Saturday, August 14, 2010

“So, What Kind of Food are You Looking For . . .

when we visit Victoria?” I asked my favorite traveling companion. Without pausing for a breath, he responds: “Pub food. Shepherd’s pie. Meatloaf and mash. Bangers and mash.

Fortunately for him, downtown Victoria, British Columbia, is home to a plethora of pubs, so the only challenge was deciding which one. Then I happened upon the website for the Irish Times Pub and saw that on the menu they had two of the aforementioned three--Shepherd’s Pie and Bangers and Mash.

The imposing building, the present home of the Pub, had once housed a branch of the Bank of Montreal and, when that branch was closed, was the home of a Ralph Lauren store. But so cleverly was the space renovated that one would swear it had been a pub for decades. Etched on the windows are the words: “Food for the body. Drink for the spirit. Music for the soul.” From the dark wood bar (with its thirty taps) to the stylish white ceiling with its maroon accents (see below), you feel like you are back in the Old Country and are tempted to start singing “Danny Boy.” (The flat screen TV showing—what else—a soccer game seems too modern.)

While this is a fairly large restaurant with eighty outdoor seats along Government Street and Bastion Square and another one hundred ninety inside, the inside space is constructed with intimacy in mind. There are small dining rooms, cozy nooks, and a low ceilinged balcony. Normally, we would have eaten on one of the patios, but instead decided to seek out the warmth of the bar area and be surrounded by the dark wood and brass.

While the Irish Times is a pub, the menu is not just pub grub. For example, one could order: the Sea Salt and Pepper Dry Ribs—pork riblets lightly dusted and fried then tossed in sea salt and pepper
with Irish whiskey plum sauce; the Seafood Surfboard with salmon mousse, smoked salmon, halibut ceviche, whiskey buttered prawns, capers, and pickled onions with crispy flatbread; or Black and Tan Tuna—blackened and seared rare Albacore tuna, julienned carrot and cucumber, grape tomato and sesame seeds on West Coast mix with a Miso vinaigrette. All of these, especially the Seafood Surfboard sounded wonderful.

For Chuck, the choice was easy. It would be a cup of clam chowder and the Bangers and Mash. While not the best chowder we’ve had while in Canada (that honor goes to Joey’s Only in Cochrane, Alberta) this was still a very good chowder and was full of clams, potatoes, celery, onion, and – yes! – smoky bacon.

But the Bangers and Mash plate was extraordinary. The plate contained two very large and very lean sausages that seemed to have a slightly sweet taste, indicating that they had been steamed in beer before being finished on the grill. And all of the accompaniments complemented the sausages and each other. There was a small side of sweet cooked red cabbage, a side of mixed vegetables (corn, peas, and carrots), a side of apple chutney, a side of butternut squash puree, and a helping of garlic mashed potatoes with a hearty beef gravy. For a man who was hungry for bangers and mash, this was a dream come true.

For my lunch, I started with a cup of the Crab and Guinness Bisque which came topped with a large pat of fresh sweet butter. While there was a definite crab flavor to the bisque, discernable pieces of crab were few. But the Guinness added a sweet and almost smoky flavor. This was good, but no match for Chuck’s chowder.

I then went totally outside the box and ordered the Toad in the Hole appetizer for my meal. Toad in the Hole is a traditional English dish comprising sausages in Yorkshire pudding batter. The batter is light puffy bread made of a puff batter that is traditionally baked in the pan with roast beef. My Toad in the Hole was five mini Yorkshire puddings filled with beef short rib, and sausage from Choux Choux Charcuterie (a Victoria charcuterie), garlic mashed potatoes, and house gravy. And drizzled over all was a sweet beer reduction. If I had any complaint, it would be that the puddings were short on the beef and sausage, but were still full of hearty flavor.

Now after all of this food, you would think we wouldn’t have room for dessert. You’d be wrong to think that. There were only four items on the dessert list, but we had no trouble making a decision. All desserts came in small and regular sized portions, so we chose two small portions. One was the Orchard Fruit & White Chocolate Bread Pudding with dried cranberries and apricot and white and dark chocolate that was served warm with Irish Cream sauce.

The second was the Apple Rhubarb Crumble that again was served warm with vanilla bean ice cream.

Both were delicious, but especially the bread pudding. I have never been a bread pudding fan, but I am now realizing that I wasn’t a fan of my mother’s bread pudding, which was heavy and contained too much cinnamon and too many raisins. While the Irish Time’s pudding was rich and sweet, it was made with a light and airy bread which kept the dessert from being too heavy and too filling.

Again, thanks to the internet, we found a great lunch.

Since I would have liked more crab in my bisque and more meat in my Toad, I am only giving my meal 4.0 Addies—but Chuck’s meal certainly earned the full 5.0 Addies.

After lunch, we walked around the downtown area, bought a couple of souvenirs, and then boarded the bus to Swartz Bay where we picked up the ferry to Tsawwassen.

The pleasure boats and the working boats added another dimension to the simple beauty of the islands and the Strait of Georgia.

Here, one of the stars of the working boats, the tug boat, is towing a barge with a type of shovel derrick on it.

Beautiful scenery, fresh air, and an uncrowded ferry. A nice combina-tion.

And if that was not enough, some entertain-ment was provided by a group of orcas.

We could see more maneu-verable whale watching tour boats getting much closer to the whales, but these few moments provided some excitement for us.

A short day in Victoria, but a full one.

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