Sherman's Food Adventures

Osteria Autostrada

I've been a fan of Chef Lucais Syme ever since I first set food at La Quercia.  So much so, I made several return visits (which I rarely do).  Then I had subsequent great meals at Cinara and La Pentola.  So when I heard that he was opening a new restaurant on Main Street (aka Hipster Central), I was quite anxious to try it out.   So I waited and waited some more shadowing their Facebook page every week in December.  Finally, they opened on January 10th.  Choobee and I met up check the place out a week later.  We were seated in the middle of the restaurant and let's just describe the place as cozy.

We started with a couple of appies including the familiar Anchovy on Toast (from Cinara).  This featured white anchovy, radish, pickled cucumber and herb butter on somewhat toasted bread.  I say that because when I picked it up, half of it almost fell limp.  Despite that, I still enjoyed it due to the impactful saltiness (but just enough) married with the considerable tang from the pickles.  Also loved the crunch that kept things from being one texture.  Next up, we had the Vittolo Tonnato (also from Cinara) with the usual shaved veal, tuna sauce and capers.  This was very good where the thin veal was the right doneness being super tender and almost buttery.  The tuna mayo on top was texturally on point being creamy yet with still the meatiness of tuna.  It was amped up with saltiness from the capers.

Onto the pastas, the Spaghetti with duck & anchovy ragu arrived first.  It featured firmly al dente pasta that had a great mouth-feel.  It was also nicely salted.  There was a generous amount of tender duck that was rather mild-tasting as we were expecting more anchovy impact.  However, the dish was still tasty being hearty and cheesy from the pecorino.  When the Linguine with clams and mussels hit the table, we attempted to find the clams to no avail.  Did they forget or was there no clams for the night?  That in itself impacted the level of brininess.  There was some due to the buttery and plump mussels, but without the clams, the sauce was merely tangy and spicy.  We loved the flavours as they were definitely there, but it was definitely missing the clams.

Lastly, we had the Bucatini with black pepper, butter and pecorino.  Yes, this was a very simple pasta, but also my favourite.  The bucatini (in place of the lumache) was a perfect al dente and was nicely salted like the previous pastas.  A bit nutty and slightly peppery, the pasta ate well and wasn't overly greasy.  We could've used a bit more black pepper though.  In fact, we could've used more food in general as the portions (like Cinara) were on the smaller side.  Yes, the ol' adage of quality over quantity does apply here, but when you spend $100.00 for 2 people before tip, you want to walk away full too.

The Good:
- Properly prepared and tasty pastas
- Great service
- Reliable small plates

The Bad:
- Small portions
- A few execution issues (limp toast and missing clams) but forgivable due to being only the 2nd week of operation

Holy Crab Dine Out Menu Preview

Ah, here we are back again for another year of Dine Out where we find some restaurants who understand the concept and give us a real good menu at a reasonable price.  This affords people the opportunity to check out many of the best spots in town without losing their whole paycheque.   There are also special experiences that are worth a shot while some restaurants completely miss the boat and offer up a 3-course meal consisting of a beet salad, some entree that they would never offer on their regular menu and a pedestrian dessert.  The whole point is for people to come back right?  Well, after being invited to check out the Holy Crab's DOV menu, it looked promising since $40.00 gets you a 3-course seafood meal.

The first course consisted of a choice of soups including the Seafood Bisque and Seafood Chowder.  I was able to try both and was pleasantly surprised to find whole in-shell clams hidden within broth.  Furthermore, there was tender baby shrimp as well.  The bisque was silky and mild in flavour.  I enjoyed how it wasn't salty while still emitting an aromatic brininess from the lobster shells.  The chowder was pretty thick and buttery with bits of tender potato and the aforementioned seafood.

For our sides, we were given an option of Fries, Cajun Fries and Onion Rings.  Unlike my first go around with the Holy Crab, the onion rings were much better this time being coated in a light and crispy tempura batter.  The fries were crispy too and stayed as much even after our incessant picture taking.  My preference was the Cajun fries as the extra spice eliminated the need for any dip.  For a $2.00 surcharge, we could upgrade to either Calamari, Wings or Frog Legs.  Although they looked more like onion rings, the calamari was quite good.  Then large tender rings were coated in the same light tempura batter than was crispy and easy on the grease.  The wings were pretty decent with rendered skin and moist meat.  I thought the frog legs were also good being tender and almost juicy with a light fry on the outside.

