Peninsula Seafood Restaurant

When I was kid, I remembered we'd go for Dim Sum every weekend.  It was something that I looked forward to, but ultimately could get pretty expensive.  With the proliferation of Chinese restaurants in the late 1980's into the 90's, Dim Sum became more accessible in terms of options and pricing.  However, in the late 90's up until the present, we began to see the "higher-class" establishments offering up nicer decor, better service (sometimes) and more refined food.  Of course this also meant the rise in prices.  So if you thought Kirin, Victoria, Shi-Art and Grand Dynasty are expensive, in comes Peninsula which is managed by the Top Gun Group, yet still part of the same corporation from China.

Sure, the pricing is indeed higher here, but the service we received was attentive and courteous.  Also, the ambiance, decor, napkins and even the toothpicks were top-notch.  Furthermore, the tea was super hot and full of leaves ensuring a rich flavour.  The first dish to hit the table was the Pea Tips simmered with gingko nuts and fried garlic.  This was a well-prepared dish with tender pea shoots that still had a bit of crunch.  The flavours were mild where the bitterness of the gingko and aromatics of the garlic came through.  Next, we had the Prawn Rice Noodle Roll with flowering chives which wasn't particularly good.  The rice noodle itself was too soft and broke when we tried to pick it up.  As for the shrimp, it was overcooked being rubbery and dense.  Except for one super salty shrimp, the rest were quite bland.

Onto the Braised Beef Tendon Korean Style, I wasn't sure what they meant by that as it didn't taste particularly Korean.  Rather, it was pretty typical of most versions in town.  With that being said, the texture was on point being soft while still maintaining a slight chew.  However, there was one piece that was a little underdone.  As for the taste, it was more sweet than salty while the peppers on top did affect the overall flavour as well.  With the same peppers on top, the Steamed Chicken Feet in abalone sauce were not very attractive (not that chicken feet are ever attractive...).  Nearly every piece had detached skin while the cartilage underneath was far too soft.  The essence of abalone was evident though as the dish was on the milder side.

When the Haw Gow showed up, there were 6 dumplings rather than the usual 4.  There goes my argument about not having anymore kids...  I've always stated that 2 kids is perfect as there are only 4 haw gow in a steamer...  Anyways, these were pretty decent with a thin chewy skin (it was probably a touch too chewy).  The filling was comprised of whole shrimp that exhibited a meaty snap while being sweet with a significant sesame oil aroma.  Then arriving with 5 dumplings, the Sui Mai didn't help my argument much either.  These were a bit too firm for my tastes as the pork was packed in tight with the shrimp.  The meat was chewy and somewhat dry while the shrimp still had a sweet snap.  I found that it tasted too much like pork where some shiitake would've helped add depth of flavour.

With an interesting presentation (a cherry with whipped cream???), the Pan-Fried Shredded Taro and Daikon Radish Cake were aesthetically-pleasing.  The uniform sear on both sides of each slice ensured there was caramelization as well as a light crunch for texture.  The cake was soft, yet not mushy and benefited from enough seasoning including Chinese sausage. I found that the shredded taro dried out too much from the cooking process though. Also presented in a different manner was the Dried Scallop with Red & White Sticky Rice where it was not wrapped in lotus leaf.  Instead, it sat atop a leaf while in a hot pot.  I found the rice to be dry and chewy, which wasn't too bad.  The addition of dried scallop added another layer of aromatics in addition to the Chinese sausage and ground pork.  And about that pork, it was too chewy in my opinion.

Something that wasn't too chewy was the Steamed Spareribs in garlic black bean sauce.  There was a meaty bounce to the rib pieces when it wasn't cartilage (where there was too much of it).  The dish was not lacking impact as the garlic and salty black beans really came through.  The diced peppers on top managed to be noticed as their flavours seeped into the meat below.  At first, my son was thrilled to see his favourite dish arrive - Deep Fried Garlic Shrimp Spring Rolls.  After a few bites, he was not so enthused as they had added a good amount of cilantro into the shrimp mix.  We felt that was unnecessary, especially with a delicate ingredient.  If this was a hot and sour soup for instance, the bold flavours would stand up to the cilantro, but not here.  Despite this, the shrimp had a meaty snap while being garlicky as advertised.

