Pho Lu

As much as the heat outside was not conducive for slurping on a bowl of hot Pho, that was my wish for lunch.  Tired of all the unidentifiable chunks of fried food eaten in the past week, I had to get something soupy.  Costanza wasn't too hot (sorry for the pun) for the idea, but really, don't they eat Pho in Vietnam in the scorching heat anyways?  He stated that majority ruled, and yes, he was in the minority... So off we headed South of Disneyland over to Pho Lu.

Viv had the large Phở Đặc Biệt and it was a modest portion size with "just enough" rice noodles.  They were effectively firm enough while being slippery and not clumpy.  Again, there was "just enough" meat that was mostly tender and fatty.  As for the broth, it was quite mild with some meatiness, equal sweetness and a strong licorice hit from the star anise.  We thought it was an "okay" bowl of Pho. I went for the Dry Noodles and the meat sauce was mostly sweet (in fact, too sweet).  The fried shallots added both texture and aromatics while egg noodles were chewy and nicely al dente.  I found the modest amount of seafood was prepared properly where the shrimp exhibited a snap while the squid was not overly chewy.

I added an order of Spring Rolls (since I wasn't full) which were pretty good with a firm crunchy rice wrapper.  The meat was moist and flavorful from the fish sauce and onions.  The side of lettuce, mint, perilla leaves and pickled carrot were a nice addition.  Wrapping the spring rolls in the lettuce made us feel healthier...  LOL...  Overall, we thought the dishes we tried at Pho Lu to be "okay".  It did the trick, but we've definitely have had better.  Now the one thing that really left a lasting impression was the lack of service.  Yes, Asian restaurants are famous for that, but we really couldn't even flag down anyone for anything.

The Good:
- Open late
- Food comes out fast

The Bad:
- Modest portions
- Service, what service?

Pho Lu on Urbanspoon

Pho Thai Luong

Here we go again...  The turnstile of restaurants, otherwise known as that hidden location inside the plaza on the Southwest corner of Nordel and Scott Road, has continued turning.  With yet another Pho joint (the 3rd in the past half year), Bookworm and I decided to try it out, like all the other ones so far.  Now named Pho Thai Luong, there was at least a few tables filled unlike the other times. Maybe they might last more than a few months???  I surely hope so, for the sake of the owners!

We decided to both try out the Pho on this visit. On my first sip of the broth, the hit of saltiness and extreme flavour was an indication of MSG.  Despite being too salty, there was a natural meat taste that is more often than not missing from most Pho in the city.  I found the noodles to be toothsome and not in a clump.  The meats were rustically cut as they were jagged.  Hence, some where not as tender as it should've been.  Furthermore, I found the amount of meat to be sparse.

On a repeat visit, I decided to try a few more items including the Grilled Lemongrass Chicken & Pork Chop on Rice.  This was a substantial amount of food that sported 2 large pieces of meat.  I found the chicken to be lightly charred while well-seasoned with a definite lemongrass hit.  The meat itself was sufficiently moist and tender.  Unfortunately, the pork chop was dry and chewy which could probably be attributed to its thickness.  It was well charred and seasoned though.  Fluffy and chewy at the same time, the rice underneath stood up to the moisture.  I also tried the Grilled Pork Banh Mi and it was fantastic.  Crusty, airy and nicely toasted, the baguette held up to the considerable amount of pork inside.  The pork itself was well-charred and fatty.  Hence, it was smoky, flavourful and succulent.  To be frank, Pho Thai Luong isn't much better than the previous 3 Vietnamese restaurants at this location.  However, that doesn't mean the food isn't acceptable.  My hope is that they stick around.

The Good:
- Friendly people
- Okay eats
- Okay prices

The Bad:
- A bit heavy with the MSG
- Pho needs more meat

Pho Thai Luong Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Roland's on 4th

When I first got an invite to try out Roland's on 4th, I immediately Google mapped it.  Oh okay, it took over the old location of Hell's Kitchen...  Honestly, my memory of Hell's Kitchen was vague at best (probably not memorable at all), so I guess the changeover was inevitable.  With a different approach that stresses the importance of things made-in-house, Roland's tries to offer a little of something for everyone as exemplified on their diverse menu.  For this food adventure, I enlisted the help of both Miss Y and Whipping Girl. 

