Sherman's Food Adventures

Hydra Estiatorio Mediterranean & Bar

Sometimes, our lives get so busy and complicated, we do not get a chance to hang out with friends.  Okay, let me rephrase that.  We do meet up with friends, but it is usually with family (aka with the kiddies), so it really isn't a night out.  So when Chill and Bubbly wanted to grab some dinner in Downtown on a Friday night, this was something out-of-the-blue.  In fact, we hadn't had dinner without the kids since we last ate at the long gone Cru on Broadway.  That was like 10 years ago!  LOL.  This time around, we decided to try out the new Hydra Estiatorio Mediterranean & Bar out on Pender near Chill's office.

Despite being very tempting, we decided to order a la carte rather than share their family-style meals (maybe next time).  Before, that we got a few appies including 1/2 Dozen of Oysters with the usual accompaniments.  We had 3 each of Royal Miyagi and Kushi oysters which were shucked expertly without any shell fragments.  Both were fresh and I really liked how they included a wide variety of sauces such as mignonette, horseradish, cocktail sauce and aioli.  Looking like they forgot to plate the rest of the dish, the Grilled Octopus made up with quality over quantity.  Retaining an appealing firmness, the octopus was tender to the chew.  It was mildly seasoned with lemon and oregano while served with a fava bean puree.  This was pretty good, but for not a whole lot for $21.00.

Next, decided on one of their many spreads served with pita bread being the Menta.  As expected, there was a natural mint flavour to the spread as well as tangy creaminess.  At first, we thought the bread was oversalted, but on further inspection, it was in fact the dip that was salty.  It wasn't a huge deal in my opinion, but for those who want more balance, they might've disliked this.  We decided to get one side which was the Charred Cauliflower with grated mizithra and green herb oil.  We really loved this as the cauliflower was cooked all-the-way-through while still crunchy and vibrant.  It was charred just like its description where the smokiness came through.  Unlike the spread, this was not overseasoned which allowed the herb oil to come through.

Onto the mains, I ordered the Lamb Chops with aged vinegar drizzle over oven-fried potatoes.  I personally love lamb and since Viv doesn't really eat it, I tend to get it whenever I have the chance.  This was a good decision as the 3 portions of lamb rack were cooked to medium and well-seared on the outside.  Again, the seasoning was mild while the aged vinegar was also not very apparent.  Moving away from the red meats, Viv decided on the pan-roasted Pacific Salmon with lemon dill sauce.  This was a simple creation that was executed quite well.  Featuring well-seasoned crispy skin, the salmon itself was flaky and moist except for the thinner section.  The lemon dill wasn't exactly super impactful, but it was there.  Once again, the protein rested on the same over-fried potatoes.

Chill didn't stray far from the regular and had the Beef Tenderloin.  He asked for it to be prepared medium rare and it was char-grilled perfectly.  The meat was moist, well-rested and tender.  This was finished with a braised garlic sauce which was either subtle tasting or possibly there was just wasn't enough of it.  Hence, the fairly well-seasoned meat stood on its own. The most impressive-looking plate was the Grilled Angus NY Steak Skewer ordered by Bubbly.  This mostly had to do with the side of fire-roasted veggies served on the same plate.  For everyone else, it was served separately.  We really enjoyed the layered dish of potatoes, onion, green pepper, eggplant and tomatoes.  However, it was overly greasy.  As for her skewer, it was prepared medium and sported a delicious char.  Meat was moist and completely tender. The tangy yogurt added a refreshing bite to the dish.

No one was really interested in dessert, but Viv and I decided to get the Cream of the Crop anyways.  It was beautifully plated and didn't eat as sweet as it appeared.  Lots of tanginess provided by the lemon curd hidden within the meringue flower.  It was surrounded by praline sponge, more lemon curd, berries and a side of mandarin & blood orange caramel.  Even after dousing the meringue with the caramel, the dessert was balanced where the various flavours were not dominated by sweetness.  Overall, we felt that the meal was pleasant where it was served in a gorgeous dining space.  Service was top-notch as well.  Price point is a bit high for the type of food though.