Initially, we were wondering why the Seafood E-Fu Noodle was $21.80.  Well, when it was presented in a large hot pot filled with diced scallop, shrimp and dungeness crab, it made more sense. In fact, one taste and we really didn't mind the price at all.  The noodles soaked up all the flavours of the soy, sugar, sesame oil and seafood (which was cooked just right).  The crunch from the carrots and green beans as well as the flowering chives added the necessary textural contrast to the soft noodles.  Our last dish before dessert should've been classified as such because it was super sweet.  The BBQ Pork Buns featured a filling that tasted like they forgot it was supposed to be a savoury dish.  Even the kiddies complained it was too sweet.  On the other hand, the steamed bun was fluffy and the pork itself was lean.

So finally for dessert, we had the Mango Pudding which was served in a glass with a dollop of whipped cream.  We thought the texture was good since it wasn't firm like Jello.  Rather, it was more pudding-like and furthermore, it did taste like actual mangos (especially the sweet aromatic finish).  So $113.00 later before tip, we had these thoughts about Peninsula: the food wasn't great, but ultimately still better-than-average.  If we judged it on food alone, the restaurant shouldn't be rated 51% on Urbanspoon.  Furthermore, the service we got was very good.  Was it worth the price?  Well, yes and no.  If you look at it from a value standpoint, of course not.  But if we consider the operating costs, the location and everything including the food, it isn't completely out-of-line.  My recent visit to Shi-Art yielded nearly the same prices and the food wasn't as good.  But I think Peninsula appeals to a specific clientele that happens to roll with a whole lot of money.

The Good:
- Decent eats (despite some issues)
- Attentive service
- Nice attention to detail

The Bad:
- Yes, it is pricey no matter how you look at it
- If we look at the food and price together, there are lots of other places to choose

Peninsula Seafood Restaurant 半島公館 on Urbanspoon

IPOH Asian House

Sometimes, certain restaurant locations change hands more times than Canuck goalies.  It seems that after an initial visit, there isn't even a chance to return.  This is the case with IPOH Asian House.  Originally, it was Sun Yee Cafe, then Fung Sing Cafe.  In a span of 3 years, it has been 3 different restaurants.  Seeing how we play Sunday morning hockey at nearby Britannia, it offers up a chance to try something different each year!  This time around, the new place specializes in all types of Asian cuisine, specifically Malaysian.

We decided to follow the theme of the place and ordered South Asian dishes. The first dish to arrive was the Hainanese Chicken which featured the usual suspects including carrot soup, chicken oil rice, condiments and of course, boneless poached chicken. By virtue of being deboned, the amount of chicken looked small.  In actuality, it was a bit small, but the meat was fairly moist while the skin had a nice gelatin quality to it.  I found the rice to be lacking in chicken oil and overall flavour.  Next, we had the Singapore Laksa which was enormous.  This was easily at least a half size bigger than anything else I've had in town.  We found the broth to be rather thin and lacking in impact.  Sure, there was some spice, but they didn't put enough coconut milk into the mixture.  Therefore, the broth also lacked depth and aromatics.  On the positive side of the ledger, there was a plethora of crunchy shrimp, sliced fish cake and tofu puffs.

We ended up taking the server's advice and ordered a large portion of the Sambal Beans with prawns.  It was indeed a generous portion which featured plenty of the same crunchy shrimp.  As for the beans, they were masterfully oil-blanched where they were fully cooked while maintaining a crunch.  Furthermore, they were not shriveled up nor dry.  The seasoning was more of a soy and dried shrimp concoction rather than actually sambal, but that didn't detract from it being flavourful and spicy.  Our last dish, Sole Filet with Chili Paste on rice, was not a crowd-pleaser.  Not that the fish wasn't any good, in fact, it was seared nicely while still being flaky and moist in the middle.  For me, it strangely seemed like I was eating Basa rather than sole.  The problem with the dish was the sauce as it was strange and really didn't go with the fish.  It tasted like a combination of tamarind, ginger, onion, garlic and palm sugar.  Although the dishes we tried were far from authentic, the portion size was good for the price.

The Good:
- Inexpensive
- Large portions

The Bad:
- Food is average with a Chinese interpretation
- Service is sparse

IPOH Asian House on Urbanspoon

Caffé Roma & Lounge

What's this?  An invite to try out Caffé Roma & Lounge?  Um, isn't that the place with the green awning on Commercial Drive?  They have a lounge?  Yah, I was a bit confused (well, that is not that surprising).  When I arrived, I finally understood what it all meant.  Completely renovated inside and out, the new Caffé Roma has some style with modern appointments and a chic black and red colour scheme.  The reason for the invite was to try their new menu.  In fact, I was informed that there would be another revamp of the menu in the coming months as well.

