Sherman's Food Adventures

Escape (Elements Casino)

I remember a time when one wanted to visit a casino and any accompanying eats, it would take an almost 3 hour flight to Vegas.  Well, I guess the flight would be shorter out of Bellingham (BLI), but that would imply flying on Allegiant.  Well, at least the fares are cheap!  I digress...  But fast forward to the present and we have an array of casinos that not only offer up hours of fun (costing you a pretty penny), there is food to be had as well.  To be frank, the buffets up here are just not very good compared to anything South of the border.  However, with an invite to Elements Casino to check out Escape Restaurant and their new direction, I guess I was going to find out if good eats could be had.

They were out to impress with a 8-course family-style meal that was really an 12-course (some courses were doubled-up with 2 different dishes).  We started with the Antipasto Plate consisting of grilled veggies, salami and basil.  Although a bit rustic in appearance, the salty thick-cut salami complimented the smoky veggies nicely (as they were rather bland on their own).  I would've liked to see the zucchini cooked a bit less though.  On the other hand, the accompanying Tomato & Bocconcini Salad was not lacking in the flavour department.  There was a considerable amount of balsamic dressing atop the ripe tomatoes and firm balls of bocconcini.  A nice pop was provided by the sundried tomato pesto which elevated the dish.

The next 2 dishes consisted of Pork Loin with grainy mustard apple sauce and Baby Back Pork Ribs with whiskey smoked BBQ sauce.  Depending on the slice of pork loin, it ranged from succulent and tender to dry and a bit chewy.  For me, I got lucky and had the juicy piece which sported a nice roasted aroma (well-seasoned on its own).  The grainy mustard apple sauce was slightly sweet, yet it lacked impact from the mustard.  As for the baby back ribs, they were generally tender, but with dry spots.  I did like that it wasn't overdone, so there was some meatiness left.  I found the sauce to be sweet and somewhat smoky but lacking in whiskey.

Moving away from meat, we dug into the Portuguese Paella with chorizo, shrimp, peppers, tomato and saffron.  Although this dish didn't lack flavour per se, we could detect very little of the saffron.  On the other hand, there was enough savoury elements including a mild spiciness and hits of tomato.  There was enough chorizo and well-prepared shrimp that made each bite fairly flavourful.  But the biggest issue other than the lack of saffron was the overcooked and soft rice.

My favourite dish of the meal was the Clams & Mussels in a cioppino broth.  Both shellfish were prepared just right where the meat was still buttery with a tender chewiness.  Hence, the mussels and clams retained a natural sweetness and brininess.  This was further enhanced by the spicy and tangy tomato broth which was not overly watery.  The flavours were appealingly concentrated.  Another solid dish was the Seared Salmon in bacon carbonara jus.  Although this looked really rich, the flaky and buttery on point salmon kept it in check.  Now with that being said, the sauce was creamy and purposefully salty.  A nice compliment to the beautifully prepared fish.

As if this meal needed any more food, we moved onto 2 more meat dishes. The first was Lemongrass Chicken with pineapple chutney.  Well-charred and smoky, the "just barely cooked" chicken was succulent and juicy.  It was well-seasoned and aromatic while the bits of pineapple added hits of tangy sweetness. Another surprising offering was the Smoked Beef Brisket with natural jus.  Presented on a wood board, we were treated to slices of juicy brisket.  The smokiness was not very strong while the exterior rub was on the saltier side.  Naturally, the point was more tender than the tip of the brisket.

Okay, the 2 plates we had been waiting for were left to the end.  These included King Crab Legs steamed with garlic and Snow Crab Legs with butter. Since it wasn't king crab season, these were probably frozen and hence, the meat stuck to the shell a bit.  Despite this, the meat was still fluffy and plenty garlicky.  As for the snow crab, the meat was soft with a rebound while being naturally sweet.  After this, we headed down to the buffet for some soft-serve ice cream (didn't take a picture since it wasn't that photogenic).  From the items we sampled, most were pretty good and some were definitely surprising.  Sure, some improvements and further refinement could be had, but not bad for casino food.

*All food, beverages and gratuities were complimentary*

The Good:
- Diverse array of dishes
- Generally on point with the proteins
- Spacious with a nice view of the track

The Bad:
- Some items could use further refinement
- Adding to the last point - flavours need some adjustment  

Vietnamese House

Do you ever see something that appears to be different, but in reality, it is practically the same?  Much like a poorly driven Corolla.  It looks different outside of Richmond, yet, it is still a poorly driven Corolla...  Well, that would be the case for Vietnamese House out on Hastings.  It was originally the first location of Thai Hang (the second is on Kingsway at Victoria).  From the outside, it appears to be a brand new restaurant.  However on the inside, it looks familiar including much of the staff.  Milhouse and I decided to check it out after Sunday hockey for lunch.

