Sherman's Food Adventures

Yoko Sushi

Despite the mediocre reviews from several sources regarding the Minions movie, we still went to watch it with the kiddies.  Well, that and also the fact we had 2 free children's passes (from McD's)...  Yes, we just couldn't endure 2 McD's meals to obtain those passes without using them!  After the boring-for-adults movie, we thought of hitting up the nearby That Place for some pizza and pasta.  Once again, it was epic fail as the place was not open!  As a backup plan, we headed up the hill to Yoko Sushi on Austin Ave.

With my daughter raiding all the sockeye salmon from the Assorted Sashimi, we were left with toro, albacore tuna, tai and tako.  Although not prepared carefully in terms of knife skills not presentation, the slices of fish were mostly decent.  Despite not getting any sockeye salmon since my daughter ate it all, I was able to sample it on another dish and it was definitely the highlight of the assorted sashimi.  Next up was the Rainbow Roll consisting of a California roll topped with the aforementioned sockeye salmon, tuna and ebi.  The rice was actually pretty good texturally with an appealing chewiness and with just the right amount of moisture.  However, it tasted rather salty for some reason.  Inside, the imitation crab could've used a bit less mayo while the fish on top was decent like the sashimi.

For a filler dish of sorts, we ordered the Oyako Don which arrived looking more like  teriyaki chicken.  Typically, an Oyako Don is egg, chicken, onion on rice topped with dashi, mirin and soy.  In this case, everything was correct except the substantial drizzle of teriyaki sauce.  With that being said, the dish was alright since the chicken was tender and the egg was fluffy.  In fact, the rice was appealingly chewy as well.  It's just the teriyaki sauce that didn't taste right.  Lastly, we had the Chicken Karaage which arrived after everything else.  It appeared they took the same chicken they used for their teriyaki and deep fried it with a thin tempura batter.  Despite this, it was actually quite good with moist chicken and a lightly crispy exterior.

For the kiddies, we got them the Tempura Udon with carrots, onions and tempura bits.  Despite the addition of the veggies, I found that there was such a minimal amount, it didn't interfere with the udon (much like other non-Japanese versions that contain everything but the kitchen sink).  The soup base was sweet and tasted similar to chicken soup rather than a dashi, but it was okay nonetheless.  As for the noodles, they were still chewy and decently portioned.  The tempura served on the side was nicely prepared being crispy and not greasy.  I found the batter to be thin and not doughy inside.  Okay, if it wasn't obvious as you were reading this post that the food was far from authentic, then pay attention!  Although everything was completely edible and decent food-wise, there was very little to associate with actual Japanese cuisine.

The Good:
- Okay pricing
- Okay service
- Edible

The Bad:
- Plenty of liberties taken with Japanese cuisine
- Strange preparation of some dishes

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Saigon Ivy

We all know that there are many Vietnamese restaurants strewn throughout the Lower Mainland, particularly in East Van.  On the other hand, places like New West only have a handful. Big D, who happens to reside in New West, tipped me off about a new place called Saigon Ivy which offers up a fairly diverse menu.  Well, we met up on a warm Summer day for some Vietnamese fare (because it's generally hot all the time in Vietnam, so we were getting in the spirit of things).

By the power of suggestion (as in the picture on the menu), we started with the Deep Fried Chicken Wings.  These were fried golden brown and then tossed in peppers, garlic and chilis.  Although not as memorable, these appeared to be a cross between the ones from Phnom Penh and Pok Pok.  The wings were juicy and  flavourful from the fish sauce marinade while lightly crispy from the deep fry.  Although missing the lemon pepper dip, the wings were plenty tasty due to the wok toss.  For my main, I went for the Hu Tieu Dac Biet in soup.  Fairly light on the sodium, the soup was sweet with a mildly salty finish.  The noodles were toothsome while the modest amount of meats were sliced thin and tender.

Big D ended up with the Pho Ga Vien which featured a decent amount of sliced chicken meatballs.  I sampled the broth and it was clean and light while a touch sweet.  The noodles were toothsome, but not particularly plentiful.  Seeing how the portions were quite modest, we added a Grilled Pork Banh Mi for good measure. Although not exactly soft and airy, the bread was crusty.  Inside, there was the usual ingredients highlighted by the sweet and somewhat smoky pork.  It was a touch dry though. Ultimately, it was a decent attempt for a restaurant that doesn't specialize in banh mi.

