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Jun 17, 2008 07:44 PM

Weekend in Nanaimo - Restaurant Report (long)

My friend (Patti), my dog (Haggis), and I traveled out to Nanaimo this weekend to participate in the Nanaimo Kennel Club's annual dog show. While the dog was showing off his beauty, we took the opportunity to sample some of the area's restaurants.

All in all, it was an excellent weekend. Perhaps it's because we're from boomtown Alberta and we've forgotten what good service is, but we found that we were treated excellently everywhere we went, and made to feel very welcome!

Thursday night: We flew into Vancouver, and took the Duke Point ferry to Nanaimo. It was late at night, so we decided to sample the ferry food. We were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the burgers and fries (and gravy) that were available, yet disappointed to find there was no alcohol served onboard (though we understand the reasons). All in all, ferry food's a decent choice when you're starving, and certainly a cut above McDonald's, but that's about all that can be said.

My dog enjoyed a serving of dry Nutro large breed puppy food, and some cold water.


Breakfast: Haggis enjoyed a serving of dry Nutro large breed puppy food, half a can of Nutro wet food, and some cold water.

Lunch 1: We had our first light lunch at Penny's Palapa down at the waterfront. I had the ceviche, my friend had the tortilla soup. Lunch was washed down with Dos Equis and Pacifico. Both of our meals were excellent - the ceviche was as good as any I've had in Mexico, and the tortilla soup was amazingly flavourful. Had we more time, we would have certainly gone back to Penny's Palapa.

Lunch 2: We ventured out to the Longwood Brew Pub from Beban park. One thing that we consistently noticed was that all of the travel brochures completely overestimated the travel time to the various locations from downtown Nanaimo. We were supposed to take at least thirty minutes to get to the pub; while admittedly we were a bit further north than downtown, we were there in less than 10.

At the Longwood Brew Pub we ordered Baked Oysters (with cheese and ham), and were talked into some Blueberry Calamari by our waitress (we were quite dubious at first - it was a new menu item, and sounds rather odd). The oysters were not what was expected; I thought we'd get oysters in the shell topped with the cheese and ham, instead it was unshelled oysters served in a rather gloopy sauce. Despite being different than expected, they were very tasty. They were blown away by the Blueberry Calamari, which were very well cooked, not greasy at all, and since they were dusted with dried powdered blueberry bits, had an intriguing salty/sweet taste. I would say that they're definitely worth trying, and I would order them again.

We also had a sampler of their beers; of the five we tried, we preferred the Dunkelweizen over the Red Ale, the Two Penny ale, the Czech Pilsner, and the Longwood Lager.

Supper: We joined Haggis' breeder and his Uncle Sam's owner at Nautical's Restaurant. To be honest, we weren't blown away... we waited a long time to be seated, despite having a reservation, the service was slow and less than informative, and the food, was just okay. For appetizers, we had escargot (I didn't try them so cannot comment), and some "Mango Habanero" oysters. The oysters were cooked, not raw (as I had hoped), and while they certainly had met some mango at some point in their lives, it seems that the chef had merely waved the habanero at it, or maybe just shown the oysters a picture of a habanero pepper in a book. All in all, they were very disappointing.

As a main course, Patti had the Crab Thermidor (which she enjoyed), two of our party had the Grilled Tequila Shrimp (which they found to be a little on the bland side, and overcooked), another had the red snapper (of which, no comments are made), and I had the steamed Dungeoness Crab. Now, anytime I get to rip apart a crab using only my teeth and fingers, I am a happy, happy woman, so I have no complaints about this meal, though Sam's "Mom" did object when an over-enthusiastically ripped off crab leg pelted her in the arm.

Given a choice, I would not return to Nautical's...

For his supper, Haggis enjoyed a serving of dry Nutro large breed puppy food, half a can of Nutro wet food, and some cold water. He was also stuffed to the gills with "bait" from the dog show, so had a happy day.


