Sherman's Food Adventures

Minami Holiday Aburi Shokai

Let's get this disclaimer out-of-the-way first - I was recently invited to try the newly released Holiday Aburi Shokai tasting menu at Minami.  They didn't have to do much convincing since Minami and Miku are 2 of my favourite restaurants in town.  Yah, I'm completely biased, but trust me, I am not the only one.  Their take on aburi sushi and other unique creations are often some of the best eats Vancity has to offer.  Coming in at $100.00, adding an extra $35.00 for either wine or sake pairings, the Holiday Aburi Shokai menu features 4 courses representing what the restaurant is all about.

In what can be described as one of the prettiest presentations in town, the Sashimi and Minami Trio was almost too striking to eat.  Yes, I took some photos, but alas, I devoured it!  From left to right, we had the Aburi Beef Carpaccio with creme fraiche, caper crisps, organic baby greens, wasabi chimichurri and ponzu.  This little bite went down so easily as the beef melted in our mouths.  Loved the combo of salty, tang and slight spice.  Next, the Tri-Beet Salad featured firmly crunchy beets that were sweet and acidic.  Once again, there was some background spice which was cooled by the little nuggets of goats cheese.  With 2 wonton crisps, the Albacore Tuna & Kaiso Seaweed Tartare was another delicious bite.  Buttery soft and sweet, the tuna was contrasted by the crunchy seaweed (as well as the red onion, celery and cucumber).  Topped with creme fraiche and avocado, this added cooing creaminess to the spicy ponzu vinaigrette.  Last but certainly not least, the kanpachi, red tuna and ebi were buttery and sweet.  In particular, the kanpachi featured a fresh bite and taste of the sea.  Of course we weren't going to waste the Shrimp Heads as we asked for them to be fried.

If there is a plate that defines Minami (and Miku), the Sushi course did just that.  From left-to-right, there was Aburi Hamachi Nigiri with olive tapenade & edible flower, Aburi Japanese Wagyu Nigiri with smoked shoyu & wasabi pickles, Aburi O-Toro Nigiri with tobiko, daikon oroshi & chives, Red Wave Roll (spicy prawn, avocado & masatake sauce), Ebi Oshi Sushi with lime zest and ume sauce and the classic Salmon Oshi Sushi with wild sockeye salmon, jalapeno and Miku sauce.  It was so good that I have to go through every piece.  The hamachi was buttery and sweet where it probably didn't need the salty olive tapenade.  Cooked enough to activate the fats, the the Wagyu beef was super tender and luxurious.  Loved the tangy spice from the pickles.  We thought the O-Toro was was a real treat as it was super soft and fatty.  The fresh "by-the-sea" sweetness really came through.  Aromatic from the sesame oil and the crunch from the sweet onions, this helped elevate the red wave roll.  Creamy and with the tang from the lime zest, the ebi oshi was delicately flavoured so that its natural brininess came through.  Often copied, but never exactly duplicated, the salmon oshi was smoky, creamy and texturally pleasing.  This dish never gets old.  It's like that Jif commercial where I go, "What!" every time I eat this.  This course was paired with, Aburi x Yoshi no Gawa Aburi Ginjo, an exclusive sake produced just for Minami and Miku.  A great combination where the lightness and floral notes really went well with the delicate seafood.

Onto our 3rd course, we had the Surf & Turf featuring Saikyo Miso Sakekasu Sablefish Roulade and Welsh Onion Ash Crusted Beef Tenderloin.  Pretty to look at and perfectly-prepared, the sablefish was buttery and soft.  Since it was encased in nori, that was the predominant flavour.  It was accompanied by spinach sesame puree, miso reduction, wasabi negi relish, farro sansai salad, smoked umami soy vinaigrette and Asian microgreens.  All of these Asian flavours went well with the delicate fish without being overwhelming.  The sous-vide AAA Sterling Sliver beef tenderloin wasn't as tender as I would've expected.  Rather it was robust and meaty in a top sirloin type-of-way.  The natural meat flavours came through as well as a touch of the ash.  This was paired with roasted veggies, Yukon Gold puree and truffle duxelle sauce (which was subtle, buttery and woodsy).  Extremely dry and but smooth, the Gold Omachi Junmai Daiginjo didn't take away from the ingredients on the plate.