On another visit, I went for the Pho Dac Biet which was not small, while not a large portion either.  I found the broth to have an initial intense sweetness that gave way to rather mild flavours.  It wasn't a clean broth, but then again, some of the murkiness added some depth. The meats were sliced thin and were okay if not a bit dry.  Noodles were a bit clumpy and sparse, but were not overcooked.  I also got a Lemongrass Beef with Vermicelli to go and it was a decent-sized dish.  Although the beef was nicely caramelized with a strong sweet taste, it was rather dry.  The noodles were a bit clumpy and soft, however, this was partially due to being in the Styrofoam box.  After these 2 visits, Saigon Ivy presents itself decently as an option for Vietnamese eats in New West.  Portions are generally modest while the service is quite good.

The Good:
- Decent eats
- Nice people
- Extensive menu

The Bad:
- Modest portions
- Mild flavours

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Asia Kitchen

After my initial visit to Asia Kitchen last year, I came away indifferent with their buffet and didn't have the urge to return anytime soon.  Strangely, I noticed that they offered Dim Sum earlier this year.  How were they going to serve Dim Sum independently from the buffet?  Well, I discovered the answer to that question when I walked through the doors recently.  They ended up turfing the buffet and Vietnamese menu in favour of Cantonese fare including Dim Sum service.

With as many Dim Sum options in Coquitlam as there is cheap housing, we were intrigued to see if at the very least the food would be serviceable.  Arriving first was the Stir-Fried Pea Shoots with garlic.  This featured tender pea leaves that still retained a crunch.  There was decent wok heat where the moisture was kept to a minimum while the grease was moderate.  In terms of seasoning, it was a bit weak where more salt and garlic was needed.  For a reasonable $8.50, the Seafood Fried Noodles featured a bevy of shrimp, squid, fish, zucchini and baby bak choy atop crunchy noodles.  Although there was a considerable amount of starch-thickened sauce on top, the firm noodles held their own.  Again, the seasoning was a bit weak while the shrimp needed more cold-water rinsing.

Onto the steamed items, we had the Haw Gow (Shrimp Dumpling) and Sui Mai (Pork & Shrimp Dumpling).  Slightly thick and doughy while too wet, the haw gow skin was also oversteamed.  Inside, the shrimp filling was a combination of whole shrimp and mousse.  There was a firm meatiness and only the slightest snap.  It did taste okay with a balanced sweetness accented by sesame oil.  As for the sui mai, they were on point.  By appearance alone, they looked appetizing and in fact, they were really good.  Sporting an even mix of whole crunchy shrimp and properly tenderized chunks of pork, the dumpling was juicy and buttery (due to the processed pork acting as a binding agent).  Flavours were good too with a balance between savoury and sweet elements.

For the kiddies, we got them the Lo Mei Gai (Sticky Rice) which were portioned into 3 mini wraps.  Inside, the rice was definitely glutinous while being a touch dry.  However, the ample ground pork filling did help moisten things when mixed together with the rice.  Moreover, the well-seasoned pork also helped season the rice.  Of course, we had to get my son's favourite being the Shrimp Spring Rolls that were cut on an angle (similarly to many places these days).  We enjoyed these as the exterior was hot and crunchy without much grease.  Inside, there was a bounty of buttery shrimp (and shrimp mousse) that was bordering on salty.

Another kid favourite was the Donut Rice Noodle Roll.  They enjoyed the super crunchy donut in the middle of the overly chewy rice noodle.  For me personally, the re-fried donut was far too crunchy and greasy.  In fact, I could taste the grease which was not particularly appealing.  Combined with the hard exterior noodle, I thought this was the weakest dish.  The same rice noodle was found on the Shrimp Rice Noodle Roll.  In turn, that affected the overall success of the dish.  Too bad really because it was packed with crunchy shrimp and shrimp mousse.  Similarly to the spring rolls, the shrimp was well-salted.

