Gulf Is­lands Adventure

DINE and Destinations - - BRITISH COLUMBIA - By Sara Wax­man

It was rain­ing when I ar­rived in Van­cou­ver, and the show­ers con­tin­ued re­lent­lessly. They call it liq­uid sun­shine; there is a fresh­ness and spright­li­ness in the air that ex­ists nowhere else.

It was rain­ing when I ar­rived in Van­cou­ver, and the show­ers con­tin­ued re­lent­lessly. Would Orca Air­ways take off from YVR to Tofino? Would BC Fer­ries budge from their docks? Yes, in­deed. From mile one of the Trans Canada High­way in Tofino, to the ar­ti­sanal en­clave of Salt Spring, to the man­i­cured land­scape of Vic­to­ria, the rain­fall var­ied from down­pour to driz­zle. It may have slack­ened off for an hour or two, but al­ways re­turned with a mer­ci­less tenac­ity to do the right thing: to keep the west coast green.

And yet, this is a good thing. They call it liq­uid sun­shine; there is a fresh­ness and spright­li­ness in the air that ex­ists nowhere else I’ve been.

Planes, boats and au­to­mo­biles: These are the ways to get the big­gest bang from an is­land adventure. BC Fer­ries com­fort­ably trans­ports us (and our car) from Tsawwassen Ter­mi­nal in Van­cou­ver to Swartz Bay in Vic­to­ria. I feel like I’m on a float­ing cafe­te­ria. It’s a new ex­pe­ri­ence for me, to drive smoothly off of the ferry and into Vic­to­ria, and head for The Oak Bay Beach Ho­tel.

I had been look­ing for­ward to ex­plor­ing Vic­to­ria, and I see that much has changed since my last visit quite a few decades ago. The hand­some new Oak Bay Beach Ho­tel was re­built on the orig­i­nal grounds of the old ho­tel, circa 1927. After a day of trav­el­ling, my lux­u­ri­ous room with its fire­place and large spa bath­room of­fers a cozy wel­come. It is our HQ for our tour of dis­cov­ery. Af­ter­noon tea is part of the culi­nary land­scape of Vic­to­ria. In the oldest Chi­na­town in Canada, we pause at Daniela Cubelic’s pretty em­po­rium, the Silk Road Aro­mather­apy & Tea Com­pany. A stu­dent of Chi­nese tea masters and herbal­ists, she has re­cently ex­panded to in­clude a tea-tast­ing bar. An in­for­mal tea tast­ing with an ed­u­ca­tional com­po­nent adds to the plea­sure. Re­freshed, we head for the Dutch Bak­ery and Cof­fee Shop, a fam­ily es­tab­lish­ment since the ’50s, to ad­mire and sam­ple their spe­cial choco­lates and handmade pas­tries. On to Hi­lary’s Cheese Shop to catch a glimpse of her lo­cal cheeses and a vast se­lec­tion of cheeses from around the world. Olive oil and bal­samic are treated with re­spect at Olive the Senses. It’s a fam­ily recipe that comes from the Marche re­gion of Italy, and here it is hand-bot­tled and pre­sented with love. Choux Choux lends it­self to hav­ing its name re­peated twice. It’s said that at this quaint and busy out­post of France, the pâté is twice as good as else­where. Am­bi­tions run high while the cost of graz­ing along Fort Street re­mains low.

Tast­ing and nib­bling all day has given us an ap­petite for din­ner, which, tonight, is at an award win­ner. If the ques­tion is, “what is the tra­di­tional Vic­to­ria restau­rant?” the an­swer is “The Stage Wine Bar.” Since we’re not in the mar­ket for a clas­sic three-course din­ner, clearly we have come to the right place. Duck con­fit, crispy oc­to­pus, made-in-house sausage catch our eye. And of course, there are the ap­pro­pri­ate wines to match each ta­pas of­fer­ing. It’s a non-in­tim­i­dat­ing en­vi­ron­ment, with brick walls, floors of re­claimed wood and hang­ing can­dles. We linger and have a lit­tle cheese to fin­ish the wine, and then a lit­tle more wine to fin­ish the cheese.

Break­fast comes bright and early at Kates Café at the Oak Bay. The orig­i­nal ho­tel en­trance and sev­eral hand­hewn beams have been re­claimed. When you can smell the aroma of fresh baked bread, the mes­sage is that break­fast will be praise­wor­thy.

Only in Vic­to­ria would there be a feast concierge. Karma Bro­phy leads us on a merry three-hour tour of Oak Bay and its de­light­ful gas­tron­omy scene, one bite at a time. We taste de­li­cious house-cured meats at Cory Pe­lan’s Whole Beast Ar­ti­san Salume­ria, and hear his phi­los­o­phy of the lo­cal food se­cu­rity. What bet­ter to fol­low than a glass of Oak Bay’s Bri­tish her­itage at the Penny Farthing Pub and Vis-à-vis Wine Bar to lis­ten to whim­si­cal his­tor­i­cal tales.

