Yo Ramen

Here we go with another coupon I purchased online on a whim.  I figured that a little ol' ramen shop would be an easy place to visit due to it's casual nature.  However, as with many of these deals, there was certain restrictions which made it more difficult.  Since we couldn't use it for lunch nor weekends, it only meant we could go on a weekday night.  Furthermore, with an 8:00pm sharp closing time, we'd have to get there early too.  With the punctuality of Miss Y involved, that meant we missed it and had to go to Bin 941 instead.  This time around, I made sure we made it in time...

The deal included an appetizer consisting of a Green Salad and Fried Gyozas.  For something as simple as mixed greens, the "dressing" was somewhat of a surprise.  A combination of onions, ginger and pineapple, it was sweet with a mild tartness.  We didn't mind the gyozas either as they were crunchy while not oily.  The filling was slightly dense with only a moderate amount of greens.  Flavourwise, it was more meaty than anything else.  We would've liked to have a dedicated dip rather than plain soy sauce (we did add chili oil though).  Miss Y went for the Tonkotsu Ramen that also featured a few drops of chili oil.  We actually didn't mind it but the soup itself did not have much depth, rather, it relied on salt.  It wasn't creamy where the bone marrow would seep into the broth after an extensive boil.

For myself, I went for the Shio Ramen and it was a very light broth.  It wasn't as salty as I would've imagined, but that was a good thing.  The noodles were toothsome and remained so until the end.  I wasn't a huge fan of the egg as it was a bit too salty (and I prefer soft yolk anyways).  As for the chashu, it was lean and meaty.  It wasn't particularly flavourful not overly tender either (but it wasn't chewy).  Overall, we didn't dislike our meal, but it wasn't memorable either.  With all the other ramen choices in town, I would rather try their Korean dishes instead.

The Good:
- Owner seems genuine
- Okay pricing

The Bad:
- Average eats
- As expected (from the menu), ramen is more Korean-style than Japanese

Yo! Ramen on Urbanspoon

Kiku Sushi

While we were dining at Black Dragon Sushi, I looked across the street at the London Drugs parking lot.  You see, tucked within the parking lot is another Japanese restaurant called Kiku Sushi.  That, was originally our dining destination before a couple of people had mentioned that they had changed up the kitchen staff.  Alright, what the heck was I thinking?  Has online reviews ever prevented me from trying a place and seeing for myself?  No, not really.  So within 2 days of eating at Black Dragon, we headed out to Kiku.

At our table, there was a placard that featured a Lobster Deluxe Sashimi ($37.95) with a $2.00 option for a Lobster Udon Soup course. That seemed like a good deal and indeed it was.  In addition to the lobster tail, there was salmon, tuna, tai and hokkigai with 3 mini octopus.  The sashimi was decent with proper textures where the lobster was sweet, but a bit soft.  Once we were done with the boat, they took the head and claws to make the udon broth.  Although they didn't have a lot of time to squeeze more flavour out of the lobster shells, the soup was still pretty sweet and tasty.  Obviously, they used seasoning as a substitute. We had the option to add even more udon, but we were pretty full at this point (the udon actually came last).

Another item off the placard was the Tuna Oil Tataki.  Consisting of 11 large slices of tuna which were dressed with ponzu, ginger, green onion and scalding hot oil, this was not bad.  The pieces of tuna were only slightly cooked on the outside while still raw on the inside.  There was a nice balance of flavours with some acidity and natural sweetness.  However, we would've liked to see more grated ginger and salt.  Next, we had the Assorted Tempura with a variety of veggies and 3 prawns.  The batter was really crispy and relatively light.  It was not overly greasy while everything was cooked just right.  

We ended up with 2 specialty rolls starting with the Pink Roll made with salmon and avocado on the inside and smoked salmon on the outside.  This was an extremely mild tasting concoction that was a bit heavy on the rice.  And about that rice, it was on the firmer side and packed slightly too tight.  It also could've used a bit more seasoning.  Next, we had the Kiku Roll consisting of ebi tempura and cucumber on the inside with unagi and avocado on the outside.  Again, it was a bit rice heavy which diluted the flavours and textures.  For once, I would've preferred more sauce.

