We had a good time on the West Coast Trail, but I was very excited to make it back to Victoria...first for a shower and second for some good food and a glass of wine. It was a looong bus ride back to Victoria from Bamfield (about 7 hours) but we finally made it and checked into our hotel. We were staying right in the inner harbour area, so we were in easy walking distance of lots of great restaurants.
We headed out for a late dinner and ended up at Pagliacci's, an institution in Victoria. Even when we showed up at 9:30 we had to wait for a table. The atmosphere was great. It was packed and cozy in there with tables packed in tight and signed photos of celebrities lining the walls, candlelight and the sound of happy people visiting and eating. You're greeted with a basket of fresh-baked focaccia bread with delicious crunchy sea salt on top. We started off with a bottle of wine from Spain (they have a huge wine list) and we all ordered 1/2 size orders of pasta. I loved that they offered 1/2 sizes (which were still generous and more than enough for dinner). I tried a fresh made pesto with sundried tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms and toasted pinenuts with linguini.
It definitely hit the spot but I didn't have any room for dessert. Brian hadn't made it out for dinner with us that first night, so we ended up going there for a late dinner the next night as well. We decided to order appetizers so we had the antipasti plate and the Captain Nemo bowl, which had mixed seafood and shellfish in a coconut curry broth, and of course, lots of fresh bread. The service was fantastic and friendly and Trev and I both agreed that if we lived in Victoria we would be regulars.
Another place we would happily be regulars at? Red Fish Blue Fish, a fresh seafood joint serving delicious sustainable seafood out of a sea-can in the inner harbour. We waited 45 minutes in line to place our order (apparently if you can make it on a rainy day the line is a lot shorter). As we were waiting a menu was passed back so you could plan your order and start drooling over all the choices. When we finally made it to the front we decided to order two scallop tacones and two grilled albacore tuna tacones (each order comes with a side of slaw) and I ordered a fresh shrimp cocktail and a coconut-lime popsicle for dessert. It ended up being A LOT of food, but it was all fantastic. The tortillas for the tacones were grilled first then filled up with some fresh slaw and pickled onions. The tuna was good, but the scallop tacones with the golden shallot aioli were to die for - and the amount of scallops in each was very generous and definitely worth the $12 for an order of two. The shrimp cocktail was also a delicious surprise. They make a fresh tomato-horseradish gazpacho and top it with fresh local shrimp, some diced lettuce, a bit of sour cream and fresh green onions. That alone would have made a great light lunch. Top it all off with a popsicle and I was happily stuffed as we headed off to Butchart Gardens for the afternoon.
I tend to be an early-riser (so Trev gets dragged along too) and I like to be up and about before a city really wakes up, so we would set out early and find neat little places for breakfast. One morning we ended up at Chef Suzi in the Square, enticed by their breakfast sandwich special on the sandwich board outside. Trev tried that one: an english muffin with chipolte mayo, an egg, monterey cheese, bacon and avacado ($3.50). It was a great combination, I'd love to recreate it at home. I went for the coffee and muffin special (only $3). My muffin was a still warm out-of-the-oven orange-cranberry-poppyseed creation. It had just the right amount of crunch on the top and it went great with my local Salt-spring Island coffee. We ended up coming back again on another morning with Brian and Loretta. It was a great place to hang out and the prices were unbeatable.
On Sunday night was Symphony Splash, so we made early dinner reservations at Cafe Brio (Trev had read some good reviews). Cafe Brio focuses on locally sourced ingredients with pure and fresh flavours. It was a perfect choice and I loved absolutely everything about our experience there. First of all, the restaurant has fantastic atmosphere, with a lush green terrace in the front, then a beautiful high-ceiling space with rich dark walls covered in interesting art, warm light and a skylight above. We chose to sit out on the terrace, and I think it was a good choice.
We decided to order the Brio Family Meal. It was $40 per person, and everyone at the table had to participate; we were provided with 6 dishes, chosen by the chef, to be shared family-style. First out we were provided with a romaine hearts salad and a salumi plate with in-house made Brio Salami, Pancetta Pate, olives and pickles. We also sampled the cucumber gazpacho with smoked trout and paprika oil.
It was all so delicious, I could have easily been satisfied after the round of appetizers, but then the main course showed up. First was a seared sirloin with an amazing red wine sauce served with a black lentil side dish. Next was pan-seared halibut with salsa verde and sauteed spring peas and finally an heirloom tomato pasta with a generous sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan. Everything was delicious and amazing. It was great to try a little bit of everything, I just wish I could have eaten more! Or that we were at home and I could take the leftovers with me. The dessert menu looked great, but none of us had any room left. I'm so glad we had the opportunity to eat at Cafe Brio, we had an excellent experience at an internationally known establishment. Chef Laurie Munn is a master, there's not really anything else I can say!
Right after our meal we headed to the inner harbour for Symphony Splash, an annual fundraiser for the Victoria Symphony Orchestra. They pull a giant barge into the harbour and the symphony plays in front of 40,000 people. As a grand finale they play Tchaikovsky's 1812 overture, complete with cannons and fireworks. It was quite the sight, and I was so glad we got to see it as part of our trip!
On our last morning (before we headed to the airport) we took one last stroll around the city. I was on a mission to try Wannawafel, a Belgian waffle shop. Their store-front location is in Market Square and they have multiple mobile units. They make traditional Liege-style waffles (sweeter and more dense) and Brussels-style waffles (lighter and airy with a crisp outside). I ordered a plain Liege waffle - I had to compare it to Edmonton's Eva Sweet waffles! What was the verdict? Well, my Wannawafel treat was tasty, but it was a little doughier and there were fewer crisp sugary bits on the outside so I decided that Eva Sweet's were better (especially the plain maple one).
I was a little sad (okay more than a little sad) to get on the plane back to Edmonton. We had a fantastic vacation and I wished I could spend more time relaxing and wandering the streets of Victoria. Maybe next year...