Sherman's Food Adventures

Jimmy Mac's Roadhouse

Continuing on the theme of "restaurants that we pass by but never ate at", we ended up at Jimmy Mac's Roadhouse.  For all the times we have shopped at the Walmart in Renton and all the times we drove by on our way to Feast Buffet, it was about time we actually went inside Jimmy Mac's.  After playing mindless games at the nearby Family Fun Center (trying to collect points for useless prizes), we made our way to Jimmy Mac's for a late dinner.  The Texas-style diner encourages you to chuck your peanut shells onto the floor, so yes, the place looks like a mess, but has its charm.

Not to stand out and not fit in (although we looked like the Huangs from Fresh off the Boat at Cattleman's Ranch), we did gather a bowl of Peanuts and proceeded to throw them at each other and litter the floor.  Wait, let me rephrase that, the kids and I chucked them at each other.  Viv did her best Jessica Huang impression and played no-fun mom.  Also complimentary, we were served their sweet and warm Yeast Buns with enough butter to rub onto Kramer (check the turkey episode).  We couldn't stop eating them!  Onto our first actual appie, we got the Hot Wings that were surprisingly served with skinny fries.  I'm not sure where they get their wings from, but they were gigantic.  Beyond the slightly thick batter, the meat was tender and juicy.  We thought that the wings weren't hot enough where the glaze was more butter than hot sauce.  Loved the ample amount of blue cheese dip on the side, they didn't skimp!

For my main, I went for the Campfire Cheeseburger with Swiss, cheddar & Jack cheeses, bacon and a crispy onion ring slathered in BBQ sauce.  Again, this was pretty large as well and even the amount of pickles and lettuce was excessive.  No matter, I enjoyed the combination of ingredients as it was hearty and definitely not lacking flavour.  The well-charred patty was a little dry though, but the rest of the stuff inside did help alleviate that.  The bun was soft, but held everything together.  I liked the steak fries as they were meaty with lots of potato texture.  Oh and serving in on a hubcap was pure awesomeness!  My son decided on the Pulled Pork Sandwich that was of course, large.  He could only finish half of it.  The pork was on the drier side though, but flavourful from their top secret pig pucker sauce.  It was more of a sweet vinegar glaze rather than a BBQ sauce per se.  It actually helped lighten up the heaviness of the pork.

For Viv, she was disgusted with all this gluttony and decided on the small size of the Boulder Grilled Chicken Salad.  This sported greens tossed with cheese & chili-lime vinaigrette, tomato, avocado, onions, sliced chicken breast, black bean corn salsa and sour cream.  She was shocked that this was a small as she didn't finish it either.  It was definitely hearty while the flavours were a bit conflicting in her opinion.  The sweet and vinegariness of the dressing was fine, but didn't seem to go with the random splashes of BBQ sauce.  Otherwise, things were fresh and the chicken was tender.  For my daughter, she wasn't very hungry and ended up with the Kid's Fish & Chips.  This was not bad since the cod was fairly moist and flaky.  However, the batter was a bit thick and parts of the fish touching that was a bit dry.  Alright, the food ain't refined nor was it particularly healthy, but for me, the place has charm.  Big portions and reasonable prices, I would go back.

The Good:
- Big portions
- Reasonable prices
- Peanut shells on the floor!

The Bad:
- Greasy

Kizuki Ramen & Izakaya (Southcenter)

Although it isn't a "must visit" restaurant when it comes to the Seattle food scene, I've been trying to eat at Kizuki Ramen & Izakaya for the past 5 years or so.  Since my kids love ramen, it has been in my back pocket as an eating destination if the situation arose.  Well, we just didn't end up needing it and my several visits to Seattle a year didn't yield any visits to Kizuki.  Finally, as we were heading South on the I-5 towards our hotel in Renton, we figured that it would be best to avoid the height of Seattle rush hour and hightail it to Kizuki at Southcenter instead of eating in the North and being stuck for who knows how long.