Since I love the dish, I decided to order the Tiger Mayo (like ebi mayo).  Unfortunately, this was terrible as the scrawny prawns were completely overcooked.  Hence, they were rubbery and not very appealing.  I think the major issue here was the lack of batter which would've kept the prawns moist and providing a nice crunch on the outside.  It was a good thing that the Ebi Gyoza was significantly better.  The shrimp were large and meaty while the pork filling had an interesting spiciness.  It didn't taste like a typical gyoza, but we didn't mind.  Moreover, the dumpling skin was not heavy and was the beneficiary of a nice pan fry.

Lastly, we had the Katsu Don which was a large portion with big slices of pork cutlet, egg and vermicelli.  There was no shortage of flavour penetrating the rice, but there was too much of it as the whole bowl was wet and mushy (also far too sweet).  As for the pork cultet, it was dry and chewy.  Overall, there were some definite hits and equal amount of misses.  Despite some issues, we liked the lobster sashimi and accompanying udon for its value but everything else was rather ordinary.  In fact, the tiger mayo and katsu don were quite weak.  If I had to compare, Black Dragon across the street is more consistent.

The Good:
- Okay pricing for what you get (except the tiger mayo)
- Despite the reviews, the service we got was good
- Lobster sashimi and udon a pretty decent value

The Bad:
- Some dishes were total misses
- Sushi could do with a bit less rice

Kiku Sushi on Urbanspoon

Black Dragon Sushi

Generally, I hate owing people money or meals that they have treated.  I much prefer to give than receive.  Therefore, after Guy Smiley pulled the Chinese maneuver of claiming to go to the washroom, but actually heading over to pay the bill at the front counter last time at Cho Sun, I was a bit miffed.  I had to treat him back!  We were planning on trying Kiku in the London Drugs complex on Kingsway, but a recent change left me apprehensive.  So, off across the street to Black Dragon Sushi we went.

We started with an order of Kappa Maki and California Roll.  This was mostly for Little Smiley as she is not into more adventurous items as of yet.  These were neatly constructed with lots of ripe avocado.  Although the rice was decently chewy with a proper amount of moisture, it was incredibly bland. The Oyako Don arrived as a huge portion in a large bowl.  There was so much chicken, it was hard to get to the rice underneath.  About that rice, I found it a bit too dry where the sauce did not penetrate beyond the vermicelli directly underneath the chicken.  Consequently, all the flavour came from the chicken.  With being said, the rice was still decent as there wasn't a whole bunch of other ingredients (like some other non-authentic versions).

We ended up one each of the Prawn & Yam Tempura and Prawn Tempura.  The fact that my son could finish a whole order by himself prompted us into ordering double.  We found the batter to be a little excessive, but overall, the tempura was crunchy and not overly greasy.  However, as it sat, some pieces became somewhat more dense inside.  For $20.95, the Deluxe Assorted Sashimi ended up to be a fairly good value.  With a large platter consisting of tai, sockeye salmon, ebi, tako, Atlantic salmon, tuna, toro, hokkigai and salmon belly, we were pretty satisfied. Nothing seemed amiss while some items were quite good especially the salmon belly and toro.

In terms of specialty rolls, we decided to order the Black Dragon Roll considering the restaurant name.  Costing a whopping $12.95, we weren't sure why it was so expensive.  Don't get me wrong, we did enjoy the roll consisting of ebi tempura and cucumber with unagi and tobiko on the outside.  Tempura was still crunchy while the unagi was soft and nicely sauced.  The reason we thought it was pricey due to the comparison with the Asahi Roll consisting of fried oyster with spicy tuna on the outside.  It was only $7.95.  Furthermore, all of us agreed that this was one of the highlights as we could really taste the oyster and it was crispy.  Furthermore, the spicy tuna was indeed spicy offering a lingering kick.

