Sherman's Food Adventures

Neptune Seafood Restaurant (Richmond)

For those who pay attention to these things, it is hard to miss the quick expansion of the Neptune restaurant chain.  From it's original location in Richmond (complete with a formal restaurant and a smaller wonton noodle joint next door), it expanded into Surrey Central with the same setup.  Then we found in rapid succession locations at the Hard Rock Casino, McArthurGlen and Station Square.  I've been to the Surrey restaurant and the one at Station Square, but have never had Dim Sum at the original spot.  In my long and seemingly endless quest to try every Dim Sum joint in Richmond, it brought me to the first Neptune.

We started off the meal with dessert...  Yes, I did the stupid thing and marked it down on the checklist and the Egg Tarts showed up first.  These featured a silky egg custard that had a pleasant consistency and was only mildly sweet.  The flaky tart shell was powdery and somewhat mealy.  It was baked long enough, so that wasn't the issue, rather, there needed to be more butter or lard.  Hence, the entire tart ate dry.  Onto something savoury, we had the Beef Meatballs which arrived in a darker shade than we were used to.  They were tender with the desirable bounce texture.  There was a good mix of water chestnuts and green onion where the meat was moist and well-seasoned.  However, I did run into a few chewy bits.

Onto the most important items, the Ha Gau (Shrimp Dumpling) and Siu Mai (Pork & Shrimp Dumpling) arrived next.  Medium in size with a thin dumpling skin, the shrimp filling was a tad overcooked where it was more meaty than buttery.  There was still a firm snap though while it could've benefited from more seasoning.  I also found the skin to be overdone as well (predictably since the filling was too).  On the other hand, the siu mai was on point with large chunks of shrimp that had a sweet snap mixed in with bouncy pieces of whole pork.  I found these to be well-seasoned with a balanced amount of sweet and savouriness.  The ample amount of fish roe on top added a briny pop.

Something that we were mildly disappointed with was the Bean Curd Skin Roll.  Although the presentation was nice, the actual bean curd skin was too soft where it was practically melting and disintegrated on contact.  The filling was okay being a combination of bouncy pork, veggies and shrimp.  But the noticeable chunks of fat (that were not pleasant texturally) detracted from the overall roll.  Looking pale and in need of something colourful on top, the Pork Spareribs turned out to be quite good.  There was a soft tender bounce texture to the predominantly meaty rib pieces.  Although there was some garlickiness at the end, the seasoning was too mild where the pork flavour was dominant.

Served in a set of 4, the BBQ Pork Buns were both good and bad.  The actual bun itself was fluffy and light (almost airy) which was very appealing.  On the other hand, the bottom of the bun was rather wet and fell apart easily.  Inside, the filling consisted of lean pork which was a bit dry, but heavily sauced.  We found the glaze to be pretty sweet where we felt like we were eating dessert.  Something that didn't look good visually was the Phoenix Talons (Chicken Feet).  They looked scrawny and overly pale.  In fact, they ate exactly how they appeared where there seemed to be very little of anything clinging to the bones (as if there is much to begin with).  It did taste okay though with a sweet garlicky hit.

Another below-average dish was the Lo Mei Gai (Sticky Rice wrapped in banana leaves).  Before I even opened up one of them, I noticed that it was really soft and malleable.  Inside, the reason for that was pretty evident where the rice was pretty wet.  Therefore, I felt like I was eating a sticky paste rather than rice.  Moreover, the pork filling was dry and bland.  On the plus side, there was lots of it (or was that a negative?).  Served hot and crunchy, the Shrimp Spring Rolls sported a thick hard exterior that was not greasy.  Inside, the shrimp was overdone as it was a bit rubbery in spots.  It was well-seasoned though.

We had to wait until 10:00am to order any larger dishes as that chef started at that time.  We decided on the Fried XO Daikon Cake and Deep Fried Chicken Knees.  Fried until golden brown and crispy, the daikon cake was a little on the denser side.  It tasted fine though with the brininess of the dried shrimp coming through.  The XO sauce added more dried shrimp flavour, but little in the way of spiciness.  I liked how this dish wasn't overly greasy as it can be.  Served in large nuggets, the chicken knees were crispy and tasted pretty sweet (almost like fresh mini-donuts...).  Inside, the meat was juicy, tender and well-salted.

