Sherman's Food Adventures

Ban Dao Pearl Seafood Restaurant

When they original Pennisula opened up at Oakridge mall, people were up in arms over the pricing.  How dare they charge nearly $7.00 for Ha Gau!  I've been there for Dim Sum and although it was expensive, I thought the food was not bad and all the backlash was a little bit exaggerated.  Besides, we've seen more and more restaurants open up at an even higher price point.  So when their sister restaurant Ban Dao Pearl (it's really still Pennisula, in Chinese) opened up at Marine Gateway, I wanted to do a quasi-revisit, albeit not at the original location.

From the moment we walked in, the high level of service was apparent (probably better than the Oakridge location).  Remember the $7.00 Ha Gau?  Well, if we really look at it, you are getting 6 dumplings for that price, so despite the small size, it suddenly doesn't seem so outrageous.  These were heavily seasoned with sesame oil, hence it was aromatic and impactful.  The shrimp were buttery and moist with a snap encased in a elastic thin wrapper.  Although there was a significant amount of bamboo shoots, they weren't too pungent.  We found the Siu Mai to be meaty with big chunks of pork that were naturally textured.  We would've liked to see more rebound.  The dumpling was well-seasoned and an emitted aromatic shrimp flavour.

One item we thought was subpar was the Phoenix Talons (Chicken Feet).  They were gummy and chewy where the skin didn't seem like it was fried long enough.  Furthermore, despite the appearance of being plump, the cartilage underneath was a bit underdone.  There was plenty of garlic, but the dish was not seasoned aggressively enough in general.  On the other hand, the pieces were pretty large though.  Sporting a similar flavour profile, the Beef Tendon were appealingly soft while retaining a bite.  The dish was garlicky and sweet with only a purposeful amount of salt.  The peppers on top were for aesthetics only as we couldn't taste any.

Large in portion size, the Steamed Pork Spareribs were on point.  Almost every piece was a meaty rib portion with only one that was cartilage.  The ribs had a natural meat texture while exhibiting some rebound (and even some butteriness).  The dish was plenty tasty with hits of garlic and pepper yet bordering on salty.  One dish that was smaller than the rest was the Bean Curd Skin Roll served with a dollop of dried scallop on top.  The skin was beautifully chewy while still soft.  The dish visually-attractive (which is not usually the case).  The filling was meaty and tender while blessed with lots of greens.  Hence, it wasn't dense and there were varied flavours.

Another dish that featured more pieces than the usual, yet smaller in size, was the Beef Meatballs.  They were buttery soft with bits of hand chopped meat.  Therefore, there was a contrast in the soft processed beef texture with the meaty bits.  I liked the crunch of the water chestnuts but at the same time, there was far too much green onion.  We went off the board a tad and ordered the Scallop & Pea Shoot Rice Noodle Roll.  It was pricey at $13.00, but well-worth it.  There were large scallops inside that were buttery and briny sweet.  The pea shoots were not overdone retaining a crunch and nice colour.  Outside, the rice noodle was on the thicker side, but was still tender with elasticity.  

Our one fried item was the Scallop and Taro Dumpling.  It was hot and crispy with a soft layer of mashed taro.  The pork filling was kicked up a notch with curry, so it was lightly spicy and aromatic.  The large scallop on top was a bit overdone, but a nice touch nonetheless.  We finished off the meal with the Glutinous Rice Balls with red bean filling.  These were pretty pedestrian with a thin glutinous layer coated with coconut.  Inside, the red bean was dense and not very interesting.   Now I can see this place being rather polarizing since not everyone wants to spend so much money on Dim Sum.  This is especially true when there are so many worthy spots that are less pricey.  However, we still thought it was pretty good, albeit as mentioned, on the pricier side.