For the kiddies, we got an order of the Nabeyaki Udon which was buoyed by a whack load of shredded Napa cabbage underneath the noodles.  We could've done without that.  Beyond the cabbage, there was a good amount of ingredients including tender chicken, ebi tempura and raw egg.  The soup was more of a chicken-tasting broth rather than dashi.  Lastly, we had the Ebi Gyoza, which was pretty good.  The large ebi inside was meaty and naturally sweet while the pork was tender and moist.  With a good sear, the dumpling skin was crispy and light. In the end, we felt that Black Dragon Sushi was pretty good (especially for a Chinese-run Japanese restaurant) - decent food at reasonable prices.

The Good:
- Decent eats
- Good portions
- Reasonable-pricing

The Bad:
- Pretty decent service (except for one person who seemed a bit grumpy)
- Of course it may not satisfy those who are authentic-seeking food snobs

Black Dragon Sushi 龍壽司 on Urbanspoon

Congee Noodle House

Generally, when certain menu items are in the actual restaurant name, one would expect them to be good.  For instance, there are some Chinese restaurants that put "Wonton House" in their name, but ultimately, their wontons suck more than a Dyson vacuum. Just because you serve wontons, doesn't mean you should proudly advertise them... However, in past history, Congee Noodle House has lived up to its namesake.  We've done a couple of visits and I decided that another post was in order.

To get a sense of their BBQ meat, we decided to get the 3 BBQ Items on Rice.  Going with the big 3 (Roast Pork, BBQ Pork and BBQ Duck), there was a decent amount to go with the big plate of rice.  I found the roast pork to be meaty, but lacking in flavour.  Furthermore, the most important part, the crackling, was not crunchy at all.  The BBQ pork wasn't bad, yet it was a leaner piece which meant it was more dry.  With only saltiness, the bark could've used more sweetness to balance the flavours.  We did like the BBQ duck though as it was moist (even though it was the breast meat) and natural tasting.  We also got an order of the Sweet & Sour Pork for variety.  The big chunks of pork were indeed crispy, but since they were re-fried, the meat was somewhat chewy.  As for the sauce, it was more sweet than sour.

Okay, now we couldn't visit the place without ordering a bowl of Preserved Egg & Salted Pork Congee could we?  It was pretty thick with big chunks of preserved egg with shredded salty pork.  There was no absence of flavour (thanks to the MSG) while the congee became watery at the end.  And of course we got an order of their other signature item being the Wonton Noodles.  With chewy noodles exhibiting a nice elasticity, this was legit.  The soup was a touch salty, but it couldn't be accused of being bland.  It had the classic flavours including shrimp shells.  As for the wontons, they were of a nice size and contained plenty of crunchy shrimp with bouncy pork. Flavours were apparent without being salty.  We could really get the sesame oil and white pepper hits.

For variety, we also got an order of the Fried Noodle with Beef in Black Bean Sauce.  This was a large portion of mostly crispy noodles and a mound of tender slices of beef, onions and peppers.  There was enough black bean sauce for both flavour and moisture.  It is a real challenge for the noodles to be devoid of grease (since they are deep fried), but these were a touch too oily.  To round out the available options on the menu, we had the Yeung Chow Fried Rice complete with plump crunchy shrimp and lean cubes of BBQ pork.  The rice was dry and chewy benefiting from good wok heat.  Flavours were mild though as there could've been more salt.  Once again, Congee Noodle House came through and offered up solid eats.

The Good:
- Solid eats
- Reasonable pricing
- Good portions

The Bad:
- Quick service, but too busy to do much else
- BBQ items are so-so

Congee Noodle House 粥麵館 on Urbanspoon

Ask for Luigi

According to Merriam-Webster, hype is defined as "to promote or publicize extravagantly".  Now we all know that many fads and/or products are the result of hype, either by the origin itself and/or overly excited consumers.  Whatever the case, hype creates a buzz where interested parties want a piece of the action.  And that was the case with Ask for Luigi and our party of 6 (Whipping Girl, Darina, Joyce, Sean and Ned Flanders).  All of use wanted to see for ourselves what the fuss was regarding this little pasta place located on the edges of Railtown and Gastown.

