Sherman's Food Adventures

Ajuker Fried Chicken

We all know of the usual late night spots in town as well as the "if there are not other choices" options (ie. Denny's and *gasp* Knight & Day).  However, when it comes to meals after midnight, most do not head out to Coquitlam.  In fact, it is generally the reverse.  However, Sharon mentioned that I should try out Ajuker Fried Chicken out on North Road after Friday night hockey since they are open until 2:00am.  Hey late night (or early morning) fried chicken that doesn't involve Church's?  We were game!

So Milhouse and Lionel Hutz braved the journey East (where some people think there is an imaginary border at Boundary Road) to Ajuker Fried Chicken, which was not the easiest place to spot. "Ajuker" was written in small letters on the window...  We decided to go for all 3 versions of their fried chicken beginning with the Original.  Sporting a crunchy batter that was properly seasoned, the chicken itself was succulent and juicy.  It was also seasoned enough that we it tasted good on its own.  Now with that being said, the Soy version was even better with a good balance of salty and sweetness.  The flavouring didn't soften the crunchy batter while still offering up a flavour similar to soy butter in Japanese pasta.

The third type was the Spicy fried chicken and it was a bit too saucy for our tastes.  It was definitely sweet, spicy and full-flavoured, but it degraded the crunchiness of the outside and it was all that we tasted.  However, this was purely subjective and we suspect many people would still like this.  I do think their fried chicken is better than Dasarang at a lower price.  We didn't just eat fried chicken and called it a meal.  Rather, we also had the Spicy Cheese Rice Cake.  Texturally, these were good being chewy and soft enough without being gummy.  They were mildly spicy while being hearty with the abundance of melted cheese on top.

Our last item was the Fried Pork Cutlet that was absolutely a huge portion.  However, we weren't really big fans of it since the meat was super thin and dry.  The breading was good though being crispy, light and not overly greasy.  Despite the appearance of too much mayo, it didn't eat as such. Judging from the last 2 dishes we ate, we agreed that the fried chicken was the star.  Well-prepared and well-priced, this is the spot to hit up when one has the late night Korean fried chicken cravings.

The Good:
- Well-prepared fried chicken
- Reasonably-priced

The Bad:
- The other 2 dishes we tried were so-so
- Place is a bit run-down 

John 3:16 Malaysian Delights

My initial visit to the North Vancouver location of John 3:16 occurred a little over a month ago.  We had caught them on their opening week and it showed with an inconsistent meal.  From all the good things I've heard about the place, it was rather perplexing for me.  Fast forward to May and I was invited to a tasting organized by Sharon which would act as a fairly quick revisit to see if anything had changed.  So I joined a group of other foodies to sample a large selection of dishes (after already eating Indian food for lunch... *burp*).

Well, to do a complete comparison, it wasn't difficult as most of the same dishes I had in the first meal were present.  This included the Chicken Satay which was mildly charred.  They were well-marinated being sweet, aromatic and smoky.  I found the meat to be tender while not overly "wet".  The accompanying dip was also pretty sweet laced with peanuts.  Equally on point was the Roti Canai.  I found these to be even better than the last time.  Flaky and crunchy on the outside, these were soft and almost pillowy on the inside.  They were not greasy and the side of curry dip was flavourful with a rich coconut milk silkiness.

Continuing on the theme of improvement, I found the Pulot Panggang to be head and shoulders above the previous version.  These featured rice that was chewy and soft, yet not incredibly dry.  Inside, the filling was unchanged except it was also not as dried out, which meant the sweet coconut was moist and sweet.  Next we had the Ipoh Char Hor Fun topped with seafood.  I found the noodles to be on the firmer side, which was fine by me.  They were also not overly greasy.  On top, the seafood was on point while the starch-thickened sauce was rather mild-tasting.

We also had the Char Koay Teow with Chinese sausage and shrimp.  There was more caramelization and smokiness due to the lack of sauce on top.  The noodles were also firm, retaining their shape and chewiness.  There was obviously enough wok heat since the amount of grease was kept to a minimum.  By virtue of the wok-fried Chinese cured sausage, there was a certain saltiness and bite to the dish.  Our veggie dish consisted of the Sambal Okra, Green Beans and Eggplant that featured somewhat crunchy beans (some of them were a bit overdone) and on point eggplant.  This was tasty and savoury with a slight spice.

At first, we did not know what to make of the Curry Seafood sitting on the table.  It looked spicy, but in fact, it wasn't.  Rather, there was a bit of tang to go with the coconut milk and slight brininess.  It was pretty comforting where Jacqueline described it as a "warm hug".  There was no shortage of ingredients which made it quite hearty too.  For me, the best plate was the Kam Hiong Prawns.  These large suckers were de-shelled except for the end tip.  With a light batter, there was a consistent crunch that held in the moisture where the shrimp was meaty with a snap.  Flavourwise, there was a nice balance of caramelized sweetness combined with a touch of spice.

Now when I said the shrimp was the best, their Hainanese Chicken wasn't far behind.  Exactly as last time, the chicken was tender, moist and nicely seasoned.  The fried garlic on top added a nice essence and crunch.  I realize that there are many different versions of this dish (especially considering the different nationalities), but I would've liked a minced ginger condiment rather than the slivered version found here.  Our one rice dish was the Nasi Goreng and it featured chewy rice that was properly wok-fried.  I would've liked to see more impact from the seasoning as it wasn't particular memorable.

