Monday, May 4, 2009

Take a Friend and Eat Here.

On my recent road-trip around the Vancouver/Victoria/Seattle-ish area, I ate out a yet-to-be-disclosed number of times. Here are my favourites from the trip, each made that much better because I was taken by de-light-ful friends.


Abigail’s Party

1685 Yew Street (Kitsilano)

This teeny-tiny gem is a quick walk from the water and frequented by a young, happy crowd. Although known for their late night dinners and drinks, they also do a mean brunch which we indulged in on a lazy Sunday morning. The service was incredibly friendly, it of course helping that my dining companions were greeted upon entry with a riotous “heeeeeeyoooooo!” by both kitchen and serving staff……clear regulars. I got the impression, however, that everyone is welcomed graciously to the Party, so fear not if you’re new to the neighbourhood. Food-wise, the menu offered a lot; we shared some cinnamon bun French toast, my huevos rancheros were stacked high and delicious, and the addition of a shot of Baileys to one’s coffee is a highly encouraged practise. In fact, more than one round of shots were ordered during the meal so take your friends, not your Grandmother, to this joint.

Finch’s Tea and Coffee House

353 West Pender Street (Gastown)

My friend Jillian, a former employee of Finch’s, treated me to lunch here because she thought I would enjoy it. And did I ever. This lunch spot is known for its beautifully-crafted baguettes, each wrapped up with brown paper and string to go as perfect little packages. Jillian recommended “the” sandwich to me: paper-thin prosciutto, ripe sliced pear, generous wedges of bleu brie and toasted walnuts, all artistically arranged within an oil and vinegar-drizzled French baguette. The ingredients were quality and the presentation impeccable. Apparently some people take issue with the fact that these sandwiches take a few minutes to construct, but for those willing to hang out a few extra minutes in the tastefully vintage sunlit shop, the wait is both pleasant and entirely worth it. I could have a Finch’s baguette for lunch every day.

Now Over to the Island….

Cowichan Bay

Head 40 minutes up-island from Victoria and you’ll find Cowichan Bay, a ridiculously quaint community of homes, shops, and B&B’s strung along the harbour. We visited:

Hilary’s Cheese Shop

Cowichan Bay Village

This little shop imports a number of European cheeses but features their own, locally made cheese produced at their nearby farm. We bought some fresh chèvre, a mild blue called “Sacre Bleu!” and a washed rind with a layer of vegetal ash at its centre, similar to Morbier but made distinct by a finish of cocoa powder on its rind.

True Grain

Cowichan Bay Village

After buying our cheese we headed next door to the village’s artisanal bread bakery, True Grain, which uses house-milled, locally grown grains in many of their signature organic loaves. These include heritage varieties of wheat such as Red Fife, as well as other, wheat-free alternative grains. Haley (my Cowichan-adventuring partner) and I stocked up on a few different cookies, sweet buns, a multigrain loaf, and an organic sourdough baguette (to go with the cheese, of course).

The Udder Guys Ice Cream Co.

Cowichan Bay Village

After the bakery came dessert (number two, I suppose, after the cookies), provided by yet another local island venture – ice cream from The Udder Guys, based out of Duncan. It’s made from scratch and damn good. I had pistachio, Haley had chocolate, and we dangled our feet off the dock and ate them in the sun.

Cowichan Bay Farm

1560 Cowichan Bay Road

After our village shopping spree we left the harbour area and drove to this nearby farm, which houses an honour-system shop set at the far end of their winding driveway. The drive gives visitors a chance to admire their picturesque farm, complete with restored vintage trucks, hammocks hung below cherry blossoms, and horses seeking shade in the old grey barn (I assure this place was actually as pastoral as I’m making it out to be). We bought some house-made free-range chicken sausages, fed the horse, petted the cat, talked to the ewes, and were on our way.


1935 Doran Road, Cobble Hill

This farm-find was the result of our next-on-the-local-grocery-list-pursuit: eggs. We followed some “BC Grown” signs to discover an incredibly diverse little farm that sold all sorts of things we weren’t expecting to find. Like chocolate! OrganicFair imports fair-trade cacao beans and make their own dark chocolate bars, adding home-grown flavours such as lavender, hazelnuts, chipotle chilis, rose essence, and dried blueberries and apples, among many others. They also sell homemade loose tea, herbs, aromatherapy oils, colourful eggs from free-range chickens of heirloom breeds (literally colourful – our box of six were pale green, blue, pink, and grey!), and fresh baking and produce in the summer. A must-visit!

Now to Seattle….

Café Besalu

5909 24th Ave NW

This latest lower-mainland trip of mine included a 3-day jaunt to Seattle to visit my dear friends Zach and Jennifer, whom I met last year in Southern Africa. After enduring a hellish overland tour through Mozambique together, we were all quite happy to meet in a new setting and enjoy some luxuries not found in Maputo. Like amazing French pastries! These were found at Café Besalu, a wildly popular bakery-café in Ballard, the former fishing village/now happening neighbourhood located 10 minutes north of downtown Seattle. Jen had warned me about the café lineups (looooong), and predicted that I wouldn’t be able to choose just one thing. Right and right. I finally settled on a piece of ham, Manchego and asparagus quiche, a glazed apple pastry, and a pain au chocolat (to go, I swear didn’t eat it all in one sitting). I cannot imagine these being any better if I bought them in Paris; their reputation is well-deserved.

La Carta de Oaxaca

5431 Ballard Ave. NW

Next on the Seattle culinary tour was La Carta de Oaxaca, another packed house with long waits for tables appeased by strong margaritas at the bar. This noisy restaurant is run seamlessly by a Mexican family who cook food from home for customers seated at communal tables with hot sauce, salsa, and conversation to spare. We tried the Chicken Mole (the house special), a hearty bowl of Posole (pork and hominy stew), and several other dishes featuring their homemade corn tortillas and Oaxacan cheese. This was my first taste of real Mexican food and I can finally see what my friend Stephanie, a resident of Oaxaca for a year, was raving about.

Pam’s Kitchen

5000 University Way NE

Recently featured on the Food Network, this laid-back kitchen dishes up the food of Trinidad, a blend of numerous culinary traditions including African, Creole, and Indian. Pam cooks up the food in the back while her son (one of the most beautiful men I have ever laid eyes upon!) serves it up front, mixing up some sweet and terrifyingly strong rum cocktails to have on the side. I ordered the chicken roti; braised spicy chicken served with curried potatoes, chickpeas, and a light salad. To share we also ordered some mashed pumpkin and spicy string beans, as well as a paratha (“Buss Up Shut” in Trinidadian) to go with each meal. I love that almost every culture in the world has their own version of grilled flatbread, and Trinidad is no exception. The giant, flaky, warm paratha that I ate my chicken with was the BEST THING EVER. I strongly dislike the people who decided that forks, rather than flatbread, are the best way to eat food in the West.

Caffé Fiore

5405 Leary Ave NW

Last but not least, I need to give a shout-out to the inviting Ballard coffee shop, Caffé Fiore, because they made me the best chai I have ever had. Very spicy, not sweet, served up by “the nicest baristas in the city,” according to Jen, and made all the better because they are located in an old brick building.

Seattle tastes good.


  1. Good LORD they all sound amazing! Particularly the baguette with the pear.... oh my goodness I must visit...

  2. I know True Grain! We always stop there to stock up on oatmeal cookies before coming back. I've always wanted to try out Abigail's Party, but it's a bit out of the way.