Sherman's Food Adventures

Route 14

Not trying to stray too far from our hotel and also that it was something different than our hotel restaurant, we made our way to Route 14 for dinner.  Named after the street that it resides on, Route 14 didn't look like much from the outside.  In fact, we would've passed right by it and dismissed it as another bar.  However, looks can be deceiving as the online reviews seemed to make it sound like a solid place for the entire family.  We made a reservation and thank goodness we did as it was pretty busy.

In addition to the burger (yes, another burger) that I had ordered, we had the Salt & Pepper Wings too as an appie.  Glistening with oil, these wings were indeed a bit on the greasier side, yet at the same time, they were super crispy.  As for the meat itself, beyond the crispiness of the exterior it was juicy and tender (not dry at all).  They were well-seasoned being salty enough and of course peppery.  I got the side of blue cheese dip and it provided an extra layer of creamy sharpness to the crispy wings.  My Route 14 Classic Burger wasn't as a good as the one from West Coast Grill, but was still solid in its own right.  It sported a 6oz fresh brisket and chuck patty, cheddar, shredded lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and special sauce on a toasted potato bun.  I found the well-charred patty to be meaty and full flavoured with bits of onion strewn throughout.  With all of the ingredients, the burger ate moist despite the lean patty.  Being very crispy with little potatoness left, the fries were more like double-cooked frites.

Viv had the Chicken Club consisting of marinated & grilled chicken breast, maple smoked bacon, Camembert cheese, lettuce, tomato and garlic mayo on toasted sourdough.  When it arrived, we were rather impressed at the size of the sandwich.  However, we found quite a few issues with it.  First of all, the bread was toasted rather aggressively and it ate dry and hard.  Second, the bacon was overly firm where it was difficult to chew through (yet it tasted good).  Lastly, the chicken was too thin where it was barely there and ate very dry.  The best part was the melted and creamy camembert.  My son opted for the 1/2 Rack of Baby Back Ribs with fries and slaw.  These were pretty typical of non-BBQ ribs (they were oven-roasted), but done well being tender with a good amount of meatiness still remaining.  As for the Dark Matter BBQ sauce, it was more sweet than tangy or smoky.  There could've been a lot more of it too.

Seeing how she always orders the most expensive dish when we go out to eat, my daughter didn't disappoint with the crispy pan-seared Lois Lake Steelhead Trout with prawn & crab spring rolls, leek soubise, sesame sauce, asparagus and mushroom & bean saute (for $27.00).  I kid you not, the trout was prepared better than most fine-dining restaurants I've visited.  The skin was crispy and well-seasoned while the fish was medium-rare.  Buttery, delicate and moist, the fish was perfect.  We were surprised to find 2 large spring rolls on the plate (would've been worth $10.00 as per the appetizer) which meant the rest of the dish was only $17.00.  Good value.  They were really crispy and packed with fluffy crab, veggies and sriracha cream cheese.  Yummy.  For the rest of the plate, we found it a bit muddled and too busy.  A simple side of veggies would've sufficed.

Costanza and Elaine shared the sous-vide AAA Roast Beef Dip with crispy onions, dijonaise on French bun with beef jus.  Now usually a beef dip is a beef dip, but this one was really good.  Since they sous-vide the beef first, it was super tender requiring very little chewing.  The toasted bun was soft and really complimented the beef (some places have firmer buns that overwhelm the beef).  Loved the crispy onions where they added both texture and an extra hit of sweetness.  Lastly, the jus was not the run-of-the-mill powdered stuff as it was meaty and natural tasting (not salty).  They also got the Island Mussels with chorizo sausage, roast garlic, shallots, lager & cream and garlic toast.  Portion-wise, this was very generous with plump buttery mussels in an aromatic cream sauce that had only the mildest hint of spice.  Not sure why they served us rye bread as garlic toast though.  This weird garlic toast and the sandwich were the only real blemishes to relatively good meal.  Lots of choices (including fancier dishes) for the whole family at reasonable prices.

