Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Best, Worst and Most Disappointing of 2010, According to YRS

It's time to reveal my picks for 2010. Before I begin, a definition of terms is in order. Whether I am referring to best, worst or disappointing, these terms denote a single restaurant experience at a designated establishment. It's bold, perhaps misleading to declare a restaurant bad or best unless the reviewer has numerous visits to base that claim on. Thus, all the following picks are based on a single dining experience.

Some of my picks were reviewed on YRS during the past year, and some were not. I don't have enough time or desire to review every last of my dining/drinking experiences throughout the year. This blog remains a hobby, not a profession.

In compiling the lists, I've tried hard to account for food, service, price point, ambiance and other such dining-out elements. For example, an experience of horrible service, yet wonderful food is weighted and judged accordingly.

Finally, all of the following picks are mine, YRS Editor in Chief. I've had a few guest reviewers, and a guest editor help out this past year, and their opinions are valued contributions to YRS, but for this sort of exercise, I think it's best that the person responsible for creating, maintaining and writing the lion's share of the reviews for this blog should be the sole arbiter of a year-end summation. So without further rumination, on with the show....

(Note: picks are in no particular order; all are evenly matched in their respective categories)

Worst Restaurant Experiences of 2010

Beirut Express, 787 Fort Street, Victoria -- If bad service and high price weren't bad enough, we left this Lebanese eatery feeling literally sick to our stomachs. You can read my original review here.

Brown's Social House, The Falls Condo Complex, Douglas St., Victoria, BC -- I think I was as much offended by the concept of this new chain restaurant as I was the weak service, food and inexcusably poor beer selection during my one and only visit. See my original review here.

Pig BBQ Joint, Corner of Johnson & Blanshard (Atrium Building), Victoria, BC -- Our experience at the new Pig BBQ Joint location could have easily ended up in the Most Disappointing category, but the sauce was so bad, the meat so cold, the cornbread so dry, that this experience is better placed among my worst picks. Read my original review here
Pluto's, 1150 Cook Street, Victoria, B.C. -- Why is this place still in business? Read about our experience here.

Most Disappointing Restaurant Experiences of 2010  

(not necessarily worst, or even bad, but failed to live up  to expectations)

Millos, 716 Burdett Street, Victoria, BC -- Not only did we experience bad service at this overpriced Greek restaurant, but during our first attempt to dine here, we got no service! When we did return another day, I was hugely disappointed with what amounted to cheap food court fare in posh confines. The interesting, atmospheric interior sets you up for something special, but leaves you unhappy and broke. Read my original review here.
Bon Rouge, 611 Courtney St., Victoria, BC -- Like Millos, Bon Rouge's stylish interior design promises to transport you to Paris' Latin Quarter for the dining experience of a lifetime. The menu does anything but fulfil that promise. My disappointing experience at Bon Rouge left me to conclude that this place stemmed from the wild imagination of a local interior designer who visited Paris once, rather than from the experienced imagination of a Parisian restaurateur. Read my original review here.
Cafe Brio, 944 Fort Street, Victoria, BC -- I've taken heat from foodie friends for my critical review of this local fine dining legend, but it's important to reiterate that my selection of Brio for this list is based on a single dining experience, which happened to be unacceptably bad from a service standpoint. In short, it was a service disaster the night we went, and the food, we felt, was underwhelming and overpriced. When customers are dropping the kind of cash a place like Brio demands, every single experience needs to be near flawless. In our case, it wasn't even close. Read my original review here.
John's Place, 723 Pandora Ave. Victoria, BC -- Another local legend that has long seen unwitting customers braving long morning lineups for the privilege of eating starch-heavy breakfasts with the ubiquitous helping of fried potatoes. I've never been one to confuse having a full stomach with having a satisfied stomach. John's is not among my worst dining experiences, but I expect more from a place that is constantly touted by John and his loyal followers to be the best. I can't exactly remember what I had here in 2010. But I can say it was indistinguishable from the unimpressive breakfasts I had a Floyd's and Blue Fox the same year. To John Cantin's credit, he took time to write to YRS, and to YRS's credit, I gave him free blog space with which he made his case. Original review is here

Most Forgettable Restaurant Experiences of 2010

... I can't remember.

