Cowichan & Nanaimo Culinary Bits and Bites

With Spring in full swing there’s lots to buzz about from land and sea, but first there are some congratulations in order for McLean’s Specialty Foods (250-754-0100) who are celebrating 20 years of bringing islanders hard-to-find cheeses and import products in Nanaimo’s Old City Quarter. All the best to Sandy and Eric – Twenty more years of cheese, please!


I love May since it kicks off the peak farmer’s market season but what is catching my interest this year is that more farms are welcoming visitors onsite with fantastic meals, events and activities. A good place to start checking this out would be in the Cowichan Valley at Amuse Bistro (250-743-3667) where Bradford and Leah Boivert recently held the grand opening for their new location at Unsworth Vineyards. This is a fantastic union that brings together winery, farm, outstanding cuisine and memorable events. Close by, Kilrenny Farm is offering cultural themed cooking classes throughout May and June. With notable chefs Don Genova and Heidi Fink at the helm these classes are bound to be inspiring and flavourful!


Flavours are definitely there for the tasting at the new Baby Salsa Mexican Restaurant in the University Village in Nanaimo. Owner Diane Babyak ran similar cantina style restaurants in Atlanta before moving to Nanaimo to open this family-run version. The menu has a variety of traditional and house-created fare including some great combination plates to choose from (250-591-8353). Perhaps it’s because it is tucked away in the Old City Mews that I only just discovered Bistro Taiyo (250.716.8861) in Nanaimo. Since opening last year this little restaurant has made a good first impression on Japanese food enthusiasts with fresh notable traditional dishes. Furthermore, they join what appears to be a growing sushi trail in Nanaimo. Nori Japanese Restaurant (203-6750 Island Hwy; 250-751-3377) continues please the most adventurous sushi diners who’ve discovered chef John’s talent for persuading diners outside of the every day bento box. The unique approach to sushi rolls at the Firehouse Grill (250-716-0323) is also worth checking out. Meanwhile Acme’s (250-753-0042) sushi bar now serves the much loved and cheekily named “Effing Oysters from Effingham Bay near Barkley Sound. These oysters were a big hit at the Parksville Uncorked event in February.


If prawns are more to your liking this is definitely your time of year with local spot prawns in season for the month of May. The real keeners will want to head to the 4th annual Cowichan Bay Spot Prawn Festival on Mother’s Day weekend May 12th & 13th. This is a chance to see fishers from Cowichan Bay Seafood in action and taste the freshness of the delightful crustaceans right off the boat. Chef and author Bill Jones of Deerholme Farm will head up a series of cooking demos.


Mother’s Day is of course a perfect time to talk brunch. Brunches just for the special day are planned at the above-mentioned Amuse Bistro and at Terrain Kitchen (250-715-1000) in Cowichan Bay. Lantzville’s Riso Food Inc. now serves brunch every Saturday and Sunday (250-390-0777). I just paid my first visit to the recently opened and fantastically located Bistro at Westwood Lake where Gaetan Brousseau and Linda Allen formerly of Wesley Street Café have embarked on their newest venture. The well-appointed dining room is bright and the lake view awe-inspiring.  The small but well thought out brunch menu is perfect for any special occasion or just a pleasant Sunday. The bistro is also open for lunch and dinner Tuesday thru Sunday (250-753-2866). The patio will soon open for the upcoming summer season.

It’s time for dining alfresco wherever you are!


 – By Karma Brophy






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