Sherman's Food Adventures

Elisa Steakhouse

For some, it might come as a surprise there is yet another high-end steakhouse setting up shop in Vancouver.  For others, it is about time we had more competition.  In reality, we can either say we have too many or too few steakhouses.  They essentially consist of Gotham, Black & Blue, Hy's, The Victor, Atlas, Chop, Joe Fortes, Glowbal, Carvers and CPrime.  I've been to them all and I would say only a handful are truly good.  Now the Top Table Group has thrown their hat into the ring with Elisa across from Blue Water in the former Milestone's location. We ended up going there for my birthday dinner.

We ended up sharing 6 appies including the Classic Beef Tartare with caramelized shallot aioli, crunchy onions, watercress and grilled bread.  This didn't look very interesting, but it couldn't be further from the truth.  The beef was buttery tender and well-seasoned.  There was plenty of aromatics going on where the shallot aioli was the proverbial icing on the cake as it provided a creamy sweetness.  This went well with the beef and the nutty grilled bread.  Something along the same lines was the Hand-Cut Beef Carpaccio with Harry’s bar sauce, arugula, pecorino al tartufo and burgundy truffle.  Thin and soft, the beef carpaccio retained a natural meatiness to go with the ample creamy sauce.  The classic earthiness from the truffle combined with the salty cheese created familiar flavours.

The best appie we had hands down was the Alaskan King Crab ‘robata style’ grilled over burning coals with rayu (chick pea, coriander and olive oil sauce).  Sure, it wasn't very big and yes it was pretty pricey at $30.00, but for us, it was well-worth it.  The crab was fluffy with a springy rebound.  It was naturally sweet with its classic brininess as well as a noted smokiness.  This was further amped by the Japanese chili sauce on top which was just spicy enough. The creamy chick pea puree underneath was surprisingly complimentary with an appealing earthiness.  Nipping at the crab's heels (do they have heels?), the Wood-Grilled New Bedford Scallops were equally good.   They were beautifully charred where the doneness was perfect.  They were buttery soft and sweet while accented excellently by the bright Thai-Style Salsa (tomatoes, lime, chili and cilantro).

Not to be outdone, the Cured Hamachi was beautifully plated and equally delicious.  It consisted of preserved lemon, coriander and soba, celery leaves and micro cilantro and thyme olive oil.  The buttery hamachi was so good on its own - very high quality and fresh.  But add in the acidity, smooth aromatic olive oil and the pronounced cilantro/coriander kick, there was a wealth of flavour to go with the natural sweetness.  We ended up getting a salad to fulfill our vegetable quota in the Dinosaur Kale Salad sporting quinoa, radish, fennel, marcona almonds, crispy garlic bread crumbs, florence fennel and toscano pecorino.  Nicely plated, the kale was tender while still retaining a bite.  Beyond the initial tanginess of the dressing, the fennel came through in the background.  Texturally, the crunchy bread crumbs and almonds added a robustness to the salad.

Onto our mains, my parents shared the Whole Roasted 3.5 Pound Chicken.  Before you literally get out the knives and carve up their decision, hear me out.  This was actually one of our favourite dishes of the night.  No joke.  I normally stay far away from chicken at restaurants, however, you won't be disappointed in this one.  First of all, it was absolutely huge, more than enough for 2 people.  Secondly, the whole thing was downright juicy including the breast meat.  Most of the skin was well-rendered with some crispy portions.  When dipped into the lemon, garlic, thyme, tarragon and burgundy truffle roasting jus, the chicken was absolutely #foodgasm worthy.  Subtle flavours, but impactful with aromatics and depth.  Yes, come for the steak and also order the chicken.  Trust me.

If there was one dish we were indifferent about, it would've been the Potato Gnocchi.  There was nothing inherently wrong with the gnocchi since they were fluffy with a light rebound.  The problem was with the black Tuscan Kale sauce.  It was far too dominant and frankly, too much of it.  It muddled up the flavours and overwhelmed the delicate gnocchi.  We did enjoy the ultra crunchy sourdough croutons as it added a needed textural contrast to the soft and softer.  My son went for Jacob's Ladder which was a large piece of red-wine braised Certified Angus Reserve beef short rib.  Some parts of the exterior were a bit chewy, but the rest of it was super tender and moist.  The braising liquid penetrated the meat completely creating a wealth of rich flavour and meatiness. 

