Saturday, July 31, 2010

Brasserie L'Ecole

Quadra Island Mussels - harissa, fino sherry, lime gremolatta.

How to dine at one of Victoria's hottest French brasseries on a Saturday night? Go at 10pm, be nice and chances are you'll get a nice table and some wine.

That's my strategy for eating at some of the hottest places worldwide. Go early or go late. Most people want to eat sometime in the middle. Avoid those times. If you go early, then be prepared to finish quickly, as I did at Le Severo in Paris. That way, the restaurant turns their table, takes care of their reservations and you got to eat a meal at a restaurant most people can't seem to get a table.

The praise for Brasserie l'ecole is seemingly universal here in Victoria. Everyone says it's the best place in town. Guess that's enough for me since I'd prefer not to eat at Denny's. Located on Government in Chinatown, it's location seems odd to me. Garish Chinatown to the left and the hookers of Government Street to the right. Guess it's that way in case you want some exercise after dinner.

Medjool Dates with smoked almonds and roquefort cheese.

The food is classic French bistro cuisine. There's an assortment of offerings, like creamed morels, scallops, jamon serrano, poussin, duck confit and the like. However, I'm in the mood for more classic brasserie fare such as steak frites and moules mouclade.

Sadly, most places don't do a curry sauce for their moules but l'ecole is offering a slightly spicy harissa based sauce with local mussels. I opt for that, along with stuffed dates, to start and a glass of the 2007 Chateau Goudrelle Vouvray. It's a perfectly delectable pairing.

Steak - 10z angus NY striploin

Moving on it's Steak Frites and there's an offering of sirloin and NY striploin steaks. To be honest, I'm not a fan of the sirloin or striploin. To my mind, they're a North American aberration because North Americans are too "afraid" of French cuts. Give me onglet or ribeye and I'm very happy. Only offer NY Strip and I'm not impressed.

After spending over a week in France and being in a French-speaking country (Canada) and in a French restaurant, I thought my server would understand when I said that I would like the steak cooked "au point", but he didn't and medium rare would suffice. Oh well, the guy did give great recommendations on wine and mussels so all is forgiven.

The steak itself was cooked properly but the NY Strip lacks the bold flavor I prefer so it's just okay. Good, but okay. Topped with roquefort butter and served with a red wine sauce, it's a classic and paired nicely with a glass of the Chateau de Caraguilhes Corbieres.


The frites were offered either as "Classic" with sea salt or prepared in their special way with duck fat oil and parmesan cheese. Give me the classic preparation because I need no other!!!!

The frites were pretty good. A generous portion for the steak they're cut thin and just about as thin as I can stand. While I think that battered fries are an abomination to mankind, thin crispy fries are almost as bad and should be outlawed by the United Nations. Give me standard cut fries, double fried crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. Short of that, these would do.


As I sat at my table, I couldn't help but express voyeuristic tendencies by watching the couple nearby. So in love, I thought. How pleasant. Holding hands, gazing into each others eyes. She's quite attractive and young. He's older and not as good-looking. What is his secret, I wondered? Maybe he's got something big in his trousers - like a wallet. Maybe he's a genuinely nice guy and landed himself a nice, pretty girl. Well good for them. I thought about sending over some champagne.

Brasserie "l'ecole"
1715 Government Street
Victoria, BC V8W 1Z4
(250) 475-6260

Pink Bicycle

Pink Bike Cheese Burger - look at the way it collapses. Perfect.

The Farm to Table "movement" is generally a good thing. Bring the freshest, seasonal and hopefully best quality produce to the table and everyone is happy. The only problem is that what costs six dollars utilizing industrial agriculture methodology is easily doubled. The double-edge sword of Local and Sustainable is Expensive.

Pink Bicycle is just one of those places. A burger joint that's sourcing high-quality, local and seasonal ingredients and presenting them in a tasty manner - problem is that it's gonna cost you. Perhaps not your first born son but maybe your pinky and little toe you didn't realize you were so fond of.

