Part 1- Sound Views and Fresh Seafood- Tofino
Clayoquot Sound is the richest fishing area in British Columbia, according to a recent study. Space does allow us to list all the fish so check it out at This Fish.
Pacific Salmon (Chinook, Pink, Sockeye, and Chum), Pacific Halibut, Lingcod are just a few. If you want shell fish you can roam the coast yourself for those treasures: Manila Clams, Oysters, and Dungeness Crab. Click here for some information to assist you.
Tofino, and the adjacent Clayoquot Sound, is an area nestled on the West Coast of Vancouver, just an hour flight, or a five hour (including the ferry ride) drive from Vancouver, British Columbia. Hint to Seattle folks -- best to take a detour through Victoria and enjoy the food scene (please see part two of this story).
Forging for fish is not in your plan? No problem, since we are ready to sample! There are many choices of ‘boat to table’ restaurants. One is the Surfside Grill which is located on the beach at Pacific Sands Beach Resort. The fresh fish is provided by fishermen Jeff Mikus and Chef Jesse Blake. Jeff has been fishing for over 20 years and spends half the year on his boat with a commercial license for salmon, shrimp, and spot prawns. He provides fish for many of the restaurants in Tofino and of course for his other restaurant Wildside.
Jeff shares old fish stories with Shane, manager of The Pacific Sands, as we eat and they go back to their fun times in the Frazier Valley of British Columbia. While they chatted, we enjoyed the fresh catch. First came the Fish Tacos with tasty sockeye salmon, followed by breaded oysters from Clayoquot Sound and finally fresh and chips. I’m usually not a big fan of fish and chips but these, made with fresh lingcod and halibut, were almost a life-alternating fish experience for me. Bring on more fish and chips!
Of course the First Nation Peoples knew all about fishing in the Sound. Chief Wickaninnish of the “Tla-o-qui-aht” (anglicized to Clayoquot) of the late 1780s did not seem to be too popular with an American trading company. For that matter the rival chief of nearby nation from the Nootka Sound also had issues with him. You can learn more about the cultural history of the area at the Wickaninnish Interpretive Centre in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve (now named Kwistis), which is a 25-minute drive from the Pacific Sands Resort. There are also some nice hikes around the Centre, so take some time to stretch your legs.
However, before we arrived at the Centre, we found a trail to Schooner Cove. This includes a short 1.5 mile walk on a boardwalk and then down to the cove, giving us a wonderful opportunity for a long, peaceful breath while listening to the waves moving in.
Back to the car we continued south a short distance and stopped at interestingly named rock, Incinerator Rock. With the low tide in, I did the quick climb up the rock and enjoyed the clouds mixing artfully with the sun. The big question is how did this dramatic and stunning rock it gets name? An incinerator was built near here to burn the garbage from the air force that was based at the Tofino Airport during World War Two. Glad there is not any garbage being burnt anymore.
After strolling the beach and drinking in the beauty we needed to return to our home base at the Pacific Sands Beach Resort to chat with Shane, the resort director.
Snuggled in Cox Bay, this is an ideal spot for surfers. Most experts will tell you this is one of the best surfing spots in Canada. Rumor has it that this is the main reason Shane moved from California back to British Columbia. If you are a beginner, you can get lessons from the Surf Sisters who have an office and rental shop right on the beach. The advanced surfers enjoy the big surf that the winter storms bring.
We walked to our cabin on the beach, enjoying the stunning views of the ocean and the surfers catching the waves. Shane had also shown us the Pettinger Trail (namesake of original owners) that one can take from our cabin on a boardwalk. Once on the cliff above the beach we noticed Chesterman Beach which was to be our next hike.
However, dinner time was upon us and we took the five-minute beach walk to the Long Beach Resort. All along the beach the warm sun of early June encouraged some people to get an early start on their summer tans; lots of shirtless guys and bikini clad women soaking up the sun.
Once at Long Beach we met Samantha Hackett at the Sandbar, the resort’s beach side bistro. Some cold, refreshing, and delicious sangria, made the warm sun on the beach even more heavenly! Samantha is Director of Operations, and her father-in-law Tim, built this and is owner. Bill was a precocious high schooler who purchased a book on “How to Build a House.” Fast forward to 50 years later Tim has built many homes in Greater Victoria area and finished this outstanding resort in 2002.