The Good:
- Generally quality food
- Attentive service
- Nice dining space

The Bad:
- Expensive
- For the price, there shouldn't be any bad dishes

Myst Asian Fusion

Earlier in the year, a new Taiwanese joint opened up in the former location of Lester's (for those old enough to remember...).  I wasn't able to attend the ChineseBites tasting which yielded mixed reviews, yet I was still intrigued.  Due to the fact, it is open late, it automatically became a late night destination after hockey.  To get a sense of the large menu, this post is an amalgamation of 3 visits.  In fact, I've been here 5 times and I've gotten a clear sense of the place.  One thing is for sure, it gets pretty busy at times since there is a general lack of competition nearby other than The One.

On my first visit with Milhouse and Lionale Hutz, we shared the Fried Basket consisting of chicken nuggets, fish cake and Taiwanese sausage accompanied by fried green beans and shrimp chips.  Surprisingly, the best part of the basket was the green beans.  They were oil blanched just a touch where they retained their firm texture.  Futhermore, they were well-seasoned.  Next best thing was the chicken nuggets as they featured rendered and crispy skin while only lightly seasoned and not overdone with the 5-Spice.  The sausage was pretty typical while the fish cake was not nearly crispy enough.  For my drink, I tried the Lychee Slush 1/3rd sweet.  This was far too icy and chunky for my liking as it was hard to "drink".  It was lightly flavourful due to the sugar level.

For my main, I had the Mini-Lamb Hot Pot which included a bowl of rice, cucumbers and marinated gluten.  I found the broth for the hot pot pretty flavourful, yet salty at the same time.  It had a hint of lamb gaminess while plenty of sweetness as well.  The lamb was fairly tender with gelatinzed skin.  There was also tofu and Napa cabbage in the mix.  Milhouse went for the Stir-Fried Noodles with Beef that did its best impersonation of a "gon chow ngau ho".  Rather than flat rice noodles, we found hand pulled noodles normally used in beef noodle soup.  They were chewy and well-seasoned with dark soy.  The dish was rather wet though and the ample slices of beef were too chewy.

Lionel Hutz had the Stir-Fried Rice Cake with pickled snow cabbage and pork.  This was pretty decent with chewy slices of rice cake and tender slivers of pork.  Although there appeared to be enough flavouring agents, the dish was rather mild-tasting.  He had to resort to soy sauce for impact.  On another visit, I decided to give their Beef, Tendon and Tripe Noodles a shot.  I found the thick and wide noodles to be on point being firmly al dente while cooked through.  Although the broth was flavourful, it was pretty gamy from the tripe.  I personally didn't mind it, but Viv thought it was overpowering.  The tripe itself was tender with a bite while the beef was super tender and melted in my mouth.  The tendon was also on point being soft with some texture.

We also had an other of the Potstickers which were fried up nicely golden brown on the bottom.  It was lightly crispy while the dumpling skin was a chewy medium thickness.  Inside, the meat filling was juicy and flavourful.  It was succulent and tender with just enough greens to compliment the meat.  After hockey once again, Bear, Milhouse, Lionel Hutz and myself hit up Myst for late night eats.  Bear wasn't particularly hungry and went for the Beef Green Onion Pancake Roll.  By looks alone, it looked thick and doughy.  It ate exactly how it appeared with a decent amount of thinly sliced 5-spiced beef in the middle.  It could've used more hoisin though as it was pretty bland.

I had 2 items starting with the Xiao Long Bao.  Okay, before you start throwing fruit and knives at me, I realize that Myst is a Taiwanese restaurant and XLBs would probably not be their specialty (but some Taiwanese spots do a good job).  Well, this was not one of them as the dumpling skin was thick albeit tender.  Inside, there was barely any soup which wasn't a surprise.  The meat filling was good though being tender and plump.  Next was a plate consisting of Beef Tendon, Pork Intestine and Beef Tripe.  This was the second time having this dish and it was more than acceptable.  I found the tendon a bit firm, but not hard to eat.  The intestine was fatty and not too gamy while the tripe was also on the firmer side, but not hard to chew.

