Sherman's Food Adventures

Z&Y Shanghai Cuisine

Sounding more like a Pokemon game, Z&Y Shanghai Cuisine is yet another new restaurant within the Central at Graden City.  We decided to give it a try after Monday night softball since we were playing in nearby Oakridge.  Located behind the Nando's and adjacent to the Walmart Supercentre, we were impressed with the upscale decor and fairly attentive service.  However, with all things considered, the food is the most important part of any restaurant experience.  So, let's get right to it!

Okay, the Xiao Long Bao was not the first dish to arrive, but to us, it was the most important.  Any Shanghainese restaurant needs to nail this to be legit.  In some respects, they did with a thin and tender dumpling skin except the top twirl was thick and chewy.  Inside, the meat was moist with a slight rebound.  There was more than enough soup, but it was not exactly flavourful where there was only a small hint of sweetness to go with a natural meatiness.  We felt the Pan-Fried Pork & Meat Dumplings (Potstickers) were far superior featuring a medium-thick skin which was appealingly chewy.  It was fried up nicely with a crispy bottom while the meat filling was similar in texture to the XLB.  What really made this dumpling was the amount of juices inside.

The first dish to hit the table was actually the Julienned Pork sauteed in spicy bean sauce.  This is a item I generally like to order with a deep-fried bun, but we already had enough carbs.  So eating it by itself wasn't ideal, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  It featured large julienned pieces of pork that were buttery and had the desired bounce texture.  To add crunch, there was the usual wood ear mushroom and bamboo shoots.  The dish was mostly sweet with a mild kick at the end.  Since we ordered the Tea-Smoked Duck that came with steamed buns, it worked out as we used the buns for the pork.  This was partially due to the fact the duck was far too dry and chewy.  The skin was nicely rendered and crispy though while the smokiness was balanced.

Adding to the classic lineup, we had the Shanghai Stir-Fried Rice Cake as well.  This was a decent portion of chewy sliced rice cake that featured the proper texture.  The shredded pork was tender and the Napa cabbage was still crunchy.  Although the flavours were acceptable, I found the lack of caramelization made the dish rather plain tasting.  There needed to be more dark soy and a more aggressive stir-fry.  Normally, a bowl of Szechuan Beef Noodles is mildly spicy (in Vancouver at least).  But they didn't wimp out on the spice level with their version.  It featured a broth that was spicy from the first sip.  There was a numbing spice that came through with a vengeance as I decided to drink all of the soup from my bowl in one gulp.  Beyond the broth, the noodles were thick and chewy while the beef was plentiful and tender with a bite.

We also ordered the Ham and Vegetable Claypot Rice which ate and appeared more like a stir-fried rice merely plopped into a claypot.  Hence, there wasn't enough impact and rice crusting.  The nuttiness and aromatics were just not there.  With that being said, if we treated it as a fried rice, it was actually quite good.  Each grain was chewy and discernible while the flavours were impactful from the salty and fatty ham.  The vegetable remained crisp where it added a pleasing bright texture.  We ended off with yet another classic being the Slow-Braised Pork Hock with spinach.  This was visually-pleasing and actually ate rather well.  The skin and fat was gelatinous and on point while the meat was tender and moist.  However, the flavours were far too sweet and one note.  We all agreed that the food at Z&Y is passable with some highlights, but in the end, there are far better options for Shanghainese in Richmond.

The Good:
- Lovely decor
- The service we received was very good
- Reasonably-priced with all things considered

The Bad:
- Food is merely average

Dubh Linn Gate: Irish Pub

Wait...  Wasn't there just a post recently on Dubh Linn Gate Irish Pub?  Yes, I had been invited to a menu tasting a few months ago and came away pretty impressed with the food.  With a change in Executive Chef, I was invited back to do another tasting with a nearly complete revamping of the menu.  I was curious to try the new menu items as well as holding high expectations based on the last visit.  Turns out I should've brought my Joey Tribbiani stretchy pants because they didn't hold back with the selection of eats!

We were started off with the Mushroom & Barley Croquettes done in an Arancini-style and served with ranch dressing.  These were hot and crispy with the thinnest of breading.  They were not greasy at all and featured a creamy and mushroomy filling that had a bite due to the barley.  It was definitely different than using arborio rice, but I thought it worked.  It really didn't need the ranch dressing as they tasted great on their own.  With an intoxicating aroma, we were surprised with the Pulled Chicken Curry.  It was pretty legit-tasting being full-flavoured where we could taste the spices including the cumin and turmeric.  There was also a low rumble of spice accented by the nutty crunch from the almonds and brightness from the cilantro.  Although the grilled naan bread was not done in a tandoor (and we didn't expect that either), it was good for what it was being toasty, nutty and crispy with a chew.

