Sherman's Food Adventures

Baiyulan Shanghai Cuisine

For the longest time, Chen's Shanghai Kitchen produced some of the best Xiao Long Bao in the Lower Mainland.  As for the rest of their dishes, it was rather hit and miss.  But that didn't stop me from going there because it was all about their XLBs (mind you, that was a bit inconsistent as well).  Similar to all of the other restaurants located in the same complex, they had to relocate due to redevelopment.  We now find them across from Lansdowne on Alderbridge Way under the name of Baiyulan Shanghai Cuisine.  We gathered up the family and met up with Uncle Willy for lunch.

Let's get right to the Xiao Long Bao first.  Since we had 4 hungry kiddies with us, we ended up ordering 4 steamers of XLBs.  These featured semi-thick dumpling skins where the twirl on top was reminiscent of R&H.  That meant it was doughy and chewy.  Inside, there was plenty of soup which was sweet and porky.  I found the meat filling to be moist, slightly bouncy and tender.  Practically the same amount of soup resided in the Pan-Fried Buns.  These looked rather flat and lifeless, but they were pretty decent.  I found the bun to be pretty thin and soft with a lightly crisped bottom.  Inside, the meat filling was pretty much the same as the XLBs.

By looks alone, the Beef Pancake Roll was rather pale and lifeless.  Well, looks were pretty much spot-on in this case as the pancake itself was thin, chewy and dry.  Inside, the sliced beef shank (wasn't very much of it) was okay though being nicely gelantized and tender.  There was just enough hoisin for impact, but they put far too much scallion as it overwhelmed everything.  Okay, if we stay with appearances, the Mung Bean Noodle with cucumber, chicken and peanut sauce was appealing to look at.  Texturally, there was not much to complain about as the noodles were slippery and chewy while the chicken was gelatinized and tender.  The problem was with the dressing as it was peanutty, but without any other flavours.

For the kiddies, they all wanted the Shanghai Stir-Fried Rice Cake, so yah of course we ordered it.  This was "okay" but had a few flaws.  There wasn't enough wok heat to properly caramelize the ingredients.  This was exemplified by the pool of water at the bottom of the plate.  Furthermore, the rice cakes were a touch soft as a result where it was missing the classic chewiness.  The dish did taste okay though as there was enough seasoning and dark soy.  Much like the other dumplings so far, the Pork Potstickers were not bad.  The dumpling skin was medium-thick with a bit of elasticity.  The bottom was decently crisped up while the pork filling was tender and moist.

Off to some noodles, we got an order of the Dan Dan Mein.  Normally, this dish is small and cannot be shared with more than a few people.  Not this one as it was pretty large with chewy noodles.  On top, the ample amount of peanut sauce with chili oil was thick, sweet and a touch spicy.  There was plenty of aromatics from the peanuts, but the whole thing could've used more spice and a balancing amount of saltiness.  They could've ease up with the amount of sauce too as the dish became goopy.  We also got one each of the Beef Noodle (not pictured) and Szechuan Beef Noodle.  These were even larger than the dan dan mein.  However, the beef broth base in both of them was pretty weak with very little meatiness and depth.  More salt was needed too.  However, the Szechaun noodles did have a good amount of spice and the beef was pretty tender.

Onto more dumplings, we had the Spicy Wontons and this was a decent version.  Beyond the delicate dumpling skin, the pork filling was moist, bouncy and not overly dense.  The major problem with the dish was the lack of spice and subsequent impact.  However, this could easily be solved with the addition of more chili oil that was available on the table.  Our last dish, the Chee Fan, curiously showed up at the end.  One look and it was obvious the reason why.  They had cooked the sticky rice just as we ordered it and before it had a chance to cool, they constructed the roll.  The result was a literal hot sticky mess that fell apart on contact.  It was disgusting and we couldn't believe they served it that way.  In general, the food at Baiyulan was lacking in one way or another.  The one saving grace was the dumplings as they were decent.  With that being said, there are better to be found in Richmond (ie. XLBs at Shanghai Wonderful and Pan-Fried Buns at Top Shanghai).  Considering those options and beyond, Baiyulan has to do a whole lot better to compete.

