Sherman's Food Adventures


To say I love to eat is not only an understatement, it is flatly stating the obvious.  Of course, breaking bread is best as a shared activity with either friends and/or family, but yah, it can be enjoyed alone too.  Generally, I tend to eat with the fam because I see them most often (like it should be???), however, eating out (or in) with various friends is a totally different experience.  Roughly once per month or two, I meet up with Areta, Maggi, Diana, David, Hanson, Joyce and Christina for interesting eats around town.  However, the last time we were at Verre, it was decided we do something different and head out-of-town for food.  We started off close with Seattle where we stopped by Stateside for brunch.

This Vietnamese fusion spot does their own take on familiar dishes including the Crispy Duck Fresh Rolls.  Rather than the usual salad roll, they took a fried duck spring roll and wrapped in herbs with an external layer of rice paper.  As a result, we got a surprise crunch to go with the chewy soft exterior.  There was plenty of duck and no filler in the spring roll itself, but the texture was rather mealy and lacking in natural meatiness.  Loved the fresh herbs as it added layers of aromatics.  Next, we tried the Pho Braised Beef Potstickers served with gingered black vinegar.  I'm not sure if these actually tasted like pho other than the star anise finish at the end.  I found the beef filling to be similar to the duck as it was mealy and almost a bit gummy.  The delicate wrapper was thin, al dente and crispy on the bottom.  Personally, I love black vinegar, so it was no problem for me.  However, some thought it was too strong for the dumpling.

One of my favourite dishes was the Crispy Sticky Rice Finger Sandwiches with chili-cumin pork or tofu and house fermented mustard greens.  Normally, when we find rice burgers and the sort, the concoction is usually dense and cumbersome to eat.  Not this one as it was almost "light" where the exterior was appealingly crispy while the rice was not packed too tightly.  Again, the pork shared the same texture as the other meats being mealy, but it was very flavorful with a nice kick and of course earthy cumin.  The mustard greens added a nice tang to balance the salty-spiciness.  Not sure if the accompanying dip actually went with the rice though.  Something more familiar, we had the Classic Banh Mi with housemade Vietnamese mortadella, chicken liver pâté, pork floss, pickled vegetables, cilantro, chili, cucumber, Maggi and mayo.  This was a fully loaded banh mi with most of the usual ingredients.  Ignoring that it cost $11.00, it was a solid sandwich.  The fact it had nearly double the amount of filling than ones found at banh mi shops increased both the flavor and robustness of the sandwich.

Now something that was definitely different was the Eggs Bao'nedict consisting of Canadian bacon filled golden steamed bun, poached eggs, hollandaise and pork floss.  I found the hollandaise to be creamy, yet not too rich while sporting noticeable saltiness from the Maggi.  Add in the bacon and pork floss, this was a bit overwhelming with the salt.  With that being said, I didn't dislike the dish as the eggs were perfect and the airy fried bao helped soak up all the sauce and yolk.  Stunningly beautiful, the Open-faced Golden Brown Omelette ate like a frittata. It sported gruyere and fines herbs with potato crunchies and crispy shallots.  We added country ham for $3.00 more.  I quite enjoyed this as the bottom and edges were crispy and nutty.  The flavors (cheesy and smoky) were predictably complimentary with each other (albeit salty) and the crunch from the potato on top kept textures consistent throughout.

For sorta dessert, we had the Hong Kong Style Charcoal Waffle with coconut-pandan syrup, mango jam and shaved almond.  I think the best part of the dish was the syrup as it was aromatic and purposefully sweet.  Combined with the mango jam and this was very tropical (like a Pina Colada).  We didn't get a whole lot of pandan though.  I thought the waffle was crispy enough on the outside and somewhat dense on the inside.  Now as you can ascertain, there was a certain Asian flair to the brunch service (in particular, Vietnamese).  Normally, fusion can fall flat and be con-fusion instead.  However, I thought there were some highlights for sure here.  At the same time, I think some of the other dishes could be further refined or re-imagined.  

