Summer 2006 Dining Update
Just like South Park’s Chef, restaurants in Victoria come and go – although rarely with the same degree of gory cartoon violence. Here are some of the notable changes the dining scene's made recently as it gears up for the tourist season.
First, the bad news. Arabian Nights (page 108 in the book), the only place to feast on chicken tagine and smoke a hookah afterwards, is gone. So is the downtown location of Patisserie Daniel (page 113), although it’s still selling muffins and pastries from its bakery at 1729 Cook Street. Kun Ming Chow, the legendary chef at the Jade Garden (109) has departed, and now the place serves plain Cantonese cuisine, not worth the trip.
The lovable Jamaican Jerk House has relocated downtown, to 607 Pandora Avenue. It’s Chef’s kind of place, great for goat curry or ackee with salt fish, washed down with ginger beer, but the best deal is the $10 jerk chicken buffet on Fridays until 8 pm, followed by live reggae bands. The central outlet of Ali Baba Pizza (page 114) has moved around the corner to 775 Fort Street, but its grotty, bus-station ambiance has been preserved.
Two excellent businesses are changing hands. Christine Eng, creator of the beloved Shady Creek Ice Cream (109), has sold her enterprise to a member of a US family of grocery and restaurant owners. And the owners of the Parsonage Café in Fernwood have bought Fairfield Fish and Chips (112), home of the best takeout burger in town. Will their high standards remain intact? Time – and this blog – will tell.
The residents of downtown’s Harris Green are lucky. In the space of one block they’ve got the city’s best supermarket (Market on Yates), the best Italian restaurant (Zambri’s), best running store (Frontrunners), and best men’s clothier (British Importers). Now, with Dolce Vita (911 Yates Street, 386-7733), they may have the best coffee shop in town, too. Settle into Dolce Vita’s big leather chairs, peruse the free daily newspapers, and sample their renditions of the “latté art” that’s all the rage in Seattle.
If Asian food’s your thing, a wonderful little downtown spot is the Thai Bistro at 615 Johnson Street (380-7878, open for lunch and dinner, closed Sundays). The Noodle Box, which has grown from a sidewalk cart to one of the finest quick-lunch enterprises in Victoria, has opened a second location at 818 Douglas Street, near the Empress Hotel.
The most exciting new addition, however, is The Superior. From 1912 to 1971, the vaulted brick building at 106 Superior Street in James Bay was the Seamen’s Institute, a retreat for young sailors far from home; in the ‘70s and ‘80s it was a Unitarian church, and for the past decade it’s been a gallery of high-end Asian art. The owner’s getting on though, so last autumn he moved his collection downstairs and turned the main floor over to his daughter – and she’s since remade it into the hippest room in town.
The space is large yet intimate, with big windows looking onto a patio and greenery. The walls and tables are adorned with odd, bird-themed sculptures: stuffed crows, abandoned nests, patterns of stripped paper. There’s live jazz or cabaret practically every night, with no cover charge. The tapas-style menu is rich in local ingredients (try the albacore tuna tataki, or the flatbread with prosciutto, wine-soaked figs and goat cheese), and B.C. wines by the glass are only $3.50. Talk about superior! If this place was downtown it’d be jammed with text-messaging hipsters, but they haven’t found it yet. Get to it before they do by walking 15 minutes west of the Empress, or by taking a l’il Harbour Ferry to Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s worth the search.
UPDATE (July 17, 2006): The Superior had a little kitchen fire in June, and was closed for a week; after they reopened, the wine prices had magically increased to $7.50 a glass. But it's still a wonderful place. Another artistically rendered room serving delectable small plates is Mo:Lé. Best known as home of the city's smartest brunch, it recently started serving in the evenings too, and its tuna tartar, braised lamb and eggplant, and wilted greens gomai are all excellent. Get a seat by the window on Pandora and you'll also enjoy gazing upon the colourful crowd that drifts past from the Spitfire tattoo studio next door.