Best Fine Dining Restaurant Experiences of 2010

Brasserie L'ecole, 1715 Government St -- This wonderful French style bistro is everything Bon Rouge isn't, and Victoria is lucky to have such a place. During our visit here, I ate the best French onion soup I've ever eaten, and likewise had one of the best, perfectly cooked steaks I've ever eaten, anywhere! Great wine list, great selection of import beers, great atmosphere and a crème brulée to die for. Brasserie L'ecole's prices are not as high as you might think, and this place could easily pass as casual dining. I have not yet reviewed this establishment for YRS, but you can be sure I will in 2011. Brasserie L'ecole's web site is here. Brasserie

Cafe Ceylon, 104 - 1175 Cook Street, Victoria, BC Canada -- This may be one of Victoria's best kept restaurant secrets, due to its unassuming location in an office/medical building at the corner of Cook and Fort. According to Ceylon's web site, "Chef Tamara Bailey, a native of Sri Lanka, uses the principles of Ayurveda in her cooking which gives the food she prepares a balanced and harmonious taste. Wherever possible [Chef Bailey] uses organic ingredients. Ayurveda is a Sanskrit word that means 'The science of life.' It originated in India some five thousand years ago and spread to nearby Sri Lanka and numerous other Asian countries over time..."

During our visit in 2010, Ceylon took us on an exotic journey through culinary Sri Lanka; it was clear to me that this chef had a rare skill-set and creative flare that few others in the local Asian restaurant scene have. A true spice alchemist, Chef Bailey does not pander to a lowest common denominator diner, but rather, she pours her heart and soul into every dish, recalling the flavours embedded in her as a child growing up in Sri Lanka - flavours and recipes she has refined and fused over the years via self-taught and formal culinary training. Cafe Ceylon has yet to be reviewed on YRS, but it most certainly will get some YRS attention in 2011. Cafe Ceylon on Urbanspoon
Zambri's Restaurant, Atrium Building, Corner of Yates & Blanshard, Victoria, BC -- Peter Zambri is another of those rare, skilled chefs committed to his cultural roots (regional Italian), a man committed to the craft of cooking. Our experience here in 2010 was as expected, save for a couple of very minor service gaffes. See my review here

Best Casual/Comfort Food Experiences of 2010

Devour, 762 Broughton Street, Victoria, BC -- This is simple, elegant, affordable gourmet cuisine at its best. Devour uses all local ingredients, and they change their menu daily to reflect their approach, keeping it fresh and local. The house made BBQ sauce I had during my one experience was amazing. Read my review here.
Pink Bicycle Gourmet Burger Joint, 1008 Blanshard Street, Victoria, BC -- I've said it before, and I say it again, Pink Bicycle's Blue Flame Beef Burger & Truffle Fries is the best burger & fries in Greater Victoria! Read my original review here.

Ferris' Downstairs Grill, 536 Yates Street, Victoria, BC -- Ferris' has been a longtime favourite of mine, and my experience in 2010 did not disappoint. Great comfort food dishes that have the occasional flash of fine dining fare. Great Old Town location, great beer selection (we love the Pug IPA, custom made for Ferris' by Salt Spring Island Brewing). They have a finer dining room upstairs, but I've never felt a need to go there because the downstairs version is just so good. Go to their web site for more info. Ferris' Oyster Bar & Grill (Downstairs) on Urbanspoon

Hernande'z, 735 Yates St, Victoria - Another odd, unassuming location, inside a mall on Yates that evaded my attention for a long time. I think I only found out about it in 2010 via word of mouth. I'm glad I did because this place makes the best Mexican food I've ever eaten in Victoria. They make their own corn tortillas, and my first bite into the food at Hernande'z prompted a vivid flashback from my travels through Latin America some 25 years ago. This was the first time I'd eaten real Mexican since being in Mexico! I have yet to post a review, but will do in 2011. Go to their web site here. Hernande'z (Yates St) on Urbanspoon

YRS Rising Star Award 

(best experience at a new establishment)

Moon Under Water Brew Pub - Who would have ever thought that some of Victoria's best brew and pub food could be had across the street from a cement factory in Victoria's light industrial neighbourhood of Rock Bay? I look forward to many more real ale pints here and beer-batter onion rings! See my original review here.

Upcoming in January, 2011: I'll be sharing some highlights (and lowlights) from my recent eating & drinking experiences in Seattle, and will have more Victoria reviews going to post.