Sherman's Food Adventures

Waraku Sushi

As we played the last few games of the Spring season, the start times generally got earlier and earlier.  This was directly related to the end of youth leagues that usually get the best times.  With a 6:30pm game, it opened up a wealth of opportunities when it came to food afterwards.  Since we've been ending around midnight for the past few months, I just didn't even bother checking out new places for late night (hence my weekly visits to Myst).  However, we got to check out a small little Japanese joint out on Lonsdale this time around in the form of Waraku Sushi.

Unassuming from the outside, and modestly decorated on the inside, Waraku is the prototypical neighbourhood sushi restaurant.  So much so, the staff even asked how we knew about the place because everyone else were regulars!  We started off with the small Assorted Sashimi sporting salmon, tuna, tai, amaebi and hokkagai.  This was pretty good where the fish exhibited a nice sheen and fresh smell.  Texturally, both the tuna and salmon were on point.  Next up we had the Assorted Tempura with ebi, zucchini, carrot, sweet potato and yellow pepper.  This featured a fairly thin layer of batter that was crispy and light. The veggies were cooked just enough where they still retained a bite.  This was especially so with the zucchini as it can often be too soft.  I found the ebi to be meaty with a light snap.

Onto some rolls, we had the House Roll consisting of salmon, tuna, imitation crab and avocado.  Unlike some other spots, this was just the right size where we could pick it up without everything falling out.  Once again, the ingredients were fresh while the roll itself was constructed carefully.  Although a touch soft, the sushi rice was still chewy and lightly seasoned.  Normally, I don't order deep fried sushi rolls since they can be oily and not actually crispy.  However, the Volcano Roll here was actually good.  It sported a thin crispy exterior that gave way to warm sushi rice that was still chewy (a bit soft though).

The large order of Chicken Karaage was probably my favourite cooked item as it featured large nuggets of boneless leg meat.  It was super juicy and well-seasoned where each piece was tender.  The oil must've been at the optimum temperature as the outside was crispy while not greasy.  On the side, there was a mayo dip that was lightly sweet and creamy.  Sporting 6 pieces, the pork Gyoza were a little different in that the dumpling skin was super thin.  So much so, one of them had a tear even before we picked it up.  Not only was it thin, the skin was super delicate and a bit wet.  We would've liked to see some more elasticity and robust texture.  Inside, the pork filling was succulent and juicy while mildly seasoned.

We ended up adding 2 items after the fact with the Dream Roll and Chicken Yakiudon.  Constructed carefully much like the other 2 rolls, the dream roll was essentially a California roll with unagi on top.  Once again, the sushi rice was on the softer side (and warm too), but it was still chewy and there was just enough of it.  The roll ate well with buttery soft unagi that was lightly sauced.  As for the yakiudon, it arrived on a sizzling cast iron plate.  We found the udon to be a bit too soft, but it wasn't mushy.  The dish was a touch wet where caramelization was lacking even with the hot plate.  It did taste good with balanced flavours while the amount of cabbage and chicken was plentiful.  Overall, the food at Waraku was more than acceptable.  Add in reasonable prices and friendly people, it is a great choice if you are in the neighbourhood.

The Good:
- Above average eats
- Reasonable prices
- Nice people

The Bad:
- Sushi rice could be a bit chewier

Sopra Sotto Pizzeria

Sometimes, it seems like we get stuck in a pattern of eating the same things after Sunday morning hockey.  Maybe we are just too tired to think.  We've been ending up eating noodles of some sort whether it be TBN, Pho, Wonton Noodles or Ramen.  Nothing wrong with that really, but it ain't normally the type of cuisine where people can linger and shoot the breeze.  So we decided to change things up and walk up the street to the newly opened Sopra Sotto Pizzeria for some eats instead.  Located in the old Roma Cafe location, the newly renovated space was the perfect spot for us to eat and socialize.

We ended up sharing a couple of pizzas including the Diavola consisting of San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella, spicy Italian salami, grana padano and basil.  This was essentially a Margherita with the addition of the salami (we ended up choosing this because there was meat...).  We found there was even leoparding and light charring on the edges.  The pizza dough was seasoned and had an appealing chew.  The centre was tender and softer, but not mushy (it is supposed to be tender, not crunchy).   Lightly tangy, the tomato sauce was bright while the amount of salami added a touch of spiciness.  We also had the Porchetta e Friarielli featuring homemade roast pork, Italian broccoli rabe and mozzarella.  Since this was a white pizza, the flavours were more muted.  We could definitely taste the natural roast pork flavour, but it was missing something.  It could've used some acidity of some sort.  The pork itself was buttery and tender.

