Sherman's Food Adventures

Robba da Matti

Yaletown is one of the more ritzier spots in Vancouver sporting expensive boutiques, trendy restaurants and of course, expensive condos.  Prior to the kiddies arriving, we lived down there and yes, it was quite the life.  Despite the plethora of places to eat, Yaletown can often be hit and miss where sometimes style trumps good food (for those in the know, I don't have to tell you which restaurants fit into that category).  However, hidden amongst all the people-watching and chic facades, we can find some gems.  One of them was Yaletown L'Antipasto, which has recently been rebranded as Robba da Matti (after the owner's names).

We decided to check the place out since we were planning on grabbing some ice cream from Mister anyways.  Turns out there was an hour wait, so we had dessert first!  When we got down dinner, the first plate was the Beef Tenderloin Carpaccio with honey mustard truffle aioli, mesclun greens and shaved parm.  Sliced thin and buttery, the AAA beef was the exact texture one would expect from this dish.  The aioli was only lightly earthy with a background sweetness.  Our other appie was the Bruschetta al Pomodoro.  This was super simple with crunchy bread and fresh tomatoes.  I thought the garlic & oregano olive oil was aromatic and impactful, but it needed more saltiness.

For our pastas, I lobbied for the Spaghetti alla Vongle (as it is my fav) with aglio, olio, pereroncino and vino bianco.  Sporting al dente pasta that was properly seasoned and coated with enough aromatic and slightly spicy olive oil, the dish was everything that I wanted it to be.  There was enough fresh clams to add a certain brininess.  Next, we had the Papardelle "Rosche Rosche" featuring braised beef short ribs, free-range chicken and Italian fennel Sausage.  As you can imagine, this was hearty and robust due to the ample amount of meats.  The short ribs were tender while the sausage was aromatic and meaty.  I found the chicken to be a touch dry but par for the course with free-range chicken.  The sauce wasn't heavy though as it was lightly tomatoey and plenty meaty due to the ingredients.

We went for the Osso Buco & Risotto alla Milanese as our final dish.  They were very generous with the portion of veal shank as it filled the plate.  It was mostly tender with a few drier portions.  Of course there was some buttery and fatty bone marrow lurking underneath the sauce.  As for the risotto, it was surprisingly chewy even though we had taken some pictures before digging in.  There was plenty of parm which added a salty nuttiness that complimented the sweetness of the onion.  So this revisit to Robba da Matti (well it did change names since I last ate here) was a good one.  Prices are fair and the food is above average.

The Good:
- Fair prices, fair portions
- Above-average eats
- Good for people watching

The Bad:
- No A/C, so the inside is downright hot during warmer months
- Without the outside seating, there is very limited seating inside

Dublin Crossing (Marine Gateway)

Since we play the majority of our softball games on the Southside of Vancouver, it is pretty convenient to make the hop into Richmond for eats afterwards.  However, it seems as if this season is looking more like a weekly pub-crawl, keeping us away from Asian eats.  I'd been lobbyingto give Dublin Crossing at Marine Gateway a shot due to its proximity to our games.  It wasn't until a staff function at the pub to win me over as the food was pretty tasty as well as the cool decor.  After our less-than-stellar experience at another Irish pub (the one with the AYCE wing special), we wanted to see what Dublin Crossing could do better.  

As mentioned, I was able to sample some appies as part of a staff function.  We had the impressively large Ploughman's Board consisting of turkey, roast beef, prosciutto, goat cheese, Stilton blue cheese, aged cheddar and double cream brie.  The house-made roast beef was beautifully medium-rare (closer to rare) which meant it was moist and tender.  On the other hand, the turkey was on the drier side.  This also came with the accompaniments you see on the board as well as bread. Crunchy and fried perfectly, the Crispy Cauliflower was delicious.  They were cooked all-the-way-through but still retained the classic firm robust texture.  Although they were well-seasoned on their own, the side of raita chili lime mayo was the proverbial icing on the cake as it added a cooling tangy spice.