Anya and the gang wanted to lunch at Pink Bicycle and said to meet at Discovery when she signed off at 12:30pm. They wouldn't be ready to eat until 2p and having only eaten a hard boiled egg and peanut butter toast at 7:30a, I was starving. Quite simply, it was 1pm and I couldn't wait - I was already starting to feel light-headed while driving.

The Meal

The restaurant itself is suitably hip and slightly bohemian. IKEA tables and dining chairs dominate the scene and the chairs are definitely worse for wear. Where once they may have offered support for your derriere, they no longer offer that support. Instead, your butt is sitting in a gap surrounded by the wood framework of the seat. Not comfortable and a true demonstration of why IKEA dining furniture are not ideal for commercial service. Save it for home and toss it in a couple of years.

But I'm not here to sit (I guess not anyway), the staff is friendly and the burgers are waiting. Pink Bicycle has quite an assortment of burgers, from bison to chicken to tuna. While those are nice, a proper burger has to be made of beef and only the Pink Bike Cheese Burger will suffice. According to the menu, the Hereford beef is locally raised here on Vancouver Island and is topped with cheddar cheese and their special sauce. I go for that with the addition of bacon ($2) and the substitution of onion rings instead of french fries ($2), making my burger sixteen dollars.

Long term readers of this blog may think I'm crazy or think they misread the above statement, but yes I did opt for the onion rings instead of the fries. But I'm not that crazy - I decided on an order of Poutine to go with the burger...

My waitress asks if I want the poutine first or together: "Fire them all," I tell her and a short while later, the dishes arrive.

Poutine Soup

The onion rings are quite impressive red onions in a Blue Duck beer batter. They're crispy brown with the right crunch and soft texture inside. Best thing: the onions cut cleanly with your teeth and don't pull out of the batter shell. Win.

The poutine however demonstrates that I should have just ordered a side of fries. The fries themselves seem promising but they're drowning in a sea of brown gravy - which usually is a good thing, unless it's like a soup. Poutine Soup - doesn't sound as appetizing and it isn't. The poutine is topped with the requisite cheese and a heaping of battered and crispy onions and some green onion. Overall, it's nothing to rave about and should easily be passed.

Which brings us to the burger. The cheddar is nice, as is the special sauce. The burger patty itself is perfectly cooked, juicy but is in need of a little more seasoning to bring out the flavor. I add liberal amounts of salt to pop the flavor.

But the real winner and the component that makes this burger stellar is the bun. For the record, I'm a ratio guy. Meaning that I want the ratio of bun to burger to be perfectly balanced. Most places use a bun that's too big and I always end up hollowing the bun out to fit. Other places make the burger itself too big. Short of slicing it in half, the burger is toast.

Here the bun is the star. It comes out big, puffy and huge looking. So much so that at first I'm put off by it. Ugh, I'm thinking that I'm going to have to hollow out yet another bun. As I grab the bun I can tell something is different about it. The crust is smooth yet crispy. I bite and the bun compresses unlike any bun I've eaten before. It's light and airy. The bun is crispy and chewy. It compresses down to the perfect ratio. Holy crap, this is the best burger bun (and therefore burger) I've ever eaten. It's downright stellar and amazing.

The texture of the bun is really amazing. I've never had anything like it. I want to order another just to savor the toasted sesame bun. I ask the waitress who makes the bun. They get it next door. Once my meal is complete (I leave most of the poutine), I beeline next door to speak with someone - anyone. The girl behind the counter doesn't know what they do to the bun but they're sold out. As I walk into the bakery, she's sort of scolding this lady for coming in and buying all their buns - telling her to call ahead next time so they can bake them fresh for her and not rob all these other people (including me) of their bun eating opportunity.

As I leave, she tells me they will ship their buns. I'm hoping that they'll ship them to me in Maryland because those buns were stellar.

Pink Bicycle
1008 Blanshard Street
Victoria, BC V8W2H5
(250) 384-1008

kicking the habit

The barista prepares a mocha.

One of the luxuries of life that I don't normally get to experience is having our coffee at served by someone other than a Spro barista. For years I've been in love with our espresso but since we're the only place on the East Coast of the United States to offer the Hines Spro, I'm unable to go anywhere to drink our espresso or anyone else's interpretation of that espresso.

