The Spotted Bear Bistro
On our trip to Tofino in the summer of 2011, we had heard great things about the Spotted Bear but had already had our reservations made (Sobo, Shelter) so sadly had to foego eating here but vowed that it would be on our list the next time.
So now that we are on trip #2 to Tofino for a little Xmas getaway, I called ahead and booked us in for Xmas Eve dinner at the Spotted Bear. The chef here has worked at many renowned establishments including Vancouver's La Crocodile and Lumiere before branching out on his own to open this small restaurant in Tofino.
The Spotted Bear is located in the heart of the tiny surfing vilage of Tofino on the west side of Vancouver Island. Tofino is known for its very friendly and laidback atmosphere, making fine-dining pretty much obsolete. Although there are a number of good food destinations in the city, you can pretty much walk in anywhere in jeans and be in good company.
The atmosphere at the Spotted Bear fits in very well with Tofino's relaxed vibe. It is a very small space, with an open kitchen occupying almost half of the restaurant and a space for no more than 25 guests at the back. The decor is rustic and minimalist, but also very warm and inviting. Not an ounce of pretention here.
The service that we received on our visit was certainly above average. I called the night before our reservation to ask if we could make it a bit later, and received a very apologetic email reply the next day saying that we were their last table for Xmas Eve but that they could change it to any other night of our choosing if we so wished. After our visit, they emailed me again to let me know that I had left my purse there and then made themselved available on Boxing Day when they were not even opened so that I could pick it up. During our meal, we had a very friendly server who, despite us being their last table on Xmas Eve, did in no way make us feel rushed and was was very knowledgeable about the menu.
The menu at the Spotted Bear is quite small but varied, and offers something for every palate. From what I have read on other reviews, the basics of the dishes remain similar, but the details change based on seasonality of ingredients. There is certainly a very "wintery" feel to the current menu, featuring veg like kale, greens and beets. Here were our choices for the evening:
Beet Salad- One could argue that this dish is probably way overdone these days (difficult to find a menu that does not have one on its appie list) but I guess I am just a sucker and cannot help but keep order it again and again. And I am glad that I did not stop this trend at Spotted bear. Their version included not only beautiful yellow beets, but also the freshest of local greens, sweet crystaized pumpkin seeds (loved these!) and a generous helping of crumbled goat cheese. Certainly one of the most generous servings I have seen, and I could have easily ate another plate! If I had to give one criticism, I would say that they were perhaps a bit heavy-handed on the citrus dressing but that did not stop me from finishing every last morsel:)
Tuna Tartare- Just as I keep ordering beet salad again, my husband cannot resist getting tuna tartare wherever it is offered. This was a unique take on this popular dish, as instead of asian flavours, it went more italian with a soy truffle vinagrette. Although my husband likes truffled and happily polished off the appie, he was not completely sold on this unique flavour combination. I tasted a bite, and must admit that the truffle flavour was very pronouced and perhaps a bit overbearing. The tuna, however, was very fresh and the presentation in a mason jar was charming.
Wild Salmon- I spent a while debating between this dish and the seafood Pho which has gotten such rave reviews, but I am SO glad that I settled on this dish in the end. This was definately among the best fish dishes of the year for me. The very generous portion of salmon was cooked perfectly (the middle was still rare as it should be!) and left plain and simple to let that its natural flavours shine. Beneath it was an African-spiced isreali couscous mixed with leeks, beets and the sweetest, most succulent grape tomatoes I have ever had (would love to know the chef's secret!!!). The side of kale balanced out the dish nicely and added great visual contrast.
Pasta- My husband is on a bit of a pasta kick lately, and the addition of braised chicken and chilies sold him on this dish. He really enjoyed the flavours of the dish, especially with the coating of fresh parmesan overtop (he even polished off most of the kale!). The chicken nestled amounst the moodles was tender and juicy. A simple, yet well-executed dish.
The portions were quite large, and therefore we both had to forego dessert for the evening. We were already very satisfied by our delicious meal at Spotted Bear and ready to go home to wait for Santa's arrival. We look forward to returning in the summer to see the magic that the chef can make with a totally different set of ingredients. Until then, we will hold onto very dear memories of our Xmas Eve dinner at the Spotted Bear.