Sherman's Food Adventures

Siegel's Bagels

Sometimes, when we are busy trying to look for the next greatest thing, we tend to ignore the classics.  In this case, I was attempting to find something for late night eats after hockey.  Yes, there are still some places like Cuchillo that I haven't officially blogged about yet, but we wanted something more low-key.  Bam!  Why not the ol' Siegel's Bagels out in Kits?  For those who are unaware, this Vancouver institution has been serving up bagels for over a quarter of a century.  They also are open late which was perfect for our purposes.

Nothing particularly complicated about the place. It serves bagels and bagel sammies with a side of fries if you like.  Yes, there is also cream cheese spreads as well.  We didn't stray far from the regular menu though as Lionel Hutz had the Montreal Smoked Meat on a plain bagel with the aforementioned fries.  So compared to a slice of rye bread, the bagel ate more dense and heavy (similarly to the ones at Rosemary Rocksalt - and yes, they are related to Siegel's).  Still good though with a proper amount of meat to balance things out.  Milhouse went for the Reuben on a poppy seed bagel. With the addition of cheese and sauerkraut, the whole thing ate more moist and was multi-layered in flavour.  This was the better of the 2 in my opinion, especially with the poppy seed bagel.

For myself, I had the Club on a caraway seed bagel and by virtue of all the ingredients (Montreal smoked meat, turkey breast, lettuce, tomato, cheddar, mayo and mustard), this ate like an actual sandwich even though it was in a bagel.  As for the fries, they were hot and crispy.  Quite good for a bagel spot.  This was the perfect late night snack and really it would be great for anyone in need of a bite or have the munchies after leaving the bars and/or clubs in Downtown.

The Good:
- Classic spot for bagels in Vancity
- Surprisingly good fries
- Reasonably-priced

The Bad:
- Personally, a bagel sandwich can be rather heavy, especially late at night
- Limited parking in the lot when busy
- Seats are at a premium when busy

Food @ The Fair at PNE 2019

Every year, there are certain things to look forward to.  Things you mark down on the calendar with anticipation.  These may include birthdays (maybe for some people...), vacations, start of the hockey season and the PNE.  Yah, not everyone needs another Sham Wow or cares about the prize home (I do!), but many keep an eye out for the most unique fair food offerings.  So on a very rainy (like downpour) Wednesday, I set out on the annual media tour to seek out the different as well as the classics.  On a side note, if you want to visit the PNE without crowds and you don't mind rain...  I suggest you go when others stay away.

So what is the best thing to start with at 9:00am in the morning?  How about Butter Beer Soft Serve Ice Cream?  To give it more of a "magical" appearance, throw in some dry ice!  Beyond the visuals, the soft serve was creamy and rich (it was thick rather than icy or airy).  It was flavoured with butterscotch and as much as I was skeptical (I'm not a fan of butterscotch), it was purposefully sweet.  I ended up eating it all.  Moving onto something savoury in the Carnitas Tatchos.  I'm a big fan of tater tots, so that alone would've been tasty.  However, add in tender pulled pork and fresh salsa with the creamy kick of chipotle cream, you have the best of nachos with crunchy tots instead.

This was only 9:30am and we had already sampled ice cream and a dish that would be more suited for the inebriated.  So why not go down that road with the Tipsy Unicorn?  Served in a plastic glass that featured a separated section with dry ice, the very berry lemonade was combined with or without vodka (during Playland Nights only for the alcoholic version).  Yep, the presentation was gimmicky, but it was rather refreshing as it wasn't crazy sweet.  Add in the vodka and it would be just right.  We didn't end there as we also sampled the collaboration between the PNE and Parallel 49.  Aptly named Nefairious, this beer features only 4.5% alcohol.  The result was a lighter, more refreshing beverage.  I guess one would just drink more as a result... 