For my beverage, I went for the Mango Slush which was missing the usual "eyes".  This type of inconsistency was actually normal since I've had this drink 3 times and it has been different every time.  Smooth and slushy, this was good however, the last 2 times, it was icy and and frankly terrible.  Lastly, Milhouse had the Kimchi Fried Rice that was quite good.  Although the rice was on the softer side, it was subjected to enough wok heat to create caramelization.  There was a noted spiciness balanced with enough sweet and savoury elements.  Overall, after so many visits to Myst, it is clear that there are some decent eats to be found.  However, the consistency is just not there.  My slush drinks have come out differently every time while even the chicken nuggets have ranged from crispy to completely oil-logged.  They really need to work things out.

The Good:
- Lots of choice
- Open late
- If you are lucky, some good eats

The Bad:
- Super inconsistent
- Service can range from good to terrible

Lamb Hot Pot

The Chinese-style hot pot (yes, I realize there are different types) is often seen as a very simple and basic form of eating.  It is definitely hands-on and interactive, but is also quite generic at the same time.  For the longest time, most of the hot pot restaurants in town have been serving up the Cantonese version which involves mild-tasting broths and a focus on seafood and beef.  However, we are beginning to see more and more Northern and Szechuan-style hot pots that feature spicier broths and a wider selection of ingredients.  The newly relocated Lamb Hot Pot (where Chubby Lamb used to be on Alexandra Road) brings the Northern version to Vancouver.

I've tried the place before and came away satisfied mostly because I love lamb!  Since Bear, Boss Woman and Milhouse also share the same love for lamb, we decided to pay the place a visit after a cold evening of softball.  We ended up ordering the Half and Half Broth with one side being spicy.  Chock full of lamb bones, the broth paid homage to the restaurant's name.  We thought the lamb broth was aromatic, well-seasoned and balanced.  Extra points for them refilling the evaporated broth with more broth rather than hot water.  As for the spicy side, it was definitely impactful and aromatic without being painful.  The best part was the ample lamb spine and bones where the meat was tender and flavourful.  We loved sucking the marrow with the straws!

For the rest of the meal, we chose a few items including both the sliced Beef (appeared to be eye of round) and Supreme Beef (which was more tender and fattier).  Despite being a good portion (it didn't look like it at first, but the amount of meat was substantial), the sliced beef was very lean and ate quite heavy.  It was slightly chewy, even though we barely cooked it through.  On the other hand, the fattier supreme beef was super buttery and tender.  It had a hard time staying in one piece, but it was on point texturally.  Of course we also got an order of Lamb and it was fatty and tender.  We loved that it wasn't super gamy, but still retained the essence of lamb.  Dumplings were not bad where the filling was juicy, but the skin was a tad thick.

Moving away from red meat, we got some seafood in the form of Basa Fish Filets and Black Tiger Shrimp.  Both of these were reasonably-priced at $4.99.  I found the fish to be pretty standard where it was tender and soft even when sitting in the broth for awhile.  Meaty and full of shrimp flavour, the tiger shrimp were large and had a nice snap (we barely cooked these through too).  We also loved the fresh noodles which we cooked al dente.  They were able to soak up some of the great flavour from the broth. In fact, the whole meal was centered around that outstanding broth (and the bones too).  It made everything tasty and satisfying.

The Good:
- Outstanding broth
- Loved those bones!
- Decent service

The Bad:
- A little pricey

The Gray Olive

Oh the power of Instagram...  Normally, a small little breakfast and lunch spot in Burnaby would attract as much attention as the fried chicken available at Swiss Chalet (yes, that was supposed to be a joke!).  However, the many posts on IG of avocado toast, the kitchen sink and chicken & waffles have vaulted The Gray Olive Cafeteria into a social media darling.  As such, I wasn't successful with my first visit as the lineup was over an hour long.  However, after Sunday morning hockey, I was able to snag a table after only 20 minutes of waiting.  This post is actually a combination of that visit and another with the fam.

