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A great big slice of Italian passion in Victoria B.C. - Il Covo Trattoria · 18.09.15 by colin newell

Il Covo Trattoria James Bay - Italian spirit in Victoria B.C. Canada

My wife and I have a few go-to places for celebrating special occasions – like Fridays, or a Wedding Anniversary, a successful shopping trip or the first rainy day in September after a long drought.

And considering that Victoria B.C. is a city flush with imaginative restaurants, there are really only a handful (in my estimation) of food places that consistently deliver passion, authenticity, love and great taste in equal measure.

Il Covo Trattoria at 106 Superior Street in James Bay near Fishermans Wharf is one of those places. I have a soft spot for Italian cuisine (my mother grew up in an Italian enclave in Montreal in the 30’s and 40’s…) and I was raised on rustic interpretations of Northern Italian classics. So, it’s in my blood and in my memories. And if your momma cooked Italian, getting that experience in a restaurant is a tall order.

Il Covo Trattoria seems to make it effortless. Their location in historic James Bay – Victoria, not far from Fishermen’s Wharf and a short walk from the Inner Harbour and some of the cities finest hotels could be just as easily located in the heart of New York City, Rome or Montreal. Passing through the grand entrance into the care of the hostess, one is transformed into another time and place. A big part of a restaurants charm is unquestionably its ambiance and Il Covo has certainly nailed the European experience.

Ii Covo is large enough for expansive families and intimate enough for couples on an important or romantic date. Service is attentive, informed and engaged without being worrisome. What I love about the eating experience here is the dedication to authenticity and focus on regional ingredients – all impeccably fresh and balanced according to the season.

Andrea and I started our culinary adventure with a martini and one of Il Covo’s brilliant Northern Italian inspired cocktails.

Il Covo - James Bay - Victoria - click on IMAGE for large view

Our opener from Chef was a salad of rare tuna, chick peas and arugula – perfectly tart and balanced to set the palate up for our mains.

Click on Map Photo for the Big View

This evening my wife had the signature Lasagna – which she rates as the best in North America – and trust me, she has sampled this straight forward dish from coast to coast. I had the Papardelle pasta with Prawns and fresh asparagus in a Pernod sauce – delicious, fresh and so satisfying.

If you have room for any dessert, the cakes, creme brulee, panna cotta and tiramisu are amazing – I know. I have had them all. Coffee is great too!

Il Covo, for us, is a place filled with love of family, friends and dedication to the most positive food experience – it is as close to eating in an Italian village as you can get without actually being there. Top marks to the Il Covo team! Bravo!


The Nespresso Inissia pod system and the convenience of now · 4.08.15 by colin newell

The Nespresso Pod machine - how convenient

I get many offers of coffee machines to test in exchange for a review – or a machine in exchange from one of the many online companies offering a selection of coffee products.

The folks at New York City and Berlin based were good enough to send a very significant supply of coffee samples and arrange for an Inissia machine to test them on and for me to keep, cherish and redistribute however I saw fit. Great deal.

So – my review of the Innisia is over here – and it is worth a spin before proceeding with the rest of these follow up observations.

OK – here is the big upside of Nespresso pod coffee. It is convenient and fast. It reduces the planning for coffee to a push of a single button. Feel like coffee? Get out some pods and fill and power up the machine. There is little more than a minute and a half of waiting while the unit heats up. I like to heat up my cups before I start brewing shots from the Nespresso so that might take a few more moments of your time. So, if you are absolutely and positively in a hurry and have to have your coffee right now, this might be the way to go.

The quality of the Nespresso coffee pods is good, annoying good in some ways when you compare it to other methods of brewing. From a technical stand point, there is not quite enough coffee in each pod to balance the mount of water that the Nespresso pushes through. I noticed that the Gourmesso pods contained slightly less coffee (or the pods were a touch smaller) and the quality of the coffee was not quite up to the level of the Nespresso pods. The Gourmesso pods are also cheaper – and I think at last check, a Nespresso pod is well over a buck a pop. And for you convenience lovers, that adds up fast! We had some friends over last night for some wine and coffee (brewed on our patio out of doors!) and they claimed to be Nespresso lovers for a few months until the costs for the pods started to rack up.

