Sherman's Food Adventures: May 2019

Black Rice Izakaya

Ever since my initial visit to Black Rice Izakaya, I was open for a return for not only late night eats, but any other time really.  Well, that happened on many occasions and I never actually blogged about it.  I did post some pics up on IG, but nope, no new write-up.  Since I was going to be Mijune's eating buddy for a recent invite to Black Rice, it seemed to be the right time that I got down to work and do an update.  Good thing too as Black Rice has always been a reliable place that sported fair portions for an equally fair price.

Sometimes, the most simplest dishes are the tastiest and also the ones that are the most telling.  Case in point, the Goma Tuna was on point with chunks of buttery tuna that exhibited a fresh taste of the sea.  They were tossed in a sesame paste that was impactfully aromatic and only lightly sweet.  This way, the tuna did all the heavy lifting while the sesame was a mild compliment.  One of the items I've tried recently and had to eat again was the Tebasaki featuring 3 whole wings in a house sauce glaze.  If there was something called perfect execution, this would be it.  While the chicken meat itself was tender and juicy, the skin was completely rendered and crisp.  Caramelized on the outside, the sticky glaze provided a smoky sweet hit where the lime added the necessary acidity.

Majestically plated, the Chef's Sashimi Moriwase featuring O-Toro wrapped in Botan Ebi, Akami, Hamachi Kama Toro,  Kanpachi, Ma Dai, Sayori, Shimaji, Hokkaido Uni and O-Toro.  Presentation was quite impressive, but we felt it really didn't have to be on ice as it cooled down the fish too much.  However, that is nit-picking as the fish quality was high.  Our favourite was the buttery o-toro with botan ebi that also had a slight rebound texture to go with its natural sweetness.  Featuring some of the same fish, the Chef's Nigiri Moriwase was stunning to the eye.  We had a variety including Isaki, Hirame, Sayori, Kinme Dai, Shimaji, Hamachi, Akami, O-Toro, Boton Ebi, Saba and Unagi.  There was a good fish-to-rice ratio which made each bite balanced.  Again, the freshness was on display visually as well as taste and texture. 

Onto some Aburi Hakozushi, we had a mix of Salmon, Scallop, Negitoro and Saba.  Topped with spicy mayo and a thin slice of jalapeno, there was a generous amount of salmon on top and in the middle of the pressed sushi.  There was quite a bit of spice with this one.  The scallop could've had less mentaiko mayo, but overall, the scallops were buttery and sweet with the brininess from the mayo.  Loved the negitoro where the soft tuna belly was mixed with just enough green onion.  With a thin layer of miso sauce, the saba was predictably flavourful by itself, but the salty fermented miso added plenty of umami.  In addition to the selection of nigiri we already had, we tried the Torched Black Angus Beef Nigiri as well.  Lightly flamed, the buttery soft beef was still somewhat rare in the middle.  We thought the beef to rice ratio was good as there was more than enough meat to create an impact.

Off to even more beef, but the most luxurious of all, we had the Japanese A5 Wagyu on a hot stone grill.  There aren't enough superlatives to describe the richness of the beef.  Completely marbled where a kiss on the burning hot stone grill helped activate the fats, the result was beef that practically melted in our mouths exhibiting a flavour that was sinfully nutty and fatty.  It was accompanied by 4 sauces, of which, the sesame was our favourite.   Literally flaming underneath with a rum and herb fire, the Unagi Roll featured prawn tempura, cucumber, tamago and a generous amount of eel on top.   This was constructed with black rice which was chewy and appealingly firm.  With such a generous amount of caramelized and buttery soft unagi on top, the roll didn't eat plain.

At this point, I was pretty full, but with any meal with Mijune means over-ordering.  So next up, we were presented with the Kara-Miso Mussels featuring local Fanny Bay mussels in a spicy miso broth.  As you can clearly see, the mussels were large and plump.  They were prepared perfectly as they were fully-cooked yet still buttery and tender.  The brininess was complimented by the depth of the miso and noticeable spice.  We ended off the meal with the Miso Sablefish which was again, perfectly executed.  It was buttery soft and flaky with only the mildest amount of saltiness.  It could've been seasoned a bit more aggressively, but then again, too much would've overwhelmed the delicate fish.  So once again, we had a solid meal at Black Rice.  Considering their price point and generous portion sizes, Black Rice remains a good option to get your Izakaya fix in Downtown.

The Good:
- Quality eats
- Reasonable-pricing
- Fair portions

The Bad:
- For the authenticity police, there is a Korean-spin on things, but I personally don't mind

Blue Fox Cafe

Finally.  We made it to Blue Fox Cafe.  This was the 3rd try actually with the first time foiled by a long lineup and the second, an early ferry to Port Angeles.  However, we were able to squeeze it in before our Ferry back to the Lower Mainland.  After a short wait, we were seated and went about deciding what to eat.  Knowing the portion sizes can be rather large, Viv did suggest sharing dishes, but honestly, why would we do that???  I want variety and to try as many things as possible!  Does only Mijune understand this?  Anyways, I won the battle and we each got our own dish.

For my son, he went straight for his standby being the Classic Eggs Benny featuring a tonne of locally smoked ham topped with 2 perfectly poached eggs and a whackload (really) of Hollandaise.  At first, we were a bit worried he wouldn't finish it.  Nah, he dusted it off due to being hangry and also it was freakin' good.  As mentioned, there was plenty of Hollandaise, but it was light and airy with only minor hint of lemon.  Combined with the runny eggs and smoky salty ham, there was lots of punch and creaminess.  The bread underneath was firm enough to stand up to all of the wet stuff on top.  Viv went for something simple in the Chorizo and Eggs with hashbrowns and toast.  This was a standard breaky but with a large split chorizo sausage seared on the flattop.  Eggs were prefect sunny side up and the chorizo was meaty, yet lacking in spice.  Loved the sprouting grain toast as it was robust, yet it had a bit too much butter on it.  As for the hashbrowns, they were a bit greasy and could've been crispier, but they were still potatoey and well-seasoned.

For my daughter, it was ironic that she picked the biggest plate with the Salish Salmon Omelette with wild smoked salmon, roma tomato, arugula, spring onion, potato, capers, lemon basil aioli and cracked pepper.  We subbed fresh fruit in lieu of hashbrowns.  This thing was massive and chock full of ingredients.  They didn't skimp on the flaky and smoky salmon as it was the dominant ingredient in the omelette with the potatoes a close second.  Naturally, this ate robust, but wasn't as heavy as it could've been due to the thin layer of egg and the abundance of salmon and veggies.  For myself, I went with the freakin' awesome Oranges del Sol sporting a batter-dipped French toast with cinnamon scented vanilla bean cream, navel orange segments, toasted pecans and triple sec syrup.  Yah, this was sweet, but purposefully where the orange was impactful.  Featuring crispy edges, the French toast was fluffy in the middle.  I would eat this again in a heartbeat.  Yah, Blue Fox ain't the fanciest place, but their brunch is indeed solid with very large portions.

The Good:
- Large portions
- Not merely large, tasty too
- No nonsense efficient service

The Bad:
- Usually very busy
- Maybe hard to finish your meal (not sure if this is a bad)

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