Something that sounded totally out-of-left field and honestly not-that-tasty, was the Ramen Corn Dog.  Well, I had to literally eat my words, I mean the corn dog because it was really good!  I've always enjoyed the corn dogs from Corn Dog King, so that should've been an indication (I shouldn't have judged so quickly!).  The fried ramen bits on the outside offered up a firm crunch that complimented the existing crispiness from the batter.  Once past the fluffiness underneath, we found melted cheese and the wiener.  Now the next food item, Pickle Pizza, did sound good.  I love pickles and this was tangy, sweet and cheesy.  Due to the tang, it was appetizing and really helped cut the fattiness of the cheese.  I found the crust to be crispy on the bottom while soft and chewy the rest of the way.

For the longest time, pork cracklings were "the" crunchy skin that was eaten on its own.  Now we see bags of crispy fish skin with salted egg yolk and also Fried Chicken Skin on more and more menus.  Now you can get yourself an order at the PNE as well.  The best part of fried chicken is even more so when it is deep fried individually.  It was uniformly crunchy with evenly rendered fat.  Add in some seasoning and you have the "it" chip.  The next place we visited was Freakk Fries with their Foot Long Fries in a variety of flavours.  Not only did these look impressively-sized...  They were also very good.  Crunchy from end-to-end, the inside of the fries were still plenty potatoey and not fried to a crisp.  The trick is to pick them up in the middle and break them into 2 or you will end up dropping them.  My favourite flavour was the butter chicken followed by the garlic parmesan.

With all these new food items, we also have to remember the classics including Jimmy's Lunch, that have been operating at the PNE for 90 years.  Still family-run, their claim to fame is their caramelized onions that goes into both their Burger and hot dog.  Simple with lettuce, tomato, American cheese and the aforementioned onions, the burger ate well.  The patty was moist and juicy while the onions added a smoky sweetness.  Solid after all these years.  Then we had a modern version at Rice Burger with chicken katsu and beef yakiniku sandwiched in between 2 seared discs of rice.  This is a good gluten-free option for those wanting a burger or sandwich of some type.  I found the spicy chicken my favourite as it was crispy where the batter stayed adhered to the tender and moist chicken.  The rice was obviously denser than a bun, but a good carb alternative.

After the tour, I decided to go for 2 of the most popular items at the fair including Gator BBQ with their Vegetarian's Nightmare.  This consisted of half-rack of pork ribs, beef brisket, pulled pork, beans and potato.  For me, this is one of the better values at the PNE for $32.00.  It easily feeds 3 people, maybe more (especially if you ate the aforementioned items already!).  Lastly and most importantly, I ended off with something sweet in the form of Mini-Donuts at Those Little Donuts.  A PNE classic (in fact, I worked there before!) with warm sugar-cinnamon donuts made before your eyes by those little machines.  So there you go, this is just a small taste of what is available at the PNE this year.  Enjoy the eats and maybe you can win a house or win a car...

*Most items were complimentary*

The Good:
- Less shock items this year
- They might look gimmicky, but they were good
- Classics are still a good bet

The Bad:
- Of course with any fairs, pricing isn't cheap
- Hunky Bill passed.  Go have some perogies in his honour...


Yum Sweet Shop

For such a big city, Vancouver is pretty lacking when it comes to ice cream parlours.  I'm not talking about spots such as Earnest and Rain or Shine.  These fit into the "modern" category where the classic banana split does not exist.  Other than some restaurants (like DQ) and Glenburn in Burnaby, we don't see the ol' fashion ice cream shop with counter seating.  Of course at this point, I'm going to introduce a new spot on Main Street called Yum Sweet Shop.  It combines the charm of a candy store (think Sweet Factory) with an ol' skool ice cream parlour.  