We were able to secure a reservation, albeit an early 5:45pm.  The place was packed throughout our meal and it was a Wednesday.  Hype?  I guess we were about to find out...  We began with the Beef Carpaccio with salsa verde, shaved Piave, capers, lemon and crispy onions.  As much as the beef was melting in my mouth, there was probably a bit too much clutter on the plate which ultimately overwhelmed the main ingredient.  With that being said, the individual ingredients were good as it provided a balance of acidity, aromatics, saltiness and texture.  Next up was the Bocconcini Fritti which were fantastically prepared where the crispy golden breading encased a melting centre.  With just the right amount of saltiness, this was simple yet tasty.

Moving along, we had the Fried Cauliflower & Aioli which arrived as a massive portion.  It was accompanied by fried chickpeas, fresh basil and Parmesan.  Although quite greasy, the dish itself was not bad.  The slightly browned cauliflower maintained a level of firmness while being tender.  It was not longing for flavour as the cauliflower alone was savoury without the benefit from the other ingredients.  In my mind, the highlight was the chickpeas as they were soft on the inside while crisp on the outside.  So that we were able to have one each, we got a double order of Luigi's Meatballs.  These were large and really moist (thanks to the ample processing of the meat).  The addition of pine nuts and sultanas afforded a certain woodsy sweet flavour.  The fresh tomato sauce provided moisture, acidity and a lingering spiciness.

Our last appie was the Eggplant Involtini in the same low-rumbling spicy and tart tomato sauce as the meatballs. As much as the eggplant was really soft, it wasn't obliterated.  I thought the addition of crunchy crumbs was a smart move as there was contrasting texture.  The good amount of ricotta and Parmesan ensured there would be both creaminess and a salty cheesiness to the dish.  Heading into the pasta dishes, I first sampled the Ricotta Ravioli with peas and marinated tomatoes.  Naturally, with fresh pasta, it is generally more difficult to have it super al dente.  With that being said, I found these to be rather soft and it was further exacerbated with the soft filling. The flavours were nice though with plenty of Parmesan accented by the tart and slightly sweet tomatoes. I wasn't a big fan of the peas as they were hard without the anticipated sweet pop.

On the other hand, my prediction for impactful flavours was realized in the Spaghetti with anchovies, garlic and chilis.  With a hit of fishy saltiness combined with an equally strong garlic presence, this pasta was definitely not mild considering the extra hit of saltiness from the cheese and spiciness from the chilis.  I liked the addition of crunchy crumbs as it provided a jolt of texture to the fairly firm noodles.  From flavour impact to something more mild, I tried the Tagliatelle with fennel sausage and rapini.  If I wasn't told that there was fennel sausage in the dish, I wouldn't have really noticed it.  Rather, I could taste the spice, herbs and a hint of lemon.  This could've used more sausage and/or more fennel in the sausage itself.  Although it was toothsome, the pasta was a bit clumpy.

Arriving in a beautiful and lively shade of green, the Risotto with asparagus and smoked sablefish was pretty good.  Although on the more "wet" side, it spread nicely on the place and was still chewy.  I liked the creaminess as well as the buttery pieces of asparagus.  I thought the risotto was well-seasoned with just the right amount of cheesiness.  The small piece of sablefish was flaky and moist with only the slightest hint of smoke.  We surmised that the Pappardelle & Duck Ragu would be a potential crowd favourite, so we ordered 2.  It turned out that we were right as it was blessed with a plethora of moist shredded duck.  The sauce was mild at the start and ended with a spicy kick.  The pasta itself was on the softer side, but okay nonetheless.

We decided to go for all 3 desserts to share starting with the Panna Cotta with prunes and biscotti. I gotta hand it to them because this was one excellent panna cotta.  Super creamy, rich and amazingly light, it was not overly sweet where the vanilla served notice.  The light sauce with prunes was not overwhelming while the biscotti was fresh. Next, the Chocolate Budino was really dense and rich. As much as it is supposed to be a pudding of sorts, it resembled a flourless chocolate cake in this case. For me, it could've been more impactful.  With some crunchy bites on the side, there was some texture to the dessert.  As for the Olive Oil Cake, it was almost anti-climactic after the first 2 desserts.  It wasn't as if we didn't like it though.  Rather, it was more about subtle flavours and a moist texture.  That it achieved.  Overall, we enjoyed our meal at Ask for Luigi.
Did it live up to the hype?  Partly.  Was it the best pasta in the city?  Well no.  However, that doesn't mean it wasn't good either.  In actuality, Ask for Luigi ultimately achieves its goal of producing above-average eats for a reasonable price.

