Having seen photos of their decor online was reason enough to visit. “Ricco Bambino” is one of the only wineries located in downtown Kelowna, and the first wine bar in the city. A place that specializes in pouring drinks without a full sized kitchen. Here they offer a complimentary bowls of salt and vinegar chips to start and has a light snack menu that includes cheese and bread, dried meat, and olives
Their motif is a tropical paradise with cotton candy pink walls, gold mirrors, and a luscious jungle of greenery growing to the skies and dripping from the ceiling. The seats are crushed velvet, with a visible view of their wine vats. This is the perfect locale for any glitzy girl’s night, especially given their charming bottle labels and unique branding with cartoon crown logo.
At “Ricco Bambino” they specialize in minimal intervention wine making. Some of it is filtered so can’t say that they are fully organic, but they are vegan. We were given an unofficial run down of their product and brand, by the very knowledgeable young man that worked the winery tonight. He really made our visit an informative one.
We went with their wine flights, to be able to try a couple of bottles. I choose their only orange and pink, and followed it with a red. And my guest did their sparkling flight, a taste of each of their sparkling products.
The “Orange skin contact Pinot Gris” was my favourite and the most memorable of all their wines. This was their first take on an orange wine, with the seeds turning this white orangey in colour. Its flavour is from the grapes that grew during a heavy period of forest fires. It is interesting how that smoky flavour carried through to the grape and therefore the wine, for a whisky-like essence.
They only have one rosé, so it is named as such. This was fruit forward and clean with field strawberries on the nose. Prepared in stainless steel, this is exactly what you expect in a rosé. Tart finish and not too sweet.
My last pour was the red, “Grenache” prepared in concrete and not an oak barrel. The result a more fruit forward, “crushable red” with some smokiness; although flat if you are use to heavy rich reds. It is served slightly chilled, like white wine would.
Each of the bubbles had a fun princess-y name, like the “Kicked out of the country club 2017 Brut”. It has apple cider qualities with pear notes.
The “Very troubled child 2017 rosé brut” has a lot more bubbles and a lot more bite with citrus notes. Interestingly this had less sugar than the first sparkling, yet it drinks sweeter.
The “Crooked crown petillant naturel 2018” is a natural wine. You can tell it is unfiltered from its murky hue. This one was more fizzy than the other two, with a tingling tongue sensation.
Come for the photo op, stay to enjoy the wine bar vibe, with a local product made with pride.
1630 Pandosy St Shop 101, Kelowna, BC V1Y 1P7
This weekend our party of three packed ourselves into the 2019 Nissan Pathfinder for a weekend trip to the island. I am typically apprehensive about driving larger vehicles, having only owned smaller sedans, so when the opportunity came to try my hand at the largest SUV I have ever laid eyes on, I thought it would be worth practicing. After all if I nailed this one, all others will be easy. And to my delight it was an easy drive and we got to Victoria safe and sound because of it.
We stayed in a comfortable suite with two queen beds. The kitchen with coffee marker and mini fridge, shared a sink with the bathroom. The sick is located adjacent to the kitchen counter, you would do you business behind closed doors and walk out to wash your hands clean. Awkward placement, but space saving.
We spent the evening and morning after exploring Victoria the touristy way. We hit up Chinatown marked with plenty of red brick and strung up yellow and red lanterns.
Taking time to especially explore the corridors of “Fan Tan Alley”.
Stopping at “Kid Sister” for some of their small batch ice cream served in homemade cubby waffle cones. I paid $1 more for organic vanilla versus regular.
We strolled by the water, taking in the marina.
And stopped in front of the parliament building in awe.
We even contemplated a horse and carriage ride, but passed on the novelty.
We took a pause to take in the iconic and majestic “Fairmont Empress”. We missed the cut off for high tea, so instead enjoyed their lounge decorated with the Queen’s portraits with a splash of graffiti.
Naturally, when in this setting one needs to enjoy their signature spirit: a pretty purple gin. We tried it three times, in three different purple cocktails. Each strong and refined. “Q1908”. Empress gin, lemon juice, sugar, egg white, and butterfly pea flower. “Empress 75”. Empress gin, St. Germain, lemon juice, sugar, veuve clicquot, and grapefruit pearls. “Auxiliary”. Empress gin house vermouth and laphroaig.
As we sipped, we snacked on complimentary bowls of popcorn seasoned in charcoal. Both original and delicious, salty like hickory bbq.
And followed it up with one of their desserts. The “Floating island” is finished at the table. Bourbon vanilla bean creme anglaise, fresh raspberries, meringue chips, and wild roses. This was a great textural dessert, lots to sift through. With perfect meringue, like off a freshly baked lemon pie. Shards that melt in your mouth while adding crunch. And the pear gel offered a nice fruity balance.
And for dinner we visited “Canoe”, a seafood restaurant by the water. They boasted a multilevelled patio facing the marina with the sun setting in the distance. For the full restaurant review visit the link below.
The next morning we waited 30 minutes for breakfast at “Blue Fox Cafe”. A popular cafe with over 50 menu items, 12 of which are just bennies. For the full review that click this link.
The rest of the afternoon was spent visiting some more tourist hot spots. At the “Bug Zoo” we were the oldest children in the tour groups. There are plenty of bugs in plastic cages to look at, with descriptions by each so that you can learn a thing or two.
