944 Fort Street Victoria, BC V8V 3K2
Tastiness factor: 3/5
Locavore approved? YES- even with the disappointing experience, I must admit that they made good use of seasonal ingredients and change the menu often. They have several locally-made charcuterie options and a offer a good selection of BC wines.
For our last dinner during our month-long rotation in Victoria, I made reservations at Café Brio, a very well reputed Italian/West Coast restaurant. After reading mostly glowing reviews, both about food and service, I was very excited to try it.
The exterior of Café Brio, found a bit out of downtown near Cook and Fort St., looks very appealing. It is covered in green vines, which, on the background of the yellow stone wall, give it a very European look. The interior is quite large and inviting, with booths along one wall and a bar along the other. The decor however, was quite dated and in need of a little refresher. Because we had a bit of a larger group (5 people and a baby), we were seated in a little alcove at the front of the restaurant, separated from the main room by a couple of stairs, with a nice big window that looked out onto the street. The owner said that it was where he eats when he dines there with his family so that he can have a nice quiet meal away from the hustle and bustle. We were very happy with the seating arrangement at first, but as the meal progressed, we realized that it had its drawbacks…
Café Brio has been repeatedly applauded for its friendly service and I cannot deny them this. Both the owner and his partner were “working the room” for most of the night and came over several times to check on us. His wife was especially chatty, especially when it came to the baby and raving about how cute he was. For some, it may have been maybe a little too “in-your-face” but I admire their dedication to their restaurant and the pride that they take in it.
Unfortunately, that is pretty much very the good service ended. We waited a good 45 minutes before having our order taken. Although the owners came back several times to “check on us” and ensure us that our server would be there soon, it really was not soon enough. After seeing us
wait so long and request to order several times, could the owners not have just taken out order? The other thing that confused me was the fact that the place was not at all busy (at 9pm on a Thursday night, not many places in Victoria are). So exactly what were all of the servers doing? When we finally did order, our server seemed stressed out and rushed and did not provide us with any explanation of the menu. When we finally got our food after waiting quite another long interval of time (at least 25 minutes), one of my fellow diners received octopus instead of tuna and the server basically told her it was her mistake, although I clearly heard her order the tuna. At a restaurant at this price point, I expect far better.
So how about the most important part, the food? One of their redeeming qualities is that all items on their menu (excluding dessert) are available in both half and full plates, giving diners the choice of trying a few different options or ordering one entrée. It is divided into vegetarian, fish/shellfish and meat options, with about 6 items in each section. There is no appetizers as such, but many of the small plates could easily serve as an appetizer. Their wine list boasts many BC options.
I chose two of the half portions dishes, expecting that this would constitute a full meal. Unfortunately, the portions were pretty small and I was still pretty hungry after totally cleaning off both plates. This is where a nice menu explanation and ordering recommendations from our server at the beginning of the meal would have been helpful.
My first dish was the Contourni, an ensemble of 4 seasonal vegetables, which change up often depending on availability (kudos to them for this). On that particular night, the offerings included roasted fennel with pesto, beet with a cream sauce, assorted mushrooms on crosini, and grilled celery root. While the beet and the fennel with their accompaniments were quite lovely, the other two were a bit of a miss for me. I expected to love the mushrooms (among my favorite winter vegetables), but it was a shame that they had been cooked in a rather repulsive sauce (a wine reduction perhaps?) that made that was much too strong and gave them an unpleasant aftertaste. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the celery root was pretty “blah”, without hardly any flavor. The dish had great potential, but the beautiful vegetables were done an injustice by not being allowed to live up to their true potential.
My second dish was the Grilled Local Octopus
This is not something that I order often, but the accompaniments of cauliflower, raisins and pine nuts really caught my eye.
To my surprise, the octopus ended up being the star of my whole meal.
It was beautifully charred, with great texture (not too rubbery) and lots of flavor.
Unfortunately, the accompaniments ended up being a bit of a letdown.
The cauliflower was bland and I think there may have been a total of 3 raisins and 3 pine nuts total on the plate.
Aside from the octopus, another disappointment.
My friend, who was wanting a bit of a lighter meal, ordered the Mixed Green Salad and asked that she get a fillet of salmon on top to make it a complete meal. The salad, quite a generous size, was served with seasonal bosc bears, blue cheese and a tangy mustard dressing that nicely balanced the sweetness of the pears. She initially enjoyed her meal very much, but the story changed a bit when she got her bill. Her $12 full size salad had skyrocketted in price to 29$ with the addition of the salmon- a 17$ piece of salmon, served plain on the size of her salad? That seemed a bit over the top to us, but when she questionned it, she was told that the chef was unwilling to go down in price. Although she enjoyed the salad's flavours, this whole debacle left a bitter taste in her mouth...
Another of my fellow diners ordered the Pan Roasted Spring Salmon. The salmon was cooked nicely (medium rare) and was served on a bed of potato gnocci and topped with a cabbage slaw. He enjoyed the dish.
When my friend finally got her Grilled Rare Albacore Tuna (after the octopus mix-up), served with lentils, mushrooms and a few greens, she enjoyed it overall, but was not near as impressed with this version near as much as the tuna dish that we had been served at "Vis-a-Vis the week before (see my previous review).
With it being our last night in Victoria, two of those in our group decided to splurge on dessert. The first dessert was the Dark Chocolate Tart
served with Earl Grey ice cream. Although she enjoyed the first few bites, this is a VERY rich dessert and she recruited us to help finish what she could not herself. I did think that the Earl Grey ice cream helped to balance it out somewhat, but if you are not a true chocolate addict, this may be a bit much for you.
The second dessert, recommended by our waiter was the Caramel and Marscapone Cheesecake.. Although the cheesecake itself was not bad (not great but not bad) we were all quite perplexed by the fact that it was served with a deep fried apple ring on the side (called a doughnut). The two were in no way interconected, and just seemed like two desserts on one plate. They should have left out the "doughnut" entirely- it was chewy, bland and unattractive.
So, although I really wanted to enjoy Cafe Brio after hearing such great things, I really could not. I was quite underwhelmed by the whole experience, from the service to the food. In my mind, this whole place needs an overhaul, from the dated decor to the subpar service to the hit-or-miss food. If this place wishes to compete with the the new spots poping up all around Victoria (Devour, Vis-a-Vis, etc., etc.), it had better get its act together if it wants to survive.