Note to self (and those reading this post): when going out on the town in Victoria on a Saturday night, be sure and get to a downtown restaurant early or make a reservation! We had a funny start to our evening, being turned away from three potential dinner spots around 7 p.m. because they had no room for us (and 1-2 hour waits).

Luckily for us, there was room at the bar at Catalano in the Magnolia Hotel (and it was a place we had scoped out earlier in the day, so we were happy to find room). We generally don’t mind sitting at the bar to eat, and this bar itself was quite beautiful with deep wood finishes, dark leather, and a great liquor wall.

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We took advantage of being at the bar by talking to our lovely female bartender and ordering her recommendations for the night. I tried her “bloody parlay” – a mix of apricot liqueur, dark rum and blood orange. Dave tried the Old Fashioned and a Manhattan. We were also joined by one of Dave’s work colleagues and he tried a couple of local beers, and his favourite was the Blue Buck.

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On to the food… which was a great surprise and incredibly tasty all around. We are in Victoria for the “Dine Around” tourism event. Participating restaurants are offering Prix Fixe menus at $20 – $50. Catalano is offering a $30 choice and I decided to go for that to try something really new. My course began with a Lobster Bisque (always one of my favourites). It arrived looking very pretty, and I could really taste the lobster and saffron creme fraiche mixed in with it as well. A lovely start.

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Then, our mains arrived. I chose something really out of the ordinary on the Prix Fixe menu for me – Braised Rabbit with Crisp Brown Butter Gnocchi and Caramelized Squash. I have never had rabbit before, and it was braised beautifully (kinda tasted like chicken!). The gnocchi was a real highlight for me as well. It was handmade (and you can tell), pan-seared and pillowy soft with a creamy center that made me almost think it was polenta.

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Dave chose the Beef Short Rib Paparadelle. It was a huge serving of the short rib that was melt in your mouth delicious. And, again, the homemade paparadelle noodles were perfect. It was almost like a beef stroganoff, only fresher and more refined. He loved it.

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Our dining companion chose the Prawn Linguine and it he ate every last bite and raved about it – even though he is usually a basic meat and potatoes kind of guy. The portions at Catalano are really large, so we all felt like we really got our money’s worth here.

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Finally, I rounded out the evening with my last Prix Fixe course – the dessert trio of flourless chocolate cake, creme brulee and lemon ricotta fritter. Dave and I both thought the creme brulee was out of this world (light and lemony) and each of the other desserts were quite yummy as well.

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For a night where we were struggling to find a place to eat, we felt we really lucked out at Catalano. We tried lots of new things to eat and drink, enjoyed the ambience at the bar and overall had a wonderful evening! It was definitely a happy accident.

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