For myself, I originally ordered the Holstein Dairy Cow bone-in rib eye, but they served me a Holstein Dairy Cow 10 oz Striploin instead.  Well, they comped it, so no harm, no foul.  This was prepared a perfect medium-rare and was evenly cooked on both sides.  The was a caramelized char and enough seasoning (including a red wine reduction) for impact without being salty.  What I noticed first was how beef the steak tasted.  There was a background funkiness that was appealing and rich.  Wonderful steak.  Viv decided on the Brant Lake Farm 6 oz. Wagyu Flat Iron which was more rare than medium-rare.  However, that wasn't a big deal it was buttery and tender.  Of course by virtue of being a flat iron steak, it was certainly meatier in texture.  There was obviously a rich meatiness and fatiness to the meat which was delicious.

We decided to add 5 sides including 3x Cooked Fries, Brussels Sprouts, Mushroom Risotto with black truffle, Onion Rings and Wood-Grilled Broccolini.  By far, the best of the bunch was the risotto.  The portion size was big enough as a main.  Best of all, the Acquerello Carnaroli rice was perfectly chewy, cheesy and seasoned.  The ample amount of mushrooms added texture and earthiness while the truffle did its thing (extra cost).  Fries were good being crispy as well as the onion rings.  They weren't greasy and the buttermilk dressing went well with not only the onion rings, the fries were good in them too.  Loved the balsamic vinegar and the chili flakes with the broccolini as it really made something usually bland into something that was a flavour bomb.  Brussels sprouts were good where they weren't overdone and of course tasty due to the brown butter and parm.

Onto to dessert (which was also comped), we had the Cinnamon Sugar Doughnuts with chocolate whisky toffee sauce.  Yes, these didn't look like much, but texturally, they were a lot softer than they appeared.  One bite and the fluffiness and almost custard-like middle meant these were like little clouds of joy.  The smoky and carmelized toffee sauce was not as sweet as it sounded, which was a plus in our books.  Also on the table, the Warm Valrhona Chocolate Cake was also on point.  It was soft and fluffy with a liquid centre of semi-sweet and slightly bitter chocolate.  It was accompanied by passion fruit, hazelnut crunch, cocoa nib tuile and salted caramel ice cream.  The necessary ingredient was the passionfruit as it added a refreshing tanginess.  Crunch was provided by the rest.

The prettiest dessert was the Baked Alaska with caramelized banana rum ice cream, browned butter cake, peanut butter cremeux, banana puree and candied peanuts.  At first, we thought the ice cream was too sweet, but it was really the torched meringue.  The hard and really cold ice cream was aromatic and purposefully sweet.  Loved the crunchy candied peanuts as well as the bruleed bananas.  Although pretty, I would say the other desserts were better.  But overall, the food at Elisa was well-prepared and tasty.  Sure, it isn't cheap, but completely in-line with direct competitors.  I would put Elisa far up the list amongst the steakhouses in Vancouver.

The Good:
- Gorgeous room
- Attentive service
- Food is generally on point

The Bad:
- Expensive, but par for the course
- Messed up my order, but made up for it

Lucky Dragon Palace

Most of us are familiar with the best spots to have Dim Sum in the Lower Mainland.  From the high end such as Chef Tony and Red Star to the good value Western Lake, there are actually quite a few to chose from.  However, there are a few relatively low-key places that can be considered neighbourhood favourites since most customers are regulars.  Let's just say tourists would not have these on their list.  One example is Lucky Dragon Palace on Victoria Drive.  Formerly Hei Lum Mun, Lucky Dragon is as low-key as a place can get which was the perfect place for us to meetup with Goose for Dim Sum on Boxing Day.

Since Goose, Mother Goose and my daughter were all under the weather, we felt a big bowl of Seafood Congee would be a good bet.  Even though it was almost $15.00, the amount of well-executed ingredients justified the cost.  Nestled within the silky and mildly-seasoned congee, we found large meaty prawns, buttery scallops and tender basa.  Every scoop from the large bowl yielded some form of seafood.  Next, we had the XO Daikon Pudding Cake which was on the greasier side.  Furthermore, the cubes were not as crispy as we would've liked.  There was a nice spiciness from the XO sauce though and the accompanying bean sprouts were still crunchy.

Taking a sharp departure from our usual choices for rice noodle rolls, we didn't have the shrimp, beef not BBQ pork.  Rather, we got the Mushroom Rice Noodle Roll as per Mother Goose's request.  Turns out she was on the right track as this was very good.  It was overstuffed with various mushrooms including enoki (which gave it a certain meatiness and robust texture).  The rice noodle itself was soft and delicate with only a slight elasticity.  Back to the regular, my son wanted the Donut Rice Noodle Roll and to his delight, it arrived without the dreaded green onions.  Again, the rice noodle was on point, but the donut was too dense albeit crispy.  A good amount of dried pork fluff topped the roll.