Since our goal was to have dinner the talk started on cookies. Cookies? Samantha does a lot of volunteer work for the Girl Guides of Canada; counterpart of the Girl Scouts in the USA. We all know about their cookie sales, a great program teaching real life skills to these young kids.
The real food was about to start and raw oysters from Fanny Bay (east of here) came first. I could have had that for dinner but Samantha said “I have asked the kitchen to roll out a little of everything.” My wife enjoyed the linguini topped with fresh local seafood: mussels, clams and halibut. Continuing on the fresh seafood menu I enjoyed the Chinook Salmon which was hickory smoked and very moist.
The big winner, besides my growing belly, was the Spicy West Coast Seafood Pappardelle. This pasta was served with calms, chorizo sausage, squid, and a mild spicy red chili tomato sauce which really sets this dish apart. Enough food? Not!! Superb cheesecake with a light lemon zest finished the evening.
We bid farewell and hit the sandy trail, enjoying the sunset, pink colors and night rolling in. After a great night’s sleep and before I knew it, the light from the morning sun woke me up. For some reason I was hungry and looked in the refrigerator to find eggs, bacon and juice. Five minutes later we were enjoying breakfast and watching the tide coming in and the surfers going out.
Time for some morning activity decisions and this caught our eye: “Best garden in the world, world class sculptures, historic homestead hut, and a coffee house.” Well another round of fresh coffee got my wife’s attention. Ten minutes later we arrived at the Tofino Botanical Gardens. What a unique treasure all these 12 acres! Here are the names of just some of the unique sculptures: Red Man Running, Tofino Man Skulls, and War Masks. Of course there were hundreds of flowers, my favorite being the Japanese Iris. Off the shoreline we saw Raccoon Island, which is part of the Tofino Wildlife Management Area. There is so much more to these Gardens that a return visit will be in order, but now it was time to visit an old friend SoBo.
SoBo got their start as a purple food truck serving their famous tacos in the 2000’s at the Gardens. Then SoBo opened a restaurant at its current location in 2007, which we were enjoyed on our first visit to Tofino. Although I did not order the tacos I really enjoyed the Chicken Enchiladas, accompanied by rice mixed with black beans and avocado. My wife loved the Smoked Wild Fish Chowder and salmon with delightful flavors of dill and other spices. She really enjoyed the cast iron corn bread and which she deemed “almost as good as my grandpa’s!”
On the way back to the resort we went past Tofino Brewing. Since it was already 2:00 PM we figured we better go in for a taste. Our timing was perfect as the owner Bryan O’Malley had just walked in. He showed off his award winning Blonde Ale which won first place in the 2015 BC Beer Contest. Unlike many other blonde beers, which can be a little light, this one is very well-balanced with a nice kick. We next proceeded to the Kelp Stout which had won third place in its category. Stout beers are not my preference but my wife sure enjoyed this one, with its light chocolate notes and a slightly salty flavor from the kelp used in the blend.
We finished with another award winning beer in its category, Spruce Tree Ale, which has a pleasant Christmas tree note! With all the awards that Bryan has won we figured he has been doing this for many years but this was not the case. He and his partners started several years ago when Bryan became tired of working in the cold rain for a tugboat company. I think he made a wise decision.
We figured it is time to check out one more beach, Chesterman. This is probably the most popular beach for beginning surfers with its gentle waves, for surfers, and is accessible for extended low tide walking, running or kite flying. The best part is the beach that is split in two parts, north and south with Frank Island in the middle. However Frank Island only becomes an island at high tide. During low tide you can walk to it. This unique geological feature, characterized by being available only at low tide is called a tombolo. We spent several hours here in this magical place, watching the high tide come in to create an island in front of our eyes.
Well the end of another day had arrived, so we retreated to our cabin nestled in the trees with another sunset to view. We woke up the next morning to the melancholy that this would be our last day in Tofino, thus we settled in for some serious power lounging. First scrambled eggs and bacon were prepared along with some local coffee from Tofino Coffee Roasting, reading, relaxing and a few more beach walks – what a perfect day! Before we knew it was late afternoon and time to think about out last meal out in Tofino. To the Wolf in The Fog vibrant restaurant found in the charming downtown center of Tofino.