Okay, onto the dish I really didn't like last time, the Beef Rendang.  I realize that the meat is normally supposed to be dry, but not to the point where it was difficult to chew and swallow.  Thankfully, they improved upon that and the meat was dry, yet tender with more moisture.  Flavours were still good with the richness of coconut milk.  Last dish was the Kari Laksa which was solid.  It was mildly thick with the richness of coconut milk.  There was a light spice, but once again, I would've like to see more seafoodiness.  Overall, this visit was a marked improvement over the first one.  The food was appealing and well-prepared.  Definitely gives Tamarind Hill a worth competitor along Lonsdale.

*All food, drinks and gratuities were complimentary*

The Good:
- Solid eats
- Reasonably-priced

The Bad:
- Flavours could be amped up a bit more  

Sugar Mountain Catering at Arundel Mansion

Generally, the most obvious place for possible good eats is the standard full-service restaurant.  However, there is also a good chance that this can be found at a food court or food truck as well.  Heck, even some fast food outlets offer up some solid experiences.  On the other hand, we often overlook catering companies as we only ever think about them when there is a wedding or some corporate event.  So with that in mind, I was intrigued by the invite I received recently from Sugar Mountain Catering.  They were serving up an 8-course meal at the Arundel Mansion in New West.  I ended up joining Grace, Emily, Carolyn, Amy, Diana, Joyce and Kirsty

We began with an amuse bouche consisting of a Crostini graced with cured Roma tomato and basil encrusted chevre.  It was finished off table side by a drizzle of 25-year aceto balsamico.  If an amuse is supposed to whet one's appetite, then this was a success as it was loaded with bright acidic flavours.  The tomato was tart, sweet and impactful while the balsamic added another shot of sweet acidity with depth.  As for the chevre, there was enough of it to provide a creamy and smooth balance with the herbaceous hit of basil.  

Our first course was the Maple Hills Farms Free-Range Chicken Consumme with vermouth, spring morels, foie gras, mirepoix, vegetables and pate feuilletee.  Beyond the fairly thin crispy puff pastry, we found a broth that was steaming hot, yet very mild in flavour.  I did get some woodsiness from the morels and brightness from the crunchy veggies, however, a sprinkle of salt really helped bring the broth alive.  Next up was the Braised Fraser Valley Beef Cheek and Bone Marrow Custard with Italian parsley, fleur del sel, pink Himalayan salt, glace viande and grilled bruschetta.  This was hands-down a fan favourite.  Buttery and decadent, the custard hid little tender morsels of beef cheek that were like pockets of surprises.  Despite the full-bodied glace viande on top, the accompanying salt was necessary to amp the flavours.

Presented in a martini glass, we found Dungeness Crabmeat with grilled asparagus and Pemberton Valley fingerling potato dressed in a grain mustard vinaigrette.  There was no shortage of fresh fluffy crab that was nicely seasoned which gave way to a creamy mustardy finish.  The vibrant asparagus, tender potatoes and firm peas offered up different textures and sweetness to the dish.  A somewhat surprising dish was the Gulf Island Pink Shrimp Perogies.  It was garnished with wild Sockeye belly bacon, ikura caviar and sour cream along with truffle butter.  Despite being thick, the dumpling skin was tender and soft.  The buttery shrimp were nice, but did get lost amongst the dough.  There was a nice balance of seasoning where the sweetness of the shrimp was accented by the salmon bacon.

The only dish I wasn't particularly fond of was the Nori-Wrapped Tempura Ahi Tuna with shiso oil, uni cream and ponzu daikon sprouts.  The dish was beautiful to look at with the perfectly prepared tuna, but in terms of texture, it didn't work.  I found the tuna to be overly firm and underseasoned.  Despite the tempura batter on the outside, there wasn't the textural contrast I was expecting.  Furthermore, the uni cream was a no show, but the shiso oil was quite aromatic.  Onto another fish course, we had the Poached Filet of Smoked Wild BC Sablefish.  It was accompanied by half a Fanny Bay oyster, brandade gratin, fennel, bacon and rosemary infused veloute.  The buttery sablefish was smokey and salty.  This flavours were further reinforced by the aggressively seasoned and creamy veloute.  I really liked the buttery oyster as the brininess provided a departure from the salt.

With our last savoury course, we were served the Roast Rack of Salt Spring Island Lamb with Chianti syrup, sauteed fiddleheads and roasted spring vegetable couscous en cocotte. I really enjoyed this as the lamb was expertly prepared medium-rare.  Tender and juicy, the lamb was unfortunately a bit underseasoned.  Even with the syrup, it wasn't particularly flavourful. On the other hand, the rib portion of the lamb was more tasty due to the fat content and the proximaty of the herbs.  

For our sweet course, we were presented with a Dessert Troika consisting of Cashew and Cardamom-Spiced Love Cake with coconut ice cream, Jackfruit Tarte Tartin and Belgian Chocolate-Raspberry Pot de Creme. Interestingly, the pot de creme had a bit of a kick to go with the rich chocolate.  I liked how it wasn't overly sweet.  The same couldn't be said about the tarte tartin as it was sweet with a slight tang.  Not sure if the puff pastry base was that appealing.  As for the love cake, it was aromatic and moist with a bit of buttery nuttiness.  It went well with the creamy coconut ice cream.  At this point the meal had lasted over 3 hours, then again, there was 10 courses in all if we included the amuse and palate cleanser.  Overall, the food was pretty good, especially given the limited kitchen facilities of the venue.

*All food, drinks and gratuities were complimentary*

The Good:
- Well-executed proteins
- Fairly interesting menu

The Bad:
- Some dishes required more seasoning
- Due to the limited kitchen facilities, the meal was pretty long