Of all things, Miss Y wanted something with vegetables to start (curse you Miss Y!), so we began with the Oven Roasted Beet Salad with slices of red beets, arugula, feta cheese, and mango onion salsa.  The tender slices of beets were slightly tart, smoky and sweet.  However, to change things up a bit, there was an acidic spiciness from the salsa that livened up the flavours significantly.  With the saltiness from the cheese, there was a good balance.  Next up we tried the Braised Beef Poutine consisting of home-cut fries, true Quebec cheese curds and beef in a red wine demi.  We really liked this dish as the demi was flavourful and rich with a definite red wine essence.  The beef itself was super tender and moist.  Although the fries were a little dark, they were crispy and starchy.

Next, at the insistence of Whipping Girl, we tried the Mussels in a red coconut curry served with a French baguette. I swear she could eat mussels everyday and be happy...  Anyways, the "broth" was more like a thick sauce meant for a side of rice.  That wasn't a bad thing though as the abundance of coconut milk ensured that it was creamy and aromatic.  There was no absence of spice either as the flavours ended off with a lingering kick.  The honey mussels were buttery and plump where they exhibited their own natural sweetness.  Trying to sample something from every section, we got their 5-Spice Duck Pizza with spiced duck breast, red pepper, red onion, crushed wonton, mozzarella, ketjap manis, sweet chilli sauce and cilantro.  We found the crust to be thin, chewy and a touch dry.  The combination of ketjap manis and sweet chili emulated an almost hoisin effect except not as sweet, rather with more tartness.  The duck was meaty and 5-spiced as advertised with a hint of anise and cinnamon.

Onto an interesting concoction, we sampled the Showbiz Burger consisting of an in-house made 8oz beef patty, jalapeño bottle caps, crispy prosciutto, mac n’ cheese patty, aged cheddar, onion tanglers and roasted garlic aioli on a fresh baked bun served with a deep fried pickle.  Although the patty was not overcooked, it was still on the dry side (possibly being too lean).  We liked the idea of the fried onions, but they were a bit hard.  The spicy tart pop of the fried jalapeños was memorable and probably the most impactful ingredient.  For me, I had to get the Braised Lamb Shank slow roasted in red wine and herbs with potato anna, red cabbage and lemon wilted kale.  The meat fell-off-the-bone and was gelatinous and moist (except for some exterior portions).  The red wine jus was impactful and was unmistakably wine tasting (with no alcoholic aftertaste).  Although only a side, the kale was really good being bright and acidic.

Lastly, for dessert we tried the Cookie Sliders and Moochie Banana.  Up until this point, the food was pretty decent, however, the desserts were quite pedestrian.  The cookie sliders were almost an afterthought with in‐house baked chocolate chip cookies topped with ice cream that were drizzled with caramel and chocolate sauce. Not bad, but not something anyone could do at home.  As for the banana fritter, it was okay with a crunchy exterior and a combination of banana and chocolate on the inside.  It was pleasant and not overly sweet.  Overall, the meal was pleasant enough at reasonable prices.  The only weak spot was the desserts.

*All food and beverages were comped excluding gratuities*

The Good:
- Okay portion sizes
- Well-priced
- Decent eats

The Bad:
- Desserts need to be elevated

Roland's on Fourth on Urbanspoon

Tour de Feast

I can't deny my love for little hidden gems, especially out in the 'burbs.  Hey, I'll say it again and again - why dine at the obvious places, such as chain restaurants (although some are decent), when you can eat something original at a smaller place for about the same price?  Yes, take the plunge and be adventurous.  Otherwise, it is easy to be trapped into visiting the same restaurants over and over again.  I remember I used to do that in my University days...  Not necessarily a bad thing (as repeating at good restaurants is a great idea), but there are so many interesting places to visit!  Hence, I gathered up the family and the grandparents to try out a little French bistro called Tour de Feast in North Vancouver.

Arriving first was the Octopus 2 Ways with tender braised octopus and deep fried octopus rillette cake accompanied by squid ink crème fraîche, salmon roe, frisee and prosciutto chips.  I really enjoyed this dish as the tentacles were tender as advertised.  Texturally delicate while still maintaining a certain bite and rebound, the meat was sweet and well-seasoned.  As for the cake, it was crispy with a moist filling that resembled a fish cake.  Flavourwise, it was subtle and sweet where the brininess of the roe added a taste of the sea.  Next up was the Albacore Niçoise Salad with pepper-crusted BC albacore loin, Winter greens, fingerling potatoes, green beans, pickled shiitake, soft-poached quail eggs and Wafu emulsion.  As shown in the picture, the tuna was nicely prepared with an even sear on the outside while buttery soft and rare on the inside.  Despite intentionally being peppery, we thought the tuna was probably too peppery.  We found all the veggies to be texturally on point including the crunchy beans and firm, while fully cooked potatoes.  With a sweet, tart and nutty essence (sesame), the wafu dressing was a nice compliment to the rare tuna.