Beautifully plated, the Almond Chocolate Cake was so good, I finished it despite trying to hold back.  The cake itself was moist and light while still maintaining a certain richness.  It wasn't overly sweet where the ginger syrup really came through creating a truly festive flavour.   On top, the vanilla tonka bean cream was light and aromatic.  I'm not a huge fan of eggnog, but the ice cream was creamy and a good compliment.  Rounding things out, there was a honey orange curd which added a small amount of tang.  I guess the cranberry orange shortbread could've been another tangy ingredient on the plate, but in all honesty, I ate that first and it was a nice little treat.  Our final sake pairing was the Hakkaisan Kijoshu which was lightly sweet acting as a stand in for dessert wine.  Well, what can I say?  Any meal at Minami or Miku is a real treat to begin with (especially with aburi sushi).  Add in a complete 4-course tasting menu (which is really more that 4 courses given the way they plated it) and sake pairings, we have a meal that we can really celebrate about.

*All food and beverages excluding gratuities were complimentary*

The Good:
- Carefully prepared food
- Aburi!
- Lively upscale atmosphere

The Bad:
- Tenderloin could've been more tender

HiFive24 Fried Chicken

Over a year ago, I had visited the original HiFive 24 Fried Chicken out on Marine Drive after Saturday night hockey with Gordo and JuJu.  We were pretty impressed with what we got and that prompted me to bring Mijune in on the action.  She seemed to enjoy it too, but of course, she remarked there are better options.  Totally summed it up, good fried chicken, especially for 24 hours, but still not the king of take-out fried chicken.  That still belongs to LA Chicken in Richmond.  I never wrote a post on that, mostly due to laziness, so when their 2nd location opened up on the Burnaby-New West border, I decided to get off my ass and do one.

Let's get to the "meat" of this post with the Fried Chicken in half regular and half spicy.  At first glance, the chicken somewhat resembles Church's, but in reality, it is completely different.  I find the batter to be crunchier, yet at the same time, doughy in parts.  There is less flavour where the meat doesn't seem to be brined (or brined as long) as Church's.  Despite that, it is still juicy and the the skin is well-rendered.  The spicy does have a kick, but isn't as flavourful as Church's either.  What sets HiFive apart is that they also offer Baked Chicken in both regular and spicy.  If you were thinking Costco rotisserie-style, then this isn't it.  Rather, the meat is drier and less flavourful.  However, it isn't exactly super dry either.  Again, the spicy wasn't that hot, but was definitely there.

Of course, we had a few sides too including the Fried Mac & Cheese.  Inside, it resembled Kraft Dinner, but that wasn't a bad thing.  Very familiar and still tasty.  Outside, it was crispy with a touch of grease.  Great for the kiddies, but personally, I'd be sick of them after one.  Compared to the rest of the competition, other than say 7-11 and Safeway, HiFive offers up Potato Wedges rather than fries.  These were really good with lots of soft potato surrounded by spiced crispy batter.  I think this is a smart move on HiFive's part to differentiate themselves from other fried chicken spots in town.  That combined with the baked chicken, there are certainly more options available.  However, my personal preference would be LA Chicken, then Churches before I consider anything else (when it comes to takeout fried chicken).

The Good:
- Juicy meat
- Crunchy well-rendered batter
- Option of baked chicken

The Bad:
- Needs a bit more flavour in my opinion
- Some parts of the batter can be dense and doughy
- Not pictured here, but I tried the chicken strips, they are not very good 

Fremont Bowl

When visiting a city, most people prefer to eat somewhere close to their hotel and/or place of stay.  Let's face it, the bulk of the population do not have the same level of care when it comes to restaurants.  Now we can take this one notch higher where some will do a quick google search and possibly luck out on something good.  Then we have the dedicated ones who scour social media where they follow in other's footsteps (even better is going with a local who is a true food aficionado).  That is what happened when we were visiting Seattle's Woodland Zoo.  Luck would have it that @teelythefoodie's picture of a Chirashi Don from Fremont Bowl would pop up on my IG feed (that day too!).  Hey the place was really close to the zoo!  Hence we made our way there for dinner.

