Sherman's Food Adventures: 2019

Agrius (Dinner)

Okay, how many times have I repeated a restaurant while on the same vacay?  If you answered none, I think someone has been reading this blog with a fine-tooth comb.  Generally, I like to try as many individual restaurants as possible since we never know when we will be returning to a certain destination.  However, this time around, I had to revisit Agrius to try their dinner service for 2 reasons.  First, the brunch was good, so I was impressed to begin with.  Second, they are more known for their dinner, so to be fair, I just had to come back!

To start the meal, we went for the small size of their Charcuterie served with pickles and fresh bread from their bakery, Fol Epi.  From left to right, we had Coppa, Red Wine Salami, Fiocco and Ard├ęche.  Solid board of meats with fatty coppa and mild red wine salami.  The fiocco was packed with flavour that was gamy and mildly salty.  These all went well with the pickled green beans, daikon and intensely sweet and tangy celery.  Bread was crusty and nutty served with butter and fleur de sel.  Next, the Pork Skin Croquettes were small, but were amazing texturally with a thin crispy exterior.  Inside, the tender potatoes and fattiness of the pork skin created a rich full-bodied filling.  Underneath, the creamy aromatic aioli merely made the dish even more decadent.

We were advised to try the Salt Baked Celeriac and it turned out to be a good veggie dish.  Thickly sliced and cooked just right, the celeriac was tender to the teeth, but still had a firm starchiness to it.  It was full-flavoured due to the salt, but it was far from being salty though.  Underneath, we found jullienned leeks tossed in a fermented leek vinaigrette.  The whole dish was sprinkled with crunchy hazelnuts.  I felt the vinaigrette was necessary to brighten and liven up the dish.  Beyond the crunch from the hazelnuts, there was a toasted nutty addition to the flavour profile.   Another veggie forward item was the Brown Butter Rutabaga topped with duck prosciutto, raddichio and flavoured with herring bagna cauda.  One bite and there was layer upon layer of tastes including briny saltiness, nuttiness, more saltiness from the duck and finally some sweet bitterness from the raddichio.  Similar to the celeriac, the rutabaga road the fine line between soft and firm.

Partly because I love them and I also want the kids to try them, I ordered the Veal Sweetbreads with mushrooms, lemon and puff pastry.  This was very good with buttery tender sweetbreads which were bathed in an earthy mix of mushrooms including morels with plenty of lemon.  Hence, the dish looked rather heavy (buttery), but ate much lighter due to the ample acidity.  Lots of flavour going on and although there wasn't any contrasting textures, it ate well nonetheless.  Yes, the kids tried the sweetbreads and were a bit indifferent, yet they weren't opposed to eating it again.  Now they really loved the Braised Short Ribs with whipped potato, Swiss chard and red wine reduction.  The short rib couldn't have been braised any better as it took on all of the flavours of the liquid (that penetrated throughout).  It was tender and meaty with the unmistakable richness of short rib.  Underneath, the buttery potatoes helped soak up any remaining sauce.

My favourite dish was the Salmon Wrapped in Cabbage as it was executed flawlessly.  Look at it, the cook on it couldn't be any better.  The fish was rare, buttery and super soft.  Naturally sweet, yet also seasoned enough, the salmon was delicious on its own.  Thinly wrapped in Napa cabbage, the salmon was uniformly textured as the exterior was not exposed.  If this wasn't tasty enough, a buttery bearnaise complimented the delicate fish.  Something familiar in the sauerkraut pancake was an interesting compliment as it tied in the cabbage theme, but with some tang.  To up that quotient, there was more pickled cabbage underneath.  Another delicious offering was the Fried Chicken with fermented lettuce relish and house-made ranch underneath.  Tender and juicy, the chicken thigh was adequately seasoned, but the buckwheat batter was nutty and full-flavoured.  To cool it all down, the yogurt-based ranch sported plenty of dill.  I found the lettuce relish rather interesting in texture (a bit wet), but appealingly tangy.  So this visit combined with our initial brunch confirmed that Agrius is indeed one of the best places to eat in Victoria.  Maybe we need to make a visit to Fol Epi too...

