Sherman's Food Adventures

Shibuyatei Japanese Restaurant

If we had to present an award for "the strangest location for a ramen joint", it would go to Shibuyatei.  Off to the side of a car wash along Sea Island Way in Richmond, the place is small and is really a one-man operation.  The fellow greets, cooks, cleans, takes orders and scolds customers all in unison.  Yep, he is our version of the Soup Nazi.  This also happened to be our 3rd stop on the Dumpling Trail where we were in search of some Gyoza.  That we did order, but as with all of the other stops, we were going to do a full meal too.

We did indeed start with their dumplings in the Gyoza Combo featuring 2 each of Pork, Shrimp and Scallop.  These featured a thin and chewy skin that was a touch dry.  On the bottom, it was fairly well-seared, but it wasn't really that crispy.  My favourite of the bunch was the pork as it was tender, moist and a bit meaty.  It was mild-tasting though.  I found the scallop to be sweet, but a little mushy as the meat was diced up pretty small.  On the other hand, the shrimp had a meaty snap and was naturally sweet.  We decided to try their Pork Katsu Curry as well and I found it pretty solid.  The katsu was tender and meaty while the panko coating was not really all that crunchy.  I found the curry itself to be just sweet enough with a rich and deep spice. There was some beef in it though as it doubled as the beef curry as well.

Of course we also tried their Larmen in original form and also the Clam Larmen.  Both soup bases were really light and clean.  There was no fat to be found and we could really taste the shoyu.  Was it good?  I guess it is subjective as I'm sure some people love the Tokyo-style, but for us, we much prefer the rich tonkotsu broth.  Again, very subjective.  We liked the noodles as they were al dente and stayed as such even in the hot broth.  I found the chashu to be on the leaner side, but still tender.  The clams added a brininess and strong shellfish flavour to the broth.  For some, it was too strong and created an overwhelming fishiness to the bowl of noodles.  Personally, I liked it and it reminded me of the one at The Ramenman.

Lastly, we had the Deluxe Giff Don featuring fried chicken karaage pieces coated in a sweet soy atop rice.  Completing the dish was a soft yolk egg on top.  This was fairly pleasant where the chewy rice benefited from the runny and silky yolk.  The chicken sported rendered skin which wasn't crispy though.  There was enough sweeten soy to not only flavour the chicken, but the rice as well.  I wished the chicken had some inherent flavour of its own rather than just the outside.  Overall, I found the food at Shibuyatei quite good and a bit different.  I guess whether you like the larmen or not is purely subjective.

*Food paid for by Tourism Richmond*

The Good:
- A bit different (in a good way)
- Mostly decent eats
- It's got that strange location thing going

The Bad:
- One man show means slow service and slow food
- It's his shitck, but he can be rather abrupt

Szechuan House (Aberdeen Food Court)

On my second go-around on the Dumpling Trail in Richmond, it brought us to Aberdeen Centre, specifically, the food court.  Of course there are many dumplings to be found there, but the Dumpling Trail only consists of participating restaurants.  In other words, Tourism Richmond did not suddenly have a brain cramp and forget to include some of the obvious spots.  Instead, they chose not to participate (for those who are scratching their heads as to why some of their favourite places are conspicuously missing).  I digress.  So we headed over to the place that was participating in Szechuan House.

We ended up getting 4 items including the Spicy Wontons and Boiled Dumplings.  In terms of overall flavour and impact, the spicy wontons were not lacking.  The spicy and tongue-numbing chili oil-based sauce was definitely at the forefront.  At the same time, it wasn't so spicy that we couldn't taste some saltiness to go with the background sweetness and a touch of tang.  The wontons featured a fairly dry skin that was semi-thick.  I found the filling to be a touch mealy where it lacked actual texture.  The boiled dumplings were pretty good despite looking rather sad.  I found the dumpling skin to be medium thickness, yet tender at the same time.  The filling was surprisingly balanced despite the plethora of green onions.  We just wished there was more of it.

One of the more surprising items was the Dan Dan Noodles.  By appearance alone, we weren't holding out much hope.  However, once we mixed in the ground pork sauce, the chewy noodles were completely seasoned and tasty.  There was a good balance of savoury and spicy elements to go with an aromatic essence.  I couldn't put my finger on it, but it was a bit smoky and incredibly savoury.  I would've finished the whole thing myself if I didn't have to pace myself.  Our last dish was the Mouth-Watering Chicken which was tossed rather aggressively in the chili-oil based sauce.  Although not particularly aesthetically-pleasing, the chicken was well-seasoned being salty and spicy.  However, the chicken itself was a bit dry and not flavourful on its own.  For food court eats, Szechuan House did the job and surprised with the Dan Dan Noodles.

