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Cookbook Review: SoBo’s Restaurant in Tofino, B.C.

Wed., July 23, 2014

The recipe for blueberry muffins from “The SoBo Cookbook” calls for one cup of blueberries. Find the recipe inside today’s Food section. (Adriana Janovich)
The recipe for blueberry muffins from “The SoBo Cookbook” calls for one cup of blueberries. Find the recipe inside today’s Food section. (Adriana Janovich)

Quick look: This cookbook comes from the destination restaurant on the wild, remote and rugged west coast of Vancouver Island, B.C., where the emphasis is on locally sourced, seasonal ingredients and casually elegant cuisine.

What’s inside: This vividly photographed volume features more than 100 recipes, which are divided by meal type: breakfast, soups, salads, hand-helds, snacks, mains, sides, desserts and staples. Early pages discuss the restaurant’s substance-before-style food philosophy – “No bells or whistles, just good food”– and offer cook’s notes on everything from coconut milk and curry powder to tahini, wasabi and watercress.

Short for Sophisticated Bohemian, SoBo started in 2003 as a purple – and popular – food truck, serving creative dishes fashioned from simple ingredients in a gravel parking lot behind a surf shop. Two years later, it moved to a local botanical garden, relocating two years after that to its current location in downtown Tofino.

The restaurant is run and owned by the husband-and-wife team of Texas-born chef Lisa Ahier, who studied at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, and New Brunswicker Artie Ahier. Andrew Morrison, editor of Scout Magazine and the Vancouver Cooks Cookbook, collaborated with Lisa Ahier on this cookbook. It tells the story of SoBo while paying homage to the laid-back, salt-air region. Vignettes detail each season in Tofino, where photographer Jeremy Koreski grew up. Local suppliers are listed in the back of the book, which is also sprinkled with anecdotes about some of SoBo’s favorite growers, producers and fishermen.

Simple but refined recipes spotlight local ingredients. Look for wild nettle and sorrel soup, smoked salmon chowder, and Dungeness crab and fennel salad. For breakfast, there are flaxseed and ginger pancakes, strawberry lemon scones and blueberry muffins. Appetizers include fresh oysters with champagne mignonette, crab and goat cheese wontons, and crab and corn fritters. For main dishes the focus is on seafood: left coast seafood stew, cedar-planked salmon with warm grains, salmon with sorrel sauce and layered potatoes, and seared scallops with sweet pea risotto cakes.

In her forward, Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan calls SoBo “one of my very favorite restaurants.” She writes, “I know this book will become a staple in my kitchen – a way to bring SoBo to me when I cannot get to Tofino and eat at the restaurant itself. … It is the ultimate modern comfort food, as (Lisa) is not afraid to embrace the richest ingredients from her Southern roots – like the coveted and lusted-after polenta fries, which are heaven from a deep-fryer … ”

The recipe for those famous polenta fries with Caesar dipping sauce is in the book, along with instructions for making the ever-popular killer fish tacos with fresh fruit salsa.

What’s not: Vacation days for Friday and Monday, so you can take a long weekend to make the 12-hour road trip from Spokane to Tofino and dine at SoBo.

Following is the recipe for SoBo’s blueberry muffins.

Blueberry Muffins

From “The SoBo Cookbook” by Lisa Ahier with Andrew Morrison

SoBo gets its berries from a nearby organic farm – Avalon Farms in Port Alberni, about a two-hour drive from Tofino.

I got mine on sale at the Spokane Fred Meyer on North Division Street, adding an extra cup to my double-batch, which was gobbled up by taste-testers. I found it took the full 25 minutes to bake the muffins and that the recipe was easy to follow. The result was simple and delicious.

2 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg

3/4 cup milk

1/3 cup canola oil

1 cup blueberries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a muffin tin with paper liners or grease cups with baking spray or a lightly oiled paper towel.

Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and incorporate them using a wire whisk. In a separate bowl, combine egg, milk and oil, beating with a wire whisk until frothy.

Make a well in the center of the dry mix, then pour in the wet ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon until just incorporated. Fold in the blueberries gently.

Use a spoon or ice cream scoop to fill the muffin cups to three-quarters full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.

Yield: 10 to 12 muffins (depending on how big you like them)

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