The Good:
- Definitely different
- The more "Asian" items were good
- Attentive service

The Bad:
- A little on the salty side
- Meats had the same mealy texture for some reason

Blossom Dim Sum & Grill

After a disappointing and expensive Dim Sum experience at Ampersand earlier this year, I was very apprehensive in trying out Blossom Dim Sum & Grill on Robson.  However, I am warming up to the idea of non-traditional Dim Sum restaurants as many news articles have pointed out that older Chinese-restaurant owners are closing up shop as their children have no interest in continuing the business.  So we'd better get used to modern-Chinese restaurants.  One of the best examples is Little Bird, as it serves up traditional Dim Sum in a non-traditional environment.  Ironically, it is run by the son of the original owners of Flamingo.  So back to Blossom, we decided to check it out for lunch and to make our own opinions about the place rather than read the one-sided reviews (either way) online.

With our first dish, it got me worried due to the portion size.  The Green Tea Smoked Duck Breast was very sparse on the plate it was served on.  To be fair, if this was non-Asian restaurant, no one would even blink an eye at spending $12.00 for it.  In terms of execution, it was quite good though being tender and moist.  There was plenty of seasoning without being salty and the smoke did come through.  For $5.80, the  Black Pepper Prawn Ha Gau (Shrimp Dumplings) were a downright steal.  If you have paid attention to Dim Sum prices in the GVRD, a typical order of 4 can cost easily $7.00 and even more so at ritzier places.  We were even happier that the execution was good where the dumpling skin had a pleasing elasticity (albeit on the drier side).  The large chunks of prawn were meaty and had a moist snap.  Naturally sweet, the filling was also accented by just enough black pepper for a bite.

Similar to the one found at Mott 32 (and also New Mandarin), the Hot & Sour Soup Dumplings (Xiao Long Bao) were $9.00.  Significantly less than Mott 32 where they charge $20.00 (although they do use Iberico pork and yes, the place is "higher class").  These were pretty good though with a fairly thin dumpling skin. There was plenty of hot and sour broth inside. So much so, it was hard to prevent soup from spilling all over the place.  It wasn't very spicy though, being more sweet with a touch of tang.  The meat was loose and tender.  Something we weren't particularly fond of was the Lotus Wrapped Risotto with free-range chicken and truffle.  Yes, this was like a Lo Mei Gai, but the "risotto" was far too wet and mushy.  Hence, it didn't elicit any good mouth feel.  Furthermore, the dish was rather underseasoned, so yes the truffle came through, but little else.

Also similar to Mott 32, the Quail's Egg Siu Mai featured pork, shrimp and black truffle.  Pricing was also much less at $12.00 vs. $21.00 at Mott 32 (again, not Iberico pork and yes, not as "high class").  If I had to compare, I would say the one at Blossom wasn't any worse for wear.  First of all, they were gigantic and featured a runny quail's egg in the middle.  Second, the texture was on point being light and airy with buttery and bouncy processed pork.  On top, the small amount of black truffle paste was enough for impact.  Onto a baked item, we had the Pineapple BBQ Pork Buns.  I thought these were also good with a golden crispy baked sugar pastry topping.  The bun itself was soft and almost fluffy with some elasticity.  The addition of pineapple added a different sweetness to the glaze and I found it to be balanced.  The slices of BBQ pork were tender and lean.

We really didn't care for the Sweet & Sour Sakura Pork, even though it was reasonably priced at $14.00.  There was nothing wrong with the sauce per se as it was thick enough to coat every piece of pork.  Moreover, the flavour was also good with a nice balance between sweet and tanginess.  The real problem with this dish was the pork itself.  Consisting of pieces that were far too tiny and also completely over-battered, the pork was hard, dry and frankly, not very appetizing to eat.  This was further exacerbated by the lack of sauce (even though we usually do not want that much of it).  It is worth mentioning that our next dish was also reasonably-priced at $12.00.  At most places, a plate of Wok Fried Local Pea Tips would cost equal of even more than $12.00.  The portion size was fairly large and the execution was on point (still crispy and vibrant while cooked all-the-way-through) except the use of oil might've been a bit excessive.