For the daring there are opportunities to hold a few of these creepy crawlies like the giant stick bug or the hairy tarantula. My favourite displays were the ant tunnels and the cockroach box decorated to look like a cottage home.
At “Miniature World” you explored themed displays built small with vivid detail. It took you to space and through Canadian history from Victoria to Newfoundland following a train Coast to Coast.
You learned your world war history and relived your childhood through their fairy tale dioramas. And got to play a peeping Tom when you looked through the tiny windows of tiny Victorian homes. Each accurately portraying life long, long ago.
“Circus world” was my favourite theme, it gave you all the carnival fun from the big top to the Ferris wheel. And with a push of a button it came to life with motion. King Arthur had his full story told through miniatures. From the meeting of Merlin and the pulling of the sword to the retrieval of the holy grail.
Our last stop was Beacon Hill for some nature. They are best known for their wild peacocks, whom have taken over the park at 80 plus strong. They can be see strolling around the walk ways and begging for scraps from picnickers.
But for majority of them and more animals make your way to their petting farm. There, they strut their stuff and mark their territory with tail feathers flexed. They walk amongst the farm’s pigs, goats, llamas, and fancy chickens and ducks.
For those who want to get closer to the animals there are baby goats, rabbits, and guinea pigs that like a good cuddle and pet.
From here it was time to catch our ferry home. This was a success trip in the Nissan Pathfinder, a spacious SUV that easily transition from rocky roads to smooth highways, and congested city streets.
NISSAN PATHFINDER, Rock Creek Edition
This weekend our party of three packed ourselves into the 2019 Nissan Pathfinder for a weekend trip to the island. I am typically apprehensive about driving larger vehicles, having only owned smaller sedans, so when the opportunity came to try my hand at the largest SUV I have ever laid eyes on, I thought it would be worth practicing. After all if I nailed this one, all others will be easy. And to my delight it was an easy drive.
And with plenty of trunk space we had no difficulty cramming in three nights and four days worth of clothing and toiletries for three people. Three full luggage and bags with their contents spread out and all over the eight passenger seats. In fact during the 1.5 hour ferry ride to and from I found myself comfortably taking a nap across the back seat. And even more comfortably napping after I dropped the very back seat down and spanned myself across all that trunk space.
We drove in and lived in our spacious van, which we fondly named “The Hulk”, given his size and dark green hue. The Nissan Pathfinder drove surprisingly well given this size and girth. I didn’t think I’d be able to keep it in the lines, but I did just fine. And the brakes were so touch sensitive that they reacted to any small motion. Great for busy streets with plenty of stop and go’s I just wished that the wheel gave me a little more resistance, some stiffness to give me the feeling that I was truly steering.
The drive was easy going, along all the smooth roads we travelled. There was just more strain each time I had to stop and start it or we took a turn quick. The weight of SUV and my passengers meant I had to put the pedal to the metal and push down hard. Thankfully it was more highway driving, which also helped to reduce are gas cost. Because at $100 a fill up, and when gas in Vancouver can get up to 152.9, fuel conservation is an important factor.
After we got off of the ferry, our first stop was Parksville for lunch. A quick Google search lead us to the cafe “Bread & Honey” for some soup and sandwiches. For the full review, click the link.
Then it was time to check in to our accommodations of the night. Accommodations like no other at “Free Spirit Spheres”. A unique outdoor hotel that is featured in many international travel guides, located here in our own BC backyard. You eat and sleep in a handmade pod suspended in the air, and there you live out your childhood, tree house, slumber party fantasies.
For the full review in video check out my latest travel vlog on my YouTube channel: MaggiMei.
For dinner we ventured to Coombs, home of the famous “Old Country Market”, where goats live on the roof. We visited too late in the day to shop or dine within, but came at the right time to interact and take photos of the goats. There were no customers and/or crowds and the 3 live in goats were resting. One was especially friendly, approaching us in hope of food.
We also got an opportunity to explore the “Coombs Emporium”, a garden of stone statues and and antiques. Curious without context, but it made for a great photo opportunity. A farm of stone animals including lions, fish, and giraffes; oh my.
Dinner was at “Cuckoo”, a popular restaurant amongst locals serving Italian cuisine and pizza. The food was pretty standard, but the setting is the reason you would visit anyways. For the full story on “Cuckoo” click the link.
There isn’t much to do in the area, so we headed back to our sphere for the night. There, we enjoyed the space with the board games made available, while sipping wine from glasses they had in the cupboards.
The next day we made our way to Victoria, with some pit stops along the way, pausing at points of interest. Like “Ladysmith”, Canada’s “greatest street” with historic buildings and artifacts, and the placards to explain the significance of each. Ore hand carts and rainbow crosswalks and benches.
While there we stopped by an old town bakery for one of their many varieties of cinnamon buns. This is the berry and ginger.
Next we stopped at “Damali” farm and winery to check out their lavender fields. Sadly, it was not as expected. Not enough purple in the fields, and the labyrinth maze turned out to be only small ridges raised from the ground. The gazebo was not well kept, and the remainder of the crops have yet to really bloom. So this ended up being a quick visit. A few photos and a bottle of their lavender flavoured wine to go.
From there we continued our adventure in to Victoria for a two day and one night stay. For the continuation of this trip, click part two!
On our last day in Victoria we sought out brunch at one of their most popular breakfast spots, as proven by the 30 minute wait we endured. And like everyone else in line, we deemed the wait worth it.