They noted that they were averaging $200 (Canadian) a month on pods – they are both coffee drinkers. They were brewing several double shots in the morning and afternoon and quickly added up to lots of pods.
The Nespresso (and Gourmesso) pods are only available online (or in Nespresso boutique stores in large Urban cities) so the costs and shipping start to add up fast. My whole bean coffee habit when consuming the same amount of coffee (brewed as gravity drip) is less than 1/2 this amount and I serve an average of 2-4 cups a day to 2 to 4 people every day of the week!

The big downside outside of the cost of pods is the waste that is generated – but slowly there are recycling stations that are taking the spent pods – which often contain plastic, paper and foil in one unit — kind of difficult to process. Pod systems are quite the rage right now and the environment is having a bad time with all the waste materials and it could be years before the planet catches up to it all.

The Nespresso machines themselves tend to not be that expensive and they are not that complex – and they are wickedly convenient… but that comes with a cost that you have to weigh out. Do the math ahead of time and if you think you can live with the extra cost, then go ahead.

Personally, I like my gravity drip methods, my Hario filter holders, paper, grinder, kettle and scale. It’s hipster and tasty and easier on my pocket book and my conscience. For the Coffeecrew blog and website, I am Colin Newell in Victoria B.C. Canada.


Grilled spicy Lamb burgers on the old Weber · 1.07.15 by colin newell

Grilled Lamb burgers on the old Weber

Andrea and I made these from fresh ground Island lamb and fresh herbs from the garden – much like regular beef burgers but with a kick – and they are lamb.

They are around 3/4” thick – I grilled them at around 375 to 425 for 5 minutes on the first side
and 2 minutes on the second side.


1½ pounds ground lamb
2 tablespoons tightly packed finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon moroccan spice mix
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

4 kaiser rolls, split
Thinly sliced red onion

2 tablespoons mayonaise
2 heaping teaspoons fresh mint sauce

Served with lettuce and red onion – and any salad on the side you might desire.

Grill with crumbled feta on top.

Pairs well with a robust Red wine.

Comment [1]

We interview jazz diva Maureen Washington - home at Christmas · 11.12.14 by colin newell

Bonus audio interview |

Maureen Washington - Jazz singer

It was a windy and wet Thursday night at Habit Coffee & Culture on Yates Street at the Atrium in downtown Victoria when we spoke with the lovely Maureen Washington – Jazz singer, mom of five, vocal coach, and mentor.

Born and raised in Prince George, British Columbia, Ms. Washington draws upon roots in frontier Canada with connections to Mississippi. The granddaughter of a musician, a singing cowboy no less, her musical fabric draws upon influences as diverse as Etta James, Holly Cole, and (to my ears) a very young Momma Thorton.

There is a certain purity, drive and laser focus in the work of Ms. Washington that defies explanation. It’s visceral, heartfelt, uncompromisingly grounded and targeted directly at the heart.

Some of the greatest music of all time is born of pain and is germinated and cultivated in disparity and conflict. Examples include some of the best works by the likes of The Police, Fleetwood Mac, the Beatles and others. Ms. Washington has certainly had her share of challenges but she processes life differently than most of us. She takes life’s most unpredictable curve balls and turns them into positivity. She then distills that positive energy into a musical phrase and the amalgam of this life experience is a beautiful sound, boiled down to its rhythmic essence. For the ears and the heart, it’s a wonderful thing.

Our conversation moved towards Christmas and why, according to Ms. Washington, “it’s the best time of the year and the toughest time of the year.” Her voice takes on a very special strength when tackling some traditional and seasonal material, as it does in her latest Christmas album (available over on CD-Baby). What could have been a painful journey is, in fact, a love story to her husband, her family and the world around her. In her latest CD, “Christmas Is…” Maureen Washington offers up a compendium of seasonal favorites. When taken as a whole, it illustrates a woman’s journey through adversity, guiding us into the now and is a pure celebration of the moment.

Christmas Is... by Maureen Washington

I love the overall sound of this CD. It has timeless classics delivered by a skillful vocalist. Ms. Washington comes across as everyone’s next door neighbor during a time of need with a hug and a hot cup of coffee on a snowy Christmas eve.

Ms. Washington is an artist to watch and performs locally and throughout British Columbia. You can visit her webpage over here. Catch her while you can!