Let's get right to it, their most popular and photogenic bowl by far is the Chirashi Don for $14.95.  My son more than happily ordered that for himself as he is on a chirashi don fix these days.  Considering the price and the amount/variety/quality of ingredients on top, this was a fantastic value.  The bowl sported 3 pieces each of red tuna and hamachi, 5 pieces of Atlantic salmon, 2 pieces each of tuna tataki and unagi as well as ebi, masago and negitoro.  I tried the hamachi and it was buttery and sweet.  For my daughter, she went simple with the Sake Don featuring 8 large slices of Atlantic Salmon.  They were fresh, buttery and sweet.  Underneath, the rice was chewy with just the right amount of moisture.

I went for the Unagi Don which was one of the more expensive bowls at $16.50, but look at it.  LOOK AT IT!  The 5 enormous pieces of unagi that covered all of the rice and in fact, was more than needed for that amount.  I wasn't complaining though as they were buttery and sauced enough to flavor the rice.  Since there was so much of it, each bite was extra fatty with sweet caramelization.  Normally, with an unagi don, I try to conserve so I have enough until the end.  With this one, I just ate recklessly.  For the same price, the Short Ribs Yakiniku Don was equally stunning in portion size.  There was 10+ slices of tender short rib which also meant reckless eating!  No need to leave some meat for the rest of the rice.  Portion was one thing but the well-charred and seasoned ribs were smoky and sweet.

Viv ended up with the Crispy Chicken Katsu Don served with a side of tonkatsu sauce.  OMG, the portion sizes were just shocking as there was 2 large fried deboned chicken legs for this one bowl.  Once again, portion size wasn't the only thing good about this bowl, rather, it was also prepared on point.  As you can clearly see, the cutlet was thick and only lightly breaded.  Inside, it was tender and bursting with juices.  Loved having the tonkatsu sauce on the side as it allowed customization as well as keep things crispy.  Elaine did something similar with the Crispy Tonkatsu Don also served with sauce on the side as well as shishito peppers.  Just like the previous bowl, there was another large cutlet underneath the one you see in the picture.  It was crispy while tender and moist on the inside.  This was quite impressive due to the leanness of the pork loin.

Costanza went for the Salmon Poke Bowl with the addition of unagi (+2).  It sported big chunks of Atlantic salmon, imitation crab, masago, cucumber and wakame with yuzu sauce.  Again, with so many ingredients atop the rice, it wasn't devoid of flavor as there was a nice balance of sweet, tangy, salty and the aromatic from sesame oil.  I also added a side of Chicken Karaage that was served with a masago mayo dip. These could've been crispier, but the thin layer of flour on the outside ensured that this was mostly meat.  About that meat, it was juicy, mildly seasoned and super tender.  Alright, I know I've repeated many things in this post, but things were indeed large and things were indeed well-prepared.  Couple that with reasonable pricing and I can see why there is always a lineup here.

The Good:
- Reasonable pricing
- Huge portions (mostly the protein)
- Well-prepared

The Bad:
- Eating in is a hurried experience
- Lineup at most times

Serious Pie & Biscuits

5 years ago almost to the day, Costanza and I ventured down to Seattle for the madness known as Black Friday.  Some called us brave, some swore we were crazy while others knew why I was really there - for the food!  After some serious all-night shopping and very little sleep, we still made it out to Downtown Seattle to check out one of Tom Douglas' many delicious eateries - Serious Pie (see how I used serious in the sentence as foreshadowing?).  We came away impressed and wanting for more.  Costanza wanted to return right away, but heck, who does that when there are so many choices!  This time around, we returned with both families and we ended up checking out their other location that also features biscuits.

