Hello, Dear Reader:
If you’ve read our other ‘Food‘ blogs you’ll know that we both have some background in the hospitality industry. We’ve also travelled extensively (both individually and together) over the years, and when one has gotten used to eating in restaurants day in and day out for months at a time, the novelty wears off very quickly. Having said that, we both enjoy a really good restaurant, and a few weeks back we realized that we had yet to discover Victoria’s ‘signature‘ restaurant. In other places we’ve lived we’ve found that there is usually one place, sometimes a very few, that we come to associate with that particular area. When we lived in Ontario, for example, Ottawa’s signature restaurant was Chef Pierre. In Kingston it was Mino’s. In Toronto there was Penelope’s and The Old Mill. We’ve tried some good and very good restaurants in Victoria (and one we chose not to write about), but so far, nothing really defining. For us a signature restaurant is about more than just the food; it’s about the ‘experience‘. Good food is a given, but there are a few restaurants that, for various reasons really go above and beyond in providing a combination of wonderful tastes, presentation, exemplary service, ambience and an excellent overall evening.
Well, September 18 marked our 190th Monthaversary of being a couple so we made a reservation for dinner at CafÃ© Brio. We’re very glad we did. Situated on Fort St. a short walk from the Inner Harbour, from the sidewalk CafÃ© Brio appears unpretentious, almost hidden. In fact, were it not for the tantalizing aromas cascading out into the street, it would be easy to walk by without noticing it was there. A vine-covered stone wall and portico leads to a small courtyard and beyond that to the front door.
Co-owner Greg greeted us as we entered, and, noting our reservation, offered us a choice of four seating locations. Based on old habits we took a table by the kitchen. When we were resort managers such a vantage point allowed us to survey the room and make quiet comments to our staff as they passed. Greg took our coats for us and left us to peruse the menu. The idea of being ‘unpretentious’ carried on inside; instead there was more of a feeling of being at ‘home’. The dining room is large and open, with a cathedral ceiling and skylights. An assortment of artwork decorates the walls; much of the art is for sale to those interested. Linen napkins adorned the tables, but there was nothing ‘fancy’ simply for the sake of being so. Wooden tables and chairs, hardwood floors, and music loud enough to be heard without overpowering conversation. We had a quick look through the wine list but we don’t drink, so Marcia had a San Pellegrino and Mike ordered an iced tea (unsweetened). The tea had a curious tang to it that we finally decided was wintergreen. Quite refreshing!
The menu is based on ‘fresh‘ and ‘local‘, and ‘organic‘ wherever possible. Because of that the food offered is always ‘in season‘ and the menu changes daily. By the salad course we were undone, and we had to stop Silvia ( co-owner) to let her know. We’d ordered a salad of mixed greens with roasted beets, walnuts and chevre (fresh goat cheese) and it was exquisite – easily the best salad we’d had in a very long time. The dressing seemed to have a mustard base mixed with orange juice perhaps… we’d be guessing at the rest. For the main course Marcia ordered the lamb, and Mike had the rockfish. The lamb came with a Laguiole knife as a steak knife – an elegant touch but completely unnecessary as the lamb was so well prepared it literally shredded at a touch of the fork. The rockfish was equally well prepared, the vegetables perfectly al dente… All in all, sublime. We should mention that every item is available as either a full order or a half order for those with smaller appetites and those who’d like to mix and match various smaller plates. We finished the meal with an espresso, and since we were having a difficult time choosing a dessert to sample it was fortunate for us that they offered a sampler platter – the best crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©e we’ve ever had, biscotti, lemon sorbet and a chocolate truffle.
The food was excellent, but as we mentioned at the beginning of this post, a wonderful dining experience for us is about more than just the food. This is where the CafÃ© Brio truly excelled. When we managed our resort we would have given much to have the staff that work in this restaurant. Everyone from the owners on down is aware of every table, unobtrusive but accommodating. There were many simple things: like a dinner knife, dirtied during the salad course, that was discretely replaced before the next course arrived. The care that went into every action was evident from everyone. Greg is friendly but reserved, Silvia is wonderfully effusive, and their staff are a treasure.
Are there any other restaurants in Victoria that can match the CafÃ© Brio for a consummate dining experience? Potentially. Maybe. Perhaps. We haven’t yet been to every restaurant in town. But based on our first experience at CafÃ© Brio, for now we can imagine everyone else vying for second.
Marcia and Mike.
P.S. You can read more of our Food posts and restaurant reviews here.