Well, as we promised, we’re devoting the last Saturday of every month to celebrating the food of Victoria! As we mentioned in our first food post, we’re not professional food reviewers but we both have some background in the food industry and we both enjoy good food. Also as mentioned in our first post, we’re only going to write about places we’d like to visit again!
March has been a busy month for us, including a welcome visit from a friend of ours from Ontario. To that end, we’ve been eating out a fair bit lately. This being our third food post we’re going to profile three places here, and we’ll put them in alphabetical order.
The Fireside Grill is in Victoria’s north end (actually the city of Saanich), on West Saanich Road. Although we’re not sure of the exact size of the property, it’s fairly large with some nice garden areas and a small pond at the back near the patio. We both thought it would make a lovely spot for a wedding reception. Inside the restaurant seems quite spacious, with soaring cathedral ceilings. The decor put us both in mind of a Swiss hunting lodge, but the menu leans more toward the Italian, with a possible Greek influence.
We both started the meal with Caesar salad and bruschetta. The salad was typical but unremarkable; the bruschetta on the other hand was very good, and served on a long plate with drizzles of aged balsamic vinegar. When I make bruschetta I stick to tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, garlic and basil, but these were kicked up a notch (as Emeril would say), and included cherry tomato halves, goat’s cheese, bacon, olive oil, fresh basil and possibly a hint of pistachio or pine nut? Very good anyway.
For the main course Marcia had the Marinated Lamb Sirloin and I opted for the New York steak. The chef’s recommendation for the lamb was medium-rare, and from both the expressions on Marcia’s face and my small taste, it was a wonderful combination of flavours. I like my steak rare and asked for it that way, but unfortunately it came medium-rare to medium instead. There was a large party at the adjacent table, and since my voice has a low timbre it’s possible the server didn’t hear me properly. Although overcooked for my preference, the flavours were great. Marcia’s meal came with potato gratin, beets and was served on a bed of kale. The steak came with mushrooms and roast potato fingers but no vegetables, something I thought a little odd – to add colour if nothing else.
And then came dessert. Both were excellent; well prepared and elegantly presented. Marcia had the flourless chocolate cake and I went with the raspberry hazelnut torte. We finished the meal with two espressos. The cost is ‘normal’ for a high-end restaurant, and we’d definitely go again!
Paradiso Di Stelle
Paradiso Di Stelle is located in downtown Victoria at Bastion Square. Bastion Square was once of historic significance to this area, being the location of the original Fort Victoria. Bastion Square has a number of shops and markets, including Renaissance Books, which is a potentially dangerous/expensive (i.e. very tempting) place for us to visit! But we’ll save that for another post.
How to describe Paradiso Di Stelle? Walking through the doors you feel like you’ve been transported to the Amalfi coast of Italy. There’s even a large photograph of the town of Positano on the one wall. The colours are bright – orange and yellow, and this is contrasted with natural stone walls. We’ve been there several times, for a quick coffee, for gelato, and for lunch. We brought our friend there for lunch, actually. As you might imagine, the menu is primarily Mediterannean, but not exclusively so. I had a very good Thai chicken soup there, and they have wonderful cinnamon buns too! They offer soups, salads, panini (grilled sandwiches), pasta and more. They may be best known, though, for their homemade gelati (Italian ice cream). There are easily a dozen different flavours, and we won’t rest until we’ve tried them all! If you’re downtown, looking for lunch or a quick coffee break, Paradiso is definitely a recommended stop. In sunnier times there’s also an outdoor patio with views of Bastion Square and the inner harbour.
We first went to the Tapa Bar yesterday as our introduction to ‘Dining Out for Life‘. Dining Out for Life is an international event to raise money for HIV/AIDS – participating restaurants donate 25% of their food revenue to this cause during this event. It’s a Win/Win occasion as the customers get to support a worthy idea without paying more than they normally would for a meal (and an excuse to eat out, for those who need one), restaurants get exposure and new (potentially returning) clients, and AIDS research gets funding.
The Tapa Bar is also in downtown Victoria, a little bit out of the way on Trounce Alley. That’s not a bad thing per se, as it’s one place local Victorians would like to keep to themselves. As the name suggests, the Tapa Bar serves tapas. There’s some discussion over the origin of the word tapas, but the idea comes originally from Spain. Essentially tapas are ‘small plates’, varieties of snacks, appetizers and other foods, originally served with sherry and other apperatifs. Whatever the origin, tapas today means a variety of different foods, served on small plates and meant to be shared. While one could certainly go alone to the Tapa Bar, it’s much more fun to be with others and share the foods around. As to how many plates/ person? It depends on your appetite of course, but 1-2 plates/ person would be a good start. If you finish all of those and are still hungry you can certainly order more!
The choices of tapas at the Tapa Bar are many. According to their menu there are over fifty different choices, segmented into soups, salads, vegetarian, seafood, duck, chicken, beef, pork, pasta and pizza. There’s also dessert, but we’ll get to that in a moment. For our first try we settled on four plates: Latin Caesar Salad, Chile Relleno, Rice and Beans, and House Smoked Chicken Breast Salad, washed down with two (unsweetened!) Iced Teas. That left us just enough room for dessert and a pair of espressos. The food was very good, and very well presented.
Tapas may have its roots in Spain, but the Tapa Bar definitely has a Latin influence as well – the atmosphere is more Samba than duende. Some of the food choices are a LITTLE spicy, but nothing Marcia couldn’t handle. A gentle kick to the taste buds.
For dessert we split a chocolate lava cake, which came served on a bed of blueberry coulis and was accompanied by strawberry gelato and lemon whipped cream. The espresso was among the best I’ve ever had in Victoria, although Marcia found that the sweetness of the dessert and the slight bitterness of the espresso didn’t really complement each other. To each his own, or her own as the case may be.
Okay, that’s it for now. Yes, I did promise to include some recipes in our Food category at some point, and I will. Maybe some chocolate recipes to start with, as Easter is coming after all.
P.S. You can read more of our Food posts and restaurant reviews here.