BEARS, EAGLES, WHALES, A WOLF, A CRAB AND A BRAND NEW WORD / all in a roundtrip to Vancouver Island

By Larry Levine –

A new word has entered the lexicon of the hospitality industry.

It’s “forya,” a contraction of “for” and “you” and it’s turning up in restaurants and hotels from central California to the Canadian border. When pronounced properly, the voice must rise on the last syllable, so it ends up sounding suspiciously like it may have originated in Minnesota. I hadn’t noticed it yet in Los Angles. But as we drove north on Interstate 5 on our trip toward Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada, I first heard it at the restaurant at Harris Ranch in the California’s Central Valley.

“Is this table OK forya?”

“Here’s a menu forya.”

“Can I get something to drink forya?”

“Here’s the Ranch Breakfast forya.” “Refill on the coffee forya?”

“Can I clear these dishes forya?”

It wasn’t just one person, but all of them were females of a variety of ages. The hostess, the waitress, the bus person.

At first hearing, I thought it was just lazy speech. The second time tweaked my curiosity. After the third, I wondered, “Is this some kind of central California colloquialism or a policy of this restaurant?”

We stopped that night at the Inn at Rolling Hills, just south of Corning, CA, much further north, and there it was again. The hotel clerk: “How many room keys forya?” The waitress at Timber’s, the restaurant in the Rolling Hills Casino: “Something to drink forya?” “Here’s a menu forya.” “Will that be all forya?” She didn’t talk that way when we were here a few months ago.

Timber’s, by the way, is where we frequently stop for dinner on the way north to visit our son John and his family in Issaquah, WA. There’s a decent menu with enough variety to satisfy differing tastes and moods. Adequate food quality in a place where you aren’t going to find anything better. And by entering at the south end you can avoid having to walk through the smoking section of the casino to reach the restaurant. There’s a smoke-free environment forya.

There was a different desk clerk on duty at the hotel when we checked out the next morning. She very politely asked, “Was the room OK forya.”

Then we were off to Starbuck’s in Corning. We placed our order for coffee and a bagel and were asked, “Is that all forya.”

This was getting serious. By now I had a large enough sample to wonder why no male had used the truncated version of “for you”; it still was just the women.

NORTH TO CANADA

As we drove north through the very smoky northern tier of California (wildfires) and the lower third of Oregon (more wildfires), I wondered if “forya” was strictly a California thing. We pushed on well beyond our normal lunch time to get north of the smoke and stopped at Papa Morgan’s, a coffee shop in Canyonville, OR. I’ll say this for Papa Morgan’s: it’s a coffee shop in a tiny town that hosts several antique shops and the very large Seven Feathers Indian Casino and Hotel. Sure enough the waitress, who looked to be in her mid to late 50s, handed us menus and dutifully asked, “Something to drink forya?”

Now the question no longer was if this was a California phenomenon, but how far north it might have spread. Or did it start in the north and was spreading south, where it would be waiting for me when we returned to Los Angeles.

In Springfield, OR, we had dinner at Hop Valley Brewing Company. Our waiter spared us even a single “forya,” but the waitress laid one on at the next table. And the clerk in our hotel bid us happy trails the next morning with, “Anything else I can do forya.”

Hop Valley Brewing Company is a treasure Jennifer discovered on one of her solo trips north. First time there I had the BBQ pork ribs. Second time it was the Chili Lime Pork Tacos. Each time I went with a different light beer recommended by the waitress(er). Jennifer enjoyed the fish and chips both times. This will be a regular stop for future northbound I-5 trips.

Next day it was on to lunch a Jollie’s Restaurant & Lounge, a roadside coffee shop in non-descript Ridgefield, WA, where the waitress advised us that the link sausages were better than the patties. We’ll never know because we each ordered the links, which were as good as only grilled, frozen, defrosted sausages can be. Which is fine for two people who think just about any sausage is better than no sausage.

Dinner at Port Angeles was at the Crab House restaurant, where Jennifer had a Dungeness crab cocktail and I had fried shrimp and chips. No “forya” from our waitress, but again we heard it from the waitress at the next table and from the woman who cleared the plates “forya” from our table.

And with that we were ready for a night’s sleep and the ferry trip across the Straits of San Juan de Fuca to Victoria, where we would see if this “forya” thing had gone international.

VICTORIA, VANCOUVER ISLAND, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA

Three days at the Fairmont Empress Hotel in Victoria on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, and only one “forya.” It came from the cashier at Sam’s Deli right up the street from the hotel. Sam’s is proof that you can call anyplace a deli and no one will slap a false advertising suit onya.

