November 19, 2009

Victoria Olde & New

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Staid and stately Olde Victoria, that corner of England a short hop from Seattle, is a-changing apace, and Cornichon is here this week to take a look around at what's hip and happening ...and what's new with the traditional as well.

That short hop, by the way, courtesy of Kenmore Air, thank you, thank you; travel arrangements courtesy Tourism Victoria, very grateful for your generosity; itinerary planning courtesy of Hedonista Jacqueline Pruner; mille grazie, and about whom you'll hear more shortly.

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Don't worry, we'll get back to the Empress soon enough. First, a stroll along Wharf and up Yates to a spot everyone's talking about called Foo. (No, not phooey.) Foo Asian Street Food to call it by its full name. No plates here; everything's served in to-go boxes. Open all of two months in a tiny space once occupied by a liquor store, Foo offers six starters and six mains plus two daily specials.

The owners call it street food, but it's really made-to-order takeout. High quality ingredients and skillful execution, though flavors (flavours, sorry, we're in Canada) lack an element of punch. Good, but could be more assertive. Braised beef short ribs ($10) were succulent despite the rather bland chow mein. Chef Patrick Lynch used to cook at Monsoon in Vancouver; GM Sterling Grice--who lived in Asia for several years--still holds down a job at Brasserie l'Ecole. They clearly have a thing for the informality of inexpensive noodles and quick stir-fries, and they're on the right track.

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And where would the right track be? Back down to the Inner Harbour we go, to the pier where Red Fish Blue Fish has been cooking up the island's best fish and chips for the past couple of years. It's cold, windy and wet, and owner Simon Sobolewski welcomes us with a steaming cup of Pacific Rim Chowder ($5), reason alone to come to Victoria. Yes, it's that good. Chef Kunal Ghose (pronounced Quenelle-Gauche) starts with a dairy-free, coconut-chipotle base, adds sweet corn, and tosses in chunks of white fish (poached in garlic oil) at the last second. "It's the simplest thing," he says. No less amazing are the tempura-battered wild salmon, the grilled albacore tacone (taco-cone, get it?), the crispy, hand-cut, twice-fried chips from Kennebec potatoes, and even a battered & fried dill pickle.

RFBF's kitchen is a "high cube" 8x20 seagoing shipping container topped with an industrial-size exhaust fan; a few stools on one side. Sobelewski's previous venture, a video rental shop called Celluloid Drugstore, couldn't have prepared him for RFBF's astonishing success (typical wait during the summer season: 30 to 45 minute), but he's staying true to his vision. He's a historian and environmentalist (the only restaurant on the island that's 100 percent "Ocean Wise;" everything--table scraps, cutlery, fryer oil--is recycled ). Good intentions, however, aren't enoug to keep folks coming back.That's why those crunchy textures and sparkling flavors are so gratifying.

Foo Asian Street Food, 769 Yates St., Victoria BC, 250-383-3111   Foo Food on Urbanspoon
Red Fish Blue Fish, 1006 Wharf St., Victoria BC, 250-298-877   Red Fish, Blue Fish on Urbanspoon

Posted by Ronald Holden at November 19, 2009 11:11 AM | TrackBack

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