Our last item was the Stir-Fried Flat Rice Noodle with beef, sprouts and chives.  This was a fairly large portion with tender slices of beef, crunchy sprouts and chewy noodles.  It was lightly seasoned and could've used more dark soy.  In terms of the glossiness, it is common for this dish to be greasy since rice noodles stick to woks.  However, I found the mouth feel to be unpleasant with the amount of grease.  Overall, this was surprisingly the weakest of all the Neptune locations in terms of Dim Sum that I've personally encountered.  With that being said, it was still more than serviceable.

The Good:
- Attentive service (for Richmond standards)
- Well-appointed dining space
- Parking lot is pretty big for this location

The Bad:
- Hit and miss
- Pricey

Imperial Court Beijing Cuisine

For some reason or another, I thought I had hit most of the Dim Sum spots in Richmond.  Wrong.  I guess I wasn't paying attention or maybe I was in denial as there are still a few that I need to visit including some newer pricier spots.  But for now, I wanted to go on the cheap since I tend to over-order.  Furthermore, it was only going to be myself and Grace, so we were limited in how much we could eat too (then again, we could've gone to the very expensive Fortune Terrace...).  Well, we ended up at the affordable Imperial Court Beijing Cuisine tucked away in the back in the same complex as New Town and Bob's Subs (photo cred: Emily).

After a short wait, we were seated at a table for 2 which was going to be a gong show since we were going to order in excess of 14 dishes (albeit some doubles for takeout purposes only).  Since many of the items all came at once, we decided to go for the Ha Gau and Siu Mai first.  The ha gau sported chewy skin which was too firm.  The filling was excellent though featuring large whole shrimp that were buttery and bouncy.  They were sweet with a slight sesame oil finish.  As for the siu mai, the chunks of pork were on the chewier side, but still had a rebound.  There was a nice balance between sweet and savoury elements, yet the missing shiitake was noticeable.  I had to pick out a few chunks of fat since they were inedible.

I moved onto the Shrimp Spring Rolls next since it was good to eat them hot.  They were indeed hot and crunchy where the grease was minimal.  We found the filling to be very good, much like the ha gau.  It consisted of whole pieces of shrimp that did the buttery snap thing while being well-seasoned.  Another time-sensitive dish was the Shrimp Rice Noodle Roll since it is not as good when eaten cold.  We got to it in time to enjoy the chewy and elastic rice noodle which was on the firmer side, but still soft enough.  Inside, the shrimp continued the theme from the ha gau and spring rolls where it was buttery moist with a sweet snap.

From there, we tried the Beef Meatballs that were a bit darker than usual.  Texturally, I found them a bit more dense that I would've liked, but they were far from being bad.  They were chewy with a firmer rebound.  I liked the amount of diced water chestnuts as it somewhat alleviated the firmness of the process beef.  The meat was also well-seasoned, however, the amount of green onions was excessive.  By now, I was getting full, but I couldn't ignore the Tripe and Tendon.  The texture of the tripe was on point being soft with a chew.  The tendon was just soft enough without being mushy.  There was no gaminess while the seasoning was mostly sweet with some background spice.

Garlicky and well-seasoned, the Steamed Pork Spareribs were topped with diced peppers.  These actually made it into the flavour profile, which was a good thing.  There was plenty of meaty pieces in the mix with only a few with cartilage.  The meat was tender with a nice rebound.  Resting on top of some frozen French fries (would've liked taro here instead), the Phoenix Talons (Chicken Feet) were equally garlicky and somewhat sweet.  The fried skin exhibited a dark hue which was appealing.  Texturally, it was tender while not melty.  Underneath, the cartilage and tendons were soft without disintegrating.  These were quite plump and well-executed.

I left the Lo Mei Gai to the end since it could stand up to being left alone while not getting too cold.  Once unwrapped, I found the rice to be moist with a pleasant glutinous chewiness.  There was a good ratio of rice to ground pork filling.  The filling was tender and had a good amount of shiitake.  It was well-seasoned without being too salty either. Often, Bean Curd Skin Rolls are swimming in sauce that makes it either too wet or too salty.  This one was right on the mark with minimal sauce while not drying out.  Inside, the meat was tender and mildly-seasoned. The pork was tender while not being too fatty.

Also conservatively sauced, the Stuffed Eggplant with shrimp mousse was not devoid of flavour.  They were fried up just right being tender while retaining a bite.  The mousse was bouncy and sweet.  We ended off with the Egg Tarts that sported a flaky crust.  It was a bit too thick though where it partly intruded on the silky egg filling.  It wasn't too sweet which was just right. Naturally, we ordered too much food as usual, so we had plenty to go.  Even with all the leftovers, the final bill was very reasonable.  Considering the decent food quality and price point, it is no wonder why there are lineups at here.