The Good:
- Nice dining space
- On point service
- Proteins prepared properly

The Bad:
- Prices are high for the type of food
- Some portion sizes could be slightly bigger

Cin Cin

It seems that we are often so focused on trying the latest and greatest restaurants, we don't remember the classics.  Take Cin Cin for instance.  Nearing 30 years in operation, their take on traditional Italian has won them an array of awards and many chefs (pastry chefs too) have made their name there.  Looking back at my blog, I haven't actually dined there in 6 years!  Lots have changed since then, yet at the same time, much of it is still the same.  That is music to my ears as I didn't necessarily want any change.  I guess I was going to find out along with Elaine, Costanza and Viv.

We wanted to get a little of everything on the menu, so we began with 3 appies including the feature of the day - Vitello Tonnato. Although pretty and colourful, I didn't think the greens on top were necessary to the dish.  However, once we got down to the thinly sliced medium veal, it was a pretty solid dish.  The meat was soft and didn't require much effort to chew.  On top, the random globs of tuna mayonnaise were creamy and had an impactful amount of fish flavour.  Sporting the same greens and dressed in a bright vinaigrette, the Fried Zucchini Blossoms were ever-so-delicate.  Golden-brown, the exterior was lightly crispy without much in the way of grease.  Inside, the filling of montasio and goat cheese was not as gamy as one would expect.  Rather, it was creamy and airy while mild-tasting.

Our last small dish was the Grilled Humboldt Flying Squid atop borlotti beans, chili and aioli.  Yes, on the side was the same arugula and radish salad found with the other dishes.  As clearly evidenced in the picture, the pieces of squid were beautifully and evenly grilled.  They were buttery with a satisfying chew.  There was enough inherent seasoning for the squid to stand on its own.  For some odd reason, I really loved the tender beans underneath.  I couldn't stop eating them!  We ended up with one pasta being the Casarecce with spicy chorizo sausage, tomato, chili, rosemary and parmesan.  This didn't look all that impressive at first.  In the end, it ate really well with firmly al dente pasta bathed in a low-rumbling spiced creamy tomato sauce with plenty of meaty chorizo.  This was full of texture and body.

Now that was good, but the Wood Grilled Sea Scallops with Acquerello Risotto was even more impressive.  Sporting 4 large perfectly medium-rare buttery scallops, this was already good even before we got to the risotto.  However, the creamy and cheesy rice with chive oil and fava beans was full-flavoured while sporting chewy grains.    This was finished off with a crispy and nutty  parmesan lace.  For our first main, the Veal Osso Buco was surprisingly large.  Size is one thing, but it was actually very well-executed.  The meat fell off the bone while still retaining a bite.  Consisting of white wine and tomato, the sauce sported a light tanginess to go with plenty of umaminess.  The side of saffron risotto was just as good as the previous dish where the grains were chewy and the amount of saffron was enough to create an aromatic impact.

One of the more interesting dishes was the Chicken with Nduja.  Normally, I stay away from chicken dishes, but Mijune recommended that I order it.  Good call as the chicken was super moist while the skin was nicely rendered.  In between the skin and the meat was a substantial layer of meaty and spicy nduja.  This was more than enough to bring the chicken alive while adding a touch of fattiness.  Okay, the picture of the Whole Branzino didn't turn out so you will have to imagine how good it looked with the deboned picture.  Moist and slightly smoky from the grilling, the branzino sported natural sweetness.  Acidity from the lemon helped brighten things up.  The side of German butter potatoes was nutty, crispy and pillowy soft inside.  This was also an accompaniment with the chicken.

Our last courses consisted of the Yogurt Panna Cotta and Tiramisu. It is no secret that I prefer lighter desserts and the panna cotta was right up my alley.  Texturally, it was on point with a certain firmness giving way to pillowy softness.  It was slightly tangy and not overly sweet while the pistachio namelaka, elderflower gel and marinated oranges provided aromatics and acidity.  The tiramisu was pretty classic and there was nothing wrong with that.  There was enough espresso punch for effect without being too strong, while the creamy marscapone wasn't too sweet.  Very balanced with no theatrics with the plating - straightforward and delicious.  That pretty much sums up our recent experience at Cin Cin.  It may not have the modern decor of some of the newer spots.  Neither does it necessary wow you with any gimmicks.  However, what you do get is a classic experience with good food and great service.