The Good:
- Don't judge a book by its cover, there is good food to be found here
- Friendly service
- Family friendly

The Bad:
- Sandwich wasn't good and rye bread as garlic bread???
- Wings were greasy

West Coast Grill (Prestige Oceanview Resort)

As a rule, I normally do not dine at hotel restaurants while I'm on vacation.  Sure, there are the occasional gems to be found (therefore, I do eat at those places), but more interesting eats could be found elsewhere.  However, there aren't that many dining options in Sooke, so we felt that convenience and predictability were the name of the game for lunch.  Furthermore, we could get a $10.00 discount since we were staying at the hotel and if we decided not to get daily housekeeping.  Yes, we took the $10.00 discount...  

So we arrived as they were changing over to their lunch menu, but 2 of the kids wanted breakfast.  My son had his go-to dish being the Traditional Eggs Benny with 2 poached eggs, layered Canadian back bacon, housemade Hollandaise sauce and country-style hashbrowns.  As evidenced in the picture, the free-range eggs were beautiful and runny.  The hollandaise was more buttery than tangy being rich and silky.  He liked how they used real back bacon rather than ham.  For Elaine's son, he had the Classic Breakfast with 2 eggs, andouille sausage, toast and country-style hashbrowns.  This was pretty large in portion size as the split sausage was meaty and well-seared.  Nothing amiss here and reasonably-priced at $13.00 (especially at a hotel restaurant).

My daughter didn't want breakfast and had the Pacific Fish & Chips with 1 pc snapper coated in pakora batter, handcut fries, sumac raita, slaw and a cup of chowder.  For me, this was a rather interesting twist on a classic dish.  Since they employed pakora batter, it was a bit thicker, yet ultimately crunchy and spiced while the fresh snapper was flaky and moist.  Replacing the usual tartar sauce with a sumac raita, it really changed the flavour profile.  Beyond the tang of the yogurt, the cumin really came through with a pronounced earthiness.  The cup of chowder was very creamy and was chock full of veggie and clams.  Elaine and myself ordered the Mountain Burger with a hand pressed patty, caramelized onions, smoked cheddar, applewood bacon, devil’s relish, lettuce and garlic aioli.  This was surprisingly awesome with a well-charred lean patty enveloped by a tangy tomato relish and sweet onions.  A bit firmer than usual, the brioche bun held everything together with what was a tasty burger (a la Samuel L. Jackson).

Viv and ended sharing the burger which meant we ordered a few more items including the Spiced Calamari with broken nori, togarashi, fried jalapeƱos, wasabi and yuzu crema.  Okay, we loved the creativity here, but the dish was a miss for us.  Beyond the tender strips of squid, the batter was wet and not crispy at all.  Furthermore, the greasiness of the whole dish was exemplified by the nori as it was not appealing at all.  This could've been good, but it needs to be tweaked.  On the other hand, the Steamer Pot consisting of 1/2 clams and 1/2 mussels was good.  The shellfish was buttery and prepared properly.  They weren't as plump as the ones from Wild Mountain though.  We chose the chorizo and lemongrass cream sauce which was rich and fragrant with a touch of spice.  Loved the seared bread on the side, it was so crispy and soft.  It was perfect for soaking up the broth.  As you can see, the food at the West Coast Grill was more than acceptable and surprisingly reasonable in price.  Loved the water view as well.

The Good:
- Beautiful decor and located right on the water
- Above average eats
- Reasonably-priced

The Bad:
- The calamari was not prepared properly
- Strangely, not enough parking for all the guests of the hotel and restaurant

Wild Mountain Food & Drink

While looking over the candidates and winners of the annual Vanmag's best restaurants, I noticed that Wild Mountain Food & Drink won for Victoria.  Although located in Sooke, I guess it still qualifies as being in "Victoria".  Low and behold, guess where I was schedule to be during the May long weekend?  Yep, we would be staying at the Prestige Oceanview Resort that happens to be just steps away from Wild Mountain!  Of course I went ahead and booked resos for the highly coveted tables there as the restaurant isn't very big.  That also meant we had to eat at 5:00pm since that was the only reservation left for the May long weekend.

