Sherman's Food Adventures

Kinkura Sushi + Sake

As you know, food costs are through the roof where restaurant menu prices are scarier than driving next to a logging truck (a la Final Destination).  So when we find places that offer up good food at reasonable prices, we must cherish them like Taylor Swift tickets.  Recently, we were invited to try out Kinkura Sushi out on Davie Street where we (spoiler alert) were impressed with the food, the portion sizes and yes, the reasonable prices.

We started off with an item that caught my eye on the menu.  It isn't often we find a Zombie Brain on any menu, especially in a Japanese restaurant.  There was no description on the menu but in reality, it was an avocado stuffed with imitation crab meat than then coated with panko and deep-fried.  Then it was drizzled with unagi sauce and mayo.  Think of it as a Japanese scotch egg of sorts.  This was quite good with the creaminess of the ingredients contrasting with the crunchy exterior.

Next up, we had a selection of Nigiri including Hotate, Salmon Toro, Hamachi and Unagi.  As you can clearly see, the sheen and colour on the seafood was bright and vibrant.  Each piece ate as such too with the toro being buttery and sweet while the scallop was similar except softer as scallops generally are.  The hamachi was on the firmer side, but still bright.

One of the most delicious items of this meal was the Sushi Cake consisting of sushi rice, imitation crab, mango, salmon, spicy tuna, aburi sauce and masago.  With the top torched, this concoction ate with plenty of smoky caramelization as well as the sweetness from the mango.  Add in the spice from the tuna and creaminess of the imitation crab, every bite had flavour and texture.

We ended up ordering 3 versions of their Aburi Oshi including Salmon, Hamachi and AAA Tenderloin Beef.  As you can see, all were constructed neatly and had a balanced amount of ingredients to rice ratio.  I found it interesting that they torched the thinly-sliced jalapeno rather than leaving it raw like most other versions.  However, they might be onto something as it worked with activation of flavours due to the charring.  I enjoyed the salmon oshi the best as it featured the classic combination of sockeye salmon, aburi sauce and jalapeno.

Not finished with Aburi as we also had the Aburi Combo featuring beef, toro, ebi, tobiko, salmon and hamachi.  Loved the bright colours as well as the freshness of the ingredients.  As you can see, the torching on each nigiri was noticeable and hence there was the usual smokiness.  The aburi sauce was creamy and sweet without being too greasy.  Once again, the sushi rice was on point.

When the Assorted Tempura arrived, we were shocked at the portion size.  This was easily double, if not triple the size of most other places.  Beyond the portion size, the execution of the dish was on point.  We found the tempura batter to be crispy and light, despite it not looking as such on the ebi.  For the veggies, they were cooked perfectly where the zucchini was not mushy while the sweet potato was soft, yet with a bite.

We got a couple orders of the Chicken Karaage including the soy and the spicy.  By looks alone, these had some serious KFC (Korean Fried Chicken) vibes and in reality, it was a good thing.  These large pieces of thigh meat were super juicy and tender with a crispy batter.  I personally loved the soy flavour the most as it was sweet and savoury.  Spicy was good as well with sweet, tangy and spicy notes.

We got something a bit different in the Chef's Roll as it did not contain any sushi rice.  Rather, it was wrapped in rice paper featuring tuna, sockeye salmon, ebi, chopped scallop, avocado and cucumber.  Without rice, this ate much more hearty with the tuna being the star of the roll.  Loved the chopped scallop with tobiko as it was creamy and sweet.  The mess of sauce underneath was quite sweet as well.

Interestingly garnished with cooked spinach, the Special Seafood Cream Udon was one of our cooked selections.  This was quite saucy and yes creamy.  I thought the udon was a little soft, but it still had bite.  There was enough seafood for effect including bay scallops, shrimp and mussels.  Still not sure if the spinach went with this dish, but it did give colour.

Onto the most majestic-looking dish, we had the Lobster Roll.  On the outside, we found creamy and buttery chopped scallop, sockeye salmon and tobiko mixed with thin slices of avocado.  Inside, we found lobster tempura, spicy mayo and masago.  On the side, there was some more lobster tempura bites.  This was reasonably-priced at $19.50.  That is pretty much the theme at Kinkura as there is value to be had here.  At the same time, the food is carefully-prepared and delicious.  Excellent mid-tier Japanese option in Downtown Vancouver.