Which makes it doubly exciting to go somewhere that's "in the family" for a shot of that chocolatey nutty goodness. Which brings me this morning to habit coffee here in Victoria.


Single Espresso.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Julia & Bart Get Married


This is the reason I'm here on this trip. Julia Barber gets married and all is strange in the world. But it's a good thing and I'm surrounded by coffee friends from far and near, though I think I'm the one who's traveled the farthest.


Julia and the girls.

Sammy, Andrea, Anya and Gianni inspect the espresso from Square Mile Coffee.

The Eats: roasted chicken, salmon, saffron rice with corn on the cob and steamed baby carrots.

Square Mile Affogato.

It's not a coffee wedding without a Latte Art Throwdown.

Surprisingly, Sammy gets in on the action.

My latte art in a repurposed Starbucks cup. 16z, please...

With Andrea at the reception.

Ciao Victoria!

Sammy, Sal and Hershey Piccolo outside of Discovery Coffee.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The "Special" Bus

For all you Third Wavers out there...

Coffee Vancouver

Epic Espresso at 49th Parallel. Bright and tasty.

Did a quick tour of some of Vancouver's hippest coffee spots. By no means is this an exhaustive list of coffee joints, just the places that I visited - and I certainly was not highly motivated to visit a lot of places.

49th Parallel is arguably the leader in the Vancouver scene, with everyone else following somewhere behind. In the few short years that they've been open, they've done a remarkable job establishing themselves as a veritable force in the coffee business. From specialty, Third Wave coffee joints to my local William Sonoma - they're seemingly everywhere and more so than American darling Intelligentsia.

While I found the Epic Espresso to be pleasantly bright and acidic by itself, I did not fancy it in milk. To my tastes, it's definitely not a milk-friendly espresso. Better to leave the Epic all by itself and look elsewhere for an espresso to go into milk. Perhaps something with a but more chocolate character to round it out.

49th Piccolo Latte - too bright for milk.

Like Seattle in the United States, Vancouver has long been the leader in the Canadian coffee scene. But I'm here looking for something truly exciting in the PNW. I'm looking for innovative places doing innovative things while brewing up beautiful coffee and I'm finding much of the same. Shops here are either slaves to the Clover Automated Brewer or they're following the fashion of pour over drip bars. Nice but nothing really innovative to get excited about.

Drew had been telling me about a bakery cafe in the Fairmont Hotel that's supposedly serving great baked goods. Since my hotel is about a block away, off I went in the morning to seek out something tasty. There I found Giovanne Cafe, a hip and modern looking cafe with the requisite Fetco brewers and La Marzocco espresso machine. I asked the barista about their drip coffee and he replied with two brews: the Tiger Blend and the dark blend. I didn't ask much about the dark blend and went with the Tiger, along with some sugar and cream.

Tiger Blend drip at Giovanne Cafe. About average.

I wasn't really in the mood for espresso which is why I went for the drip. Not bad, about the same as your average coffee blend. Add some sugar and cream and it's an acceptable accompaniment to the very moist and tasty scone. Winner.

Back at the Hines Origins roastery, I had a nice cappuccino that was a bit on the fresh side (compared to our aged espresso at Spro)but a nice start to our breakfast platter provided by Tony (sorry Becca).

Giovanne White Chocolate Scone - moist and delicious.

From there, it was off to Momento - one of the newest coffee joints in the Vancouver scene and the only shop with a proper vac pot (syphon) bar. We hung out there talking coffee, coffee shop politics and recipes for a while before heading over to the new Elysian Coffee on Broadway.

Elysian is a long-standing local coffee house and this is their newest cafe. It's modern and hip-looking and they're serving coffee from 49th Parallel and Intelligentsia, though word on the street is that they're breaking away to roast their own coffee soon. The environment and presentation is clean and thoughtful though I found their "macchiatto" (quotes mine) to be rather odd.

Cappuccino at Hines.