Listen to the interview |

Podcast – If you cannot see the audio player above, click here for the mp3 download.


Katie and a world of cards. · 29.11.14 by colin newell

Custom made cards from Katie

Katie is a lovely 18 year old girl who has Cerebral Palsy. Together with her mom, Sue, they have been making stamped cards since 2007. Prior to receiving assistive technology, Sue used to help her daughter stamp the images on the cards.

Katie has a head controlled stamping machine made for her four years ago by CanAssist. She is now able to stamp the images for her cards through a switch control using her head.

Card making is Katie’s thing and it brings her great joy. She loves making cards and sharing them. Making and selling cards has given her a unique way to connect with people in the community. Additionally, this also allows Katie to give back to the community with the profits from her cards.

Katie has recently had hip surgery which has taken her out of card making commission.

Mom Sue and some of the neighbors put their heads together to see if they could come up with a plan to brighten her recovery. Sue suggested, “Since Katie will not be making cards for a couple weeks, I thought that it would be amazing if bright, beautiful cards made their way to her. Near and Far.”

“We have a world map up. Her sisters will open up the cards and we can mark on the map were they have come from. We have also created a box of inspiration. When someone sends a card if they could put in a single button or piece of ribbon – something cute that Katie can put on a card… That would be great. Once she is back to making her cards she will then have pieces of inspiration from everyone to put on her cards.”

“Please mark on the back of the cards were they are from. I know that Katie will want to look at each and every one for years to come. We are going to put the world map up in her room so she can always see it.”

If you feel like sending a card to Katie, which would be awesome, send them to:

Katie Philip
6898 Central Saanich Rd.,
Victoria B.C.
V8Z 5V2

Katie thanks you!


Emerging talent - Kristina Helene - Bengal Lounge 2014 · 24.11.14 by colin newell

Modern Chanteuse - Kristina Helene of Victoria B.C. Canada

I have been going to the Bengal Lounge for the quality atmosphere, entertainment, cocktail culture and great people watching since the early 80’s when I started attending to my post secondary education.

At the time many of the entertainers would have been middle aged men (aged 40 and up) tinkling away at an old piano and singing passable versions of the great American songbook. And yours truly, in his very early 20’s would have sat at the bar in a Harris Tweed coat, white cotton shirt, Hugo Boss tie and suitably matching pants… sipping on a skillfully mixed gin and tonic, hoping with all measure to look grown up.

Flash forward over 30 years and now, it seems, that the Bengal has an entirely new graduating class of star performers vying for our attention. Only difference is, the vocalists and accompanists of the 21st Century have some staying power… and talent.

A case in point: One Kristina Helene. A very-very early twenty something singer with vocal chops light years ahead of her chronological curve on planet Earth.
She dazzled a comfortably populated room at the Empress Hotel with a set of classics that would have been more at home in a much, much bigger club and audience in New York city or Chicago.

Accompanied by the very capable Thomas Kinzel on upright grande piano, Ms. Helene takes us on a sentimental journey of some of the greatest songs ever written – as originally performed by Sinatra, Andy Williams, Leonard Cohen, Bing Crosby and equally influential company. Her ability to finesse a song to greatness verges on the preternatural. Kristina has a sense of rhythm, timing and breath control usually reserved for artists twice her age – and yes, she started very young.

She performed three very tidy sets at the Bengal Lounge – and being the consummate professional gave her piano player a lot of room to showcase his ample grasp of the 88 keys. Kristina’s style defies exact definition in that she does not sound like anyone you have heard in the last 40 years or so. Names like Garland, Peggy Lee, Billie Holliday, Lena Horne and Nina Simone kind of popped into my head – but I could also hear a bit of Adele, Christina Aguilera and Amy Winehouse on a molecular level. It is quite unique. It is immensely exciting and demands your attention.

I had the pleasure of hearing Diana Krall play a small venue on Vancouver Island in the 80’s before she was discovered – this event with Ms. Helene felt exactly like that. So check it out!

Kristina Helene and Thomas continue at the Bengal Sundays from 7 PM until 10PM through December. Do yourself a treat and come down and check out what the future of jazz sounds like. Ms. Helene is a rising star that you should not miss if you have the opportunity. Check out her website over here – Kristina Helene has a stunning YouTube channel over here