Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A month of birthdays

So my birthday was this past month. And my loved ones and I decided to stretch it out as long as possible. It started back in May, with our Girls' weekend in Palm Springs.

Then Prez decided we should go out to dinner the week before my birthday because she was going to be out of town the actual day of.

We went over the list of restaurants we want to try (yep, we keep a list of restaurants), and decided on Whisknladle.

I had a harrowing day - one of those days that seem like they're never going to end. And by the time I got to the restaurant (15 minutes late) Prez could sense my anxiety. "Let's get you a drink," she said. Like magic a server arrived to whisk away my troubles with a drink containing cava, tequila, and tamarind agave.

After a drink we were ready to order. Even though we had specifically chosen not to go to one of our favorite Italian restaurants, we both ended up with pasta.

I had the potato ravioli, made with potatoes from our very own local Chino Farms (a MUST stop if you're in the area). The ravioli were served atop baby swiss chard and in a parmesan broth. But what sold me on the dish, was the slow cooked egg which was perched on the ravioli. The egg yolk mixed with the parmesan broth to create a really creamy sauce - similar to a carbonara. Prez didn't order the dish because she was worried it would be creamy like alfredo, but after one bite she gave me the "wanna trade?" look. Since Prez's pasta didn't have any cheese, I wasn't tempted.

Prez saw the tagliatelle bolognese on someone else's table and she had to have it herself. Beside the noodles, the sauce contained slow roasted beef, porcini, and rosemary. I tried a bite of hers and the tagliatelle was perfectly al dente.

Normally Prez and I aren't tempted by dessert, but there was just something so intriguing about this strawberry shortcake. I mean, start off with a buttermilk biscuit (a FABULOUS way to start), and then top it with strawberries and candied kumquats. And, because that's simply not enough, add some basil whipped cream. I discovered the deliciousness of basil and strawberry years ago, and this played off all my favorites.

It was a fabulous birthday dinner, and there was plenty more celebrating in store for me.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Victori-as Part 5: Local Eats

I know you're all dying to hear about the fabulous food we ate in Victoria. Especially because British Columbia is known for its commitment to fresh and local eating. My favorite kind.

Thatmom loved her first Tapas experience. So I thought it would be great to include a great small plates restaurant in Victoria.

Stage Wine Bar features wines by the taste, glass, and bottle, as well as small plates made with locally sourced ingredients.

They describe the setting as open and industrial - which means interesting art and giant chalk boards which list the day's specialty wines. Since the bar only seats 50 people, we went for an early dinner. By the time we left, each seat was filled.

We began with one of the special plates, a duck confit spring roll. SO delicious, a really great start to the meal. The duck was rich and sweet, the perfect counterpoint to the crunchy spring roll wrapper.

We kind of went crazy with the cheese plate. We ordered one, with all Canadian cheeses, and they were so delicious, we got a second plate.

I think we tried every cheese on the menu - which changes daily. I have no memory of what we ordered, which cheeses. But really, can you go wrong with cheese?

Stage Bar makes their own sausage. HOLY MOLY - You can buy this stuff to take home, and if we weren't traveling internationally I completely would have. So much of it. I would have brought home bags of it. But something tells me it would have driven those drug sniffing dogs crazy. We began with the heirloom pork sausage over pommes puree with a roast garlic reduction. We were planning on just having one sausage, to try them out. And it quickly required we try another.

The chicken sausage with pistachio, apple and sage was just as good. Served over roasted local squash, we kept trying to figure out which we preferred. There was no real winner. Except us.

I've been really good about not posting random pictures of bread baskets when we eat out. But here, the rustic house made bread was just too good not to. We originally got it to enjoy with our cheese, but we might have eaten it all before the cheese got there. So we ordered another basket.

I've been trying to get Thatmom to try Halloumi for a while now. And when I saw there was a grilled halloumi on the menu, I made sure we ordered it. Served over local tomatoes with an herb vinaigrette. It was another winner. Thatmom was as big a fan of halloumi as I thought she would be, and Thatboy was thrilled to discover that the "local tomatoes" were heirlooms.

Thatmom was NOT interested in the pork belly with spiced pepitas, but she was quickly outvoted. She had a couple bites before she asked what she was eating. When we told her THIS was the pork belly she didn't want, she was shocked. It was so much better than she thought it would be. Crispy, glazed, sweet, and insanely tender. And I do love the pepitas they sprinkled overtop.