The Good:
- Decent eats
- Large portions
- Inexpensive

The Bad:
- Very busy (but there is a reason)
- A little hard to flag down a server

Neptune Wonton Noodle

If you haven't noticed, Neptune Wonton Noodle has been expanding like there is no tomorrow in the past few years.  From it's single location in Richmond along #3 Road, they now have spots at Central City in Surrey, McArthur Glen, the Hard Rock Casino in Coquitlam and now at Station Square in Burnaby.  For me personally, there are better choices for Dim Sum, Cantonese cuisine and wonton noodles (& congee), but I'm not really all that sure why they get hammered online.  The food is more than serviceable and there has been a reasonable level of consistency across the chain.

We decided to check out their newest location at Station Square for Dim Sum (even though it is their wonton noodle outlet, usually it is only served at Neptune Seafood Restaurant).  Despite ordering a several dishes from their limited Dim Sum menu, we went ahead and got their specialty - BBQ Pork & Duck Noodles and Wonton Soup.  Unfortunately, they gave us the wing for the BBQ Duck (quite a common occurrence), so the meat was rather dry.  The skin was crispy with an appealing hue.  We found the BBQ pork rather lean, but flavourful nonetheless.  The noodles were fairly al dente, but the soup was too mild.  As for the wontons, they were medium-sized and full of shrimp and pork mousse.  They were bouncy and sweet with a nice background hit of sesame oil and white pepper.  However, the wonton skin was a bit too thick.

Onto the Dim Sum items, we had the usual with the Ha Gau (Shrimp Dumplings) and Siu Mai (Pork & Shrimp Dumplings).  Thick and somewhat floury, the dumpling skin appeared to be over-steam for the ha gau.  On the other hand, the filling was on point with large chunks of sweet and buttery shrimp that had a firm snap.  These were binded with a shrimp and pork fat mousse that was light and airy.  Similar to the wontons, there was a nice sesame oil and white pepper hit.  I actually found the siu mai better as they were the perfect texture with some meatiness from the chunks of pork, but the entire dumpling was bouncy thanks to the processed pork binding mousse.  There was also a good amount of shiitake mushrooms and chunks of shrimp.

Normally, when we order Lo Mei Gai (Sticky Rice wrapped in lotus leaves), we get either a really large one or 3 minis.  However, these were like supersized minis where 2 could be considered the size of a large.  Inside, there was a decent ratio of ground pork, cured sausage and salted egg yolk to gluntinous rice.  I found the rice to be a touch on the harder side, but that didn't make or break the dish.  On the same note, usually we would find 3 BBQ Pork Buns to an order.  But they gave us 4 in the bamboo steamer.  A good value in my books.  However, the bun was a bit too dense for our liking.  Fortunately, there was enough lean pork filling to balance it out.  It was rather sweet though and needed more savoury elements.

Looking rather pale, the Steamed Black Bean Pork Spareribs were on point texturally.  They were meaty with a chewy rebound, but still tender to eat.  There was a lack of seasoning though as I could really taste the porkiness.  Usually that is not a bad thing (natural flavours), yet it was a bit too strong.  Most ribs were meaty, with only one or 2 cartilage and fatty pieces.  In a bright shade of reddish-brown, the Phoenix Talons (Chicken Feet) were quite good.  They were plump and tender with softened cartilage and fat underneath.  There was still a bite though as nothing was melted and/or melting.  There was plenty of garlickiness and seasoning to boot.

Depending on your personal tastes, the Beef Meatballs were either great or too soft.  I'm on the fence about them because I like a firmer and denser meatball.  These were super processed where they were airy and buttery with only a light rebound.  My mom liked the texture while Viv hated it.  Whatever the case, they were not bad and had a balanced amount of green onion.  Next up was a kiddie favourite in the Shrimp Spring Rolls.  One bite and it was apparent that they put more than a few cloves of garlic into these.  That was a good thing as there was plenty of impact in addition to the on point texture of the shrimp.  The outside wrapper was a bit dense though, yet ultimately crispy.

For dessert, we ordered the Steamed Sponge Cake which was a little too dense compared to the regular square-cut version.  However, it wasn't too sweet, which was welcomed in our books since it was a good way to finish the meal.  On average, the food was not bad with some highlights.  Of course there was some minor issues, but considering its location (with plenty of parking in and around), Neptune Wonton Noodle does the job for a quick meal, Dim Sum and late night.