The Good:
- On point proteins
- Unique flavours
- Good use of root veggies

The Bad:
- Portions are modest, so ordering lots can add up

Nourish Kitchen & Cafe

Although Nourish Kitchen & Cafe has built up quite the following in Victoria and beyond, I wasn't really familiar with the place.  By virtue of staying nearby (Inn at Laurel Point) and walking past it daily for the past 4 days, it was a given we were going to dine there eventually.  So we decided to hit it up for brunch on our last day staying in Downtown Victoria.  So what makes Nourish so special?  Well consider that it appeals to Vegan, Vegetarian, Gluten-free and Paleo-diets as well as everyone else.  Wait, is that even possible?  I guess we were about to find out.

To start things off, we had the Hummus with Roasted Veggies.  At first, I thought this would be a small appie, but since it was on the lunch menu, I guess it was enough for a meal.  Featuring perfectly roasted parsnips, peppers, broccoli and cauliflower, this would've been delicious (not to mention healthy) by themselves.  However, they rested on a bed of hummus that was probably intentionally chunky.  There was texture and smoothness combined to create a great dip for the sweet veggies.  I would've liked a bit more tang, but that didn't make or break the dish.  I also got a small cup of their All the Power Chicken Bone Broth with ginger and turmeric oil.  This was flavourful and full of umami complete with substantial natural chicken flavour.  Tasty, yes and also good for you!

Onto my main, I went for the Sleeping Beauty Pancakes with featuring cardamom oat pancakes, apple compote, organic pomegranate whipped cream, bee pollen sprinkles, maple syrup and smoked bacon (added for $5.00 more).  These were thick, but surprisingly light considering the use of oats.  Slightly fluffy with a firmer exterior, these were sweetened by the compote and syrup.  When eaten with the smoky lean bacon, the pancakes had a fruit sweet and smoky salty combo flavour.  Surprisingly good considering this was gluten-free.  My son was appalled that we brought him to a place like this and had his eyes only on the Normal Breakfast.  This consisted of 2 farm fresh eggs, salad, buckwheat seedy toast and smoked bacon (also added for $5.00).  As much as this was gluten-free, he loved the crunchy and nutty toast.  Eggs were perfect and the bacon was lean and meaty.

Viv ended up with the Bonita Bowl sporting 2 soft poached eggs, cilantro hollandaise, molasses and chili baked beans, roasted squash, avocado and apple salsa, salted cabbage, pickled jalapenos and crumbled chorizo (also $5.00 more).  This was gluten-free and could be had as dairy-free too.  This was pretty substantial with a wealth of meaty and mild chorizo and 2 perfectly poached eggs.  The hollandaise was tangy and light with a bit of herbaceousness.  Lots of things going on including flavours from all of the ingredients that included sweet, spicy, tangy and of course salty.  Miss Y, who joined us, and my daughter both had the Benny Gone Nuts with 2 poached farm eggs, blanched kale, mushrooms, baked sweet potatoes, turmeric cashew hollandaise and haus verde pork sausage ($5.00 more).  This was gluten-free and dairy-free, but was no worse for wear because of it.  Hollandaise was earthy and tangy, eggs were runny and the use of veggies rather than bread made a unique but ultimately tasty concoction.  Sausage was meaty and full of flavour.  Yep, we liked this place despite my initial reservations.  If you are nearby, give it a try.

The Good:
- Appeals to all forms of diets
- Food is actually tasty
- Quaint house

The Bad:
- It ain't cheap, but fair for Downtown Victoria

Part and Parcel

Originally, we were going to eat nearby in Downtown Victoria since I had to return to my conference for an evening session after dinner.  However, if we were going to pay premium prices due to location for average food, it wasn't the best way to go about things.  Therefore, I got Viv to pick me up for dinner and we headed over to Part and Parcel.  Reasonably-priced, this little eatery focuses on locally-sourced ingredients to create unique dishes in a casual dining space.

We began with the fantastic Smoked Trout Flatbread with crispy capers, cornichons and fresh dill.  Thick and slightly doughy, the flatbread reminded me of bannock, but grilled instead of baked/fried.  It had a nice elasticity to it and despite being a bit dense, it was still fluffy to a degree.  On top, the trout concoction was creamy and naturally sweet with a good dose of smoke and umaminess.  Adding a salty tang, the cornichons as well as the capers made the dish pop.  The plethora of fresh dill was the proverbial icing on the cake.  As much as a side of Fries and Mayo can be rather boring, these were solid.  Fresh cut and perfectly fried, the fries were crunchy with plenty of potatoness left inside.