The Good:
- Spacious and inviting dining space
- Decent service
- Dumplings are decent

The Bad:
- Anything that wasn't a dumpling was not good

Citrus Bar & Grill

As much as Groupon restaurant deals can be hit and miss, it is still a great way to discover places that are not normally hyped-up.  In actuality, there are gems to be found such as Tenen in South Burnaby and Gyoza Bar (Travelzoo coupon) in Downtown.  Normally, I try to avoid restaurants that don't have, at the very least, a good rating.  However, for some inexplicable reason, I ended up picking up the coupon for Citrus Bar & Grill located in the Sheraton Four Points in Surrey.  Formerly an ABC when the hotel was the Ramada Inn, this had all the earmarks of a standard hotel restaurant.  Whatever, I wasn't paying full price...

We decided to start with a few appies including the Ale Pounded Cheese and Thai Chili Wings.  Served with grilled bread, the cheese dip was actually good.  It was thick and sharp with more than enough impact.  Sure, it had some elements of the dreaded "gas station nacho cheese", but it was much better than that.  The one real problem with this dish was the completely ridiculous amount of bread.  There should've been like 3 times more.  As our final bill showed, we had ordered the classic wings (buffalo-style), but the kitchen gave us Thai chili instead.  We didn't really care, but just had to point that out.  The wings featured well-rendered and crispy skin, but the meat was pretty dry.  There was just enough sauce without drowning the wings.

For our mains, I had the Chicken Schnitzel with a fried egg on top and a side arugula and grape tomato salad.  I liked how the schnitzel was aggressively crunchy and not overly greasy.  However, the chicken itself was rather dry.  Luckily for the runny egg yolk as it added moisture.  Would've liked to see a lemon wedge on the side to kick things up a notch because the chicken was lacking flavour.  I liked the salad, but it was woefully overdressed.  Viv went for the Gamelli Pasta with spicy Italian sausage, spinach, tomato and parmesan. This was one of the better dishes as the pasta was perfectly al dente and properly complimented by enough sauteed ingredients.  With that being said, the dish could've benefited from more salt as well as a bigger portion size.

My daughter also ordered pasta with the Meatball Linguine featuring rustic tomato sauce, basil, provolone and parmesan.  The promise from the description was never fully realized as the sauce tasted like any other standard tomato sauce except needing more salt.  Now don't get me wrong, the pasta was cooked properly and the meatballs were tender (and not dry).  So it was a totally acceptable dish, it just wasn't interesting.  For my son, he had the Pulled Pork Sandwich with pickled red onions and coleslaw.  Interestingly, there was no pickled onions to be found.  We thought the slaw was fresh and crunchy, but overdressed like my salad.  The pork was tender, but the BBQ sauce was more vinegary and sweet than smoky.  On the side, the starch-coated fries were crispy and potatoey inside.  In general, Citrus serves its purpose well being a hotel restaurant.  Food is acceptable and prices are fair.  However, I would put this on the same level as Boston Pizza.  Decent eats, but hardly exciting.

The Good:
- Low-key atmosphere
- Friendly staff
- Acceptable eats

The Bad:
- Would put this on the level of Boston Pizza, so acceptable, but don't expect anything more

Good Sushi

With a name like Good Sushi, there are a few things to consider.  First, they better have somewhat decent food or it will be very easy to ridicule.  Secondly, they just did themselves a great favour or screwed themselves in Google Search as they will either appear at the top of the list or just get lost in the search results.  Third, wasn't there any other name they could think of???  Whatever the case, we decided to check out this new spot on the same block at Earnest on Fraser Street to see if it was at the very least, semi-good sushi.

