Hi Folks, I have an amazing friend, I do. My friend got me a ticket for the Dine Around launch party. The what? I am sure you have heard of Dine Around and Stay in Town, no?
Every year, Victoria makes the dark and gloomy month of February a little more fun by launching a restaurant “festival” (and hotel — but we will focus on food today) where the participating restaurants create a 3 course menu for a set price: it could be $20, $30, $40 or even $50. Most restaurants often offers a selection of the set-price menus. For example Agrius has a $30, $40 and $50 menu to chose from.
Every year Dine Around organize a launch party where all the participating establishments offer samples from their menu: a preview of sort of what is going to excite your taste buds. More than 50 restaurants were present at the launch, my duty was to try them all so that was quite a meal, one appetizer at a time. (And I loved every minute of it).
Breweries and Vineyards answered the call as well – and to make the whole more festive the amazing tsigani (eastern european) band BucanBucan was there to entertain us, which they excelled at.
Amongst all these bites, I noticed the trends that have been presents for a couple of years now: Risotto, Tuna, Pork Belly, scallops… all good products! Some trends are emerging: Chicharron, Poke, and beets, a lot of beets. At least beets is a winter vegetable, using what is of season brings immense joy to foodies like me.
A little “dictionary corner” before we dig dip into my selection of favourites:
Chicharron is pork rind, put in a deep frier that bubbles and make a sort of crisp chip. It can be used as a receptacle of pretty much anything you’d like. Poke is another term for Ceviche which is another term for Tartare, it basically means raw, marinated and chopped thinly. Ingredients usually are tuna, salmon or any type of seafood.
After stuffing myself with a million of amazing amuse-bouches my 3 favourites from the samples are – and that means go check it out (for real):
Right next to where I live is Fol Epi – the amazing bakery – and Agrius – the hip place with an open kitchen – Passing by I see that it is always packed on evenings (and lunch). For the launch they were serving their appetizer – on the $50 menu (a little pricey I know) – the tuna Poke on a pork rind crisp – otherwise called Chicharron. That was yum! The freshness of the seaweed and the tuna, the crisp of the bite and the kick of the citrus combined together made for a great gustatory experience. I would continue the meal with the duck breast (cooked rosé – trust me on this!) and chocolate pudding because I can’t say no to chocolate (but really, who can?).
They were serving a tuna Poke on a fried Wonton with a Mango sauce. Yum! It was fresh and fruity with a mixture of texture, crunchy, gooey and soft with a powerful flavour.
Weirdly enough you can’t find the Poke on the Dine Around menu! But, by the quality of the amuse-bouche and having looked at the 2 menu options ($40 and $50), I can guarantee that this Broadmead Village european feel restaurant is a must-try. I would go there and ask for the house made ravioli, followed by the steak-frites and finish with the crepe cheesecake that is making my taste buds dance right now.
The Q @ the Empress
Ah the Q… The rebranding and refurnishing of the previous dining room shows a new lifting and furniture and a will that the Q wants to remain the quintessential establishment it once was. It upholds its reputation after the controversy that the renovations engaged. Well the amuse-bouche that they served at the launch was nothing short of spectacular. Pork Belly served on a vegetable purée au jus and with garden carrots. Served with of course some… Chicharron! Do you start seeing a pattern there ? My love for pork belly will last forever, obviously it is a must-try. That was a sample of the main of the $40 menu, I would start with the roasted winter squash salad and finish with the Yuzu white chocolate curd tart (I am genuinely salivating just writing it down).
Some of the stands were offering samples of dessert from their menu and the two that were my absolute favourites – and that I am craving for more — were:
Table 21 with a Rice Crispy square 2.1: A rice crispy treat covered in chocolate. Gooey, chocolaty, with a crunchy bite that is … just the best!
The Flying Otter had so much love to give in a cup: the best comfort food dessert of the year, probably the century! Imagine a deep-fried cheesecake that you can dip in a cheesecake ice-cream smoothie and with a cookie to finish the look. They call it Extreme Milkshake, I call it “more please”!
I ate so much samplers that I can’t talk about them all but I would like to give a special mention to the ones that caught my palate:
Sen Zushi: Amazing sushi!
Smuggler’s cove: I absolutely loved their tuna tataki on a bed of rice noodle with a ponzu aïoli.
Catalano: Their white bean crostini was to die for! They elevated a simple ingredient, usually not very sexy to perfection.
Little Jumbo: They had duck foie gras and that is always amazing. Plus they do cocktails. Plus their cocktails are delicious.
Another amazing adventure thanks to my awesome friend. My advice is to go try them all on before it’s over. You have until March 5th! Hurry.
Victoria BC, first published February 27, 2017.