For the items they currently have on the menu, we began with a couple of appies.  The Vegetable Arancini were served 3 ways with sundried tomato paired with pesto, zucchini with Parmesan cream sauce and mushroom with tomato sauce.  Overall, these were crispy with a cheesy and creamy, albeit slightly soft rice filling. The most impactful of the 3 was the sundried tomato as it had a salty tang that worked well with the strong basil-tasting pesto.  We found the Parmesan a bit too salty though, but then again, it had to make up for the mildness of the zucchini.  Next up, we tried the Prawns Camicia which were wrapped with pancetta and topped with breadcrumbs on top of a balsamic drizzle.  The prawns themselves were beautiful having a buttery snap and exhibiting a natural essence.  However, due to them being packed tightly together, some of the pancetta didn't crisp up as well as some of the breadcrumbs that got soggy.

Something that showed up as a surprise was a special chef's suggestion being the Salad Prawns & Avocado.  Although the prawns were a little small, their sweet buttery snap texture made up for it.  The light citrus dressing added a brightness that didn't overwhelm them.  There was plenty of lime with the really ripe avocado while the balsamic in the vinaigrette further amped up the acidity.  For our pasta, we tried the Spaghetti alla Papalina consisting of proscuitto crudo, egg cream and grana padano, which is a variant of carbonara.  If it weren't so salty, I would've loved this plate of pasta.  The spaghetti was a firm al dente while the sauce clung onto each strand lovingly.  However, with the pasta already well-salted, combined with a plethora of prosciutto as well as a generous dose of cheese, you can imagine the salt content.  If they dialed back the salt, the sweet pop of the onions would've been noticeable, hence creating more of a balance.

We also sampled their Pizza Margherita which was in a rather pale shade of light brown.  Initially concerned that it would be soggy, the pizza surprised us with a razor-thin crust that was well-browned on the bottom.  Therefore, it was super crispy and light.  I thought the tomato sauce was tangy enough while the fresh basil had impact.  Although not a Neapolitan pizza in the complete sense, it was decent for what it was nonetheless.  For dessert, we had the house-made Tiramisu topped with a fresh strawberry.  This was really good.  The soaked lady fingers had an appealing moist texture while emanating plenty of espresso.  The marscapone cream was light, smooth, and purposefully sweet with the desired consistency.  We found that the strawberry was more than a garnish as it added a nice acidity to each spoonful.  In the end, we thought that the food has potential.  In terms of execution, in particular the main item on each plate, was done right.  It's just the details that need to be worked out.

*All food was comped excluding gratuities*

The Good:
- Reasonable pricing
- Spacious and modern dining space
- Main items prepared properly

The Bad:
- Some tweaks are needed though

Caffe Roma on Urbanspoon

Modern Chinatown Tasting Tour presented by Vancouver Food Tour

For the longest time, I've never had the opportunity to experience the original Vancouver Food Tour.  Strange, in the meantime, I've gone on practically every other tour that our city has to offer.  Even after some invites, I still couldn't make it.  Was it the food gods trying to prevent me from ever experiencing it?  Was I scared of Melody Fury?  Maybe...  No, of course not!  Well, finally I was able to make one - the Modern Chinatown Tasting Tour which is aptly named since the food scene in Vancouver's Chinatown is rapidly changing.  Call it gentrification or call it the relocation of Chinese focus to Richmond, the choice of cuisine has never been any more diverse than we have now.

Meeting up with Carlos and some other guests in front of the Sun Yat-Sen Gardens, we were given some brief information about the history of the area while walking over to our first stop - Calabash Bistro.  We were started off with a Calabash Dark and Stormy which is their take on Bermuda's national drink consisting of ginger-infused Goslings Black Seal with homemade ginger beer, Angostura bitters and house-made ginger syrup.  Suffice to say, this was one gingery drink with a definite bite.  At the same time, it was refreshing especially on a warm day.  Then we were presented a large platter which included 3 types of Patties including veggie, chicken and beef.  In the middle was Jerk Chicken skewers and on the side, Plantain Chips.  These patties were soft and doughy rather than flaky.  However, that didn't mean they weren't good though.  I found them warm and pillowy with a purposefully spicy filling.  I liked the beef one the best as it was moist and had depth-of-flavour.  As for the jerk chicken, it was moist especially for white meat.  The jerk sauce was tangy with a touch of spice and sweetness.