Since we arrived in the middle of the afternoon, the place was calm and we got a great seat facing the mall.  To start, we got an order of the Chicken Karaage and Pork Gyoza.  Personally, I like my pieces of chicken karaage to be a bit more bite size due to many factors.  One of which is that there is less chance of under cooked batter.  The large pieces we had here did suffer from that.  Mealy and doughy, some of the batter in the cracks were indeed undercooked.  However, being larger in size, the dark meat was tender and juicy.  The slightly spicy mayo underneath was a good compliment to the chicken.  As for the gyoza, I found them to be acceptable.  They were smaller in size, but that was absolutely fine.  The dumpling skin was medium-thick while the bottom was somewhat crispy.  I enjoyed the tender meat filling as it was well-seasoned with the right amount of greens.

We also got the Tuna Mayo Onigiri which was "okay".  I thought the rice was nicely textured being chewy and dry enough.  Everything held together alright without chunks falling all over the place.  Inside, the tender morsels of tuna were plentiful and we liked how there was minimal amount of mayo.  However, the whole thing didn't taste like anything.  I realize it isn't supposed to be a flavour bomb, but really, it was completely devoid of flavour.

Onto the ramen, my son decided on the Garlic Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen (limited quantities) with an extra rich broth spiked by tonnes of garlic.  That promise was completely realized when we tried the broth.  It was silky, super garlicky and definitely porky.  Although the shoyu was definitively there, it was completely brushed aside by the ample garlic.  Noodles were chewy and didn't soften too much and the egg was perfectly runny and well-seasoned.  The one large slice of chashu was smoky and charred, but since it was lean, it was a bit chewy in parts.  However, one could add pork belly instead for $2.00 more.  For myself, I had the Spicy Miso Ramen with a rich pork broth, Hokkaido miso paste and garlic paste.  This broth was also silky, garlicky and full of umaminess.  It wasn't really all that spicy though.  Again, the egg and chashu were the same while the portion size was on the smaller side.

My daughter wanted to do something different and had the Chicken Rich Ramen with large chunks of chicken, yau choy, bamboo shoots, a whackload of green onion and egg.  Again, the promise of a rich chicken broth was completely valid as the fatty oil slick added body to an already thick broth.  There was no mistaking it was chicken and the level of umaminess was high.  I would say that all of the broths so far were tasty, but on the saltier side.  We were not that enamoured with the chicken as it was dry and lifeless.  Viv stayed on the same theme but went lighter with the Shoyu Chicken Ramen with the same toppings as the rich ramen minus the egg.  Furthermore, the broth was clear and devoid of the oil slick.  As such, it ate as a clear broth that was still flavourful, but with much less impact.  Overall, we enjoyed the food at Kizuki.  It wasn't the best we had, but above-average at the very least.

The Good:
- Above-average broth
- Friendly service
- Okay pricing

The Bad:
- Not really an izakaya considering the menu options
- Chicken meat was dry

Brunch @ The ARC (Fairmont Waterfront)

After a fabulous stay at the Fairmont Waterfront as part of the Talking Trees Package, we were treated to brunch at The ARC Restaurant downstairs.  It was hard to pack up and leave the luxurious digs we were afforded, but as they say, all good things must come to an end...  Having a chance to dine at the ARC was a good thing because I haven't been back since they re-branded from the ol' Heron's.  One thing is for sure, their dining space is still awesome with floor-to-ceiling windows with a view of the waterfront.

We ended up sharing some appies to start including the Grilled Humboldt Squid with fried chickpeas, arugula and charred red pepper sauce.  The large piece of squid couldn't be any more tender.  It was buttery soft, yet at the same time was still appealingly chewy with a nice rebound.  Although the red pepper sauce was pleasantly sweet with a slight bite, the dish could've used more pop.  Creamy and rich, the ARC Chowder featured Ocean Wise certified fish and clams, roasted vegetables, double smoked bacon and Yukon Gold potatoes.  This was super chunky and yes, ate like a meal.  The fish was cooked perfectly being flaky and soft while the ample amount of clams were buttery.  Other than the brininess, there was the smoky saltiness of the bacon as well as the crunch of the veggies.