We had some excellent fresh salads to start but we knew when we had first arrived in town that the buzz around dinner here is all about the Cod Cheeks! Locally caught lingcod, vanilla claims swimming in a bowl of seasoning with saffron aioli. Such a unique favor. Now I see why this restaurant was voted as the Best New Restaurant in Canada several years ago. We also enjoyed the Moroccan Spice Octopus prepared with chickpeas and peppers and sauced in a nice spicy tomato base.
We were sampling small portions of their finest offerings and the next dish was the Grilled Cornish Hen, tasty, tender and served on a bed of farro – a unique species of wheat. Next the server dropped off Wild Mushrooms on Toast, served with pork belly, egg and chanterelle mushrooms. Very special!
Amazingly we still had room for dessert. I continued the theme of Lemon Cheesecake, made with all of the standard ingredients plus amaretto. Delicious!
Believe or not this was just a sampling of the delights at the Wolf in the Fog. What a great ending to our stay at this coastal retreat of Tofino. The next adventure was to Victoria for Coast to Coast dining part 2.
Part 2 Victoria Dining and Wine
Victoria is no secret for the food and wine aficionados living in Vancouver British Columbia or Seattle Washington areas. Coming from the Seattle area it’s a short sea-plane ride. However, we opted for the 90-minute sail on the Black Ball Ferry Line, leaving from Port Angeles. Ninety minutes of breathtaking scenery, through the islands and mountain views to the point where the Juan de Fuca Strait meets the Georgia Strait. The ferry arrives in the Inner Harbour of Victoria, the capitol city of BC. As we slowly sailed through the harbour we can see both the historic and stately Parliament Building and the Empress Hotel, along with the stark and beautiful lines of the modern building boom.
Two minutes from the Ferry Terminal we found our home for the next couple of days – the Inn at Laurel Point. The first order of business was to plot down on the bed and enjoy the view of the boats slowly moving and in out of the Harbour and the bright glistening sun. We shortly sauntered downstairs for breakfast at the Aura. We did not partake in the patio sitting on the waterfront as that was being planned for the afternoon happy hour. We enjoyed custom made omelets while discussing what can be described as this holy, socially-conscious and generous hotel. Holy, because the Managing Director is the Reverend Ian Powell who moonlights as an Anglican priest in Victoria. Make no mistake, the Rev. Ian Powell has a rich background working with many world class hotels. Socially-conscious? Laurel Point has the distinction of being the first carbon neutral hotel in BC, the restaurant serves only ethically harvested and local seafood contributes to many local charities and offers a “courage rate” for cancer patients who come to Victoria for treatment. And generous, not simply because of the warm and enthusiastic welcome and hospitality, the management has also set up a profit-based trust program for the employees.
Time for some fresh air, so we proceeded to the lovely Japanese Garden and ponds in behind the hotel and then noticed the walkway along the Harbour, David Foster Way. The walkway will be three miles once completed and is named after Victorian native David Foster, famed musician and winner of 16 Grammy awards. Foster’s music and production skills have contributed to the bands Chicago, Airplay, Earth, Wind and Fire, along with stars such as George Harrison, Ringo Star, Josh Groban, Boz Scaggs and many others. A native son that Victoria is very proud of!
I never get tired of seeing the storied Parliament Building or the Empress, but no time for tea today as a busy food extravaganza awaited us with Victoria Food Tours. These walking food tours are custom fit to meet your needs and desires. Our guide, Jonathan, certainly took care of us with the first stop at The Sticky Wicket. This is one of nine venues located at this address, so no shortage of drinks and food. On this sunny day we decided to check out the Rooftop Patio venue. We were going to utilize one of the two sand volleyball courts but could not find any takers. So the food tour began with the Tuna Poke, local albacore tuna with, avocado, watercress and wonton chips. Oh boy! And paired with Victoria’s own, Hoyne Pilsner. Munching continued with a variety of cheeses and finished with the Shaft Cheesecake which was made with Kahlua, vodka and Baileys. That was a great start to our gourmet eating and drinking.
