Couldn’t have picked a more gorgeous and sunny weekend to visit British Columbia’s capital. It was March and I was sitting on a patio, in a long-sleeved t-shirt, sipping a sangria. And yes, let’s skip right to the patios, or more precisely, the food. I preferred to sidestep the minefield of tourist traps (Undersea Gardens, anyone?) and instead enjoy Victoria’s chill vibe over a few drinks and bites to eat. A friend and I got on the ferry from Vancouver as foot passengers, so our choices were limited to anything within walking distance of Victoria’s Inner Harbour. Which with the exception of missing out on Sooke Harbour House, was really not a limitation at all, as downtown is the hub of Victoria’s food scene. If you go, be sure to check ahead, as many places close Sundays.
The Pink Bicycle, a gourmet burger joint, was the first stop for a quick lunch after the 45 minute bus ride from the ferry terminal. The Pink Bicycle was voted Best Burger in the City 2009-11. I was cautiously excited, as I had also read that a lot of Victoria restaurants are very much overhyped. I was comforted by prospect of quality ingredients:
All ingredients are sourced as close to home as seasonally possible to ensure freshness and to encourage sustainability. All dishes hand made daily and all oils used are top quality and trans fat free to ensure taste and health. Soups are made daily from ingredients sourced from local farms.
The restaurant was small and dim with boring décor. I had hoped for more charm and funk with a name like The Pink Bicycle. First impressions matter, and I actually hesitated as I first set foot inside.
The ambiance was alright. Several kids eating with their families. No hipsters in sight. Seemed like where the locals might eat – a good sign. It was busy and service was lacking. The servers were nice, although not overly friendly.
Several burgers beckoned me. I chose the Blue Cheese Lamb Burger (local organic lamb infused with savory rosemary apricot pesto and topped with rich blue cheese & zesty lime mayo) with house salad. They had gluten-free buns, but after checking the ingredients, I went bunless (gluten-free does not equal paleo). The burger was tasty, and I appreciated the quality ingredients. Clearly this home-style type of burger is in a different league from most other restaurants, and all fast food joints. However, the excessive charring of the meat stole the show from the lamb – it tasted burnt. The house salad, on the other hand, was very good.
My friend had the Local Swine Burger (Stillmeadow Farm Berkshire pork bursting with flavors of teriyaki green onion and ginger, topped with grilled pineapple & Little Qualicum Gruyere) with a gluten-free bun and truffle fries. He wasn’t a fan of the weird texture of the bun - it didn’t keep its shape and disintegrated quickly. Also, he had expected the Berkshire pork to really shine through, which it did not. He did enjoy the fries, which were more savory than regular non-truffle fries.
Overall, I can see why people like the burgers here – quality ingredients and decent portion size. Unfortunately, we both felt that the burgers sounded better on the menu than they actually tasted. I also felt that my burger was overpriced at $15. I think some more attention to ambiance as well as not burning the burgers could go a long way, as I’m definitely a supporter of The Pink Bicycle’s dedication to quality local fare.
The main foodie attraction of the trip was dinner at Zambri’s, an Italian restaurant selected as “Best Restaurant in Victoria” by Vancouver Magazine, among other accolades. It had been featured in the documentary, Tableland, in which Chef Peter Zambri spoke highly of local food and top notch ingredients. I couldn’t wait to try it out.
Thankfully Zambri’s now allows reservations, because it was a full house when we arrived. The space is beautiful – bright, cheerful, and sophisticated. They have the main room with a bar, a side room, and a cool atrium space.
Expectations were high, elevated further by the lovely décor. I really, really wanted to like everything about Zambri’s. But unfortunately, with the exception of the appetizers, our experience started to unravel shortly after being seated.
The service was, well, where was the service? Our server was almost never there. Not to ask how our food was, or if we needed anything, or to replenish our empty glasses. When she was there, she wasn’t chatty or friendly. And we had to wait a long time, for everything.
The menu changes often – I recommend doing checking it the day of to make sure there’s something you like, because:
Substitutions politely declined. While modifications & substitutions may seem easy to accommodate, these requests compromise the unique characteristics of our food & the efficiency of our service.
Also, if you have allergies, are Celiac, or are otherwise strict with your diet, this might not be the place for you:
PLEASE NOTE – ALL OLIVES MAY HAVE PITS, PASTA IS FINISHED WITH CHEESE UNLESS THEY CONTAIN SEAFOOD IN THE SHELL, OUR KITCHEN HANDLES ALL FORMS OF FISH, SEAFOOD, NUTS, MUSHROOMS, WHEAT AND DAIRY
Neither of the above were an issue for me personally, but I don’t particularly appreciate such inflexibility, especially at this price point.
On to the best part of the meal – the appetizers. This may have been the best appetizer I’ve ever had – the Goat Cheese Pannacotta (pannacotta layered with marinated beets & pears, grapefruit gelato & pistachio dust). Serving me an appetizer that could easily pass for a decadent dessert is a sure way to win me over. Gelato, on top of pannacotta? Yes, please. The flavors, the textures, the ingredients, I was in foodie heaven.
My friend ordered the soup special – I wish I had noted its name. It was some sort of vegetable medley with white beans, which he said was amazing. The vegetables were so fresh they had a sort of “bounce” to them texturally.
For the main, I selected the Bison “Caccia” (bison brisket in a hunter style mushroom & vegetable sauce served with potatoes). Sadly, it was just “okay”. I love bison, but the flavor of the meat just didn’t shine through in this dish. And I know bison is lean, but for slow cooked meat, I found it tougher than I’d expect. The sauce and potatoes were good, but nothing special. I feel like I could’ve had this dish at any other nice restaurant.
My friend had the veal scaloppine saltimbocca (served with a marsala cream sauce & polenta).
Saltimbocca: a dish (popular in southern Switzerland, Italy, Spain and Greece) made of veal lined or topped with prosciutto and sage; marinated in wine, oil or saltwater depending on the region or one’s own taste. – Wikipedia
Neither of us have an aversion to either salt or sage. In fact, we both like salty foods. When I tried it, I thought it was incredible. The problem was that after a several bites, my friend felt the flavors of salt and sage were simply overpowering to the point of him not really wanting to finish his meal. He did really enjoy the polenta though.
We opted to skip dessert for a few reasons: service was slow, we were disappointed with the main, we already had a couple of really tasty drinks made with fresh blood orange juice, my appetizer already somewhat satisfied my sweet tooth, and from reading the menu I suspected there might be gluten in all the choices.
Overall, we both left feeling underwhelmed. Of course, the meal wasn’t terrible, in fact the appetizers were fantastic. But the mains and service were a letdown, especially for a place of this supposed caliber.
Victoria Marriot Inner Harbour – Concierge Lounge
We happily managed to avoid BC Ferries’ so-called food both ways, and further lucked out with the food options at the Victoria Marriot Inner Harbour Hotel. After paying a reasonable upgrade fee for access to the Concierge Lounge, we could munch on snacks throughout the day (fruit and cheese), appetizers in the evening (cheese platter, roasted/marinated veggie platter, and a hot dish like pork stew – could serve as a light supper), and dessert (limited – more cheese and fruit). Most importantly, you get breakfast (deli meat plate, hardboiled eggs, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, fruit, coffee/tea station). There were, of course, other non-paleo food options available as well (cakes, pastries, breads, porridge, cereals, etc.). My expectations were very much exceeded by all the primal-friendly fare available.
Day 1 was a good start to a foodie tour of Victoria – what would Day 2 bring? Check back tomorrow to find out in Part 2 of Primal(ish) in Victoria.