Our last appie was the Assiette de Charcuterie consisting of smoked salmon crostini, pork rillette, duck prosciutto, pate, romesco hummus and sweet onion jam.  This substantial plate of food was highlighted by the pate as it was meaty and sweet with nuggets of flavour ending with wine essence.  Of note, I found the pork rillette to be buttery soft with a sweet finish.  The crostini underneath was airy and crispy.  Not just merely a garnish, the hummus and onion added both brightness and extra sweetness.  For my main, I had the Hen & Gnocchi with prawns, wild mushrooms and carrot puree.  Unfortunately, due to the small hen (there was 2 pieces of wing/breast with one leg portion), the meat was dried out and quite chewy on the outside.  On the other hand, the skin was nicely rendered and crispy.  It was heavily sauced where it was a touch salty, but was balanced off nicely by the sweet glaze.  I enjoyed the large house-made gnocchi as they were soft while still retaining a bite.  Furthermore, the ample amount of mushrooms didn't hurt matters as there was a substantial amount of woodsiness as a result.

Viv ended up with the 7-Hour Braised Beef with truffle pomme puree, bacon & blue cheese mash, broccolini, baby carrots and peppercorn cream sauce.  As soon as it hit the table, the smell of truffle oil dominated the table.  Don't get me wrong here, we don't mind truffle oil, but when used too liberally, it can be overwhelming.  However, that wasn't the biggest issue with this dish, the heavy-handed use of salt did the tender beef an injustice.  The peppercorn essentially played second-fiddle to salt.  Viv was not a big fan of this dish.  For my mom, she had the Fraser Valley Confit Duck Cassoulet with organic beans, boudin blanc, Swiss chard, artichoke and citrus jus. We found the duck to be mostly moist except for some chewier edge parts.  The skin was nicely rendered and crisp (where it wasn't sauced).  With flavour penetrating throughout, the beans were tender with a residual firmness.  The boudin blanc had a mild snap casing which revealed an airy and moist interior which was mild with a touch of natural meat sweetness.

For my dad, he went for the Coho Salmon with Manila clams, Swiss chard and Israeli cous-cous.  With a beautiful sear, beneath the crispy skin, the salmon was flaky and moist.  It was well-seasoned with a peppery slant.  We found the Swiss chard to be prepared masterfully where it had a nice chew while completely wilted.  Furthermore, the significant level seasoning and acidity brought it alive with a wonderful brightness.  For the son, he had the Provolone Grilled Cheese from the petit menu.  It was essentially a whack load of melted cheese atop toasted ciabatta accompanied by Lay's chips (my son called it, so apparently he has a palate for junk food...) and mixed berries.  This was good for what it was with plenty of cheese on soft, slightly crisp bread.  My daughter opted for the Gluten-Free Pasta with Tomato Sauce.  Despite being gluten-free, the pasta was tender and soft (not chewy).  The creamy tomato sauce was plenty peppery where there was a definite aftertaste.  Despite this, she still ate it up willingly.

For dessert, we shared both the Financier and Lemon Tart.  The Financier was actually an assortment of French tea cakes with a side of ice cream.  I found them a bit dry, especially the Madeleine.  They were buttery and semi-sweet though.  We thought the lemon tart was on the sweeter side, especially with a brulee on the top.  Texturally, it was smooth and custardy.  The crust was a bit too soft and wet for our tastes. After the meal was said and done, we all agreed that there were some highlights to go along with some low points.  Overall, the use of pepper and salt was a bit heavy-handed.  Yet, depending what you order, a good meal can be had.  Definitely an option, especially on the North Shore.

The Good:
- Some good dishes to be found here
- Fairly generous portion sizes
- Kid-friendly

The Bad:
- Heavy-handed with the salt and pepper
- Some dishes were sub-par

Tour de Feast on Urbanspoon

Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria (Morgan Crossing)

Awhile back, I attended the media dinner at Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria on Commercial Drive when it first opened.  Suffice to say, I came away not particularly impressed with the pizza as it was super soggy and lacking in leoparding.  To be fair, I returned on my own dime to discover that my initial thoughts were indeed true.  So when I received an invite to try out some new menu items, I was apprehensive.  However, I wanted to see if things have changed.  So Hot Mama and I trekked out to the Morgan Crossing location (to change things up a bit) to see for ourselves.