So we made the really long drive of 30 seconds from the nearby Prestige Oceanview Resort (we should've walked) were seated next to the window with a view of the water.  We started out with a few snacks including the Albacore Tuna Tartare with preserved lemon and borage atop a slice of Hakurei turnip.  This was super simple, but really fresh and delicious at the same time.  At first, I thought the softened turnip would mean a lack of texture when combined with the buttery tuna.  It definitely was the case, but the little bite still worked as the tuna was the star especially hit by a balanced amount of acidity.  We also had the Halibut & Spot Prawn Ceviche served on a prawn tapioca cracker.  Now this had an airy and super crunchy textural contrast to go with the sweet delicate prawn and meaty halibut.  Again, the acidity was "spot" on (bad pun I know) by allowing the ingredients to shine.

Another snack that caught our fancy was the Crispy Polenta Fritters with dill pickle dip.  More like polenta "fries", these were served piping hot.  As such, the exterior was not greasy at all while being crispy.  On the inside, the polenta was on point with its classic soft creaminess that was also dense enough to remain intact as a "fry".  Trying to achieve that balance isn't as easy as it sounds because I've had one too many polenta fries that was either too mushy or too firm.  Tangy, creamy and briny, the dill pickle dip was a nice compliment to the polenta.  Originally, we weren't going to get the Red Fife Wheat Bread, but my son seemed a bit disappointed (he loves bread), so we added it just for him.  Good decision as the crusty bread was soft and airy on the inside.  It came with a creamy bee pollen and honey butter that had only a hint of sweetness.

The kids weren't super hungry so they ended up with half-orders of the 2 available pastas.  My daughter had the Risotto of Grains with mushroom cream, fresh oyster mushroom, asparagus, arugula and smoked pork hock (extra $3.00 for half order).  There was a lot going on with the "risotto" where the grains were firm and chewy.  As much as it was a cream sauce, it wasn't as heavy as it sounded or appeared.  Naturally, there was the classic mushroom earthiness at play as well as the mild smokiness of the tender pork hock.  It was surprisingly not salty, which allowed everything else to be noticed.  For my son, he chose the Handmade Ricotta Cavatelli Pasta with smoked Sooke chicken breast, asparagus, spinach, green olives and Grana Padano.  Also with a lot going on, the pasta was firmly al dente while the sauce was pretty cheesy.  The ample amount of chicken was tender and lightly smoky.  I felt that they put just enough green olive in for effect that didn't overwhelm the dish.

Viv decided on the Quadra Island Clams as here main dish ($17.00 as an appie, $31.00 as a main).   Buttery and super plump, the clams were steamed in an XO-humpback shrimp broth with housemade salami, komatsuna & winged kelp and Wild Mountain bread.  This was an outstanding dish as the flavours were so impactful while balanced at the same time.  The briny broth had some spice and plenty of natural sweetness (as well as umaminess).  The clams couldn't have been prepared any better, so good.  For my main, I went for the Pemberton Flat Iron Steak with smashed root veggies, broccoli shoots and red wine jus.  I added a pat of Washington black truffle butter ($3.00) for good measure.  Oh man, the steak was fantastic being nicely seared and prepared a perfect medium-rare.  It was rested properly where the juices remained within the meat.  Super buttery tender, the properly seasoned steak was further amped by the truffle butter.

As for dessert, Viv and I shared the Poached Rhubarb & Citrus Curd Tart with mint.  Rustic-looking, the tart shell was firm, buttery and texturally consistent throughout.  I found the citrus curd to be creamy and on point in terms of viscosity.  There was a good balance between tang and sweetness.  Interestingly, I thought the bits of crunchy rhubarb to be a distraction from the excellent tart itself.  It did provide a different texture as well as a brightness to the tart, but it was unnecessary in my opinion.  For the dishes we tried, it definitely confirms, in my opinion, the win for Wild Mountain as "best of Victoria".  Mind you, out of the contenders, I haven't tried OLO, so that will be up next.

