We spent the holidays over on Vancouver Island this year. There didn’t seem to be too many fine dining choices in the Comox Valley area, but it was recommended we go to Locals Restaurant in Courtenay, so for my official birthday dinner celebration with Hitman that’s where we went. They’re known for sourcing their food locally whenever they can (hence their name).
It had a very warm and inviting atmosphere. There was even a fully decorated Christmas tree at the entrance with stools for you to take pictures on.
However, some parts of the service left much to be desired. Read on to find out!
We were promptly seated as we had already made reservations. While we were looking through the menu we were offered an amuse bouche of Bison Tartare on Asian Salad. It was a bit tart, and I thought that covered any hint of gaminess the bison might have. The salad portion was an interpretation of an “Asian” slaw.
For the complimentary bread, it was multigrain bread from the local bakery Grains. Alongside was Locals Restaurant’s house-made chickpea spread. I wasn’t too fond of the spread as it was too bland for my liking. Hitman really enjoyed it though and he even tasted hints of cumin in it.
We’ve been watching Game of Thrones recently. However I’m always oblivious to the minor details (accents throw me off) but apparently they drink mead all the time! When Hitman saw that Local’s serve Middle Mountain Mead on the menu he quickly and excitedly suggested it to me.
For those that don’t know, mead is a wine made by fermenting honey with water. That was enough to get me hooked.
I picked the Taster Trio ($10), and picked the flavors of (L-R) Alpenglow, Cranberry Mead, and Green Tea Elixir.
Alpenglow is described as semi-sweet, spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves. To me it tasted like gingerbread. The nutmeg and cloves were very aromatic. The Cranberry one had to least honey aroma to it. It was also the most acidic one and not much flavor could be tasted. With the Green Tea Elixir, you could immediately smell the honey when you put your nose to it. It was a dry blend of Sencha and Jasmine teas with ginseng and ginger. It was indeed gingery but not so much ginsengy. Alpenglow was definitely my favorite.
Upon stepping into the restaurant I was immediately attracted by the smell of chowder. On the menu it was the Fish Market Chowder ($14). It had mussels, clams, white fish, and smoked candied salmon in a creamy vegetable broth.
It really hit the spot on this cold night. Hitman especially enjoyed the candied salmon pieces. There was also quite a bit of stuff in the chowder.
Hitman ordered off Locals’ 3 course $42 menu. For appetizer he picked the Duck and Pistachio Terrine (actually, I picked it for him hehe). It was baked within slices of Tannadice Farms maple smoked pork belly, and was served with local Concorde grape jelly.
This was quite good as the meat was more chunky than creamy. The portion was also decent. Pistachios added a nice change of texture. He thought there was way too much jelly proportionately though, which wasn’t a problem except that it felt like a waste.
First no-no of the night though… The waitress informed us that we probably should not order the crab bisque from the set menu as some customers have complained that it tasted singed. We thought that was unnecessary information for the waitress to give. She could have just as well told us it was sold out so as to not put the competency of the kitchen in a bad light.
We ended up ordering another appetizer of Pan Seared Fanny Bay Oysters ($13). The last time we had something like this was actually at Fanny Bay, but without all the bells and whistles, those being homemade organic tomato and horseradish salsa, fresh dill and citrus Aïoli, with bite size pickled garlic scape and fennel crustini.
The oysters were very juicy and fatty. The light coating of batter added a soft crunch and kept everything in shape. I did not much care for the salsa though, but the pickled garlic scape was something different that intrigued us both.
Hitman picked the Prontossima pasta parpadelle for his entree. It sounded interesting to both of us as it was pumpkin spiced fresh pasta tossed with local organic butternut squash, cranberries, and toasted pine nuts in fresh sage and Parmadammer cream. I had hoped it would be reminiscent of the house-made parpadelle I had at Merchant’s Oyster Bar.
The pasta here was equally tender and soft. However we found the whole combination made the dish taste more like a dessert than an entree.
I ordered Seaview Game Farms Venison Loin ($32). The description was “Pan Seared pumpkin seed crusted Black Creek fallow deer served with Innisfree Farm Jerusalem artichoke, chippolini onion and blackberry compote, and horseradish root demi-glace”
Isn’t it beautiful? The loins were cooked to a perfect medium rare. Very moist and tender. Too bad there were only 2 measly pieces though. Hitman wants to point out how amazing he thought the sauces and the crusting on the meat were; smoky and sweet like the perfect barbecue. He was pretty jealous and spent much of the meal eyeing my plate.
Funny story now: While eating the Jerusalem artichoke we kept wondering what they were. They looked like roast potatoes on the plate, but they were slightly sweet and had a ginsengy aroma to them. When we asked the waitress, she thought they were roast new potatoes, but that she’d find out for sure.
Which brings us to the 2nd no-no of the night: When she came back, she told us they were actually roasted Yukon gold. However, we were skeptical, so I looked at the menu again, and they were actually Jerusalem artichokes!!! We googled it and it looked exactly like what was on my plate.
We were baffled as to how the waitress could’ve gotten it wrong, even after confirming, PLUS it was written on the menu!!! We were slightly annoyed. On top of that, we found a rotten blackened piece of artichoke on the plate (3rd no-no)!!
By this time I guess our patience had worn a little thin and was wearing thinner by the moment… The reason why Hitman chose the set menu was to get the Pear and Ginger Spice Cake. However they happened to run out of it just as we were ready for dessert!! So in the end we were allowed to pick a dessert off their regular menu. So we went for the Sour Cherry & Goat Cheesecake (regularly $10).
This was much like a regular cheesecake except for the fact that they used goat cheese. It was very good but I don’t think this was made in-house, just from the looks of it…it looked like a frozen cheesecake. The sour cherry swirl didn’t taste very prominent either, but overall I did enjoy it.
Now, this may be a small thing, but we did kind of expect that we would also get a complimentary birthday dessert; after all, Hitman did make the reservation very much in advance and informed them that it was for a birthday. When they read back the reservation to him at the end of the call they even made a point of saying “for a birthday”. So we were very surprised that nothing was done, especially after receiving little somethings from the previous two restaurants we went to for birthday dinners. The least they could’ve done would be to write “Happy Birthday” on the plate. They ARE a fine dining establishment after all, so it was very surprising that they didn’t go the extra mile.
Oh, I guess we did get some cookies, but I don’t think they were for my birthday.
All in all, I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the dinner, because I did. I enjoyed it because of the company and the ambiance, and most of the food was quite good. But for the price of the food and the type of establishment, I really expected more knowledgeable staff and more attention paid to the occasion. Will we be back to Locals Restaurant?? Probably not….perhaps just for the mead?