Breakfast: Haggis enjoyed a serving of dry Nutro large breed puppy food, half a can of Nutro wet food, half of the leftover rice and vegetables from my crab dinner, and some cold water.

Lunch: We had lunch at the Crow and Gate pub, based on the recommendation given to us by the guys at Sealegs Kayaking in Ladysmith (who were also kind enough to print out a map). The pub is absolutely beautiful, the patio and gardens are simply stunning. The food was certainly palatable, though I found myself thinking of ways it could be done better. I had a ceasar salad with dungeoness crab and shrimp meat, Patti had the crab cakes. My ceasar salad was loaded to the gunnels with perfectly cooked seafood, however, the salad itself was of the bagged romaine, boxed croutons, and salad dressing variety. If they had only taken the effort to make their dressing and croutons in house, the salad would have been absolutely sublime. As it was, only the seafood made it worthwhile. Patti enjoyed her crabcakes, but felt that there was too much additional "stuff" in them (they also had corn and red pepper). She felt it detracted from the crab. Both meals were washed down with Piper's India Pale Ale, which was subsequently purchased in six-pack form as "Show Beer".

Dinner: We again joined breeder and Sam's owners for dinner, and ventured forth to the Beefeater restaurant. Dinner was extremely good. For appetizers, we started with a bottle of champagne (Haggis and Uncle Sam had done extremely well at the show that day), then shared scallops, calamari (amazingly, perfectly delicious calamari), and some field mushrooms with feta cheese. All of the appetizers were delicious, the calamari was sublime.

For supper, Patti ordered prawns (again, I think they were tequila prawns), I ordered Veal Oscar, our breeder and Sam's dad chose the seafood penne, and Sam's mom had the lamb souvlaki. Everything was very good; the hollandaise sauce on my veal chop was lovely, light, and melting. Being used to a good Alberta rib-eye, I felt that the veal was somewhat lacking flavour-wise, but it was tender, and perfectly cooked. Patti's prawns were good, but not outstanding, she wouldn't likely order them again. Both orders of penne, and the lamb disappeared.

The table shared an order of creme caramel for dessert, and Patti and Sam's dad tried out the 'Spiked Chai' on the dessert drinks menu. They found the concept more intriguing than the final product was good, but we've marked this for further experimentation at home.

For his supper, Haggis enjoyed a serving of dry Nutro large breed puppy food, half a can of Nutro wet food, more leftover rice and vegetables, and some cold water. He would have enjoyed my leftover veal, but I forgot it at the restaurant.


For his breakfast, Haggis enjoyed a serving of dry Nutro large breed puppy food, half a can of Nutro wet food, and some cold water.


The Grotto Spa: OH. MY. GOD.

We had seen some brochures for the Grotto Spa, and Patti decided that we absolutely must go there for a treatment. We were lucky enough to get a booking for 1:15 on Sunday afternoon, so decided to try their upstairs, robe-attire-only, tapas bar.

Forgive me if I repeat myself... OH. MY. GOD.

The only thing on the menu was tapas. We were informed by the incredible, wonderful staff at the Grotto that we most likely didn't have time for the "Unlimited Tapas" on offer (which normally takes one and a half to two hours to get through), so selected nine different items instead, with the understanding that we would be finished in time for our treatments.

We also selected a sparkling wine from the menu. Happily, they were out of it, and upgraded us to their nex champagne on the list at no additional cost (forgive me again, I forget the name). For tapas we had:

