Sherman's Food Adventures

Monarch Burger

Before it became Fable, there once was a restaurant named Fuel and then subsequently Refuel.  I loved their fried chicken and in fact, they had some other really tasty dishes.  Executive Chef Robert Belcham continued to run the successful Campagnolo and Campagnolo Roma as well as opening up a secret little spot aptly named Upstairs at Campagnolo.  That is where the Dirty Burger was born.  Being regarded as one of the best burgers (if not the best) in town, it was only a matter of time that it deserved a place of its own.  Located on a few doors down, Monarch Burger serves these made-from-scratch beauties in the energetic and lively American bar.

We ended up checking the place out after softball one night where I started with the Kale Caesar.  Yes, I had to get my greens somewhere and this was tasty.  I enjoyed how the leaves were fairly small where I could eat them in one bite with minimal chewing.  There was still the robust texture of kale which held up nicely to the ample amount of cheesy and garlicky dressing.  To some, it could be overdressed, but due to the heartiness of kale, I thought it was appropriate.  Before I got to the burger, I also had the Poutine dressed in real gravy and plenty of cheese curds.  I would've preferred that the curds weren't all melted, but it did add a lot of body to the poutine.  The fries were lightly crispy while a bit salty.

For the main event, I had the Single Cheeseburger with bacon and fried egg.  As plain as the house-made bun appeared, for me at least it was the ideal compliment to the ingredients.  It was solid enough that it didn't disintegrate while being soft enough that the ingredients didn't slide out with each bite.  The made-to-order patty (cooked in lard) was meaty, appealingly-seasoned and not overdone.  The ample bacon was thick-sliced and crispy all-the-way through.  

Milhouse ended up with the Double-Cheeseburger with bacon and fried onions which was predictably more filling, meatier and messier.  Again, the bun held everything in while the extra cheese added more saltiness and melty goodness.  The caramelized onions were sweet and provided more moisture as well as the pickles, lettuce and tomato.  On the side, he had the regular Fries and they were on the saltier side much like the poutine.  They were still good though being lightly crispy with a natural potato texture and taste.  Seeing how I already love the dirty burger, my visit to Monarch Burger was predictable.  Prices are on the higher side, but remember, everything is made in-house.

The Good:
- Fresh ingredients prepared well
- Crumbly and moist made-to-order patty
- Robust, yet not dense house-made bun

The Bad:
- Fries a bit salty
- Can get pricey with all the additions

Burgermaster

While driving the I-5 to Seattle, it is not hard to miss Burgermaster on the right hand side just past Burlington.  Occupying the old Cranberry Tree (that place was deserted so long ago...), Burgermaster offers up the classic drive-in burger experience with fresh grass-fed beef.  Costanza and I put that down on our schedule for lunch on our drive home.  Somewhat similar to Sonic (but not) in Lynden, we drove up to a spot, turn on our lights and a carhop (wow, haven't used that word before!) was there to take our order.

For Costanza, he went for the Mushroom Burger with a side of Onion Rings. I'm not sure if the picture does the burger justice as it was greasy, messy, juicy and stuffed with sauteed mushrooms.  We found the bun soft and somewhat malleable, which helped grip and keep everything inside.  There was a good sear on the meat where it stayed moist and juicy.  Lots of umaminess and Earthiness from the mushrooms.  The breaded onion rings were fantastic being crunchy and not too thick.  There was more breading than onion.

For myself, I only had eyes on the Baconmelt consisting of 2 patties and double cheese.  Again, there was a good sear which increased the pop of meat flavour.  In addition, the ample crispy and lean bacon combined with the melted cheese made the burger a touch salty, but who cares, it was tasty!  For my side, I got an order of the Fries which were crispy and slightly salty. Since they were skinny fries, there was less potato texture left on the inside, but I still enjoyed them.  In fact, I enjoyed my burger very much and it was far superior than the one I had at The Habit the day before.  If you are driving down I-5, go ahead and give Burgermaster a try!

The Good:
- Big messy and juicy burgers
- Soft malleable bun that didn't fall apart
- Solid sides

The Bad:
- Not the best when the weather is wet and cold


The Habit

The love affair with the burger since it gained international attention at the 1904 St. Louis world's fair has been pretty intense.  Think of all the burger chain restaurants offering up their "best" version as well as almost every North American-style restaurant having it as a mainstay on their menus. For me, I love burgers and probably could eat one every day if not for the obvious artery-clogging issues.  So when Costanza and I spotted The Habit next to Arashi Ramen, we chose that rather than Japanese noodles (quite the feat at Costanza loves ramen!).