Since I already have seen it countless times on IG, it was only fitting that I ordered the Avocado Toast on sourdough with oven-roasted tomato and balsamic reduction.  Okay, let's be honest, this wasn't a complex dish.  Most people could just make this at home.  With that being said, I liked it.  The sourdough was toasted enough so it was crunchy and held up to the wet ingredients.  Ripe and soft, the fresh avocado was mild-tasting, but the tart and sweet tomato in addition to the balsamic elevated the flavours.  It could've used some salt though.  For my main, I had the Chicken & Waffle sporting 2 fried chicken thighs, spicy Korean ketchup, whipped brown butter and real maple syrup.  This was on point with crispy waffles that were fluffy and airy.  The fried chicken was crunchy and well-seasoned while the meat was not dry.  Mostly sweet with only a mild kick, the Korean ketchup was pretty tasty.

Everyone else decided on The Kitchen Sink consisting of 2 eggs, sauteed veggies, green onion, sausage, bacon, cheese and G.O. potatoes (hashbrowns).  For $11.00, we thought this was a fair price for the amount of food.  Combined with the mix of veggies (which were still vibrant and firm), the potatoes were crispy while pillowy soft inside.  A layer of melted cheese really brought everything together.  There was enough salty bacon and meaty sausage for impact while the runny egg added some richness.  This was pretty good, albeit rather greasy.  It did need some drops of hot sauce to really bring out the flavours.  On my other visit, I tried the Pork Belly Break Sandwich.  This was pretty good in my books with a toasted airy bun.  The marbled egg was runny while the pork belly was just fatty enough while being tender and roasted caramelization.  Aromatic and full of umami, the roasted sesame mayo was impactful.  There was a touch of spice from the chili-marinated tomato as well.

We also had 2 bennys including the Smoked Ham Hock and the Steelhead Salmon.  Of the 2, we enjoyed the ham hock more as it proved a balanced salty smokiness that helped provide punch to an otherwise mild-tasting Hollandaise.  It was creamy with a touch of lemon (more tang for the salmon benny), but it needed the salt from the ham.  The eggs were poached beautifully in both cases while served on a firm biscuit.  Buttery soft, the steelhead was prepared properly, but completely bland.  We needed to sprinkle some salt to liven up the dish.  The side of G.O. potatoes were on point being lightly crispy and airy soft inside.  From these 2 visits to the Gray Olive, it is obvious that they fill a void that exists in North Burnaby.  Sure, there are other breaky spots, but not serving the same type of food at the G.O.  Prices can get up there, but the food quality and portion size seems to be in proportion.  Love that they are now using real plates and silverware now.

The Good:
- Generally tasty food that is a bit different than those in the neighbourhood
- Nice people
- Fair portions

The Bad:
- Some items could use more salt
- Pricing is on the higher end for this type of restaurant

Ha Cafe

As much as I love brunch and burgers, I can only take that many consecutive North American meals without beginning to feel ill.  That was the case when I was in Victoria for 2 days.  I ended up at Jam Cafe, John's Place and Bin 4 Burger Lounge.  When I got back, the first thing I had to do was to eat Asian food.  After conferring with the kids (yes, they have a say), it was determined that we go for Vietnamese.  Staying within Burnaby, we made our way over to the hidden Ha Cafe in Old Orchard Mall.

We began with the Spicy Chicken Wings and fries which was a fairly large portion.  Nothing much to say about the Cavendish fries since they were crispy as expected.  Just think Costco fries and you get the idea.  As for the wings, they were crisp on the outside while not overly dry on the inside.  They were lightly spicy, but not overly impactful.  The side of black pepper and lemon juice dip was as black as the pavement.  It was also very peppery and a bit out-of-balance.  We also got the Spring Rolls and they were terrible.  The rice paper wrapper was thick and dense while the filling was mealy and overprocessed.  We didn't even finish them.

For myself, I had the Beef Stew Noodles without the onions.  I really should've kept the onions because the sharpness might've helped even out the sweetness of the broth.  To me, it tasted of MSG, but there were elements of daikon and carrot.  I thought the beef brisket was fairly tender and moist, but there wasn't much of it.  The noodles were pretty good being chewy while the sprouts were blanched and underneath the noodles.  Viv went for the House Special Pho which was pretty average as well.  The soup base was sweet and clean, but it was also very light tasting.  There was a lack of depth and meatiness.  The noodles were also good here, but there was very little meat to be found.