For our mains, one could choose their combo from either Snow Crab Legs, Shrimp, Potatoes and Corn or Crawfish, Clams, Mussels, Potatoes and Corn or Shrimp, Clams, Mussels, Steamed Veggies and Corn.  For a $10 surcharge, one could get King Crab Legs instead of snow crab or for $25 more, one could sub a whole Dungeness Crab for the snow crab legs.  For the combo with the crawfish, one could sub Snow Crab Legs for $5 more or a Dungeness Crab for $30 more.  Personally, I would chose the first option and be happy with that.  I honestly couldn't finish all the food especially with the addition of corn and potatoes.

*All food and beverages were complimentary

The Good:
- Reasonable pricing for essentially a seafood meal
- Enough food to be full

The Bad:
- Not a negative, but more of a personal preference, but I would choose option 1 or 3 because crawfish look big, but don't have a lot of meat

Hula Poké

If you haven't noticed by now, I haven't even attempted to visit all the various poké shops that have been sprouting all-over-the-place in the Lower Mainland.  So much like my last post on poké, new spots need to set themselves apart from the rest due to the immense competition.  Let me get this out-of-the-way first, most of the poké in Vancity is not really poké at all (the one at Carp is pretty close to the real thing).  Rather, the ones we get here are more like salad bowls with rice and fish.  That's not necessarily a bad thing as they can be tasty, it is more of an observation.

I was recently invited to sample the bowls at the newly-opened Hula Poké in the food court at Pacific Centre.  Right there, the location sets them apart since it is in a food court and a busy one at that.  Onto the bowls, we started with the Lei (Togarashi Salmon) and Nikkei (Citrus Ahi Tuna).  At first glance, they looked similar with red pepper strings on top, but they were very different.  The Lei featured salmon, togarashi mayo, cucumber, avocado, red pepper, green onion, spicy peas, furikake, kale and rice.  This was creamy with some spice from the togarashi.  Texturally, there was crunch from the cukes and red pepper.  

As for the Nikkei, it consisted of ahi tuna, Peruvian citrus, avocado, white onion, red Thai chili, grapefruit, togarashi, crunchy peas, black sesame seeds, cilantro, wasabi lemon crema, kale and rice.  As expected, the citrus kept things fresh and light.  The acidity was impactful as well as the spice.  Texturally, there was variation with the soft tuna and crunchy onions and peas.  Although it looked like a garnish, the sesame seeds were nutty and aromatic.  Underneath, the rice was a blend of basmati and jasmine rather than the usual sushi rice.  This was intentional as sushi rice can be rather heavy.  With that being said, I wouldn't mind having the option of rice.

As you can see, or not see, the garnishes on top pretty much obscure everything else underneath.  Hence, we started to move them out of the way starting with the Koko.  Besides, the amount of cilantro was a bit much in my opinion (but that can be altered of course).  Consisting of spicy gochujang salmon, the koko ate much heartier with a sweet spiciness.  Add in carrots, white onion, cucumber and kimichi and we got some serious texture and even more tangy spice.  Rounding off the ingredients, we found black sesame seeds, avocado, furikake, cilantro, kale and miso ginger vinaigrette.  There was a lot going on in this bowl, but ultimately, the dominant flavours were the kimchi and gochujang.

Moving along, the Bahamian (Coconut Rockfish) was a complete 180 from the Koko.  This was made up of rockfish, coconut & pineapple salsa, edamame, red pepper, green onion, jalapeno, coconut flakes, cilantro, kale and rice.  I wasn't sure what to make of this one as the flavour profile appeared to be tropical in a Caribbean-manner.  One bite and yes, the aromatics from the coconut and sweet pineapple elicited memories of a pina colada.  The creamy mayo was pretty strong with a definite spice from the jalapeno while the red pepper didn't seem to belong.  I thought the firm rockfish was on point being fresh and naturally sweet.