The “Blue Fox Cafe” is one of many businesses operating out of an all brick building with teal trim. Easy to miss, if not for the line out the door at 10:30am on a Saturday.
This brick facade continues inwards and meets up with a bright orange wall. On it hangs several colourful paintings of nature and plant life. Towering mountains, gentle waters, sweet peas ready for picking, and a rooster in mid strut. And centring it all, above the blue fire place is a portrait of blue fox frolicking in the same hue. All together with the wooden tables, it made for a very cozy setting, with country cottage vibes.
The menu was a page turner, offering all the breakfast and lunch classics with various topping and filling combinations. Scratch made griddle cakes, porridge and granola, omelettes, French toast, egg platters, sandwiches, salads, burgers, and a dozen different bennies.
As I normally do, I went for the most unique sounding option, which was the “Butter chicken migas”. Two large eggs scrambled with brown jasmine rice, topped with butter chicken, crisp batter fried onions, and fresh cilantro. Served with a banana, navel orange, hot butter toast, and fresh fruit jam. I went for raisin toast over whole wheat or sourdough, because how often do you treat yourself to raisin bread? But forgetting that there was rice in this mix, I instinctively squeezed ketchup over my eggs. And it made for an interesting mash up. But I wanted more flavour from my butter chicken, a more decadent sauce. I did appreciate the toast as they offered a break in flavour, and the fruit a nice way to cleanse the palette after.
My guest got the “Huevos rancheros” 2 large local eggs over easy with stewed beans, melted cheddar and Monterey Jack, corn tortilla, fresh avocado, house salsa, and sour cream. It was a nice fresh offering, a Tex mex breakfast with punchy salsa and herbed potato chunks.
My second guest ordered the “Moroccan chicken Benny”. Moroccan spiced free run chicken breast, sautéed brown button mushroom, onions, plum date apple chutney, and Moroccan spiced hollandaise. It was fragrant, but you didn’t taste any of the spice your smelled. The hollandaise was creamy, but it offered nothing to help perk up the bland chicken.
Similarly, the side of mushrooms lacked flavour and salt.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
A fulsome option for breakfast in Victoria. Plenty of choices so that everyone can find something they like. Don’t deny your cravings.
919 Fort Street, Victoria BC, V8V 3K3
Looking for dinner in Victoria we found ourselves at “Canoe” for their water side view. With a bridge, rippling water, sail boats, and a transportation barge to look out at; the scene was highlighted in yellow and orange from the setting sun. We grabbed a seat at the highest level of their multi-tiered patio out back. It was set behind glass, but didn’t take away from the view all that much. We watched the sun go down and stayed warm with heat lamps and blankets when it did.
Given that we were at a Brewpub, I decided to try one of their in house made beers. The “West Coast” dry hopped pale ale, which is both aromatic and mellow. Severed as a taster, if you liked it enough you could purchase a six pack to take home with you.
Next, I tried one of their cocktails, the “Apple of my pie”. Apple, rhubarb, lemon, brandy, and black pool spiced rum. It was accurately described as a dessert in a glass. You get the sweetness you’d expect from pie, but with that warming brandy kick.
As for food we shared a collection of plates. Some where better than others, but I didn’t find any of them really stand outs.
The “Local chicken and watermelon” was disappointing in its smaller size. Buttermilk Parmesan fried chicken thighs, compressed watermelon, pickled watermelon rinds and a jalapeño corn relish. The meat was dry and the sides didn’t compliment its pepperiness. The sweetness and tanginess of the watermelon and corn overpowered. I would have preferred savoury seasoned fruit and vegetable instead, to better play along with the flavour of the one toned chicken.
The “Heirloom tomato spaghetti” was simple with garlic, shallot, basil, and extra virgin olive oil. A lighter offering better suited as a side.
I enjoyed the presentation of the “Wild diver scallops”. When was the last time you enjoyed them in shell like this, prepared and served like mussels? They are seasoned in a broth of garlic, shallot, white wine, cream, and parsley. I am glad we got so many as we did, given you need several to form a fulsome taste.
The “Broccolini” was a good side and a good way to get you to eat your greens. Firm and crispy bites of stalk. I could have use more cheese and garlic for my tastes.
And the “Polenta” made for a good starch. Fromage frais, lemon, blistered tomato, basil, and a “roja” sauce. It was a corn cake with a mashed potato-like consistency. With a sauce that was sweet like chutney with hints of mango.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
Overall the meal was not all that memorable. But they make for a great spot for some local beer, and to to check out the local scenery. Don’t deny your cravings.
450 Swift Street, Victoria BC, V8W 1S3
We were in Coombs on Victoria Island looking for dinner. My travel mate did her research and found us a popular spot amongst the locals and visitors. It was located past the “Old Country Market” with the popular attraction of having goats live on their all grass roof.
“Cuckoo” was tucked away in the back with a receding entrance, it was hard to find if you didn’t know what you were looking for. Although beautifully dressed in white linens and gilded chandeliers, the restaurant itself remained empty. On this warmer night we sat on the patio, out in the back, like everyone else. A stone landscape with tiles, planters, and wicker chairs paired with marble tables. All overlooking a peaceful field with a small cabin in the background.
