Monday, June 23, 2014

How are things on the West Coast

Pretty damn tasty, as it turns out. Chris and I just spent eleven days out in "Super, Natural" British Columbia (no, seriously, that's the slogan on the tourism signs, and I love it), and it is truly gorgeous there. So much so that neither of us was in any mad hurry to come home. If we could have had the cats shipped out there, we might have stayed.

We started off in Victoria, where my annual work conference took place this year. It was, as always, a very busy and stressful few days for me and my coworkers, but in the end it went off very well and all the delegates seemed to have a great experience.

Our first night in Victoria, we joined a couple of my coworkers and walked down to Red Fish Blue Fish on Wharf Street. It's an old shipping container that's been converted into a food "truck" and sells fish tacos, fish and chips, and various sandwiches. Chris tried out the fish and chips and a tuna "tacone" - seared albacore with slaw in a tortilla - while I mowed down on a grilled oyster sandwich. The FOUR oysters on this thing were gigantic, smoky from the grill and tasted of sea and salt. YUM.

Before the actual conference started I had a little free time here and there, so one day I got to go meet Chris for lunch at Rebar Modern Food, a tiny place that's been serving vegetarian and pescatarian food since 1991. There's a good reason they're still in business - the food is terrific. I had this gorgeous smoked salmon scramble, with hot smoked BC sockeye, dill, cream cheese and scallions, alongside roasted red potatoes and delicious sourdough toast with this crazy-good mango and lemon curd, and oven-roasted tomato salsa. Mind-blowing. Chris had the daily special, a quesadilla with local tiny shrimp, mango and white cheddar, with coriander creme fraiche for dipping. Just killer stuff, simple and well-executed. Lovely people serving, too.

We had made plans ahead of time to have dinner with the editor of the magazine I work on at my job. She and her husband flew out from Winnipeg so she could attend the conference, and then they went hiking - brave souls. So on Saturday night we all met up at Ferris' Oyster Bar and Grill, where we ate all manner of delicious fish and seafoods, including the nicest ceviche I've ever enjoyed, some hot and cold-smoked fish, and seared scallops with pork belly, leeks and romesco (must. replicate). Mains were equally divine - halibut with white beans and crisped prosciutto for Chris, and seared albacore tuna Nicoise salad for me. Everything on that plate was at the peak of its freshness and flavour, from the fish to the heirloom cherry tomatoes, the french green beans to the lettuces and potatoes. A creamy herb-laced dressing brought it all together without being too heavy or overpowering. I could have licked the plate.

(sorry for the blurry low-light photo. Dim light in that lovely place.)

In a nod to the late hour and need for me to rise early, we forewent the dense chocolate brownie (though my editor's husband had it and pronounced it perfection) and shared a puff pastry topped with macerated strawberries and hibiscus cream that felt like spring incarnate. What a meal.

Then it was three days of conference food for me, though in general it was very delicious conference food, as it was a Fairmont property and they know how to hire a great culinary team. Chris went back to Red Fish Blue Fish and over to Foo Asian Street Food, though, and had great meals. We attempted to hit the Blue Fox Cafe on our last morning in Victoria, but they were unexpectedly closed due to a small kitchen fire. We were so sad but what can you do except wish them well?

Once the conference wrapped up, Chris and I headed north, up and across Vancouver Island over mountains and around lakes (the drive is hair-raising, but stunning) to Canada's surfer paradise, Tofino. We rented a condo in the village and our four-night stay was utterly idyllic. Wednesday evening we had some lovely locally sourced sushi and sashimi at Tough City - albacore tuna and wild sockeye salmon, plus a Cali roll with real Dungeness crab. Mmm.

Thursday it rained steadily all day, which was sort of wonderful as it gave me the excuse to be completely and utterly lazy most of the day, something I needed desperately. I sat on the very comfy couch and read an entire novel. We watched the movie One Week, which was partially filmed in Tofino, on Netflix. It was amazingly restorative just to be.

We did venture out for lunch and to procure a raincoat for Chris (he needed one anyway). We both had a craving for pizza that SoBo satisfied in a spectacular fashion. Mine had prosciutto, arugula, spinach, ricotta, tomatoes and roasted garlic; Chris's was topped with shiitakes, portobellos, herb pesto, caramelized onion, cheese and more fresh greens.

He had house-made ice cream for afters -  a scoop each of toasted coconut, peanut butter and vanilla that were all just divine. I took a slice of their much-lauded key lime pie to go and ate it for mid-afternoon snack - an excellent decision, as it was some of the best pie I have ever eaten, hands-down. Perfectly balanced between sweet and tart, with shavings of lime rind and unsweetened whipped cream. Incredible.