Another solid item was the Stuffed Yorkshire Pudding with house-made roast beef, horseradish sour cream and beef gravy.  Normally, you only get 2 in an order (served with mashed potatoes and veggies), but we shared a platter of these as you can see in the picture.  Large with a purposeful concave design, the fluffy Yorkshire pudding was also lightly crispy on the outside.  The roast beef was tender while the gravy kept things moist.  Loved the subtle horseradish flavour in the sour cream.  Revisiting the place with my team, we had the Irish Nachos featuring thin cut fried chips topped with layered cheese, bacon, tomato, green onion and red pepper.  I had this the first time as well and they delivered once again.  This was a huge portion that we barely finished.  The chips were crunchy and not overly greasy while the amount of toppings was generous and evenly distributed.  Almost resembling a tomato sauce rather than what was described as salsa, it went rather well with the chips.

Sens Fan was traumatized by the AYCE wing fiasco at Ceili's, so he wanted to get an order of their Hot Wings to wash away the nightmare.  He was a happy man as the wings were fried until crispy with rendered skin.  As much as the meat was not juicy per se, it was hardly dry either.  There was enough hot sauce to coat each wing without drowning them.  There was plenty of flavour to go around where the wing was seasoned properly.  R2D2, Milhouse, Boss Woman and I decided to share some dishes including the Fish & Chips sporting 2 large pieces of cod.  They were beautifully fried where the batter was thin and crunchy.  The cod itself remained moist and flaky.  Once again, there was enough inherent seasoning to eat the fish plain, but the creamy tartar sauce was nicely balanced albeit a bit thin.  A touch generic, the fries were prepared well though being hot and crispy.

Moving onto some Irish offerings, we also shared the Bangers & Mash with traditional style sausages, caramelized onions, braised cabbage, beef gravy, garlic mashed potatoes and veggies.  I found the bangers to be very meaty and lean.  They weren't dry though as the meat was still moist.  Most of the flavour came from the rich beef gravy, but it was on the saltier side.  As much as mashed potatoes are usually an afterthought, this version was really good being creamy, light and flavourful.  Veggies were not overcooked and still vibrant.  Staying with the yummy mashed potatoes, we had the Cottage Pie made with shredded beef, mixed veggies, panko crumbs and aged cheddar.  This was hearty and filling despite not looking like much.  The beef was tender while the mashed potatoes were a bit firmer since they were baked.  Despite being rich and flavourful, the gravy was again pretty salty.

Just to say that we sampled the more popular items, we also got the Belfast Bacon Burger with a 6 oz patty, aged cheddar, smoked bacon, tomato, red onion, lettuce & roasted garlic aioli on a toasted brioche bun.  Again, the fries were average, but prepared properly.  On the other hand, the burger was pretty good.  The patty was moist and natural tasting.  There was an appealing smokiness from the 2 large strips of bacon.  Judes went off the board (as in the regular menu) and had the Meatloaf with garlic mashed potatoes and veggies.  Now if the carrots and zucchini looked a bit burnt, well the reason for this might've been the fact that they forgot her order and probably rushed it.  Despite that, the mash was as good as before while the meatloaf was also well-executed.  It didn't look very moist but in fact it was.  The meat was tender and well-seasoned while not greasy.  There could've been more of the tangy glaze on top though.

Bear ended up with the St. Patrick's Irish Stew with lamb, potatoes, carrots, leeks and peas in a rich tomato broth.  This was a pretty substantial portion that he struggled to finish.  It was indeed hearty and full-flavoured, if not a bit salty.  The chunks of lamb and potatoes were tender.  There was definitely a mild beer essence to go with the meatiness.  We found it a bit strange they would use tomatoes, but the stew was ultimately tasty.   Also on the table was the Chicken Pub Pie sporting chicken, carrots, peas and potatoes in a flaky pastry crust. Served with garlic mashed potatoes, seasonal vegetables and chicken gravy.  Unlike the other dishes with gravy, this one was not as salty, yet still flavourful.  As for the chicken, there was enough of it and generally tender.  After trying what was essentially a large chunk of the menu, we were pretty satisfied with the results.  Food was more than acceptable, room was nice and best of all, service was quick and friendly.