Although the Smoked Ham Hock Mac n' Cheese didn't look like anything special, it was actually one of our favourites.  It consisted of Two Rivers smoked ham hocks mixed with pale ale aged cheddar cheese sauce and green peas.  The smoky and purposefully salty ham added plenty of punch to the creamy and full-bodied cheese sauce.  Loved the succulent ham and the pop of the sweet peas together as well as the crunch from the topping.  This was seriously tasty and if there wasn't more food on the way, I would've dusted this off by myself!  But alas, my absolute favourite dish arrived next in the 7 oz AAA Flat Iron Steak with peppercorn sauce, Brussels sprouts, sauteed Yukon potatoes, cabbage and bacon.  This was seared uniformly medium-rare and well-rested with a beautiful char.  Hence, the meat was juicy, ultra-tender and well-seasoned.  Even the veggies were on point in terms of texture and taste.

Of course we had to have some greens too right?  Well, not really, but since we were served 2 of them for the tasting, I had to do the obligatory sample.  The first was a familiar one in the Roasted Beet and Arugula Salad with red, golden and candy can beets, walnuts, poached pears and chevre tossed in a rhubarb dressing.  The thing I enjoyed about this salad was the variety of flavours and textures.  Some beets were sweet being roasted while the others were tangy being pickled.  The dressing was aggressive, but welcomed due to the creamy tang.  We also had the Cider Glazed Prawns and Grapefruit Salad, which was really all about the prawns.  They were large, meaty and exhibited a strong natural sweet prawn flavour and aroma.  The mint cilantro citrus dressing was refreshing and appetizing going well with the rest of the ingredients including pumpkin seeds, feta, avocado and pickled onion.

Back to the meat, we were presented with the Chicken Parmi sporting an Australian version with a breaded chicken breasts topped with tomato sauce and melted cheese served over fries.  This was really a simple dish where the chicken was aggressively breaded where the coating was crunchy and remained so despite the sauce.  The meat itself was a little dry but the amount of tangy sauce and melted mozzarella made up for it.  Loved eating it with the fries though as it was sorta like a chicken parm poutine.  Something just as cheesy was the Ham & Cheddar Toastie featuring Two Rivers nitrate-free ham on Swiss Bakery sourdough with aged cheddar, creamy apple spread and house made piccalilli relish.  This was loaded with ham and was extremely messy!  Lots of ooey gooey cheese to go with the wealth of sweet, tangy and salty hits from the ingredients.

Moving onto a different type of cuisine, we had some tacos.  The first to arrive was the Tacos de Carnitas with ancho-marinated pork butt braised in garlic, onions and limes.  This was pretty good with juicy tender pork that was flavourful from the braise.  There was a pointed spiciness and heat from the habanero hot sauce which was somewhat cooled by sweetness and sharpness of the pineapple salsa.  The amount of cabbage was just right providing a crunch and relief from the spiciness.  The second version was the Crispy Cod Tacos with beer battered Ocean Wise north pacific cod with guacamole, chili lime sauce, cilantro cabbage and pickled red onions.  The moist and flaky cod was enveloped in a crunchy batter while flavoured by the spicy and tangy chili lime sauce.  Layers of flavours appeared from the bright cilantro and acidic pickled onions.

On that note, we also had more cod in the Fish n' Chips with a humongous 7 oz. filet of the same beer battered cod atop house fries accompanied by tartar sauce and slaw.  Since the piece of fish was even bigger, the flakiness was even more apparent.  The fish was on point being super moist and tender.  Like the taco, the batter was crunchy, marginally greasy and nicely seasoned.  Underneath, the fries were uniformly crispy and were extra tasty when dunked into the creamy and tangy tartar sauce.  Even the slaw was on point being crunchy and easy on the dressing while still tangy.  I didn't get to one of the earlier appies until I tackled some of the mains.  This is where I sampled the Hummus & Olives.  Okay, nothing special here right?  Well yes and no.  The hummus was unique where they added harissa which added a je ne sais quoi quality to it.  There was a spiced Earthiness to go with the garlickiness.  The hummus was fairly smooth with a bit of textural chunkiness.