We went off the board and decided to try the Fish Dumplings with Cabbage since it was something different.  These turned out to be large fish mousse meatballs with green onion and bits of cuttlefish.  Although a touch fishy, the ample amount of salt and sugar helped masked it.  Texturally, the large fish balls exhibited the classic bounce texture akin to fish mousse.  As expected, we had our token offal item which was the Steamed Tripe and Tendon.  In a deep shade of reddish-brown, the whole dish was aggressively spiced with a noted sweetness.  We found the tripe to be tender, but rather dense lacking the typical butteriness.  As for the tendon, it was a bit too soft where some portions had melted.

The next 2 dishes were pretty good, but suffered from seasoning issues.  With the overpowering pungency of bamboo shoots, the Bean Curd Skin Rolls were also over-salted.  Hence, I needed to dunk them into Worcestershire sauce to mask it.  On the flip side, the textures were good though with chewy and moist fried bean curd skin as well as the same properly tenderized and bouncy chunks of pork (as the sui mai).  The saltiest dish of all was the Black Bean Spareribs sporting a really dark hue.  Texturally, it was just right with a chewy rebound that was still tender.  Furthermore, the pieces were easy on the fat and cartilage.  Yet in the end, the salt content made it difficult to eat.

Also for the kiddies, we got the BBQ Pork Buns that were bursting with filling.  We found the bun itself to be somewhat dry and dense.  However, the ample filling helped alleviate the this.  Sticky and sweet, the BBQ pork was lean and completely enveloped in sauce.  For dessert, we waited for the fresh made-to-order Egg Tarts.  Our patience paid off as these were fantastic.  Flaky and super buttery, these were served smoking hot from the oven.  We enjoyed the light tart shell that held in the silky semi-sweet egg custard.  These were definitely the highlight of the meal.  This was a good end to a relatively serviceable if unremarkable Dim Sum meal.  But if we take into account the price point and its location, Asia Kitchen serves as an option for Burquitlam.

The Good:
- Pretty attentive service
- Reasonably-priced
- Spacious dining room

The Bad:
- Dining room could use more light
- Food is relatively average with some hightlights


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The Wooden Spoon

Pops and I never get to eat out very much due to our busy schedules.  But in the Summer, we have the chance to rectify this.  Since he lives out in White Rock, it gives me the opportunity to visit his hood and ultimately try out some spots as well.  Now, the default would be to eat along Marine Drive with all of the other tourists and visitors.  However, Pops suggested something off the beaten path in The Wooden Spoon.  Looking more like something along Main Street in Vancouver, it brings a little bit of hipster into White Rock.

Pops decided on the Spoon Burger which looked mightily impressive.  He remarked that the pork and beef patty was moist and juicy while the soft bun held everything together despite the moisture.  With a bevy of ingredients such as maple bacon, aged cheddar, arugula, house made pickles, tomato jam, crispy onion ring and smoky garlic aioli, the burger hit all of the taste buds.  For myself, I had the Wooden Spoon Poutine complete with fried jalapenos, pulled pork and 2 fried eggs on top.  Served on a sizzling cast iron plate, not only did the fries on the bottom remain crunchy, the gravy, cheese and runny egg yolks cooked into a tasty mess.  I loved the house-cut fries as they remained somewhat crunchy even with the thick and mildly salty gravy on top.  I found the pulled pork to be tender while dressed in a sweet and slightly acidic BBQ sauce.  Strewn throughout was legit cheese curds as well as crispy and tangy jalapeno slices.

As you know, 2 dishes doesn't make for a great blog post, so I returned with Viv a few weeks later.  We shared 2 dishes including the Crab Benny with warm rock crab atop a buttermilk biscuit, Hollandaise, dill, capers, chives, avocado and 2 poached eggs.  Served on the side were potato fritters and chickpea salad.  As evidenced in the picture, the eggs were runny as requested.  Although not very prevalent, the chunks of crab were light and fluffy.  We found the Hollandaise to be creamy and mild-tasting while the capers dominated with their tart-saltiness.  The potato fritters were hard, dense and really forgettable while the chickpea salad had some nice textures especially from the celery.