The Good:
- Solid food for a pub
- Quick and friendly service
- Loved the decor

The Bad:
- A little on the pricier side
- Gravy was too salty

Jack Frost Cafe

After the initial onset of Korean Bingsoo in the GVRD started mostly by Snowy Village, there was a rash of similar joints opening up such as Sulmida, Passion8 and My Frosty.  Let's not forget one could get this at Midam as well including a few lesser known places.  Then all-of-a-sudden, there has been a lull of sorts when no new places entered the scene.  However, with anything that is hot, there will be a rush of imitators (think Poke...).  One of the newer spots is Jack Frost in Richmond, which I visited several months ago, but never go around to blogging about it.  We dropped by recently, so it was a good time to finally write it up.

My initial visit was when it first opened with Joyce, Nora and Lesley.  We ended up trying 2 of their bingsoos including the Matcha Red Bean and Mango.  First and foremost, I found the sizing to be on the smaller side when compared to places such as Snowy Village and My Frosty.  However, with that being said, they were still more than enough and they didn't skimp on the ingredients.  I found the matcha to be good with enough tea flavour without being bitter.  The ice itself was light and just sweet enough.  Of course I'm biased towards My Frosty and their flavoured Bingsoo, but this was good nonetheless.  Originally, when we had the mango for the first time, there was cheesecake, but the second time, there was none.  Mangoes were ripe and plentiful though being layered underneath the snow as well.

On our second visit, we did got the Strawberry and it did include a slice of cheesecake.  As such, the bingsoo was more "filling" and less light to eat.  However, I love cheesecake, so I much prefer it being there.  Similar to last time, the milky snow was fluffy and light while not overly sweet.  That was a good thing as the strawberries and condensed milk ensured there would be more than enough flavour.  For the kiddies, they wanted the Oreo Bingsoo over the dipping dots, so we didn't get the dipping dots... :(  Anyways, this was good too being overloaded with whole Oreos and layered with even more bits underneath.  To top it off, there was Oreo dust on the sides and little brownie bites.  This ate a bit sweeter due to the inclusion of so many Oreo components.

We also got a seasonal offering in the Watermelon Bingsoo served in a half-watermelon.  It was topped with melon balls, ice cream and condensed milk.  Due to watermelon being mild-in-taste and well, watery, this was very light and refreshing.  The ice cream was necessary in bringing more sweetness to the table.  Overall, we enjoyed the bingsoo at Jack Frost and it is definitely a good addition to the existing spots in town.  Despite the smaller portions, the quality is there.

The Good:
- Sweetness level is about right
- Enough fruit on top and within the layers
- People are friendly enough

The Bad:
- Parking for that location is truly a challenge (even more so than other Richmond spots)
- Portions are small

Aleph Eatery

With the prevailing food scene in Vancouver, it is easy to overreact to cuisines that are unfamiliar.  We have such a wide array of Asian options, most people are quite well-versed as to what is good and what is average.  However, when it comes to cuisines less traveled, it seems like we will automatically go nuts for it since we've either never had it before and/or there is nothing to compare it to.  That would be the case with Middle-Eastern food where we do have some spots to chose from, but not all areas are represented.  Mijune and I met up recently at Aleph Eatery out on Powell to experience Chef Haitham El Khatib's take on Middle-Eastern eats.

