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Rostra rating: 3.5
Shelter is a typical Tofino restaurant; upscale rustic setting, way nice wait staff, and good food. Even the ritual exchange of pleasantries with our server reinforced the Tofino ambiance. He informed us in an outgoing Australian accent that he was doing great, because he had spent the day surfing, having been excused from his day job.
Since Team Mago was attending Feast Tofino, we chose Shelter because the restaurant teamed up with Tofino Brewing Co. for a repast featuring three specially prepared beers. We were not disappointed. Our two favorite brews were Tofino Brewing Company’s IPA and a very unusual spruce pale ale that had been steeped in spruce needles for several weeks. More importantly, the beer complimented Shelter’s food perfectly.
We turned to the fryolater for appies. Suze (as in the aperitif or someone’s name?) crispy calamari was composed of lemon dill marinated squid, jalapeno, red peppers, and lime chipotle mayo. The squid was yanked from the fryolater just a tad too soon, but the nice light breading and very fresh calamari went a long way to correcting this slight mistake, which was probably caused by the full house and somewhat slammed kitchen. The deep fried jalapenos and lime chipotle mayo (a nice descriptive change from the ubiquitous aioli) were very good.
Onion rings, on the other hand, were perfectly fried. But I do not like panko breadcrumbs in onion ring batter and neither do the Japanese, who use rice flour. Patti and Bobby did not seem to mind and happily hoovered them as well as the squid. Patti was enjoying them so much that she forgot to take a photograph.
Warm chevre salad composed of braised greens, Okanagan goat cheese, double smoked bacon, caramelized onion, roasted garlic, and apple cider vinaigrette was the best dish of the evening. The bacon-braised kale melded with a scattering of excellent goat cheese and luscious lardons of pig candy to deliver delicious flavor as well as a wonderfully swiney mouth feel. Patti ordered this dish topped with a filet of wild salmon that arrived slightly overcooked, which was a shame (a carry-over cooking issue in the busy kitchen?).
Shelter serves Cortez Island moules et frites three ways. Bobby got his with more of that incredible double smoked bacon, white wine, roasted garlic, and thyme. The fresh succulent mussels were perfectly cooked and the fries deserved a solid A-minus.
My west coast cioppino was a genuine zuppa di pesche driven by superb local ingredients in the form of lingcod, salmon, mussels, clams, and Pacific shrimp. The dish delivered superb flavor, but it lacked heat and salt, which I remedied by adding some of Bobby’s mussel broth and the calamari’s chipotle mayo–although that may have turned it into more of a bouillabaisse. My real complaint with this dish was that the bespoke bread sucked, not to put too fine a point on it. In fact, the bread sucked at every Tofino restaurant we tried over the course of three evenings. What’s up with that in a foodie haven?
All of the slight issues we had with the food at Shelter, except for the inexplicably bad bread, were imminently correctable and did not really detract from a wonderful evening. MagoGuide will certainly return to Tofino–perhaps during a less hectic time for the local eateries, such as storm watching season—when we will once again seek Shelter.