Friday we lunched at Tacofino Cantina, the local food truck sensation parked at the back of a surf shop parking lot. Two long tables carved from huge tree trunks, metal chairs, and perfect fish tacos. Mine were tempura lingcod with slaw and fresh salsa, and they win first prize for fish tacos so far in my life. Chris had a tuna taco (seared albacore with soy, sesame, seaweed and pickled ginger) and a black bean (messy but delish).  A tart lime-mint slushie cooled us off. We followed up with a scoop each of homemade ice cream from Chocolate Tofino - salted caramel for me, mint chocolate flake for Chris. We're so predictable.

We loved SoBo so much we went back for lunch on Saturday and ate all of their seafood. Well, nearly all - Chris had their award-winning smoked fish chowder, and a lovely salad of greens and seared albacore tuna with ginger-soy dressing. I, meanwhile, enjoyed their house ceviche with halibut, prawns and scallops, as well as some crispy shrimp cakes. We split another piece of that insanely good pie for dessert and wished we could take an entire one home with us.

Our waitress was an absolute hoot - we told her how much we were loving Tofino and she said she'd upped sticks and sold her business in the Okanagan to move here a few years back but realized she needed to work somewhere that provided benefits - "What if something happens to my teeth?" she said, in all seriousness. Good point. Made us think twice about having the cats shipped out.

So the thing is, by the time we even got to Tofino we'd both been eating out for six days, and while that's fun, both of us were craving simpler food with less salt and fat and more vegetables. Over our sushi on Wednesday night we decided that we would eat lunch out while tripping around Tofino, and cook breakfast and dinner at the apartment. So we bought a small stash of groceries and visited the Tofino Fish Store on a daily basis to select something toothsome for our evening meal. Thursday night it was locally-caught wild sockeye salmon with local new potatoes mashed with butter and yogurt, and some sauteed peppers and shallots. Lemon, salt and pepper were the only seasonings I used and nothing more was needed.

It all tasted so awesome that we basically ate the same thing Friday night, only minus the shallots and swapping out Pacific ling cod for the salmon. We did get our daily salmon quotient in the form of a couple of "salmon nuggets" - chunks of candied smoked wild salmon that we munched as a small appetizer. I saw them in the glass case at the fish store and had to ask... They are sweet, smoky and utterly addictive, like fish candy. Dangerous. Very dangerous. Saturday night we bought four more of those nuggets - could not help ourselves - and some BC spot prawns, which I shelled and sauteed with some chopped grape tomatoes and fresh basil, and tossed with fettucine, lemon zest, and soft goat cheese. Again, crazy simple but utterly delicious and fresh.

Sunday morning it was, sadly, time to make the long drive back to Victoria. On our way up there on Wednesday we stopped, at the suggestion of several people, in a tiny town called Coombs where there is a market and cafe called Goats on Roof. It is just as advertised - the roof is covered in grass, and goats graze upon it, and occasionally bray at customers below - and it is delightful. They make a killed sandwich and lovely salads, and you can buy many fancy imported food products there, something that you would otherwise likely have to drive all the way into Victoria to do. It's an absolute hoot, and so we made a point of stopping there on our way back south.

Our last meal in B.C. was, at Chris' request, back at Rebar, and no regrets. I had that shrimp quesadilla, he had shrimp fried rice, all of those tiny shrimps came from Tofino waters, and we felt that we had closed the circle perfectly. We each had a freshly squeezed juice to boost our immune systems and spirits before the overnight flights that brought us safely home again this morning. 

It's lovely to be home, but both of us were mesmerized by B.C.'s beauty, which owes so much to its geography - everywhere you look there's a mountain, a forest, a sparkling lake or the endless ocean - sometimes all at once. We feel so fortunate to have had the chance to explore a part of our country that was virtually unknown to us before, and we're already plotting our return. Truthfully I can say that the food culture there is incredible - I'd even rank it above Vermont's in terms of dedication to local, fresh, seasonal food and creative preparation. From Wednesday through Sunday, I ate nothing that was not absolutely delicious. What a place. Get on a plane and go, seriously. But save me some pie.

1 comment:

Xine said...

Makes me want to pack up the cat and get on a plane back to the Island! My mouth is still watering at your exquisite descriptions of all that deliciousness. We are indeed lucky to have such a place in our beautiful country.