About that biscuit, we had to get an obligatory one to check it out right?  We ended up with the "Zach" sporting fried chicken, tobasco black pepper gravy, fried egg and bacon.  Eerily similar to the "Reggie" from Pine State Biscuits, this one ate heavy and sinfully.  Loved the gravy as it was peppery and creamy.  The fried chicken was fairly moist with a lightly crispy coating.  Egg was runny and bacon was crisp while the biscuit itself was exhibited a crunchy exterior giving way to firm fluffiness.  Solid biscuit.  For our first pizza, we chose the basic with 2 of the Buffalo Mozzarella, tomato sauce and basil.  Clearly evidenced by the picture, the crust was heavily charred, thin and crunchy.  Yes, there was a strong nuttiness going on to compliment the tangy tomato sauce and ample basil.

My personal favourite was the Sweet Fennel Sausage, roasted peppers and provolone.  This was super zesty and meaty from the combination of tender sausage and sweet peppers.  Add in the tangy tomato sauce as well as the well-charred crust, this was a textural and taste delight.  Moreover, I actually liked how this one was less burnt.  The first one was probably just a bit too much so.  I'm not always a fan of raw arugula on top of pizza because it seems to fall off and doesn't really do anything.  I guess it was the same for the Soft Eggs, prosciutto and local greens.  Whatever the case, the runny eggs and the salty prosciutto were a nice combo in a breakfast sort-of-way.  This crust was actually not charred enough for my liking though.

Our last pizza was the Roasted Seasonal Mushrooms and truffle cheese.  Naturally, this one was aromatic from the truffle and woodsy from the mushrooms.  Another classic combination that wasn't overpowering.  I liked this one almost as much as the fennel sausage except the crust was barely charred.  On the side, we got 2 orders of the Bacon Fat Home Fries.  OMG, these were rich and super potent.  The kids googled these morsels up and we barely had a sniff.  They don't look like much, but they were yum!  Once again, Serious Pie didn't disappoint as their crust is what makes their pizza.  Just wished it was a bit more consistent.

The Good:
- Loved that crunchy charred crust
- They have biscuits at this location
- Impactful toppings

The Bad:
- Inconsistent charring
- Lack of parking at this location

Marination Ma Kai

Back in 2012, our family went on a cruise aboard Holland American's Oosterdam sailing from Seattle to Alaska.  It was our second time doing that itinerary and according to Viv, "2 times too many!".  Yah, she is more of the active traveler and seeing trees, ice and wildlife is akin to looking out our backyard in Winter.  Despite her poor attitude towards the trip, we still had a good time and ended up meeting 2 new friends from Seattle, Scout and Lola (not their real names...  LOL).  We killed it onboard slaughtering the competition in every trivia session.  Ah yes, Viv was having a jolly ol' time...  So almost every visit to Seattle, we meet up with them.  This time around, it was at their suggestion - Marination Ma Kai in West Seattle.

Other than the spectacular view and outdoor dining space, Marination also boasts an array of Hawaiian eats.  Before we got to that, we ended up with something more typical of spot right near the water - Fish n' Chips with miso tartar sauce.  Panko-crusted, the fresh fish was flaky and moist.  Although the coating appeared to be thick, it was actually light and crunchy.  On the side, the house cut fries were on point being crispy with plenty of tender potato goodness inside.  Impressively gigantic, the Pork Katsu Sandwich sported slaw, red onion, mayo and house-made tonkatsu sauce on a ciabatta bun.  Crunchy and meaty, the pork cutlet was thick and tender.  The mix of tangy slaw, creamy mayo and sweet tonkatsu sauce provided layers of flavour.  The robust bun kept everything together.

Of course we had to get the Spam Musubi because if we didn't the kids would have a hairy cow.  Not that they wouldn't eat a hairy cow that is...  So for good measure, we also got the Portuguese Sausage Musubi as well.  I personally enjoyed the regular Spam Musubi since it was familiar and the texture was complimentary to the chewy sushi rice.  Not that the sausage wasn't good, it was meaty and nicely spiced, but the robust nature of the meat made the musubi heavier than usual.  Underneath the good amount of kalbi beef and sunny side egg was Kimchi Fried Rice.  This was further finished off with green onion and furikake.  Adding the meat component on top of the rice made this a hearty dish where the chewy and well-seasoned rice was spicy and tangy.