Highly-recommended and stunningly beautiful to the eyes, the Silk Road featured hummus, eggplant and labneh combined into edible art.  It was finished off with honey, olive oil and zaatar with chimichurri saj on the side.  In comparison to the more well-known Jamjar, the hummus here was infinitely better featuring non-canned chickpeas blended smooth with noticeable hits of lemon and garlic.  Tender and not overprocessed, the eggplant was delicate with discernible texture.  It was lightly dressed in olive oil and was particularly good mixed with the zaatar and labneh.  About that labneh, it was thick and creamy with an appetizing tang.  It was complimented nicely by the honey.  Not to be ignored, the saj was warm, soft and had a mild chewiness.  I really wanted the Ultra Crispy Potatoes and they did not disappoint.  These were akin to the ones found at Pepino's, but dressed differently of course.  It consisted of tahini, aleppo and roasted red peppers.  Such a simple offering, but addictive.  Aromatic and firmly crispy, the potatoes were still soft and fluffy.  Beyond a mild saltiness, the flavours mainly came from the sweet peppers (with some spiciness) and nutty creamy tahini dressing.

Although we were there during lunch, we decided to get the Turmeric Cauliflower (which is on the dinner menu).  Turned out to be a good idea since they were also very good.   Unlike many of the fried versions in town, this one was roasted with turmeric and topped with tahini dressing, sliced almonds, aleppo and parsley.  Despite the repeat of a few ingredients, the cauliflower shared no common flavour profile with the potatoes.  Rather, the turmeric really came through with a gingery tanginess while complimented by the creamy dressing and the slightly spicy and sweet aleppo.  Texturally, the cauliflower was on point being firm with a moist crunch while cooked all-the-way-through.  Another hit was the Falafel with brined beat and carrot, radishes and garlic toum.  By appearances alone, it was attractive with a bright green hue surrounded by dark golden brown.  It ate as it appeared with a firm crunch giving way to a fluffy and soft centre.  There was noted hits of cumin, parsley and spice.

Our last dish was my personal favourite being the Enoki Mushroom Shawarma.  Initially, I was hesitant to order it, but upon Mijune's urging (or forceful suggestiveness...), we got it.  She was right though, it was fantastic from the first bite.  There was so much impact from the spices used on the enoki including nuttiness, aromatic bitterness and earthiness.  Combined with the hummus underneath, we got the lemon and garlic once again.  Eaten with the fantastic saj on the side, this was texturally and tastewise on point.  Okay, I got a little excited with this place (due to some of the aforementioned reasons), but compared to similar spots (in particular, Jamjar), Aleph does a much better job.  Would this be as exciting if we had the same amount of Middle-Eastern restaurants as Chinese restaurants in town?  Probably not, but given the limited options, Aleph is one of the better ones.

The Good:
- High-quality ingredients
- Small spot where the chef keeps things consistent
- Impactful flavours

The Bad:
- Some seats are a bit awkward in the small space
- Some creative license on certain dishes which might not work for some people

Kiriri Japanese Cuisine & Sushi Bar

For those who care, authentic Japanese eats is somewhat of a unicorn in the GVRD.  Most of the Japanese spots in town are not operated by Japanese.  Now that also can be a fallacy since not all Chinese-run Chinese restaurants are good (same with all other types of cuisine).  However, being Japanese owned and operated is a start.  From there we can assess whether they are good in addition to being legit.  So finally I was able to make it out to Kiriri Japanese Cuisine out in Richmond (it has been there for awhile) when I met up with Aussie and family (visiting from, you guessed it, Australia).

For the adults, we began with the Hawaiian Tuna Tower with sushi rice, avocado, mango, albacore tuna and masago.  Yes, this was a creative take on sushi at an authentic Japanese restaurant.  But this was a whole lot better than some of the massive towers found elsewhere.  What it lacked in size and quantity, it was completely made up by the fresh ingredients and careful construction.  Textures were on point while the impactful flavours from the buttery tuna and ripe mango made the tower delicious.  Normally I focus on the execution of the batter when it comes to Ebi Tempura, but the shrimp inside was the real star here.  It was of a good size, buttery and had an appealing snap.  That in itself made this a winner, but the crispy and light batter didn't disappoint either.