It amazes me that there are so many burger chains around and most do relatively well.  I guess the love affair with the burger is strong.  I decided to get the CharBurger with cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, caramalized onions, pickles and mayo.  The first thing that I noticed was its size.  I found it fairly small.  The fresh meat was thin and not really all that moist while the bun was generic. I enjoyed the char and it tasted meaty.  The grilled onions were sweet and caramelized.  Overall, it was a decent burger. 
 

For my sides, I went for both the Fries and Tempura Green Beans. Of the two, the green beans won hands down.  These were killer sporting the thinnest and lightest tempura batter.  The exterior was crispy, not greasy at all and stayed adhered to every bean until the last bite.  Inside, the green bean was juicy and tender while still retaining an appealing firmness.  Loved these immensely!  As for the fries, they did the job being fried until golden and crispy.

Costanza inexplicably ordered the Golden Chicken Burger that featured a better soft bun.  The chicken meat was dry but outside crispy.  The chicken breast was fairly small, so there wasn't enough for meat in every bite. He wasn't that impressed with it and with the sample bite I had, it didn't make me want to order that again.  Now as for the CharBurger, I would give it another shot if I was in the area, but it isn't high on my list of revisits.

The Good:
- Those tempura beans!
- Fresh meat patty

The Bad:
- A little pricey
- Burgers are small

San Fernando Roasted Chicken

Ever since I spotted it on the internet, I wanted to the the Pho Challenge at Dong Thap in Seattle.  No, I didn't have the urge to finish the 16lb monstrosity, but it was more of curiosity and let's be real here - it would make a great IG Story and associated pictures!  I've done something like this before in San Francisco at Pho Garden (which is not closed).  However, that was nowhere as big as the one found at Dong Thap.  Alas, we arrived at the place and it was closed!  Costanza and I decided to do a random food adventure at the nearby San Fernando Roasted Chicken instead.

We stared with the Peruvian Tamal made with masa, egg and pork.  Unlike the Mexican version, this was flat and a bit less wet.  It could've also been due to the light amount of lard (yes, they use that to make tamales!).  Nevertheless, it was still smooth and tasty with a big piece of tender pork hidden within.  Onto the Half Roast Chicken, the skin was nicely rendered and slightly crispy.  The chicken was mildly seasoned where the meat was fairly tender, but hardly juicy.  We found the breast meat to be a bit dry on the surface but more moist on the inside (as it can be). The side of fries were fried up golden and crispy.

Lastly, we had the Tripe Stew which was our favorite dish.  The ample amount of tender and buttery tripe was not gamy at all.  It had been properly cleaned and rinsed.  We found the flavours to be slightly sweet and with a background meatiness. This went really well with the scoop of rice on the side.  Very hearty and comforting (if you like tripe that is).  So we ended up with a random food adventure where it turned out to be pretty decent.  Definitely something different and not hard on the wallet either.

The Good:
- Inexpensive
- Something different
- Decent

The Bad:
- Place is a little run-down (but has charm)
- Chicken could've been juicier


Punje Spice Indian Restaurant

Often, the best Indian food is not found in Vancouver itself.  For those in the know, Surrey is the best place to find authentic Indian food (whether it be Northern or Southern) at a reasonable price.  With that being said, White Rock (which is a part of Surrey despite what people want you to think) is generally not seen as a hotbed for Indian food.  Actually White Rock is not seen as a destination for food in general unless you want to head onto Marine Drive for a view.  However, another Groupon brought Viv and I out to Punje Spice to meet up with Nikita, Bluebeard, Lovebug and Lana Banana.

As part of the deal, we had a choice of 2 appies where we selected the Prawn Pakora and the Chili Chicken with gravy.  Buttery with a cold-water crunch, the prawns were ever-so-lightly battered.  Hence, the exterior was only marginally crispy while well-spiced.  As for the chicken, it was tender and moist while bathed in a sweet, slightly spicy and tangy sauce.  The tamarind really came through as the there was nice sharp tang at the end.  This would've been really good with plain rice.  So much so, Bluebeard ended up saving the sauce until we got rice!

