Shiraz Grill

For the last 3 years, I've been a judge for the Chili Cookoff at the Cascades Casino out in Langley.  As of last year, Sean has been my judging buddy as we embark on a sometimes fiery trip down chili lane.  Yup the ride back into town can be hazardous, but it has been okay up until this point.  Before the endless supply of chili ran through our bodies, we had to get some other food for lunch right?  Well, we ended up at Shiraz Grill for some Middle-Eastern and Italian food.  What?  Yes, that was our sentiment at first too.

Alas, it doesn't matter who makes your food or what type of fusion thing is going on, as long as it tastes good.  With that firmly in mind, we started with the Spaghetti al Bolognese. Although slightly soft, the spaghetti was caressed by a meaty sauce that was full-flavoured without relying on salt.  There was the sweetness of onions, the rich flavour of the slow cooked tomatoes and a noticeable cheesiness.  Next up, we tried the Linguine alla Pescatore that featured a bevy of well-prepared seafood including prawns, mussels, squid and baby scallops.  The significant amount of black olives ensured there was a salty wine-like finish after every bite.  We found the pasta in this dish to be much more al dente.

Lastly, we had the Soltani Kebob featuring one skewer of sirloin and one skewer of ground lamb.  Other than a few end pieces, the sirloin was fairly moist and sufficiently tender.  There was a nice char that help bring out the spices including a background hint of cinnamon.  As for the lamb, it was juicy and completely spiked with sweet onions.  Other than the usual lamb gaminess and spices, the onion aftertaste lingered long after.  So you know what?  Despite our concerns, the food (both cuisines) was decent and dare we say, tasty?  Yes, if we are ever out this way again, we wouldn't mind trying out more items.

The Good:
- More than adequate portions
- Friendly people
- Decent eats

The Bad:
- On the pricier side
- Cuisine confusion might scare some people

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Rose Garden

Sometimes, we just need to go back to the Chinese well.  No, I'm not talking about the polluted water supply in China itself, rather I'm referring to plain ol' Chinese food for late night.  Believe it or not, we have not went for "da lang" (Chinese late night) in quite some time.  Consisting of smaller-sized dishes served with plain congee, da lang is both an economical way of late night feasting as well as being a way to sample more items.  So with that in mind, Milhouse, Lionel Hutz, Bear and myself headed over to Rose Garden on Kingsway.

Not only have we not done da lang in years, the last time we were at Rose Garden, Polka King was still allowed out of the house.  Yes, it has been that long! Things started off with 2 similar dishes except for the main protein.  The Chili Salt Pork Chops arrived as a fairly large portion for the price (all dishes were $5.99 except for seasonal veggies, add $1.00).  Lightly crispy and minimally greasy, the pork chops were tenderized and well-marinated.  Hence, the chilis, salt, garlic and white pepper only enhanced the existing flavour.  Next up was the Chili Salt Fish which shared the same elements as the previous dish.  Also lightly battered, the fish (most likely basa) was soft, but not exactly flaky.  The batter itself was well-salted, hence, the other ingredients were only complimentary.

Onto another dish with the exact same cooking process and seasoning, we had the Chili Salt Silverfish.  Okay, first of all, we weren't being boring here.  Chili salt goes real well with plain unseasoned congee, especially dunking in these little fried suckers.  Second of all, these are not the same silverfish you find scurrying on your kitchen floor...  Crunchy and salty, we did in fact dunk them into our congee.  Moving away from chili salt, we had a relatively healthier dish with the Garlic Pea Shoots.  Even though it was $6.99, this was a substantial amount of pea shoots for the price.  In addition to size, these were stir-fried just right with good wok heat with little moisture on the plate.  There was plenty of garlic to go with the ample seasoning.

With yet another veggie item, the Four Seasons Green Beans were decent.  Oil-blanched just enough, the beans were crunchy while cooked all-the-way-through.  There was a good amount of dried shrimp, onions, pickles and chilis which added the necessary array of flavours.  Again, the wok heat was there which ensured that the dish was not watery and at the same time, caramelized the ingredients.  Of course we couldn't ignore Milhouse's favourite dish, so we got the Sweet & Sour Pork.  Not trying to sound repetitive, but this dish was pretty large for $5.99.  The chunks of pork were large and meaty with a firm crispy batter.  Although it appeared that they were re-fried, the pork was not dry.  As for the sauce, it was more sweet than sour, but the dish as a whole was good.

