Archive for ‘West Coast Fare’

August 19, 2011

ACMe Food Co. – Sean’s Review (aka “He said”)

by HeSaid

It was back in June, ACMe had a deal on Island Daily Deals. Buy a $40 voucher for $20. Since we’re in the business of eating and talking about food, and we’re not getting paid, it makes sense to find deals where we can.

I really wanted a win on this one. ACMe used to be the go-to place back in the day, back when I used to go out for fancy martinis on a semi-regular basis. Now that I drink fewer martinis and demand better food, I’ve not been near ACMe.

The menu wasn’t particularly inspiring. A lot of sushi, which I haven’t heard much good about, and the standard Nanaimoan frou-frou upscale nonsense. You know what I mean, things frazzled in goat’s cheese, wrapped in filo pastry, accompanied by aioli and a menu chock full of hipster haute cuisine. I opted for the ($17) ahi tuna salad, because I like tuna and I figured if they could get anything right, it’d be a salad.

Here’s where I’m gonna rock you with a little bit of knowledge. Good fish, fresh fish, doesn’t smell fishy. As a fish decomposes, nitrogen-containing chemicals called amines are released. Some of these are quite volatile, and the older a piece of fish gets, the more amines are released and stronger the fishy smell gets.

Supposed Ahi Tuna Salad

I think my salad might have looked like this before they made it and left it under a heat lamp for a week.

When our salad arrives, the first thing I notice is the fishy smell. Fresh tuna is bright, vibrant, like in this picture. What I’ve got is palid, greyed out tuna.  It makes me think of the before and after photos of fast food, like, you see a picture of a Big Mac and you think to yourself “that’s gonna be really good”, and then you go and get one and the reality is actually quite grim.

The dressing for the salad was nondescript at best, I still can’t recall the flavour profile (if there ever was one), and the beet tendrils winding through the entire thing made me feel like I was wrestling a Kraken.

Food or fail rating: Fail

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August 19, 2011

ACMe Food Co. – Alex’s review (aka “She said”)

by SheSaid

ACMe Food Co. enjoyed a wild ride back in the day: always busy and packed on weekends. Sadly, consecutive changes in ownership ran it into the ground but the most recent owners of ACMe Rib & Seafood House (or ACMe Rib & Steakhouse depending on where you look on the web site) seem to really care about the place and are working to turn things around with the bold proclamation, “the fun is back!”  Having spent years watching the roller coaster at the corner of Commercial and Terminal Avenue, I walked in to ACMe wanting to find “food”, desperately wanting “food”.

What I also wanted was a nice, cold dark beer. Our wait for drinks wasn’t long but managed to feel interminable because it was noisy to the point of distraction. Maybe it was the layout but the place was over half empty and the voices from the next table — the elbow-bumpingly close next table — overpowered our own conversation. It was even hard to talk about how distracted we were.

That pint of Hermanns Dark Lager helped things.

The menu wasn’t far off what it has always been: West Coast favourites and sushi. Lots of sushi. In its heyday it was some of the best sushi in town but I’d need a lot of encouraging to take that risk.  What did catch my eye was the word sesame in connection with a steak salad. Sold. China Steps Steak Salad it would be.

Sadly the claims of sesame-ishness didn’t pan out. What, you can’t toast a couple of seeds and toss them in my general direction? The quality of the meat was passable but barely so; the soba noodles, gummy; the grilled vegetables consisted of two slices each of grilled zucchini and red pepper, pathetic, bland, wilty things. Most pathetic were the asparagus spears: grilled into submission, like they had lost their will, been utterly beaten.

But the single most pathetic element of that plate was the overall flavour profile. Sesame soya dressing makes me think of bright flavours, of a flavour experience, but there was nothing bright or flavourful there.  I couldn’t help but imagine what Gordon Ramsey’s response would have been if confronted with that $17 plate. Profanity, I imagined, and throwing it to the ground.

At least we didn’t pay for parking.

