Thursday, October 16, 2014

Sidney, BC

This weekend, I’m on a wonderful Chick Trip. Every year for the past 17 years, my sisters and I have taken a trip together – just us, no brother, no Mom, no husbands, no kids, just the three of us. We look forward to it so much that we begin planning the next one even while (and sometimes even before the current one!). And yet we enjoy them fully. We wish we could do 2 or 3 a year, but that’s not likely.

This is the second time in all our years that we have an Extended Chick Trip. Last time, we invited our daughters (only one could come, the others are not at the time in their lives that it’s particularly attractive, but that will come); we invited our two oldest friends (I’m the oldest and I’ve known them since I was about 6 years old); one of them brought their daughter who was just a few months younger than my daughter – they played together a lot when they were little. This year, those two couldn’t come, so we each invited a really good friend with a long friendship history. And my daughter and her best friend came along, so there are 8 of us. Perfect number of people.

But we’re here to discuss food, yes? Oh my – I want to talk about two meals we’ve had in the Sidney / Victoria area of British Columbia. The first was Afternoon Tea at the Empress Hotel. This is an experience not to be missed. Yes, you can get an excellent Afternoon Tea for less money in Victoria, but this was an Experience with Ambiance in addition to delicious tea and tea items. I think everyone should take Afternoon Tea at the Empress Hotel at least once in their lives.

I got the Empress Blend tea which is my very favorite; I’ve tried some of their other teas, but this one is perfect for my tastes; and at the end of tea, they give you a box with 10 tea bags of Empress Blend in it – a nice little take-away. Some of our group got different teas and pronounced them delicious. Tea comprised a three tiered plate display. You begin eating from the bottom plate, which were little sandwiches. There was a marble rye finger sandwich with Moroccan curried chicken; a cranberry bread finger sandwich with smoked ham; a triangle sandwich with cream cheese and cucumber; a spiral sandwich slice with salmon; and a mini-croissant with egg salad. Then give yourself a little time to digest and you move to the middle plate which transitions you from savory to sweet. This layer has a golden raisin scone with a little pot of unsweetened whipped cream and some strawberry jam. This was delicious; one of group said she’d be happy with just that plate only with a few more scones! The top plate had the sweets. There was a pumpkin and caramel mousse-like bar; a black current coconut cake ball, a cheesecake with lemon curd in a white chocolate cup, ginger topped shortbread, and best of all, a chocolate mousse in a dark chocolate cup. The Empress Hotel is so accommodating. We asked for gluten free tea items for two people. They brought a beautiful three tiered tea plates – the sandwich breads were GF as well as the scones and the tiny desserts. It looked (and reportedly tasted) as wonderful as the other tea plates. Well, I have to report that as “difficult” as it was, we ate every bit – and waddled to our cars full and happy.

The other food experience was Friday night’s dinner in Sidney. We found a restaurant highly recommended in Urban Spoon that we went to, and I’m so glad we did! It was one of the best meals ever! The restaurant is called Seaglass on the Waterfront; it’s on Harbour Road in Sidney, just off of highway 17. Our waiter, Lee, quickly realized that he had 8 –let’s call us high-spirited – women and knew just how much to let us run and when to reel us back in. His descriptions of entrees and specials were spot on and he willingly repeated himself as we needed. We started out with wine and cocktails; 4 of us had a particularly yummy cocktail called the Pink Piranha, made from vodka, cranberry juice, pomegranate liqueur, and lychee liqueur, with a slice of lime. Mm-mmm.

We split some salads (unless you have a huge appetite, I’d recommend this – there was plenty of salad for two people). I had the Artisanal Salad with mixed greens, julienned carrots and beets, candied pecans, Craisins, and sliced kiwi – what a nice change from cucumbers! We had a citrus and black pepper vinaigrette. The other half of us had Caesar salad with freshly made dressing – they said it was also delicious. Freshly baked rosemary focaccia and soft butter accompanied the salads.

The meals, however, were spectacular! I’ll do my best to describe them. I had a pecan encrusted chicken breast that was juicy, tender, and flavorful. It rested on a large portion of mashed Yukon potatoes, with steamed carrots and broccoli on the sides. It had a little pile of julienned apples that were sautéed, with sugar and cinnamon. This was garnished with pea tendrils. Then there was a Bartlett pear compote and what I thought was a large piece of pear on the side, but when I tasted it, it was a golden beet. The whole meal was one delicious bite after another. I did leave some of the potatoes on my plate, but I finished every last bite of everything else – even the pea tendrils!

One person had braised short ribs. These were so tender, your fork barely touched it and it fell apart. And it melted right in your mouth. It was served on a bed of risotto and a cabernet reduction (a gorgeous red) and with steamed carrots (a bright deep orange color) – truly as beautiful as delicious. Three of our group had halibut, tender, mild, flavorful crusted with an olive tapenade. The halibut steak was thick and cooked to perfection throughout – difficult to do. This was presented on top of garlic mashed Yukon potatoes, with steamed carrots and steamed broccoli, plus bell peppers, tomatoes, and garnished with pea tendrils. Two of us had tenderloin steak – thinner cut but just as tender and flavorful as a filet mignon. The steak was sauced with a mushroom demi-glace, served on Yukon mashed potatoes, and as others, garnished with steamed broccoli and steamed carrots, topped with pea tendrils. And one person had a stuffed portabella mushroom, served on a cake of steamed jasmine rice with garlic, onion, and carrot. The portabella was stuffed with goat cheese, crab, and all sorts of vegetables. It was pronounced delicious with so many complementary flavors.

For dessert, we were stuffed, but Lee made a couple of excellent suggestions, so we found a tiny bit more room and the eight of us shared 3 desserts. One was a luscious crème bruleé with grated fresh ginger and scraped vanilla bean on the crystalized sugar topping. Oh my, that was fantastic – what an wonderful interplay among flavors – this chef is really inspired!. The other two desserts were a chocolate hazelnut flourless torte with chocolate ganache, blackberry coulis, a fresh strawberry, and a dab of not-very-sweet  whipped cream. Again, what wonderful flavor combinations to finish off our meal.

 All in all, all eight of us highly recommend this restaurant. Every single bite of every single dish we had was superb and we wouldn’t change a thing Not even any of the garnishes. And Lee was one of the most fun, most professional, most friendly, and most knowledgeable waiters we’ve come across. So, three cheers to Seaglass, to Lee, to Chef,Ron Vincent and to his spectacular food and flavor profiles. I have to quit now because I have run out of superlative adjectives.
A PS to this post: We actually went back to Seaglass a couple days later (and we have never repeated a restaurant on our Chick Trips) - we all had a different entrée, different dressings on our salad, and besides the crème brulee and chocolate torte, added a lemon tart to our experience. Really, if you get anywhere near Sidney on Vancouver Island - even take the ferry from Tswassen BC or Anacortes WA - you have to try Seaglass. We can't stop raving about it!


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