Continuing with pork, we ordered the Jellied Pork Hock which was average at best. The meat itself was pretty dry and chewy while the skin was firmly gelatinized.  In addition to the missing garlic vinegar dip, the pork hock was completely over-seasoned being quite salty.  Our last dish was also enormous being the Spicy Wontons.  Sadly, these were not spicy at all.  In fact, the whole dish was lacking in impact with predominantly pork wontons soaked in a bland soy-chili oil mixture.  It was really a shame that our meal ended off on 2 duds as the rest of it was quite solid and good value.  I guess if one was to choose all of the right dishes, Rose Garden would be a really good inexpensive option for late night Chinese eats.

The Good:
- Inexpensive
- Large portions
- 6 of 8 dishes were good

The Bad:
- Place is in need of a reno
- Although mostly good, a bit hit and miss still

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Five Elements Cafe

For the second straight week, we stepped out on the Drive after Sunday morning hockey.  Why drive somewhere for eats when we could just stay nearby?  Since it was car-free day, we could do the leisurely stroll up to a random restaurant.  That we did with Five Elements Cafe, which serves up an eclectic mix of Vietnamese, Thai and house-made gelato.  Being counter-service, we merely picked out table and proceeded up to order.  For me, this was fine because I could get whatever I wanted myself such as more ice water and ultimately boxes for leftovers (without waiting an eternity for someone to do so).

We ended up sharing a plate of Chicken Wings as an appie.  Served with a side of lemon pepper dip, this had similar flavours to the version at Phnom Penh, but ultimately completely different.  The big, meaty wings were succulent while sporting a lightly crispy coating.  These were good in their own way with a touch of spice and accented by the peppery acidic dip.  For my main, I went for the Pho Dac Biet (or Mixed Meat on the menu).  Overall, I thought the pho was serviceable but hardly memorable.  The broth was fairly clean while a touch heavy on the sweetness.  I could pick out the meatiness which was definitely there.  The noodles were clumpy and a touch overdone while the meats were a fine except for the brisket.  I found it chewy and dry.

I also got an order of the Chicken Pad Thai which arrived in a strange yellow hue complete with the "shouldn't be there" Shanghai bak choy.  The abundance of veggies led to a wetter Pad Thai that didn't taste anything like a Pad Thai.  It was rather sweet with a touch of spice, yet it lacked tang and caramelization from adequate wok heat.  I found the big pieces of breast meat to be sufficiently moist considering its leanness.  Milhouse did not want to eat a whole Garlic Pork Banh Mi by himself, so I offered to share it with him.  Cold and not toasted, the bread was dense and chewy.  Inside, the pickled carrots and daikon were impactful with enough acidity.  The garlic pork was sweet and quite flavourful.

Milhouse wanted something lighter for his entree, so he selected the Chicken Stir-Fry with Rice.  Although the veggies were cooked properly being vibrant and still crisp, the dish itself suffered from a lack of seasoning.  Sure, there was a bit of garlic and sweetness, but overall, it was too watery.  Kaiser Soze went for the Thai Chicken Clay Pot which was served in a ceramic bowl (not really a hot pot).  This starch-thicken concoction was really sweet with a touch of spice (yellow curry).  We would've preferred to see a creamier version than the goopy one we see in the picture.  It was acceptable but hardly memorable.  Overall, we didn't dislike the food at Five Elements, but was hardly impressed either.

The Good:
- Large portions
- Vietnamese fare was okay

The Bad:
- Thai food was strange
- No A/C, quite warm inside

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T2A3 East Restaurant

Whenever we are in need of eats late into the night (and sometimes next morning), Taiwanese fare has increasingly become the ol' standby.  You see, whenever we are out-of-ideas or just too lazy to look anything up, we can rely on the "generally open late" Taiwanese joint.  Well, that was exactly what happened when we hit up T2A3 East Restaurant.  Yes, not the easiest name to remember, unlike the previous tenant - Beefy Beef.  Yup, a Taiwanese restaurant replacing another Taiwanese restaurant.

So naturally, we had all of the greatest hits including the Chicken Nuggets.  These were juicy inside while lightly crispy on the outside.  There was no shortage of seasoning including the very noticeable 5-spice.  One thing I would've liked to see was the removal of the chicken skin as it wasn't rendered completely.  Next up was the 3-Cup Chicken which ate better than it looked.  Each piece of meat was succulent and juicy.  On the other hand, the flavours were not in balance.  I found the dish to be on the sweeter side missing the trademark wine/vinegary hit.  There was plenty of ginger though, which added a touch of sharpness, but overall, the chicken was lacking in flavour.