One of the last dishes to arrive was curiously the Brasserie Board consisting of Guinness Cheddar, Chevre, Rondoux, Bresaola, Two Rivers Ham Hock Rillette, pickled veggies, pickled egg, apple mustard, raisin chutney, beer jelly and Swiss Bakery sourdough.  This was a pretty board with plenty of things to share.  I particularly liked the Guinness cheddar as it was slightly tangy, rich and marginally pungent.  The shredded ham hock did its best impression of a chunky rillette.  The saltiness was tempered by finely diced onions.

Onto the sweets, I was pleasantly surprised by the Pot of Cheesecake baked in a mason jar.  Normally, one look at a dessert in a jar and I have this negative bias towards it.  But this was actually good with crispy graham cracker crumbs and a smooth cheesy mousse.  The ample sour cherry topping was juicy and not overly sweet.  As for the Flourless Chocolate Cake, it ate more like a rich ganache square.  This was not a bad thing because it was chocolately, purposefully sweet and appealingly bitter.  The sweet caramel sauce and raspberry compote were nice compliments in terms of sweetness and tang.  These were a delightful ending to a successful tasting.  Once again, the food was solid at Dubh Linn Gate, even with the changes.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Solid eats for a pub (and in fact any place)
- Good portions
- Moderately-priced

The Bad:
- Fries aren't bad, but for me, they are a little generic

Masita Korean Restaurant

I'm sure it is not lost upon most people that the price point of Korean food is on the higher side.  So much so, even my Korean friends wholeheartedly agree, especially JuJu.  Besides, he prefers home-cooking anyways because there is much more effort and care put into the food.  However, that doesn't mean he isn't always looking for the next best thing in terms of Korean restaurants.  After Sunday morning hockey, he suggested we give Masita Korean out on Kingsway in Burnaby a shot.  Seemingly transformed overnight, it took over the long-standing location of Pho Tan.

With a new paint job and some minor renos, we were welcomed into a clean space by the friendly purveyors.  One look at the menu and we were in complete shock.  No, it wasn't due to the high prices, rather, the prices were abnormally low.  Most meals were around $10.00 and with the grand opening 10% discount, it was even less.  With that in mind, we ended sharing some appies including the Masita Fried Chicken.  We opted for the regular version and it featured large nuggets of juicy and tender chicken that was coated with a crunchy batter.  It was nicely seasoned, yet a touch gummy in spots.  Something that was similar but not was the Ggan Poong Ki (Sweet & Spicy Fried Chicken).  It featured the same juicy and tender chicken with a crunchy exterior.  The sauce was minimal, so it was only a bit sweet with a light heat.  I would've liked just a touch more flavour.

Our last appie was the Seafood Pancake which was also $9.00.  We still couldn't believe the prices given that the portion sizes weren't small.  It wasn't greasy, but the pan-seared could've been more aggressive.  The texture was good though being light and almost airy rather than the common dense version we find at most spots.  Inside there was a moderate amount of seafood as well as the right ratio of green onions.  Of course we were treated to the usual Banchan which included seaweed, kimchi and stewed potatoes.  These were refilled when we finished them.  But it was more than enough as we were served 3 of each for the 5 of us.  The stewed potato was on point with a tender texture while retaining its shape.  There was just enough sweetness to go with the equal amount of saltiness.  The kimchi appeared to be freshly made so it was rather crunchy and lacked depth.  However, it still had enough spice to go with the predominantly sweet flavour.

For my main, I went for the Gamjatang (Pork Bone Soup) that arrived bubbling hot.  I was surprised to find 4 large and meaty bones.  Those 4 bones alone had enough meat to fill me up before I could even down any of the appies or banchan!  Most importantly, the meat was on point being tender, moist and lightly fatty.  It practically melted in my mouth.  The soup itself was super-flavourful being well-seasoned and exhibiting natural meat flavour.  I did miss the usual perilla seeds though.  Milhouse decided to go for the Masita Bulgogi with veggies and rice cake.  This was presented on a cast iron plate, but wasn't particularly sizzling much.  The meat was tender though while being on the sweeter side.  This went well with his bowl of rice, but the meat could've used a bit more caramelization and searing.