The one item that we had to try was the basic Margherita because it is the baseline of Neapolitan pizzas.  Second, I could compare it to the original one I had at the Commercial Drive location.  We were pleasantly surprised that it turned out far better than the aforementioned pizza.  This one had a crispy crust and was chewy and tender throughout.  It was not soggy, even at the centre.  As for the tomato sauce, it tasted fresh with mild notes acidity and a light sweetness.  I would've liked to see more basil and even more leoparding though.  For our next pizza, we tried their new Korean BBQ Pork consisting of slow-roasted spiced pork butt, Korean BBQ sauce, fior-di-latte, green onion, cheddar cheese and hoisin.  Okay, hoisin is not particularly Korean, but it worked in this concoction.  There was an impactful spiciness that helped temper the sweetness of the hoisin (although the pizza was still rather sweet).  The pork was moist and tender while the combination of flavours were not tame.

We also sampled their Paesano sandwich comprised of house-made pulled pork, salsa verde, provolone cheese, rosemary-lemon aioli, arugula, and roasted red peppers.  Strangely, the pulled pork ate somewhat like tuna despite tasting completely porky.  It was probably due to the abundance of salsa verde which was bright and acidic.  In combination with the rosemary-lemon aioli, there was an aromatic herbal quality to the sandwich in addition to the tartness.  On the side, there was a bowl of the Roasted Tomato Bisque which was thick, rich and creamy.  There was a subtle smokiness combined with a balanced of saltiness, sweetness and acidity. Well, we were glad we took the chance and tried the pizzas again.  Although not to be confused with the best in town, the ones we tried at the Morgan Crossing location were more than acceptable.

*All food was comped excluding gratuities*

The Good:
- Decent Neapolitan pizza (at this location at least)
- No absence of flavour in the dishes we tried
- Spacious dining space

The Bad:
- Pizza was better this time, but I would've still liked to see even more leoparding
- Can get up there in price

Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria (Morgan Crossing) on Urbanspoon

Linh Cafe - French Cooking

Sometimes, fusion is not necessarily a bad thing.  Take the French colonization of Vietnam - it yielded such delicious creations such as Pho and Banh Mi.  We can denounce the colonization part of the equation, but the culinary by-product is the world's gain.  So with that in mind, we finally see an establishment in Vancouver take this head on by offering a predominantly French menu with Vietnamese elements (of course influenced by French cuisine).  Linh Cafe, situated in the old location of Cafe Regalade, is that very place that offers up items such as Cassoulet along with Pho and pastries.  I gathered up the family with the grandparents for this food adventure.

For the table, we started with the Banh Mi Cay Hai Phong or Spicy Baguette Sticks.  These were super crusty as they were well-toasted.  Inside, the mini baguettes were airy and light.  With an ample amount of pate, there was no shortage of moisture and flavour.  The pate was smooth with meaty nuggets where it was well-spiced with a peppery finish.  Of course, with a drizzle of hot sauce, there was a nice kick that didn't overwhelm.  We also tried a couple of their Croissants which ultimately disappointed. These were heavy, doughy and not crispy at all.  Inside, the pastry was dense and too "wet".  The kids still ate it, but for me, I thought they were terrible.  At the very least, they weren't very big as they were more like mini-croissants that cost only $1.95 each.

Viv decided to try the Cassoulet with duck confit, sausage, bacon and white beans.  She added a poached egg for 95 cents extra.  We found the duck leg to be well-prepared where the skin was nicely rendered and crisp.  The meat was succulent and mildly seasoned where the natural flavours came to the forefront.  Meaty and firm with a natural-tasting gaminess, the sausage was also a bit mild with a slight salty finish.  The ample amount of white beans were soft while still retaining a bite.  We would've liked to see the bacon cooked a bit more as it was a bit chewy.  For myself, I went for the Pho Bo (Hanoi Breakfast) with braised beef flank and rice noodles.  I also added a poached egg for 95 cents.  Since this was the Northern version, it came with the obligatory pickled chilis and garlic.  I thought the broth was clean and meaty while being very light with the sodium.  There was a bit of residual grease which provided a nice essence.  The rice noodles were slippery being past al dente.  I enjoyed the little nuggets of super moist beef, but there was very little of it.

My mom ended up with the 7-Hour Braised Short Ribs with peppercorn sauce, honey glazed carrots and frites. The modest portion of beef short rib was tender, yet not completely moist.  Again, it wasn't aggressively seasoned where the natural beef flavour really came through.  However, the creamy and peppery sauce added all the necessary flavours without relying on salt.  I found the sweet carrots to be a nice accompaniment as it stayed in the background while still adding a certain understated sweetness.  As for the side of frites, they were crispy, yet a little dense.  With probably the best dish of the bunch, my dad had the Chicken Fricassee with chicken legs, tomato confit, preserved lemon and couscous. Normally, I'm as excited about a chicken dish as much as navigating a parking lot in Richmond.  But this was expertly executed with succulent chicken meat that was well-seasoned with preserved lemon.  Hence, there was an overall brightness and appetizing flavour that was further accented by the sweet and slightly acidic tomato confit.