The next stop was Table 21 housed at the Hilton. We enjoyed many of their special tapas starting with Prosciutto Wrapper Asparagus. The asparagus was tender and crisp – perfect with the slightly salty prosciutto. Then came the Ancho Chili Pork Belly, which was my favorite. However, my wife voted for the Fried Chicken and Sweet Potato Waffles. These we just some of the samples that are featured during their happy hour.
Johnathon continued this nonstop tour as we chatted on our way to the next stop: 10 Acres + Bistro +Bar + Farm. Talk about farm to table! They grow much of their food at their farm, about 15 miles north of the restaurant. The freshness started with the Quinoa Fritters served with homemade hummus and pickled onions was a great balance. Finest that I have tasted. We finished with the Chicken Wings marinated in buttermilk and some hot chili sesame. These snacks were all nicely prepared and tasty, of course.
The food tour was almost done, however we needed to finish with some sweets. The last stop was at Bon Macaron Patisserie. I was initially very excited as growing up with a Jewish tradition of having macaroons during the Passover holiday was a time honored tradition. However, my wife told me I’m WAY off!! Look at the name “Bon” and “Patisserie” “this is obviously French my wife exclaimed. Also there is only one “o” in the French pastry. While they are often confused, a macaroon is a cookie made with coconut, and a macaron is a meringue based cookie filled with buttercream, ganache, fruit curd or an endless variety of other yummy things! Bon Macaron offered a huge variety of sweet examples along with a few savories. My favorite was the Rosemary and Lemon. My wife had one with pear and goat cheese which she described as “a taste party in my month.”
It was now 3:00 PM and time to start thinking about happy hour! Well my wife and I thought we had better get some additional steps in first, given the amount of calories that were absorbed during this 2.5 hour food tour. We thanked Jonathan and then continued walking through the picturesque town, ending up at the beautiful Inner Harbour. We discussed visiting the many wineries around the area as there is no shortage. http://www.wineislands.ca/sip/ I reminded my wife that we had sampled some excellent Pinot Noir from Averill Creek Vineyard, which is just north of here in Duncan. We had previously had the pleasure of a special two-night wine paring with appetizers hosted by owner Andy Johnson. Wine touring will be on the list for our next visit as dinner time was near.
While strolling around the harbour, we stopped to watch a number of the buskers who were providing some great entertainment. Finally, we ended up at our destination, the OLO Restaurant which was our last stop. The word Olo pays homage to the trade-hub roots of the translates as ‘hungry’ in Chinook Jargon, which is a hodge-podge mix of English, French, Chinese and Chinook. The chef features local fresh ingredients, combining them in creative and delicious ways.
The server noticed that we had a good workout on this warm day and offered the prefect tonic; 14 Black Widow Pinot Gris (Naramata Bench, BC, one of our favorite BC wine regions.) This crisp refreshing wine was just the ticket.
For the dinner we went with the five course selection and the fun started with prawns in fennel and lettuce cream with a lively spice secret spice of their own - -OLO Bay seasoning. Next I wanted something with a kick, so bring on the kimchi, served with a combination of pickles, radishes, carrots and cucumbers.
Next came the Alder Smoked Wild Salmon, paired nicely with pickled onion and beets and caught from Victoria’s Oak Bay. The best part was the lightly smoked flavor.
Then we enjoyed a pasta dish, Bucatini Carbonara. This was homemade pasta with ham, bacon, and peppers, another great combination. Everything is so fresh and the reason is they source locally from 42 small farms, fishermen, and ranches. To ensure quality, and establish a good relationship, owner and executive chef Brad Holmes takes the time to meet with each source.
Last was our favorite, Charcoal Grilled Flat Iron Steak and yum!! This local beef is from Cowiche area (just north) and had a tasty mushroom sauce and onions slightly draped over it. Even though we were full Chef Brad said we had to try the potato puree & roesti. The roesti is Swiss in origin and the only way I can described it was light. I’m assuming zero calories.
Dessert options were mentioned but you can tell from the above there was simply no more room.
We enjoyed the stroll back to the Inn at Laurel Point and the next morning we relaxed on the ferry back to United States. We look forward to a return visit here in the fall or winter. Victoria only gets about half the rainfall that Vancouver gets and less than Seattle as well, so really any time of year is a good time to be in Victoria!