Onto the mains, we had the usual Butter Chicken which was noticeably creamy and rich, but a bit too sweet.  We would've preferred more tomato paste (they might've used fresh tomatoes though) to give it more balance and tang.  With that being said, this was still good with big chunks of tender chickenThe sauce was less sweet when eaten with rice and the garlic naan.  For me, I loved the rich onion and coriander flavour of the Lamb Rogen Josh.  There was a definitely spiciness that went with the actual spices.  The tang of the tomato and the sharpness of the ginger really made the flavours sing.  Unfortunately, the chunks of lamb were rather dry.

Universally, we loved the Prawn Curry as the sweetness of the onions really came through.  This was balanced off by a mild spice level as well as the sweet and seafoody essence of the prawns.  The prawns themselves were cooked just right where there was a meaty snap and a wealth of natural flavour.  Sizzling and smoky, the Chicken Tikka was a real hit.  The pieces of chicken were all tender and nicely charred on the outside.  We could taste the tang from the yogurt as well as all of the spice rub.  This was our favourite dish of the night.

Off to some vegetarian items, we had the Muttar Paneer which was impactful and tasty despite the lack of meat.  There was a sweetness to the curry that was further accentuated by the pop from the sweet peas.   Despite the sweetness, the rest of the savoury elements as well as the noticeable flavour from the cumin brought balance to the dish.  The nuggets of paneer were on point being soft yet not too much so.  Aromatic and fragrant, the Aloo Gobi featured tender cauliflower that was not overdone while the potatoes were a bit underdone.  The onion and ginger really came through with a sweet sharpness.

In addition to some fragrant and a bit wet coconut rice, we also had the usual Garlic Naan and also the Stuffed Naan (with spinach, onions and cheese).  Nicely charred and slightly crispy, the naan was soft and appealingly chewy on the inside.  Predictably with more moisture, the stuffed naan tasted quite good, but it was too wet.  It had a spongy quality to it.  As a whole, the meal was actually quite good.  Sure, some dishes could've been better, but considering the price point, the food was fairly tasty.  Service was a bit sparse due to it being a family-run restaurant, but it was kind and gracious.  Not bad for White Rock.

The Good:
- Reasonable-prices
- Kind and friendly staff
- Decent eats

The Bad:
- Decent, but not without faults 

Showcase (Marriott Pinnacle)

Before they renovated and revamped their menu, Showcase Restaurant in the Marriott Pinnacle could be kindly described as boring.  I had visited the place many years ago with my family and the food was definitely serviceble, but for the price, we could've eaten almost anywhere with better results.  Fast forward to the present and there is some buzz surrounding the food and vibe of the new Showcase.  Costanza frequents the place and suggested I give it a try.  That we did prior to the Autoshow.

I thought our first starter, the Seared Scallops with raisins and capers was the strongest dish of the meal.  It featured 3 large properly prepared scallops which were buttery and soft while retaining a nice rebound.  It was caramelized and well-seasoned.  The sweet raisins were appealing while the capers were kept to a minimum so that the salt content remained low.  The soy ginger Chicken Wings were also very good.  Although the breading was a bit excessive, it was fried until crispy and did not seem heavy.  That enabled the meat inside the wings to be juicy and moist.  The skin wasn't completely rendered due to the breading, but it wasn't much of an issue.  In terms of taste, this is where the dish shone.  There was a definite sweet Asian sesame soy slant with a slight kick from the sauce.

I love fries, so I couldn't resist getting the Parmesan Fries with a lemon aioli.  The fries themselves were crispy and light while still having some potato texture left.  They were aggressively coated with parm which meant they tasted good on their own.  However, the tasty mayo was creamy and exhibited an appetizing tanginess that really lightened the heavy fries.  Off to our mains, Costanza had The Burger which was served on a whole wheat bun rather than a brioche bun in the old menu.  As such, the burger ate more robust, but it wasn't too dense either.  The bacon was on point being crispy and smoky.  Nicely charred, the burger patty was not dry and exhibited a natural meatiness.

For myself, I had the Haida Gwaii Halibut which was seared up crispy on one side.  It was mildly seasoned where the natural delicate flavours of the fish remained.  It was flaky and moist which indicated it was fresh, not previously frozen. The spring vegetable succotash underneath was vibrant and bright. However, there was too much of it where it became too much of the plate and somewhat obscured the piece of fish. On another visit with Emily, we tried the Westcoast Chowder (split into 2 bowls) and it was fantastic.  It was made-to-order being creamy rather than thick.  Hence, with the lack of thickening agents, there was no grittiness nor floury textures.  It was well-seasoned (loved the smokiness from the bacon) without being salty with the natural sweet and brininess of the seafood coming to the forefront.  The ample amount of seafood was on point including the buttery clams.