Not to go far off the beaten path, we had the House Roll and a selection of Nigiri (salmon, tamago, unagi and chopped scallop).  Sporting a thin layer of chewy sushi rice, the house roll was decent with plenty of imitation crab, tamago, salmon, tuna, cucumber, avocado and tobiko.  Wasn't the prettiest to look at but did the job and was reasonably-priced at $6.95.  As for the nigiri, my son essentially hijacked the whole dish and didn't share with us.  So I can only report his opinion.  He does eat plenty of sushi, so it's not like he isn't well-informed.  So it would be accurate.  The sushi rice was the same as our house roll.  He liked the buttery scallops, but thought the salmon was pretty ordinary.  Naturally, the tamago was pretty standard too (not of the Tetsu nor Masayoshi quality).

Onto a few cooked items, we got the Chicken Karaage as well as the Chicken Yakisoba. Despite its pale colour, the chicken karaage was decently crispy and fairly juicy.  There was a general lack of flavour though, but the lemon wedge did help.  In this case, a side of Japanese mayo would've been beneficial.  Staying with chicken, the chicken yakisoba featured sliced fried chicken atop soba noodles.  Personally, I prefer the chicken stir-fried into the dish, but for this application, it was fine.  The chicken was juicy and crispy on the outside.  As you can see, there was no sizzling action nor smoke since the cast iron plate wasn't hot enough.  Despite that, the soba was still chewy and there was very little moisture.

I wanted to go big with the Deluxe Sashimi featuring mackerel, ebi, albacore tuna, hokkigai, sockeye salmon, Atlantic salmon, ika, hamachi, tako and tamago.  This was my favourite item since I love sashimi and most of it was good.  Similar to the nigiri, the Atlantic salmon was average while the Sockeye was more flavourful.  I didn't like the hamachi as it was bland and not very buttery.  For our specialty roll, we tried the Awesome Roll sporting cucumber, avocado, prawn tempura and imitation crab topped with deep fried baby shrimp, tempura bits, spicy mayo and unagi sauce.  I really didn't like this roll.  It was far too busy and the shrimp on top were not crispy enough (too much batter as well).  To top it off figuratively and literally, there was far too much sauce.  So you can probably ascertain that for me, it wasn't good sushi, but more acceptable sushi.  But honestly, that is probably okay considering the reasonable prices.  Good for the locals.

The Good:
- Reasonable pricing
- Friendly people
- Acceptable sushi

The Bad:
- Well, it isn't "good sushi", see above
- Minimalist decor if you care

Ming Yan

White Rock (or South Surrey) and Dim Sum usually go together like bike lanes and Downtown Vancouver.  Wait bad example.  But whatever, for the longest time, that didn't even exist.  However, with the recent housing explosion and subsequent entry of restaurants and services, this is not the case anymore.  CeCe recently ventured into the area and had some pretty authentic Chinese food at Ming Yan just off of King George Highway in the same strip mall that houses Choices Market.  Seeing that, I decided that I needed to check out their Dim Sum service myself with the help of the family and Inner Fat Girl.

Although the store frontage didn't look particularly attractive, the inside was another story.  Modern, clean and inviting, Ming Yan could totally fit as a restaurant in Richmond.  Appearances are one thing, but how about the food?  We got a nice array starting with the XO Daikon Pudding Cake.  This was good and bad on one plate as the outside was crispy and golden brown, but the inside was overly dense.  It did exhibit good wok heat where the XO was aromatic and provided some spice.  To make the meal a little more balanced, we got the Gai Lan (Chinese broccoli) simply blanched and flavoured with soy sauce.  We actually were served baby gai lan which made for easier handling.  They were cooked just right maintaining a crunch.

With a mini-dumpling in the middle, the Ha Gau (Shrimp Dumplings) were mostly good.  The filling was the highlight sporting pieces of whole shrimp.  Texturally, there was the usual bounce and snap with an appealing butteriness and sweetness.  However, the dumpling skin was too chewy and a touch thick.  However, as a whole, the ha gau were generally solid. If we had to compare, the Siu Mai (Pork & Shrimp Dumplings) were more better.  Served in a basket of 5, the dumplings were textbook in appearance with nice colour and fish roe on top.  The filling was a nice balance of tender bouncy pork, shiitake mushroom and shrimp.  I thought the seasoning could've been more aggressive as I could taste the natural flavour of the pork more than anything else.