Of course we had to the the Beef Noodle as well and it was acceptable.  I much prefer the one from Beefy Beef as this one was a little underwhelming.  With that being said, the broth wasn't devoid of salt.  The problem was the lack of meat essence.  On the positive side, the noodles were chewy while the beef shank was tender and seasoned.  We also had the Garlic Pork featuring thin slices of pork belly served with a sweet, garlicky and vinegary sauce.  We didn't mind this dish as the pork was soft and slightly gelatinized.  The accompanying sauce hit all the flavour notes albeit being a touch too sweet.

One dish we could've done without was the Beef Roll since the pancake was quite thick and doughy.  To compound the problem was the slight greasiness due to the absorption of too much oil by the pancake.  On the other hand, the sliced beef was tender and moderately sauced with hoisin.  Lastly, we tried the Lamb Fried Noodles, which were okay, if not a touch wet.  We didn't get much in the way of lamb flavour though.  Texturally, the noodles were chewy while adequately seasoned with a balance of sweet and savoury.  As evidenced in the pictures, the dishes we had were on the smaller side (even though it is common with Taiwanese cuisine).  Most items were decent, but at the same time, nothing that would make us return quickly.

The Good:
- Reasonably-priced
- Open late

The Bad:
- Hit and miss
- Modest portions

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Kongee Dinesty

During the recent June heatwave in Vancouver, we've gone for hot pot (twice!) and ramen despite the torturous sweat beading down our cheeks.  What else could we do to stare into the eyes of fear?  How about head over to Richmond for some congee?  Well, I'm not sure what was scarier, the hot congee in 27 degree temperatures or face the onslaught of poorly-driven luxury vehicles.  Well, after 2 people cutting me off (caught it on my dashcam so I have proof!), I guess my usual "welcome to Richmond" initiation was complete.

So with a place called Kongee Dinesty, we could ascertain one of two things - either they can't spell (like all Chinese menus) or we really should try their congee.  That we did with full customizable options including toppings, ingredients and broth base.  We didn't stray too far from the regular and opted for the Preserved Egg and Salted Pork Congee with cilantro, peanuts, mustard greens and ginger in a seasoned broth base.  As much as the bowl of congee was on the more expensive side, we felt it justified the cost since it was well-executed.  It was silky and thick while still sporting some textures including the ample amount of egg and truly salty pork.  We ended up getting 5 dishes to share including Milhouse's favourite, Sweet & Sour Pork.  Although a bit on the saucier side, the flavours were balanced.  With a crispy exterior, the big chunks of pork were juicy and meaty in an almost pork jowl manner.  The only thing I'd change with this dish was the thickness of the batter (could've been thinner).

Next up was another pork dish being the Honey Garlic Spareribs.  This was another well-executed offering where the pieces of rib were meaty and easy on the cartilage portions.  There was an appealing chew to go with the rebound texture of the meat.  Generally, this dish can be pretty sweet and over-sauced, but this wasn't the case here as there was just enough clinging onto each rib.  It wasn't overly sweet where the garlic really came through.  Boss Woman insisted on the Scrambled Eggs and Prawns which turned out to be a fantastic choice.  Blessed with large butterflied prawns, the dish featured silky eggs that were just barely cooked.  The dish was well-seasoned without being salty nor too sweet.  There must've been as many prawns as egg on the plate.  Moreover, the prawns were natural-tasting with a meaty snap.

My choice was the Satay Beef with Vermicelli Hot Pot because why not eat something sizzling in hot temperatures right?  Hey, what do you think people do in Vietnam?  They eat Pho all the time in the heat! I digress...  This was deceptively large in portion size as the pot was deep.  I found the vermicelli to be on point in texture where it had enough moisture to be soft without becoming mushy.  Furthermore, the addition of red chilis helped amp up the spiciness of the dish.  As for the beef slices, they were tenderized properly where there was still a meaty texture while being tender.  Our last dish was the Beef Tenderloin with Black Pepper Sauce.  Presented with large slices of beef, this dish was also deceptively filling.  I particularly liked the natural meat texture (as it wasn't over-tenderized) while at the same time being super soft.  I found the sauce to be peppery, but could've been more so. Overall, we enjoyed our meal at Kongee and felt the prices were in-line with the quality.