Dinner our first night in Victoria was at Kitchen, a very short walk from the hotel. The restaurant modestly bills itself as “slightly finer dining”. The menu is very nice and the food is very good. I had tempura battered squash blossoms filled with cream cheese and Jennifer started with roasted beets and goat cheese. Both were excellent. Then we did the only thing possible on our first night in town: we each ordered a whole, chilled Dungeness crab. Also excellent. I love eating crab with Jennifer. She eats only the claws and the body; she doesn’t want to bother with the legs, so she gives them to me.

The rest of our dining in Victoria was solid but unremarkable. I had a very good (grilled) hot dog at the Island Grill Hot Dogs. They offer nine different preparations. I went with the straight-forward grilled dog with sauerkraut and yellow mustard. Breakfasts at the hotel were acceptable, but nothing more. The ling cod in Jennifer’s overly-battered fish and chips at the Veranda in the hotel was good. She discarded the breading and ate the fish.

I ordered flat iron steak after being told there is a law in Canada against rare hamburgers. Of course, I ordered the steak RARE and it came cooked beautifully rare. I thought later that I should have asked the waiter to have the kitchen grind up the rare steak and put it on a bun.

The next night, I had a very good room service Cesar salad, with white anchovies, and Jennifer had a very good room service roasted beets (yes, again) salad. Then we each had a charcuterie and cheese plate that was no better than alright and way too large. Shoulda shared.

As for Sam’s deli, we went there for breakfast one day and ordered, what else, a lox sandwich on a toasted bagel. Here’s a tip forya: don’t do that.

We had been to Butchart Gardens 20-plus years ago and were glad to be able to spend an afternoon there this time. We also enjoyed a stop at the nearby Butterfly Garden. There was a morning stroll along one side of the inner harbour of Victoria and an evening stroll along the other side.

One of the things I miss most when we travel, aside from our cat at my golf games, is my morning fresh orange juice. I’ve never tasted a concentrated or frozen orange juice I would want to taste again. My preference is for Valencia oranges. I would squeeze a few of them before breakfast every day if my cardiologist hadn’t put me on a limit of one per day because of my triglyceride level. Near the ferry terminals in Victoria, there’s a mobile stand at which they sell various kinds of juice concoctions. For $6 Canadian (about $5 U.S.) I watched as the young man squeezed a full 12-ounce glass of Valencia orange juice for me. And he didn’t say “forya” when he handed it to me. He did tell one of the tourist customers that the oranges were from Valencia, California, which of course they weren’t. No one grows oranges commercially in Valencia, California.

EAGLES IN THE SKY AND DINNERS AT SOOKE HARBOUR HOUSE

The single best reason to visit the Sooke Harbour House Resort in Sooke on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada, is dinner at the restaurant. The second best reason is dinner the next night. Third are the views and the probability of seeing at least one bald eagle in the wild. We saw three.

As for the resort itself – wonderful location, wonderful view from every room, rooms themselves kind of small and a bit tatty. But, oh, that restaurant.

This wasn’t our first go-round with the Sooke Harbour House restaurant. It’s a very slow 35-mile drive from Victoria Harbour to Sooke. You could do it for an early dinner and return to Victoria, but Sooke is well worth a stay of at least one night. Two would be better. Between our drive and our dinner reservation, we took a long wind-blown walk on the spit that extends from near the back of the resort most of the way across the harbour.

The restaurant website is a bit contradictory. In one place it says the menu changes daily; in another place it says the “weekly” menu remains the same Monday through Thursday. We were there on a Wednesday and Thursday and had different menus each night. Each menu listed a four-course dinner with three choices for each course. They don’t call it vegetarian, but one selection in each group would permit a vegetarian diner to enjoy a full meal.

The grounds of the resort include three acres on which they grow more than 200 vegetables, greens, herbs, and edible flowers organically and seasonally. Get up early in the morning and there’s an excellent chance some of the local deer will be breakfasting in the garden.

The restaurant supplies binoculars for dinner-time amusement. Good thing because we were able to track two bald eagles as the flew along the tree line across the harbour.

For dinner the first night I started with a spectacular chilled tomato soup with clams, cucumber and some crème fraise. Then I had sablefish that was marinated in tamari and maple syrup. Next was perfectly cooked local duck breast in a fig reduction along with gratin potatoes. I finished with a schnitzel of peaches, plum sauce, corn and strawberries. Yes, kernels of corn. Creative menu with creative execution. A great meal.

Jennifer opened with a green salad in a strawberry dressing, followed by chinook salmon and finished with chocolate and blackberry cake with a blueberry compote. Just three very good courses.

The next morning produced a highlight that will long be remembered. We drove into the small town of Sooke, parked the car and walked down a long, wooden, switchback to reach the boardwalk that led to Rotary Pier. We had gone no more than 30 yards on the boardwalk, when a juvenile bald eagle left its perch in a tree ahead of us and flew almost directly over our heads.