Continuing on with another larger dish, we had the Crab Meat Fried Udon with tobiko, spring onions and Shanghai bak choy.  This was not bad where the udon was cooked just enough that it had softened without giving up any chewiness.  There was a certain amount of smokiness and caramelization from the wok heat.  There was ample amount of crab meat, but since it was all shredded, the texture was lost and in fact, was overdone due to the work fry.  We would've much preferred it to be sprinkled on top without being fried with the noodles.  Their take on a Spring Roll was unique as it was filled with prawn, lotus root and egg white.  We were on the fence with this dish as we enjoyed the crispy exterior and the layer of nori added umami.  However, the filling itself was possibly too soft due to the egg whites.  The prawn portion was perfectly cooked with a cold-water snap though.  So I guess if they did away with the egg whites, it would be better (but then again, more typical). 

Back to the dumplings, we tried the Crab & Prawn Dumpling with carrot and cilantro topped with a balsamic pearl.  These were so large that they stuck to the sides of the bamboo holders.  That also meant the skin was a bit too dry as well, but it didn't make or break the dish.  Inside, the mix of ingredients was fairly loose where the prawn was similar to the ha gau being cold-water crunchy.  There was plenty of shredded crab meat which was also like the fried udon.  I would've liked to see more chunks of leg meat as the crab was somewhat lost texturally (but that might've cost more to make).  We got a couple of the Crispy Crab Claws for $6.80 each and to put the price into perspective, the ones at the Richmond Night Market cost $6.00 each and are smaller.  These were really good featuring a big clump of minced prawn that was bouncy, sweet and on point.  This was served with a side of pomegranate sauce.

Next, we decided to try two items from the Asian Sandwich section of the menu.  The first one was the Salt Spring Lamb Belly served in a squid ink bao with pickled veggies, cucumber and kewpie mayo.  I was a bit surprised by the thinness of the bao itself.  It made the bao a lot less heavy to eat, but at the same time, I had a hard time keeping all of the ingredients inside as well.  This was probably also due to the lamb belly not being soft enough as well.  It tasted okay though with the tang and sweetness from the pickled veggies and the creamy sweetness of the mayo.  Our other sammie was the Shredded Duck with cucumber, leeks and hoisin sauce.  This held together a bit better since the duck was in smaller pieces and hence also easier to chew.  We would've liked to see less fat underneath the skin and also if the skin was crisped up rather than being flabby.

Our final savoury dish was the Steamed Boneless Pork Ribs with black pepper and vinegar.  We really liked this dish as the black pepper really came through with a bite.  Furthermore, the meat was perfectly textured being tender with the requisite bounciness.  We didn't notice much of the vinegar though as the black pepper was pretty strong.  We decided to share two desserts including the Chocolate Lava Cake as well as the Mango Pomelo Soup Cheesecake.  There was nothing really special about the lava cake as it was pretty typical with soft chocolate cake and a runny centre.  It came out quick, so it probably wasn't baked.  On the other hand, the cheesecake was good where there was plenty of cheesiness from the creamy and semi-rich cake.  The mango sauce was refreshing and not too sweet too.  Overall, we were surprised that the Dim Sum at Blossom was less fusion as we anticipated.  If we looked at it from a purely higher-class Dim Sum restaurant perspective, it wasn't even that expensive (relatively).  Sure, not everything was awesome, but most things were fine.

The Good:
- Some really good dishes
- Not as expensive as you might think
- Excellent service

The Bad:
- Some items could use further refinement

The Rise Eatery (Dine Out Menu)

To be honest, my first few experiences with Dine Out Vancouver Festival were disappointing.  Several restaurants developed DOVF-specific menus that did not reflect their usual offerings which meant I really didn't get the true experience.  To be fair, DOVF has improved over the years with more relevant menus and more restaurants participating.  With that in mind, one still has to peruse all of the menus and choose wisely for it to be a good experience.  Frankly, I wasn't planning on any DOVF reservations this year, but with an invite to try The Rise Eatery's menu, I changed my mind.  No, it wasn't because it was complimentary.  Rather, I tried their menu last year (which was their own version of DOVF) and came away impressed.  I was looking forward to what they had in store for this year as an official Dine Out Vancouver Festival restaurant.