The Elysian "macchiato" is a four ounce drink in a Gibraltar-style glass. It's easily one of the largest "macchiato" I've ever experienced. Second only in size to the Starbucks Caramel Macchiato, it's more along the lines of the 49th Piccolo Latte, Intelligentsia Gibraltar, Australian Flat White and the rest of the world's Cortado.

There's a lot more to check out in the Vancouver scene but I didn't want to make an entire day of touring cafes and drinking coffee. I had a ferry to catch! Next time we'll hit more cafes.

Breakfast by Tony.

Living the dream at Momento.

A 4oz "macchiatto"(huh?) at Elysian Coffee.

That Old Life

The Trucks Of Production.

Yesterday, as I was arriving at the Renaissance Harborside Hotel, I noticed the young lass wearing a headset and it struck me as odd. She was dressed casually in a white v-neck and dark shorts, not your typical hotel staff uniform. As I checked in with Anna, she informed me that the exercise room would not be available today but they have made arrangements with the Marriott to accommodate our workouts should we need one. I didn't want to disappoint her by telling her that my working out was unlikely.

Turns out they're using the exercise room as a set for a television series.

By the elevators I met location manager Rico Mielnicki and we got to talking about The Biz and the happenings in the Vancouver scene. It's been years since I've worked on a production but it's good to see that film people are still film people no matter where you go in the world.

This morning, on the way to find some bakery at the Fairmont Hotel, I ran into Rico outside by the production vehicles. Again we chatted about the long hours, the merciless producers, the long hours, the short turnarounds and the general cosy life of a film production Teamster driver.

Sometimes I miss the Hurry Up And Wait world of film production, but I'm not yearning to go back.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Eating Carcarille

Jambon et Melon - delicious and a meal unto itself.

Since I wanted us to stay in Gordes in the Luberon, one place kept popping up - the Auberge d'Carcarille. A little hotel at the foot of Gordes with sculpted grounds, lovely decor and reasonable room rates. Then I started to book the room and there was a "pension" surcharge and I had no idea what was going on. A little discussion and translation by Rouki and it turns out that Carcarille adds on the price of two meals to the room.

At first, one is a bit put-off by this but the reviews about their food were all very positive. Book a room and you're guaranteed a table. Add in the potential for really well-prepared food and suddenly it all becomes very promising.

A perfectly selected viognier.

Evidently, you can choose two of three meals in the day. The kitchen prepares breakfast, lunch and dinner and you can select any two services to eat. The breakfast is a nicely prepared buffet of typical French petit dejeuner, lunch is a la carte (I think) but the meal to have is dinner where the kitchen is working at full blast, the dining room is packed and the meals are really good.

The conundrum is that you've now paid for the meals and if you want to journey across Provence to, let's say, Nice or the Italian border, then you probably will not make it back for dinner and you'll lose out on a nice meal that you've already paid for. Better to stay in the Luberon, lounge around the valley, do nothing much in particular and enjoy your meals at Carcarille.

A selection of breads.

Everything is fresh and everything is delicious. From the pan halibut to the tapenade to the wellington. All of it is good and some of it is downright plentiful. The Jambon et Melon the first night was so large, it could have been our entire meal and we would have been satisfied.

Each night we relied on the recommendations of the staff for our wine choices. The wines range from 18€ Ventoux right up to 135€ Chateauneuf du Pape. Our choices were much more modest than the Chateauneuf but all were right on the money. If only I could source these wines at home.

Delicately pan crisped fish.

Three nights in the Luberon and three nights of good eating. By Thursday, we were so used to good meals that we beelined it back from Marseille to make it in time for our outside table for two. I mean really, we've already paid for it, the food is excellent, the table is tough to get in Gordes and they never let us down.

My cheeses.

Ana's selection of cheeses.

The cheese cart - always overflowing.



Another excellent recommendation.

Fried lamb brains.

Getting intimate with brains.

Beef Wellington.

More cheeses

Little fried profiteroles.

Ana's cherry tart.


Olive Tapenade

Another excellent recommendation.

Pork Terrine

Roasted duck.

Ana's cheeses.

More cheeses.

Lemon dessert shake with limoncello side.