*Food paid for by Tourism Richmond*

The Good:
- Inexpensive (it's a food court after all)
- Friendly lady but limited English
- Dan Dan Noodles good despite visuals

The Bad:
- Food was a bit awkward to eat with all the sauces (especially with the foam plates) 
- Dumplings could use more filling   

Venetis Restaurant

You'd think finding a place would be easy right?  Driving around Langley (why were we in Langley again???), Emily and I were out-of-ideas (or maybe we were just being picky).  Then I remembered I had an Entertainment coupon for Ignite Cafe which was around the corner from where we were.  However, by the time we got there (8:00pm), they were closing.  Who closes at 8:00pm???  So with only chain restaurants staring us down, Emily suggested we go to Venetis Restaurant.

One of their daily specials was the Escargot for $4.99 with cheese (w/o cheese would be only $3.99.  This was a fairly decent version with lots of goey cheese on top.  However, the seasoning was rather weak with a lack of garlic and butter.  Hence, the escargot was more about texture rather than flavour.  Our meals included the basic Salad Bar that featured green leaf mix, pasta salad, potato salad, beets, baby corn and dressings.  I got a bit of everything and although there was a lack of variety, I was impressed with the freshness of the items.  Besides, I didn't want to waste any of my appetite on veggies where there is steak to be had...

For my main, I had the King Cut Prime Rib with fries.  This massive amount of meat was prepared medium-rare, but more on the rare side.  That is my personal preference, hence, it suited me just fine.  The cap was tender and fatty while the mid-section was more meaty and a touch chewy.  However, it was not difficult to eat at all.  I wasn't all that fond of the gravy on top as I would've enjoyed an au jus instead.  Surprisingly, the fries were house-cut and prepared expertly.  They were crispy and fresh with a natural potato texture inside.  

Unfortunately, the New York Strip was uneven in thickness which also meant the doneness was inconsistent.  One end was past medium while the rest of it was medium-rare.  The small portion that was medium-rare was tender and delicious while most of the steak was dry and overdone.  I did like the smoky and appealing char on the exterior.  Although not the star of the plate, the baked potato was solid being creamy soft inside and loaded with all the usual toppings.

We also got the Veal Oscar featuring Bearnaise with baby shrimp.  Although the breading was a bit thick and lacking in crispiness, the meat inside was tender and exhibited a natural texture.  The sauce was thick and not overly rich while being flavourful with a butteriness and some sweet brininess from the shrimp.  As you can probably guess, Venetis is a restaurant from yesteryear (like circa 1970s) where the decor is dim and full of wood and vinyl.  The menu is traditional and so is the preparation of the food.  Not the sexiest option out there, but solid food for a reasonable price.

The Good:
- Reasonable pricing
- Decent eats
- Well-portioned

The Bad:
- Decor that would fit in with 3's Company (if you know what that is)
- Food is basic    

Sugar Patisserie

We all know that some of the best macarons in the GVRD can be found at vancouver locations like Soirette and Bon Macaron.  If we head out further, there is also Chez Christophe and even Kitchening with Carly.  However, are there any decent macarons to be found once we cross a bridge?  Yep, L'Opera Patisserie makes some mean ones, but how about Surrey?  That is what I wanted to find out the first time I visited Sugar Patisserie out on 64th Ave.  It was a fail since it was closed (4pm).  So I tried again and picked up some other items including their macarons.

I went for a full dozen of Macarons that covered all 10 of their available flavours for the day.  These consisted of peanut butter caramel, strawberry, pumpkin, coconut, chocolate, raspberry, caramel, Tiffany vanilla, pistachio and lemon.  When I first bit into one at the store, they were still cold from being refrigerated.  Hence, I waited for them to warm up and they ended up to be lightly crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.  Interestingly, the peanut butter caramel was rather dense and chewy while the coconut was lighter and softer.  This was the theme for most of the macarons, so depending on the flavour, the texture could vary.  My favourite was the coconut as it was aromatic and not too sweet.  As much as I wasn't a fan of the texture of the peanut butter caramel, it was pretty tasty.

However, the most tasty thing was actually the Peanut Butter Brownie.  This was well-balanced in flavour with a mild sweetness from the rich chocolate and the classic nutty aromatics from the smooth peanut butter.  Texturally, the brownie was dense and moist without being too heavy.  This was something that I couldn't stop eating and wanted more of it.  With a bevy of layers, the Pistachio Torte sported an almost floral quality.  It was aromatic, lightly sweet and ended off with a classic roasted pistachio essence.  The torte was light yet a bit dry despite all of the cream in between the layers.