Already halfway full from the appies, we sauntered over to Mamie Taylors.  As if one cocktail wasn't enough, we were treated to the Mamie Taylor made of scotch, fresh lime juice, ginger beer and angostura bitters.  Somewhat similar to the dark n' stormy at Calabash but lighter with less bite and a touch more acidity, it was another refreshing drink. Oh and they also served us a glass of wine too.  Was this a beverage tour too?  We weren't complaining!  For food, we were presented with Pimento Cheese stuffed in a paper thin cannoli on top of celery salad and espelette.  I enjoyed the cannoli itself because it was light and crispy.  Too many times I've had overly thick and crunchy versions.  Inside, the pimento cheese was moderately chunky while still smooth with big hits of salt and a touch of spice.

The food didn't end there as we were served  2 more including the Turducken Scotch Egg and Smoked Albacore Tuna.  The scotch egg sat atop tomatillo while dressed with garlic mayo and scallions.  I've had this dish before and it didn't disappoint this time around.  The egg was not overcooked, hence it was not rubbery.  The sausage was moist and meaty with lots of depth.  It was encased in a lightly crisp exterior which completed the range of textures.  The bright and zippy tomatillo sauce brought the dish alive. Consisting of raw albacore tuna, spicy eggplant, black eyed pea puree and cornbread, the tuna was a composed dish.  It was buttery soft with a purposeful smoke flavour.  The crispy and firm cornbread added some body while the eggplant ensured there was some heat.

Our last stop was some place I had passed by earlier in the day.  Simply named The Emerald, I thought it was not open.  Well, apparently it opened a few months back and with a eclectic decor, live music and extended hours, it has potential for a late-night dessert spot.  We had yet another cocktail, this time the Gin Basil Smash.  Thankfully all of the drinks were refreshing and this one was no exception with the zip of lemon, the lightness of gin and of course the herbal basil.  To end things off for the tour, we were served a trio of desserts including Chocolate Mousse, Coconut Gelato and Banana Cheesecake Spring Roll with raspberry coulis.  I found the mousse light and not overly sweet, yet it could've been stronger chocolate-wise.  The gelato was smooth and creamy with an aromatic coconut hit while effectively sweet.  As for the spring roll, it was crispy with a sweet banana cheesecake.  There was a bit too much coulis though.  Now if you were paying attention, we had 3 full-sized cocktails, 1 glass of wine and a total of 9 food items.  Suffice to say, we were both full and potentially intoxicated (I held back because I had to drive).  For all the other food tours in Vancouver, this tour had the best combination of drinks, real portions of food and quality establishments.  Sure, it costs the most, but there is a reason for it.

*All food, beverages and gratuities were comped*

The Good:
- Lots of full-sized cocktails
- Plenty of real dishes of food that makes sense progressionally
- Engaging and knowledgeable tour guide

The Bad:
- Costs the most, but for good reason 

Shi-Art Chinese Cuisine

With all the activities in my life, the game of golf has seemed to taken a back seat.  Hey, I wasn't that great at it to begin with, but with only one round per year, let's just say the only good thing about golf is the eats afterwards.  So after our round of golf in Richmond, we headed over to Shi-Art Chinese Cuisine for Dim Sum (despite its poor 56% rating on Urbanspoon).  Why there you might ask?  Well, it was more about convenience than anything else.  There was at least a chance we'd find parking and table...

To start things off, we had the "healthiest" dish of the bunch being the Pea Shoots with bean curd skin.  Although they were prepared properly, I found the pea shoots to be a bit old and stringy.  The big pieces of bean curd skin were good with a slight chew.  The broth was flavourful enough to help impact the ingredients and the addition of shiitake didn't hurt either.  Arriving in different shades of brown, the Phoenix Talons (Steamed Chicken Feet) were also inconsistent.  The lighter coloured claws were soft and had a fatty texture while the darker ones had skin which was drier and chewier.  Underneath, the cartilage was a bit crunchy in all of them.  The dish was well-seasoned though with the flavours trending towards sweet.

Whenever there are more than 4, yet less than 8 people sharing Dim Sum, it means inevitably there will be an uneven amount of dumplings.  Hence, we ended up with 2 steamers of Haw Gow.  These were a fair size with a slightly thick skin which was a bit chewy.  The filling was a mixture of shrimp pieces and mousse where it was moist with only a mild snap.  It was mild-tasting with some sweetness and hint of sesame oil.  Luckily, the Mini-Lo Mei Gai (Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaves) came in groups of 3 which meant 2 steamers worked out perfectly.  Inside the lotus leaves, the glutinous rice was nicely textured being chewy while moist.  The filling was impactful with plenty of seasoning that featured possibly a bit too much salt and interestingly a sesame oil aroma.

