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.