JuJu had probably one of the best deals of all with the Grilled Mackerel and Seafood Tofu Soup combo for $11.70 (after discount)!!!!!  The mackerel arrived first and it was decent in size and served with a wedge of lemon.  It was mildly seasoned and lightly smoky.  We would've preferred it to be a little more moist, but it wasn't dry either.  Bubbling aggressively, the seafood tofu soup was quite good.  It was well-seasoned being sweet and a bit briny.  there was plenty of soft tofu and bits of seafood to make it hearty.  This was also served with a bowl of rice that JuJu dusted off and had a refill.  For the price, normally, this would only get you an appie at any other restaurant if you were lucky.

Both Kaiser Soze and Gordo had the Bulgogi Rice with veggies, egg and rice cake served in a sizzling hot dolset.   Again, this was a good amount of food for the price.  Since the dolset was hot enough, the rice was able to form a crust.  Furthermore, the rice was not overly wet, so it had a nice chewy texture and subsequent nuttiness from the crust.  There was plenty of tender beef to be noticed in every bite.  Our meal at Masita was nicely summed up by JuJu (our resident Korean at the table) - decent Korean eats (good, but not great) for an unbelievably reasonable price.  Add in great service and good portions, we have a winner.

The Good:
- Decent eats
- Cheap
- Nice people

The Bad:
- There is better, but not at this price
- Watch the TV, if you are over 5'10, you will hit your head, I did!

Tempranillo

It's not a secret that I prefer savoury snacks and food more than sweets.  Now that is all fine and dandy, but I like to take it a step further where not only do I want to eat savoury dishes, I would prefer that we share as many as possible.  Does this sound like Dim Sum?  Why yes it does!  However, this post is not about Dim Sum, nor it is about Izakaya (they happen to be 2 of my favourite forms of eating!).  One of the most synonymous types of cuisine conducive to sharing is naturally Spanish Tapas.  Unlike the aforementioned Dim Sum and Izakaya, Vancouver is in short supply of tapas.  So it didn't take me much time to visit the newly opened Tempranillo with Steph.

Although there was only 2 of us, we decided to put a dent into the menu beginning with the Local Marinated White Anchovies with garlic, shallots, parsley and olive oil.  This was a super simple dish, but was one of our favourites.  In addition to their meaty and tender texture, the flavours were bright and appealing.  There was a balanced saltiness and tang that allowed the garlic and shallots to really come through.  Another solid offering was the Mule Driver's Cod with salt cod, piquillo pepper, potato, garlic and olive oil.  The concoction was smooth, yet not overly processed.  There was a purposeful amount of saltiness that gave way to an appealing Earthiness.  Once again, the garlic came through while the light sweetness of the peppers lay in the background.

Although the first 2 dishes were good, the Beef Tenderloin Carpaccio was hands-down the best dish.  It was topped with truffled potato foam and a 65 degree egg.  The thinly sliced beef was so buttery and smooth, I don't even remember chewing it.  The egg was silky and runny while the foam was nicely textured and only lightly truffle-inspired.  A few things I would've liked to see on the dish was more colour and some form of textural contrast.  Flavourful in a mild manner, the Octopus Salad featured a smoked paprika essence.  There was some zing from the sherry vinegar and plenty of garlickiness as well as a wealth of sweet sharpness from the onions.  As for the octopus itself, the slices were super tender and nicely seasoned.

Onto the most interesting, yet not particularly interesting to look at dish, we tried the Razor Clam Conversa.  These were harvested and canned immediately and carefully from the source.  I found them to be lightly briny and fairly natural-tasting.  The clams had a similar texture to canned abalone as well as exhibiting similar flavours with a meaty sweetness.  Looking more like a Pancit (Filipino fried noodle) than a Spanish dish, the Fideos or toasted short pasta with squid, piquillo peppers, octopus stock and parsley was quite good.  We found the noodles to be al dente chewy while tasting nutty, sweet and briny.  The pops of sweetness from the peppers added another layer of flavour.  Loved the tender squid rings strewn throughout too.

For our 2 meat choices, we tried the Saffron-Braised Chicken Thigh first.  It was topped with an almond picada.  We weren't that impressed with the dish as the chicken was fairly bland and dry.  We really didn't get any saffron nor did the picada do much to flavour the dish. I found the picada to be somewhat nutty and lightly sweet.  Lastly, we had the Marinated Tenderloin Steak with 2 sauces - Valdeon cheese and tomato pepper.  The steak itself was beautifully prepared being rare with a uniform doneness on the outside.  It was buttery and tender.  We found the sauce to be pungent, but not sharp enough to make an impact.  Some more acidity was needed to bring the dish alive.  Overall, we felt the first 6 dishes we ate were the strongest with the chicken being the weakest.  With that being said, Tempranillo is a good place for some bites with some bevvies amongst friends.