One dish that wasn't really my favourite was the Phoenix Talons (Chicken Feet).  I would've preferred that they didn't cut them up into little pieces.  Sure it was easier to handle and eat, but the texture was too soft as a result.  Furthermore, there was far too much sauce as I couldn't differentiate it from the chicken feet.   Yes, it was that goopy that everything just blended together.  Lastly, it was far too sweet.  On the other hand, the Beef Meatballs were on point.  They exhibited the classic buttery bounce texture while maintaining chunks of meatiness.  There was a bit too much green mixed in, but it wasn't overwhelming.  Lightly seasoned, the meatballs were perfect for the accompanying Worcestershire sauce.

Rather than the usual goopy watered-down oyster sauce, the Bean Curd Skin Rolls were sitting in a consomme instead.  I thought this helped keep the dish from being too heavy and overly salty.  With less moisture at the top, the bean curd skin was chewier and drier.  This gave the roll a more al dente texture.  Inside, there was good mix of tender bouncy pork and veggies.  On the fattier side, the Steamed Pork Spareribs were still generally good.  Texturally, they were a bit soft, but still had an appealing bounce and chew.  Flavours were on point with a good mix of garlic, saltiness and slight sweetness.  It could've used a bit more spice (chili flakes and/or white pepper).

Continuing on with our dishes, we had the Stuffed Eggplant with shrimp mousse.  I found the exterior of the eggplant to be particularly crispy which was fine by me.  Inside, the eggplant was its usual soft self, but not mushy though.  Interestingly, the shrimp mouse was more meaty and dry compared to most other places.  Not a bad thing though as there was more textural contrast between that and the eggplant.  For once, the black bean sauce was flavourful and impactful.  Just because the kiddies wanted it, we ordered the Xiao Long Bao (Soup Dumplings).  Predictably, these were only "okay" since Ming Yan is not a Shanghainese restaurant.  The dumpling skin was thick, yet tender while the meat centre was juicy and somewhat bouncy.  However, there was no soup to be found.

We ended up with 2 types of Rice Noodle Rolls including shrimp and salty donut.  Although thicker in some spots, the noodle itself had a good elasticity giving way to a soft tender texture.  The shrimp weren't the biggest, but they were sufficiently impactful with a meaty snap.  They were nicely seasoned where the rice noodle roll could stand on its own without the accompanying soy.  About that soy, normally I don't remark on it, but this was good since there was a noticeable amount of dark soy mixed in.  It wasn't as watered-down as some other places.  Interestingly enough, the rice noodle encasing the salty donut was remarkably thinner.  The donut was pretty crunchy, but light and airy.

Compared to the thin and over-wound Spring Rolls I had at Golden Swan, the ones here were more typical.  With only a thin layer of wrapper, there was a light crunch that gave way to buttery and bouncy pieces of shrimp.  Again, there was plenty of seasoning going on, but I still dipped it into the Worcestershire sauce.  Lastly, we had the Salted Egg Yolk Buns which were leaking before we even touched them.  We found the bun itself a bit dense, but the filling was quite nice being runny, purposefully sweet and aromatic.  Overall, the Dim Sum at Ming Yan was more than respectable.  Considering its location, they don't do a bad job.  Combined that with a nice decor and great service, it is worth a try if you live nearby or are in the neighbourhood.

The Good:
- Decent Dim Sum
- Nice decor
- Great service

The Bad:
- Pricey
- Overall good, but a few misses

Mei Le Bakery & Restaurant

Sometimes, a certain location can be jinxed.  All we see is one restaurant after another open and close.  Take the "Chinese Restaurant" spot on Schoolhouse and Lougheed Highway for instance.  First it was New China Kitchen Buffet, then Asia Chinese Buffet, then some Vietnamese/Chinese hybrid under the same name, then Grand River and now in its current iteration, Mei Le Bakery & Restaurant.  The new spot looks every bit the same as Grand River except with the addition of a Chinese bakery and BBQ on one side (that has taken up 1/3 of the restaurant space).