The Good:
- Decent service
- On-point eats
- Nice dining space

The Bad:
- Pricey

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For all the great food that is available in Vancouver, it is a bit surprising that we've not been blessed with Michelin-star chefs.  Sure, we have some pretty great chefs that have trained and worked in Michelin-star restaurants, but they can't boast the same credentials as chef Stefan Hartmann.  Pegged to be at the helm of the newly opened Bauhaus by director Uwe Boll, Chef Hartmann introduces modern German fine-dining cuisine to Downtown Vancouver.  As we were pulling into our parking spot in Gastown, "That Don't Impress Me Much" was playing on the radio.  Ironic?  I guess we were about to find out.

To get things going, we started with some appies including the Poached Arctic Char with torched carrot and puree.  Buttery and just barely cooked all-the-way-through, the char was lightly seasoned which accented its natural sweetness.  Underneath, the sweet carrot puree was pleasant, yet the charred carrot stood out most with a smoky caramelization.  Aromatic and well-seasoned, the Potato Soup with sauteed cod was not as heavy as it appeared.  There was a creamy-starchy consistency that was not too rich. The pieces of buttery cod were like little surprises hidden within the broth.  I found it to be purposefully sweet with a slight wine finish.

Onto a couple of meat starters, we tried the Marinated Tafelspitz with spinach puree, egg chive salad and horseradish.  Pink throughout, the piece of boiled (appeared to be sous vide in this case) beef was succulent and sufficiently tender (considering the cut).  With only a light dusting of salt, the side of horseradish was necessary.  I found the spinach and egg salad to be very mildly seasoned.  Our last appie was the Meat Balls with caper sauce, crushed potatoes and a salad of microgreens, Romaine, sliced radish and frisee.  I quite liked this dish as the meatballs were fairly loose and moist while dressed in a creamy sauce that was a bit salty and tart from the capers.  Underneath, the potatoes were both creamy and chunky, soaking up the rest of the sauce.

Onto the mains, it was only natural that we had the Wiener Schnitzel with mashed potatoes and a chanterelle sauce.  This was probably the largest dish of the bunch with a generous serving of schnitzel.  Thin and lightly breaded, the veal was sufficiently moist considering its thickness.  I enjoyed how the breading was easy on the grease while still generally crispy throughout.  However, the dish was all about the chanterelle sauce as it was buttery and full of depth.  It was salty enough to season both the starchy potatoes and schnitzel.  Up next was the Pork Striploin with mashed potatoes apricots and chanterelles.  The thick piece of pork was just cooked through with only the slightest amount of pink.  The result was a moist piece of pork that still had some chew.  It appeared to be sous vide then seared.  Despite being underseasoned, the pork was accented nicely by the chanterelles and sweet & tangy apricots.

Beautifully seared, the Halibut was flaky and moist.  It rested on a bed of seared sliced potatoes and mustard sauce.  Although mildly seasoned much like the other dishes, I didn't mind this as the halibut sported a slightly crispy exterior and was aided by the relatively salty potatoes and sharpness of the mustard.  This was probably my second favourite dish after the schnitzel.  Now the next dish left me longing for salt as it was pretty bland where the problem was magnified as it went with plain rice.  The Chicken Fricassee with peas and carrots rested in a creamy sauce that only had the slightest hint of sweetness and possibly some white wine finish.  But really, I couldn't tell as it was that mild.  On the other hand, the chicken breast was expertly prepared as it was tender while the veggies were vibrant.

Another dish that was a bit underwhelming was the Brioche Dumplings with mushroom puree chanterelles and salad hearts. To be fair, I'm no vegetarian, so my thoughts on this dish are somewhat biased.  For me, I felt the brioche dumplings were a bit dense and underseasoned.  At the very least, the mushroom puree was quite nice as it was purposefully Earthy with a nice kick of acidity at the end.  Lastly, I dug into the Braised Beef Roulade featuring a pickle inside and accompanied by spatzel and leeks.  Okay, the best part of the dish was the fantastic spatzel as it was chewy while pan-fried with enough butter for a nice brown sear and nuttiness.  As for the roulade itself, I found the meat to be too dry.  Thankfully, the sauteed leeks on top added some creamy moisture while offering up an herby brightness.  Overall, we found the food to be quite good at Bauhaus, but a little underseasoned and quite pricey.  Service was top-notch while the ambiance could be described as casual elegance.

The Good:
- Mostly on point proteins
- Heavy food made unheavy
- Unpretentious

The Bad:
- A bit underseasoned for our tastes
- Expensive

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