The menu was a page turner, numerous options to shift through between pizza, pasta, and Italian classics. We decided to pay it safe and stick to familiar dishes and flavours we normally enjoy.
I had to order their “Holy water martini” to start. I couldn’t miss it based on its name alone. It looked like and tasted like grape koolaid with blue raspberry sour puss, blue curacao, and 7 Up. This was an easy drinking sipper and as sweet as it looks.
With it we enjoyed a complimentary basket of bread with rosemary focaccia and seeded bread, served with plastic tubs of butter and a dish of watery bruschetta. Hard bread, cold butter. Nothing about this got me excited for what was to come.
For my entree I ordered a simple tomato based pasta with cheese. The “Conchiglioni” is homemade fresh pasta shells, stuffed with organic spinach, fresh ricotta, and Asiago cheese; baked in a creamy tomato and basil sauce. It was stuffed full with plenty of spinach, a dense shell that was best warm and congealed when cool. As for flavours it was lacking in seasonings and depth, though the Parmesan ground table-side improved things a touch. I finished it based on the smaller serving size, but it didn’t get me excited to go back for more.
The “Chicken cannelloni” was hand rolled Asiago cheese, roasted chicken, Parmesan and sautéed spinach; baked in a creamy tomato and basil sauce. It was baked to order and served piping hot. It had a similar flavour to the dish above, but heavier with the chicken. It also had a sweeter tomato sauce flavour to it, with a tangy finish.
The “Risotto piemontese” was the best dish out for our 4. Local chanterelles and wild mushroom, slowly braised with rich beef stock and Parmesan cheese; then drizzled over with truffle oil. It was as decadent as it reads, a bowl of comfort with rich flavours and juicy mushroom.
“The cuckoo” is their signature pizza. Roasted chicken breast, artichoke hearts, creamy goat cheese, roasted peppers, with crushed tomatoes and mozzarella. It was very goat cheese forward, luckily I like the tangy and chalky chew of the cheese. As for the pizza itself it was lacking, I wanted more char in the dough, and for it to be a crispier thin crust. It tasted like it was not baked in a pizza oven.
For dessert, everything is prepared ahead of time, and kept chilled on display in their front showcase. Chocolate cakes, cheese cake with strawberry sauce, caramel bars, and tiramisu in mason jars.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
This was great for a small town, but missing finesse when compared it to a similar restaurant in a metropolis. You definitely need to come with a group and try a variety of their dishes, to get a balanced meal with a variety of flavours to pick up and keep you interest in. And even if you weren’t too keen on the food like we were, you will at least enjoy the setting. So I recommend stopping by after dinner for a drink and a dessert on the patio. Don’t deny your cravings.
This has been a long time bucket list destination for my guest/bunkmate and I was happy that she brought me along for the experience. “Free Spirit Spheres” is a unique outdoor hotel that has been featured in many international travel guides, located here in our own BC backyard. You eat and sleep in a handmade pod suspended in air; and there you live out your childhood, tree house, slumber party fantasy.
For the more fulsome experience check out my latest travel log, now up on my YouTube channel: MaggiMei.
There are 7 spheres on the property, but only 3 are hospitable. We checked-in at one of them, confirming our reservation for the largest of the three, with enough room to sleep 3 guests. The other 2 are better suited as 2 person accommodation.
After we signed waivers, we were given a tour of the lot/campsite, which included communal share spaces and our own washroom located at the centre of the camp. The latter was definitely a selling point. The definition of glamping (glamourous camping) with a regular toilet and shower stall, and access to hot running water. It was kept clean with fresh hotel quality towels, hand soap, and robes.
Next to it was the communal kitchen and covered dining area. The former was equipped with a fridge, microwave, ice maker, and even a sauna. And for those who want to cook what they bring, there is a barbecue which has two stove top coils. But each stay comes with a basket of goodies to nibble on.
Given that they are located a distance away from the nearest town, you are treated with enough food and drink to get you through the night. Bottles of water, juice boxes, bananas, oat snack bars, scones, muffins, pastries, and candies. And within our in-pod mini fridge there was a slice of cheese cake with fresh strawberries and grapes, chocolates, and a mini bottle of sparkling wine; all waiting for us as a welcome surprise.
Each sphere has its own corner around the property’s pond, with its own bench or chairs. As well as an outdoor outhouse they call a “mushroom” (given its shape). This serves as a quick way to visit the washroom in the middle of the night. Luckily we were given head lamps and our pod was located close to the indoor washroom, that we never needed to use it. Though it was still scary to travel the distance in pitch black with croaking frogs and the rustling of dry leaves in the distance.
Each sphere is painted differently, hung differently, and decorated differently. We were the first to check in so were allowed to get up close to each and take a peak within, but no shoes allowed.
The “Luna” sphere is painted in a deep forest green, suspended on its own wooden frame with a spiralling staircase up. It slept three with a pull down ledge to access the top bunk.
The “Melody” sphere was painted yellow with black crows and black notes on a musical bar. Suspended over a ledge, it was the most precariously hung of the 3 spheres with a bridge walk way. It was a smaller pod that only slept 2. Plenty of lounging space with a pull out bed.
Our pod was named “Eryn” painted in a light wood finish, held up between 3 trees. It was surprisingly spacious. If you tuck your items in the rafters and wheel your luggage under the table you have plenty of room for three full grown adults. And with larger windows on either ends you don’t feel like you are being trapped in a small space.
