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Food and Drink

A tale of the tail of the ox



In a word, “euuw” was my reaction (“gross” wasn’t in the vernacular yet) when I was a kid and saw a tin of Campbell’s oxtail soup on a grocer’s shelf. Behind the red and white label I pictured a coiled-up tail, a cow tail really, for I’d never seen an ox never mind its tail, still covered in brownish hide, the hairy tuft intact at the end, floating in dark broth.

I must have been as fascinated as I was repulsed, for I recall quietly asking my mom about this oxtail soup and how it was made, and if it really had an oxtail inside. She explained that it wasn’t made from oxtails any more, but beef bones and left it at that.

All of these memories surfaced last week when we were staying at the Wickaninnish Inn plunked right on the beach at Tofino. This is a newer, more uptown version of the old cedar-sided Wick Inn that used to be on Long Beach until it was razed by fire in the mid-90s and was converted to an interpretative centre for the park. The only thing the same is the name, and a similar, spectacular view, for the McDiarmid family has branded the place inside and out with quality, including the kitchen, where chef Andrew Springett, who is leaving shortly, put the Wick on the culinary map.

Everything we ate there — the mango mousses, the trademark seafood “potlatch” — was spectacular. But the one dish that had me close to swooning was the oxtail soup. Consommé, to be exact, with such a deeply meaty and rich, complex flavour that it seemed out-of-this-world that it was carried in such a clear broth.

Each spoonful was restorative, in the sense of the original meaning of the word “restaurant”, mainly because we’d been out all day on Chesterman Beach, chasing the waves and the gulls, with salt spray and spring rains chilling us to the bone.

When I ordered my oxtail soup, my mother’s words echoed in my head, and so I asked our kind waiter to check and see if really was made with an oxtail, for if there ever was a place that would serve an such an authentic dish as this in B.C., this was it, or Sooke Harbour House.

And it was. A genuine oxtail, fresh from a ranch in High River, Alberta, south of Calgary, was at the heart of it all.

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