I've fished in lakes throughout Minnesota - even went up to Lake-of-the-Woods once on the Canadian border - in search of walleye pike and Northerns. But fishing off the coast of Vancouver, it's all about the sockeye salmon. Fortunately for me, the local fishery is in the midst of a four-year cycle, and last week proved to be the heart of it, as the salmon are preparing to swim back upstream to their birthplace very soon. Our captain was awfully optimistic as we launched from the dock in the heart of Vancouver, near Stanley Park. (Video)
Victoria may have a reputation as a haven for retirees and Provincial employees, but after my first visit there last week, the city on the Southern edge of Vancouver Island has gained my respect -- especially from the perspective of a die-hard foodie. There are plenty of adventures here: kayaking, fishing and cycling, even ziplining through the trees (more on that in a later post). There are wineries within a 45-minute drive of downtown, as well as microbreweries and a culture emphasizing locally-grown produce and cheeses.
Chefs here work directly with the farmers; not because it's trendy, but because that's the way they've always done things. There is an Island Chef's Collaborative, working on creating a sustainable, local food and agricultural system. One of the best examples of local product usage is at the tiny Red Fish Blue Fish, where we had a casual dinner at sunset that was unparalleled.
To get to Vancouver Island, you'll need to take a ferry. It's about an hour-and-a-half trip from the terminal near Vancouver.
British Columbia Ferry Services Inc.
1112 Fort Street
Victoria, BC Canada V8V 4V2
1-888-BCFERRY (1-888-223-3779) from anywhere in North America
4th Floor, 31 Bastion Square
Victoria, BC V8W 1J1
Here's where we stayed:
The Oswego Hotel
500 Oswego Street
Victoria, BC V8V 5C1
A great little boutique hotel just a five-minute walk from the main part of town, it had shades of Kimpton with its sleek room design and killer views of the city.
Here's where we ate:
Red Fish Blue Fish -- (Video)
1006 Wharf Street on Broughton Street Pier, Phone: 250-298-6877
Loved the cod dog, plus the halibut and cod fish 'n chips, shrimp roll, wild salmon "tacones" and the tempura pickles. All of the seafood here is certified by Ocean Wise, a program promoting sustainable seafood via the Vancouver Aquarium.
537 Johnson Street, Phone: 250-381-8414, www.williesbakery.com
Founded in 1887, Willie's is British Columbia's oldest bakery. Fresh baked goods and fresh coffee served in a casual environment in one of Victoria's heritage buildings.
Mo:Le 554 Pandora Avenue, Phone: 250-385-6653, www.molerestaurant.ca
Try the banana cakes or the Mo:Le Benny : two poached or scrambled eggs with smoked tuna, avocado and thyme-roasted tomatoes on a buttermilk biscuit; served with pesto hash browns
Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub & Guesthouses
308 Catherine Street
Victoria, BC V9A 3S8
As Victoria's only "gastro" brewpub, Spinnakers combines regional cuisine with hand-crafted beer. Spinnakers is Canada's oldest licensed brewpub and a pioneer of the North American micro-brewing renaissance. They also have an on-premise malt vinegar brewery, unique in North America. An almost religious adherence to local products was evident in a fantastic cioppino and a pristine plate of BC oysters.
633 Courtney Street (Nootka Court), Phone: 250-388-7383
Located adjacent to Victoria's Bug Zoo in Nootka Court, this quaint Japanese deli serves up a lunch only menu of locally sourced organic Japanese fare. Daidoco's menu items range from $2 - 8 CDN and they are open from 11:00 am until all items are sold out, which usually only takes a couple of hours. We had some grilled mackerel and a salad of organic greens and sprouts that came directly from the owner's garden.
Pizzeria Prima Strada
105 - 230 Cook Street, Victoria, BC Phone: 250-590-8595 www.pizzeriaprimastrada.com
The combination of handpicked Italian ingredients, like the Caputo 00 Pizzeria flour from Naples and local products, such as house-made fennel sausage and just-made buffalo mozzarella from North America's only pure-bred Water Buffalo herd living just 45 minutes away, make this pizzeria a must-visit. Baked in traditional wood-fired ovens, these thin crust pizzas are delicious. The pizzeria is located in the charming Cook Street Village, 10 minutes from downtown Victoria.