Although the Chinese name implies that it is a Hong Kong-style cafe, nowhere on the menu does it include the usual dishes associated such an establishment.  Whatever, we decided to order from their "build-your-own-meal".  It included a complimentary plate of their BBQ Duck and although we got the wing (we always get the wing!), it was not bad.  The skin was nicely rendered, yet a bit dry and tough (to be fair, it was the wing).  The non-wing parts exhibited tender and moist meat, but the skin was still a little hard.  However, there isn't anywhere in the neighbourhood that sells in-house Chinese BBQ, so they have that market cornered.  Next, the Stir-Fried Gai Lan with Beef was generally well-prepared.  There was enough wok heat to keep the veggie crunchy with little moisture on the plate.  Most slices of beef were tender and bouncy while being well-seasoned.  However, there was the odd piece that was very chewy (so uneven tenderization).

For the kiddies, we got them their favourite in the Scrambled Eggs with Shrimp and it was one of the better dishes of the meal.  There is a fine line between undercooking eggs and overcooking them.  For this dish, most times we see a bit underdone, but that is fine.  This one was perfect being only a little runny, but still generally cooked all-the-way through.  The eggs were silky and well-seasoned.  Best of all, they didn't skimp on the shrimp (or should we say more like prawns).  They were cooked just enough being cold-water crunchy while still maintaining a sweet brininess.  We also got the ol' standby with the Sweet & Sour Pork.  The smallish chunks of pork were tender and moist sporting a very light batter.  We found the sauce to be a little mild in need of some more tanginess.  The dish was pretty standard in my opinion.  Not a bad thing really, but it didn't wow me either.

The next dish was something my mom really wanted in the Deep Fried Fish with Cream of Corn.  We chose to have the sauce served separately so that the fish would remain crispy.  Personally, I would've had the sauce on top because in this case, the fish was a bit on the drier side.  It wasn't super dry, but the sauce soaking in would've made it softer.  So in this case, I'm not blaming them because the dish was not served as it was intended.  Viv chose our last dish being the Singapore Fried Noodles.  This is one of her favs and this was respectable.  It could've used a bit more wok hei, but otherwise it was fine.  The noodles were chewy while the ingredients were okay (but a bit sparse).  There was enough curry for impact without being too spicy.

Before we left, we ended up picking up some of their bakery items including BBQ Pork Bun, Pineapple BBQ Pork Bun, Cocktail Bun, Curry Beef Bun, Apple Tarts and Sponge Cake.  I found the buns to be fairly soft and airy, but lacking in elasticity. Filling was adequate.  The sponge cake was terrible being overcooked at the top and underdone in the middle.  I would say these looked a whole lot better than they ate.  They need to work on the bakery side of things.  However, the food at the restaurant was more than acceptable and reasonably-priced.  Just don't expect your traditional HK-Style Cafe menu here.

The Good:
- Once stop shop, restaurant, bakery and BBQ
- Good service
- Fair pricing

The Bad:
- Bakery items need work
- BBQ is decent, but can be better

Jinya Ramen Bar (Metrotown)

TBH, I was not impressed with my first ever visit to Jinya at their original Robson Street location.  Now this was quite some time ago, so things do change and of course, my opinion can change too.  To give you some background, my initial thoughts were that the ramen was okay, but really small in portion size.  Furthermore, with their pricing, it just wasn't worth it in my opinion.  Lastly, their richer broth was not my cup of tea and for some reason, it was pretty salty that day.  Now with the addition of more ramen joints since then, I've warmed up to the heartier broths and have accepted that ramen can not be considered a cheap eat anymore.  With that in mind, I visited the newish Burnaby location at Metrotown.

