Saturday, December 29, 2018

My Trip to Victoria | What to Eat in Victoria

Disclaimer: Full prices were paid for all meals.
My Trip to Victoria | What to Eat in Victoria
Earlier this month, we took a mini trip to Victoria, British Columbia. Given that my boyfriend writes a food blog on the side and loves trying new restaurants, we checked out quite a few places while we were in town. So whether you live in Victoria or are planning a visit, I've got a food guide for you on what you should or shouldn't eat. To read on, click.......

Rise & Grind:
Located on Broad St. in Downtown Victoria, Rise & Grind is a casual breakfast cafe recommended to us by the PR director at Fairmont Empress, who proclaimed the cafe's breakfast sandwich as the best she's ever had. Since we were looking for a breakfast place on the last day of our visit, we decided to give it a go. Reasonably priced at $7, the Boss Hog consisted of egg, cheddar, sausage patty, sriracha mayo, and green onions sandwiched between a soft brioche bun. We were told that the hashbrown add-on ($1 extra) was a must in order to enjoy the sandwich in its full glory. So of course, we had to get one. Initially, I had my doubts. I mean, just how good can a breakfast sandwich be? Well, let me tell you...
Rise & Grind Breakfast Cafe in Victoria, BC | Boss Hog Breakfast Sandwich: Review
Rise & Grind | Boss Hog Breakfast Sandwich
With a bun that was buttery soft but surprisingly capable of holding its shape and not getting too soggy, the Boss Hog is indeed the best breakfast sandwich I've ever had. Every layer melted together to form a cohesive and tender bite that was homey and delicious. Plus, the sandwich was huge! For $7 ($8 if you add the hashbrown, which you should), this is probably one of the best things you can have for breakfast! Let's just say I'm glad that we don't have a sandwich like this in Vancouver because I can seriously eat it every day!
In addition to the Boss Hog, we also got the B.L.A.S.T. ($7) sandwich, made with bacon, lettuce, avocado, smoked mozza, and tomato. Neatly packed between two multigrain toast spread with mayo, the sandwich can be made with an egg for an extra $1. This was definitely a much healthier breakfast sandwich but it was a little plain in comparison to the Boss Hog. Nevertheless, the flavors were fresh and if you are looking for a lighter start to the day, it is a good option.
Rise & Grind Breakfast Cafe in Victoria, BC | B.L.A.S.T. Sandwich: Review
Rise & Grind | B.L.A.S.T. Breakfast Sandwich
Shanzee's Biscuit Cafe:
My boyfriend has a soft spot for biscuits and gravy so of course, a place that specializes in Southern-style biscuits and gravy was on our list. Located in Chinatown, Shanzee's Biscuit Cafe has a distinct mom and pop vibe with homey decors and an unfortunately inadequate exhaust system that left the whole place stifling with haze. I ordered the King of the Road Biscuits & Gravy ($15.65), the most expensive item on the menu. It came with two biscuits topped with housemade gravy, jalapeno, cheddar, and two over-easy eggs with a side of Louisiana sausage and grits. I opted for half sausage gravy and half vegan mushroom gravy as per the owner's recommendation and found both very delicious. The sausage gravy, however, was definitely superior as it was hearty and well-seasoned without being too salty or heavy. I found the Louisana sausage spicy and flavorful but the texture was dry and tough. While the rich grits was to die for, it was saturated with pure butter that made me feel like my arteries were narrowing with each bite. With the biscuits themselves, however, I was a tad disappointed. I think a good biscuit should have a nice crunchy crust with a fluffy, soft center but the ones from Shanzee's were dense and flat. I actually spotted clumps of unrisen dough so perhaps we got a bad batch.
Shanzee's Biscuit Cafe in Victoria, BC | King of the Road Biscuits & Gravy: Review
Shanzee's Biscuit Cafe | King of the Road Biscuits & Gravy
We also tried the Biscuit Benny ($14.25). With two biscuits topped with peameal bacon, soft poached eggs, and hollandaise, the dish came with a side of shredded hash and fruit. The biscuits suffered the same issues mentioned above but the peameal bacon added great texture and the eggs were perfectly poached. The shredded potato hash was nothing extraordinary but it was, believe it or not, a much healthier alternative to the butter-laden grits. Overall, this was an okay meal. The staff were super friendly and the portions were ginormous but the food itself left something to be desired. If you are looking for a good biscuit place, the recently opened Chewie's Biscuit Co is definitely worth visiting.
Shanzee's Biscuit Cafe in Victoria, BC | Biscuit Benny: Review
Shanzee's Biscuit Cafe | Biscuit Benny
Superbaba:
A hip Middle Eastern joint I first heard about through its Vancouver food truck, the Superbaba restaurant opened in Victoria as a collaborative effort between Abdallah El Chami and the owners of Cafe Medina and Tacofino. Offering a small range of wraps and bowls, the place has a lot of hype on social media so I made sure to pay a visit. The restaurant has a unique, modern retro vibe and offers only counter service with limited seating. We went on a fairly quiet night but I imagine that this is mostly a grab and go kind of place during lunch rush hours.
Superbaba | Falafel Bowl: Review
Superbaba | Falafel Bowl
I love falafels so I got the Falafel Bowl ($11.25), which consisted of chilled rice and salad topped with pickled turnips, tomato, cucumber, tahini, and hummus. I don't know who likes cold rice so the taste of "chilled rice" was an instant turn-off. I found the cauliflowers flavorful but soggy and the falafels were sadly underwhelming. With no crisp shell or any other quality that sets it apart from your run-of-the-mill supermarket hummus fritters, the Superbaba falafels came lukewarm. I'm not sure if it was because they had been sitting out in the kitchen for a bit or if they were cooled by the chilled rice, but either way, I was sorely disappointed. I thought these may have been a strong contender against the amazing falafels from Chickpea but they didn't even come close.
Superbaba | Steak Wrap: Review
Superbaba | Steak Wrap