*All food and beverages were complimentary for this post*

The Good:
- Large portions
- Well-prepared
- Reasonable-pricing

The Bad:
- Possibly some items being too saucy

Black Walnut

The Cambie Street corridor is somewhat under the radar when it comes to being a destination for good eats.  Sure we have Vij's and a collection of various other restaurants, but rarely do we have anything that resembles near-fine dining.  Now we have something a bit different in the Black Walnut, located in the former location of U & I Thai.  The spot has been completely renovated where it has a classy vibe while still being modern.  They took out some walls and the dining space has an open feel to it.  We were recently invited to try out their menu as well as some cocktails.

We started things off with those aforementioned cocktails including The Empress, The Fresh, The Animal and Smoked Penicillin.  These were all Instagram-worthy with bright colours.  In terms of taste, I really enjoyed the animal with its sweet and spicy thing going on.  The smokiness of the smoked penicillin was apparent while the empress was light and floral.

Onto the food, we were able to see the construction of the Salmon Tartare where I had a front row seat.  This turned out to be very good with aged and buttery fish that was well-marinated with garlic, chilis, lemon juice and salt.  This sat atop some clean and fresh-tasting tomato water. Beyond that, the puffed wild rice on the top added a crunchy nuttiness.  Very nice start to the meal.

Next, we had the Crispy Fried Oysters with chive aioli, smoked trout roe and creamed celeriac.  This was majestically presented in their shell atop some rocks.  I thought the oysters were super fresh and buttery with an appealing brininess.  They were indeed crispy, yet not crunchy (which was a good thing as to not obscure the delicate texture of the oyster).  I thought the flavours were complimentary with smoky brininess and brightness.

Another solid entry was the Octopus tentacle that was braised, then deep-fried.  Hence, the texture was a beautiful contrast between the soft octopus and crispy exterior.  It was seasoned enough on its own, but the accompanying potato foam, pickled celery and kimchi gel added creaminess, tanginess and a touch of tangy spice.  They helped bring the otherwise mild dish alive.

Peaking through the mound of crispy thin potato chips, the Bison Tongue was perfectly-prepared.  It was tender, yet still retained a chewiness that gave the entire dish texture.  There was a good grill to it and it was seasoned properly.  The addition of a very bright salsa verde helped keep things from getting too heavy.  Some pickled onion and added even more acidity to the dish while the crunchy radish provided an extra shot of contrast.

So the Black Walnut Burger looked rather unassuming at first, but believe me, it was legit.  The thick and fresh beef patty was juicy and cooked just right.  It had plenty of meatiness while charred enough on the outside.  It was complimented by water buffalo cheddar, chive aioli, smoked bacon, pickles and rhubarb chili ketchup.  Hence, you got brightness, smokiness and a sweet tang.  This hit all of the notes.

Our next dish was the Dry Aged Black Cod with chanterelles, smoked bacon, white beans and butter.  The cook on the fish was perfect as it was flaky and super buttery.  Due to the aging, there was much more fish flavour.  Well-seasoned from the pan-fry, the fish also benefitted from the salty and smoky bacon as well as the creamy butter.  The white beans were tender while the chanterelles were their usual delicious self.

Saving the most epic dish for last - we had the Tomahawk Steak for 2.  This also came with a plate of veggies and potato wedges.  The steak itself was prepared perfectly medium-rare with a beautiful sear on the outside.  It was seasoned well and quite juicy.  It was not as tender as I would've imagined, but it was far from chewy.  This was definitely a sight to behold.

Onto dessert, we had the nicely-plated Banana Dome Ice Cream.  Normally, I'm not a fan of any type of banana desserts, but this one was quite good.  I found the ice cream to be creamy and aromatic.  The bruleed banana slices were sweet and caramelized.  Some crunch was provided by the meringue while the addition of caramel sauce ensured we had enough sweetness.

The banana dessert was good, but the Pear Tart was even better in my opinion.  This featured a firm tart shell that encased pear compote and pastry cream that was just sweet enough and nicely-textured.  This was further enhanced by the ice cream on top.  I thought this was a very composed dessert with all of the elements expertly-prepared.  This wouldn't look out-of-place at a patisserie.