Onto some fried stuff (yay fried stuff!), we had the Deep Fried Taro Dumplings with a Portuguese-style sauce shrimp and pork filling. Despite the golden brown exterior, these were not very good.  The filling was dry and mealy where it could've used much more sauce.  Furthermore, the sauce itself has no impact whatsoever.  I couldn't get any of coconut milk nor curry hints.  Strangely cut by our server, the Deep Fried Shrimp Spring Rolls were crunchy and hot.  As you can see in the picture, in addition to the diagonal cut from the kitchen, the rolls were further scissored into little nubs a the ends.  Boy, did some people at the table get short-changed!  As for the filling, it was similar to the haw gow where there was a mousse mixture that was moist with only a bit of snap.

Served with a purposeful amount of sauce, the Pan Fried Stuffed Eggplant were a bit oil-soaked (albeit still not too mushy).  Not sure why they put "pan-fried" in the description as these were obviously deep-fried.  The shrimp mousse filling was completely overcooked where the texture was rubbery and lacking moisture.  The aforementioned sauce was not just an accessory (as it sometimes can be) because there was a nice saltiness.  We ended up with 3 different types of rice noodle rolls.  Our first one was the Beef Rice Noodle Roll that interestingly featured pea shoots.  Unfortunately, due to the stringiness of the pea shoots, the firm texture interfered with the soft beef.  Other than that, the rice noodle was medium-thickness being soft with a bit of elasticity.

Without any unnecessary additions (such as the pea shoots in previous dish) taking away from the main ingredient, the Shrimp Rice Noodle Roll was more typical.  Well, there was the light smattering of flowering chives, but that only provided aromatics.  With a light snap, the whole shrimp were well-seasoned and good on their own.  However, the rice noodle was thicker here which meant a good amount of soy was needed for both flavour and moisture.  As for the Salty Donut Rice Noodle Roll, it was pretty "meh".  The donut itself was refried which meant it was too crunchy where the inside was no longer exhibiting the counterbalancing chewiness.  Furthermore, the donut was greasy as a result.

Moving onto some seafood, in particular fish, we had the Pan Fried Smelt with spicy salt.  Again, these were deep fried, not pan fried as in the description.  The smelt were full of roe (as per the Chinese name) and were crispy on the outside.  They were not dried out retaining a nice moist texture.  As for the spicy salt, it was not very impactful as it was neither spicy nor salty.  Next, we had the Steamed Fish Collars in black bean chili sauce.  Depending on which piece, the taste ranged from mild sweet fishiness to outright 5-alarm hot (when you got a pepper).  Being the collar, the fattiness of the flesh meant the fish was moist and buttery.  But for those afraid of bones, they should best steer clear.

Of course we couldn't get out of there without having the "partner dish" of the haw gow - Sui Mai (Pork & Shrimp Dumpling).  But for some reason, Gordo never had it before (and he is Chinese???).  Anyways, these were very mediocre as the meat was more chewy than bouncy.  Furthermore, the taste was one-note being "porky".  There needed to be more shiitake and shrimp in the mix.  Equally disappointing was the Steamed Pork Spareribs. The textures were inconsistent as some were chewy and others were too soft.  Mirroring the previous dish, the meat was "porky" without a good hit of garlic or enough seasoning.  The one positive was that all the pieces were mostly meaty (with no fat and cartilage).

Cue the ball jokes as the Beef Meatballs arrived next.  When you get 6 guys together with varying levels of maturity (heck, we have none), we were too busy making ball jokes rather than eating.  When we did get to the balls, they were slightly bouncy and airy.  The mix of water chestnuts and green onions was just enough for both flavour and texture.  We added one last dish which was the Soy-Fried Noodles.  This dish cost a whopping $16.80!  Not only was it overly expensive, it wasn't very good either.  The noodles were a tad undercooked being too dry and chewy.  Furthermore, the caramelization of the soy was incomplete, hence the flavours were flat.  Not only were we shocked at the pricing in general, they actually charged us for water.  Yes, you read it right.  We didn't have tea because we were thirsty after golf.  But they still charged us for water on the bill totalling $7.50.  So I get the 56% rating now...  Service wasn't as bad as people have stated, but the food was "meh" and the price...

The Good:
- Some dishes were okay
- Not sure about others, but we got good service

The Bad:
- Cramped seating
- Overpriced for what you get

Shi-Art Chinese Cuisine on Urbanspoon