We wanted to go off the board, so we shared the Green Papaya Salad with Prawn & Pork as an appetizer.  Nicely plated, this was a substantial plate of food.  With plenty of crunch and bright flavours, it was indeed appetizing.  There was a good balance of sweet and tartness to go with the considerable amount of heat from the red chilis.  The ample shrimp were prepared properly being meaty with an appealing snap.  As part of our combos, we got some Spring Rolls as well.  As evidenced in the picture, these were rather puny in size.  However, they ate better than they looked.  With a legit crispy rice wrapper (that was not overly greasy), there was a crunch before heading to the moist and slightly sweet pork filling.  There was just enough onion for a touch of sharpness without being overwhelming.

For our mains, Milhouse went for the Phở Đặc Biệt that was fairly clean-tasting.  There was a noticeable star anise licorice finish to the lightly sweet broth.  Again, the portion size for this was generous featuring chewy noodles that were not clumpy.  The slices of meat were thin and tender while not being dry in the least.  This was a solid bowl of Pho.  For myself, I had the Grilled Lemongrass Chicken with Broken Rice.  Well-charred and also well-portioned, this was yet another solid offering.  Accompanying the chewy, while not dry, rice were 2 pieces of succulent and well-seasoned chicken.  There was noticeable caramelization of flavours as well as a proper brine as the meat was juicy despite being cooked with high heat.

On another visit, I decided to go off the board again with the Bun Mang Vit (Duck with Vermicelli).  I only took a picture of the duck atop cabbage and basil since the bowl of vermicelli and bamboo shoots was nothing much to look at.  This was an enormous amount of duck which was tender and plump.  Dipped into the ginger fish sauce, that was all the flavour that was needed as it produced hits of tang, saltiness and sharpness from the ginger.  As for the soup, it was a bit salty and I could definitely taste the pungency of the bamboo shoots.  For the table to share, we got a Fried Whole Tilapia ($10.00!) which was super crispy on the outside while still moist on the inside.  It also came with a ginger fish sauce dip.

Kaiser Soze decided on the Bún Bò Huế which, you guessed it, was extremely large.  Served in a clear bowl, it was also obvious they didn't skimp with the slippery lai fun and the ingredients either.  This was legit as there were 2 pork knuckles, pork blood and pork loaf to go with the rest of the sliced meats.  Although the broth was a bit mild in terms of spice, there was a nice background seafoodiness while the salt content was bordering on high.  Milhouse went for something similar to what I had last time in the Lemongrass Chicken and Minced Pork Patty with Broken Rice.  Yep, the chicken was the same while the pork was well-charred, sweet and juicy. Again, the portion size was more than enough.  After 2 visits to Vietnamese House, it was clear that they retained the portion sizes and reasonable pricing from Thai Hang.  We will be back for a 3rd visit sometime in the future.

The Good:
- Well-portioned
- Decent eats
- Well-priced

The Bad:
- A bit warm inside
- Broths could be more impactful

Maitri Bhavan Authentic South Indian Cuisine

Quite often, when we refer to Chinese food, most people would think of sweet & sour pork, broccoli beef and chicken chow mein.  Okay, that's Americanized Chinese food, but the roots originate from Cantonese cuisine, which represents only one province in China.  So when people think of Indian food, the same phenomena occurs where dishes like Butter Chicken, Palak Paneer and Tandoori Chicken come to mind.  Again, this only represents a small portion of Indian cuisine, specifically the Punjab region.  So when I randomly bought 2 coupons for Maitri Bhavan out in Surrey, it was my opportunity to get my Southern Indian food fix on.

I enlisted the help of Chill both times since I hate eating alone and yah, he's good company too...  For our first visit, we decided to start things off with a dish that interestingly isn't offered on their menu anymore.  It was Fried Shrimp bathed in a spicy sauce loaded with red onion.  Exhibiting an impactful and long-lasting heat, the dish was hot, but not enough to overwhelm the meaty shrimp.  Naturally, the amount of onion added a sharp pungency to the dish as well as some sweetness.

We each had a Dosa (mine was lamb) and we found it to be lightly crisp yet fluffy and soft throughout.  The filling was not overly spicy, but it did not lack flavour.  For me personally, there was just too much rare diced red onion.  It created a sharpness that dominated everything else.  The flavour was so strong, the lamb gaminess was mostly in the background.  With that being said, we still enjoyed the dosa as it was not heavy nor too dry.

We came back a few weeks later and decided to share 3 items from the rest of the menu.  Starting it off was the Chicken Biryani featuring 2 pieces of tender chicken that was a touch spicy.  The rice was chewy and dry while mildly flavoured.  In addition to the biryani, we also got the Fish Korma which was lightly creamy and nutty.  It was well-spiced exhibiting a mild heat.  We found the fish to be tender and flaky while being cooked just enough. However, we would've liked to see more of it as we were left with sauce after our first helping.

Lastly, we had the Eggplant Curry which was a delight to eat despite its small portion size.  The fried eggplant was tender while still lightly crispy on the outside.  Flavours once again were impactful with a low rumble of spice  Despite the spice level, the curry was still aromatic and nutty without being overwhelmed.  From these 2 visits, we were pretty happy with the food at Maitri Bhavan.  I guess it being Southern Indian rather than the usual we find everywhere else made a difference too.  Loved the service as well.

The Good:
- Bold and spicy
- Well-prepared proteins
- Nice people

The Bad:
- Modest portions
- Could've done with less diced (almost raw) onion