Ken Hueston grew up with a penchant for bones. According to the Goldstream News Gazette, he began his formal education in pursuit of paleontology, but he soon found that although his instincts were correct, they were slightly misguided?his place was not among dusty and brittle dinosaurs, but in the steam of a kitchen. There, his commitment to local ingredients, handmade cuisine, and chef education would earn him the B.C. Chamber of Commerce's Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2008, a spot on enRoute's Best New Restaurant list, and a 2012 feature on Food Network Canada's You Gotta Eat Here.
Today at Smoken Bones Cookshack, after a brief absence, Ken is back as head chef, bringing with him a fresh dose of creativity and heeding the traditions of artisanal cooking, forming his menu's burgers, cheeses, and bacon by hand, without additives. Ken and his apprentices prepare everything on site, using scratch cooking techniques, including smoking food with local Vancouver island woods. Featured on You Gotta Eat Here, their pork and beef ribs, pulled pork, and beef brisket stake out the spotlight, though the Cookshack has not forgotten seafood, chicken, and stacked sandwiches. The emphasis on all-natural methods also extends past the cuisine and into the smoking process itself, which employs wood from Vancouver fruit and alder trees.
The forest figures heavily into the restaurant's decor too: in between praising the venue's bacon ice cream, Heed the Hedonist recounts "exposed ducts and exposed wood everywhere, including a plywood bar that was fashioned from a Douglas Fir that had blown down during a windstorm." Big-screen televisions augment the natural appeal, broadcasting sports on game nights, and live blues music twangs during special events.
As Justin Lussier traveled through Naples in 2005, he decided to stop for the city's famous pizza at a small street-side eatery bearing the sign Pizzeria Sorbillo. He loved his traditional thin-crust pie so much that he rushed to a pay phone and called his friends Christian Bullock and Jason Allard to tell them that he wanted to make that same pizza. When Justin returned to Canada, the trio travelled to confer with the culinary experts at Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN) in order to uncover what truly makes a pizza Neapolitan. Two years later, the friends set out to open Famoso.
Famoso's chefs all follow strict guidelines set by the AVPN—they only use OO Caputo flour imported from Naples, and they hand mill tomatoes imported from the foot of Mount Vesuvius, where each crop is grown in soil enriched by volcanic ash and sung to daily by volcanologists. Chefs top the crust with local fior di latte mozzarella, fresh basil leaves, and pecorino romano cheese. They then spread dough into wafer-thin disks, which they blast-fire at 900 degrees for 90 seconds inside imported Italian bell-shaped ovens. Pizzas are also topped with ingredients such as soppressata, oven-roasted Italian sausage, kalamata olives, and truffle oil.
Famoso Baristas can pair many of these pies, some of which are reinvented twice each year, with a mix of local and international wines—including vintages from Italy and Canada—and hand-crafted gelato. At each restaurant, they ferry dishes and drinks through rustic and inviting interiors, each of which reflects the unique style of its neighbourhood, though all are united by accents of exposed brick and wood, wine-bottle art, and sculptural pizza-box displays.
Nautical Nellies Restaurant, celebrating its 17th anniversary in 2014, is no stranger to recognition. The eatery, which overlooks the city's inner harbour, has garnered multiple Open Table Diners' Choice awards in categories including Best Food, Best Seafood, and Best Overall. Fillets of wild Pacific halibut or Vancouver Island ling cod flake beneath forks, and shellfish, lobster, and Dungeness crab claws teeter on multi-tiered seafood towers. Diners can sample 10 varieties of oysters and rolls of fusion sushi. Grass-fed Angus steaks, aged for 35 days, are cooked to any specification, from well done to what chefs term ?blue?? seared on the outside, with a cool centre and a scrawled-on frowny face.
Thanks to the work of wine director Betty Furneaux, Nautical Nellies' beverage programs are just as thoughtfully designed as its dining menus. Wine Spectator honoured the eatery's wine list with an Award of Excellence in 2011, 2013, and 2014. Cocktails range from beachy mojitos to the savoury double-prawn caesar with vodka, Clamato juice, and two black tiger prawns. The restaurant also dedicates a section of the menu exclusively to scotch.
Abkhazi Garden is the "garden that love built"—Prince Nicholas Abkhazi, a Georgian prince from Russia, and his bride Peggy settled in Victoria in 1946 and promptly began construction on the garden that they would refer to as "their child." Likened by Princess Peggy to an unfurling Chinese scroll, the blossom-brimming garden's meandering paths lead visitors around natural rock outcroppings, between sky-stroking garry oaks, and through the hedges where gnomes power photosynthesis with their stationary bikes. Along the banks of the garden's three small ponds, the songs of dozens of bird species cascade over guests and the resident turtles. Views of the Juan de Fuca Strait and the Olympic Mountains peek through the gardens' perimeter amid azaleas and the Abkhazi's prized rhododendron woodland area. Inside the now-public main house, a restaurant—open from March to November—sends platters of eggs benedict, niçoise salad, and scones with jams and Devon cream to tables nestled in the great room, where cozy seats overlook the garden.
Flying Otter Grill traverses land, air, and sea. It takes its name from the Otter aircraft, much like the kind that take off from the two-storey airline terminal at the Victoria Harbour Water Aerodrome surrounding the eatery. The restaurant itself floats on a series of pontoons so that it rises and falls with the tides, its floor-to-ceiling windows treating every table to views of the ocean and choreographed seagull flash mobs. Spanning both earth and ocean, the menu of pub fare draws on fresh prawns alongside crab, salmon, and Angus steak, and Cajun spiced chicken wings. Planes land on nearby airstrips and yachts sail into the harbour on a regular basis, the bustle of transit contrasting with the calm, cabin-like setting of the restaurant, which features West Coast cedar furnishings and a crackling fireplace. Taking inspiration from its surroundings, the Flying Otter nets some of its fresh fish from local suppliers.
Montreal native Mathieu Lott opened La Belle Patate to share the classic, hearty dishes of Quebec in a casual diner setting in the Victoria neighborhood of Esquimalt in 2008, leaving those from la belle province satisfied. Being the first location to open, customers watch as the chefs slice potatoes right before their eyes to form the base of savoury poutines. The kitchen staff cooks these fries twice to give them a golden crunch before plating them with fresh, squeaky cheese curds and a vegetarian-based brown sauce. The poutine can come with more tasty combinations, such as chicken and peas or mushrooms, bacon, green peppers, and cubes of Montreal-style smoked meat. Along with steamed hot dogs – a Montreal favourite, that same smoked meat finds its way into sub sandwiches, and burgers hold hand-formed beef patties made without any fillers or pillow stuffing.