The Good:
- Quaint house, nice setting by the water
- Carefully prepared simple menu
- Genuine and kind service

The Bad:
- On the pricier side
- Small place, getting a table is difficult

Fol Epi

Having visited Victoria during Spring Break, we were able to sample some pretty good eats while we were there.  We actually visited Agrius twice, once for brunch and once for dinner.  Something that I normally do not do on vacation - do a revisit.  Well, is 3rd time the charm?  It wasn't really a trifecta as we didn't dine at Agrius, but we did pay the adjacent Fol Epi (same company) for some pastries and treats.  We had already sampled their wonderful in-house bread when we were at Agrius, so our expectations were pretty high.

One of the most basic, if not important items on any bakery's menu is the classic Butter Croissant.  As evidenced in the picture, the croissant was on the smaller side being rather narrow.  Beyond the initial crispiness, the rest of it didn't shatter as much as I would've liked.  It was definitely buttery and soft inside, but I just would've preferred more spun layers (laminating).  That would've made it crunchier and nutty.  We also got the Ham & Cheese Croissant as well and it was similar to the classic croissant except it was crispier in some spots while softer in others.  This was totally acceptable due to the wet ingredients.  Again, I would've liked to see more layers and shattering, but it was good in terms of the smokiness of the ham and of course the gooey cheese.

One of my favourite items was the Apple Strudel where the filling was really tasty.  It was full of tender chunks of apple that were appealingly tangy.  It was enveloped with just enough sweetness for balance.  ON the outside, the pastry was light and crispy.  Despite the wet filling, the rest of the strudel did not get soggy.  Off to another savoury item, the Caramelized Onion, Bacon and Cheese Scone was robust and filling.  Naturally, scones are usually rather dense, and this one was that for sure.  At the same time, it wasn't in a bad way.  Beyond the firm, almost crunchy exterior, the inside was moist and fluffy in the aforementioned dense manner.  It was aromatic and full of flavour due to the ingredients involved.

Onto some other pastries, Costanza got the Lemon Tart, Almond Slice and Hazelnut Cake.  I didn't get to try any of these, but he thought they were all quite good, but not great.  I would concur with that as the items I did try were exactly that.  Probably the best of Victoria according to many and until I try others places, I will go on that.  Compared to pastries I've had in Vancouver, I would say Thomas Haas and Chez Christophe are better, but that is in Vancouver.  So not really fair to compare.  All-in-all, still totally enjoyable, including the wonderful bread and charcuterie.

The Good:
- Good variety including pastries, breads and charcuterie
- Generally good products
- Nice space 

The Bad:
- Not a very big space though

Rooftop at the Sticky Wicket

A long time ago, when we were "sans enfants", we made a trip to Victoria with Costanza and Elaine.  We stayed at the Chateau Victoria and dined on oysters at Ferris' Oyster Bar.  Interestingly, we had walked past the Sticky Wicket Pub where one of their windows had been smashed (police were on the scene). I believe we were to eat there that night, but due to the window issue, we went somewhere else.  Fast forward to the present, we are much older and have 2 kids each.  We returned to the Sticky Wicket and headed up to the Rooftop since we couldn't get a big enough table in the family friendly section of the pub downstairs.

Complete with a beach volleyball court, the rooftop is a great place to hang out on a sunny day.  That we did and yes, of course we ordered food.  My son went big with the Classic Steak Sandwich with sauteed button mushrooms, garlic bread and chips.  Prepared a perfect medium-rare, the steak was charred and evenly cooked.  Not only was it tasty, it was super tender and well-rested.  It was topped with a tonne of buttery tender mushrooms.  For my daughter, she had the Cajun Chicken Quesadilla with cheddar & Monterey jack cheese, scallions and tomatoes.  She added the guacamole (for $2.00 more) to go with the sour cream.  Again, this was nothing complex, but done relatively well.  Inside the grilled flour tortillas, there was lightly spiced chicken with a good amount of melted cheddar.

