Wednesday, August 6, 2014

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.