Continuing with the rockfish, I tried the Ancho featuring rockfish, ancho crema, avocado, jicama slaw, green onion, red pepper, chili oil, pea shoots,cilantro, crispy onions, kale and rice.  This was a winner in my books as the flavours were remarkably different with a smoky spiciness.  It was balanced though where the fish was still discernible as well as the creamy and slight sweetness of the creama.  The crunch from the jicama was a good counterbalance to the softer ingredients.  Also smoky and aromatic, the crispy onions helped add another layer of texture and flavour.

Although it is one of their most popular bowls, I didn't get to sample the Tiki (Togarashi Spicy Tuna) until nearly the end.  It was a mix of ahi tuna, togarashi mayo, cucumber, green onion, red chili, edamame, crispy onions, black sesame, hijiki, cilantro, kale and rice.  Once again, they weren't shy with the spice level.  That in itself was impressive as it could alienate some customers, but really, why make food bland?  For the 6 of us, we all enjoyed the spiciness as well as the creamy dressing and the aromatic crispy onions.  Again, the amount of cilantro was a bit much for my liking (but you can ask for less).

Our very last 2 bowls consisted of Cali Veg (Miso Ginger Tofu) and the Sweet Potato (Ancho Sweet Potato).  Predictably light and refreshing the Cali veg featured miso ginger tofu, snow peas, red pepper, avocado, carrots, black sesame seeds, red pepper string, kale, hijiki, and picked cucumber.  Naturally, this was less robust than the ones with fish, but at the same time, it was still filling and had the benefit of some familiar Asian flavours (like a hybrid Chinese/Japanese salad with a vinegary taste) and plenty of crunch.  

As for the Sweet Potato, I would actually order it.  This sported sweet potato, ancho crema, jicama slaw, green onion, red pepper, chili oil, cilantro, kale and crispy onions atop noodles.  This almost ate meaty with the aromatics of sesame and spice.  Loved how there was a bevy of textures too.  This bowl, like the others, highlighted the premise behind Hula Poke.  They offer a product that is related to poke, but put their twist on it.  Lots of quality and fresh ingredients that make for a quick meal that doesn't involve the fryer.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Lots of interesting and different flavours
- Sufficient toppings for impact
- Reasonably-priced for Downtown

The Bad:
- A bit heavy on the use of cilantro (but you can get that adjusted to your liking)
- Although the blend of rice works with the toppings, I wished there was the option of sushi rice at least  

Marlowe

Prior in making our way over to SFO for our flight back home (well to Seattle, and then driving home), we had a bit of time in the morning to burn.  So instead of heading down to the lounge for breaky, we took the short walk down 4th to Marlowe for brunch.  According to most lists on the internet, Marlowe does some pretty good brunch for the Bay Area. Fortunately for us, we made a reservation as the place was pretty busy right from opening.  The place isn't very big with a smattering small tables with a communal long table near the front.

For myself, I decided to have the Crispy Fried Chicken Sandwich with Caesar ailoi, bacon and field greens.  Consisting of 3 medium-sized chicken strips, the sandwich was balanced in terms of bun to meat ratio and flavor.  The bun was soft, yet robust enough to hold everything inside including the crunchy and moist chicken.  I thought the crispy bacon was impactful while the greens were bright and Earthy.  The side of fries were thin and crispy.  Viv ended up with the Smoked Dungeness Crab & Rock Shrimp Benedict with jalapeno, poached egg, herbs, frisee and spicy Hollandaise.  The big crab cake underneath was mostly full of crab that was neither fluffy nor dry.  There was a mild amount of spice as well as the usual natural sweetness.  It was crispy and held up well to the runny egg and tart spicy Hollandaise.  The salad surrounding it was fresh and acidic.

My daughter had the Smoked Salmon Bagel with English cucumber, roasted baby beets, creme fraiche, cornichon and dill.  Although it didn't sound like a great deal of food, it really was sporting a crispy bagel with creamy creme fraiche mixed with tart and salty cornichon.  On top of that was tangy and Earthy thick-cut beets, shaved paper-thin cucumbers, plenty of fresh dill and of course buttery smoked salmon with black sesame seeds.  For my son, he was drawn to the 3 Buttermilk Pancakes with smoked butter, crumbled bacon and maple syrup.  This was the best dish of all since the pancakes were large and fluffy as can be.  The butter was impactful while the salty and smoky bacon complimented the real maple syrup well.  Nothing much to complain about this meal as the food met our expectations and was well-executed.

