With less than a month to go before our wedding, I've started noticing troubling changes in my fiancÃ©e. She seems increasingly moody and irritable - quick to argue over the smallest thing.
Not one to let a problem fester, I raised my concern over dinner.
"Is everything OK, Heather?"
"I'm fine," she said, pushing naked salad greens around her plate.
"'Fine'? That's code for 'not fine.' C'mon, what's the matter?"
She took a sip of club soda and looked at me as if to say something, then dropped her head.
"Did I do something to upset you?" I asked.
"Should I be helping more with wedding preparations?"
She just sighed and took a bite of dry melba toast.
"You're not having second thoughts about getting married are you?"
At this, she lifted her rheumy red eyes and said, "I'm hungry, dammit! I want to eat something filling, and I want a decent glass of wine. I'm sick of salad and soda water. I deserve more!"
I could feel her prewedding pain. For months, she has been denying herself, diligently tracking calories while training for the Times Colonist 10K and two half-marathons. Her efforts have paid off - she looks smashing - but austerity was starting to take its toll.
The poor dear was as hungry and temperamental as a wolverine emerging from hibernation.
I knew she needed my support, so I put down my mug of beer, pushed my plate of ribs to one side, and wrapped a loving arm around her.
"There, there," I said. Inexplicably, this only made things worse.
Words of encouragement were not enough this time, so I suggested we depart from our weight-loss regime and step out for cocktails and a real dinner. She perked up and agreed.
The following night, we headed to Aura Waterfront Restaurant + Patio, located on the ground floor of the Inn at Laurel Point in James Bay.
Aura has received a lot of buzz in recent years for its cocktail prowess, stylish lounge and exceptional food. In addition to its postcard-perfect view of Victoria's Inner Harbour, the design and contemporary dÃ©cor is elegant without being contrived. A polished Italian onyx bar glows with honey-hued warmth, and recessed walls, backlit partitions and minimalist furnishings create an intimate atmosphere ideal for evening cocktails or fine dining.
Regrettably, the actual temperature of the restaurant this night was cool to the point of chilly. Every woman seated next to a window had a shawl draped around her shoulders, so we opted to give up our gorgeous view in favour of body heat.
I warmed up once I saw the cocktail menu and beer and wine list. Clearly, the folks at Aura appreciate the meaning and value of "local." All beers are from Victoria breweries, the majority of wines are from B.C., if not Vancouver Island, and several cocktails employ artisan gins from the Victoria Spirits distillery in Saanich.
In keeping with that, I started with an "Old Fashioned Metchosin," combining Victoria Spirits Oaken Gin, orange, maraschino cherries and a dash of Victoria bitters.
This "Island style" take on a classic cocktail is a curious and enjoyable interpretation. The sweet and sour elements blend smoothly with pronounced notes of juniper, citrus and myriad spices.
I suggested to Heather that she order the "Butchart Gardens," a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, vodka, muddled grapes and elderflower, but she was having nothing to do with it.
After months of fasting and working out, she wanted the kind of cocktail that could satisfy her burning sense of entitlement. She ordered the "Dragon Alley," combining espresso vodka, Baileys, cacao, espresso shot and cream, topped with three coffee beans. I don't think I've ever seen a woman smile so much.
The smiles kept coming with appetizers of calamari and mushroom risotto, followed by main courses of grilled duck breast and seafood linguine, and an artisan cheese plate for dessert. Mercifully, the portions did not disappoint.
Scanning the wine list for something to pair with all the above, I spied one of my favourite Island whites - Alderlea Vineyard's 2010 Pinot Gris.
This full-bodied Cowichan Valley wine has big tropical fruit and citrus flavours, as well as peach and apricot, and sufficient acidity to make it a suitable companion for all our courses.
As for my romantic companion, she finished the last of her wine and cheese with a satisfied look that reassured me she could get through a few more weeks of salads and club soda, knowing that it's OK to occasionally cheat with a well-deserved night of good food and drink.
You've earned it, girl.