The Good:
- Properly executed proteins
- Solid all around
- Attentive service

The Bad:
- You'll have to pay for it (consider the location and the experience)
- Maybe a bit too much repetition with the greens

Locus Restaurant & Lounge

Recently, I was invited to try the updated menu at Locus Restaurant & Lounge.  For reference purposes, I did a quick look at my blog to see when the last time I had visited the place.  Wow, I haven't been back since 2013!   That was with the team after we had finished hockey on a late Friday night.  This time around, I brought the family out instead to sample their dinner menu.  As a bonus, our reservation was during their happy hour, so we were able to sample some of the items off that menu as well.

To kick things off, we chose 3 of the options on their happy hour menu including the Flaming Cheese featuring fried Kasseri in a cast iron skillet.  Similar to the Greek dish saganaki, this also came with grilled house-made focaccia, lemon garlic aioli and a lemon wedge.  The kids really enjoyed this as the melted cheese was nutty and sported crispy parts.  Add in the squeeze of lemon and this ate less heavy as the acidity lightened things up.  Bread was nicely toasted so it stood up the cheese.  Also plated in a cast iron skillet, the Cocktail Meatballs made with local ground chuck were accompanied by Argentinean
chimichurri, roasted grape tomatoes and grana padano.  The first thing that we noticed was the meatiness of the meatballs . This was because they didn't overprocess the beef.  The meat itself was natural tasting where the key to the dish was the tangy tomatoes along with the bright chimichurri.

I'm sure for most people, Deep Fried Brussels Sprouts are not really a new thing on restaurant menus these days.  So when this dish was recommended to us, I was skeptical that it would be any different than all of the others around.  I was wrong as this one featured black lavender honey which added a floral sweetness to the salty grana padano and roasted fried essence of the brussels sprouts.  The resulting colour was a bit odd, but it was appealingly sweet and aromatic.  Our last appie was the Jumbo Tiger Prawns with Pernod-infused fish nage, caramelized fennel and spinach.  This was a subtle dish where the flavours were not very pronounced, but definitely apparent.  Aromatic and slightly sweet, the "broth" didn't overwhelm the prawns, which were cooked perfectly exhibiting a meaty snap texture.

Onto our mains, Viv went for the Vancouver Island Ling Cod and Newfoundland Scallops plated atop an aggressive splash of beet puree.  This was a substantial dish with properly-prepared veggies topped with a piece of halibut.  The fish was cooked nicely where it wasn't dry while topped with a tangy and sweet mango pineapple chutney.  As much as the scallops were tender, they stood to have a more caramelization on the outside.  My daughter decided on the pan-fried Piave Gnocchi with wild & cultivated mushrooms, cranberry chutney, black kale, sweet peas, parsnip crema and piave vecchio shavings.  The dish featured large pillowy soft cheesy nuggets of gnocchi that were lightly seared.  I found the parsnip puree to be a nice creamy compliment while the kale and mushrooms provided a non-overwhelming presence on the plate. 

Once again, my son didn't deviate far from his favourites going with the 7oz grass-fed BC Brisket Chuck Burger with bacon, tomato, organic mixed greens, red onion, smoked cheddar, smoked paprika aioli and dill pickle on a potato bun.  Sporting a moist natural meaty texture, the patty was thick and nicely seared.  The bun was soft enough that it didn't dominate, yet while still holding together until the very end.  On the side, the house-cut fries were perfectly golden brown and crispy.  Interestingly, this was also served with a side salad in addition to the fries.  Loved tangy fruity dressing that came with it.  For myself, I went the 7 oz grass-fed Filet Mignon with merlot demi-glace, garlic mashed potatoes and veggies.  I know this sounds clichéd but the steak couldn't have been prepared any better (medium-rare).  It was succulent and properly rested.  I found the demi-glace to be flavourful with a delicious tanginess.  Veggies were also excellent being cooked just enough and seasoned properly.

For dessert, we had both the Cinnamon Sugar Churros with Nutella and the Chocolate Lava Cake.  As much as the churros were delicate and tender, we would've liked them to be crispier and also there was a bit too much sugar on the outside.  Loved the side of Nutella as it provided a different flavour other than the cinnamon sugar.  When we ordered the lava cake, we were informed it would take awhile since they do not have a microwave.  We we more than happy with that since a legit baked lava cake is so much better than a microwaved one!  Rich and not overly sweet with a nice bitter finish, the lava cake was more lava than cake.  My daughter didn't mind one bit and dusted it off.  Overall, we enjoyed our meal at Locus and wondered why it took me so long to come back.  Seeing how they have a new chef who has only been at the helm for one month, the general execution is impressive.  