Served on a bed of tzatziki, the ribbons of Humboldt Squid were tender to the chew while still having a bite left.  The fresh zing of the tzatziki kept things interesting with a bright creaminess.  Again, the good amount of fresh dill just added the right amount of natural flavour that impacted the entire dish.  To add texture, there was a liberal sprinkling of breadcrumbs on top.  This added both crunch and toasted aromatics.  This was simple yet completely delicious.  Also not overly complex, the Grilled Cheddar Cheese Sandwich with mushrooms and caramelized onions was another example of careful execution.  The bread was buttery and crunchy while the amount of aged cheddar was sharp and nutty.  Add in the earthy squishy mushrooms and the massive amount of sweet caramelized onions, there was plenty of umami to go around.

Onto 2 bigger items, the Grilled Chicken Thigh and Sausage was also done right.  Juicy and tender with crispy well-rendered skin, the thigh was also perfectly seasoned.  The sausage was just as good being airy and light with a moist filling.  It was also full-flavoured without being salty.  This was served with barley and sunflower porridge, buttermilk, kale and puffed grains.  The creamy porridge was not particularly exciting, but it didn't detract from the dish.  I liked the ample amount of fresh kale as it made the dish the seem healthier.  Lastly, the Confit Pork Belly was killer.  Generously portioned as 2 thick pieces, the pork belly was mostly meaty with tender fatty portions.  It was well-seasoned and nicely seared on both sides.  Underneath, the fried rice with pepita, pear and nam prik was absolutely delicious.  The rice was chewy, tangy, sweet, spicy and savoury - hitting all the flavour notes including the brininess of the nam prik.  A good mess of cilantro on top made this even more flavourful.  Some might disagree with me, but for this trip to Victoria, Part and Parcel produced the best food (even better than Agrius).  Definitely a must-try.

The Good:
- Reasonably-priced
- Interesting combination of ingredients
- On point proteins

The Bad:
- Small place, fills up quick

Uchida Eatery

Sometimes, eating out becomes a chore.  Yes, #firstworldproblems I know.  Menus can become boring and worst of all, the food heavy and not very good for one's health.  That is partially why we dined at Gozen the night before.  Hey, it wasn't health food, yet at the very least, it was lighter and less fatty than other spots.  That is also the reason we chose to hit up Uchida Eatery on our lunch break.  Since we were at the nearby Victoria Conference Centre, it was a quick stroll over to the little lunch spot that specializes in Dons and little side dishes.

For my first dish of veggies so far for the trip to Victoria, I got Roasted Veggies that consisted of onions, sweet potato and squash.  This was not a complex dish and in fact, someone could make it easily at home.  But while away from home, this was familiar and frankly delicious.  The natural sweetness of the veggies came through while there was enough seasoning to create an appealing umaminess.  I liked how the veggies weren't overdone retaining some texture.  I also got the Chicken Chashu that was essentially rolled chicken cooked slowly so that it was still moist and tender.  Although it was white meat, it wasn't dry at all and the braising liquid penetrated the meat.  There was some grainy mustard served on the side.

For my bowl, I went for the Salmon Don featuring attractive slices of sockeye salmon.  There was a beautiful sheen to go with the buttery texture that retained a bite.  The fish was fresh-tasting and naturally sweet.  Combined with the lettuce, chewy rice, wasabi and ginger, this was a light-tasting, yet delicious mix of ingredients.  I didn't have to add anything else.  Keslo went for the Tuna Tataki Don and it was exactly the same except for the protein.  Perfectly seared on all sides, the tuna itself was rare (as it should be) and buttery.  Again, the fresh sheen was evident as well as the fresh taste of the sea.  It speaks for the simplicity of the dish when nothing much needed to be added for it to taste good.

She added the Grilled Mackerel on the side and it was fantastic.  Perfectly cooked, the meat was tender and moist.  The unmistakeable fishiness of the mackerel was there as the fats were activated.  As you can clearly see, the food at Uchida Eatery isn't complex or fancy.  What they are is a small little spot where one can pick up a healthy-ish lunch that doesn't break the bank.  This was the perfect place since we couldn't afford to go back to our conference full on burgers (wait, I did that the day before... LOL).