Not really an appie, but certainly ate like one, the Breakfast Nachos featured fried tater tots, bacon, scallions, two organic eggs, black beans, cheddar, Monterey Jack, mozzarella, sweet and hot peppers and fresh cut salsa.  I mean, what's not to like about perfectly fried crispy tater tots?  Try slapping on the aforementioned ingredients as well as 2 perfectly soft-poached eggs.  Lots of flavour going on including sweet, salty, smoky and spicy to go with the silky egg yolks.  Yes, one person could eat this as a main, but ideally this is best shared.  If one was really hungry, the Longshoreman's Breakfast would be the best choice.  It consisted of two fried organic eggs, Kaseller ham, griddle sourdough toast, maple pork belly, Postmark IPA chorizo, smashed potato cakes and heirloom tomato salad.  Nothing much to say other than that all of the components were well-prepared.

For myself, I tried something different in the Lamb Shakshuka with spicy lamb sausage, organic eggs, grilled pita bread and chermoula.  This was much more impactful and flavourful than all of the other dishes so far.  Beyond the initial tangy tomato, I could definitely get the cumin and harissa.  The lamb sausage was meaty and slightly spicy.  Loved the silky and runny egg yolk which helped provide balance.  On the side, the chermoula added a soothing garlicky lemon hit.  My daughter also went for something off the brunch menu in the Wild Mushroom Roesti with shredded potato, wild mushrooms, spinach, Emmental cheese and two sunny side up organic eggs  This was hearty and cheesy with the aromatics from the crisped up potato as well as the earthiness from the wild mushrooms.  Despite the absence of meat, this was fulfilling and full of depth.

Viv decided on the regular lunch menu with the Seafood Linguine.  At first, we were wondering why it was $32.00, but the ample amount of dungeness crab leg meat made it more palatable (literally and figuratively).  It was super cheesy and creamy with al dente noodles.  No absence of flavour and the seafood was on point.  Loved the pops of tang from the tomatoes.  My son went for his ol' standby with the ARC Smoked Brisket sandwich with salty pretzel bread, house mustard, provolone cheese and thousand island dressing.  This was pretty good with tender slices of fatty brisket  Lots of complimentary flavours from the ingredients within firm enough bread to keep things together.  The side of fries were on point being crunchy and hot.  Overall, there isn't much to complain about the food and atmosphere of the restaurant.  Prices are definitely on the higher end, but that's what you get considering the location and overall ambiance.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Location, location, location
- Gorgeous dining space with floor-to-ceiling windows
- On point execution

The Bad:
- Pricey

Talking Trees Tours + 3-Course Indigenous Inspired Dinner (Collaboration between Talaysay Tours and the Fairmont Waterfront)

If a first-time visitor to Vancouver asks you where should they stay and what should they do, there are some pretty standard answers. If we talk about activities, we get the usual Capilano Suspension Bridge, Science World, Grouse Mountain, Granville Island and of course Stanley Park. Now if one wanted a more unique and truly local experience, many of these would be classified as "touristy". However, I recently participated in something a bit different with the Talking Trees Tour by Talaysay Tours. They have partnered up with the Fairmont Waterfront to provide a complete experience including a stay at the hotel and a 4-course dinner inspired by the Tour.

Let’s talk about the tour first. It is run by Talaysay Tours by mother and daughter team Candace and Talaysay (it is named after her). The Talking Trees tour focuses on the indigenous foliage in the area (in this case Stanley Park) and their many uses by the indigenous peoples. This is only one of the tours that are available. Back to the Talking Trees Tour, we were shuttled by the hotel to meet up with Candance and Talaysay in the Stanley Park train parking lot. From there, we made the short walk to one of the trails. For roughly 90 minutes, we were taught how various trees and plants were used not only for medicinal purposes, but how were used for food and building materials. This was a low impact walk with many stops and also hot tea near the end.