Something that was less sweet and had a bitter finish was the Chocolate Caramel Tart.  It featured a thick ganache chocolate filling that was smooth and as mentioned, with a dark chocolate slant.  The buttery tart shell was crispy and firm while aggressively baked.  That meant there was a certain nuttiness from the copious amount of butter. Now that tart shell worked with the robust chocolate filling, but it was a bit too strong for the curd in the Lemon Tart.  Despite being appealing tart and only purposefully sweet, the aftertaste of the nutty tart shell was more dominant.  Now that didn't mean the whole thing wasn't good though as the custard was tasty and had a balanced consistency as well as a sparkly sheen.  So despite some shortcomings, I believe that Sugar Patisserie offers up decent enough products, especially given the lack of choices out in the area.

The Good:
- Okay pricing
- Decent products
- Nice people

The Bad:
- Some macarons were dry and too dense

Mosquito

After sampling 5 soups and chowders at Crab Park Chowdery, Emily and I were looking for something sweet.  This was due-in-part to the pointed savouriness (bordering on salty) of the chowders.  Well, we didn't have to look very far as we walked only a block to Mosquito.  The name doesn't really describe the place, but it is a higher-end lounge-type establishment that serves up creative cocktails and equally interesting desserts.

We were seated at the bar which was a great place to watch the mixologist craft some cocktails.  Of course, we ended up with 2 including the Blossom and Love Pimento.  With vanilla chili-infused tequila, passionfruit puree and lime, the love pimento was light, floral and fruity.  The tequila was smooth and not too strong while the drink was on the sweeter side.  Made with lillet, peach schnapps, plum bitters, violet syrup and sparkling wine, the Blossom was also light and floral.  There was an alcohol aftertaste as well as some medicinal qualities.

For our desserts, we tried the Apple & Hazelnut first.  It consisted of apple citrus cremeux, hazelnut praline Chantilly, apple cider reduction, caramel and goat cheese ice cream.  We found this concoction light and subtle with pointed hits of apple being sweet and tart.  The hazelnut was mild, but the sauce helped bring out the aroma.  Loved the crunch of the nuts as they were impactful and needed.  Finally, the ice cream was creamy and smooth while being not overly sweet.

Next, we had the Bergamot Exotic Baba soaked in Diplomatico rum, coconut chantilly, passion fruit caviar, mango sorbet and lemon balm.  This was a pretty dish featuring aromatic and crunchy coconut.  The mango sorbet was sweet and intense with natural flavours.  We thought the sponge cake was too dry though even with the rum.  It was not too strong though.  The bits of passionfruit were ripe being really sweet and delicious.

Our last dessert was called A Little Bitter with sour cherry compote, lemon sorbet, old fashion aromatic bitters jelly and amaretto foam.  This lived up to its namesake with bitter jelly.  However, the sour cherries were intensely sweet and not really all that tart. There were some floral qualities to the dessert as well as an Asian-taste to it.  Overall, we thought Mosquito was a cool place to hang out and grab a drink while being treated to creative desserts.  However, the pricing is on the higher end.

The Good:
- Creative desserts
- Creative cocktails
- Nice vibe

The Bad:
- A bit too dark in there even for lounge
- Expensive   

Crab Park Chowdery

Although we have a few places in town that specialize in soups, there hasn't been one dedicated to chowders and specifically those served in sourdough bread bowls.  Yes, if this sounds like Boudin in San Francisco, you aren't too far off.  However, there are not many places in North America that offers up tasty clam chowder in house-baked sourdough bowls right along the water.  In terms of Vancouver, we have to celebrate the opening of Crab Park Chowdery in Gastown because it is the only one of its kind at the moment.

Emily and I dropped by on an invitation to try all of their chowders including the Baked Potato served in a sourdough bread bowl.  Loaded with tender chunks of potato and topped with green onion, tomato, sour cream and cheese, this was fairly heavy.  The dominant flavour was the tart sour cream followed by the tart and plump tomatoes.  This was definitely hearty, but a bit out-of-balance.  I thought the Clam Chowder was pretty flavourful with the hit of salty and smoky bacon.  There were layers of different tastes and textures like the briny clams, herbs and cream.  I liked how it was thick, but not too thick.

We then sampled a trio including Tomato, Vegan Chili and Roasted Pepper and Corn.  Of the 3, the latter was our favourite as it bordered on salty, but ultimately was a sock-in-the-face explosion of sweet corn, slight spice and creaminess.  The tomato was aromatic and tart with a natural essence.  There was some smoky chipotle in the background and an almost vanilla-like aroma at the end.  As for the vegan chili, it was chunky, tart and definitely spicy.  I didn't mind it, but I much prefer a meat version.  But I understand the premise behind it - offering up a vegan choice.  From the 5 items we tried, our favourite was the roasted pepper and corn chowder followed by the clam chowder.  The others were okay, but I would stick with the 2 we mentioned.

*All soups were complimentary*

The Good:
- A dedicated chowder spot with sourdough bowls, finally...
- Reasonably-priced for what you get
- No absence of flavour

The Bad:
- Although reasonably-priced, soup portion could be a touch larger
- Soups are flavourful, but some might find them salty