Onto some meat, we got the Beef Meatballs which were a bit paler than what we are used to.  They were fairly large in size <insert joke here> and mildly seasoned.  They definitely needed the Worcestershire sauce on the side.  Although the meatballs were tender, the texture was too soft in our opinion.  It was almost too airy where we didn't have much resistance when chewing.  There was almost no rebound.  One of my favourite dishes is the Bean Curd Skin Roll, so I decided to order it.  Seems like it must be only me because most times, no one else really eats it.  More for me I guess.  This one was pretty good with a chewy fried bean skin.  Inside, the pork filling was a little dense and a touch chewy.  I would've liked to see it more moist and bouncy.

Probably the worst dish of our meal was the Lo Mei Gai (Sticky Rice).  In actuality, there was nothing inherently wrong with the ingredients or the construction of the lo mei gai.  There was plenty of lean ground pork within the sticky rice.  However, the rice itself was pretty hard and dry.  So the problem here was cooking execution where they needed to cooked this much longer before wrapping and/or after.  Whatever the case, it wasn't good in the end.  Staying with carbs, the Sparerib Rice was absolutely enormous in portion size.  This was easily double the size of most other dim sum restaurants.  In terms of execution, the spareribs were pretty good being meaty with a slight rebound.  They could've been seasoned a bit more aggressively though.  Underneath, the rice was chewy (in a good way), but a bit dense.

So onto the Dim Sum staples, we naturally ordered the Ha Gau and Siu Mai.  Fairly large in size, the ha gau featured a medium-thick dumpling skin that was was chewy with an appealing elasticity.  Inside, the big pieces of shrimp were moist with a meaty snap.  There was some sweetness to go with the natural aroma of the shrimp, but more sesame oil and white pepper would've helped.  Large and served in a basket of 5, the Siu Mai were meaty and lean.  There was some rebound, but I would've liked to see a more buttery texture from the pork.  Also, there was a general lack of shiitake which would've helped vary the flavours more as the siu mai tasted mostly porky.  Whatever the case, this dish along with the sparerib rice, helped exemplify the portion sizes at Lucky Dragon Palace.

On that note, I was absolutely floored when the Steamed Honeycomb Tripe and Tendon was placed on the table.  Beyond the 2 small pieces of daikon underneath, the whole dish was crammed full of tripe and tendon.  Portion size is one thing, taste is another.  Fortunately, this was both as the tripe was in large pieces being tender with an appealing chewiness.  The tendon were also large in size retaining some texture while being soft.  The dish was mostly sweet with hits of garlic.  Exhibiting a similar flavour profile, but with a less goopy sauce, the Phoenix Talons (Chicken Feet) were pretty standard.  Nothing particularly wrong with them as the cartilage underneath was soft while the fried skin was tender.  They weren't as plump as I would've liked, yet as I said, pretty standard.

Inundated with plenty of chives, my son avoided the Shrimp Spring Rolls like he needed to clean his room.  Too bad really because they were actually good.  Yes, I agree that it was overkill with the chives, but the shrimp itself was bouncy and well-seasoned.  The roll itself was crunchy and not overly greasy either.  Now, he did attack the BBQ Pork Buns because that is one of his favs. This was a pretty textbook version with a fluffy exterior giving way to a sweet centre.  The pork was fairly lean and well-proportioned to the bun.  Overall, we thought that the Dim Sum at Lucky Dragon Palace was decent while the portion sizes were impressive.  Considering the reasonable-pricing and surprisingly good service, this would be a good alternative to the rest of the spots along Victoria Drive (yes, including Western Lake) if you wanted something different and/or the wait is too long elsewhere.

The Good:
- Reasonable pricing
- Large portions
- Decent

The Bad:
- Decent, but some items need improvement
- Very tight seating
- May need some renos

The Viet Noodle Guy

The prevalence of Vietnamese restaurants in Vancouver cannot be understated.  In certain neighbourhoods, one could find Pho every couple of blocks.  This is especially true on the East side.  The same cannot be said about the West side or in many of the suburbs not including Surrey and Richmond.  In fact, there are certain spots where it is a complete black hole when it comes to Vietnamese food.  That was the case around the Brentwood area in Burnaby until recently when Pho D'Lite opened up shop in the Whole Foods complex.  Now we have another player in The Viet Noodle Guy that also sports a separate Banh Mi shop upstairs.  I originally checked out the place twice in the Summer and once more recently in December.  This post is an amalgamation of the 3 visits.

