Saturday, October 29, 2011

Nar, Ottavio & WBA Salumeria: Culinary Jewels In The Oak Bay Crown

We made a rare trek into Oak Bay today, bravely penetrating the Tweed Curtain on foot from downtown. Known more for its old British money, luxurious retirement villas and meticulously groomed designer dogs, it's ironic that the highlights of today's visit turned out to be of Turkish and Italian descent. Not a single mushy pea or Earl Grey teabag to seen.

Nar Cafe & Bistro, 2540 Windsor Rd, Oak Bay, BC

Situated in a 2-storey character house overlooking Windsor Park, Nar Cafe & Bistro is a place that lives up to its esteemed, slightly exclusive Oak Bay location. This Turkish restaurant has been on my wish list for a good year, so today's lunch visit was much anticipated. It turned out to exceed my expectations, which for YRS usually means damn good.

We called ahead to reserve a table, and they were kind enough to give us a 2nd floor window seat overlooking the park. When we sat down at our table, it all seemed perfect, but a neighbouring table of 4 very loud mid-aged women threatened to spoil the experience. One lady in particular was especially annoying and boisterous, pontificating in a most obnoxious academic tone about lesbian culture, sexism in European culture, detailed descriptions of various birth control methods, the Pope and how inherently sexist and evil Italy's Catholic culture is, especially the men. I have no problem with people having diverse, spirited, even idiotic discussions at the table next to me, just as long as I don't have to hear it; as long some modicum of dining etiquette is adhered to, the most important rule being: You aren't the only one in the room! Much to our relief, they were at the tail end of their lunch and vacated before our meals arrived. None of this, of course, is the fault of the restaurant.

With the annoying ladies gone, we settled into a most pleasant lunch. My wife had the Ground Beef & Leek Borek (baked crispy phyllo pastry layered with ground beef and leek, served with lentil soup), and I ordered the Kofte (beef meat balls infused with Turkish spices and baked in tomato-basil sauce, served with house salad and rice pilaf). Both were nothing short of sensational, Turkish cuisine at its best. That's not hard to say in Victoria because Nar is the only Turkish eatery in town, but having eaten Turkish many times before along my travels, Nar is as good as any I've had. The charming Victorian home atmosphere adds to the overall dining experience at Nar. Service was adequate, but not of high calibre. I suspect this improves for the dinner hours. We are already plotting a return visit for dinner to sample further reaches of the menu.

If you haven't had real Turkish cuisine before (and I'm not talking about the kebab food carts seen in most big cities and in food courts), then get out to Nar and support this family business. Turkish food shares much in common with Greek cuisine, so if you like those kinds of flavour and texture profiles, you'll love Nar, which I think blows most local Greek restaurants clear out of the water.
Nar Cafe & Bistro on Urbanspoon

Ottavio Italian Bakery, Delicatessen & Cafe, 2272 Oak Bay Ave

On our walk back from Nar, we stopped at Ottavio Italian Bakery, Delicatessen & Cafe. I've been here a few times before and it really is an amazing place. The selection of olive oils, alone, is mind-blowing. They actually conduct olive oil tastings. The selection of vinegar types is equally impressive. But the pastries and breads are the real star of the show here. The wide range of deli meats and cheeses make this place a self-catering heaven.
Ottavio Italian Bakery, Delicatessen & Cafe on Urbanspoon


The Whole Beast Artisan Salumeria, 2032 Oak Bay Ave

Naturally, we needed something to go with the Ottavio bread just purchased, so what better place than one specializing in sausages, smoked meats and other salumeria delicacies. Everything at Whole Beast Artisan Salumeria is made on premises, and I suspect they do as much local sourcing as possible. We ordered a few different things, and initial samples reveal a high quality and freshness simply not obtained via the big commercial meat producers. The neighbouring Village Butcher, which shares the store space, is the perfect place to get your raw meats and sausages.

Serious Coffee, 2060 Oak Bay Ave

This isn't my favourite Serious Coffee location, but when spending day in Oak Bay Village, it's a nice place to refuel and rest before the walk back into downtown. Certainly better than Starbucks, and it lacks the hipster-overkill vibe of nearby Discovery Coffee.
Serious Coffee - Oak Bay Avenue on Urbanspoon