Birthday dinner #3 – Locals Restaurant at the Old House

We spent the holidays over on Vancouver Island this year.  There didn’t seem to be too many fine dining choices in the Comox Valley area, but it was recommended we go to Locals Restaurant in Courtenay, so for my official birthday dinner celebration with Hitman that’s where we went.  They’re known for sourcing their food locally whenever they can (hence their name).

It had a very warm and inviting atmosphere.  There was even a fully decorated Christmas tree at the entrance with stools for you to take pictures on.

However, some parts of the service left much to be desired. Read on to find out!

Locals Restaurant: Bison Tartare on Asian Salad Amuse Bouche

We were promptly seated as we had already made reservations.  While we were looking through the menu we were offered an amuse bouche of Bison Tartare on Asian Salad.  It was a bit tart, and I thought that covered any hint of gaminess the bison might have. The salad portion was an interpretation of an “Asian” slaw.

Locals Restaurant: Grains bread with chickpea spread

For the complimentary bread, it was multigrain bread from the local bakery Grains.  Alongside was Locals Restaurant’s house-made chickpea spread.  I wasn’t too fond of the spread as it was too bland for my liking.  Hitman really enjoyed it though and he even tasted hints of cumin in it.

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Birthday dinner #2 – forage

Forage was a restaurant I’ve always wanted to try so I took the opportunity of my birthday to ‘gently suggest’ to Fannypack to take me there on a separate occasion to celebrate (as that is our thing), so that brings us to birthday dinner #2!

As we were quickly told by the extremely attentive server, the plates here are meant to be shared (although you are welcome to hoard it all if you so choose to), so we (I) picked a few items to share.

On another note, Hitman lost these pictures too so the ones here are courtesy of Fannypack also! Lifesaver much??

forage: Kale and Apple Chips

First up the Kale and Apple Chips ($5).  There’s a mix of purple and green kale which created a very aesthetically pleasing presentation.  The chips were salted just right but I did find them a bit greasy as I suspected them to be deep-fried (I roast mine at home).  Found out from Mary’s blog post about Forage as I was writing this that they’re baked in a convection oven so that’s not so bad then.  I would be happier if there were more apple chips though.

forage: Marinated octopus

Next was one of my choices: Marinated octopus ($15) with roasted garlic crostini, gribiche, and pickled yellowfoot chanterelles.

The octopus was extremely tender and flavorful.  I liked to eat them by themselves as I found the gribiche (a sort of egg-based tartar sauce) too tart and overpowering when combined with the delicate octopus.  The gribiche presented itself like your usual egg salad.

Speaking of tart…the pickled chanterelles were quite up there!

forage: Foraged and cultivated mushrooms

I can eat mushrooms all day, so the Foraged and cultivated mushrooms ($12) was of course another one of my picks.  It had a mix of crimini button, chanterelle, shimiji and oyster mushrooms.  Topped with Happy Island goat’s cheese, it was served with caraway rye bread.

I much enjoyed the mushroom-y parts but I did think this was on the salty side.  It was also really rich.

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Merchant’s Oyster Bar

A mutual friend of Fannypack’s and mine was visiting from out of town and Fannypack had the task of choosing a place for dinner.  She then of course passed it on to me even though lately she’s been eating out way more often than I =P.

Upon googling I came up with Merchant’s Oyster Bar which is located on “The Drive” (Commercial Drive).  What drawn me to this restaurant was its high rating on Urbanspoon plus the affordable $29 Prix Fixe menu.  I later learned that this establishment is from the same owner as Cork & Fin.

Merchant's Oyster Bar

Merchant’s Oyster Bar has a great nautical theme going on and I especially loved the rope embellishments right on top of the bar.  It’s also a very small restaurant and apparently the largest party size they can accommodate is 6.

