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Time to Eat

Monday's new food critic Pam Grant asks “How Far Does $20 Go Downtown?”
Food lovers get ready: acclaimed food critic Pam Grant brings both her appetite and reader-friendly palate to Monday for a new series of food-related columns. Pam is posing at The London Chef on Fort Street.

“How Far Does $20 Go Downtown?”

You know how it is. You had a big lunch and you don't really want dinner, but you're going to a show downtown and you want a drink and a snack beforehand. Here is a list of options under $20 when you are peckish but yam fries and a pint of lager just won't do.

The Cactus Club Cafe has drink specials every night,  but I love their version of the Brazilian Caipirinha, reinterpreted with fresh kiwi fruit, lime and sugar cane muddled with rum and soda, available for a crazy $5.50 on a Monday night. You may not see  Impanema Beach out the windows, but they have good bartenders and plenty of flat screen TVs if you have to watch the game. Grab a bite from the Rob Feenie approved menu --try butternut squash ravioli with giant prawns ($13) or local albacore tataki with green papaya slaw, avocado, pine nuts and yuzu vinaigrette ($14.50). 1125 Douglas Street, 250 361-3233.

Browns Socialhouse (NB no apostrophe in Browns and Socialhouse is one word) serves brunch on Saturday, Sunday and holidays. If the night before is lingering before a matinee performance,try a restorative Caesar ($4.50) packed with horseradish and olives and Eggs Benedict ($10.95) with prosciutto, goat cheese and fire roasted tomato. If you're visiting during the week, try a Margarita on the rocks with fresh pressed lime juice( $6) and a couple of tacos stuffed with red spice rubbed chicken jack cheese, pico de gallo ($9) A llittle patio is good for people watching, but inside booths allow you to hide away should you feel the need. 809 Douglas Street, 250 361-3233.

Whether it's the romantic little lounge at top that pulls you in off the street, or the vast space with 2-story windows at the bottom of the impressive staircase, Shima Sushi has the ambience to match its great food and fabulous cocktails. Nibble yakitori, agedashi tofu topped with scallion, minced daikon and bonito flakes, or chicken karaage with wasabi mayo -all under $10. Save room for one of their legendary pink mojitos, packed with fresh mint, cranberry juice, lime, rum and Chambord liqueur, due to reappear this weekend --and only $5.95 on Friday or Saturday nights. 1218 Wharf street, 250 590-7370.

The Canoe Club offers comfort food crafted from local ingredients. Grab a couple of dishes  from happy hour menu (available Sunday to Thursday from 3 p.m. - 6 p.m. and after  9 p.m.) with $5 snack plates including mini cod and chips, grilled local octopus with chorizo, crispy chick peas, smoked paprika, arugula and romesco sauce, or duck rillettes pub mustard, onion jam and assorted breads. A large selection of craft and domestic beers, wines and cocktails will meet all your beverage needs.  Arrive early for a seat on the massive patio. 450 Swift Street  250 361-1940.

If you feel the need to get sand between your toes before a night at the theatre, then head to Strathcona Hotel's Rooftop Surfclub (NB  Surfclub is one word) for a game of volleyball on the highest “beach” in the city. You can't surf there (yet) but never tell the Olson brothers something can't be done. Weekdays from 3 p.m. - 5 p.m., all  $6 plates from the menu are 2 for 1 so choose of couple from options including rock crab and artichoke dip, wild Coho salmon with wontons and pineapple slaw, skewers of spiced Angus beef with tabouleh and quinoa salad, or Edamame beans infused chili, salt lime and sesame oil. With more bars than any other spot in the city, the Strathcona drink list is legendary. Enjoy icy beer or a cocktail for $6.50 or less.919 Douglas Street, 250 383-7137.

Monday Morsels

Merridale Ciderworks leaps into spring Saturday, May 19th with free events including cellar and orchard tours, tastings and family-friendly interactive games from morning until 5 p.m.  Watch from the Cowichan Valley raptures take flight in the orchards, or interact with artists including Carol Anne Shaw, Richard Shaw, Devon Gillot, Andrew Kent and Pipi Tustian in the orchard before a mini-spa treatment on the patio. Stop by the outdoor Orchard Cookhouse (reservations recommended) to savour brick oven pizzas, house-smoked fish or a freshly grilled burger. Plenty of salads and gluten free options are also available. Don't forget the fabulous ciders.

Recently designated one of the first économusée in British Columbia (a collective of artisans or businesses supporting traditional craftsmanship in a contemporary settings where customers are invited to observe and interact), things at Merridale are centred on the cellar, the distillery and the brick oven bakery.  A new tour incorporates the cellar and orchard walks, with QR codes for those craving more knowledge and an interactive booklet for kids. 1230 Merridale Road, Cobble Hill. Phone 1-800-998-9908 or 250 743-4293 for more information.

Visit Pizzeria Prima Strada's Bridge Street location on May 30 or 31 for a visit to northern Italy, with a summery dinner inspired by the Emilia Romagna region including wines for $65 per person, inclusive of HST and  gratuity.  Things begins at 7 p.m., with something to challenge your palate -can you identify true Italian balsamic from Modena and Reggio Emilia? Continue with a simple salad of local arugula and shaved Parmigiano before Asparagi con Prosciutto di Parma (local asparagus with prosciutto and hard-boiled egg) and Zuppa di Pesce fragrant fish shellfish soup. Finish with Crostada di Mandorle - Almond Meringue tart. Wines for this menu includeLambrusco di Sorbara Frizzante, Casolari, Trebbiano di Romagna and Sangiovese di Romagna. Please note that seating is limited to 16 participants per evening. Menu items may change subject to seasonal availability. 2960 Bridge Street, 250 590-4380

I am delighted to be working with the team here at Monday Magazine.

We believe that the most exciting food scene in Canada is right here on the island and we have a legion of skilled sommeliers, vintners and cocktail artists to help you find something to wash it all down with.

Over the next 13 weeks, we will bring you local food and beverage news and features,  including reviews, highlights of new menus and recipes from local chefs and bartenders, along with weird and wonderful facts about what you eat and drink and profiles of some of the amazing people who work behind the scenes in our hospitality industry. We hope you enjoy it.

Bon appetit!