The kids shared the Lemongrass Chicken with rice (and we added an egg).  The rice was chewy and the right doneness.  On the side was a large mound of salad that featured crisp and fresh veggies.  As for the chicken, it was tender an moist with rendered skin.  It was nicely charred where there was a smokiness and caramelization.  There was also enough lemongrass for impact. This was one of the better dishes we had at Ha Cafe.  Otherwise, the meal was pretty average.  With that being said, the food was serviceable and well-priced for the portion size.

The Good:
- Well-priced
- Decent portion size
- Nice people

The Bad:
- Food is average
- Not the most spacious of setups

Italian Tomato

Sometimes, with all the new restaurants opening up, we are caught up in trying the latest and greatest.  This happens constantly, so it is difficult to remember the ones that have been around for awhile.  It is especially true when they are not located in the most obvious areas, such as Downtown, Commercial Drive, Main Street and Alexandra Road in Richmond.  Taking over the spot that used to be Dem Bones, Italian Tomato occupies an odd spot ever since they rerouted Bridgeport Road and Sea Island Way into one-way streets.  Hence, if you miss the entrance and the immediate street afterwards, it'll be a big loop to get back.

We met up with Costanza and family for some eats prior to the Starry Night event at Deas Regional Park.  We decided to share 4 large pastas picking one from each section beginning with the red sauce in the Spaghetti Bolognese.  This was a gigantic portion with a tangy (in a tomato paste kinda way) thick sauce that was meaty. It wasn't a classic bolognese and a bit one-note though.  The pasta was al dente though and there was plenty of flavour.  We also added Meatballs for another $6.00 and they were fairly large.  They were accompanied by a similarly tart tomato sauce that was equally flavourful.  The meatballs themselves were far too mushy in texture for our liking though.  We would've preferred some semblance of a natural meatiness and a bite.

In the cream sauce section, we decided on the Milano with Italian ham, mushrooms and peas.  We chose linguine as our pasta and it was firmly al dente.  This was a good match for the rich sauce and ingredients as it was hearty enough.  This was plenty garlicky with enough seasoning to match.  The saltiness of the ham combined with the Earthiness of the mushrooms and sweet pop of the peas created layers of flavour and textures.  The sauce itself was rather heavy though and it was hard to eat too much of it. For our EVOO choice, we had the Mamma Mia featuring baby shrimp, baby clams, baby scallops and prawns in a garlic olive oil white wine clear sauce.  Again, the pasta was appealingly firm, but the flavours were mild except for the amount of garlic.  Despite the abundance of seafood, there was a lack of brininess.  Furthermore, the pasta was too dry and clumped up easily.

Our favourite pasta of the meal was the Marco Polo in the rose sauce section.  It sported diced chicken breast, baby shrimp, spicy Italian sausage and mushrooms in a spicy tomato sauce with a touch of cream.  Due to the zestiness of the dish, we chose the robust and al dente penne which stood up well. There was a low-rumbling spice that was accented by equal parts of tang and creaminess.  The chicken was quite dry, but the sausage was meaty and also spicy.  This dish had quite the impact from first bite to the last.  We added 2 pizzas as well including the basic Quattro Formaggi with mozzarella, bocconcini, provolone and feta.  Featuring a thin crust that was crispy at the edges and not soggy in the middle, it had a good mouth feel.  It was also very cheesy as advertised.

Our second pizza was the Alla Romana with pepperoni, smoky bacon, ham and mushrooms.  Since this featured 3 types of meat, it was more salty than the previous pizza.  Furthermore, the pepperoni added a touch of spice while the mushrooms did its woodsy thing.  Despite the amount of toppings, the crust did not significantly soften, hence it stayed flat when we picked it up.  Overall, Italian Tomato did the job despite some hit and miss items.  The prices were fair for the portion size (not sure why anyone would order half sizes at only $2.00 less) and the kids were left happy.

The Good:
- Large portions
- Fairly attentive service
- Low key setting

The Bad:
- Hit and miss
- Not the most easy to get to spot