Like last year, joining me again was Jacqueline.  For our appies, we started with the Chicken Seoul Good featuring Korean style fried chicken, wild mushroom cream, truffle oil and grated Parmesan.  Tender and juicy, the chicken would've done North Road proud.  It was crispy with rendered skin and sufficiently seasoned.  On top, the woodsy cream was not over-truffled, which was a good thing.  This ate heavy, so for an appy it was substantial.  Plated on top of masala pumpkin seed romesco sauce and topped with sun-dried tomato chutney, the Curve Ball was made of house vegan cheese, spinach & mushroom risotto.  Essentially an arancini, this ate very well considering the cheese was vegan.  The rice was still firm and the coating was crispy.  I enjoyed their version of a romesco as it was nutty and mild.  What really made the dish was the spicy and tangy chutney.

Onto our mains, the Ode to Adobo sported adobo duck leg confit and menudo longanisa cassoulet.  There was certainly the unmistakable hits of vinegar, soy and garlic while at the same time it was muted enough that it didn't scream out adobo either.  This could've been partially attributed to the addition of carrots and sausage as well as the menudo that created multiple layers of flavour.  I liked how the skin was rendered while most of the meat was tender with a few drier portions.  Okay, we really wanted to try something different this time around, but we just couldn't resist having the famed Uni-versal Pasta XO Edition.  This has to be one of the most unique dishes in Vancouver consisting of squid ink pasta, sea urchin cream, free run egg yolk, house XO sauce sautéed ocean wise prawns, flying fish roe and toasted seaweed.  When mixed together, there were hits of fishiness (in a good way), spice, brininess and umaminess.  The pasta was perfectly al dente and coated evenly with the creamy mix of ingredients.

I really enjoyed one of the two desserts we had in the I Care-A-Mel About U featuring salted caramel crème brûlée, pecan praline and brown butter quinoa crumble.  When I  got a scoop of everything in the cup, I swear it tasted like a salted Almond Roca.  Not sure if that is what they were aiming for, but it was pure deliciousness.  I found it to be silky and light with the sweet crunch of sugar and the nuttiness of the pecan.  Just like last time, we had the Luv U So Matcha that was really good.  Appealingly buttery, the tart shell was firm being a good contrast to the airy matcha cheese.  The matcha was rather strong, but good for those who like the flavour.  Brightening things up was the raspberry coulis on the side.  My only wish that it was bigger, so I could eat more of it.  Other than the great tasting food, the best part of the DOVF menu at The Rise is that all of the dishes are on their regular menu.  No "made-for-DVOF" dishes here.  3-courses for $35.00 starting tonight until February 2nd.

*All food and drink was complimentary*

The Good:
- Same as regular menu
- Unique food
- Asian fusion that actually works

The Bad:
- Um...  tart could've been bigger?

Oca Pastificio

It isn't hard to find pasta in the Lower Mainland, I mean you can get it anywhere (including chain restaurants).  However, it is difficult to find legit house-made pasta.  Even many Italian restaurants in town cannot lay claim to that.  I've had some lately at La Tana and I must say that was absolutely delicious.  Now down the street on Commercial Drive, we find a new spot in Oca Pastificio (part of the same group as La Quercia) offering made-to-order house-made pasta in the former location of Absinthe (which has moved a block over).  Viv and I decided to check it out right at opening (5:00pm) as they do not take reservations.  Good thing too as they were packed by 5:05pm and still packed when we left.

Seeing all the delicious featured pastas on the board (that is their only menu), we figured the pasta tasting for $60.00pp was the way to go.  They started us off with Spicy Soppressata & Proscuitto with pickled zucchini and focaccia.  The soppressata was indeed spicy and also had a nice nuttiness thanks to the fat content.  We liked the flavour of the zucchini but predictably, it was mushy.  After this nice appie, we moved onto the pastas with the Tortelli with winter squash, sage and butter hitting the table first.  Okay, if this was what we were to expect for the rest of the meal, this was going to be a real treat and worth every penny.  The pasta was perfect.  I mean it.  Thin, al dente and delicate, the house-made tortelli produced beautiful mouth feel and rebound.  We found the squash to be front and centre being sweet and well-seasoned.  There was an appetizing nuttiness from both the caramelized bits of squash as well as from the butter.  I love meat, but I could eat this pasta again and again.