The Good:
- Decent eats
- Open late
- Varied menu

The Bad:
- Can get pricey
- Some minor issues

Curve Lounge (River Rock Casino Resort)

To be completely frank, I've never associated good food with the River Rock Casino Resort.  From the buffet to Tramonto, it seems like they put in a good effort, but it just doesn't seem consistent enough to be a destination.  Hence, the only times I've been to the place has been through invites except for the first time I visited The Buffet.  However, with a change in direction, they are now putting more resources into changing up what was seen as a sore point all these years.  As a first step, I was invited (along with others) to sample their Happy Hour at Curve Lounge.  Not only did I not realize there was a happy hour, but also the beautiful patio outside with a view of the Fraser River.

Since we were served everything all at the same time, I decided to tackle the Seafood Tabouli with wild rice, mint, parsley, bulgur, roasted red onion, baby shrimp, octopus, tuna and fresh lime first (due to the heat outside).  This was well-executed with rare tuna that was buttery and soft.  I found the octopus to be tender with a pleasant chew.  These were lightly salted where their natural flavours were allowed to shine.  At first, I thought the fried tempura nuggets in the little jars were fish.  However, they turned out to be Jalapeño Poppers stuffed with feta cheese.  These were tangy and lightly spicy where the creaminess of the cream cheese dill aioli balanced out the flavours.

Off to 3 different Flatbreads, we had a Pugliese (oven dried tomato, caramelized red onion, mozzarella, provolone and fresh herbs), Frutti di Mare (clam, mussel, shrimp, scallop, tomato sauce and gruyère) and Veronese (prosciutto, wild mushroom, tomato).  Each one was crispy and thin that held up to all of the wet ingredients.  The tomato sauce was light and tangy which went well with the seafood.  The prosciutto was more meaty and spicier.  Something similar, we had Avocado Bruschetta with marinated tomato, red onion, radish, olive oil, lemon and watercress.  This was more robust due to the foccacia and the generous amount of ripe avocado.  The flavours were fairly mild where the squeeze of the lemon wedges was needed to bring it to life.

One tried and true appie that exists on nearly all menus is the Fried Chicken Wings.  We had the classic salt and pepper version which was fried up perfectly.  They were crispy with rendered skin while the meat inside was succulent and almost juicy.  There was a enough seasoning for impact as well.  I went back for seconds on this one.  Clearly something that was far too big (in my mind) for being only $6.00 was the Artichoke Dip. This was served in a large dish consisting of sweet corn, double crème brie and of course artichoke.  I thought this was pretty standard and possibly a little underseasoned, but the pop of sweet corn helped in that regard.  It was really rich due to the 2 slices of brie on top.

Looking more like a soup, the Caramelized Onion Cheese Fondue was the right consistency where it stayed liquid, but was thick enough to coat all the pastries and seasonal veggies.  I thought the pastries were of a nice size and crispy while the veggies were firm and vibrant.  I could definitely taste the sharpness of the cheese as well as a slight wine aftertaste.  I was still in disbelief that this was $6.00 as well! Going from heavy to light, we had the Inari Pockets containing marinated seaweed & bean medley with green tea scented purple sushi rice. As expected, this was Japanese-tasting with the sweetness of the inari and the umaminess of the seaweed.  I found the rice to be appealingly chewy.

For dessert, we were served a Chilled Mango Cheesecake, Dark Chocolate Bombe, Pina Colada Mousse and a colourful Unicorn Cake.  For me, the latter was on point with purposeful sweetness and the nice balancing tang of raspberry.  The pina colada mousse was refreshing and aromatic from the coconut and the pineapple gelee in the middle was a sweet surprise.  Normally, cheesecake is well, cheesecake.  This was was smooth and not overly sweet.  Once again, there was a surprise in the middle in the form of mango panna cotta.  that was also the theme of the chocolate bombe where a blood orange cardamom cremeux added a tangy counterbalance. Now these were not on the $6.00 happy hour menu, but I'd gladly pay full price for them.  But, everything else was definitely $6.00 and a fabulous deal.  How come I didn't know about this earlier?