For our second item, we had the Chicken Sandwich constructed with pan-seared chicken breast, brie cheese, onion jam, Okanagan apples, arugula and balsamic mayo on soft focaccia.  We opted for the Roasted Tomato Soup on the side.  This was an enjoyable sandwich with soft bread that caressed all of the ingredients.  The thin chicken breast was mostly moist and was nicely accented by the creamy brie, sweet onion jam and slightly sweet apples.  We would've liked to see more salt added to bring the chicken to life though.  As for the soup, it was really good.  Smooth with just the right consistency, the soup was appealingly tart with a background sweetness.  It was the brightness that the mild-tasting sandwich needed.  After these 2 visits, I have taken a liking to the Wooden Spoon.  Sure, there could be a few improvements here and there, but otherwise, they dish out solid eats.

The Good:
- Well-prepared eats
- Natural and friendly service
- Nice relaxing vibe

The Bad:
- On the pricier side

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Kamamarui Ramen & Don

For all the ramen joints we have in town, most seem to be located along and around Robson Street in Downtown Vancouver.  Hence, there are only a smattering of them in other parts of the GVRD.  The reasons for this are many, but the biggest determining factor is demographics.  Due to their tight quarters, ramen joints are not exactly family-friendly.  Furthermore, the type of cuisine is perfect for the single diner and especially in Downtown, the international student.  So it is no surprise that there are only 2 ramen spots in North Burnaby, where the population is predominantly families.

However, that didn't prevent Viv and I from bringing the kids with Elaine and her kids to the newly opened Kamamarui Ramen & Don situated in the old Akira Sushi location.  We almost took over one half of the restaurant.  The kids ended up sharing the Tonkotsu Ramen with sprouts and 2 slices of chashu.  Silky, fatty and full of pork flavour, the broth was flavourful and full of depth.  As for the noodles, they were well-portioned and toothsome.  We weren't fans of the chashu though since it was far from tender.  Furthermore, we found it to be salty from the sticky glaze.  Viv decided on the larger Chashu Ramen with the same broth, yet with the addition of 2 more slices of chashu.  As such, the broth was pretty salty from the sweet and salty glaze from the chashu.

For myself, I had the Miso Ramen based on the same pork broth.  Due to the miso, the soup was saltier and more pungent.  The miso paste was quite evident while the pork flavour did come through at the finish.  Just like the previous 2 ramen bowls, the noodles were toothsome and stayed as such to the end.  We also had a Chicken Don at the table and it looked rather impressive with a good amount of meat on top.  It was moist and succulent while sauced in enough teriyaki sauce for impact.  There was also noticeable smokiness from the torching.  Underneath, the rice was chewy and sufficiently moist.  Due to the ample and well-seasoned chicken on top, the rice was completely flavoured as a result.

Lastly, Marshmallow had the Cold Ramen with loads of toppings including shredded imitation crab, chashu, cucumber, wakame and julienned cucumber.  As such, the dish was filling and flavourful on its own.  She found the noodles to be a bit clumpy though, even after using the side of cold broth/sauce.  She didn't need much of it as the entire dish became too salty as a result.  Overall, we thought the meal was pleasant and obviously decent for North Burnaby (as there is only one other ramen joint nearby).  The broth was pretty decent, however, they could ease up with the seasoning on the chashu though.

The Good:
- Decent broth
- Decent portions
- Okay service

The Bad:
- Salty and dry chashu
- Overall flavourful food, but salty nonetheless

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Greek Corner

For some reason or another, my experiences with Greek food has been pretty much hit or miss.  I've either had some good meals or ones that I just could have done without.  Interestingly, these experiences have not necessarily reflected existing reviews where I've had some less-than-impressive meals at highly-rated restaurants.  That was the case when I dined at the now-closed John's Greek Taverna.  Now replaced with the Greek Corner and sporting a positive rating on Zomato, I made my way out there to investigate.

