When you're a restaurant critic, a frequent question you face is "What is your favourite food?" which is a bit like asking someone who writes about music to name their favourite song.
One thing I can say with conviction is that I would have a very difficult time giving up Indian food.
I tend to make my own as I have found most of the Indian restaurants in Victoria to be somewhat disappointing.
Each have some good items, but overall portions are small and too often dishes are clearly made with the same base sauce, meaning everything tastes the same after a while.
A few years ago, my former editor, who shared this view, told me he and his wife had found the exception in Nanaimo. One visit to Amrikko's by the Sea and it became a regular stop whenever I was near Departure Bay.
The owners have now expanded up-Island but, fortunately, their latest location is on the outskirts of Victoria. My friends Tammy and Dylan didn't have any expectations when we visited -- but for different reasons.
Tammy, like many people, was somewhat wary of Indian food, fearing that it might be too hot, while Dylan, who hails from Britain, simply found Indian restaurants here didn't measure up.
The parking lot was nearly full when we pulled in at 5:30 p.m. Once inside, we had but a moment to savour the aromas before we were seated with a smile and menus featuring typical Indian dishes, others originally adapted for British palates and some that seemed to be created for Canadians, such as spicy chicken wings.
We began with mixed appetizers ($12) plump vegetable samosas filled with potato and peas spiced with cumin and mustard seeds, and two kinds of spiced Indian fritters -- white meat chicken pakoras bound in gently spiced batter and earthy mixed vegetable pakoras had bursts of cardamom. All three dishes were a refreshing change from the typical local versions, which taste less like they were made on site and more like they came from Costco.
The remainder of the menu presented the usual dilemma in a good Indian restaurant, namely how to narrow things down so you don't wind up with more dishes than your table can hold.
Chicken tikka masala is perhaps as Indian as crispy ginger beef is Chinese, but all the same it's a personal favourite.
Chunks of boneless meat are seared in a tandoor, then bound in a rich tomato based sauce spiked with ginger, garlic and a variety of spices.
There is no standard recipe for this dish and some versions are creamier and more along the lines of butter chicken than others, but Amrikko's version is closer to a Balti curry, with chunky pieces of onion and peppers, and gentle but persistent bit of heat which was easily managed by Tammy with the addition of raita, a yogurt-based condiment.
Though it was the one hot dish we ordered, neither Dylan nor I found the Goan- inspired lamb Vindaloo really met that definition, though it was by no means bland.
We were impressed by how the individual flavours came through the heat and agreed we would simply order it extra hot on a subsequent visit.
We rounded out this section of the meal with an good biryani, a spiced rice dish dotted with vegetables and prawns that we were impressed to find were not overcooked; channa dal, a chickpea dish that like all the others was a good balance of heat, spice and texture, and a couple of types of naan bread.
By the time we were pushing our plates away with regret, we were astonished to find that we had been there less than an hour.
Service was consistently attentive and though everything arrived quickly, we never felt rushed.
It took a while before we could think about dessert, but we eventually selected gulab jamun, a dish featuring fried milk balls in warm syrup scented with rosewater and Kulfi, the Indian version of ice cream.
The verdict? We plan to return.
The menu will accommodate a variety of palates, portions were good and service was superb.
The only things I would like to see change are the addition of thalis, the Indian version of a combo plate. Without this option and an average price of $12 for a curry, visiting here on your own could quickly become an expensive endeavour, so you might want to round up a few friends before visiting.