I am partaking in a journey where I will appraise every non-franchise restaurant in town and review their food as well as their service. It is an attempt to expand my mind and appetite. Simultaneously, I will also be taking what I learn from these establishments and attempting to remake them with my extremely limited skill.
That’s Cariboo, not Caribou. It’s named after the region, not the animal. My spellchecker is freaking out. Let’s move on.
Last week, I was observing that my lunch reviews were about to come to an end, paving a short path to my dinner phase where the overall quality of the services would undoubtedly increase. Unfortunately, restaurants in Prince George are like serial killers…I know, that’ll require some justification. I mean it’s not like they’re claiming lives (although there had been a few close calls). So many restaurants here are nestled in corners, swathed in shadow. They have no advertising and look identical to the industrial shops flanking them. You could pass them without ever knowing it was a restaurant. You’ll notice the building but never know what was inside. Upon further research, I discovered another eight possible new locations, some I obviously missed. Alas, there were no hidden Persian, Thai, or Moroccan restaurants among them. I know most of them will have Americana playing overhead. I will be avoiding some on basic self preservation, like the restaurant wedged under the anus of the National Hotel, but it looks evident that I’ll have another month enjoying lunch.
Among the locations I should have remembered but overlooked was The Cariboo, next to the slightly upmarket Twisted Cork and the often frequented Chinese Store. Unlike Twisted Cork’s modern exterior, The Cariboo’s outer shell gave the impression that it hadn’t been renovated since 1978. The hours claimed it open at 11:30, a fact the older lady inside denied, and I was welcomed thirty minutes early. They exterior might not have been touched in forty years, but the interior looked had to have been recently renovated—a borderline sinister theme with minimalistic lighting cast dimly over burgundy carpets and upholstery with matching stained wood tables and chairs. I wanted to wander the establishment to find the requisite overweight Italian mobster and his cadre of bodyguards. The buffet sat behind me, and doubt I will ever see a more tempting assortment of food. There was actual steam rising from pots. Being Wednesday, they advertised Ham—which is an actual roll of real meat with glistening juices draped in pineapple, carving knife waiting for the eager. I instead asked for the menu and glanced over its frugal, though welcome, selection. Yes, I‘ll praise the Cariboo’s lack of a hundred different options. It didn’t read as confused or muddled, or attempting to please every person everywhere. Meat and seafood…that’s what they got. There’s a definite Greek influence here, reflected in the beef kebob I eventually ordered. The plate which arrived was covered but properly regimented with Greek salad on one side, rice on the rest, with the medium rare beef resting atop and garlic bread balancing precariously on the corner.
I’ll once again stress my preference of cubed feta over shred feta (this was shredded). The meat was decent but slightly inconsistent. One piece was rare and another was well done, a side effect of beef kebob. The garlic bread lacked garlic. Overall, the meal was enjoyable, having sampled much worse in the past year. The ambience was pleasant, though the slow country rock I could live without, jarring given the upscale decor.
The Caribou appeared to be a family restaurant attempting to peel those preconceptions away, but failing slightly. The tables didn’t have mugs and creamers, but they did have Equal packets. There were paper placemats but wrapped utensils with two forks instead of one, how aristocratic. I got the impression that for dinner service, The Cariboo strips these family compromises and attempts to be an upmarket bistro. Part of me wouldn’t mind seeing if this was true.
If you check online, you may read numerous negative reviews regarding the Cariboo, all recent, indicating that the location had gone through an ownership change and face-lift. I can’t comment on the accuracy of these claims. All I know is that as it stands now, the Cariboo is a fairly decent place to eat, easily standing out among the serial killers I’ve been visiting the last few months. I overheard someone getting a discount for it being their birthday. The delivered plate came to $13.95, slightly above the average but offering way more food over most other places. The service was initially decent, but quickly trailed off, as I was ignored for ten minutes with my plate sitting on the edge with the white napkin atop—the universal symbol for “cheque please”. I think the issue was the lack of staff, having only two servers for the entire establishment. The growing crowds appeared to require at least three.
Nothing can be more frustrating than being located beside competition. If wandering by this location, you would select Twisted Cork based purely on the frontage. Given the quality of the food, it would be a justified choice, but not by much.