Of course we couldn't pass up on the Sashimi, even though the prices could make house prices look reasonable.  The platter consisting of albacore tuna, sockeye salmon, red tuna and Atlantic salmon set us back $70.00.  Yes, that is expensive, but worth it if you are looking for some of the finest sashimi in Greater Vancouver.  The subtle sweetness of the tuna and salmon in addition to the delicate textures cannot be conveyed by the picture or the words that I've typed.  Would I do this weekly?  No, I need to pay my mortgage, but once in awhile, this would be worth every penny.  Onto a cooked item, we had the Tonkatsu (or Pork Cutlet on the menu) served with tonkatsu sauce, lemon and Japanese mustard.  The lean pork was surprisingly juicy and moist.  It was firm since there was so little fat, yet it was not dry at all.  The crunchy panko coating was not greasy and was fairly delicate.

In addition to my son's usual Nigiri (tamago, unagi, chopped scallop and Atlantic salmon), we got a couple of rolls.   On the same platter, there was the Rainbow Roll consisting of a California roll topped with Atlantic salmon, tai, mackerel, ebi and albacore tuna.  For me, this has become a pretty basic roll found on many Japanese menus in town.  Once again, the impressiveness of the roll didn't lie with the visuals.  Rather, it was the freshness of the ingredients and the care that was taken with its construction.  Again, on point textures with the rice and fish.  Something a bit different, we got the Special Spicy Salmon Roll with soy paper on the outside and finished with jalapeno.  It wasn't super spicy (which is usually the case), but the jalapeno upped the spice level.  Rice was nicely chewy while the soy paper added another layer of texture.

My son got ambitious and opted for the Chirashi Don consisting of hamachi, tai, albacore tuna, Atlantic salmon, ika, tako, tamago and mackerel on perfectly prepared sushi rice.  Texturally, the rice was chewy without being dry and the amount of seasoning was balanced (for the type of rice that is seasoned because some versions come unseasoned).  Sounded repetitive, the fish was on point with the tuna and salmon being the highlight.  Strangely, my daughter had some sashimi, but then went on to have a Hot Somen.  This is not something she usually orders but it featured a rich and tasty dashi.  We could tell it was done the right way where the aromatics and brininess of the bonito really coming through.  As you can probably guess, we enjoyed our meal very much at Kiriri despite costing a pretty penny.  But this is an intermittent reminder how Japanese food is supposed to be like.

The Good:
- Carefully prepared food
- High-quality ingredients
- Friendly service

The Bad:
- Doesn't come cheap
- Much like any Richmond restaurant, parking is limited

Stem Japanese Eatery

Not really all that long ago, the only place where you would normally find higher-end eateries was in either Downtown and/or the Westside of Vancouver.  However, with more and more people moving Eastward into the 'burbs, we are no longer stuck with just chain restaurants.  Interestingly enough, it isn't the traditional Western fine-dining that are opening in spots past Boundary Road.  Rather, we see more expensive Asian joints popping up.  Does it have something to do with demographics?  Possibly or maybe the appetite is there for more refined Asian eats.  This is the case with Stem Japanese Eatery setting up shop in South Burnaby.  With the former chef of Zest at the helm, the price point at Stem readily reflects that.

After being open for over half-a-year, we finally made it out with the kids and the grandparents.  We started out with an order of the Sockeye Salmon Sashimi for $20.00.  Yes, $4.00 per piece can be sticker-shock, but similar to the best sushi bars in town, the quality was worth it.  Visually, it was stunning with deep colours.  Each slice was buttery soft while retaining a meatiness and being superbly sweet from start-to-finish.  We got a couple orders of the Onsen Tamago sporting a 64-degree Maple Hill Farm free-range egg, dashi espuma, Koshihikari rice, kale stem & shrimp furikake finished with black truffle oil.  When mixed together, the silky egg and espuma created a velvety base for the chewy rice and crunchy stems.  Flavours were subtle, but that was the point due to the delicate ingredients. 