The Good:
- Fresh
- Simple and executed properly
- Inexpensive

The Bad:
- Small spot, fills up quickly
- Things can sell out before you get there

Gozen Sushi Bar Izakaya

Dining on multiple days without having something lighter can make for some heaviness and indifference towards meals.  That was beginning to set in with everyone including myself, despite the reprieve aka as Dim Sum a few days earlier.  However, we can't really include Dim Sum in the description of lighter eats.  So without the benefit of good wonton noodles and congee in Victoria, we chose between Pho and Japanese.  Well, Japanese won and we decided to try out Gozen (in lieu of Nubo since it was closer to where we were staying).

Attractively appointed, the Korean-run Gozen seemed to look the part.  When we got our first dish, Sockeye Salmon Sashimi, it did a good job confirming it.  Nicely presented, the fresh sashimi had a beautiful sheen.  It ate even better with a firm butteriness that had a good mouth feel.  The best part was the taste as each slice was sweet and bright.  We felt it was one of the better tasting sockeye salmon sashimi we've had of late that wasn't in a higher end Japanese restaurant.  For our specialty roll, we went for the Toy Story Roll (yes, that was the name) consisting of spicy tuna, prawn tempura, avocado and tobiko with smoked salmon and tuna on top.  This was rather substantial and featured nicely textured rice and plenty of ingredients.  The flavour was rather mild since they didn't overdo it with the sauces.

My son went for his usual Nigiri with 2 each of the tamago, unagi, tuna and chopped scallop.  As evidenced, they didn't skimp on the ingredients on top.  As much as there wasn't anything particularly interesting about the set (other than the red vinegar rice), it did the job with little fanfare. We also went for the Aburi Salmon Oshi which was topped with the usual slice of pepper and with this version, a dollop of sriracha.  I felt the rice and the amount of salmon made this quite good.  There wasn't enough sauce on top and more charring was necessary to build flavour and attractiveness.  Also, the pepper was sliced too thick.  The chewy rice and buttery salmon made this a decent version.

The order of Assorted Tempura was good with a just thick enough layer of batter on the outside.  Some pieces were a bit greasy, but not overly so.  It consisted of 3 ebi, 2 yam, broccoli, golden squash, green bean and asparagus.  To round things out, we had the Chicken Yakisoba which was rather saucy, but tasted balanced.  I wished it was more caramelized and dry though.  However, the excess amount of veggies may have contributed to it.  The deep fried chicken on top was still relatively moist with a crispy exterior.  The skin was mostly rendered.  I really don't want to use the phrase, "it is good for Victoria", because it doesn't say a whole lot.  However, Gozen is indeed good for what it is with all things considered.  It did the job for us meeting expectations.

The Good:
- Again, service was good (must be a Victoria thing)
- Decent
- Lots of choice

The Bad:
- A little pricey, but okay for its location
- May offend those looking for super authentic Japanese

The Pink Bicycle

Only a few stores down from our previous nights dinner at Menbow, we ended up having lunch at The Pink Bicycle the next day.  Featured on "You Gotta Eat Here!", this was not the reason we picked the place.  Rather, we just wanted some good burgers that didn't belong to a chain restaurant or fast food joint.  With that in mind, the prices at The Pink Bicycle do reflect its "gourmet" burger persona (mind you, the proteins are top notch).  The place ain't fancy, but we don't care about that.  The food does the talking.

My son went for the basic Pink Bike Cheeseburger with naturally raised, grass-fed premium BC Beef topped with smoked cheddar & Pink Bike sauce.  This was fully loaded burger with fresh lettuce, tomatoes and onions.  The nicely charred meat patty was large and thick easily filling up all the way to the edge of the bun.  It was on the leaner side, so it wasn't juicy per se, but it wasn't dry either.  He decided to sub his fries for Fried Mac n' Cheese Sticks which were humongous - really crispy and full of sharp cheddar flavour.  For my daughter, she had the Seared Ahi Tuna Burger featuring toasted sesame seed crusted Ahi tuna seared rare, topped with a ginger sesame slaw & wasabi mayo.  Again, there was more than enough tuna to fill every bite and it was indeed rare being tender.  The wasabi mayo was mild while the slaw provided crunch with a strong sesame oil hit.