A dining table with upholstered booth seats. A small kitchen with sink that doesn’t run, a mini fridge that does, a water dispenser that doesn’t, but plenty of jug water and hand sanitizer at the ready.
The main bed with clean sheets sleeps two, a secondary mattress located up above it comfortably fits one. But in order to get to the latter you have to climb on the former and pull yourself up. A move that is definitely only for the able-bodied visitor. I struggled to climb up and would be stuck there for the remainder of the night. But high above I had my own light and outlet. Though quickly found out that the light attracted bugs and I am prone to bites. So I was forced to sleep with the sheets over my head, only to still wake up with 25 plus bites all over my body, especially down the neck and my back. Scratching as I waited for my bunkmate to wake so that I can clumsily jump down.
As for the actual sleep, it was not at all restful. Beware all light sleepers, in this small and confined space you can hear everything. Every murmur and snore from your bunkmate(s). And feel every toss and turn they make as the entire sphere shakes. I wish I had ear plugs, but had to make due with my earbuds playing music loudly in order to get intermittent sleep.
In short, a great stay for novelty and for those who like camping. A one of a kind experience, and at $500 a night, one that many might not get a chance to visit multiple times. So check this one off the bucket list!
We were making our way to Victoria and decided to stop in Parksville for lunch. A Google search yielded this cafe and its name peaked our interested enough to stop.
We visited during peak and found ourselves waiting for a table. The entirety of the smaller restaurant was seated, so we grabbed ourselves a seat outside the entrance, facing the car park.
There, we enjoyed “Fire roasted tomato soup” with creme fraiche, basil, cracked black pepper and extra virgin olive oil. It was a runnier soup, where we wanted it creamy, something richer to dip its grilled cheese side into. But this was a vegan soup, and you could tell it was, with its lack of cream and over compensating herbaceous-ness.
Similarly, the “Little quailicum grilled cheese” was missing something. It was rich with the amount of cheese layered. Herb and garlic fromage blanc, white cheddar, raclette, truffle honey. It looked lumpy and dense piled high between two toasted pieces of bread, but was balanced out by the honey used as a spread. Tasty, but not gooey and comforting like you want a classic grilled cheese to be. Here, you would normally just dunk the sandwich into the soup, but they didn’t necessarily compliment each other.
The “Spicy tuna” burger had a ticking clock on it. The diced raw ahi tuna was coated in a spicy mayo and its juices began to pool; running over the lettuce, tomato, pickles, and bun. I wanted it a thicker cream to season and add tang, something more to cover the odd combination of tuna and pickle and bring it all together, more like a tuna fish sandwich.
Our favourite was the “Fried chicken breast burger” with lettuce, tomato, buttermilk ranch, and pickle on a toasted bun. The chicken was crunchy, juicy, and prepared to perfection. I just could have used more dressing in the burger or simply just enjoyed the chicken by itself.
The sides of homemade chips are also worth highlighting. They were thick with a great crunch and fun to eat. You just needed to scraped off the additional seasoning off first. Too much thyme and far too much salt otherwise.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
I didn’t get much time to explore Princeton, but based on my meal here, I would love to. This was solid home cooking done is a friendly setting. Don’t deny your cravings.
We set off for Victoria Island, Father’s Day weekend, and had the “Mazda CX-5” to get us there. It was a good sized SUV for our lengthy drive. Plenty of room for ourselves and our over packing. With safety and comfort in mind it got us to our destination and our check-in.
We stayed at the “Holiday Inn Express” in Courtney, conveniently located in the hub of all our weekend’s worth of activities. Our room was equipped with two firm, queen sized beds with cloud-like sheets, a television, mini fridge, and coffee maker. Everything that we would need for a 3 night stay. And best of all, it included access to their complimentary breakfast bar. A buffet style offering with juice, toast, bagels, cereal, yogurt and a pancake making machine. The hotel also has a gym, swimming pool, hot tub, and water slide to take advantage of, but we were far to busy for any of it.
We came to take in the seafood festival, but also took the time to explore what one might do if not visiting during the festival. So for more on the actual BC Seafood Festival, check out my vlog for the highlights, and the blog for all the details.
When looking for places to eat outside of the festival, there are two restaurants worth considering for their view alone. “Blackfin Pub” and “Ocean 7”.
“Blackfin Pub” is nestled by the beach, overlooking the Comox marina and all of its boats. It offers slushed drinks and a bevy of bar favourites.
The “Louisiana Chicken wings” were tangy with a vinegary zip and a dull hot sauce flavour.
The two pounds of dry ribs seasoned in sea salt, cracked pepper, and lemon were extra meaty and surprisingly not dried out like they are at other pubs.
The lightly floured calamari was kettled fried and topped with red onion and tomato chunks. It was crispy with a nice chew, but on the blander side without a dip into tzatziki sauce.
I wanted rice with the “Thai coconut curry clams”, but made due with the grilled focaccia. A delicious warming broth to enjoy the fresh seafood in.
“Ocean7 Bistro” is located at “Kingfisher Resort & Spa”, their property boasts an unobstructed water side view and delicious ocean inspired dishes, best enjoyed on their scenic terrace. During the BC seafood festival run they were voted as the “BC seafood on your plate” winner by judges and fans alike. For more on this dining experience, visit the link below.
