Thursday, August 21, 2014

Back to Orcas

click photo for panarama
Cheryl and I had planned on going to Portland for a music festival last weekend, but after we got back from our day trip to Fairhaven via Chuckanut Drive last month, we were so enamored with our beautiful Pacific Northwest coastline, that we totally changed our plan and decided to go back to Orcas Island instead for some island relaxation. This time, instead of just eating at the Doe Bay Café, we stayed in a cabin at the Doe Bay Resort. "Resort" is an odd choice of wording for this place but I'd be hard-pressed to come up with a better one. "Camp-o-rama" is the only thing that comes to mind and that might look funny on the signage. Doe Bay Resort is a spectacular piece of property on the east side of Orcas Island. You get off the ferry, drive along a winding country road, through the town of Eastsound, past horse pastures, through Moran State Park, past Cascade Lake, and end up on a bluff with cabins, campsites, yurts, geodesic domes, a fine-dining restaurant, a beautiful "spa" with three soaking tubs overlooking the water (clothing optional; I opted to wear a swimsuit), a small general store, a communal kitchen, warm showers, and clean bathrooms.
our little cabin in the woods

Our cabin was called Lower Satva and it was at the end of a U-shaped dirt road with campsites on either side and just one other cabin if you didn't count the Upper Satva cabin, which was connected to ours, duplex-style. We never saw the inhabitants of Upper Satva, but we are fairly certain that they were a family of clog-dancers who were traveling with a herd of Clydesdales. The cabins are tiny, primitive wood structures (no bathrooms or kitchens but two nice beds, a futon, and a small table) and Upper and Lower Satva each had lofts. The stairs up the loft were planks that made a RACKET when you climbed up, and the Upper Satva folks seemed to come and go late at night and spent an inordinate amount of time clomping up and down the stairs and moving furniture in a manner which made it sound like we were next door to Santa's workshop. I swear they were building furniture in there at 11pm both nights. I didn't really mind that much, though. My only goal for the weekend was to catch up on my New Yorkers, and I accomplished that; the first night in bed tucked up in my little loft, and the second day first sitting out on the bluff and reading during the moments when I could tear myself away from the view. And while we said the word "hike" a few times, we didn't actually take one. We had dinner at the Café the first night and at a spectacular pizza at Hogstone's Wood Oven in Eastsound the second night. I made my coffee and breakfast in the communal kitchen both mornings and then sat on the bluff looking at the sailboats moored off Doe Bay; we hit the soaking tubs both nights before going to bed - it was a gorgeous weekend.
dinner at the Café started with a shot of gazpacho
Cheryl had a golden beet and carrot risotto
I had a spectacular roasted corn and buttermilk soup

dessert was a flourless chocolate tart

one of the yurts

Some of the other accommodations; our cabin and some of the campsites are nestled in the woods.
view during breakfast

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A bit of Italy in British Columbia

We headed home on Monday and were nervous about getting  the ferry back to the mainland since we didn't have a reservation and the reserved vehicle slots were sold out. We decided to shoot for the 3:15 boat by getting to the dock two hours early so we left the hotel around 10 and headed for the Coombs Country Market (which I had also visited on my last trip). We did a quick stroll around the market and as the cafe inside didn't have anything we wanted, we headed out to see if any of the other buildings on the market grounds were restaurants. That's how we ended up at Cuckoo in Coombs Trattoria. I will say that of all the names to give a restaurant, all the words one could combine with the location (Coombs, B.C.) and the type of restaurant (trattoria), "cuckoo" is not one I would choose, but that's just me, and the place was lovely. The restaurant had just opened for lunch minutes before we got there so the dining room was largely empty, but the hostess, perhaps simply because she knew best, didn't even ask if we'd like to sit outside, she just led us out to a lovely al fesco dining area, up a few steps to a small, raised patio within that area, and gave us what we considered to be the nicest table in the place. We ordered a spinach salad and a salmon pizza, had a nice lunch, and headed for the dock. We got there exactly two hours early (with plenty of reading material in the car) and had no trouble getting home, stopping along the way at the Oyster Bar on Chuckanut Drive for halibut soup and fried oysters, and even more awesome views of the Pacific Northwest.
from the Oyster Bar

A Hike with a View

Sunday morning we got up, got some coffee, and after heading about an hour out of our way in the wrong direction (thanks, google maps!), we made it to the Mt. Washington ski resort. The plan was to have lunch then ride the lift up and hike around the top. This was the same place Jenine and I had come to in 2011 for our downhill mountain biking adventure, something which the resort no longer offers (too many broken bones). Gary and I had more leisurely pursuits in mind and we spent a couple of hours walking around the top of the hill, pointing out the obvious ("this looks nothing like Alabama"), letting birds eat out of our hands (well, his hand; I suggested that the birds while friendly, might be riddled with diseases), and generally enjoying the sunshine and views.

click photo for full panorama.
We got back to the hotel in time for our massages at the spa, and then went to dinner at the Blackfin Pub where we had a nice view of the Comox marina and some mighty fine fish and chips. I had to do some gentle convincing regarding the dessert I wanted - it was a mud pie which included pecans in the cookie crust (he's not a fan, despite living in the South) and hazelnut ice cream (he just wasn't sure about hazelnuts...) but I just knew he'd like it and he was willing to give it a shot. I forgot to take a picture when it arrived, but I think the one I got speaks to how it was received. 
view - click photo for full panorama.