The last dessert was also good in the Corn Cheesecake.  This was literally a sponge cake with whipped cream cheese in between.  Hence, this was super light with the essence of sweet corn.  I couldn't stop eating this due to its airy texture and aromatic corn sweetness.  So we had a good amount of food at the Black Walnut and we came away impressed with how the food was executed.  Definitely a good option on Cambie Street if you want something more refined.

*All food and beverages were complimentary for this post*

The Good:
- Solid execution on the dishes
- Some unique dishes
- Delicious cocktails

The Bad:
- Aged fish provided beautiful textures and more pronounced fish flavours, however, it might not be for everyone

JJang Korean BBQ and Social House

There was a time when Korean BBQ in the GVRD was pretty predictable.  You would have the usual Banchan, soup and then an array of meats including beef, spicy pork, chicken, beef short ribs and some seafood.  However, with newer spots opening up all the time, we find more premium meats (especially with beef) and drinks to go with your meal.  As such, it is much closer to what you'd find in L.A. and NYC K-Towns.  One of the newest spots is JJang Korean BBQ and Social House in Richmond near the Oval.

We were invited to try the place out and were presented with a array of premium meats and with a basic selection of Banchan.  Sure, it was mostly the basics, but they were good.  We found Kimchi, Stewed Potatoes and Bean Sprouts.  I especially enjoyed the potatoes as they were in huge chunks, but still tender and soaked with a savoury sweetness.  The bean sprouts were crunchy with a good amount of seasoning.  Lastly, the kimchi had a nice spice to it with some tang.

Onto the meats, we were served the Beef Belly and the Premium Short Rib.  As you can see, both were well-marbled and fresh.  Onto the grill they went and due to the fat content, it seared up beautifully with lots of caramelization and inherent flavour.  Naturally, the meat ate very well due to the butteriness of the fat.  Of note, the ventilation was pretty decent as I didn't smell too much like a Korean BBQ when I left.

Onto the next set of proteins, we found Pork Belly, Saba and Whole Squid.  As much as you could eat the saba and squid just like that, it was best eaten after placed on the grill.  That way, the fats in the saba were activated as well as the skin getting a bit crispy and charred.  The charring with the squid helped add flavour as well as tightening up the texture with a bit more chew.  As for the pork belly, it did its fatty thing when cooked on the grill.  There was some nice crispy portions to go with the butteriness of the fat.

Saving the best for last, the Boneless Shortrib didn't look like much, but when rolled out, it was a considerable amount of fatty meat.  When seared on the grill, the meat was at its shortib best being tender with a meaty chew while being completely marbled.  Also, it was well-marinated and the sugars caramelized offering up a smoky sweetness.  Wish we had some rice to eat this with, because it was pretty flavourful.

However, we did have some things to wash down all these BBQ meats.  One of which was the Clear Clam Soup.  Beyond the buttery and meaty clams, this broth was as natural-tasting as it could get.  It was basically water and clam nectar, which was very subtle, but a good foil to the flavourful meats.  We also had a few drinks including the JJang Mango Jump with a soju bottle mix & tropical mango.  It was sweet and refreshing.

Lastly, we had the Bulgogi Beef Hot Pot cooked table side on a portable butane burner.  This was full of veggies and plenty of tender beef.  This was so comforting especially with the cold weather lately.  Overall, the food at JJang was pretty good quality and since it is a new restaurant, the setup is perfect for BBQ since there is sufficient ventilation and the high ceilings only help the cause.

*All food and beverages were complimentary for this post

The Good:
- Modern and spacious dining room
- High ceilings and proper ventilation
- Good meat quality

The Bad:
- Free parking is only limited to 1.5 hours, which is not sufficient


Piccolo Mondo

When I was planning out our trip, there weren't really any good options traveling from Pisa to Nice.  Flying was out of the question due to cost and the insane routing that would take us back to Northern Europe and then connecting back to the South.  Training it required 3 connections and renting a car would be very expensive due to drop-off fees.  Therefore, it left me with one choice - Flixbus.  Sometimes regarded as a swear word of sorts, Flixbus has mixed reviews.  Yet, it offered us the best route with one stop in Genoa and also rock-bottom prices.  To be honest, it wasn't a bad experience.  I would totally do it again!  So while in Genoa, we had time to grab some lunch, so we made the short walk over to Piccolo Mondo.