To start, I ordered 2 of their most popular appies including the Crispy Chicken (Chicken Karaage) and also the Deep Fried Brussels Sprouts.  Actually, I had these 2 before as this was my second visit (I forgot my camera the first time...).  These were so good, I had to order them again!  The 5-piece small order of crispy chicken was actually a decent size and quite filling.  Large and plump, the dark meat was fried up perfectly where the juices were still flowing and the seasoning was just enough.  The side of vinegar soy dip provided an appetizing zing.  Outside, the chicken was crispy and not greasy.  Coated with crispy and light tempura batter, the brussels sprouts were firm, yet cooked all-the-way-through.  Lightly seasoned, these were nice bites and really, even people who hate brussels sprouts would probably like them.

I was pretty hungry, so I selected one of the heartier offerings in the Cha Cha Cha Ramen featuring a rich and fatty pork fish broth with thick noodles, fatty chashu, egg, sprouts, raw onion, green onion, chili powder and of course garlic (also raw garlic on the side).  I found the broth to be silky and rich, but not thick.  It was garlicky and featured fatty floaties throughout.  There was a depth-of-flavour that was meaty but curiously not fishy.  The noodles were chewy and stayed that way until the end.  Egg was perfect being runny while the chashu was buttery soft. The portion size was pretty large and I struggled to finish it.  My son decided on the same one he had last time in the Jinya Tonkotsu Black.  Now this was a much more modest portion with thin noodles and a semi-rich pork broth with wood ear mushroom, green onion, dried seaweed, egg, garlic chips, garlic oil, fried onion and a dollop of spicy sauce.  Due to the black garlic oil, the umaminess was maxed out.  Noodles were chewy, but got softer as he ate it.  A good bowl of ramen, but small for the price.

On another visit, we decided to skip the usual gyoza (as we've had it before and it was okay) and go for the Parmesan Meatballs and also the Spicy Prawn Tempura.  If you were thinking we were in the wrong restaurant to order the meatballs, you might have a point, but hey they have it on the menu!  They turned out to be pretty good where we really didn't think it was served from the same kitchen as ramen.  These were moist and meaty while mildly seasoned.  The real flavour came from the tangy tomato sauce as well as the ample amount of freshly grated parm on top.  Incidentally, these seemed to be the same as the ones found in the meatball ramen (minus the tomato sauce of course!).  As for the shrimp, they were a bit small, but barely coated with tempura batter.  Hence, they were not heavy and plenty crispy.  The shrimp itself had a firm meaty snap while spiced with an impactful mayo.

Unlike last time, my son went big with the Goku Midnight Cowboy featuring a really big slice of braised beef brisket atop thick noodles, sprouts, wood ear mushroom, seasoned egg and pork broth (he omitted the green onions this time around).  This was a substantial portion that was almost as big as the Cha Cha Cha.  It was plenty pricey at $24.00, but I'm sure the brisket had something to do with it.  Fatty and almost melt-in-your-mouth tender, the brisket was legit.  The pork broth tasted familiar with a rich silkiness with once again, plenty of fatty floaties.  We thought the salt content was just right where it didn't overwhelm the rest of the ingredients.  For myself, I ordered something I've had before in the Spicy Umami Miso Ramen with pork broth, ground pork soboro, bean sprouts, bok choy, chili oil and thick noodles (no green onion this time around as well).  Again, the broth was slightly thick, balanced salty and sweet while moderately spicy.  The noodles were chewy and the same could be said about the pork, but that was fine.  As you can probably guess, my thoughts on Jinya have changed, yet at the same time I do think it is still overpriced.  Yes, some of the ingredients are deluxe and yes the atmosphere is pretty hip, yet I can eat almost anywhere for the prices they charge

The Good:
- Food was good for all 3 times we went
- Decent service, but sometimes a little slow
- Nice dining space

The Bad:
- Pricey
- Broth is pretty fatty (only if you like that kind)