For myself, I had the BBQ Sampler with fire grilled Certified Angus beef top sirloin steak, beer braised chicken drumsticks, baby back pork ribs, grilled chorizo link, BBQ sauce, cheddar jalapeƱo cornbread, baked beans and spicy Italian pickled vegetables.  This was a decent amount of meat where the steak was medium rare and tender despite its small size.  The ribs were fall-off-the bone but a little bland.  I thought the drumsticks were cooked just right where the meat wasn't dry.  Rounding out the meats, the chorizo was nicely grilled and slightly spicy.  For Viv, she went for something light in the Pesto Chicken Baguette with basil infused pesto aioli, grilled chicken, crisp double smoked bacon, fresh apple, smoked gouda cheese and baby spinach leaves.  Featuring as soft buttered baguette, the sandwich didn't eat heavy.  I found the chicken to be tender and moist while the rest of the ingredients created even more moisture.  Loved the smokiness of the cheese and bacon.

One thing that wasn't all that interesting was the Rooftop Burger made with Certified Angus Beef.  To be fair, this was for Costanza's youngest son and he didn't want the tomato or lettuce which probably made the burger a bit dry to eat.  However, the burger patty itself was not all that juicy either.  It was seasoned with salt and pepper, so it wasn't bland and the addition of cheese helped as well.  For Elaine, she decided on the Sirloin Steak and Watermelon Salad with balsamic, fresh basil & mint infused watermelon, red onion, feta cheese and iceberg lettuce dressed in lemon olive oil. As you can see, the steak was medium (as requested) being tender.  The salad itself was refreshing and light while sporting plenty of acidity.  So as you can see, the food wasn't complex, but it did the job for a reasonable price.  Loved the rooftop setting where there was beach volleyball and also the kid friendly space.

The Good:
- More than acceptable eats
- Decent portions
- Nice rooftop setting

The Bad:
- Not inventive food by any means (but that is not what they are trying to do either)
- Rooftop can get windy (but that is to be expected)

Joyful Seafood Restaurant

So here we go again playing musical chairs with Chinese restaurants at 5665 Kingsway in Burnaby.  It was famous for the dragon lady owner when it was known as Po King where customers and staff alike were at her mercy.  It closed and became New Starlet, which was a decent spot, but pricing was a little too high for its location.  That lasted for many years until recently.  Now, in its latest iteration, we find Joyful Seafood Restaurant.  Not much was done with the interior decor and really, the only change I noticed was the new purple signage on the outside.

For some odd reason, we ordered 2 Rice Noodle Rolls which were somewhat similar in the Donut Rice Noodle Roll and the Crispy Fish Mousse Rice Noodle Roll.  Beyond the medium-thick noodle, the donut was a bit dense and not really all that crispy.  On the other hand, it wasn't bad and not overly greasy.  As for the fish mousse, I thought that it was fluffy enough that there was a light bounce texture while the exterior was a bit crisp.  I wasn't so sure why there was so much green onion in the rice noodle while there was plenty in the fish mousse already.  We really enjoyed the Stir-Fried XO Daikon Pudding Cake as the cubes were fried up crispy with very little oiliness.  Texturally, they were soft and almost airy with tender slivers of daikon and cured sausage.  I would've liked to see more brininess and spice from the XO sauce, but it was still evident.