Joining me was Hot Mama and we shared the Calamari to start. Although small in portion size, the quality was there.  Each piece was tender and buttery with just a touch of resistance.  Outside, the light and crispy batter stayed adhered until the last bite.  On the side, the tzatziki was light and sported the freshness of cucumber and a touch of acidity.  For her main, Hot Mama had the Chicken Souvlaki with rice, lemon potato and Greek Salad. Attractively seared, the meat was relatively moist and well-seasoned.  Underneath, the rice was chewy and somewhat dry (but that is a good thing) while lightly salted.  As for the salad, the veggies were fresh and crisp while the dressing was lightly acidic.

For myself, I had to go with the Roast lamb with the same accompaniments.  Despite sporting a rich roasted flavour that included aromatic garlic, rosemary and oregano, the lamb itself was rather dry.  This could've possibly been due to the part of the lamb shoulder I received (as some parts are leaner).  The lemon potato was completely on point being soft while still retaining a certain firmness with a considerable lemon kick.  I returned once more to try the Mousaka with Caesar salad.  The well-defined layers were all done right with moist and tender beef spiced by nutmeg, tender, but not mushy potatoes and eggplant while topped with a creamy bechamel.  Again, the accompaniments were solid.  Despite the lamb, the rest of the food was above-average and way better than the restaurant it replaced.

The Good:
- Decent portion size for the price
- Reasonable pricing
- Welcoming owner

The Bad:
- Disappointing lamb

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Tomokazu

Like many, there was a time that I would dine on AYCE Japanese as much as I could stomach.  Hey, my appetite was large and AYCE did the trick, despite the questionable quality of the food.  Fast-forward to the present and my visits to AYCE Japanese have been as frequent as proper driving etiquette in Vancouver.  But for some reason or another, while we were strolling around Granville Island one afternoon, I decided that we should go reminisce at the nearby Tomokazu. 

Okay, I realize that AYCE means you can order as much as you want as long as you do not violate the time restriction and/or waste food.  However, those were some of the smallest slices of Sashimi I've ever seen.  Barely large enough to chew, it was as if there was a competition among the sushi chefs as to who could slice the smallest pieces.  Good size for my daughter, but for textural purposes, it didn't work.  At the very least, the fish was acceptable.  Moving onto the Nigiri, they were decently constructed where each piece stayed intact without being overly tight.  But the rice was a little dry and underseasoned.

The Ebi Tempura was a little disappointing as the batter was laid on real thick and didn't fully crisp up all the way through.  Hence, beyond the somewhat crispy exterior, it got doughy and wet.  Inside, the ebi was texturally too soft.  It was neither buttery nor meaty.  Although somewhat chewy, the Grilled Beef Short Ribs were not bad.  They were tenderized enough where the meat was somewhat buttery while still maintaining a natural chew.  By the same token, the ribs were over-marinaded where they were sweet like candy.  In reality, that only hid the fact they were quite salty as well.

Onto a random array of dishes, the next picture represents the Deep Fried Gyoza, Chicken Karaage, Oyster Motoyaki and Tonkatsu.  Of the 4, we thought the tonkatsu was pretty decent with a crispy panko coating and moist pork inside.  The karaage was okay as well exhibiting similar qualities.  We didn't like the "gyoza" as they were more like crisps.  The next 2 dishes were the Chicken Teriyaki and New York Steak.  Completely crunchy and rendered, the skin gave way to succulent chicken meat.  However, it was rather greasy.  Tough and dry, the New York steak was nothing like its namesake.

Okay, there are not a whole lot of things I have come across and find it hard to stomach.  Well, you're looking at 2 of them on the same plate in the Tuna and Beef Tataki.  Even thought the tuna was cut into little itty bitty pieces, it was super dense and bland.  The slices of beef were worse as I could barely chew through them.  Even the sauce underneath was weak.  We all know that Raw Oysters are banned at the moment, but when I had the ones at Tomokazu, they were actually okay.  They were not very sweet, but at the very least, they were fresh.  On the right, the Salmon Kama was fairly overcooked being dry and flavourless.  This pretty much summed up our return visit here where the food was "meh" and sometimes poor.  There were other items that we had that I didn't even have the motivation to blog about.  

The Good:
- Lot of choice
- Fairly spacious seating

The Bad:
- Food quality has gone downhill
- Service was okay, but rather absent

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