Island Time

That's my red car... barely made it!
I hadn't been back to Vancouver Island since Jenine and I went in July of 2011 ( and it being one of my favorite places, I planned a trip back during Gary's current visit to Seattle. Saturday morning, up early, headed for the border, got to the ferry dock in Tsawwassen an hour before the 10:15 boat was due to leave. We didn't know it was a long weekend in Canada making it a high traffic day on the boats, but luckily we made it on by the skin of our teeth. The crossing was spectacular, as usual, although we used the time to do some Army work (G) and catch up on New Yorkers (me) so the scenery was somewhat ignored after our first stroll around the outside deck. We docked just south of Nanaimo and made our way to Courtenay on the central part of the island, checked in to our hotel, and took a nap. There is something about the nap taken after an early morning of traveling that is just beyond satisfying. We got up barely in time to poke around the few shops in Courtenay before they closed at 5:30 (gotta love small town retail) and drove around a bit before heading back to the hotel for what would prove to be a rather bizarre dinner at the hotel restaurant.

Our hotel package came with a dinner gift certificate good at a variety of restaurants in the area. We chose Locals which was attached to the hotel property; I had looked at the menu on-line and it looked like a nice restaurant with a fresh menu, largely based on offerings from purveyors on the island. The restaurant itself is a pretty little place, with the look of a country inn: flower beds, a gazebo, and a cozy interior with a English-cottage feel.

We were seated, and then we had plenty of time to enjoy the room and each others company as we waited. And waited. And waited some more. Someone finally approached our table after about ten minutes and poured water without saying a word and then vanished. Well this was curious, we thought, as we continued to wait. Gary finally saw the hostess who seated us as she was bringing something to a nearby table, caught her attention, and asked which of the servers running about might be responsible for our table. I added, "because, we'd love to perhaps order a drink..." with a look that indicated, "you know, since we've been sitting here being completely ignored for 15 minutes." The hostess looked genuinely pained and said she would send our server over. A bubbly young lady appeared, said not a word about the delay, and asked what we would like. I ordered a cocktail off the drinks menu and she looked at me blankly. Granted, I got the name wrong, inserting "Framboise" where I should have said "raspberry" but given that Framboise is made from raspberries, I thought her complete lack of recognition was a bit much. Gary ordered a glass of wine by stating both the grape and the winery listed and got the same blank response. When he finally pointed to it on the page, she figured it out. She was oddly chipper at the same time as being clueless and when she went off to get our aperitifs, I wondered aloud if perhaps she was drunk. Our drinks arrived and perhaps it was my own damn fault... I'm embarrassed to give the description of my drink (ok, it was vodka, Framboise, and 7-Up) -- it tasted like jam. I would have added a healthy shot of lime juice and subbed soda water for the 7-Up, but that's me; Gary's wine was mediocre at best.

duck confit salad
About 20 minutes later (if that's an exaggeration, it's slight), another server came to take our dinner order. She was nice and sort of acknowledged that there had been some service issues, "thanks for your patience" (I would have comped the drinks at that point, but again, that's me). We ordered a duck confit salad and crab and salmon cakes to start, a New York steak, and had plans for dessert which I'll get to later. The duck confit salad had a "local wild berry dressing." It looked and tasted like jam (and I began to sense a theme). There was no liquidity to the dressing at all, it was just blobbed on the leaves. The duck was really tasty though. The crab/salmon cakes were so pretty on the plate, too bad they tasked exactly like the ones I make with canned salmon, with the crab aspect merely hinted at. Then came the steak; Gary and I have discussed NOT ordering steak in casual restaurants anymore. It's just not worth it to pay 20+ bucks for a mediocre piece of meat cooked by cooks who are also churning out burgers and hummus plates. We decided that when we want a nice steak, we were going to PAY for a nice steak in an appropriate venue. This steak was $33 (not outrageous but enough to expect a decent cut of beef) and while it was cooked nicely, the soggy leeks and overpowering blue cheese killed any flavor nuance of the meat. We order steak because we love the flavor of beef so dressing it up too much is a mistake. And then came dessert. We had high hopes for dessert, having seen a few plates of sweet sensations being delivered to other tables. We ordered the cream puff with Chantilly cream and fresh berries. At this point, the mediocrity of the meal had reached high comedy in our minds, because now it was a challenge - a dare for the dessert to redeem the other courses and to match the charm of the place! That's what was so odd - the room and the grounds were so pretty, even the food was pretty, why didn't it taste better?! But alas... the Chantilly cream was sorely lacking in sweetness, the pastry was soggy (and I mean SOG-gy), and the berries... oh, hell, I don't even know. I barely tasted the thing.
looked good, tasted... meh.

You know what, though? Gary and I like hanging out together and we like eating in restaurants and we like talking about what we're experiencing, which we actually found rather comical; and neither one of us are the sorts who would let a less than stellar meal ruin an evening. We were on a weekend escape to a beautiful island and if this meal wasn't the best ever, so what? That's the bottom line, right? So what.
It pains me to say this, but it wasn't that great.