For myself, I had the Blue Cheese Lamb Burger with local organic lamb infused with savory rosemary apricot pesto and topped with blue cheese & zesty lime mayo.  This was a flavour bomb as the flavourful lamb was further enhanced with the tangy sharpness of the ample blue cheese.  I didn't get too much of the pesto, but it was definitely there.  The side of truffle fries were really crunchy (almost like crisps) with a balanced hint of truffle oil.  Viv decided on the BBQ Bison Burger with free-range bison topped with smoked cheddar cheese & homemade pink bike barbeque sauce.  This was lean as expected with a smoky char.  The BBQ sauce was lightly smoky, tangy and sweet.  Adding to the smokiness was the cheddar cheese.  In the end, we enjoyed the burgers at Pink Bicycle, but weren't sure if they were necessarily awesome.  Maybe unrealistic expectations?  Whatever the case, still a solid place nonetheless.

The Good:
- Quality meat prepared properly
- Impactful flavours
- Friendly service

The Bad:
- Pricey
- Bun was a bit generic

Menbow Ramen Bar

Originally, we were planning to dine at Nubo Japanese Tapas on Pandora which was conveniently located 2 blocks from where we were hanging out.  Literally, we were hanging out at Interactivity Board Game Cafe playing various games and enjoying milkshakes.  However, for some reason or another, there was an hour wait at Nubo (and this was at 5:30pm).  As much as we were in the mood for some Japanese eats, we were not prepared to wait for that long.  Therefore, we walked down Blanshard looking for random food.  Yes, that is not necessarily the best strategy, but we were hungry.  We eventually settled on Menbow Ramen Bar.

After a quick search on google, it was determined that the place was decent enough to eat at.  To begin, we shared the Chicken Karaage which was served with chili mayo and lemon.  As much as the karaage was in a dark hue, the exterior was only lightly crispy.  The dark meat was certainly tender, but not juicy being a bit stiff in texture.  Although not bland, there could've been more salt.  Not a bad attempt, but not particularly awesome either.  As part of my combo, I also got a Chashu Don which was only $2.99 extra (a fair price considering the portion size).  It was pretty solid too with chewy rice topped with a considerable amount of fatty chashu and green onions.  There was definitely enough sauce and meat for all of the rice.

My choice of ramen was the Shoyu with chashu, half soft-boiled egg, nori, green onion, spinach, bean sprouts, fish cake, mushrooms and bamboo shoots.  Silky and rich, the broth was full-flavoured and I could definitely taste the saltiness of the soy sauce.  I made the mistake of drinking a large portion of the soup which made me thirsty (salt content) and feeling heavy.  The noodles were perfectly al dente while the pork was semi-fatty and tender.  I liked how they didn't overload the bowl with too much of the other ingredients because that usually muddles up the experience.  I thought the egg could've been cooked much less, but it did taste good.  For my son, he had the Shio with the same ingredients.  Somehow, he seemed to have more noodles than I did.  The soup base was more porky since the salt did not add any other complimentary flavours.

For my daughter, she chose the Miso with chicken broth, chashu, half soft-boiled egg, nori, green onion, fish cake, bean sprouts, spinach and corn.  Naturally, the addition of miso meant the broth had more body in the sense that the fermented bean paste afforded depth and a rich nutty saltiness.  Even though this was chicken broth, it was still silky and full-bodied.  For me, I love corn in my ramen so this provided nice little pops of sweetness.  Viv went for the Spicy Shio with chicken broth and the same ingredients as the regular shio.  This was pretty spicy and due to that, it didn't really even matter if the broth was chicken or pork as we wouldn't be able to tell.  Overall, we thought the ramen was decent enough at Menbow albeit on the pricier side.  Yet at the same time, pretty respectable even if it wasn't in Victoria.