We also stopped at “Liquid” in Courtney for some late night eats, which we would learn was the Friday night hot spot. Bumping music, a fully seated bar, and a patio that stayed opened late.
There, we enjoyed the “Bourbon BBQ Makers Mark Ribs”. Baby back slow braised pork ribs, bourbon bbq sauce, garlic mashed potatoes, and seasonal vegetables. A class with fall off the bone meat and a lick your fingers clean sauce.
We partnered this with some slushy cocktails: a Bellini and what the restaurant has fondly named a “Bubblini”. It had the same house made peach slush as in the bellini did, but mixed with a mini bottle of sparkling wine.
We left long before the party ended, only to head to another, just as busy spot. Apparently Courtney’s local “Dairy Queen” is the place to go for some late sugar. There aren’t many dessert options in a small town, so this is where we and everyone else visited for some ice cream on a warm night. And it was here that I finally got to try and fully enjoy “DQ’s” new orange dreamsicle dipped soft serve cone.
But my favourite spot for ice cream on the island was “Love’s” in Cumberland. A cute little blue and white trailer parked permanently in out front of a house, using its lawn as their make shift patio seating area.
This was so good that they are now my new favourite ice cream place, with plenty of gluten and dairy free options. It is just a shame that they are all the way out in Cumberland and requires a ferry to get to. What sets them apart is their ability to swirl hand scooped ice cream. First you choose your base between coconut milk or vanilla cream, and then the frozen fruit you want to flavour it with. Wild blueberry, strawberry, mango, or a berry mix. Together they go into their special machine and what comes out is a perfect swirl. And best of all you can mix two flavours together for a double scoop. Or do what I did, and get a regular hard scoop of their “backyard mint chocolate chip”, and top it with a swirl of their wild blueberry with a vanilla ice cream base. Both ice cream flavours weren’t too sweet, just creamy and tasty, I can see why the line was forming well before they opened, and continued at a steady pace throughout our time there.
While waiting for them to open, we grabbed a couple of tacos from their neighbour, “Old Library Taco”. From what I gathered, the building was converted from an actual library to this cute little tacoria. The chicken and al pastor tacos were colourful, but not as tasty as they looked. I liked the space, but wouldn’t revisit for the price alone. $6 a bland taco seems steep.
Most of our free time in Comox Valley was spent exploring the sights and taking in the scenery.
Like every Saturday from April to October, Comox hosts its own farmer’s market from 9am to 1pm. This is a great way for locals to support small businesses in their community, and for visitors to try something homemade or home grown.
Farm raised beef that is government inspected, grass fed, and hormone free. Various meat sausages and whole roasting chickens. Plenty of pesticide-free, organic fruits and vegetables. Home made chips and salsa, loaves of bread, pastries and pretzels. Honey, barbecue sauces, spreads and preserves. Even ointments, soaps, and creams. It had everything including live music and food trucks for lunch.
We enjoyed getting up close to the fighter jets and all the rescue planes at the “Comox Air Force Museum Heritage Air Park”. You walk the laid out paths that bring you to each plane and a written description of it and its accomplishments. This self guided tour is offered Tuesday to Sunday from April to October.
For more on these planes and others, the Comox Air Force museum is nearby, marked with a statuesque fighter plane.
Filberg Heritage Lodge & Park was where majority of the seafood festivities were held, but outside of the annual affair, the space hosts beautiful views, and a bit of history.
Here, water side scenes unfold before you, best enjoyed on a quiet bench. And you are able to enjoy a self directed tour of Filberg Heritage Lodge, which also serves as a gift shop filled with antiques.
The house was decorated with photos and plaques offering explanations on the first floor. And on the second, bedrooms and bathrooms with collections of dishes, flatware, tea cups, soaps, creams, and vintage jewelry for sale.
But for views of green, water, and mountains in the background there are plenty of options. Most of which we found by using the Mazda’s built in navigation system, using it to exploring the unmarked roads.
On our drive we saw plenty of marshland during high tide, and the birds that dwelled there.
And plenty of beaches. Rocky beaches with stones covered in barnacles and seaweed.
Sandy beaches revealed during low tide.
Beaches with wind blown ridges in the sand.
And all the marine life to explore within the water that got caught in the tide pools. Mostly small crabs and mini fish.
My favourite spot was “Goose Spit Park”, a narrow coastal park with a sandy beach, and walking trails. During the day there were picnics, sandcastles, and folks digging for horse clams.
And during our visit, we just so happened to walk in to the 32nd annual Father’s Day kite flying competition. A family fun event with sign up sheets and prizes to be won.
At night, with plenty of pull up parking to stop your car by the water, “Goose Spit” made for a great place to watch the sun set from.
But for a view of the valley from above, we drove the “Mazda CX-5” up Mount Washington. We sadly didn’t make it in time for the sunset, but did catch a few streaks of colour in the sky.
On the way up the mountain we caught glimpses of deer, but sadly none of the marmots that the caution signs told us to watch out for.
We were too early in the season for their new chairlift, however those visiting the Comox Valley area now will be able to take a ride up and down for spectacular views.
In short, there is plenty to see and do in Comox. So Seafood Festival or not, they are definitely worth your vacationing consideration. And thanks to the “Mazda CX-5” we got to enjoy it all, and in full during our stay.
This year I was invited to attend the 13th annual BC Seafood Festival. One weekend out of two where the bounty of BC is celebrated across multiple dinners and various behind the scenes look at local seafood operators.