The Good:
- Food prepared properly
- Nice space with good service

The Bad:
- A touch pricey

Over the Moon Creamery

Catching up with Cable Car Guy and Girl (as well as their kiddos) was a real treat at Fog Harbor Fish Co, but due to the busy nature of the restaurant, we really didn't want to hold up a big table.  Hence, we left and tried to think of a place to grab dessert.  Although it didn't seem like a difficult thing to do, we stood there for 15 minutes trying to figure out where to go.  Yes, #firstworldproblems...  Eventually, we cancelled out many of the ideas as they were just not nearby.  We finally settled on Over the Moon Creamery in the Embarcardero Center.

When we got there, it took us a further 10 minutes to find the place as it wasn't obvious where it was located.  It actually faces the Ferry Building and not the street address.  We didn't get too creative with our ice cream choices staring with the Funfetti which was not as sweet as some other versions.  It was creamy with no ice crystals and relatively dense (in a good way).  Next was a scoop each of Honey Lavender and Cookies & Cream.  I'm personally not a huge fan of lavender, but this wasn't too floral which mean it didn't taste soapy to me.  The cookies and cream was nothing mind-blowing, but still good nonetheless being purposefully sweet with bits of cookie strewn throughout.

Lastly, I had to get a cookie cup cuz who doesn't want to eat a cookie cup?  It was filled with Lemon Sorbet and Earl Grey.  Light, just sweet enough and tart, the sorbet was refreshing while the earl grey was actually pretty strong.  I didn't mind as I like impactful flavors.  It was smooth, but a bit thick (I didn't mind).  About that cookie cup...  it was firm, crunchy and not overly sweet.  Even until the last spoonful, it held up to the ice cream.  Overall, Over the Moon Creamery did not break new ground, but hey, it was good and did the job.

The Good:
- Smooth and creamy
- Interesting flavors
- Love the cookie cups

The Bad:
- I though it was just sweet enough, but some thought it was too sweet


Fog Harbor Fish House

Normally, I avoid pricey restaurants located in tourist trap areas like vegan restaurants (sorry vegans...  I'm a meatarian).  Something about paying top dollar for average food while waiting for a table amongst other tourists (won't catch a local eating there!), could be cause for revoking my foodie card.  However, we ended up at Fog Harbor Fish House located at Pier 39 for a couple of reasons.  First, our ferry brought us to pier 41 from Sausalito.  Second, Cable Car Guy and Girl wanted to meet up with us for dinner and it seemed to get good reviews online.  Third, it was kid-friendly (4 kiddies at the table!).

I wasn't holding out for much, but to my utter surprise, the first dish was very good!  Seemingly translated directly from French, the Mussel Fries were on point and dare I say #lit?  Each mussel was open and the meat was fat and plump.  They were barely cooked through which meant they were buttery, tender and sweet.  The sauce consisting of sambuca cream, shallots and fennel was in the background and didn't interfere with the natural brininess and sweetness of the mussels.  We also ordered 2 bowls of their Award Winning Clam Chowder and it seemed to live up to its namesake.  Although a tad on the thick side, it was creamy and full of potatoes and tender clams.  There was a noted brininess to go with the sweetness of the broth.

For myself, I decided on the Mixed Grill consisting of grilled salmon, swordfish and shrimp with citrus beurre blanc, asparagus and garlic mashed potatoes.  Once again, they nailed the execution of the proteins where the salmon was still pink in the middle while the swordfish was tender and flaky.  They had been grilled enough on the outside for some smoky caramelization.  As for the shrimp, they were meaty with a sweet snap.  Even the sauce was nicely balanced as well as the vibrant asparagus.  Viv had the Seafood Penne with fresh fish, clams, mussels and shrimp in a tomato cream sauce.  By appearance alone, the dish was ho hum.  However, it ate decently with al dente pasta and again, on point seafood.  I thought there was too much sauce in the dish, but it was tangy and creamy.