They make all of the waffle cones here everyday, and the handmade ice cream is outstanding (especially the Turkish Coffee).
Victoria Oysters: I'm not sure what I was more excited about: the fact that I could have pristine oysters from a number of British Columbia bays everyday of my vacation, or the fact that my nine-year-old son was now also a rabid fan of slurping some mollusks right alongside me. We saw Fanny Bay, Gorge Inlet and Kushi varieties on just about every menu in BC, and since Gulf oysters are most likely a questionable commodity for the near future, these BC beauties are not to be missed. (Video)
Adventuring in Sooke, British Columbia -- (Video)
I'm not what you'd call an adventure-seeker. I haven't sky dived, and I don't plan on doing a bungee jump anytime soon, but I would jump at the chance to get on zipline again, after my experience with Adrena Line Ziplines near the town of Sooke, about 45 min. from Victoria. You're outfitted with a helmet and a basic harness, then, with the aid of two extremely knowledgeable and friendly guides (isn't everyone in Canada friendly?) you're taken through a course of about seven different ziplines, hooked up with clips and cables, then allowed to cruise through the trees at speeds reaching about 35 miles an hour. It's exhilarating, but totally safe and great for the whole family (min. weight is 60 pounds, max. is 275 per person).
Adrena Line Zipline Adventure Tours
5128C Sooke Rd,
Located beneath the 17 Mile Pub Liquor Store
Sooke BC, V9Z 0E2
After your zipline adventure, head into the town of Sooke for a little eating. We really enjoyed visiting these two places:
6688 Sooke Road, Sooke, Phone 778-425-3343 www.edgerestaurant.ca
The EdGe restaurant is a new restaurant in town, and doesn't look like much from the outside. Inside, Chef Edward Tuson, former Executive Chef of the Sooke Harbour House, turns out creative but totally approachable food with an eye on ingredients from nearby. The tuna melt with havarti that I had was one of the best I can remember, due in part to the fantastic bread it was served on.
Sooke Harbour House
1528 Whiffen Spit Road, Sooke Phone: 250-642-3421
Over the course of 25 years, Sinclair and Frederique Philip have developed Sooke Harbour House into one of the top small inns in the world by creating extensive organic gardens, an unconventional art gallery showcasing over 120 local artists, a wine cellar which is among the top 100 in the world, a restaurant serving only seasonal, regional, creative cuisine and 28 unique west coast inspired guest rooms.
After lunch, go for a little swim in the Sooke Potholes, adjacent to a Regional Park that runs along the Sooke River. The further up the river you go, the colder the water gets, and the more private it is. Near the top of the potholes is a double waterfall. Make sure you bring a towel and some water sandals for the kids though.
Izakaya: Chicago restaurateurs have been trying -- in vain -- to jump-start the izakaya trend here, but it hasn't worked, at least not yet. These Japanese pubs are more lively than the typical sushi joint, with boisterous crowds, excellent sake and beer lists, and food options that go far beyond spicy tuna rolls. Masu Izakaya lasted in Lincoln Park for barely four months. Chizakaya is slated to open in about a month on Lincoln Avenue. These entrepreneurs would do well to come to Vancouver for a bit of research. Nothing I've seen in Chicago compares to the vibrant culture of izakayas here. Hapa Izakaya is one of the oldest in town, and I had dinner there last week to see why they're still among the top examples in Vancouver. (Video)
Japadog: I had heard of these little carts in Vancouver, on busy street corners, selling all manner of hot dogs topped with Japanese mayo, chili sauce and fine shards of nori (seaweed). When I approached the cart in the late afternoon, a steady line, eight or nine-deep hadn't budged. They were here for the famously delicious - and beguiling - Japadog. A funky marriage of Hot Doug's-like sausage, Kogi BBQ-like bold toppings and Japanese-style acoutrements (boniato flakes, anyone?) (Video)