1. Caprese Mille Feuille - perfectly seasoned heirloom tomatos with light pastry and creamy feta cheese.
2. Island Cheese Plate - a selection of cheeses and nibblies from the Qualicom Cheese Company. The brie is absolutely to die for, and the other cheeses not far off.
3. Raw Oysters - with some kind of tart, sweet sauce that made Patti change her mind completely about raw oysters
4. Lamb Souvlaki - this was possibly the best one, of all of the best ones. The lamb was perfectly cooked, tender, and very, very flavoursome. I believe this came with couscous.
5. Duck Breast Rouladen - rare pieces of duck breast, wrapped in grape leaves, and served on a delicious, buttery celeraic puree
6. Breaded Halibut and Sweet Potato Fries - this was the cutest presentation, small pieces of well battered, moist halibut and tasty sweet potato fries served on newspaper.
7. Porcini dusted SableFish with Porcini Mushroom ravioli - this was also possibly the besst one, of all the best ones. The ravioli was wonderfully light, yet densely mushroomy, and the sablefish was lovely.
8. Pan-seared Scallops with Smoked Paprika Oil and Beet Marmalade - this also vied for the best of the best. One of the things we liked the most was how everything on the plate worked so well together - it tasted it's best when a little bit of each offering was combined.
9. A "Study" of Creme Brulee - this was another place where the service shone. We had ordered only one of these - as we were getting quite full - but the chef could not agree with serving something that was only a few bites to two people. So we got two servings of creamy, delicious, allspice scented creme brulee for the price of one.

The entire lunch was sublime, and as it was followed up by an hour and a half of absolute luxurious body treatments, facials, and massage, followed by a swim in the Grotto itself, the entire experience was hard to beat. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants to be pampered... the experience was a bit spendy (I believe that we spent about $300 apiece, with some whopping good tips thrown it), but we both agreed that if there had been a shoe store in the Grotto Spa, we'd still be there, and our dear beloved men would be currently trying to stage an intervention to get us out.


After nearly not getting off the island (note to self - next time get a ferry reservation), we got into the Coast Terrace Airport Hotel in Vancouver at around 12:30 pm, cranky and tired from navigating Vancouver's construction and badly placed road signs. I did have some minestrone on the boat (more for ballast against some rum and coke than anything else), but when we got into the hotel, we were starving. At that point, we found that delivery to South Vancouver after midnight on a Sunday night was asking the impossible (as a side note, the staff at the Coast Terrace Airport were extremely unfriendly, and not at all helpful. Nor were they happy to see a dog in the hotel, though we had notified them that he was coming when we made our reservation. After all of the friendly service we enjoyed on the Island, this was a big let down.) Finally, we ordered from Johnny's pizza. We both had a Johnny's Special, which was surprisingly good for desparation food, and they were also good enough to bring us beer. However, Vancouver was a letdown, especially since we had had hopes of getting off the island early enough to enjoy some excellent Chinese food in Richmond.

For his supper, Haggis enjoyed a serving of dry Nutro large breed puppy food, half a can of Nutro wet food, and some cold water. All in all, he was very satisfied with his meals while on vacation, and was absolutely thrilled to have dog food yet again.

To conclude, if I were back on the island, I would make a beeline for the Grotto Spa, and probably try out some of the other restaurants at the Tigh-Na-Mara resort. I would also definitely load up on Qualicom Brie, head to Penny's Palapa on a sunny day for lunch, and dine at the Beefeater once again!

All in all, we had a wonderful weekend, and would love to be back!

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  1. Great report. Thanks! Too bad you didn't have time to eat on the mainland.

    1. Fabulous and in-depth summary, wonderful reporting! And it must be a first on CH to have such a dedicated note for a pet's meals. :)

      1. Let me add to the complements already extended by fmed and jay kay.

        We occasionally visit Nanaimo but have not eaten at many places, usually restricting ourselves to room service at the Coast Bastion hotel because we too have dogs...goldens..."Haggis" is a great name for a dog, he isn't a Sheltie or Westie by any chance?

        The food at the Grotto Spa sounds wonderful. I am going to keep your review from my "significantly better half".

        We have walked by Penny's on many occasions as we took our dogs out to enjoy the nearby parks but unfortunately, probably because we are out there in the Fall or during the week, it has never been open. Maye this year.

        7 Replies
        1. re: Bob Mac

          Bob_Mac - try Basque next time you are in Nanaimo. French/Spanish/Basque influenced menu from a French chef.