As if there wasn't enough rice noodle rolls already, we also ordered the Brisket & Tendon Rice Noodle Roll Hot Pot.  This was a fairly large portion of rolled noodles underneath stewed brisket and tendon.  I thought the sauce was a tad goopy due to the addition of starch, but at the same time, I guess it would be better than watery.  The medium-sized chunks of brisket were tender with only a bit of fat.  I found the tendon pieces were rather small and melted though.  Staying on the same theme, we ordered the Sparerib and Chicken Feet Hot Pot Rice as well.  I thought this was pretty expensive considering the portion size ($13.95).  The spareribs were good though being mainly meaty pieces which were tender with a bit of chew remaining.  They were well-seasoned with plenty of garlickiness.  Chicken feet were solid too with tender deep fried skin with soft cartilage and fat underneath.  Only issue was the rice as it was a bit too wet.

Onto the staples of Dim Sum, the Ha Gau (Shrimp Dumplings) and Siu Mai (Pork & Shrimp Dumplings) were both well-executed.  I found the wrapper on the ha gau to be medium thick while not being too doughy.  It had a nice elasticity which in turn lead to a good mouth feel.  Inside, the shrimp filling was on point with big pieces of whole shrimp that were moist with a meaty snap.  They could've eased up on the seasoning though.  The siu mai were equally good except for the many large chunks of pork fat.  I know that is one of the keys to keep the meat moist and bouncy, but it could've been in smaller pieces so that it would not be as apparent (like in the ha gau).  Despite this, the overall texture of the pork and shrimp had a good rebound and the seasoning was nicely balanced.

From steamed, we moved over to fried in the form of Shrimp Spring Rolls and Deep Fried Taro Dumplings.  Strangely, the whole shrimp filling (that was in the ha gau) didn't work as well in the spring roll.  Due to the lack of shrimp mousse as a binding agent (and for moisture), the filling was loose and trending towards dry.  Besides that, the spring roll was crunchy and mild on the grease.  As for the taro dumplings, they were really good.  The medium-thick layer of mashed taro was super airy and light.  Unlike many other versions, these were properly drained and the even the bottoms were not overly oily.  The ground pork filling was mixed with a Portuguese sauce that was aromatic and lightly seasoned.  I would've liked to see less fatty bits though.

Back to the steamed, we had my favourite dish (in general, not specifically this one) in the Honeycomb Beef Tripe.  This was on point with large pieces of tender beef tripe.  It was soft enough that chewing was the easy part while not completely melted either.  I found the sauce to be pretty potent bordering on salty, but not.  There was some spice and sweetness to round the flavours out.  With very little gaminess, the tripe was obviously cleaned properly.  Large and overflowing off the plate, the Beef Meatballs were textbook.  Texturally, they were meaty and firm enough that there was some robustness.  At the same time, the meat was processed enough to be tender and light.  They were very easy on the seasoning where we could taste the green onion and cilantro.  This definitely needed the Worcestershire sauce on the side.

Normally, it isn't advised to order Xiao Long Bao in a Cantonese restaurant, but we did it for the kiddies.  Surprisingly, these were actually quite good featuring thin tender dumpling skin (lacking elasticity though) and a decent amount of sweet soup inside.  It was really too bad they were squished together since they essentially burst open when we picked them up.  Even the meat was tender and nicely textured.  They just need to use a bigger steamer.  We got the requisite BBQ Pork Buns for my son and they were good as well.  Featuring a fluffy and airy steamed bun, these ate well without any dense gumminess.  Inside, the lean pork filling was sauced with a sweet glaze.  A textbook version of this dish.

We ended off with the Baked Egg Tarts which were pretty decent too.  The tart puff pastry tart shell was flaky and buttery (more like lard, but yum!) while the filling was silky albeit on the firmer side.  It was just sweet enough.  Other than a few issues here and there, the Dim Sum service at Joyful was generally good.  Compared to my recent visit to another new spot (New Mandarin), I would say Joyful was more consistent across the board for a little less money.  Definitely worth a try if you are in Burnaby Metrotown area.

The Good:
- Solid Dim Sum
- Decent service
- Lots of parking

The Bad:
- XLBs were stuck together
- Not sure why the hot pot rice was so expensive