Originally, on my first visit, the portion sizes were plain ridiculous.  A large bowl of Pho Dac Biet and Bun Bo Hue were almost too much food.  Yes, I could barely finish my BBH while Kaiser Soze didn't finish his Pho.  More recently, the sizes of both were more modest where there was less noodle (meats were almost the same). With all 3 visits, the pho broth ended up to be pretty consistent being clean and medium-depth.  It wasn't salty and had enough inherent flavour for impact.  The noodles and meat were on point each time.  As for my BBH, I've had it 2 times and I prefer it over the pho.  There was a briny spiciness that had plenty of impact and depth.  Although it lacked pork's blood and pork knuckle, the plethora of tender meats and slippery lai fun noodles made it fulfilling.

One of my favourite dishes at TVNG is their Fried Chicken Wings.  If you were thinking Phnom Penh, you would be wrong.  These were completely different, but good in their own way.  Each mid-wing was juicy and well-brined while the medium-thick batter was crunchy with somewhat rendered skin.  On the side, it was served with a lemon pepper dip akin to Phnom Penh but a bit more concentrated and thick.  I've ordered these every time I've visited.  We've had the Lemongrass Chicken and Fried Egg with rice twice (the one in the picture has pork patty as well) and it has been solid.  The well-charred chicken was juicy and well-marinated.  The portion size for the rice dishes were more standard.  It is a small detail, but the egg was fried just enough so the yolk was still runny.  Some places totally obliterate this.

As for their Banh Mi, you can eat in or get it for take out at their separate store upstairs.  I found their bread to be decent being crunchy while riding the line between dense and airy.  There was enough filling without being overloaded.  Flavours were good except one time, the pickled daikon and carrot were a little weak. Overall, Viet Noodle Guy is a solid place to grab a meal.  Portion size and quality are quite good while the prices are reasonable.  I've found the service to be rather friendly too.

The Good:
- Generous portions (a bit smaller now)
- Reasonably-priced
- Well-prepared eats

The Bad:
- Parking is not the best (parking lot is narrow)
- Usually a lineup (moves fast though)

Baiyulan Shanghai Cuisine

For the longest time, Chen's Shanghai Kitchen produced some of the best Xiao Long Bao in the Lower Mainland.  As for the rest of their dishes, it was rather hit and miss.  But that didn't stop me from going there because it was all about their XLBs (mind you, that was a bit inconsistent as well).  Similar to all of the other restaurants located in the same complex, they had to relocate due to redevelopment.  We now find them across from Lansdowne on Alderbridge Way under the name of Baiyulan Shanghai Cuisine.  We gathered up the family and met up with Uncle Willy for lunch.

Let's get right to the Xiao Long Bao first.  Since we had 4 hungry kiddies with us, we ended up ordering 4 steamers of XLBs.  These featured semi-thick dumpling skins where the twirl on top was reminiscent of R&H.  That meant it was doughy and chewy.  Inside, there was plenty of soup which was sweet and porky.  I found the meat filling to be moist, slightly bouncy and tender.  Practically the same amount of soup resided in the Pan-Fried Buns.  These looked rather flat and lifeless, but they were pretty decent.  I found the bun to be pretty thin and soft with a lightly crisped bottom.  Inside, the meat filling was pretty much the same as the XLBs.

By looks alone, the Beef Pancake Roll was rather pale and lifeless.  Well, looks were pretty much spot-on in this case as the pancake itself was thin, chewy and dry.  Inside, the sliced beef shank (wasn't very much of it) was okay though being nicely gelantized and tender.  There was just enough hoisin for impact, but they put far too much scallion as it overwhelmed everything.  Okay, if we stay with appearances, the Mung Bean Noodle with cucumber, chicken and peanut sauce was appealing to look at.  Texturally, there was not much to complain about as the noodles were slippery and chewy while the chicken was gelatinized and tender.  The problem was with the dressing as it was peanutty, but without any other flavours.

For the kiddies, they all wanted the Shanghai Stir-Fried Rice Cake, so yah of course we ordered it.  This was "okay" but had a few flaws.  There wasn't enough wok heat to properly caramelize the ingredients.  This was exemplified by the pool of water at the bottom of the plate.  Furthermore, the rice cakes were a touch soft as a result where it was missing the classic chewiness.  The dish did taste okay though as there was enough seasoning and dark soy.  Much like the other dumplings so far, the Pork Potstickers were not bad.  The dumpling skin was medium-thick with a bit of elasticity.  The bottom was decently crisped up while the pork filling was tender and moist.