At the Rotary Pier, we stopped for a chat with a woman who had three Dungeness crabs in a bucket and two lines in the water. She told us the licensed limit is four crabs per person per day, but she admitted many people cheat. Regulations require that no female crabs can be taken and crabs must be returned to the water if they measure less than six inches across the body. There were several other crabbing lines draped over the railing of the pier, people who set their crab traps and went away, to return later for their rewards. You can’t get crab any fresher than that. All this took on new meaning, when we were in Tofino a couple of days later.

For dinner at Sooke Harbour House Restaurant the second night, we each started with corn soup with Salt Spring Island mussels, a flavoring of finely diced tomatillo and sweet jalapeno crème. I followed with a dish that was my personal hit of them all: perfectly medium rare beef tenderloin with three preparations of eggplant, two small grilled tomatoes and three spears of grilled squash. My palate was so happy that I almost refused the blackberry sorbet palate cleanser offered after. Jennifer’s second course was a panzenella salad, which was mostly cucumber. It clearly was intended for vegetarians and she wasn’t thrilled with it. We each ordered the same third course: pappardelle with snap peas, morel mushrooms and assorted greens. This also was intended for vegetarian dining and read better on the menu then it turned out on the plate. I ordered it because I love morel mushrooms and my second choice would have been the sablefish, which I had and enjoyed the previous night. Variety ruled and I regretted it. Jennifer resisted the sablefish because of an unfortunate recent experience in which her sablefish was served loaded with bones.

Jennifer decided to skip desert the second night and go with the chocolate truffles that waited back in our room. I ordered the chocolate and blackberry cake that she had the night before. One bite and I proclaimed it “too chocolaty for my taste.” I slid the plate over to Jennifer. “Too chocolaty” is not a concept to which she can relate.

Two days in Sooke without a single “forya”.

OUR LONG-AWAITED RETURN TO TOFINO

Tofino is a small city at the northern end of the road on the west side of Vancouver Island. We had been there before, some 20-plus years ago. I remember we saw scores of eagles in our two days there. But what I really remembered was the freshest Dungeness crab I’d ever eaten at a place called The Crab Bar. It’s no longer there, the owners having retired. But surely, I could get crab just as fresh anywhere in town, right?

Wrong. Not one restaurant in the entire area was serving Dungeness crab. The concierge at the Wickaninnish Inn phoned around and finally got the chef at The Schooner restaurant to agree to call her supplier and see if she could special order a crab for me. She called back shortly and said she had one. It was on the small side – about one pound – and would cost $45. I told her to go for it. No way was I going to be in Tofino and not eat Dungeness crab if I had the option. The crab I was served turned out to be a bit larger than a pound, and that night I enjoyed the only restaurant-served Dungeness crab in the city that once teemed with them.

Two days later, I phoned the chef at The Schooner and asked what happened. She explained that the area has become grossly over-fished and there is no management of the fishery. She said 15 years ago the government issued permits to 10 Vietnamese companies to take crab in the local waters. Those companies have about 1,000 crab pots in the ocean at all times and the crabs never stop in Tofino. “They go straight to China,” she said, and there is no concern for the size of the crabs that can be taken or for leaving females in the water to sustain the fishery.

I asked why the local restaurant owners or the commercial fishing community don’t mount a campaign to reverse the situation. There was resignation in her voice as she explained local restaurants now serve snow crab instead. It’s a relative of Alaskan King crab. I said I don’t like Alaskan King and she said she doesn’t either; it’s too stringy. But the snow crab is much better, she added, not stringy and more flavorful with sweeter meat.

Despite the crab dearth, Tofino was far from a disappointment. The Wickaninnish Inn, where we stayed, is a Relais & Chateux facility on Chesterman Beach in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Floor to ceiling windows in The Pointe Restaurant provide a 180-degree panoramic view of the coast, some offshore islands, the Straits of San Juan de Fuca and the mountains of the Olympic National Park in the State of Washington across the Straits. The menu offers a different five-course dinner each night and a good assortment of ala carte starters, mains and deserts. The menu descriptions tend to be precious to the edge of silly. But if you cut through all that to what will actually be on the plate, you will not be disappointed. We dined there our first and last nights at the Inn. The middle night was given over to the crab at The Schooner.

First night at The Pointe I started with “lightly cured albacore / plum, shiso and orange butter.” The albacore was locally caught and cured with a mild smoky taste. Slices of fresh plum sat alongside the albacore in a sauce of orange butter and shiso. All a very creative merging of flavors and textures and thoroughly enjoyable. Next I had butter-poached halibut on a bed of sweet summer cabbage, with a wonderful potato mousse and a nice sprinkling of trout roe. For desert I ordered “strawberry charlotte / vanilla mouse and lady fingers.” The flavors put me in mind of the charlotte russe we bought from pushcart vendors in New York when I was a kid, although the presentation was very different. A tower of lady fingers surrounded a filling of the vanilla mousse. The whole thing was topped and surrounded with wonderful, locally-grown strawberries. All-in-all a nice meal, but I learned I’m just not a fan of halibut. I’ve never liked the warm water halibut of Southern California and thought the colder water halibut from British Columbia and Alaska was better. But “better” is relative. This was a nice piece of halibut and it was very well prepared. And still, it wasn’t for me.