Just down the street, An­drew Moyer pre­sides over the vast and de­lec­ta­ble cheese se­lec­tion at Ot­tavio Ital­ian Bak­ery, Del­i­catessen and Café. Now, there is some ex­cite­ment afoot at The Oak Bay Ma­rina Restau­rant on the docks with chef Jeff Keen­li­side. We watch them fish gi­ant crab from the sea, and see the crit­ters—com­bined with other shell­fish and mol­lusks—steamed in a pail that is then dumped

un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously on the pa­per-cov­ered ta­ble. That, my friends, is good eating. But there is more. Back at The Oak Bay Beach Ho­tel, we taste and com­pare three spir­its, each paired with a sweet bite.

Per­haps it is the stroll in the fresh­est air in the coun­try that has given us such an ap­petite a mere few hours later, as we join our hosts, Kevin and Shawna Walker, and ho­tel man­ager Michelle Le Sage and her spouse, Earl, for a splen­did din­ner in the din­ing room. Ex­ec­u­tive chef Iain Ren­nie, ac­claimed as the Is­land Chef of the Year by the CCFCC has out­done him­self. Kevin and Shawna are jus­ti­fi­ably proud of this ho­tel, and re­gale us with the tri­als and tribu­la­tions of con­struct­ing this magnificent prop­erty. Chef Ren­nie is the star of the evening, and it is no sur­prise that the lo­cals and tourists alike flock to taste his daz­zling fare.

In tiny Dun­can, BC, on the road to the BC Fer­ries Crofton Ter­mi­nal to take the Ferry to Salt Spring Is­land, we stop for lunch at an im­pec­ca­ble 106-yearold her­itage home on a tiny per­fect street. This is Hud­son’s on First, and here’s a good tip: If you are any­where near Daniel Hud­son’s neigh­bor­hood, go out of your way to make a spe­cial trip to his splen­did restau­rant. It is more than a restau­rant; this is an in­ti­mate din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence—the kind we food­ies spend our lives hop­ing to en­counter. You might lunch on hal­ibut gravalax with lemon peel purée and Van­cou­ver Is­land wasabi, in­ven­tive pasta, pankocrusted fish cakes, or other choices from his care­fully crafted sea­sonal menu.

Driv­ing into Salt Spring Is­land in the rain is like en­ter­ing the pages of an old pic­ture book. A rus­tic road leads to Hast­ings House Coun­try House Ho­tel, in an 11th-cen­tury Sus­sex- style manor house over­look­ing the Ganges Har­bour. We ar­rive in the misty rain at a small wa­ter­front lux­ury coun­try re­sort sur­rounded by fresh green fo­liage. We feel we have reached a lovely sanc­tu­ary. In the hand­some din­ing room, all the ho­tel guests ac­knowl­edge each other and sit down for an el­e­gant three-course prix fixe din­ner. The chef knows his clien­tele and of­fers hearty lo­cal fare: pep­pered veni­son carpac­cio with house-made onion-ca­per mar­malade, and his ren­di­tion of herb-crusted wild Pa­cific hal­ibut with cilantro cous­cous. This is the kind of food we’ve come to the west coast to en­joy.

It seems that if there is some­one you want to run into, you would have a good chance of see­ing them at Aun­tie Pesto’s, nes­tled on the wa­ter­front board­walk in the heart of Ganges Vil­lage. A kitchy name cloaks the very se­ri­ous kitchen of chef Shawn Wal­ton. The is­land is his pantry, and you can al­most set your sea­sonal cal­en­dar by his daily menus. On a clear day, a ta­ble at the wa­ter­front board­walk of­fers a beau­ti­ful view with din­ner.

The Salt Spring Is­land Satur­day Mar­ket is the high­light of the week for both tourists and lo­cals. A few sun show­ers are not a de­ter­rent to any­one who has come to see a unique brand of is­land in­ge­nu­ity. The ar­ti­sans’ booths are al­most ir­re­sistible, and yes, we must buy a few of these lovely glass heart neck­laces; and choco­late from sev­eral pur­vey­ors. We are pleased to see David Wood (he once en­thralled us with his fine-food shop on Yonge Street in Toronto); he is now one of the area’s largest goat cheese mak­ers. Salt Spring Is­land Cheese loves to have vis­i­tors wan­der the farm and taste their of­fer­ings, fresh. Weavers, sculp­tors, or­ganic farm­ers, wood carvers and glass blow­ers, 140 in all, show their arts. Ev­ery prod­uct is cer­ti­fied “ven­dor pro­duced and sold,” mak­ing each piece a one-of-a-kind trea­sure.

There is a sense of calm­ness here—a stress-free feel­ing of peo­ple com­muning with na­ture on their own terms, rem­i­nis­cent of the late ’60s. Peace and love, man; peace and love.

Sea­side Heated Min­eral Pools

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