          489 Wallace St, Nanaimo, BC V9R5B7, CA

          1. re: fmed


            Will do.

            I did not know of it at the time of our last visit but did notice its large sign as we were walking around the area the following day and wondered what it would be like as the area, at least in the evening, is "interesting".

            If we elect to spend a couple of nites in Nanaimo, will do. Thanks.

            What are your impressions of ACME Food? Was really bustling the evening we walked by complete with three or four piece combo. We had just eaten so did not hang around for very long.

            The only spot we had tried in previous visits was Global or Glow World Cuisine in what used to be a fire station. Unfortunately, it was out of business.

            We had intended to try the Mahle House but our calls and emails were not returned.

            1. re: Bob Mac

              Unfortunately, whenever we visit Nanaimo (my bother and sister-in-law live there) it is often only for one evening if at all. So we have yet to truly explore the scene there. The Basque is all I can recommend right now....I do plan to try out Acme and so forth this summer.

              1. re: Bob Mac

                ACME was vile! My dad and I went in Feb when we were there and everything tasted reheated. We didn't try the sushi, but we were extremely underwhelmed.

                1. re: Bryn

                  Ah well....Acme may be off my list!

                  1. re: fmed

                    I think they should have stuck with one cuisine style or else done a fusion style, but not what they did do.

            2. re: Bob Mac

              Haggis is a Flat-Coated Retriever (with a Scottish name, because Haggis is my husband's dog, and he's a Scot). Pictures here:

            3. The original comment has been removed
              1. Maybe is was because we had spent the 3 nights before our trip to the grotto eating at West, Gastropod, and Metro in Vancouver but I wasn't that impressed with the food. We had the unlimited tapas and tried 16 or 17 dishes. They were all good (some great) but I thought they sounded better in the descriptions than they actually tasted and I wouldn't bother going there just for the food. I think the ideas for the menu are excellent but it needed better execution.

                The spa was great but nothing special besides the actual grotto. After the manicure I still had hang nails and my girlfriends nail polish was chipping the next day. We were there for almost 8 hours and got almost every treatment and I didn't think it was anything special compared to other spas however my girlfriends massage was the best she's ever had and the grotto pool is really nice too.

                They made a snide comment when we only tipped $100 for our treatments. Then they over charged us by $70 and blamed it on a new computer system and it took 6 phone calls and 3 days before a manager would finally refund it. All the staff in the restaurant and doing the treatments were very nice though, it was just the front desk clerks.

                We'll probably try the Aerie spa next time.

                2 Replies
                1. re: rob1234

                  I guess this goes to show how perceptions differ. Patti and I weren't able to dine in Vancouver (as noted), but both of us have done quite a bit of fine dining elsewhere, and the Grotto was still very impressive.

                  The same goes for spas - we're both more than familiar with a variety of spas, and I have to say that the Grotto was one of the best experiences that either of us have had.

                  Then again, it could be that the trip to the Grotto was the culmination of an absolutely fantastic girl's weekend... I'm looking forward to heading back there, just to confirm my first impressions!

                  1. re: kali_MM

                    Yeah, it wasn't a bad day by any means and it was the nicest spa I've ever been to. I just thought there where a few issues and that the treatments themselves weren't anything special but when you add everything together (pool, lunch, waiting room, locker rooms etc) it is one of the nicest spas.

                    We got the package with a wrap, massage, facial, manicure/pedicure, and unlimited tapas. As great as that sounds I would recommend spreading it over a few days as you get massaged in every one of those treatments and by the end of the day it's not as special or relaxing as the first treatment.

                    I'm sure it probably was the restaurants in Vancouver that was part of it. We had 10+ courses at all three of those restaurants and each one was the best thing I've ever eaten so the next day at the grotto didn't compare. Some of the dishes were very good but some of them just looked like they had been reheated and put together in 30 seconds.