We ended sharing a the Chef's Mixed Appetizer with octopus carpaccio, citrus marinated salmon, baby squid with pesto and tuna tartare.  This was plated rather nicely with good portions of the aforementioned items.  My favourite was the octopus as it was sliced super thin and hence being delicate with a light chew.  It was topped with a bright salsa and that was all it needed as it was naturally sweet.  The baby squid was also on point with a bright and nutty pesto and a soft potato base.  The squid itself was tender with a light chewiness.  We weren't really feeling it with the salmon though as it was quite salty.  Texturally it was buttery soft though.  Tuna tartare was good with ripe avocado underneath and the option to customize the seasoning.

Onto our favourite dish of the meal, the Green Linguine with beef stew and black summer truffle was delicious.  This was a fairly large portion of al dente pasta that we actually didn't end up finishing.  That beef stew and reduced braising liquid was packed with umaminess and meatiness.  It was rich and flavourful with the natural sweetness of onions and carrots while the beef itself was plentiful and tender.  Of course adding shaved black truffle on top made this even better.

We also tried their Risotto with red prawns, prawn tartare, saffron and cuttlefish ink.  This was another successful dish where the risotto was firm, yet cooked all-the-way-through.  It had soaked up all of the sweetness of the prawns and the essence of saffron was balanced.  The addition of prawn tartare on top provided even more briny sweetness as well as a light texture.  I need to point out that the prawns were properly deveined too

Another pasta was the Spaghetti with fermented black garlic, mussels and cherry tomatoes.  Loved this dish as the pasta was al dente while the dish had plenty of umami from the black garlic as well as the brininess of the mussels.  Furthermore, there was just enough sauce for flavour and it did not drown the pasta.  The addition of tomatoes provided some brightness and tang.

For our meat dish, we chose the Angus steak with roast potatoes.  Seemingly inconspicuous, this was really good.  The slices of beef were cooked to medium-rare and the result was a juicy and tender texture.  The sauce was flavouful and meaty as well.  Those potatoes were pretty tasty too.  After it was all said and done, we just barely made our connecting bus because the food came out excruciatingly slow. Upon further inspection, it was because they outdoor seating was completely packed (as we were sitting inside), hence the slow food expediting.  Despite that, the food and service were good and this is a solid place to grab some eats in Genoa.

The Good:
- Solid eats
- Excellent service
- Good portions

The Bad:
- Food came out really slow

Miu Fish

Alright, I know some of you might laugh, some might criticize and some might just roll your eyes and want to stop reading right now.  However, bear with me here.  I feel that eating one type of cuisine (even though it can be diverse) can catch up to you.  If you look at your dining behaviour in your own town, it generally won't be the same things over and over again.  Therefore, we just had to go eat something else for dinner while in Pisa.  So don't laugh when we went to AYCE sushi at Miu Fish.  Just like in Rome, this place is Chinese-run, but I guess we had to see if it was any good.

Looking over the huge menu, we selected a bunch of items including the Tatare Special, Tiger Venere, Tris Tartare and Carpaccio di Pesce Misto.  Surprisingly, the fish quality was rather decent with a nice sheen and fresh smell.  Texturally, it ate well and the carpaccio was especially buttery.  As for the purple rice in the maki sushi, it was a little soft, but not mushy.  It still had a bit of chewiness.

Off to our next set of dishes, we had the Ebi Tempura, Unagi Nigiri, Gio Spicy Tuna and Gio Spicy Salmone.  Unlike the one we had in Rome, the ebi tempura was solid with a crispy and light batter.  The ebi itself was cold water buttery.  Unagi was pretty typical being soft and fatty with just enough unagi sauce.  Sushi rice was acceptable with a moist chewiness.  The tuna and salmon flowers were akin to the fish we had with the previous dishes.

With a variety of Sushi e Sashimi, we chose the 20-piece platter.  As you can see in the picture, we found salmone, pesce bianco, tuna and ebi nigiri as well as the same in sashimi.  Also on the plate was Salmone Gunkan and a Miura Roll.  As you can see so far, even though this was AYCE, the food was prepared carefully and presented neatly.  Again, the fish quality was good and hence, the nigiri and sashimi ate well.