After being shuttled back to the hotel, we had some time to refresh before heading down to The Arc restaurant for a 4-course dinner consisting of local ingredients and items found on the Talking Trees Tour. We started off with an Amuse Bouche consisting of an Oyster with herring roe, kelp and hemlock & eucalyptus emulsion. This was a simple bite that was briny and sweet with a background herbal essence. Next, we were presented with the Elk Tartare with elderberries, blackberries and hazelnuts with a side of bone marrow sabayon. As lean as the elk tartare can be, this one was still buttery soft and tender. The bone marrow sabayon added the necessary fat to create body and add a meaty flavour. Loved the little pops of sweet tangy berries as it added sweetness and acidity. Normally, I don’t talk about flatbreads very often, but the one here was perfect, being fluffy and soft with a firm exterior char.

Onto the main dish, we had the West Coast Salmon Kedgeree with wild rice, 63 degree egg and madras curry veloute. It was suggested we mix everything together including the salmon. So we mashed everything up into a dirty rice of sorts and yes, it was very good. Loved the firm chewy rice and the tender flaky salmon along with the silkiness of the egg and aromatic creaminess of the veloute. There was just enough curry for aroma without overwhelming the salmon.  For dessert, we were served Fry Bread (Bannock) with berries and dark chocolate mousse.  Coated in cinnamon sugar, this was a crunchier and chewier version of a churro.  Naturally, the blueberries was a nice add to the dessert while the chocolate mousse was light, creamy and semi-sweet.

Another great thing about the Talking Trees package is that it includes a one-night stay at the luxurious Fairmont Waterfront starting from $514.00 based on double occupancy. We were put up in a Signature Harbor Stanley Park View Room with a fabulous view of the Stanley Park and the North Shore.  Tastefully appointed with plenty of space, the room featured a 47" flat-screen TV and a comfortable Sealy Posturepedic king bed (2 doubles available too).  Our bathroom came with a large rain shower, but could be had with a bathtub as well.  Toiletries were Le Lebo Fragrances branded under the Rose 31 line.  They were a large 90ml size and I barely put a dent into them for one night.  Soap bars were plenty big as well.  Yes, they did not skimp on anything.

Probably the best feature of this 20th floor room was the outstanding view.  I caught myself just staring out the window on many occasions.  However, with its convenient location across the street from Canada Place, there was no reason to just sit in our room (despite the cold weather).  Even then, the heated outdoor pool was beautiful (with also a view of the harbour) and warm enough to use.  But in reality, a quick dip into the adjacent hot tub kept things from getting too frigid.  Overall, I thought the Talking Trees package was original and well-priced.  Starting at $514.00CAD (Fairmont City View Queen), you not only get a stay at the hotel, it includes a 3-course (4-courses with the amuse bouche), walking tour and transportation to and from Stanley Park for 2. Worth checking out if you are a visitor to the city or live in the city itself.

*All food, beverages, tour and hotel stay were complimentary*

The Good:
- An experience that is original and truly local (not too touristy)
- Well-priced inclusive package
- Thoughtful indigenous-inspired dinner

The Bad:
- If you have a car to park (other than electric), it will cost you $49.00

Ugly Dumpling

Some say we eat with our eyes and some go even further to say that if the food ain't pretty to look at, it isn't worth eating at all.  For me, I do enjoy a nicely plated and composed dish, but really, it is all about the flavours and execution.  Don't even get me started on this because many of the most delicious Asian foods are not particularly photogenic.  That is basically the concept at the newish Ugly Dumpling which took over the ol' Merchants Workshop.  With Japanese and Chinese influences, the menu is definitely Asian-inspired, but really it is all-over-the-place.  Yes, the food isn't particularly IG worthy, but again, if it tastes good...  Recently, I visited the place with Steph.

