Rhubarb and Strawberries

Planes and trains, roads and departure lounges… I’m on the road a lot these days, emptying out and filling up suitcases, sleeping in strangely capacious beds, waking up and trying to grasp and recognize the light. I’m in love, too, so the trips, intriguing and exciting as they are, are framed with a crisp, tart sense of temporary loss. There is such a taste of pleasure embedded in that loss, like strawberries combined with rhubarb, sweet and sour, pleasure principle and reality principle, me somewhere in between.

In Victoria recently on academic business, I had a chance to revisit a part of the country I love. On the first day of December, this coastal island city was awash with an luminious wintry light. Recently slammed with several centimetres of snow, there was a blue tinge to the air and the landscape that seemed to make no sense in a place that is usually, at this time of year, every subtle shade of green and grey.
smallertree.jpgRunning from plane to hotel and then from meeting to meeting, I subsisted, for two days, on power bars, fast food and hurried meals with colleagues, the piquant conversation distracting me from the food. But a day and a half of respite gave me a series of tastes that still linger on my tongue.

My best friend Penny showed up at my hotel door the morning after my marathon day of meetings. We both whopped with joy upon seeing each other: it had been two whole months! I took her by the hand and led her to Willie’s Bakery and Café (537 Johnson Street), one block from my hotel. I knew we’d get some classically good BC food there.smallscone.jpg

British Columbia has become a foodie haven to rival other westcoast food-horses like California. Small, sustainable operations produce unique and exquisite wines, cheeses, meats, fish, game, fruit and vegetables. The cuisine of Vancouver, Whistler, Victoria and the Okanagan Vaqlley is acquiring an international reputation, and the Cowichan Valley, next door to Victoria, has a (mostly) Mediterranean climate that encourages small scale farming begetting gourmet foodstuffs.

But back to Willie’s. Penny and I ordered the exact same thing: the salmon Benny. Local smoked salmon was topped by a perfectly poached egg and a tangy yet smooth Hollandaise, all atop the bakery brioche, sided with roasted potatoes. Unfortunmately, the sauce and potatoes were cool-ish; I politely mentioned this to the waitress and she immedioately took it back to the kitchen. My dish was then returned to me, unwarmed: the chef refused to deal! By now it had traveled to and fro and was stone cold. The waitress was chagrined: I was disappointedbut didn’t wish to place the waitress in an even more difficult position than she was. In general, I found the servers lovely, but a tense atmosphere pervaded this special place whose food I have enjoyed several times. Perhaps the management should loosen up (even taking photographs made the counter staff balk) and let the place have as good a reputation for its hospitality as it surely does for its fresh baked croissant, scones, baguette, pastries, and sweetly original take on food.

…Come back in a few days for more on pie, perogies, and BC wine on Vancouver Island…

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