To skip the reading, check out my latest travel vlog, now up on my YouTube channel: MaggiMei.
An early ride on the ferry got us to Vancouver Island quick. And from Nanaimo we drove to the Comox Valley. Stopping at Holiday Inn Express to check in. This is one of the designated hotels with regular shuttle service by “Ambassador Transportation” to festival grounds and various event site and back again. This would especially come in handy during said events that featured drinking.
As was the case for our 8 course dinner at “40 Knots Winery”, which included 7 wine pairings. This was a ticketed event held amongst the winery’s grape vines. For the full review of this spectacular out door dinner visit the link below.
We got shuttled there by bus, and to kept the jovial mood going, got driven back to our respective hotels via limo bus. Leather seats, neon lights, cup holders that fit bottles, and stacks of plastic cups. Just one of the many options of transportation available for regular travel, or one of their guided tours. The latter includes a cocktail tour that brings you to 3 different surprise places, three different backdrops to eat and drink at. And best of all, you get picked up from your home or hotel and dropped back there. So now one has to drive and everyone gets to drink! I didn’t get to experience one this time around, but will have to look into this appetizer and drink tour if/when I return.
But on this trip I did drink plenty. The following were offered as a ticketed events or behind the scenes tours, all of which I participated in.
At “Fanny Bay Oysters”, in Fanny Bay we were treated to an oyster freshly grown and picked from their farm. Then given a tour of their facilities. “Fanny Bay Oysters” is 1 hour north of Nanaimo. They do not own the land on which they operate, but instead lease it from the BC government to farm shellfish. Here, we learned the life cycle of their oysters from the General Manager himself.
Oysters start in their hatcheries, located in either Washington or Hawaii. Hawaii being the most optimal, as it is easier to to grow the algae they need to feed the oysters. As well, it is easy to generate the heat needed to keep the intake of the water warm. Once the oysters are small seeds, for the next stage of their growth they get flown to “Fanny Bay”, where they are planted. If the oyster shells are not attached to each other, they will grow singularly. Attached shells grow into oysters that require shucking. Once matured, they are all harvested by hand, as per the government and wildlife and forestry’s requirements. It takes 6-8 months for smaller oysters to mature and 8-12 for the larger ones. Sun Seaker, Kusshi, Olympia, and Kumamoto oysters are grown on tubes, hung in the water in parallel lines. Doing this allows them to grow more on the same foot print. And the advantage they have operating on the inlet is that it is protected by the land formation, and the waves bring more nutrients into the water.
“Fanny Bay Oysters” are known for their consistent product with no barnacles. Specifically their “Sun Seaker”, grown in a bag that floats on top of the water. Hence, the name. There is more food for the oyster on the top, with the sun and the waves. Therefore the meat is in better shape. Similarly oysters grown on the beach are heartier because they are tougher, having to learn how to survive out of water. Whereas ones grown in trays are always in the water, and in theory weaker.
We saw large bins filled with them, submerged in ever running water. Which also included bins of scallops, mussels, and clams. And marvelled at the speed of shucking, in which 5 men before a troth committed to. The tour ended with us staring out at the Georgia Straight and wondering how many shellfish contributed the mountains of bleached white shells in their backyard.
#1-6856 ISLAND HWY S., FANNY BAY BC
I got more than enough oysters in during the ticketed “Shucked!” Happy hour event. All you can eat oyster from 7 local producers; and the wine, beer, and shots to chase them with. More more on the slurping and burping visit the link below.
We learned more about local spirit producer, “Wayward Distillery” with a tour of their operations, and a tasting of the end result. They are better known for their use of BC honey in their liquor. Currently they purchase vats of the stuff locally, but have begun farming their own hives in their back yard.
The tour began and their behives, one traditional build and another that allowed you to look into their inner workings.
And ended at the bar with micro shots. First the “Krunkik”, a spiced honey liquor, steeped with mulling spices and mixed with citrus peel. One of their signature bottles, as “Wayward Distillery” are the firsts to make clear spirits out of honey.
I really liked the creativity of the “Caesar’s ghost” vodka, flavoured with ghost pepper. This would make a great base to any savoury cocktail.
We also got a sneak peak and taste of their new “Drunken hive rum” to be released on June 28th, 2019. A new direction they are taking with their distillery, this too is made with their trademark caramelized honey.
At “Natural Pastures” we learned how they made their cheeses. Dawning a lab coat, loaner crocs, and a hair net we made our way through their factory and the cheese making process step by step. We started in the aging room where it was ceiling to floor rounds of firm cheese. The dark skinned ones were noted as being smoked. And the speckled ones where flavoured with either pepper, garlic, or chilli. The aged farm house cheese was the oldest, aged for the longest, and the extra effort has made it their best selling firm cheese.
We learned about the cultures and various bacteria that go into the making various cheeses. Then how enzymes are added to help lock protein molecules together, and when ready its consistency is like a thick yogurt. We saw “the harp” and learned how it cuts the curd. Which is then placed into moulds and pressed. All the soft cheeses are kept in a humid room to keep them from dying out. Brie, camembert, and buffalo Brie. Greater than 8 days and it grows mould. So next it needs to be wrapped. This is done in a special room with a machine that is capable of wrapping a round of cheese in 1.8 seconds.