We decided on the 10-course tasting menu priced at a reasonable $60.00.  Wine pairings were very affordable at $30/$40 (3/4 pours).  We were started off with the a pair of Marina's Gold Oysters with cedar-aged vinegar and horseradish.  This was a simple starter, but sometimes, simple is better.  We found that the vinegar and horseradish was purposefully restrained where the natural sweet brininess of the oyster really came through.  The oyster itself was creamy and delicate.  Next, we had the Winter Greens Salad with soba crackers, pickled grapes and miso dressing.  Not overly complex on the surface, the salad ate typically until we got to the pickled grapes.  Beyond the sweet tanginess, there was a pointed fermented taste that was akin to kombucha.  Add in the crunch from the crunchy soba noodles and the salad was pleasant texturally as much as it was taste-wise.

Accompanied by toasted bread, sunchoke, carrots and radish, the Chicken Liver Pate was creamy and aromatic.  It was definitely on the sweeter side where it didn't really go with the sweet wine pairing.  However, on its own, the silky-smooth pate was a great compliment to the earthy sunchokes.  One thing that cannot be overstated is that they did not skimp on the portion size of the pate as there was more than enough for the bread and crudites.  Now the place wouldn't be called Ugly Dumpling if they didn't offer up what we had next - Curry Pork Dumplings with vegetables.  No, they weren't ugly.  In fact, these were firm and tightly wrapped which kept the filling from being too loose.  The meat was tender with texture while the veggies weren't overdone, which kept the everything from being mushy.  Loved the thin dumpling skin as it was delicate with an appealing elasticity.

Probably the most IGable dish was the Pine Mushroom Omelette with a side of king mushrooms.  If there was ever a time where I could compliment the chef on perfect execution, this omelette would be it.  Expertly folded and fluffy, the egg was teetering on the edge of barely cooked.  Sweet with earthiness provided by the mushrooms, each piece of omelette or should we say tamago, was a tasty cloud of fluffy heaven.  Topped with the nori and green onions, the House-Cured Mentaiko and Egg Bowl was another subtle but tasty offering.  Texturally, the chewy rice was beautifully enveloped by the onsen egg which created a creamy silky "glue".  The ample amount of cured mentaiko added a salty-brininess.  The umami quotient was kicked up a notch with the nori and the green onion provided brightness.

Continuing the theme on seemingly simple dishes, we had the Steamed Ling Cod with XO sauce.  This normally is accompanied by peanuts, sambal and dried shrimp, but with Steph being allergic to peanuts, we did without them.  Buttery and soft, the ling cod was perfectly prepared.  Beyond the usual savoury soy notes, the XO was pretty low-key where we knew it was there, but the spice and brininess was not overly strong.  This may have been intentional because the ling cod could've been overwhelmed otherwise.  Technically, our last savoury item was the Homemade Zaru Soba.  In terms of texture, the noodles were excellent maintaining a firm chewiness.  The side of dipping sauce was mild and balanced.  It wasn't to salty and exhibited the umaminess of bonito flakes.

Not to waste the dipping sauce, we were presented with a thermos full of fish broth to mix it with.  We simply poured as much as we wanted into the small bowl (naturally, more for mild and less from a bit saltier).  This was neat and supposedly good for our skin.  We finally made it to dessert where we were presented with Coconut Mochi with red bean and Quince Vanilla Pudding.  We found the mochi to be nicely textured with a bit of chewiness to go with equal parts fluffiness.  What threw us for a loop was the quice vanilla pudding as the little nuggets of tender quice were purple due to being poached.  What really made this dessert appealing was the pudding as it was rich and creamy.  Not too sweet either.  All-in-all, the food we tried at Ugly Dumpling was pretty solid.  Yes, nothing was particularly ground-breaking and honestly, to Asians, it can even be considered fairly typical.  But prices are fair and service is good.  Worth a try.