*Food and drink were partially complimentary, tips were extra*

The Good:
- Proteins are properly prepared
- Portion sizes are fairly large
- Good variety on the menu

The Bad:
- Churros could be crispier with less sugar

Douce Diner

Fresh off my road trip in the States over the Summer, it occurred to me that there is a black hole of sorts when it comes to diners in Vancouver.  Driving through big cities and small towns in the Western states yielded a variety of diners.  I guess it has a lot to do with the prevailing culture and food preferences in Vancouver.  We really can't complain that we aren't blessed with Asian restaurants, so for those who do not have access will marvel at our good luck.  Well, I personally love diners and was especially happy I had to drop by the newish Douce Diner in North Van for the Burger Challenge.  Of course I went ahead and ate a full meal there to try the rest of their wares.

I brought the fam and my daughter didn't fail me by ordering the Cookies and Cream Milkshake (because she wanted to...).  Rather than being super thick, it was on the milkier side, but this wasn't necessarily a bad thing.  It was easy to sip and it wasn't crazy sweet.  We definitely got the hits of Oreo, yet it was nicely balanced by the milk.  Okay, the reason we were here was for me to try the Double Douce Burger featuring natural Beretta beef patties, vintage cheddar, house zucchini & red onion pickles, shredded iceberg and special sauce on a toasted brioche bun.  This was super messy and required at least 5 napkins (a good sign).  The meat patties were moist and a bit crumbly (in a good way).  Loved the creamy cheese and the tang from the pickles.  As much as the bun looked weak, it was able to surround the ingredients without falling apart.  Not to be outdone, the side of shoestring fries were super crispy with tender potatoey insides.

My daughter wasn't done with just a milkshake.  Pffttt...  She also had the French Toast sporting thick cut Challah, lemon curd, mascarpone cream, seasonal fruit and real maple syrup.  What set this apart from any other French toast we've had recently was the tangy lemon curd.  It really brightened up the dish and made it incredibly easy to eat.  Rather than being merely sweet, the curd and mascarpone afforded layers of flavour that definitely elevated the dish.  Not deviating from his usual favourite, my son went for the Smoked Salmon Eggs Benny served atop a house buttermilk biscuit.  The fact that they used a crunchy biscuit completely changed the narrative on the dish.  Instead of a chewy English muffin, the crumbly and soft biscuit helped soak up the tangy Hollandaise (which was not too heavy, yet still creamy) and perfectly runny poached egg.  Crispy with soft portions, the shredded hashbrowns were also on point.

Viv decided on the Panko Crust Chicken Sammy with buttermilk brined boneless chicken breast, house zucchini & pickles, shredded iceberg and special sauce on a toasted brioche bun.  With similar ingredients as my burger, it set a good base for the sammy.  Firmly crunchy, the panko coating wasn't greasy while the chicken was juicy and tender.  To really kick the sammy up a notch, we added the house hot sauce which was indeed spicy with an nice tang.  To ensure I tried almost everything, I added the In House Buttermilk Waffle.  It was dressed with whipped butter, seasonal compote and house vanilla crème fraiche.  This may have appeared to be super sweet, yet it really wasn't.  Rather, the fruit was able to shine (even the mild blueberries) while the waffle itself was crispy on the outside and fluffy in the middle.  We found it a bit pricey at $13.75.  For all of the items we tried at Douce Diner, nothing made us wanting for more.  Execution was good and the food was just plain tasty.  We'll be back.

*The burger and one beverage was complimentary*

The Good:
- Carefully executed dishes
- On point textures
- Balanced flavours

The Bad:
- On the pricier side
- Kinda cramped seating

Papi's Seafood and Oyster Bar

For the longest time, the corner of Denman and Morton Ave in Downtown Vancouver was occupied by Raincity Grill.  We've had some good times there including birthday dinners and also date night.  It was sad to see it go and replaced with Beach Bay Cafe in 2015.  Nothing against Beach Bay, but it didn't have the history and charm of Raincity and it has now gave way to Papi's Seafood and Oyster Bar.  Without even considering the food, this location is one of the best in Vancouver with prime English Bay real estate overlooking the water.  However, my blog is about food, so yes we went there recently to check it out.