The Good:
- Relaxed and friendly service
- Smaller dishes were good
- Place is not too big and not too small

The Bad:
- Smaller dishes were stronger than the 2 bigger ones we had
- As with any tapas spot, prices can get up there if you order a lot (like us...)

Sushi Heaven

Sometimes, it seems like there is an inordinate amount of Japanese restaurants in certain parts of the Lower Mainland.  Take for instance Lonsdale in North Van.  It seems like every other restaurant is Japanese (whether it be run by Japanese people or not).  Ladner, as small as it may be, also had a relatively large selection of Japanese eats.  Another spot is New West as you won't have to look very hard to find one.  We decided to check out one of them in Sushi Heaven on Columbia this time around.

The first item to hit the table was the Assorted Tempura that was served in a wicker basket.  We found the batter to be razor thin which meant that each piece was crispy without being heavy.  I thought the zucchini was sliced too finely where it became more of a chip.  The ebi was quite nice though being buttery and cold-water crunchy.  For our specialty roll, we had the Black Dragon with the usual unagi atop a California roll and topped with bonito and tobiko.  Although there was a inordinate amount of sauce, it was mostly on the plate for one to customize their tastes.  The sushi rice was a bit on the softer side but still chewy while mildly seasoned.  The roll was well-constructed and generally non-offensive.

Instead of teriyaki chicken, we convinced my son to try the Chicken Katsu with rice and salad.  This was actually prepared on point with crunchy cutlets sporting tender and succulent chicken.  We found there was just enough sauce and mayo on top for moisture without making anything soggy or too sweet.  The accompanying rice was chewy and slightly dry.  Viv and I ended up sharing the Chef's Assorted Sashimi that consisted of almost everything (ika, hamachi, mackerel, Atlantic salmon, amaebi, tuna, tako, hokkigai, hotate, toro and sockeye salmon.  We found it vibrant and fresh-tasting with all the right textures and flavours. It was surprisingly consistent and appealing.  Overall, we found Sushi Heaven to be quite the little gem.  Sure, it isn't going to set the sushi world on fire in the Lower Mainland, but it is good for what it is.

The Good:
- Reasonably-priced
- Food is above-average

The Bad:
- Service was friendly, but a little bit slow

ClickDishes

Recently, I was invited to test out ClickDishes which is a new app that allows users to browse through a selection of restaurants, choose items from their menu, pay and subsequently pickup from the restaurant without waiting.  In fact, one can merely skip the lineup (especially long ones during the lunch rush), grab their order and go.  This time-saving service is especially convenient for those with short lunch hours or those who just hate lining up.  They launched their app at Harbour Centre in Downtown Vancouver where I decided to try their service out at 2 vendors.

The first was at a spot that I've visited before in Teppan Kitchen.  When they opened at 11:00am, I was able to select them on the app.  After looking over the menu, I selected my dishes and was given the option to customize (as in omitting the green onions).  I ended up adding a drink to each dish (as a combo deal) as well.  Once complete, I submitted my order and one can pay with any credit card linked to their ClickDishes account.  I was given an estimate when my order would be ready.  I strolled on over when prompted and everything was already bagged up and read to go with utensils, straws and napkins.  This was extremely convenient and easy to use.  Personally, I would prefer to eat Teppan Kitchen at the food court rather than using take-out (defeats the purpose of a teppan).  Not to worry though as the eat-in option of ordering will be available soon where it will simplify the trouble of splitting a bill.

Since I was there already, I tried out Hiro Japanese as well.  I followed the same procedure in ordering and since this was my first time trying it out, I will give some of my thoughts about it.  As you can see in the picture, the food wasn't fancy and really, it is a food court after all.  Sashimi was cut a bit odd and the nigiri was a bit messy.  However, it was definitely serviceable and there wasn't anything particularly amiss.  Fish was fine and the rice was decent with all things considered.  It wasn't expensive and since it was part of the ClickDishes service, it was quick and easy to pick up my eats. They are in the process of adding more vendors around the city and in fact, there are some that I really want to try out in the Metropolis food court.  They will be live starting in July and you will see me clicking dishes once again!

*All food and beverages were complimentary*