On a way to Victoria we visited several small cities and took scenic bypass road instead of taking the main Hwys (19 and then 1). It `was very beautiful but rather uneventful. Because of the detours, it took us about 4 hours to get to Victoria.
Our hotel (Executive House Hotel) was new for us – we never stayed there before. I picked it based on location, good reviews and rates. I got very good rate booking directly through hotel and using their advanced purchase plan. I followed the advice given by someone on the Tripadvisor and asked for a higher floor. We got a room on 14th floor looking right over the back of the Empress Hotel at the Inner Harbor; really great view. Our room was of a decent size and well appointed. It is a pity that they did not have a fridge for our cheeses and wine so I had to use ice instead. But overall we liked this hotel a lot and would stay there again.
At the front desk we asked about location of the restaurants that I picked from the Tripadvisor. Instead of those restaurants we were recommended a different one that was very close to our hotel – the Pescatores.
We ordered 2 appetizers – Oysters Pescatores and Smoked Tuna Loin. Both were very good but tuna was simply outstanding. It was hot-smoked and yet tender and not overcooked inside. It was served on toasted bread slices topped spicy ginger-soy sauce with raw asparagus cut into thin strips and tomato. I need to make it at home using old electric wok as a smoker. Their oysters (house specialty of oysters roasted over bacon leek cream and topped with flash fried leeks) were very fresh and barely baked still retaining some of the raw oyster’s flavor. For the entrée we both went for their specials. Alex had Roasted Monchong with citrus butter glaze, grilled corn relish, grilled asparagus and shredded beets and pomme frites. Monchong is Hawaiian fish that is related to tuna but is much lighter and with milder taste. Alex loved it. I had Wild Spring Salmon with chive crème fresh, braised aragula, candied baby white radish, grilled asparagus and roasted tomato compote. It was the best salmon I ever had – very light, tender and juicy.
However, the overall impression was mixed. We loved the food and the service but their décor was dated and too pompous for our liking.
Unfortunately, weather was getting significantly colder that previously in our trip. Wind was cold and strong enough for being in Estonia.
We started our next day, May 19, (our last day in Canada) with a breakfast at Blue Fox Cafe that was recommended by our waiter at Pescatore. It was very interesting experience. The Blue Fox Cafe was very funky looking and super-busy place with pretty punky looking waiters (one of them had half of her head shave and her hair decorated with hot pink highlights). We had to wait for over 20 minutes to be seated. However, after we got our table, service was very efficient and friendly. Their great coffee was poured as soon as our cups were getting half empty; food arrived pretty fast and was very-very good. Their portions were HUGE, big enough for hungry growing teenagers. Alex had Benny Pacific (Eggs Benedict with Smoked Salmon and Spicy aioli) and I had Mexi Omelet (omelet stuffed with Mexican-style pulled pork, roasted pepper and tomatoes, cheese and some other tasty stuff). I was not able to finish my portion and Alex had to work hard to finish his. We were so full that we barely got hungry by our late (8pm) dinner.
My huge 'Mexi' omelet:
After breakfast we spent few hours walking around Victoria Downtown – first along their Antique Row (Fort Street) and then along other main streets. I need to admit that after Vancouver Victoria feels provincial in spite of being the capital of the British Columbia and also having very British feel to it.
While reading a magazine about Victoria in our hotel, I learned that three main landmarks of Victoria – The Empress Hotel, the Parliament Buildings and the Crystal Gardens were all designed by the same architect – the Englishman Francis Mawson Rattenbury. His life story reads almost like a Shakespeare’s play. Soon after winning the competition for the Legislative Buildings in Victoria, Rattenbury was involved in a series of financial ventures that eventually became profitable. After World War I, however, his luck turned sour and he lost his fortune.
In addition, in 1923 at the edge 56 he left his wife and children for 27-year old mistress, Alma Pakenham, “an easy woman” who drank, smoked and even did drugs. Later they got officially married and had a child. They moved to England where Alma began an affair with George Percy Stoner, her 18 year old chauffeur. In 1935, Rattenbury was murdered in his sitting room by blows to the head with a carpenter's mallet by his wife’s lover. The chauffeur was sentenced to hang although it was later commuted to a life sentence but he actually got out after only 7 years. Distraught, Alma committed suicide by stabbing herself in the heart. There are claims that Rattenbury's ghost has been seen in the Empress many times. What a story!
Initially we were also planning to visit the Butchart Garden but changed our mind. The only plants in bloom there during this time of a year are rhododendrons and I doubt that they would be able to beat the Stanley Park’s display. Also, they are getting pretty expensive. It is now about $30 per person with tax. We were not ready to pay this kind of money for seeing the garden in between the season’s state.
So instead of going to the Butchart Garden we drove along the waterfront of Victoria from the Inner Harbor to the University of Victoria. Beautiful vistas, beautiful houses in a park-like setting; very enjoyable drive.
We also visited Government House grounds. Government House is the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia and is called "the Ceremonial Home of all British Columbians." It is where the Royal Family and visiting foreign dignitaries are greeted and often stay while in Victoria. The original house was built in 1860 but got destroyed by fire twice – in 1899 and in 1957. Interestingly, that new building after 1899 fire was designed by the same unfortunate Francis Rattenbury.
While the house is not open to public, its 26 acre grounds are. The grounds are divided into numerous zones according to plant life and/or garden style such as herb garden, rose garden, rhododendrons garden and many more. It is too bad that we did not have more time to spend there. We had to take our car to a ferry line area where we left in overnight to assure that we get space on a first ferry.
After we parked our car, we went to a dinner to a highly recommended French restaurant - Bon Rouge Bistro. Very-very overrated restaurant. We had great and cheerful waitress but this was all our luck. We ordered 2 beers on a tap but they ran out of Alex’s type of beer so he got only ¾ of the glass. However, because of this it was on a house. Next, it took almost an hour to get our appetizers. Well, our waitress apologized again and said that because it took them so long, she will not charge us for our appetizers. This was good but the appetizers were nothing to write home about. We had Seared Scallops (do not know why they called it ‘scallops’, there was only one scallop) and Fried Baby Octopus. It was very bland and boring and the lonely scallop was overdone. Our second appetizer was Salmon Tartar served with crème fraiche and potato chips. As interesting as it sounds, it was done completely without any salt or other spices. Just minced raw salmon. I asked for salt and Tabasco and added it to the tartar which made it good. However, we loved the concept and I am planning making it at home using sushi grade salmon. I think it will work well with minced onion, salt and pepper and some lemon juice or with just salt and Sriracha sauce. For the entrees I ordered Duck Confit with white bean cassoulet. Duck was OK but had unappetizing pale soft skin. Beans were just plainly boring. Alex had their special braised short ribs. While meat was very soft, it was on a dry side ant pretty tasteless. In addition, it was served with white beans that were undercooked and again, very boring. The last drop was a group of nine women who were sitting at the table right next to us. They were so very loud that by the end of the dinner I started getting a headache. Overall the whole experience was very disappointing. I do not believe we will ever go to this restaurant again.