For the kiddies, they shared the Paris Breakfast consisting of 2 sunny side up eggs, cooked ham, pan fried tomatoes, Swiss cheese, potatoes and salad. Although the egg yolks were still runny, the rest of the egg was fried until crispy where we could really taste the butter.  The mixture of ham, cheese and tomatoes had a bit of everything including a notable saltiness from the ham and sweet-tartness from the tomatoes.  Overall, we were pleased with the dishes we sampled.  Sure the croissants were not very good, but most everything else was tasty without an over-reliance on salt.

The Good:
- Well-prepared proteins
- Not overly salty
- Attentive service

The Bad:
- Modest portions
- Croissants are no good

Linh Café - French Cooking on Urbanspoon

Rainforest Cafe

Promises.  We are taught at an early age that when we make a promise, it is imperative that we keep it.  I guess that doesn't apply to politicians or used car salespeople...  So when Costanza promised his oldest son that we'd visit The Rainforest Cafe in Downtown Disney, he had to keep it despite all the warning signs - such as high prices, mediocre food and indoor thunderstorms.  I tried to convince him to make up an excuse or something, but that would be breaking a promise wouldn't it?  But, but...  anything for good food right?  Negative.  Off we went to The Rainforest Cafe for lunch on our first day at Disneyland...

We shared the Spinach & Artichoke Dip as an appie.  It was pretty standard consisting of a cream cheese and mayo concoction with spinach and artichoke.  I found it slightly thick, but all the better to dip the tortilla chips into.  Nothing particularly exciting though.  For myself, I went for the Taste of the Islands consisting of Caribbean Coconut Shrimp, Blackened Tilapia topped with
a mango salsa and Dynamite Scallops and Shrimp. I found the coconut shrimp to be decent with a crunchy coating.  However, we were not convinced that the cumin tamarind dip was a good compliment (as it was too tart).  I thought the tilapia to be prepared properly being flaky and moist.  The mango salsa could've used more acidity for impact though.  I was not a huge fan of the scallops and shrimp as the "sauce" was a watery salty mess.  The seafood was okay though except for the rubbery scallops.

I added the Creamy Clam Chowder as a starter for my main (which was $1.00 less than ordering it individually).  It wasn't particularly creamy, yet the broth was thick enough without being watery.  Although the clams were large and tender, there was no seafood flavor present.  This was partially due to the abundance of salt (which made the soup almost inedible) that masked everything else.  Viv had the Blue Mountain Chicken Sandwich which was acceptable in a general sense.  The peppers were particularly impactful with plenty of tang and sweetness.  The chicken itself was a bit dry though.  There was nothing terrible about the sandwich, but hardly anything to get excited about either.

Costanza had the Rainforest Burger with a thick beef patty topped with a fried onion ring, lettuce, tomato, pickles and
cheese on a toasted bun. Although it was decently moist and meaty, it wasn't particularly flavorful.  Despite the toppings, there was little impact.  Furthermore, the fries were pretty generic and weren't particularly crispy either.  Their second item was the China Chicken Salad. It was basically a green salad with a sweet dressing and lots of overcooked chicken.  It wasn't really all that appetizing as the dressing didn't really flavor all of the ingredients properly.  It was pretty much watery and bland.  Worst of all, the chicken was terrible being chewy and tough.

Of course we cannot forget about the kiddies as this visit was essentially for them.  Trust me, it certainly wasn't for me!  I think my palate regressed with this visit...  I digress.  So my son went for something incredibly exciting in the Rainforest Rascals (mini-cheeseburgers) with fries.  Well, at the very least, the burgers were decent in size and not too dry.  But the same couldn't be said for my daughter's order of Grilled Chicken with apple slices.  The 2 pathetic pieces of meat couldn't be any chewier.  Man, they killed the chicken once, but they really finished it off in their kitchen.  She didn't even attempt to eat any of it.  In fact, none of us could eat it.  To top it all off, there was not flavor to speak of.  At the very least, the Mac n' Cheese was not half bad as it was a big portion of soft (but not mushy) noodles in a mildly cheesy sauce. Now back to that promise...  I think in this case, Costanza should've taught his son a lesson in what a white lie is all about...

The Good:
- Kid-friendly
- Lots of choice
- Decent portion sizes

The Bad:
- Food just ain't good
- Expensive
- They focus on the gimmicks more than the food

Rainforest Cafe on Urbanspoon