November 26, 2009

Victoria's Secrets (Part 1 of IV): Get Out of Town

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Much about Victoria has never changed, will never change. The good gray Coho, now 50 years old, still toots like a teenager as she enters the Inner Harbour, and the great Woolly Mammoth still stands guard in the Royal BC Museum. The BC Parliament buildings still twinkle at night, and Big Blue, the bascule bridge at the foot of Johnson, still rears up periodically to let tall-masted vessels pass.

But much is changing rapidly, and we've come to Vancouver Island to uncover some of those off-the-beaten-track spots--known perhaps to local foodies but not widely heralded--which Cornichon visited in the company of traveling partner Jacqueline Pruner of Heed the Hedonist.

Our culinary-literary joint venture found four candidates for this series, which begins in the neighborhood of Oak Bay, specifically Estevan Village, home to Paprika Bistro. Our report below.

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CORNICHON says: The name Paprika suggests something Hungarian, wouldn't you say? That's because Paprika Bistro was founded by a Hungarian, George Szasz ,and his wife Linda. George's parents ran Szasz Deli in Vancouver, (in South Granville, where West now stands), so he grew up with the whole cured-and-spiced meat thing. George and Linda, who'd been running a resort in the north of British Columbia and were looking to move to Vancouver Island, bought themselves French place in Oak Bay, Chez Daniel, renamed it Paprika, and ran it for seven years before they sold it.

Geoff Parker, the owner since January, used to be the food & bev manager at Chateau Victoria, an Inner Harbour landmark. Here at Paprika, he runs a quintessential neighborhood bistro, with local art on the wall and local food on the menu. The seared pork tenderloin, for example, is encrusted with Victoria Gin botanicals and dressed with a Victoria Gin vinaigrette. It's almost incestuous: Paprika's chef, Anna Hunt, is the brother of Peter Hunt, the master distiller for Victoria Gin. As our tasting progresses (housemade sausage, grilled calamari salad, hand-cut beef tartare, pasta with local mushrooms, Cowichan Bay duck breast), Parker pours perfectly matched wines from Canadian producers: Quail's Gate chenin blanc, Kettle Valley pinot gris, Cedar Creek merlot, Sumac Ridge cabernet sauvignon. Only the stunning, liver-textured duck requires more than British Columbia can muster, and earns a rich, ripe Côte du Ventoux. It's a gastronomic and vineyard tour well worth the cab ride.

Duck%20breast.JPGHEDONISTA says: Ah, Paprika Bistro. Just like those memorable moments in life when you fall deep and instantaneously in love, I’ll never forget the first time I laid eyes on that rouge-hued Capsicum annunm. So charming did this perfectly quaint-yet-artsy, off-the-beaten-path eatery look from the outside on that bright sun-filled Oak Bay afternoon, that I simply had to return with a dear friend of mine, who conventiently happens to live in the surrounding neighborhood (that’s spelled “neighbourhood” in Canadian), to try what I was certain was an exquisite find. I was not disappointed. (Note that this was in 2008, so pre-Parker – the Szaszs still ruled the roost.) I can still remember the near-orgasmic seafood dishes … and the duck! So crisp on the outside, yet melt-in-your-mouth on the inside…. We sat at what is still to this day my absolutely fav spot in the entire restaurant, which seats a modest 60 patrons: a tiny window bench tucked in this place’s quietest corner. We truly had the time of our lives.

Now, post-Parker, I’m so very pleased to announce that it’s still the same fab place it’s always been. With Anna Hunt at the helm (Sous Chef under the Szaszs and now Chef de Cuisine under Parker, not to mention culinary consultant for her brother’s gin distillery), the continuity of fabulous foodie festivities remains. This is artisan cuisine, without a doubt: the homemade pasta is absolutely to die for, Parker’s wine pairings perfect, and the Cowichan Bay duck breast immediately teleported my palate back to that first unforgettable night my culinary heart found this beautiful boutique bistro.

In my hedonistic opinion, Paprika Bistro is one of the most romantic dinner spots in all of Greater Victoria. It’s open Tuesdays through Saturday from 5:00 p.m. on. It’s only a few blocks’ walk to both Willows Beach and Lokier Garden, to boot (not to be confused with the Canadian pronunciation of “about”). They’re also a proud supporter of local farms, wineries and ocean wise fisheries, which is a big bonus in my books. For a mere 10-minute, $15 cab ride from Victoria’s Inner Harbour, this is simply a must-try place that I guarantee is well worth the trek to tantalizingly true love.

Paprika Bistro, 2425 Estevan Ave., Victoria, BC, 205-5927424  Paprika Bistro on Urbanspoon

Posted by Ronald Holden at November 26, 2009 10:00 PM | TrackBack

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