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Nice spacious patio with a view
- $6.00 happy hour menu
- Generous portion size

The Bad:
- Lovely patio with lots of sunshine, but they need more umbrellas

Dosanko

The Yoshoku scene in Vancouver can often be described as limited.  Other than a handful of places, it really isn't a thing here.  However, yoshoku cuisine lovers rejoice as there is a newly opened spot in town called Dosanko.  Husband and wife team of Nathan and Akiyo Lowey (formerly of Capagnolo and Tojo respectively) have taken over the spot that once housed Fat Dragon, where they now serve up Japanese home-style cooking that are interpretations of Western dishes.  Mijune and I decided to hit up the place, but were unaware that they had been only opened for a week (hence the lack of signage).

We started things off with Aki's Salad consisting of greens, sesame, lentils, beans, chickpeas, quinoa, beets and blueberries.  It was lightly dressed with a koji vinaigrette.  Despite the list of ingredients, the salad itself was fairly simple and straightforward.  Things were fresh with varying textures.  This was refreshing, yet I would've liked to see a touch more acidity to wake up the flavours.  Next up was the Kimpira sporting burdock and carrots pickled in a sweet and spicy soy sauce.  The mouth feel of the crunch was appealing while the sauce was well-balanced with a hint of sesame.

If the next item looks like chicken karaage, your eyes don't deceive you.  Stated as Zangi on the menu, it is merely the name of the dish in Hokkaido.  Their version was quite good coated with potato flour, it was lightly crispy (could've been more so) and easy on the grease.  Each piece was juicy and succulent while being well-seasoned with garlic and ginger.  If one needed more punch, it was served with a side of salt.  Consisting of a few different items, the Tempura was coated with a super airy and light batter.  It was a touch oil-logged though.  The veggies included onion, purple carrot, green bean and shiso leaf.  The shiso leaf was actually the greasiest, but I enjoyed it the most due to its flavour and crispiness.

One of our favourite dishes was the Miso Saba.  The mackerel was tender and flaky while maintaining its meatiness.  It was mild-tasting, which was a good thing as the sauce was pretty potent.  At Dosanko, they do not used bottled sauces.  Rather, everything is house-made.  Hence, the sweet miso sauce was intense and concentrated.  It tasted original and not very typical.  The syrupy sweetness was pretty strong, but there was enough saltiness to even it out.  Since it was a pretty warm day, we were happy to see the Hiyashi Chuka (cold ramen) hit the table.  These handmade noodles were very al dente and were flavoured with a tasty sesame soy dressing.  On top, there was tender shredded chicken, cucumbers, carrots and sesame.

Presented in a hot clay pot, the Curry Rice was bubbling hot.  On top of the rice was a generous blend of tender ground pork, cheese and pickles.  The result was a rich concoction that was meaty and stringy from the mozzarella.  The flavours were sweet, but fairly mild.  We found the dish comforting, but would've liked to see a rice crust (despite it not being a prerequisite of this particular dish).  Served with house-made tonkatsu sauce and sesame seeds that we would grind ourselves, the Tonkatsu was lean and meaty.  We would've liked to see it tenderized more, but it wasn't chewy.  On the outside, the panko coating was appealingly crunchy.  We loved the tangy, sweet and slightly peppery tonkatsu sauce as well as the side of koji mayo.

Another classic Yoshoku dish was the Okara Hamburg Steak with Rice.  The patty consisted of minced beef, pork and okara (soy bean crumb).  It resulted in a meaty and lean patty.  It wasn't dry though and it sported a caramelized sear.  The sauce was sweet and tangy with concentrated depth.  As a result, the root veggies were super sweet where they soaked up the sauce.  This went well with the side of white rice.  Moving away from all these larger dishes, we tried the Gomaae featuring string beans marinated in a sesame dressing.  I found the beans to be lightly crunchy.  The dressing was sweet and lightly aromatic. 

Onto dessert, we had the Coffee Jelly Parfait, Cherry Tart and Matcha Mille Crepe.  As much as the food up until this point had been pretty solid, the desserts needed some work.  The coffee jelly was too stiff and too mild-tasting.  We found the mille crepe to be rubbery and dry while the matcha was barely detectable.  The best of the bunch was the cherry tart as it boasted sweet and tangy cherries on top.  The pastry cream wasn't too sweet, but wasn't smooth enough. It was pretty unfortunate that the desserts didn't match the savoury items in terms of execution because it is nice to see another Yoshoku restaurant in town.  But it had been open for only a week, so there is still some time to grow.

The Good:
- All house-made sauces and food
- Nice people
- Good to see another spot serving Yoshoku cuisine

The Bad:
- On the pricier side
- Desserts need some work
- An A/C unit should be their next purchase