Cable Car Girl opted for the Crab Roll featuring crab, celery and shallot aioli served on a buttered roll.  This thing was stuffed solid full of fluffy crab with only a modest amount of crunchy celery.  I thought the aioli was mild-tasting with aromatics, but it could've used more acidity.  The roll was soft and nicely toasted.  This was worth the money in my opinion due to the amount of crab and overall execution. Cable Car Guy went for one of their Dungeness Crab Ravioli consisting of cheese ravioli simmered in a shallot butter sauce, with spinach, tomatoes and topped with fresh crab meat.  We would've preferred the crab to be in the ravioli, but the generous amount on top was good.  The pasta was al dente, but the cheese filling was a bit lifeless.

For my son, he had the kid's Fish & Chips which was actually quite the portion and didn't really differ from the adult size.  Unfortunately, the beer batter was far to thick and dense, which was a tragedy as the fish itself was flaky and moist.  Underneath, the fries were thin and very crunchy.  They were more like crisps, but were good nonetheless.  My daughter ended up with the Kid's Salmon with a side of rice and it was not bad.  The salmon was prepared just as good as the fish in my mixed grill.  However, as you can clearly see, the lack of sauce made the dish rather plain and dry.  Despite the lackluster kid's meals, the rest of the items we had at Fog Habor were good and definitely bucked the trend of the typical tourist trap.

The Good:
- On point execution of proteins
- Nice location with a view
- Kid-friendly

The Bad:
- Is not cheap
- Kid's meals were a bit lackluster

Napa Valley Burger Co.

The plan was to cross the Golden Gate Bridge and then make our way to Sausalito - all on foot.  Yes, the whole journey would've taken roughly 2 hours and plenty of exerted energy.  That would be level 3 whining from my daughter on a good day, but since she was a bit under-the-weather, we figured that it would be full DEFCON 5.  That hardly seemed worth it so we simplified things by taking the ferry from the Ferry Building to Sausalito instead.  I've made this trip before and for the amount paid ($12 for adults and $6 for children), it is well worth it for the city views, Alcatraz and Golden Gate Bridge.

Once there, the first order of business was to look for food.  We didn't want to over complicate things, so we headed to the Napa Valley Burger Co (didn't I have a burger last time in Sausalito???).  There was only one burger on my mind and it was the James Beard Competition Burger featuring a 1/2 pound of certified Angus Beef blended with pinot noir, marinated cremini & oyster mushrooms, cheese, arugula and basil aioli on a brioche bun.  This was a tasty concoction where the meat was fairly moist despite the aggressive smoky char.  There was a balanced amount of woodiness from the mushrooms while the pinot was understated.  For my daughter, she didn't want a burger and had the Kid's Twin Mini-Hot Dogs with fries instead.  Nothing complex, but they were cute and fairly well-priced.

My son had eyes on the Yountville Burger sporting smoked bacon, white sharp cheddar, crumbled croutons, arugula and roasted garlic aioli.  Once again, the patty was subjected to an aggressive char which made it crispy on the outside.  The smokiness of the bacon really came through as well as the sharpness of the cheddar.  I thought this was a very solid burger except for the bacon not being crispy enough.  Viv went in a different direction and had the Cranberry Turkey Burger with a natural turkey and onion patty, Swiss cheese, watercress and cranberry chutney.  For a lean turkey patty, it was actually moist and well-seasoned.  The lettuce, tomato and red onion were supremely fresh which added a crunchy brightness.  However, the chutney was too sweet and overtook the flavor profile.

We also shared an order of their Parmesan Truffle Fries which were very crispy, yet at the same time, not overly heavy.  Being a shoestring fry, there wasn't a lot of potato texture left, but I didn't mind it.  I liked the restraint of the truffle oil and really enjoyed the plethora of shaved Parm.  This was flavorful and aromatic on its own.  In the end, Napa Valley Buger Co did the job and the kids went away happy.  Prices were on the higher side, but then again, we were in Sausalito.

The Good:
- Not complex food, but the burgers were good
- Not cheap, but fairly affordable compared to other spots

The Bad:
- On the pricier side, but as I mentioned, not in relation to other spots