Next, we had the Maltagliati with lamb sausage, braised kale, artichoke and parmesan.   Again, the main ingredient was clearly on display with the unmistakable rich gaminess of the lamb coming through.  Interestingly, the pasta was more lamb-tasting than the actual sausage.  Must've been the activated fats adhering to the pasta itself.  This made for plenty of umaminess without the need for too much salt.  The sausage itself was juicy and springy which was lightened up by the artichoke.  Due to the thin sheets, the pasta was a bit less al dente, but be aware it is fresh pasta.  One of our favourites had to be the Rigatoni Bolognese with parmesan.  Each tube of pasta was delicate and not stiff, yet at the same time, firmly al dente with plenty of bite.  The meaty bolognese was rich, but not heavy while the sweetness and earthiness of the carrots really coming through.  Loved how the bolognese was cooked down enough so that the flavours were concentrated and the meat was super tender.

The Orecchiette with sausage ragu, calabrian chili and radicchio took a bit of time to arrive because they were made-to-order and it definitely showed with the end product.  Each little morsel of pasta was firm and chewy (in the best possible way) with appealing resistance.  With a very low rumbling spice that came and went, the pasta was flavourful from the meaty sausage as well as the slightly bitter radicchio.  Once again, the salt level was mild which allowed the ingredients to do all the talking.  Our last pasta was the Tagliatelle Ragu Oca with hand-shredded goose and northern spices (which makes sense as the name of the restaurant is Oca Pastificio).  With a combination of milder spices, once again, the main ingredient stood out.  With the gaminess of the goose and creaminess of the ragu, the pasta was rich, but not heavy.  The tagliatelle was texturally on point with nice resistance when chewed.

Finally, our last course was the Pannacotta with citrus segments and candied orange rind.  This was so rich and creamy, yet refreshing at the same time due to the citrus.  Unlike some other versions, this one was not stiff nor too gelatin-like.  Rather, it ate like a custard and was just sweet enough while spiked with plenty of aroma.  Okay, I don't usually get overly excited about restaurants because most are in the middle with very few that are great and even fewer that are bad.  But Oca Pastificio is a place I wouldn't hesitate to eat at again (very soon too).  Pastas are on point and the pricing is okay with all things considered.

The Good:
- On point pasta
- Excellent service
- Flavours stood on their own without the aid of too much salt

The Bad:
- Very small restaurant with tight seating
- Getting pastas a la carte might actually be a better value than the pasta tasting menu  

Excellent Dim Sum King

Whilst googling for "the best" Dim Sum restaurants in Vancouver, one of the ones to pop up was something that seemed unfamiliar to me - Excellent Dim Sum King Restaurant.  I guess when you put in "best" into the search, "excellent" will be one of the search results.  Well, I was indeed on the lookout for something new, so this would be a good place to check out with Goose on his annual visit back to Vancity from Seattle during Christmas time.  Luckily I made a reservation because the the place was packed on a Monday (albeit days before Christmas).  On a side note, they might want to acknowledge customers waiting at the door because no one did for the longest time.

Looking over the menu, prices seemed reasonable and the selection was decent.  We began with the Sliced Beef Congee that arrived in a fairly large bowl for a small order.  It was full of tender beef that was in large slices.  As for the congee itself, it was somewhere in between being too watery and just right.  Ultimately, it did the job and it was seasoned just enough without being salty.  Next, we had the BBQ Pork Pastry.  This as pretty good featuring flaky pastry that was nutty and texturally consistent throughout.  I enjoyed how it was buttery without being completely greasy.  Moreover, it wasn't overly sweet either, rather having a good balance with the savoury elements.  BBQ pork was plentiful and lean too.

As usual, we had the Ha Gau (Shrimp Dumplings) and Siu Mai (Pork & Shrimp Dumplings).  Featuring medium-thick dumplings skin, the ha gau was decent in size.  The dumpling skin was on the softer side with only a touch of rebound.  Consisting of whole shrimp, the filling was good with a moist snap texture and enough seasoning such as sesame oil and white pepper.  The ha gau was good, yet I considered the siu mai to be even better.  They were the perfect texture where the combination of processed pork (with the fat) with pieces of pork, shrimp and mushroom created a meaty and moist bounciness.  In terms of flavour, it was also point with the natural sweetness coming through accented by enough saltiness for balance.