To get a true feel of their ice cream selection, we got a triple scoop to start in a colourful (and sweet) waffle cone.  From top to bottom, we had Pecan Caramel Crunch, Creamsicle and Grape Float.  The common theme amongst these flavours was the sweetness level, it was pretty high.  Compared to say, Elephant Garden Creamery, the sweetness was more dominant than the actual flavours.  I know this is subjective where some ice cream lovers want it sweet.  Texturally, the pecan caramel crunch was creamy and rich. This was the sweetest of the 3 and that was to be expected due to the bursts of caramel and the crunch.  Of course, the 2 fruitier flavours were sherberts and hence were lighter.  I liked the creamsicle the best since it reminded me of the classic childhood treat.  To pile on the sugar, the crunchy waffle cone was aromatic and yes, sweet.

Remember the aforementioned Banana Split?  Well, we ended up getting it with 3 different flavours including Belgian Hazelnut Chocolate, New York Cheesecake and S'mores.  First off, I thought the banana was the right ripeness being firm and somewhat neutral tasting (didn't interfere with ice cream).  I liked the hazelnut chocolate as it was balanced and nutty.  Cheesecake was creamy and of course sweet, but it was cheesy.  S'mores was sweet like the rest, but especially so due to the ingredients.  We also got an Ice Cream Sandwich featuring chocolate chip cookies, salted caramel ice cream, caramel sauce and milk chocolate.  Yep, this was pretty sweet too, but the salted caramel was salty enough to provide some variation.  This was pretty firm and melted slowly.  Probably better if it sat for a bit first.  Overall, I thought Yum was a cute little shop that is definitely a kiddie heaven.  For more refined tastes, it could be a bit too sweet where the flavours are not as defined.

The Good:
- Lots of candy
- Well done on the decor and feel
- Lots of options on the menu

The Bad:
- Ice cream could be a little less sweet and more focused on the individual flavours

Black Market Supper Club

Okay, we've seen this all before...  Swallow's Tail and NFA (No Fixed Address) were some of the earliest supper clubs in the Lower Mainland where diners would meet at a location (could be a residential address) for a meal prepared by a chef.  Usually, a reasonable price would be paid and often, it was BYOB.  The premise also afforded the opportunity for strangers to socialize over good food and drink.  Well, I haven't been to one recently, but an invite to the French Laundry-inspired menu from Black Market Supper Club got me intrigued.  Viv and I made our way out to the location (which would be in South Surrey) and met up with old friends (Joyce and David) and also some new ones.

At first glance, the Charcoal & Dutch Cheese Gougères looked like hot rocks that were ready to cook something.  Nice deception, yet at the same time, utterly delicious.  They were cheesy and light while amped further by the 3 butter options served on tongue depressors.  From top to bottom, we had matre'd, burnt onion brown butter and everything bagel.  My favourite was the brown butter as it was nutty, aromatic and sweet from the onion.  Next up, we were served the Truffle Custard presented in an egg with black truffle ragout.  This was luxuriously silky and truffly with on point seasoning.  The only thing that could've been better was the viscosity as it was on the thinner side.

The absolute best dish of the meal in my opinion was the Lobster Pancake stuffed with marscapone, lobster, shrimp and chives.  The delicate crepe had a great mouth feel and was beautifully aromatic from the chives.  Lobster was perfectly tender with an appealing rebound.  The brown butter and carrot puree added a sweet nuttiness that didn't overwhelm the rest of the dish.  Onto our last dish before dessert, we had the Yabba Dabba Do consisting of braised shortrib, Wagyu beef, roasted potato with bone marrow and chanterelles.  Nice take on Thomas Keller's dish as the Wagyu literally melted-in-my-mouth.  Loved how the bone marrow provided the fattiness needed for the firm potato.  Bordelaise sauce was on point being meaty and full of umaminess.

For dessert, we were served the classic Chocolate Velouté sitting atop cinnamon ice cream and chocolate sauce.  In terms of impact, the chocolate really came through and was tempered by the cold ice cream with a hint of cinnamon.  I would've liked to see the "cookie" itself to be softer, but it was fine nonetheless.  In general, the experience as a whole was a fun and tasty adventure where we got to meet new friends over delicious food.  A good value at $65.00 IMO.