Fortunately, our experience with the Falafel Bowl was salvaged by the Steak Wrap ($11.75). Made with kebab spiced grilled beef, sumac onions, tomato, pickled cucumber, tahini, and shug sauce, the wrap was wonderfully flavorful and juicy. The raw onions were overwhelming and while the meat was colder than I would have preferred, the whole thing still tasted great. The pita bread, especially, was fresh and chewy. We had the option of adding an egg (extra $1.50 each) but in hindsight, it was not worth it. My boyfriend and I were both expecting an ooey gooey sunny-side up but the egg was actually soft-boiled, which obviously doesn't distribute evenly within the wrap. I've since visited the Superbaba food truck to try some of the other items on the menu (their fries taste just like Five Guys') and it's safe to say that everything but the falafels is worth checking out. The food is far from life-changing but they do make for a quick and relatively healthy meal.
The Courtney Room in Victoria BC | Potatoes Courtney: Review
The Courtney Room | Potatoes Courtney
The Courtney Room:
Named Canada's 10th Best New Restaurant in 2018 by Air Canada, The Courtney Room is an extension of The Magnolia Hotel. The restaurant has a unique two-level setup, with the top floor offering a French fine-dining experience and the lower brasserie serving a plethora of house original cocktails and shared plates. Things started off on a weird foot as we made an online reservation ahead of our arrival. As there were no options of specifying which dining experience we wanted, we arrived fully ready to take advantage of the happy hour menu. However, it became evident seconds after being seated on the second floor that we were not in the right "section" as the menu was completely different from what we expected. Things were quickly sorted out and we were moved down to the brasserie but the whole experience was just confusing. The website should have been a lot clearer when making a reservation as to which section of the restaurant you are interested in dining and the hostess should have further clarified things upon our arrival.
The Courtney Room in Victoria BC | Mushroom Stuffed Mushrooms: Review
The Courtney Room | Mushroom Stuffed Mushrooms
Nevertheless, let's move onto the food. Available only to the brasserie section, the happy hour menu offered a decent selection of appetizers and casual entrees. The Potatoes Courtney ($9) consisted of large cubes of fried potato with a texture somewhere between mashed potato and hashbrown. Served with a side of onion mayo, the potatoes had a nice crunchy crust and a rich, fluffy inside. These were simply divine but unfortunately, everything else paled in comparison. The Mushroom Stuffed Mushrooms ($9) looked dull and bland and they tasted no better. The mushroom stuffing was barely detectable and the "melted" cheese was dry and crusty.
The Courtney Room in Victoria BC | Fried Chicken: Review
The Courtney Room | Fried Chicken
The Fried Chicken ($10) came with three generously-sized drumettes served with a side of housemade pickles and onion mayo dip (same as that of the Potatoes Courtney). Although well-battered and perfectly cooked, the chicken lacked flavor. It seemed that aside from a pinch of salt, no spices were used for seasoning. With slightly more flavor to go on, the Hamburger ($14) was adequate but also quite mundane. The soft milk bun held the contents well but the patty was slightly more well-done than medium-rare. No special flavors or topping jumped out and the side of fries was rather sad and boring. Overall, our experience at The Courtney Room was uninspiring and having went in with some high expectations, we were sorely disappointed.
The Courtney Room in Victoria BC | Hamburger: Review
The Courtney Room | Hamburger
Q Bar:
After our unsatisfying meal at The Courtney Room, we decided to pay a visit to our hotel bar, the Q Bar. Since we had a full meal, we only wanted to try the famed Empress Cake, created for and available exclusively at Fairmont Empress (check out my review of the hotel here). Available by the slice for $14 (or whole for $100, which serves ten people), this is a rich and dense hazelnut torte made with a custom chocolate recipe developed in France by Fairmont Executive Pastry Chef AJ Thalakkat. I personally prefer a lighter, spongy cake but The Empress Cake is truly decadent without being sinfully sweet. There's a strong cocoa flavor and it's perfectly balanced by the tartness of the housemade cassis coulis (a type of blackcurrant sauce). Although the cake itself contains a thin layer of the coulis, it was really the generous dollops spread around the plate that elevated the flavors. I doubt you get a side of cassis coulis for dipping when you purchase the whole cake so for that reason, I actually don't think the whole-cake experience would be comparable.
Fairmont Empress | The Empress Cake: Review
Fairmont Empress | The Empress Cake
Although definitely worth trying at least once, The Empress Cake was not the most memorable experience of the night. As soon as we were seated, the server brought over a bowl of complimentary Q Bar Popcorn (which ironically is also available on the in-room dining menu for $8). Dusted with a mysterious charcoal seasoning, these were hands down the best popcorn I've had in my life. Full of umami, the popcorn had this paradoxical quality of being both crunchy and melty at the same time. We honestly could not stop eating! Thankfully, our server was generous enough to give us an extra to-go box portion to take to our room after our meal. After some research on the internet, I found that charcoal seasoning is apparently fairly common so I'll have to try to make my own charcoal popcorn to find out if I can replicate this magical recipe! 
Fairmont Empress | Q Bar Charcoal Popcorn: Review
Fairmont Empress | Q Bar Popcorn
Have you visited Victoria before? What restaurant recommendations do you have? Share with me in the comments below!

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Special thanks to my boyfriend Hanson, who captured all the photos in this post. He has his own blog over at Nosh & Nibble. If you are interested in reviews of Vancouver restaurant and other food-related content, check out his blog here.
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