We ended up with two rice noodle rolls including the shrimp as well as the beef.  Starting with the Shrimp Rice Noodle Roll, it was pretty typical with three rolls wrapped around medium-sized shrimp.  Texturally, the shrimp were what you'd expect being cold-water crunchy. As for the rice noodle itself, it was medium-thickness where it was not dense texturally.  Rather, it had a slight rebound giving way to softness.  Now the shrimp rice noodle roll might've been typical, but the Beef and Cilantro was a bit different.  Instead of 3 separate rolls, we had one continuous ribbon of rice noodles that was filled with sliced beef, cilantro and green onion.  This gave a totally different texture where it was more buttery soft with filling in almost every bite.  The beef was properly tenderized being tender with some rebound.

Onto the offal portion of the meal with the Beef Tendon & Tripe as well as the Phoenix Talons (Chicken Feet).  Even before we took our first bite, it was pretty obvious that the tripe appeared to be too soft.  That it was as it didn't require much chewing.  As much as we would've preferred more texture, the tripe was still okay as too soft is better than too chewy.  The tendon was just as soft, which wasn't a huge deal as it hadn't all melted away.  Flavours were good though being plenty garlicky with a hint of spice.  Also garlicky, the chicken feet were fairly large and plump.  The skin was fried just enough where it was still plump after steaming.  Underneath, the cartilage and fat was tender.  Not that it affected the overall eating experience, but the whole chicken feet were a bit mangled which wasn't visually appealing.

To ensure we were full, we headed onto some carbs (or filler dishes as sometimes described).  First, the Sparerib Clay Pot Rice was completely loaded with meat.  There was much more in the way of tender and bouncy spareribs than actual rice.  As shown in the picture, most of the rib pieces were meaty rather than fat and cartilage.  Underneath, the rice was fairly dry and nutty.  Normally, this type of rice during Dim Sum service can be mushy since they don't really cook it properly in the clay pot.  For the kiddies, we got a couple orders of the Lo Mei Gai (Sticky Rice wrapped in lotus leaves).  This was also quite good with a proper ratio of lean ground pork filling to sticky rice.  I found the rice to be on the wetter side, but it was still chewy.  Seasoning was on point where we got the meaty aroma and umaminess of the shiitake.

Next up, we had the kid favourite in the Shrimp Spring Rolls.  These were slender and tightly-rolled where it helped create a firm crunch from the multiple layers of fried wrapper.  Now there is a difference between firm and too hard.  This one was perfect, riding the line between them.  The filling consisted entirely of whole shrimp (or at least very big chunks) which meant the texture afforded a buttery snap with no airy mousse.  Possibly the most impressive dish of the meal was the Steamed Beef Meatballs.  Yes, no kidding!  Sometimes, the meat that is processed and marinated with baking soda can be rather artificial in texture.  However, this was the best of both worlds as it was light and bouncy yet still retaining significant bits of beef that was naturally textured.  Moreover, there wasn't an overload of green onion nor cilantro to overpower the meat flavour.

As usual, we got the BBQ Pork Buns because the kiddies wanted them.  We like them too, but they kinda fill us up needlessly when we can eat more variety!  Anyways, these were pretty textbook with a fluffy bun with a moderate amount of filling.  It featured lean BBQ pork and bathed in a semi-sweet glaze.  We actually remembered to not order the Egg Tarts on the original sheet and hence, we had it for dessert (not arriving first).  These were served warm with a buttery and flaky tart shell.  Inside, the silky egg custard was balanced in terms of sweetness and aroma.  This was a solid version of this dish.  In fact, most of the food at the Dim Sum service was good and the pricing was reasonable too.  Only thing that could've been better was the service as it was hard to flag anyone down (and there was no one to greet us at the door either).

The Good:
- Reasonably priced
- Dim Sum is solid

The Bad:
- Tight seating
- Service is extremely sparse