Monday, January 31, 2011

Guest Reviewer, Mike G.: Good pub; bad steakhouse

[Editor's note: YRS follower Mike G. sent me these two reviews, which I'm happy to share. It's always nice to get a different perspective onto YRS. Mike also contributed a review to YRS in 2010. In his pub review below, he notes the cleanliness of the glassware and freshness of the beer. The problem of unclean keg lines and dirty glassware is almost epidemic at many pubs and bars, and yes this does make a big difference in the quality and taste of a pint. Furthermore, the type of glassware for different styles of beers is important. I notice some pubs paying more attention to this, which is nice. As for Mike's visit to Vic's, file this one into the YRS "another bad/boring steakhouse" folder.]

Penny Farthing Pub, Oak Bay Avenue, Victoria, BC
I believe we may have found a favourite pub, finally!  After hearing from several friends about the Penny Farthing (PF), the better half & I ventured out from Sooke on a Friday afternoon to the upscale Oak Bay neighbourhood in hopes that the positive feedback was going to be worth the trip. The PF lived up to expectations, and then some. The first step inside gave us that warm & fuzzy inviting, old hearth feeling.  We liked how the bar was situated closer to the front entrance where many of the locals hang out. This eliminated the traffic of patrons brushing past you while trying to enjoying a meal & a pint. That said, we walked through to the back to explore and found a unique and pleasing variety of comfy seating arrangements, from intimate enclosed booths to a large enclosed patio with cushioned benches and a lit fire place.

We chose an open booth and were politely greeted by a very cheerful server, who actually made us feel like we'd been coming to the Farthing for years.  This pub boasts a decent selection of local beer on tap. I ordered a pint of Blue Buck in a Phillips-logo glass -- a small detail that goes a long way.  And unlike at some other pubs, the beer at PF was fresh and the glass crystal clean; both pints I had kept a light head until the very last drop.

Our mid-afternoon visit included a couple of appetizers: Sea Salt & Pepper Ribs and the Steamed Mussels, and have to admit this is some of the best pub food we've had in long time. They were served quickly, piping hot, on pre-heated china and were of good size portions. And a good price to boot, both only 10 bucks each.

The service throughout was flawless and I rarely say that about my dining/pub experiences. It always impresses me when servers work as a team to ensure you're not being neglected, and ensuring to offer another bevy before our glasses were empty. PF staff where not only attentive to us, but also to our fellow customers, in particular to a group of elderly patrons who appeared to be on their first visit. The staff here (this shift at least) demonstrated they truly enjoy what they do.

I'm happy to fork over $6.50 for a pint of great local beer, served fresh from clean lines, and in a clean glass by very attentive and cheerful serving staff.  We really hope we didn't just luck out and hit the PF on a good day.

One final note, this establishment is very clean. From the restrooms, to the tables, floors, windows, ledges and lights, we didn't notice any dust or cobwebs anywhere.
PennyFarthing Pub on Urbanspoon
          --Mike G.


Vic's Steakhouse & Bar, Harbour Towers Hotel, Victoria, BC

This was our first visit to Vic's, and unfortunately will be our last.  We had a free night stay at the Harbour Towers and figured we'd give the in-house restaurant a try, saving us the cost of a cab to another location.  From the outside Vic’s looks pretty classy and upscale, but fails on atmosphere and d├ęcor on the inside. I can't quite put my finger on it, outdated maybe?  Regardless, we grabbed a seat and looked over the limited menu, lamenting the lack of a fresh sheet or daily specials.  They tout themselves as being the "Next Generation" Steakhouse. Seriously?  What generation would that be? They offer 3 cuts of beef steak, that's it!  They had more variety of burgers than steak. The only next generation I see Vic’s being associated with is the old steakhouse graveyard, where many other a boring steakhouse have been laid to rest.

Upon placing our order, the server informed us they were out of an item. This is an annoying, amateur service gaffe that simply should not happen. Customers need to be told this information upon getting the menus.

I ended up ordering the Prosciutto wrapped Pork Tenderloin with the Root Vegetable Risotto and my wife had the Beef Short Ribs and asked for the Whipped Potatoes, but received the Baked.  We were disappointed having to wait 35 minute for our meals to arrive, and the only thing hot about our meals were the plates.  Sometimes I can excuse slower service when a restaurant is packed, but this night at Vic’s was deader than a doornail, making the long delay and mistakes all the more indictable.  We decided not to complain about the potato mistake on my wife's plate because we feared this would cause further delays or send the server into a fit of confusion. Quite possibly our meals were forgotten under a heat lamp; they had that heat lamp texture and temperature.

My pork tenderloin was sliced into 5 pieces, was dry and flavourless.  The “prosciutto” wrapped on the outside of the meat was barely recognisable.  The risotto was tepid at best, bland and the texture was similar to unset glue. Making risotto is learned skill. If restaurants decide to put it on the menu, they’d better make sure they know how to do it right. 

My wife's meal was equally underwhelming. Her baked potato came with little side dishes of chives, sour cream and bacon bits, but no butter. We asked, and they gave us a cold, rock hard patty, and no, it didn't melt. Our meals were also served with 2 asparagus spears, 2 peeled full length young carrots each and a soggy slice of squash. We weren't offered dessert. So tarnished was our dinner experience, we decided against breakfast at the hotel the following morning.

On a positive note, our server was very polite and jovial, albeit somewhat absent minded. I'm usually one to give restaurants that disappoint a second try. However, when you're paying $24-$30 for entrees, second attempts can end up being costly gambles. 

Lastly, in today's computer connected age, an establishment would be prudent to ensure that their web site is updated with current menu information. Vic’s online information was not current, leaving us to conclude that this “next generation” steakhouse suffers from an overall case of neglect and a lack of attention to detail.
Vic's Steakhouse & Bar on Urbanspoon
        --Mike G.