*All food was complimentary, wine was BYOB*

The Good:
- Generally solid execution and impressive considering the kitchen limitations
- Enough food to be full
- Fun social event

The Bad:
- Random locations not known until a few days before, so be prepared to drive or taxi

Black Market Supper Club

Glowbal's Secret Chef's Table

Generally, food quality and execution are pretty much the most important parts of a meal.  it is true that ambiance and service contribute greatly to the experience as well.  Now if we can get all those in one package, that would be an ideal situation.  However, it is not really all that hard to attain as one could merely plop a fortune on a destination restaurant for instance.  Now if you aren't up to spending that kind of cash in addition to traveling to the destination, there is something unique in our own city.  I was recently invited to Glowbal's Secret Chef's Table which is essentially a chef's private table in the downstairs kitchen at Glowbal.

Before we descended the stairs to the secret private table, we met in the lounge area where we sipped on martinis and were presented with some appies in the form of Beef Tartare as well as Oysters on the half shell.  Presented as a canapé, the beef tartare was a nice little bite featuring buttery beef dressed with enough silky egg and tangy whole grain mustard for effect.  The little dollop of horseradish aioli provided some creamy bite.  As for the oysters, they were classically accompanied by a cucumber tomato mignonette.  This was simple and appetizing that left us ready for the main event.  This was a nice way to socialize in the beautiful room at Glowbal (which is what they are known for).

Once seated, we served our first dish consisting of Scallop & Smoked Sablefish Crudo with lime caviar, ginger emulsion and watercress foam.  Both the scallop and sablefish were buttery soft and sweet (the scallop more so).  Only lightly smoky, the sablefish a bit meatier than the tender scallop.  The pops of acidity from the lime caviar kept things bright while the ginger emulsion added another layer of bite.  Providing the necessary texture, we found baby cauliflower strewn throughout.  Next, we had the Cured Arctic Char with mandarin pudding, shiso bavarois and cucumber gelée.  Also buttery, yet firmer than the crudo, the arctic char was flavourful on its own.  However, the shiso bavarois was intensely herbal and added a unique accent.  Loved the pops of brininess from the roe on top.

Featuring delicious components, the Lobster Ravioli sat atop a salsify and lobster puree.  This paired beautifully with the al dente pasta where the creaminess of the sauce was aromatic.  Meaty lobster tail meat sat the left of the pasta where it rested on peas and fava beans.  I would've liked to see more plump peas here as the firmness detracted from the lobster.  On the right, we found a perfectly prepared and seared piece of foie gras.  It propped up a fried zucchini blossom stuff with lobster and chives.  This was delicately crispy with a filling that was sweet and had an appealing rebound texture.  From here, we witnessed first-hand the preparation of the Plum & Champagne Granita with lemon balm.  Plenty of dry ice action lead to a tangy and refreshing palate-cleanser.

After our palate-cleanser, we moved onto something meatier in the Seared Japanese Wagyu (yes it was A5!).  To say this was sinfully delicious would be an understatement.  Seared just enough to activate the fats (so it wouldn't be chewy), the beef was tender and literally melted-in-my-mouth.  It was properly seasoned, but the side of black truffle croquette amped up the umaminess.  Completing the dish was smoked purple potato and compressed honeydew.  More meat lay ahead with the Smoked Pancetta-wrapped Lamb Loin.  Spot-on execution once again being medium-rare with crispy pancetta on the outside (and it remarkably stayed adhered to the meat).  We also found a fall-apart tender lamb cheek and a crispy lamb rack on the plate.  I found the bell pepper succo flavourful enough to provide both moisture and sweetness.

Trying to hit all of the red meats, we had the Venison Loin with beet & blueberry crumbs, fennel purée, roasted date and red currant foam.  Beyond the perfectly cooked venison which was moist and tender, the roasted date was the second best thing on the plate.  It was so intensely sweet and sticky, the level of impact was substantial.  Lightly sweet and earthy, the crumbs were a nice compliment to the venison and the sticky date.  Onto dessert, we were presented with the Jivara Chocolate Mousse with feuilletine, caramel and gold.  Stunningly plated, the chocolate mousse was contained within the chocolate sphere.  It was creamy and purposefully sweet while the feuilletine provided textural crispiness.  This was a fine way to end an amazing meal, but we weren't really done.