The Good:
- Decent eats
- Cozy and lively room
- Simple, focused menu

The Bad:
- Good, but not great
- Parking in the area may not be healthy for your car
- Limited seating

Ask for Luigi on Urbanspoon

ProNamel Acid Truth Event @ Yew Seafood + Bar

When I first got the invite to Yew Seafood + Bar at the Four Seasons Hotel, I was a bit perplexed.  ProNamel Acid Truth?  What's that?  Wait, I know!  My wife uses ProNamel toothpaste.  Okay I get it.  Hold on, maybe not...  What does this have to do with Ned Bell's food?  Well, apparently they were trying to spread the word about the risk to our teeth from acid-rich foods such as wine, citrus, vinegar and carbonated drinks.  As such, a toothpaste such as Sensodyne ProNamel could help protect against acid wear.  Okay... So were we going to eat low-acid food then?  Of course not!  Then you wouldn't need the toothpaste then!

We got to dine on delicious food prepared by Chef Ned Bell that featured acid-rich ingredients to highlight how tasty it can be.  But at the same time, warn us of the harm it can do over time. Yes, this is where you would use the toothpaste. Not to eat it of course...  Anyways, we started with Ned Bell's Interactive Seafood Tackle Box consisting of Pacific Oysters, Humpback Shrimp, BC Spot Prawns and Albacore Tuna.  At another station, there was Gourgeres, Milk Buns and Warm Salted Almonds & Cashews.  I particularly liked the Humpback Shrimp as they were buttery soft and naturally sweet.  They were lightly dressed in an aioli.  The Albacore Tuna was sliced into thick pieces with equally big chunks of avocado.  These went well with the crunchy crisps.

Moving onto the actual meal, I started with the Seared Qualicum Scallops with crispy & raw cauliflower and orange dressing.  Seared nicely while being rare in the middle, the scallops retained their natural sweetness and texture.  The crunch from the raw cauliflower was a bit different, but worked.  As for the tempura-fried cauliflower, it was crunchy inside and out (as with the hazelnuts as well).  The mild orange dressing added a mild sweetness and the slightest of acidity while the raisins were plump and sweet.  Next up, I had the Roasted Oceanwise Halibut with lemon truffle vinaigrette, apple butter and Agassiz hazelnuts.  Unbelievably, the halibut was prepared in a way that it was moist and almost cod-like albeit more firm.  That in itself made the dish successful.  With the addition of the wonderful lemon vinaigrette, the fish was not longing for flavour.  I liked how the truffle was muted and only appeared at the finish.

Moving onto some meat, I had the Pemberton Meadows Organic Beef Tenderloin with smoked golden potato puree, wilted spinach, lobster topped with vanilla Hollandaise and balsamic reduction. The beef practically required very little effort to eat while the lobster was dressed in a light and airy Hollandaise.  I found the vanilla to be just there without being overwhelming.  I felt the balsamic reduction was more than merely a bystander as it added the necessary acidity to liven up the flavours especially the mild tasting beef.  For dessert, I chose the Organic Dark Chocolate Souffle with cherries and milk chocolate ice cream.  The upside down, "unramekined" souffle was moist and only semi-sweet.  There was a background bitterness which was accented by the sweet and tart cherries as well as the smooth sweet ice cream. Yes, it is true, the acidic ingredients and wine were very tasty.  I guess I will be stealing some of my wife's ProNamel toothpaste after this.

*Entire meal and wine were complimentary*

The Good:
- It appears that I like acid (no, not the drug)
- On point protein execution
- Balanced flavours

The Bad:
- Believe it or not, I personally would've liked even more acidity (with more toothpaste I suppose)

YEW seafood + bar on Urbanspoon