The Good:
- Decent
- Friendly enough service
- A good kind of basic (menu fairly simple)

The Bad:
- A bit salty
- Pricey 

Don Mee

Okay, before you bring out the pitchforks, let me explain why we attempted to do Dim Sum in Victoria (even though we hail from Vancouver where some of the best Dim Sum in the world can be found).  Despite the access to great Dim Sum in the GVRD, we miss having it while on vacation.  Furthermore, call it curiosity or the inexplicable need to validate how good we have it by trying Dim Sum everywhere else.  Whatever the case, we do what we do and I really don't give a rat's ass what others think.  It is Sherman's Food Adventures, not Everyone's Opinion Adventures.  

So we made our way to Don Mee Restaurant, which has been around for 80 years in Victoria.  Hence, when we spotted ol' skool push carts, it was no surprise.  We began with the BBQ Pork Pastries which were very sticky due to the aggressive honey glaze on the outside.  The pastry itself was a touch dense, but still buttery and acceptable.  There was a plethora of lean BBQ pork in the middle that sported a sweet and savoury glaze.  For some reason, we ended up with the Salted Egg Yolk Custard Buns early on in the meal.  Oh why not have something sweet right?  Who's to judge anyways?  Well, if you were expecting the modern runny "golden sand" centre, then you'd be disappointed.  Rather, this was the traditional firmer filling.  It was good though with bits of salted egg yolk and a semi-sweet and aromatic custard centre.

One dish that was pretty terrible was the Spring Rolls.  The exterior was crunchy, but directly underneath, the rest of the layers were dense and chewy.  Naturally, this made the spring roll rather tough to eat and it really didn't have a good mouth feel to it.  To top it off, there wasn't much of a filling other than a bit of cabbage and maybe a touch of pork.  We needed quite a bit of Worcestershire sauce as it was not seasoned enough either.  A really ol' skool Dim Sum offering came next in the form of Shrimp Toast.  This wasn't a typical version though as the darn thing had a massive ball of shrimp mousse on top of the usual oil-soaked white bread.  I thought this was pretty good since the shrimp was bouncy and well-seasoned.  The toast was crispy, but yes, it was essentially soaked in grease (like it should be).

It was also no surprise to find that the Lo Mei Gai (Sticky Rice with chicken and cured sausage in lotus leaves) to be the classic large version.  I personally prefer this over 3 mini-ones as it seems that the rice is more uniformly textured.  This was the case here where it was sticky and moist with plenty of ingredients.  There was half a cured sausage and a large piece of chicken thigh mixed in with sliced pork.  Therefore, the the whole thing was pretty robust and filling.  Surprisingly, their Shrimp Rice Noodle Roll was on point with a thin elasticity.  Inside, the medium-sized shrimp were well-seasoned with a meaty snap.  As mentioned, the rice noodle was nicely textured being soft with a bite.

Onto some steamed items, we got the Steamed Pork Spareribs with garlic black bean sauce.  This was also well-executed with meaty pieces of pork that were mostly rib portions with little fat and cartilage.  The rib pieces were tender enough that it wasn't tough to chew while retaining the natural meat texture.  In terms of seasoning, they were pretty heavy handed with the garlic (and garlic powder) where it was the dominant flavour.  We didn't mind as it was impactful.  The table beside us didn't want to try the Phoenix Talons (Chicken Feet), but we were more than up for the task.  However, they didn't fry/steam them enough as the cartilage underneath was still crunchy.  The skin was fine though being tender and completely seasoned with garlic and plenty of spice.

We didn't end up with the 2 most important items until the end (because of push carts).  The Ha Gau (Shrimp Dumplings) featured a fairly thick dumpling skin which was a bit doughy and chewy.  This should've been much thinner.  Inside, the shrimp filling was good though with a delicate bounciness accented by bits of whole meaty shrimp.  It was also well-seasoned being balanced between salty and sweet.  As for the Siu Mai (Pork Dumplings), they were not very good.  They were not visually appealing being too dark and texturally, they were far too meaty without the classic rebound.  Moreover, there was no shiitake nor shrimp to be found inside.  I found that they tasted too porky as well.  Okay, let me have it, I know what you are going to say, "told you so, you shouldn't have even tried!".  Yes, that is true, but some dishes were actually good.  But overall, yah, not comparable to Vancity.

The Good:
- Surprisingly some dishes were good
- Fairly good service
- Decent variety

The Bad:
- When there was a miss, it really missed
- Not that cheap
- Hard to get what you want since they use push carts