Saturday, June 4, 2011

Sailing into Victoria on the Millennium

When I first found out I would be taking the Pacific Coastal Wine Cruise with Celebrity, I told a lot of friends and relatives about it. Everyone said the entire itinerary looked great, but the majority came back and said, “You must see Victoria, it’s one of my favorite places.” With that kind of buildup I was afraid the real thing would let me down.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

After the ship docked, we took a cab down to Silk Road, just on the corner of the elaborate entrance to Chinatown. There we met with Cathy Ray of Tourism Victoria and Daniela Cubelic, owner and manager of the tea and aromatherapy shop. I had never seen anything like it, a combination of modern d├ęcor with the tradition of tea. Daniela has made a point of studying tea variations and customs from all around the world so she would know how to custom blend them downstairs and serve them at the store’s Tea Tasting bar. It is where she holds workshops and pairing events for customers who want to fully enjoy this beverage.

We tasted Velvet Potion, a black tea that contains chocolate and vanilla; Oolong Tea, a cross between green and black teas that is good for digestion; Silk Road Chai, an Indian style blend that is most different in its spice; and Casablanca, a Moroccan green tea that the natives of that country say should be “as sweet as love and as bitter as death.” I enjoyed them all and Lynn agreed with me that it was nice to start the morning with a little tea instead of the usual wine tasting.

From Velvet Potion we walked for awhile, exploring Victoria, a picturesque city with very European undertones. We passed Bastion Square and Lo Jo, the term used to describe the area on Lower Johnson, which Cathy described as a “hip and funky area.” I found Victoria to look like a cross between London and Melbourne, with the same clearly British influences. We even past some British Style pubs on our way to meet a real Brit, aka, The London Chef.

Dan Hayes is The London Chef and he just opened this cooking school/deli with his wife Micayla, a Victoria native.  The place is set up as one huge horseshoe shaped kitchen with plenty of kitchen gadgets and appliances. Lynn and I had an upfront and personal lesson with Dan and listened to him talk about his cooking with great passion, a passion he intends to share with others through this school.  He poured some wine and talked to us about what we liked to eat, smiling as his mind began writing recipes and his hands began pulling out herbs and oils.

First it was a Crostini with Chargrilled Vegetables. We watched him make a marinate with lots of local herbs (including mint and rosemary), olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper before grilling some asparagus zucchini and Japanese eggplant. The mixture went on top of toasted ciabatta that had been spread with goat cheese and was topped with a sauce of capers, mint, parsley, olive oil  and a bit of Dijon mustard.  While the Crostini was was baking, we talked more about Dan’s belief in fresh, local ingredients and decided that we would stick with the vegetarian theme and make a Risotto for our main course.


I love risotto, but it always seems to take forever to make. Dan showed me how to make a delicious mushroom risotto in just 20 minutes, sharing tips like adding a chunk of Parmesan rind directly into the risotto.  It was a perfect meal and a fun time. We bid Dan and Micayla farewell and took a cab back down to the water. Lynn opted to stay down by the bench for awhile and I spent the next hour and a half exploring the waterfront of Victoria. I enjoyed the mix of old and new buildings, like the Royal BC Museum and the Empress Hotel, known for its High Tea. I also loved watching the artists along the water at work, walking past as many bed & breakfasts as grand hotels.


Before we went back to the ship, we had drinks and snacks at the AURA Restaurant at the Inn at Laurel Point. The restaurant is directly on the water, offering beautiful views for cocktails or dining. We got to meet the restaurants new chef, Takashi Ito, who has worked at restaurants that included the Fairmont Empress down the road so he is very familiar with Victoria has to offer. He is excited to also be working with the sommelier to bring in more local wine and I certainly agreed that British Columbia offerings deserve more attention, as I had learned the week before the cruise. As an example, he brought us some Starling Lane Wild Berry Dessert Wine (made in Vancouver Island), a perfect accompaniment to the cheese and fruit plate.

All too soon it was time to leave Victoria and get ready for my final dinner aboard the Celebrity Cruise. It was hard to believe this was the last of 10 nights (and very busy days). I decided to go all out for the last supper and enjoyed a wonderful fruit display, French Onion Soup, Fettuccine with Veal, and a Chocolate Lava Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream!  I finally lost that $20 I had brought on board to gamble with and, with a smile at the slot machine, headed up for my last night in our Veranda Suite before my first day in Vancouver.


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