Our next 3 dishes were a bit of a mishmash of things including the Gamberetti Sale e Pepe, New Chirashi Sake and Gambero Pistacchio.  Yes, the first dish was a Chinese one with fried salt and pepper shrimp.  Hey, it was good, crispy with meaty shrimp and lots of flavour.  The next dish was essentially thinly sliced salmon on top of sushi rice.  On the bottom, the last one was a salmon flower with cream cheese on top and pistachios.  Interesting, but ate quite well. 

We actually had quite a few dishes that were rather similar.  That was the case of the Ikura Special, as it was essentially like the gio spicy salmone except with ikura on top (and not being spicy) with some ponzu dressing.  The kids love Salmone Sashimi, so we got an order of that.  Look how vibrant it is.  Nothing much to say about the Ebi Nigiri as we already had that in the platter.  Last in this round was the Spicy Salmone Roll.  This was deep fried and topped with spicy salmon and spicy mayo.  Quite saucy and crunchy.

One of our favourite dishes was the Grigliata Mista comprised of filetto di branzino, gamberoni and totani grigliati.  So the grilled prawn was sweet and meaty while the branzino was moist and flaky.  The squid was a bit chewy, but tender enough to eat.  Also got some Salmone and Tuna Tataki coated in sesame seeds and dressed in olive oil.  Mild-tasting, but again, the fish quality was good.

Last set of dishes included Manzo Piccante con Verdure and Spaghetti di Soia Vegetariani.  Back to the Chinese dishes, the spicy beef was quite good with tender slices and a tangy spicy sauce.  The mung bean noodles were chewy and well-seasoned and accompanied by crisp veggies.  Overall, this was a rather surprising meal as it was more than acceptable especially since it was AYCE and located in Pisa of all places.  Worth a visit if you aren't into pasta, pizza, steak or sandwiches anymore.

The Good:
- Solid food quality
- Actually prepared well
- Reasonably-priced

The Bad:
- Some creative liberties take here, but we didn't mind it
- Some confusion on which dishes we ordered

I Porci Comodi

So for those who aren't aware, the month of August is when many businesses in Europe, including restaurants, close up shop and go on vacation.  Great for them, but when we are looking for places to eat, it complicates things.  This is especially frustrating when they do not post anywhere online that they are closed and also when Google doesn't have the updated information.  This was the case when we were roaming the streets of Pisa in search for lunch.  We finally settled on sandwiches (again) since I Porci Comodi was open and we were done walking around.

Turned out to be a blessing in disguise as this worked out to be a cheap lunch as well as being tasty.  For my sammie, I selected the 18 and I'm Happy Please consisting of thinly-sliced porchetta, eggplant, green sauce and EVOO.  Similarly to the sandwich we had in Florence, the bread was crunchy and firm.  It did hold up to the ingredients quite well.  The fatty pork was super tender and aromatic.  Green sauce was bright with herbs while the eggplant provided some moisture.

Viv decided on vegetarian with Corinna's Sandwich with fresh tomato, eggplant, stracchino, green sauce and EVOO.  Naturally, without meat in this sammie, the whole thing depended on the cheese to provide some body.  That it did with a creamy freshness and plenty of moisture.  Tomatoes were indeed fresh and flavourful while the eggplant was "meaty" in texture.  With the same green sauce, the sammie was bright and flavourful.

My son had the Prosciutto Crudo Toscano with aged pecorino cheese and truffle sauce.  Once again, the sauce made all the difference as it provided moisture as well as plenty of earthiness and creaminess.  The prosciutto was at its salty best and offering a chewy meatiness.  Let's not forget about the thick slices of cheese as they were pungent with salty nuttiness.

Staying with the same theme, my daugther had the Prosciutto Crudo Toscana with aged pecorino cheese, honey, walnuts and EVOO.  As expected, the honey was the perfect foil for the salty prosciutto.  This sammie had the salty sweet thing going on and due to the addition of walnuts, it also had crunch and nuttiness.  Of course the cheese provided another layer of salty nuttiness as well.  In the end, we were just happy to have some food in our tummies after walking around for awhile.  We enjoyed the sammies, but thought the ones in Florence were a bit better.  But overall, solid and inexpensive.

The Good:
- Inexpensive
- Nice flavour combos
- Nice people

The Bad:
- Would've liked just a bit more meat in the sammies

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