Merchant's Oyster Bar: Freshly Shucked Oysters

Between the whole group we were able to try most of everything I would’ve wanted to try here.  I of course went with the prix fix menu.  For the first course I picked the Freshly Shucked Oysters served with a Champagne Mignonette and fresh grated horseradish.  Three different oysters were served but unfortunately, aside from the usual kusshi oysters, I couldn’t catch the name of the other two due to the high level of noisiness in the small restaurant, more on that later.

However it was no matter to my unrefined oyster tasting palette 😉  All three tasted great and fresh to me.  One in particular though (not the kusshi) had a more defined alkaline lingering on the tongue afterwards, and that was my favorite part.

Merchant's Oyster Bar: Roast Bone Marrow

Fannypack and I also ordered the two bone portion of the Roast Bone Marrow ($13) served with the usual baguette slices, parsley and tomato salad.

I must say the amount of marrow served was not enough to even cover the two slices of baguette each.  Not even to thinly coat, and to actually taste the marrow goodness you can’t really thinly coat the baguette or else all you’ll taste is baguette.  So in the end it was only enough to cover half of each slice or one slice total each.

But whatever I was able to taste, tasted divine.  It was buttery and satiating.  I’ve tried recreating this at home before, without having tried it at a restaurant.  Now that I have, I think I’ll attempt it again.

The subtle acidity of the parsley salad as a palette cleanser balanced out the fatty richness of the marrow.  I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed the parsley salad as parsley is probably one of my least favorite herbs.

Anyway Fannypack and I tried to quickly finish up this course as the others had to wait until we finished this extra helping until their second course arrived.

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Victoria Weekend Trip Part 1 – The Mint

Howdy, it’s Hitman here to start off this post where we’re going to review several restaurants we dined at during a recent trip to Victoria for my sister’s wedding.  Victoria is notoriously hit and miss for the food scene, and I’ve had my share of misses there but thankfully this trip we lucked out and would highly recommend any of the following eateries.

The Mint Dining Lounge in Victoria

While we were deciding whether to have Thai or Indian food for our first meal in the city, which was a Friday night dinner, I rang up a local friend to see what they recommended.  He was eating at a place called The Mint dining lounge which was just a short walk from our hotel and after a quick google search (I’ve been steered wrong by the locals before….seems in Victoria sometimes places get popular just by virtue of being “hip” regardless of the food so we weren’t taking any chances), we decided to join them for some crazy Indian/Thai/Greek/Italian/Tibetan/Japanese/whatever fusion.

We could hear music playing as we descended the dimly lit, glitter covered concrete steps which was a sign of the funky, cool atmosphere to come.  Once inside we could see the place was packed, but thankfully no lineup–everywhere we went in the downtown core we saw some pretty crazy lineups for clubs, pubs, restaurants etc.  Even a lineup for a pho place!!  We will be hitting that one up next time as we could smell the broth half a block away and it was intoxicating, even though we had just ate!  Back to Mint, the lighting was quite impressive in the opening dining area, with small Xmas-style light bulbs strung along the ceilings which cast the perfect illumination to set a romantic mood, even though the place was batshit noisy.  Part of this noise was coming from a live DJ spinning on a converted stovetop setup complete with kettle!  Some nice electro beats on this particular night, nothing too overwhelming but a nice compliment to the hipster ambiance.  The decor was quite a mixed bag, dropping hints of the eclectic menu: Thai and Indian masks, elephant statues, modern wildlife artwork including some with the wildlife engaged in sex acts…daily specials written on a giant circular saw hanging on the wall behind the bar.

The Mint Dining Lounge in Victoria: Water Buffalo Momos

There wasn’t room at the table the friend was at as they had a big party going on so we didn’t join them until some guests left later, so we settled in to our own table and ordered Water Buffalo Momos to start which were a special for $8.95.  They were practically thumbnail size so we didn’t feel like we got anywhere near our money’s worth.  They appeared to be deep fried instead of the steamed style we were used to…not as good in our opinion.  It came with an achar that tasted like a salsa with a slight pickled flavour.  Maybe they can find a better use for it than the momos because it was kind of interesting.

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