Food experiences in Vancouver, Victoria and Gulf islands
Heading to Vancouver and Victoria for a few days and maybe a day-trip to Salt Spring Island and am looking for food experiences. Will try out Vij's for sure. Need a recommendation for sushi/seafood/dim sum restaurants. Is the Vancouver Chinatown night market known for its food? Any interesting wineries to have lunch at on the island? Or places to buy interesting cheeses or food products? Food preferences are Asian/Indian, Italian or simply interesting restaurants with fresh and delicious local food.
If you head to Salt Spring Island and want a truly amazing food experience, the Hastings House is not to be missed. It's the best meal and service I've ever had. It's not a place you can walk in, you have to book ahead and the meal is not cheap but worth it. The way the menu works, you don't get to choose it, when you make your reservations, they will ask you what allergies you have and what you don't like. The chef will prepare the meal that day based on what's freshly caught or grown. It's nerve racking when you're paying a lot for a meal and not knowing what you'll be getting, however don't be afraid. As well, they'll ask for the names of all your guests and when you arrive, they have it memorized! That just blew me away, when we walked up to the restaurant, they met us half way on their walk way and knew our names!!!
For a more economical but fun experience, you can catch your own fish and dig for clams and oysters on the island, just remember to get a fishing license, it's relatively cheap and you can get it at the fishing supply shops. For oysters, there is a road just past the cemetary, on your right if you're driving counter clockwise on the island (there's really one road there). If you time it right, when the tide is in, you don't need to dig for the oysters, you can just pick them up. Nothing beats the freshness of catching your own seafood. The island also has lots of rock cods. Right by the mountain side by the camping grounds is where we went. We were able to catch about 10 huge rockcods in about 30 minutes. If us girls were able to do it, anyone can and we're girly girls too!
Don't forget their Saturday market it's got lots of goodies. Salt Spring is also known for their goat cheese, I'm not a fan of goat cheese but it's very tasty.
Re: lunch at an Island winery, the answer depends on which part of the Island you plan to visit. If you are going to the Saanich Peninsula, the answer is no. However, you could do an interesting little tour Victoria-area wineries such as Winchester Cellars, Starling Lane, and Church and State, followed by a nearby lunch at the "Roost" which is a Peninsula-area lunch spot that serves homemade soups, salads, sandwiches, etc....
Re: places to buy food products, I always point visitors in the direction of Choux Choux Charcuterie in Victoria; while the selection is not huge, the owners' standards are high and almost everything in the shop is of top-notch quality. They have a daily 'plat de jour' for lunch that is consistently excellent.
Don't miss the Moss Street Market if you are going to be in Victoria on a Saturday morning. The local organic produce selection at this time of year is stellar; you can buy some incredible berries and locally grown fruit and some of the best baguettes in BC from the folks at "Pain de la Maison" otherwise known as the "House Bread" bakers. Be sure to get there at 10 AM so you can choose from the full selection of goods!
Agree with the no-go on the Saanich Pennisula (towards the ferries) also the wineries are pretty big tourist traps with most of the grapes imported from the Okanagan. If you head the Cowichan Valley way your options are plenty. Merridale Cidery (not a winery but produces organic cider) has quite a good restaurant and beautiful patio in the orchard http://www.merridalecider.com/ . Another good staple is Zanatta http://www.zanatta.ca/index.htm one of the first wineries on Vancouver Island with an italian style wine and restaurant menu. Another picturesque setting. Also to consider is Cherry Point Vineyards http://www.cherrypointvineyards.com/ which is a First Nations run winery. It has a decent restaurant and is a larger and more professionally run winery (although I am not so much a fan of their wine. The last I can suggest is Glenterra's Thistle Cafe which has an ever-changing menu of local food http://glenterravineyards.com/home.html . Hope these give you a good idea, make sure you check hours or call ahead as their hours vary. Also, there are many other wineries (Venturi Schulze http://www.venturischulze.com/ a completely organic winery) worth visiting out this way and great foodie treasures such as Hilary's Cheese and True Grain Bakery (they mill their own flour) in Cowichan Bay. Enjoy yourself on the island!