Trying to cover most of the menu, we also got both the Kalua Pork and Spam Sliders complimented by slaw and nunya sauce (mayo, gochujang, garlic and green onion) served on a soft Hawaiian-style roll.  Once again, my preference was with the spam as it was one solid piece of meat that was familiar with its buttery soft texture.  The saltiness really helped balance the slaw.  Again, it wasn't as if the kalua didn't taste good.  In fact, the tender pork was really yummy and it ate like a pulled pork sandwich, just without BBQ sauce.  Lola also got the sliders, but added a Kalbi Beef Taco on the side as well.  It was served on a corn tortilla and topped with slaw, pickled jalapenos, sesame seeds and nunya sauce.  It sported the same well-seasoned beef from the rice we had as well as the same slaw and sauce from the sliders.  Tasty little bite.

We ended things off with Hawaiian Shaved Ice in a mix of Mango and Lychee.  This was not as sweet as it appeared, but flavourful enough that we could discern what it was.  Nice and refreshing and while it ain't as fluffy as Korean bingsoo, it was good in its own right.  Reminded us of grabbing shaved ice in Lahaina.  That would probably be the best description of the place.  A taste of Hawaii right by the water that emulates the island experience.  With reasonable prices and a killer view, there is not much to dislike about the place.

The Good:
- Inexpensive
- Large portions
- Taste of Hawaii

The Bad:
- Limited parking
- Can get pretty busy and you will be without a seat

Sam Choy's Poke to the Max

We all know the poke craze that has hit Vancouver in the last few years, but other than a few outliers, most have been "salad-type" poke operations.  No, we haven't been blessed with many places that serve up authentic poke (which is basically fish, onion and soy-based dressing) without all the random ingredients.  However, in an about-face, we find the "Godfather" of poke, Sam Choy, amping up poke and other Hawaiian treats at Sam Choy's Poke to the Max in Seattle.  Seeing that piqued our interest and made it our first stop for food.

About that poke, we went for the Mo' Betta Shoyu featuring salmon, shoyu, sesame oil, unagi sauce and wasabi aioli.  This was accompanied by 2 scoops of rice, ginger, pickled veg and wakame salad.  It was pretty much straight up poke except for the 2 sauces.  Honestly, we could've done without them as they not only made the whole thing too heavy, it also muddled up the flavours.  We didn't even know what we were eating due to the strong unagi sauce.  Beyond that, the salmon was excellent as well as the condiments.  Following the same theme, the Reconstructed Musubi was a complete mess in our opinion.  Splatted obscenely by the same 2 sauces, it totally took away the enjoyment form the seared Spam, egg frittata and chewy sushi rice.  It was unnecessarily messy and once again muddled.

On the flip side, the Big Kahuna Kulua Sandwich was a hit.  The pork was plentiful and tender.  Unlike some other versions I've had in the past, the meat was moist and not overly fatty either.  In addition to the Hawaiian sweet bun, there was coleslaw, namasu, cilantro and aioli.  These added a bright crunch as well as sweetness and tang. On the side, the furikake fries were pretty damn tasty.  They were lightly crispy and somewhat greasy, but the taste of the nori added appealing umami.  Lastly, we had the Garlic Moco (instead of the Loco Moco) featuring garlic fried chicken, garlic sauce, grilled onions and a sunny side egg.  This was also tasty with impactfully flavoured crispy chicken.  That alone was worth the price of admission.  We were so-so with the mac salad as it the pasta was too soft.  At the end, we were torn as to whether we enjoyed our meal or not.  If I had to choose one or the other, it was more of a miss than hit for us.

The Good:
- Plenty creative
- Loved that fried chicken
- Kalua sammie and fries were on point

The Bad:
- Too many sauces on the poke and musubi
- Why can't they keep things more simple?

Congrats to the winner!

Congrats to Vivian Truong for winning the $100 GC!!!  Please DM me at with you mailing address and choice of restaurant.  I will send that to you ASAP.  Happy eating!