We ended our tour at their shop front, where we able to taste a few of their favourite hard cheeses, and a handful us liked what we tasted enough to buy some for the road. I had to get a bag of their squeaky cheese curds, but their best seller cheese is their Comox Brie.
My next tour started bright and early and required a plane ride from the Comox Harbour. “Harbour Air” shuttled us to Harwicke island, the most North I have ever been. A scenic flight, but one that noise cancelling headphones were made for.
We flew past green meadows and snow capped mountains, to what seemed like the middle of no where. This was “Mowi salmon farm”. Entry required a sanitizing foot bath for disinfection, and a life vest for safety.
Here, we were greeted by the farm manger who toured us around the property, including the 10 live pens with 52-62 thousand fish in each. You don’t really get a good look into the netted enclosures from the metal walk ways. But you do from their control centre. From televised screens, you get to see what the multiple cameras dropped into the base of the pens see. The farm uses them to gauge the fish’s response to the food pellets they are feeding them. These pellets are a mix of carbs, protein, and oils; sourced from sustainable avenues: Fish meal, fish oil, marine content, grain, wheat, chicken meal, and omega 3 oils. Thus making their salmon the most economic source of protein grown for humans. It takes 1.1 kg of feed to grow 1 kg of fish. And here, the salmon stay in these pens, waiting for 18 months to 2 years, until they mature to 51/2 kilos, the ready for selling weight.
Seeing as salmon only spawn in autumn, having the farm allows them to regulate temperature and light, and gives them the ability and to save their eggs, so that the consumer can have salmon all through out the year. They basically use light to trick salmon into thinking it is time to spawn.
During the tour viruses were brought up, along with the conditions of the fish in the pens. To which our tour guide and the farm manager went into detail regarding their use of vaccines. Thanks to their vaccination program the need to use antibiotics on the fish have dropped by 5%. Each fish gets 3 individual injections during their juvenile stage. Each injection requires a team of 12-18 to administer. All to ensure that all their salmon are well looked after. And every week the farm team checks every pen for the slightest hint of lice.
Ned Bell, Oceanwise Chef was co-hosting this tour. He was present to speak to his support of farmed fish. Acknowledging where fish aquaculture is now a lot better, but there is still work left to do, work to become Oceanwise certified. As resources dwindle we can’t only rely on wild caught fish. And for the critics, when was the last time you had “wild chicken”?
MOWI FISH FARM
#124-1334 Island Highway, Campbell River BC, V9W 8C9
And the last tour I attended echoed the same sentiment: Sustainable seafood though updated aquaculture practices are necessary. At “Manatee holdings LTD.” we were given a limited look at their operation, 10 years in the making.
They specialized in geoduck on their 8 acres of non-commercial land. Which includes a backyard pond that they use as a nursery system, testing ground for them to see how their “crop” will do in nature. Results they won’t actually get to see for at least two more years. Therefore, we weren’t actually able to take a look at their cultured geoduck stock, which they cannot shown due to proprietary reasons.
Instead, we were gathered around a kiddie pool and were given the opportunity to touch and hold the various sea life they raise for consumption and profit. Geoduck, sea cucumber, uni, and oyster seeds.
The rest of the tour was a series of videos, how geoducks are harvested and possible solutions to the over fishing of seafood. But most of the information was U.S. based, which is very different from Canada. In the States they use visible tubes to grow their geoducks, which only takes 5-6 years. Whereas in Canada, the government requires that geoduck farming operations not be visible. Therefore here at “Manatee Holdings” their aquaculture happens 30-60 feet deep in water, and takes 10 years.
Currently “Manatee Holdings” only has their geoduck licence, and they have been working on getting one for sea cucumber farming, but have been left waiting for over 9 years. They are also looking into selling oyster seed in the future. One geoduck goes for $300 in Japan, with cultured products being more expensive due to their controlled quality. For example, ensuring no pollutants are in the water as they grow. This thus controls the market, which has a great appreciation for white neck geoduck, deemed as “Grade A”, whereas the darker necks are less desirable.
Overall I felt the tour was a steep at $10, considering 2/3 of it was a video, and the only thing we really saw with a pool full of water. I suggest doing as our owner/guide suggested, and check back in with them in 2 years time, when they can actually review their operations to the public, as it was proven successful and is no longer under proprietary legislation.
All this led up to the BC Seafood Festival Signature weekend, a festival in the park with food and drink booths, live entertainment, cooking demonstrations, and plenty of activity to engage the whole family in. For more details visit the link below.
The BC Shellfish Grower’s Association Gala was my favourite event. A way to learn more about the seafood through the super star chefs that prepared them. Everything was prepared by the water, under tented booths, right before your eyes. You visited each table, trying each tasters, and coming back for more of your favourite. For all 15 dishes and the BC chef that brought it to life, visit the link below.
In short, the BC Seafood Festival is more than just eating seafood, it also gives you the opportunity to learn more about what you eat and where it comes from. I would definitely like to explore more tours in the future. Including whale and big game animal sightseeing. And revisit all the events and dinners again. But for now, like you, all I can do is get inspired for next year’s festival by visiting the link below, and plan to go!
What goes in to, on to, and around me. This is me and what I see, all my stories in Vancouver BC! A big mouthed food and lifestyle blogger discovering what the world has to offer through dining, travel, and new experiences. Follow along to see the life of Maggi.