When I first heard that Victoria would be hosting Culinaire 2011, I was extremely excited! Their website boasts of providing a “chance to experience the best restaurants and purveyors of fine food and beverage our region has to offer.” My partner and I purchased our tickets four months in advanced and made plans to ensure we were free for the evening. We love good food, but having an opportunity to try out some of the best foods of our local area was priceless.
There were two times available, from 5-730 and then from 730-10pm. We choose the later of the two and arrived at the Crystal Gardens around 720pm. There was a line with about 100 people waiting, so we quickly got to the back and started to wait anticipating yummy food! By the time they opened the doors at 730, the line had wound it’s way all the way down the block and around the corner, so I was definitely thankful to get there the ten minutes early. (Every once in awhile we also got a waft of the delicious food we were about to encounter, so it was a good way of getting amped up for dinner.)
We were finally allowed in. It was PACKED with people. They provided a coat check and I instantly de-coated myself, because I could tell just by the amount of people that were inside, and the cooking, that it was going to be a warm evening. (Especially when you add in a glass or two of wine…)
Our first instinct was to kind of orient ourselves and figure out what was where. It was very daunting at first, because it was incredibly busy, very packed, and we were kind of starving. There were two levels to the room, with tables for different wineries, breweries and restaurants throughout. We very quickly learned that we were going to have to be slightly aggressive, not only to get through the crowd to go from table to table, but in order to get to the front of the table in order to get food!
Once we became comfortable in the setting and got into the groove of the evening, we started in on our food tasting adventure. There was semi-good representation in terms of restaurants in the area, though, I was surprised at the lack of more ethnic choices. Nonetheless, we were very satisfied by the time we left.
I have to apologize ahead of time. It was my intention to keep track of what I ate and where each dish came from while we were experiencing Culinaire, but the environment was far too hectic to keep track of those sorts of details. I did, however, remember each and every sampling of food I had the pleasure of tasting and could recall some of the restaurants they were from….
Deciding that I should ease myself into the tasting, I thought it best to start with more of an appetizer type of sample. I started with a brie wrapped in filo pastry, paired with a rum punch from Sauce. The punch was literally from the bottom of the punch bowl, and it tasted as such – one more of those and I would have been in trouble! The brie was absolutely delicious and was baked with a cinnamon apple mixture inside. Next I had a shrimp and crab cake from Pescatores, which was good, but given the circumstances might not have been the greatest choice. It was a bit soggy, not crisp and fell apart, so it was almost impossible to eat with your fingers and they didn’t provide a fork. I wasn’t overly excited with that cake, so a salmon cake caught my eye from the restaurant at Butchart Gardens. It sat on an aioli that was paired with a lemon oil that was out of this world. The neatest part of this dish – they provided the recipe on a cute, little recipe card! I’ll be testing that recipe SOON!
It seemed at this point it was time to dive into the more entree type dishes. Next I had a beef slider, paired with a beer. The only thing outstanding about this sampling was the wonderful whole wheat bun with whole oats on top. Without the bun, this slider wasn’t my favourite of the evening. The beer wasn’t spectacular either. I then had a braised beef ravioli with truffle oil and greens on top. I was on a mission to have something with truffle, so this was what I was looking for. It was prepared by Gordon Food Service. It was good, but nothing to write home about.
Close to the GFS table was another restaurant and I feel awful for not remembering this one, because it truly was my favourite! I walked up to the table to get a peek at what was cooking and the host noticed my empty wine glass and emptied their bottle into my glass! I thought that was really sweet, and so I decided to try their dish – beef vindaloo. The rice was cooked perfectly, the flavour was amazing and it wasn’t just a tiny serving. It was the best by far, out of everything I had that evening. The portion was fantastic, the taste was amazing, the spice was perfect…. MmmmMmmm.
Next came a crab beignet on an orange marmalade, which was paired with a tequila martini. This was tasty, but I was still comparing it to the salmon cake I had for the Butchard Gardens Restaurant and there just was no comparison. I was left with three more samples left, and I knew I wanted to taste two desserts, so I had to choose my last savory dish. I was very disappointed. It was a braised pork dish with cabbage and some form of risotto. I’ve had little experience in eating risotto, so I was excited for this dish, but it completely fell flat. The risotto was almost chalky, the cabbage was not very flavourful, but the pork was okay! Needless to say I do not recall what restaurant this came from.
For dessert my partner and I decided to share. We both had a lemon meringue Rogers chocolate, which was incredibly intense. We also each had a chocolate quinoa cookie from Bubby’s Rose’s Bakery, which was amazing. I have recently really gotten into cooking quinoa at home, which we now love, but the thought of having a more sweet treat…. very exciting! And it was delicious. I’ve got to find a recipe to try it out at home. Lastly, we finished with a flourless chocolate cake topped with cherries, paired with a chilled stout beer. What an amazing way to end the food-tastic night. The cake was so, so good and with the beer, wow, what a combination!
Once we were finished eating, we went to the coat check, grabbed our jackets and walked up to our car. What a great event! Culinaire will indefinitely be an annual event for us.
Photo credits to Maryanne Carmack Photography