Off to some noodles, we got an order of the Dan Dan Mein.  Normally, this dish is small and cannot be shared with more than a few people.  Not this one as it was pretty large with chewy noodles.  On top, the ample amount of peanut sauce with chili oil was thick, sweet and a touch spicy.  There was plenty of aromatics from the peanuts, but the whole thing could've used more spice and a balancing amount of saltiness.  They could've ease up with the amount of sauce too as the dish became goopy.  We also got one each of the Beef Noodle (not pictured) and Szechuan Beef Noodle.  These were even larger than the dan dan mein.  However, the beef broth base in both of them was pretty weak with very little meatiness and depth.  More salt was needed too.  However, the Szechaun noodles did have a good amount of spice and the beef was pretty tender.

Onto more dumplings, we had the Spicy Wontons and this was a decent version.  Beyond the delicate dumpling skin, the pork filling was moist, bouncy and not overly dense.  The major problem with the dish was the lack of spice and subsequent impact.  However, this could easily be solved with the addition of more chili oil that was available on the table.  Our last dish, the Chee Fan, curiously showed up at the end.  One look and it was obvious the reason why.  They had cooked the sticky rice just as we ordered it and before it had a chance to cool, they constructed the roll.  The result was a literal hot sticky mess that fell apart on contact.  It was disgusting and we couldn't believe they served it that way.  In general, the food at Baiyulan was lacking in one way or another.  The one saving grace was the dumplings as they were decent.  With that being said, there are better to be found in Richmond (ie. XLBs at Shanghai Wonderful and Pan-Fried Buns at Top Shanghai).  Considering those options and beyond, Baiyulan has to do a whole lot better to compete.

The Good:
- Spacious and inviting dining space
- Decent service
- Dumplings are decent

The Bad:
- Anything that wasn't a dumpling was not good

Citrus Bar & Grill

As much as Groupon restaurant deals can be hit and miss, it is still a great way to discover places that are not normally hyped-up.  In actuality, there are gems to be found such as Tenen in South Burnaby and Gyoza Bar (Travelzoo coupon) in Downtown.  Normally, I try to avoid restaurants that don't have, at the very least, a good rating.  However, for some inexplicable reason, I ended up picking up the coupon for Citrus Bar & Grill located in the Sheraton Four Points in Surrey.  Formerly an ABC when the hotel was the Ramada Inn, this had all the earmarks of a standard hotel restaurant.  Whatever, I wasn't paying full price...

We decided to start with a few appies including the Ale Pounded Cheese and Thai Chili Wings.  Served with grilled bread, the cheese dip was actually good.  It was thick and sharp with more than enough impact.  Sure, it had some elements of the dreaded "gas station nacho cheese", but it was much better than that.  The one real problem with this dish was the completely ridiculous amount of bread.  There should've been like 3 times more.  As our final bill showed, we had ordered the classic wings (buffalo-style), but the kitchen gave us Thai chili instead.  We didn't really care, but just had to point that out.  The wings featured well-rendered and crispy skin, but the meat was pretty dry.  There was just enough sauce without drowning the wings.

For our mains, I had the Chicken Schnitzel with a fried egg on top and a side arugula and grape tomato salad.  I liked how the schnitzel was aggressively crunchy and not overly greasy.  However, the chicken itself was rather dry.  Luckily for the runny egg yolk as it added moisture.  Would've liked to see a lemon wedge on the side to kick things up a notch because the chicken was lacking flavour.  I liked the salad, but it was woefully overdressed.  Viv went for the Gamelli Pasta with spicy Italian sausage, spinach, tomato and parmesan. This was one of the better dishes as the pasta was perfectly al dente and properly complimented by enough sauteed ingredients.  With that being said, the dish could've benefited from more salt as well as a bigger portion size.

My daughter also ordered pasta with the Meatball Linguine featuring rustic tomato sauce, basil, provolone and parmesan.  The promise from the description was never fully realized as the sauce tasted like any other standard tomato sauce except needing more salt.  Now don't get me wrong, the pasta was cooked properly and the meatballs were tender (and not dry).  So it was a totally acceptable dish, it just wasn't interesting.  For my son, he had the Pulled Pork Sandwich with pickled red onions and coleslaw.  Interestingly, there was no pickled onions to be found.  We thought the slaw was fresh and crunchy, but overdressed like my salad.  The pork was tender, but the BBQ sauce was more vinegary and sweet than smoky.  On the side, the starch-coated fries were crispy and potatoey inside.  In general, Citrus serves its purpose well being a hotel restaurant.  Food is acceptable and prices are fair.  However, I would put this on the same level as Boston Pizza.  Decent eats, but hardly exciting.

The Good:
- Low-key atmosphere
- Friendly staff
- Acceptable eats

The Bad:
- Would put this on the level of Boston Pizza, so acceptable, but don't expect anything more