The Good:
- Reasonably-priced with all things considered
- Solid eats
- Servers seem to really care

The Bad:
- For some, the food is nothing ground-breaking

HaiDiLao Hot Pot

At one point in time, the hot pot game in the GVRD was limited to eating at home and the occasional AYCE restaurant.  It wasn't known as a destination at all and frankly, the lack of service and drab decor made for a basic experience.  However, as with most things, time has changed all that.  We now see a whole spectrum of choices when it comes to hot pot in the Lower Mainland.  Mixed in with the usual AYCE spots, we now find high end hot pot chains setting up shop, particularly in Richmond.  Haidilao is the most recent addition in the old HML location.  This Chinese chain boasts outstanding service as well as high-quality ingredients.  Miss Y and I decided to check it out early one evening before heading to Riverport for a movie.

When I say early, I meant we showed up at 4:30pm.  Even with that, we waited for 20 minutes for a table.  When we left at 6:30pm, there was a 2 hour wait!  Seeing that is a regular occurrence, they offer freshly popped corn, grapes and Werther's for patrons to snack on while they wait.  During this time, the staff was always checking in on us making sure we had something to drink and were comfortable.  Once our table was ready, we were seated and handed an iPad to do our order.  It was like buying something on Amazon, where we added things to our cart and then after we submitted it, the food began to arrive.  Ever since I spotted the 4 different soup bases in one pot on IG, I knew that we had to get it.  In addition to the basic Pork Bone Broth, we also had Tomato, Mushroom and Spicy.  We agreed that the tomato was the best being a bit thick and aromatic with a fragrant tomato essence.  The pork bone was pretty standard while the spicy was impactful, but not tongue-burning.  The mushroom was definitely full of umaminess, but probably the weakest of the bunch.

Before we even got to the food, we helped ourselves to the Sauce Bar that set us back another $3.99 per person.  In addition to the impressive array of sauce and ingredient options, we found some snacks such as spicy peanuts, pickled veggies and edamame.  Right beside it, there was some fruit such as oranges, grapes and pomelo.  Consistent with the service, the sauce bar was kept stocked and sparkling clean.  If someone made a mess (which they did), someone swooped in and got rid of the evidence faster than Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction.  As for the food that we had ordered, we decided on the Beef Rib which was pricey at $26.00, but oh was it worth it.  Each medium-thick slice was buttery soft and tender.  It had a great meaty taste and the even marbling of fat created a certain richness.  We also got the Sliced Lamb and it was also very tender.  It wasn't super gamy probably because it wasn't too fatty.

We decided to go strong with the seafood starting with some Fresh Oysters.  At first, I thought we only got 5 oysters, but they carefully placed 2 small oysters per leaf.  These were really good being buttery soft, appealingly briny and sweet.  By virtue of being smaller, these cooked a whole faster than the large ones you'd find at AYCE hot pot joints.  Loved how they were kept on ice which meant we were in no rush to cook them all at once.  Beautifully arranged, the Assorted Seafood platter was also kept on ice.  There was a nice selection of shrimp, mussels, cuttlefish, basa and scallops.  Once again, the quality of the seafood was top notch.  This was especially true the scallops as they cooked up plump and sweet.  While we were enjoying our seafood, one of the servers offered to de-shell the shrimp for us.  She took the seafood away and brought it back with the shrimp perfectly de-shelled with the head still on.  Yes, the service rocks.

We also got a few smaller items including Lotus Root, Rice Cake, Beef Tripe, Napa Cabbage and Assorted Mushrooms.  These weren't particularly expensive in the grand scheme of things and really, the prices at HaiDiLao are not out-of-line with the rest of the higher end hot pot restaurants.  Nothing particularly special about the these items other than the fact that the beef tripe was rolled up and then sliced.  Overall, we thought the experience at Haidilao was special enough to warrant the higher prices.  The service was almost too good where we could've been left alone at most times.  However, we'll gladly take it over indifference.  Food quality was high while the seating arrangement was comfortable.  Definitely worth a try, just be aware that the lineup can be ridiculous during peak times.

The Good:
- Over-the-top service
- High food quality
- Comfortable experience

The Bad:
- Pricey
- Lineup is scary