Food or fail rating: Fail

July 4, 2011

Lighthouse Bistro – Sean’s review (aka “He said”)

by HeSaid

Friday afternoon, I’m about to take Alex to Troller’s (who I think has the best fish & chips in Nanaimo). If past experience has told me anything though, it’s that you have to get there early if you want their deep fried goodies. By the time we arrive there’s a lineup about ½ hour long.

This leaves me with two choices. Stand in line and potentially starve to death, leaving the seagulls to peck at my eyes or pick somewhere else to go. Alex tells me that she likes my eyes, so I half-heartedly suggest the Lighthouse.

When we open the menu I get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. (one that will stay with me for days). It’s the first time in a long time I’ve paid tourist prices for seafood, and boy do they make you pay.

This is a family show, so I’ll spare any euphemisms about how it felt to pay $20 for a 2 piece halibut and chips, except to say that when my thoughts turned to fish it had less to do with my lunch and more to do with what they call the fresh meat at Sing-Sing.

I wish I could say it was worth it. I wish I could say it was just the halibut and that the battered salmon we split was better. I wish I could say the pesto coleslaw changed my life.

But I can’t say any of those things. The oil they cooked the fish in was old and dirty. The batter, uninteresting. The fish didn’t seem fresh, and neither did my french fries. The pesto slaw was just kind of odd. At the risk of sounding unsophisticated, I just don’t think slaw is a thing to be messed with.

Next time, I think I’ll let my eyes get pecked out. It’s bound to be less painful.

Food or Fail rating: Fail

July 4, 2011

Lighthouse Bistro – Alex’s review (aka “She said”)

by SheSaid

Let’s start off by admitting that we set out with a hankerin’ for some fish & chips.  Destination: Trollers.  Half hour wait there so we walked over to Penny’s Palapa which was also busy.  Having coughed up $1.50 for parking, we were resigned to lunch downtown so the Lighthouse Bistro & Pub it was.

The upstairs section was pretty deserted but the views were glorious, overpowering the vague bar-smell that lingered in the air.  (What is that?  Years-old tobacco smoke ground into the carpet with spilled beer?)

The menu was pretty unremarkable.  Except for the high price on the fish & chips.  That was remarkable.  $20 for two pieces.  Elsewhere the menu offered the usual suspects of West Coast Cuisine with sandwiches, pastas, and seafood mains.  But we were not to be deterred: bound and determined to chow down on some fried fish we decided to do sharesies on one order of salmon and another of halibut fish & chips.

The plates looked fine enough when they arrived.  What was billed as Pesto Coleslaw (a cool idea) was more like Pesto cabbage salad: each bite lifted to my mouth elicited cheek squirts, anticipating the tang of slaw, sadly finding none.  Then the fries were soft.  (In my world there is little that inspires more sadness than soggy fried foodstuffs.)  The batter may have been okay but it was hard to tell because both of the fish portions were greasy and required copious application of malt vinegar.  The tartar sauce was pretty good though; it appeared to be homemade, with texture but not too much chunk, so I’ll give ’em that.

Yes it was an unfortunate choice.  Would the Lighthouse have fared better if we’d gone without an agenda?  I don’t know that it would have.  And besides, if you can’t deep fry fish what are you doing on the waterfront?

Food or Fail rating: Fail

May 10, 2011

Modern Cafe – Sean’s review (aka “He said”)

by HeSaid

We arrive at the Modern Cafe on the busiest night Nanaimo has seen in a year. Cruise ships, concerts and prom night have collided in a perfect storm of hippies, hipsters and boisterous wannabe bar-stars.

After a period of waiting in the entryway (perhaps they want to let us absorb the ambiance) we’re seated at small booth near the entrance.

It’s my wont to refer to front-of-house staff as servers instead of waitresses. Not tonight. Tonight, the term “waitress” takes on a whole new meaning for me while “server” loses any it had.

