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Review: Cafe Brio | 744 Fort Street | Victoria

27 Jan 2010  ·  by Brennan Storr  ·  Be the first to comment!

Tagged under restaurants reviews food Victoria Cafe Brio

Update, June 2015:  While the experience described below was less than stellar, don't let that discourage you from trying Cafe Brio - their food is generally excellent and their service is even better.  Make sure you try the olives ascolani


For the longest time fine restaurants held no appeal for me. Growing up in Revelstoke, most of what I learned of upscale restaurants I learned from the "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air". I came to associate fine-dining with soft music, portions scarcely bigger than my thumb and DJ Jazzy Jeff being thrown through French doors. The details of eating in bistros or brasseries, like "salad forks", seemed weird & impenetrable, like French, and having to wear a jacket and tie just to eat dinner seemed diabolical. A jacket inside? And a necktie? Hell. Neckties are the miserable invention of some secret pervert with an interest in auto-erotic asphyxiation. You can't use them to sop up gravy, blow your nose or wipe your....er...nose, so I ask you - what does that leave?

Once I started paying for my own meals I headed straight for the type of place that didn't have dress codes. The best amongst them actively discouraged the wearing of anything hinting at affluence. Were you to enter the Central Station Pub in Kamloops wearing a suit, or even a pressed pair of trousers, the night would end with you upended in an alleyway trash-bin. Now and again, though, there are times when I want a quiet meal somewhere I won't be rolled for my pocket change. This weekend our friend Joline stopped in while on vacation from the U.K. and we decided to take her to one such place, our favorite "nice" restaurant, Cafe Brio.

Our reservation was for 7:30 and we arrived just a little early. If you've not been there, it's worth stopping in just to check out the decor. On either side of the entrance is an enclosed patio with wrought-iron railings, the perfect place to enjoy a midsummer night's meal. Once inside I'm always struck by the deep autumn colours and unique light fixtures. Make no mistake, Cafe Brio is one of the best-looking restaurants in the city. It's also one of the best-staffed; we were greeted, seated and given menus right away.

Nicky was disappointed to learn that the lamb she'd had on previous occasions was out of season but after some deliberation she happily settled on the "roast foie gras-stuffed duck breast with potato cannelloni, roast beets and green onion" ($29). I ordered the same, Joline the the "potato gnocchi and shredded chicken confit with cabbage, mireppoix and red wine jus" ($23) and we decided to start with three "Olives Ascolani" ($2 each).

They arrived before long, large stuffed olives breaded & lightly fried. I am Italian and thus genetically hardwired to enjoy olives so when I say these were delicious you would be forgiven for thinking my opinion biased. It's harder to dismiss Nicky's endorsement; she loved them and this from a woman who tries to avoid anything not manufactured by Cadburys.

The handful of times I've been to Cafe Brio the serving staff has been friendly and efficient and this occasion was no different; they were always on hand to make sure that our water glasses were topped up and we had enough bread. Nonetheless, after a while it occurred to us that our meals were taking their sweet time finding the way to the table. If the Rocky films taught me anything it was that chickens are much harder to catch than ground squirrels or the measles so I started to think that maybe in the kitchen some poor sous chef was chasing around the poultry meant for Joline's confit.

It was unlikely that ducks could be the cause of any real trouble as they seem to be a placid and unclever species. In fact it hardly seems sporting to eat them at all but that kind of morality is a minefield. Cows have less defensive capability than a chesterfield and if we eliminated them from our diets we'd be down to pigs, birds and tofu, none of which delivers a worthwhile steak.

When our meals arrived we were both impressed until we uncovered the breast and realized that it looked very much like a Thrifty's hot dog. I'll admit that my only other encounters with ducks have been at Chinese restaurants and in front of the Hotel Grand Pacific but I've never imagined that their insides naturally looked like Nathan's Famous Frankfurters. Joline's meal arriving separately several minutes later made for an awkward moment as we stared at our plates and tried to determine whether etiquette allowed us to start eating before her.

Of course we did, and a good thing too, because our meals were already less than piping hot. The duck itself was unimpressive, slightly rubbery and as I said, not very hot. The flavor wasn't terrible but underwhelming for what is normally a very flavorful bird. The roast beets were nice, firm and flavored as they were with the jus & the cannelloni was good as well; the potato filling was rich and creamy and the shell itself crisp and rich if not very warm. Joline's meal, eventually arrived and she was satisfied but not impressed. The potato gnocchi were too soft which gave them a gummy texture but the flavor was nice and went well with the mirepoix & jus. The confit was rich and pleasing but suffered from the same temperature issue as our duck.

"Jersey Shore" has taught me that abs & a spray-on tan are enough to make you a success in the eyes of the world, or at least America, no personality required. In a lot of cases having a personality can make your life a lot harder by rendering you unable to be an effective cipher on which unimaginative idiots can project their own limited version of the world. It's rare to find a combination of looks, talent & personality and that's why it's so disappointing to say that this particular meal at Cafe Brio was a waste. It's a great restaurant with a lot going for it but consistency counts more than anything and getting burned for $29 makes me skittish about going back. When my $4.99 chicken wings at the Bird of Paradise sit under the heat lamp too long I'm not that put out. Cafe Brio has a higher standard to live up to and my serving of "Duck a la Oscar Meyer" didn't even come close.

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