To officially end things off, 2 plates of Petit Fours were set onto the table.  As if we needed any more food!  My favourite was the chocolate truffles as they were rich with an appealing bitterness.  Now this was all fine and dandy, but the food was only a portion of the experience.  Sitting in the kitchen having a private 8-course tasting menu can only be experienced first-hand and words don't do it justice.  It is very nice to see that Glowbal is capable of such a refined and well-executed menu.  There was no pricing available at the time of this blog post, but I am curious how much this one-of-a-kind experience will set one back.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Unique experience
- On point execution
- Delicious

The Bad:
- How come these dishes can't be offered on the regular menu?  They are truly good!
- Not sure how much this will cost?




Havana

I remember the first time I blogged about Havana out on Commercial Drive.  I remarked that, although their Cubano was tasty, it was not actually a Cubano.  Rather, it was a sandwich that resembled a burger which contained some of the ingredients of a Cubano.  As you can ascertain, authenticity was not a thing at old Havana.  I returned many years later and they had changed things up.  They added a theatre and their food was remarkably different.  Now, they have been taken over by the group that runs Postmark Brewing, Belgard Kitchen, and Vancouver Urban Winery.  We recently visited the place to see whether the change was a good one or not.

They now sport a more Latin tapas-themed menu and as such, we had to get the Patatas Bravas with garlic aioli and bravas sauce.  In terms of taste, this dish was on point with the smoky paprika really coming though while tempered by the creamy and aromatic aioli.  However, the cubes of fried potatoes were far too dense and firm.  They were underdone and not very crispy.  Fortunately, the next dish was remarkably better in the Avocado Tostones featuring twice-fried plantains, cotija cheese and pico de gallo. Although a touch soft from the wet ingredients on top, the plantains were mostly crispy and a bit nutty.  Ingredients were super fresh and light which meant this was a pleasant little bite.

Onto the possibly the best dish of the bunch was the Mussels Espana sporting 1lb of Salt Spring Island mussels, Two Rivers chorizo, cohiba sauce, white wine, tomato and grilled sourdough.  Beyond the buttery and extremely briny mussels, the broth was robust and zesty.  There was a nice spice that was balanced by an appealing tanginess.  Loved the chorizo as it not only added a meatiness, it was also aromatic.  We also got one of their flatbreads with the Porchetta.  There wasn't anything necessarily wrong with this dish as it featured a crispy crust with fairly nice leoparding.  It was nutty and chewy.  However, the combination of white cheddar, banana, mojo onions and cracklin was fairly flat.  There was no pop.  This could've used some form of spice or tang to bring it to life.

Okay, let's get the Cubano with porchetta, honey ham, swiss cheese, dill pickles and yellow mustard on a house Cuban bun.  Was it better than the original they had here?  Definitely.  This was pressed with a crunchy buttery exterior giving way to melty cheese and the saltiness of the ham and pickles.  Was it better than the ones I've had in Miami?  No, but this was pretty good for Vancity.  Couldn't say the same for the fries as they were just as dense as the patatas bravas.  Lastly, we got the Paella Negra with squid ink, prawns, mussels, chorizo, peas and sofrito.  Although lacking a rice crust, the paella was okay.  The texture of the rice was good being chewy.  It was fairly well-seasoned with some brininess.  Seafood was well-executed.  Overall, we thought the food at Havana was hit and miss.  A little more refinement is needed to bring the food up to the location and ambiance of the place.