I leaf through a menu of standard west coast surf & turf. Pasta, prawns, steak, haddock…

Wait a sec… haddock? Isn’t haddock the crap they use in Captain Highliner’s fish sticks? (it is). I figure that the world must be out of halibut and cod and move on.

When our waitress (who I will call “Shannon”) shows up, it’s to tell me that they don’t have the pale ale I’ve selected. Good news though, they just got back from a sweet kegger and have some leftovers that I might enjoy.

I pick the lesser of two evils. From then on, it’s a long night of watching and waiting while Shannon performs a ballet of avoidance, going out of her way to ignore us at every opportunity. I remark that I may not be cool enough and suggest throat-punching a hipster and stealing their scarf to see if it helps.

Shannon finds time to bring us a single pint and glass of water to share. We remind her that we’re both thirsty and send her back for the remainder of our order. She returns (eventually) and with a twinge I order the $15 hamburger.

You should assume at this point that there was a lot of waiting in between when we ordered and when the food arrives. When it does arrive it’s impressively huge. A voice across the table remarks, “How am I gonna fit my mouth around that?” Insert obvious punchline.

The burger is good. Really good. $15 good. The beef is well flavoured, evenly cooked, and appropriately saucy with healthy portions of fresh veg and stringy mozza. The fries are just how I like ’em.

I eagerly devour my meal with the grace of a komodo dragon, put my napkin down on my plate and push it off to the side. Shannon walks by the table, deftly ignoring my empty plate and pint glass. She does this 15 more times, and would have again if another staffer hadn’t taken it away.

The Modern continues to morph into a 20 something martini bar while the upscale eatery I wanted disappears disappointingly into the rising volume of a bad iPod playlist. Does that make me old? Maybe. What it doesn’t make me is a returning customer.

Food or Fail rating: Fail

May 10, 2011

Modern Cafe – Alex’s review (aka “She said”)

by SheSaid

Wow. That’s pretty much the start and the end of it for me: wow. And not in a good way either.

I’ve never been blown away by the Modern Cafe but it was a new day, I liked what the new owner was doing with social media, and my heart was open. “We want you to have an unforgettable experience,” owner Scott Cooper says on the web site. Mission accomplished.

When we arrived on Saturday night the restaurant was still recovering from an earlier event; the staff, bar, and kitchen seemed visibly shattered before dinner service even began. The place was humming with no shortage of bodies on the floor, yet none seemed interested in what was happening at the door. Where we stood. And stood (a trend I noticed that evening.) When we were finally seated the hostess (?) dropped (yes dropped) our menus on the table and showed us her back.

It would be another ten minutes before we saw our waitress. We tried to order beers from the menu but they weren’t available so we waited some more and then received only one pint of what they did have. I did manage to get a glass of water though.

The menu–which we had no shortage of time to study–was standard West Coast fare. Already my confidence was shaken, and I didn’t want to chance a $20+ plate, so I opted for the burger. It came with french fries and fried potato products seldom disappoint.

We waited some more.

Now let’s get this out of the way: it was a very good burger with visible garlic, stringy mozzarella and bacon (not too crisp) with fresh vegetables and a nice thick patty, cooked evenly all the way through. “How am I going to get my mouth around this?”, I wondered aloud (yes, the joke writes itself). Our meal was tasty, the fries hand-cut and crispy. I managed to finish the whole thing but just barely.

Oh, the things we witnessed: hostess with back to customers at the door, waitress chatting at the bar (instead of taking our order), other customers’ expectant gazes, craving service. Our waitress would reveal herself to be a master of intentional-gaze-avoidance, striding past empty plates and glasses with nary a look. It was truly something to behold, this exercise in negligence.

After almost two hours we couldn’t wait to get out: the music was loud, the chatter overpowering, and our irritation palpable. As good as that burger was I won’t be forgetting not to go back. There are other good burgers in this town. And if I want crappy service I can get on the phone with Telus.

Food or Fail rating: Fail