Looking more like an entree or large side, the Smoked Applewood Cheddar Mac + Cheese was actually our second appy.  The pasta was firm and al dente while the cheese sauce was smooth and the right viscosity.  It wasn't too saucy with only enough clinging to each piece of pasta.  There was a tart spiciness from the jalapeno while a noted sharpness from the cheese.  The cornbread topping was appealingly sweet and crisp, however, the cheese on top was a bit dry.  Onto our entrees, we continued on the theme of pasta with the Spicy Chorizo Rigatoni.  The dish was fresh-tasting and loaded with ingredients.  The ample amount of meaty chorizo added body and a robust quality to the dish.  However, we felt the pasta was not spicy enough to match its description.  We even had asked for spicier.  The balanced amount of ricotta added a creamy cooling effect to the pasta.

Going for something more substantial, we had the Grilled Rib Eye with mushrooms, maple bacon jus and potato.  We asked for medium-rare and it was mostly so on one side.  The other side was medium and quite tough.  However, the medium-rare portion was good being nicely charred and seasoned.  The mushrooms were on point being buttery, yet a touch salty.  Loved the bacon in the jus as it was super delicious.  Our last savoury item was the Roasted Duck Breast which was somewhat small in portion size.  It was super tender though with crispy skin.  It was a touch fatty though.  The pea puree was fresh-tasting, sweet and bright.  The additional whole peas provided a sweet pop.  Equally good, the polenta was smooth and properly seasoned.

For dessert, the Dark Chocolate Marquise was amazing.  Complimented by a white chocolate coffee cremeux and cassis sorbet, the bitter sweetness of the rich and chocolatey marquise went well with the sweet and tart elements.  We thought the consistency and texture of the marquise was on point being not too mousse-like nor too dense.  After these 2 visits to Showcase, it is clear they have put in the effort to exorcise the restaurant of the past.  The food is more creative and trends towards fine-dining.  Sure, some dishes could use further refinement, but considering the price point, Showcase is an option for Downtown eats.

The Good:
- Reasonable price point for Downtown
- Attentive and friendly service
- Decent portion size (except for the duck)

The Bad:
- Some proteins could be cooked more consistently 

Waffle Gone Wild

I haven't seen Dr. No-Share in quite some time, but in reality, I see him every half-year because he is my dentist.  Beyond that, we used to eat out often since he was on my softball team.  But it has been years since we sat down and had a meal.  Over a year ago, he wanted me to try a place in Kits called Waffle Gone Wild.  However, we never got around to it.  In fact, it has since closed that location and moved into their new digs on Canada Way near Boundary.  Finally, we made it out for some brunch a few weeks ago.

Our plan of attack was to order one waffle from each of their categories starting with the Maple Bacon with cheddar cheese, mixed greens and balsamic vinegar.   Although advertised as bacon bits on the menu, what we actually found was crispy strips of lean bacon sandwiched in between 2 slices of cheddar inside a waffle sandwich.  The waffles were a bit lighter and less sweet than other liege waffles I've had, but they were still soft and aromatic with a pleasant chewiness.  This "sandwich" was pretty tasty.  

From savoury we went with sweet in the Apple Blossom with freshly cut apple slices, cinnamon and caramel sauce.  Again the waffles were light and mildly sweet where the caramel sauce did the heavy lifting in terms of the sugar content.  It wasn't aggressively sauced, so the whole thing still had some tang from the apples and impact from the cinnamon.  Lastly, we had the Strawberry Heaven Deluxe with dark chocolate sauce, coconut waffle, vanilla ice cream and whipped cream.  From the picture, I was expecting a large serving, but it was ultimately as small as the apple blossom.  Despite this, it was still quite good with a balanced amount of ingredients.  Overall, from the 3 items we tried, Waffle Gone Wild provided a pleasant experience in a location where waffles aren't normally found.

The Good:
- Light, soft and not-too-sweet waffles
- Balanced amount of ingredients
- Friendly service

The Bad:
- Portions are on the smaller side but sufficient