Jennifer’s first night dinner started with a Dungeness (yes, Dungeness) crab salad. I had not yet learned of the absence of crab in the area, or I would have asked the origin of this crab. It was listed on the menu as including daikon radish, marinated strawberries and cultured cream. What was served looked more like a sushi bar roll of crab salad wrapped in thinly sliced daikon radish, which Jennifer doesn’t like. She unwrapped the crab, moved the radish aside and enjoyed what was left. Next she ordered beef tenderloin with root vegetables and onion puree. The beef was cooked to her medium-rare order but the texture was somewhat mealy. Her desert, however, was a home run – berry mille feuille with puff pastry, crème fraiche and berries.

I’m prone to seasickness; I can’t swim a lick and I have dry eye, which means in chilled or windy conditions my eyes tear like a faucet. So, it would make sense that the next morning we climbed into a zodiac boat for the first time in our lives and bounced along the water at 30 knots in quest of whales. There are few things in this world that make Jennifer happier than being on the water and seeing whales. She’s had many wonderful whale experiences and this one became one for the memory book. One of the gray whales decided it wanted to take a closer look at this boat with eight people who had come for a visit. The whale circled the boat, dived under it, surfaced at the back and swam around to the side. It came to rest right alongside the boat, turned on its side to get a better look and just stopped there. It was so close that Jennifer could have reached out and touched it if she didn’t respect the animal as much as she does.

My only-one-in-town crab dinner at The Schooner that night was very good and drew the eyes of people at several other tables. I offered no explanation. Jennifer had fish and chips. What can I say; she’s British and when all else fails she will order fish and chips with malt vinegar. Once again, she found the breading too thick and removed it.

I had such a good time in the zodiac the first day, despite my tearing eyes, that we decided to do it again the next day to go bear watching. Before we saw our first bear, we were treated to a gray wolf. We spotted it coming out of the water after having swam across from Mares Island. It trotted casually along the shoreline and we were able to follow it from about 20 minutes. It would go in and out of the shadows, but spent much of the time on a sunlit trail. Our tour guide / boat pilot said he had never seen a wolf so clearly for so long before.

As for the bears, we got good looks at a hefty number as they turned over large rocks looking for food along the shore. We even saw a mother and a cub.

We each had better luck with our second dinner at The Pointe. Jennifer started with “dressed heirloom tomatoes / raspberry, oregano and burnt onion crumble.” For me it was “poached Vancouver Island spot prawns / rice crisp /ginger vinaigrette.” Then we each ordered the “leek ash-crusted lamb sirloin / fresh goji berry / sweet island corn, Saskatchewan farrow and lavender jus.” It was rack of lamb, cooked to a perfect medium rare and delicious. I passed on desert while Jennifer had “fondant au chocolate / graham crumble / toasted marshmallow, candied lichen.” As you can see, the menu tended to go beyond naming the dish to the edges of printing the ingredients and recipe.

Happily, not one single “forya” during three days and nights in Tofino.

ON THE ROAD HOME

The road home started with a one-night stopover in Victoria, where we had a lovely and very casual dinner at 10 Commons – beer, small plates to share, high top table by the window, big family party at the next table.

Breakfast at the Fairmont Gold buffet the next morning was relaxing, tasty, and gave us the opportunity to hear one of the staff offer to “clear those dishes forya.” Then it was off to the ferry for the trip back across the Straits to Port Angeles.

Although we spent the night in Seattle because of some bad route planning on my part, we didn’t consider ourselves officially back in the U.S. until we heard four “foryas” in five minutes at a Starbucks the next morning. That’s when I decided to stop counting and accept that it’s here to stay.

The earlier-mentioned Seven Feathers Casino and Hotel in Canyonville, OR has become our regular stop on the way south from the Seattle area. Dinner at the K-Bar Restaurant is always enjoyable. The local lamb is consistently good and Jennifer likes to end the day with a relaxing turn at the slot machines. I usually take a tour of the blackjack tables, shake my head at how bad most of the players are and then head back to the room.

One final word on the forya front: not once in the entire trip did anyone call me “boss” or “dude.” I’ll count that as a victory.

About the Author

Larry Levine is the founder and host of atLarrys.com and Table Talk at Larrys. Read his full biography by clicking here.