I've had many of the seafood platters in town and for $60.00, the one here at Papi's has to be one of the most visually sparse.  Consisting of 6 oysters, cocktail shrimp, ahi tuna ceviche and lobster salad, the Seafood Platter wasn't bad per se (nor overpriced for the ingredients), but it just didn't "appear" to be substantial.  Either charge more and fill in the empty spots or charge less and remove the lobster.  In terms of eating enjoyment, the oysters were shucked properly and supremely fresh.  Lobster was buttery and bouncy while the shrimp were on point.  The tuna was a bit too sour in our opinion.  We also went for the Popcorn Octopus which was not what I was expecting.  Rather than fried bits, we got braised octopus with red pepper and smoked paprika topped with popcorn.  Texturally, the octopus was tender with just enough bite.  Flavours were smoky and umami-like without being salty.  I just wished the dish was less saucy as it became sloppy to eat.

Just because the kiddies love Burrata, we go an order which consisted of heirloom tomatoes and basil puree.  This was a large portion where the burrata was fresh and creamy.  It went really well with the charred bread which was nutty and smoky.  The abundance of fresh and bright tomatoes were a welcomed accompaniment to the cheese.  There wasn't a whole lot of seasoning other than the basil puree, but that was fine as it let the natural sweetness of the tomatoes to come out.  My dad decided to have the Prix Fixe menu which included 3 courses including the Lobster Soup.  Unlike a bisque, this was a lobster broth which was light and aromatic.  It definitely had the taste of lobster shells in addition to seafoody brininess and sweetness.  

For his main, he had the Confit Sablefish with tomato and bonito broth.  Visually, this looked fantastic and indeed it was.  All aspects of this dish was on point and full of impact even though flavours were subtle.  Starting with the fish, it was buttery and just barely cooked through.  What brought it all together was the fantastic broth as it was similar to a dashi except without the saltiness where it was replaced with the essence of tomatoes.  We could've had several bowls of this alone.  For myself, I had to get the 2 piece Fish n' Chips with triple-cooked potato wedges and slaw.  I felt this was also very solid where the cod was flaky and full of moisture while the beer batter was crunchy and not overly greasy.  I enjoyed the wedges as they were crunchy on the outside while retaining plenty of potato goodness on the inside.

Being the only person to not order seafood, my son went for the Beef Burger with pickles, onions, lettuce and mayo on brioche with potato wedges.  The beef itself was fairly lean meaning it wasn't exactly juicy.  There was a smokiness from the grill while the bun was soft enough to not interfere with the ingredients yet staying intact throughout.  Viv decided on the Lobster Brioche which was essentially an open-faced lobster salad sandwich.  This was the same as the one found in the platter which meant there was plenty of meaty chunks of lobster mixed in with the slaw.  However, the red cabbage was far too bitter for the subtle lobster and it overwhelmed it.  Furthermore, the brioche was rather dry and hard, so it didn't compliment the delicate lobster.  I realize that the brioche needed to stand up to the wet ingredients, but it needed to be softer.

My mom ordered the Lobster Risotto with lobster oil and zucchini that also featured an abundance of well-cooked lobster.  As for the risotto itself, we felt the rice was a little overdone, yet not terribly so.  The risotto didn't eat heavy and was actually rather light.  Aromatics were apparent due to the lobster oil and of course, the actual chunks of lobster as well.  Other than the sablefish and fish n' chips, the best dish of the nice was the Clam Spaghetti where there was much more in the way of fresh clams (which were perfectly cooked being plump) than spaghetti.  Hence, the classic clam brininess was evident as well as the plethora of garlic and olive oil.  The spaghetti itself was firmly al dente and soaked up the prevailing flavours.  The only thing I would change about this dish is to add a bit more pasta to balance off the generous amount of clams.

We were far too full to entertain dessert, but my dad did have one include with his 3-course meal being the Espuma with bits of what appeared to be biscotti.  These combined with the coffee foam created the effect of dipping actual biscotti into creamy coffee.  This was actually rather sweet, which would satisfy those who have a sweet tooth, but for us, it was a little much.  In the end, we felt the meal at Papi's was better than most of reviews have indicated, however, it wasn't without issues.  With new Executive Chef Jefferson Alvarez at the helm, I'm sure there will be changes (menu has indeed changed) for the better and I would be open to returning to see the final results.

The Good:
- Outstanding location
- Some real highlights
- Great service

The Bad:
- Some tweaks needed with several dishes