The Good:
- Great patio
- Great location
- Good vibe

The Bad:
- Food is hit and miss

Hong Kong Flavor

For all the Chinese restaurants we have in the Lower Mainland, it is really surprising that there aren't that many Hong Kong-style cafes.  Yes, we have a decent selection, but if you really think about it, they are poorly represented when looking at the ratio compared to say, Dim Sum joints.  So whenever we find a new one opening up, it usually gets slammed in terms of people wanting to check it out.  One of the newest is Hong Kong Flavor out in an area of Richmond not known for these types of spots.  I checked it out recently with Mijune and came back again with my family.

Since eating with Mijune is a sport, we ended up ordering 4 items with 3 of them including choice of soup and beverage.  We tried the Cream of Mushroom, Chinese Carrot Soup and Borscht.  These were pretty typical with the cream soup being thickened rather than using much cream.  It was still tasty though being balanced.  The Chinese soup was a bit sweet from the root veggies and mildly seasoned.  I found the borscht to be tangy and sweet.  The most impressive dish visually was the 3-Item Combo consisting of ox tongue, chicken steak and baked half lobster with cheese.  Both the ox tongue and lobster carried a surcharge that bumped the price up quite a bit.  I thought the chicken was juicy and the tongue was tender.  The lobster was a bit overdone, but still bouncy with plenty of cheese.

We ended up with 2 classics in the Baked Spaghetti Bolognese and Baked Pork Chop Rice.  Although a bit on the sweeter side, the spaghetti was pretty good.  I found the pasta to be not mushy (like many other HK-style cafes) and in fact almost al dente.  There was more than enough meat sauce for the amount of noodles as well as melted cheese.  Even though the sauce was sweet, there was enough savoury elements and a light tang to create layers of flavour.  As for the pork chop rice, the sauce was also sweet, but at the same time, the fresh tomatoes provided tang.  Underneath the sauce, there was a large pork chop that was lean and tender.  It was coated with just enough panko for a bit of crunch.  Once again, there was plenty of sauce for both the pork chop and the fried rice.

It was suggested we give the Hand-Shredded Chicken Salad a try and it was indeed an impressive dish visually.  All of the usual elements were there including crisp cucumber, crunchy pickled greens, wonton crisps and shredded free range gelatinized chicken.  So in terms of texture, it was on point and the sesame oil really came through.  However, there was far too much chicken skin for us to enjoy this dish.  Yes, the gelatinzed texture was good, but there wasn't enough meat.  On my second visit, we ordered the half Hainanese Chicken which basically made up for the lack of meat in the previous dish.  As such, I was able to enjoy the tender and lean free-range chicken meat.  It was beautifully gelatinized where the meat and skin was seasoned enough to stand on its own.  But of course, the ginger and green onion condiment is a must with the chicken.

Although we enjoyed the Ox-Tongue Spaghetti as it sported almost al dente noodles coated with a sweet and tangy sauce, the amount of ox tongue was meager.  Instead of serving it as full slices, they had small slivers of tongue mixed in the sauce with tomato and onion.  Therefore, it didn't feel like we were eating a ox tongue dish.  Furthermore, the portion size on this was not very large.  Normally, when we get Seafood Fried Noodles at any other Chinese restaurant, one would not find fresh clams, New Zealand mussels, imitation crab stick and enoki mushrooms.  Yes, this was very different, yet good at the same time.  The noodles were crunchy and nutty while not being greasy.  The combination of ingredients on top made for a different flavour profile and eating experience.

Lastly, the Curry Beef Brisket was pretty darn good.  The ample amount of thickened curry was flavourful without being too spicy.  It had the right viscosity and was perfect with white rice.  The best part of the dish was the super tender beef brisket.  It practically didn't need any effort to chew where it melted in our mouths.  One thing that could've been better was the potatoes as they were fried too much and had a weird texture.  From these 2 visits, it is clear that Hong Kong Flavor is a serious competitor amongst the selection of HK-style cafes in town.  Their lobster offerings are pretty impressive and their overall execution is spot on.

The Good:
- Generally tastes like it should with proper textures
- Decent service
- Proteins on point

The Bad:
- Portion sizes vary
- A bit sweet
- Some dishes could use more meat