full of Canuck fans cheering on the boys. The mighty cheer that erupted when the goal was scored was so much fun! We indulged in some cut vegetables with Honey mustard dip, and were wholly surprised when enough fresh vegetables for 4 came out on a platter, really are we in the USA? We added on some lightly fried prawns and smiled happily. The wine was a Columbia Crest Merlot, and was fine, but nothing to write home about.

The next morning on the way to the next soccer match, we made a stop at my favourite Seattle coffee place, Café Vita. It took a little bit to remember exactly where it was and to cut up and back through the streets near Key West Arena, but we found it. Café Vita roasts their own beans and have a few outlets in the Seattle area. The one on 5th Street is a small darker place with some effervescent staff who make a wonderful Americano. By all accounts they make a pretty darn good hot chocolate too! They have a full line of Top Pot doughnuts, and marvelous croissants to muffins and loaves. It is worth the trip, and really represents the essence of the coffee culture of the Pacific Northwest.

Lunch that day after the game and before the third game was at PF Changs. Despite being a chain of Chinese restaurants, they are consistent from place to place and the service is fabulous. Their specialities are many but the Chicken lettuce wraps and the tempura green beans with hot sauce are awesome. We had both for our lunch with some more unsweetened ice tea to wash it all down. They are really very consistent and the food is hot, well made and tastes yummy, how can you go wrong!

After the 3rd game, the plan was to attend the Sounders-Whitecaps game at Qwest field. We headed down a couple of hours early, found a great parking spot in 1st Avenue and went for a walk. We read menus, looked at gem stores and basically enjoyed the warm sun that was beaming down. Thinking a snack was in order we searched for a little place for me to have some wine and for us to share a little cheese. Well we found a little place located in a hotel called BOKA, Kitchen and Bar. They were having Saturday Happy Hour, so we thought why not. Well for $3 or $6 you could have some pretty darn good fare. We opted for the Truffle frites with homemade ketchup and Aioli and the warm nuts and olives, a house favourite. I started with a little Washington number, a Steppe Cellars Rattlesnake Hills 2008 Riesling. I explained to our most helpful waiter that despite our proximity we were privy to very few Washington wines and imagined that beyond an ice wine or two they were not privy to our best, what a pity really! This Riesling was fabulous. It was a little less sweet, but had wonderful overtones of green apple on the nose and just one of those pleasant linger in your mouth finishes. Then the warm roasted almonds, wonderful marinated olives and some of the most perfect frites (and I am an expert on frites!) arrived. How wonderful to compliment the wines. Our table agreed that this patio experience in the sun was starting out fabulously well. I decided to opt for a red wine next to change it up a little and went for the DiStefano Winery from the Columbia Valley Bordeaux Blend on the recommendation of our server. What an amazing wine. A little hint of vanilla with some cherry thrown in and a great finish . As I sipped on this one, we decided to order some Harissa beef skewers, a perfect match for the red. These three skewers of tender beef were wonderful and spiced just right. In the mean time, our server seeing that I was enjoying the Washington wines brought along a sample of the Distefano Sauvignon Blanc 2009 and a Kana Winery Tempranillo 2006 from the Yakima Valley. The Sauv Blanc had wonderful honey like sweet undertones with some citrus and apple on the palate. The Tempranillo was a great version, with some good farmy pinot noir qualities to it – and that is a very good thing from a guy who loves a pinot noir. This was a fabulous experience both from the food and the drink perspective and one that will need to be repeated on a future Seattle venture.

Another trip to Café Vita on Sunday rounded out the experience as well as a finishing wine trip to Costco to re-stock the cellar a little. What a wonderful time in Seattle all in all from all perspectives! Plan your next trip!