Neatly plated, the Soba Crab Roll was certainly an interesting concoction.  It consisted of BC dungeness crab surrounded by nori, green soba noodles and then more nori.  On the side, there was a dashi soy broth for dipping.  Texturally, I wasn't sure of the soft-on-soft.  It could've used a crunchy component somewhere (except for the ends).  However, it was still tasty since it had a big chunk of fluffy crab in the middle.  The noodles were a touch soft, but they weren't mushy.  Loved the impactful dashi soy that wasn't salty.  For my son, he had to have the Unagi Tamago Cone (2 of his most favourite things).  Carefully constructed and featuring chewy sushi rice, there was a buttery piece of unagi and a fluffy slice of tamago.  Nothing complex, but texturally on point.

Onto one of our favourite dishes of the meal, the Bio-Dynamic Zucchini Blossom Tempura was perfect.  These large blossoms were stuffed with ebi shinjo and deep fried with tempura batter.  The result was a crunchy exterior giving way to the delicate blossom and the bouncy shrimp paste with shiso.  The plate was finished off with a yuzu aioli drizzle which added a creamy tang.  Another solid dish was the Chilliwack Miso Pork Jowl that was cured for 48 hours with a house blend miso.  It was simply grilled and topped with a granny smith apple salad.  Completing the dish was a roasted rhubarb puree.  Texturally, the pork jowl was on point with a chewy bounciness.  There was definitely the fermented essence of the miso coming through as well as a smokiness from the grilling.  I thought the puree was a great tangy compliment.

Viv's favourite dish was the Grilled Yarrow Meadows Duck marinated with house made shoyu koji.  It was garnished with zucchini ohitashi, soy braised mushroom and burdock kimpura.  The brined duck breast was cooked to a nice medium which ensured that it was moist and tender.  I would've liked the fat to be rendered more, but it was tender and did not get in the way.  In addition to the inherent fermented saltiness, the burdock added an herbal woodsiness while the mushrooms were a nice balance between sweet and salty.  There was also a background hit of truffle oil as well. The solid plates continued with the Garlic Chicken marinated in garlic sweet soy finished with green onion, shiitake and aomori garlic chips.  Although the ingredients were simple, the execution was flawless.  Succulent and super juicy, the chicken thigh pieces were caramelized and full-flavoured.  Plenty of aromatics to go with the classic sweet saltiness.

Another seemingly simple dish was the Miso Cheese Eggplant.  This was basically half an eggplant baked with mozzarella cheese, sweet miso and truffle oil.  You've probably heard it before, but I'll repeat here - plates with simple ingredients (and very few of them) are the hardest to make since there is little room for error.  Consistent with all of the food so far, this was done right.  Cooked through, the eggplant still retained its shape.  It was tender and delicate with the unmistakable rich fermented taste of sweet miso.  They didn't overdo it with the truffle oil either.  Not trying to repeat myself, but the Haida Gwaii Halibut Cheek Age Oroshi was expertly deep fried.  It was flaky with an appealingly chewy bounciness normally found with halibut cheeks.  The cheeks were dressed in a oroshi daikon dashi soy broth which was subtle, yet impactful at the same time.  Combined with a daikon essence, the sweetness of the dashi was only slightly counteracted by the saltiness of the soy.

Based on our server's recommendation, we added the Dashi Omelette.  It was made-to-order with local free-range egg, ichiban dashi, snow crab, local shungiku, wasabi stems and daikon radish.  This was super delicate and fluffy.  Again, flavours were subtle with classic dashi coming through from the bonito and kombu.  Providing a touch of sharpness, the shungiku was liberally strewn throughout.  The only thing I would've liked to see was less moisture as some parts were soggy.  Our last dish was the Hot Udon featuring hand-made noodles from Akita, Japan.  These were slippery and silky, unlike the dense generic packaged type you find at many Japanese restaurants in town.  The soy dashi broth was sweet and full-of-depth with a background smokiness.  Although this wasn't a complex dish, the balance and execution really shone.  That would be the best description for the entire meal in general as things were carefully made and presented.  Prices are definitely on the higher end, but worth it in my opinion.

The Good:
- Carefully-crafted food
- Delicate, but impactful flavours
- Attentive service

The Bad:
- Pricey
- For some, the flavours might be too subtle, but that is the intention