When I saw gnocchi on the menu, I knew I wanted to get it, no matter what it came with. Luckily it came with lamb - oh delicious lamb. And goat cheese. Could you ask for three more perfect foods to enjoy together?

Thatmom decided we needed another vegetable dish. And we're both huge fans of dark greens. UDubb and I had earlier mentioned how delicious the braised winter greens sounded, so they were on our list of vegetables to try next. And having them topped with crispy goat cheese was just a bonus. Have you noticed how cheese centered our dinner was? The greens came in a nice vinaigrette, giving the whole dish a good vinegary flavor which was balanced by the tomatoes.

We were going to skip dessert, until the server told us the Creme Brulee was some of the best he'd ever had. And so we ordered one to try it. It was creme brulee, but layered over a warm fruit confit, so you had the contrast of the silky cream and the sweet warm fruit. A really interesting combination.

The next morning we had our final meal in Victoria, some would say it was the most important meal of the day. For a group of people planning on spending a day on the plane, it kind of was the most important meal of the day. We therefore took the meal very seriously by dining at Shine Cafe.

There's a note on the menu of Shine that they are more than happy to accommodate any modifications or substitutions. And we very much took advantage of that situation.

Thatbrother made his own egg white omelet with peppers, mushrooms, and sausage.

Thatmom saw that they made benedicts and had them create one especially for her - an english muffin with a slice of cheddar cheese, and a poached egg on top. Both Thatmom and I both loved the fact that you could get half a benedict, because neither of us can finish a whole one.

UDubb went with the Quesadilla del Sol - a whole wheat tortilla stuffed with scrambled eggs, bell peppers, mushrooms, onions, and melted cheddar.

Thatboy went sweet as always and ordered the french toast, with cinnamon sauteed apples on top.

As for me, I got the maharaja benedict. It was so good I didn't even want to give Thatboy a bite. But I did anyway. Chicken breast with caramelized onions and avocado, topped with a curry hollandaise. The hollandaise was both spicy and sweet, so delicious. Those weird shaped pita looking things were scottish potato scones. Thatbrother and I both got some to try, and they were pretty interesting. Similar to a scallion pancake I make at home, but obviously without the scallion. Just a nice potato-ey pancake. It soaked up my extra hollandaise perfectly.

So that's it folks, the end of our Victoria travels. We spent the rest of the day traveling back to our respective homes and getting ready to get back to our regularly scheduled lives. But it's always nice to get away, and we're already looking forward to our next trip!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Victori-as Part 4: You Can Learn a Lot of Things from the Flowers

Especially in the month of May! The number one tourist attraction in Victoria is The Butchart Gardens, and rightfully so.

This was Thatmom's first trip to any type of "gardens" and she remarked that it was exactly what she would imagine a garden to look like. It was so visibly stunning that I'll let the pictures do most of the story telling, just inserting a bit of explanatory narration.

As I've noted earlier, the weather was a bit uncooperative while we were in Victoria, but it made the gardens less crowded than they normally are. And the gardens were happy to provide umbrellas for us. Plus, cloudy weather makes for excellent pictures.

The garden is divided into several sections. Probably the most famous section is the "Sunken Gardens" which was actually where the gardens began. The area originally served as a rock quarry for Robert Butchart's cement factory. When the rocks were gone, his wife Jennie turned the empty quarry into this gorgeous garden which reminds me of something out of Alice in Wonderland.

Behold, our subject, tourist americanus:

It appears we've been spotted.

And even more Wonderland-y, The Butchart Gardens features a carousel.

And catering to me (obviously) I'm fairly certain these were brought in purely for my amusement. (Yay totems!)

I know we have super tall trees in California, but there's just something about the view looking up that makes you feel so insignificant.

And around every corner there was a hidden pond. Since it wasn't too crowded, it made us feel like our own private hideaway.

At one point, Thatboy and I followed a little path and found ourselves the only two people enjoying a view of this peaceful inlet.

This is one of my favorite pictures I've ever taken.

There were dancing fountains that could give the Bellagio a run for it's money.

And other fountains.

And my favorite natural wonder - waterfalls. I never tire of watching them. It must be how Thatboy feels about watching the waves in the ocean.

I'll end this with the most important part of the gardens, the flowers. Vibrant and beautiful, it was as if each petal was painstakingly crafted. (Or as if the Queen of Hearts had her cards on duty to make sure it looked so.)

Up Next: Our last meals in Victoria!