Also on the menu was a small selection of pastas and we got both the Chitarrine al Ragu and Maccheroni al Forno (with speck for $3.00 extra).  Overloaded with a meaty bolognese sauce, the fresh made-in-house square spaghetti was supremely al dente.  The natural meat flavour really came through as well as a light sweetness.  I thought it could've used a touch more salt though.  The maccheroni was also firmly al dente while bathed in a rich and creamy cabbage mushroom sauce.  It was further enhanced with grana padano and Alps cheeses.  The combination of cheeses really came through with a lightly sharp and aromatic finish.  The speck on top added body and some saltiness.  I enjoyed this pasta, but found it hard to eat more than a quarter of it.  Fortunately, we shared this as with all of the other dishes.  Hence, from the items we tried at Sopra Sotto, we concluded that it was good and a nice addition to the Drive.

The Good:
- Above-average eats
- Friendly service
- Nice inviting and spacious room

The Bad:
- Pricing can get up there, but not out-of-line with similar restaurants


Royal Dinette

Revisits to restaurants can often yield very different experiences due to a variety of factors.  These can include many things, such as the one thing that has the most impact - the chef.  Regardless of cuisine, price point and location, the head chef shapes the menu and ultimately (if they cook on the line), can greatly affect the final product.  This was definitely at the forefront when I recently revisited Royal Dinette with Mijune.  It wasn't that long ago that I had dined there (2 years ago), but things have definitely changed with Chef Eva Chin.

To get a sense of the seasonal menu, we got the Family Style Menu for $65.00.  Since Mijune can eat like horse, we also added nearly everything else.  Our 3 hours of gluttony began with Qualicum Bay Oysters topped by a cucumber emulsion.  On the surface, literally and figuratively, we were skeptical if this would taste good.  Well, it did taste good with natural sweetness and brininess from the meaty oyster complimented by the refreshing emulsion.  It had an impactful amount of cucumber-flavour while being properly seasoned as well.  Also light and refreshing, the Scallop Crudo with tuna, gooseberries, kinilaw sauce, chili, coconut vinegar, coriander and spiced tomato water gelee was full of flavour while maintaining its inherent sweetness and taste of the sea.  I loved how they didn't hold back with the acidity as it gave the dish life.  On top, the sea asparagus added the necessary crunch.

Up next, we were presented with the Charred Cucumber with black garlic puree, blood orange ponzu and mustard seeds.  When the dish hit the table, the green leaf on top was described at Thai basil, but it tasted more like spearmint for some reason.  Whatever the case, it didn't really go in my opinion.  However, the cucumbers were crunchy and exuded a smoky depth.  The umaminess from the black garlic was intoxicating while the mustard seeds provided a tangy bitter pop.  Visually-appealing, the Local Amethyst Radishes sat in a tonnato with albacore tuna belly, dried dill pickle and was finished off with grated pistachios.  Hitting our palates like a Mack truck, the tonnato was super potent and concentrated.  There was a bit hit of tuna as well as an appealing amount of saltiness.  The pistachio was lost in this flavour explosion, yet the Earthiness of the radish (especially the tips) was evident.

We both agreed that the Charred Asparagus with straciatella, beer soft boiled egg and garlic crouton was a stellar dish.  The perfectly grilled asparagus had a nice bite while being cooked through.  When combined with the stringy cheese, there was a good mix of smokiness and umaminess.  Silky and thick, the egg yolk couldn't be prepared any more perfectly.  With all of the ingredients combined, there was an array of textures and complimentary flavours.  Another hit was the Morels with Riopelle de I'Isle triple cream cheese, tarragon, shiso, mustard greens and poppy seed cracker.  I know it is pretty lame to describe something as delicious (as it doesn't really say anything specific), but it was just that.  The appealing squishy texture of the morels as well as their umaminess were complimented well by the creamy and musty (in a good way) cheese.  Underneath, there was some green apple mustard that brightened things up. Simple but yummy.

When the Peppered Conchiglie Pasta hit the table, all we saw was green and more green.  No, it wasn't the sexiest dish to look at nor did it look all that promising.  However, we couldn't be more wrong.  Aromatic, lightly salty, peppery and smoky, the smoked ham broth was comforting.  It was really hearty with fresh peas, smoked marcona almonds and legumes.  I can see this as somewhat of a polarizing dish as some might consider it too rustic.  But for us, it exemplified a willingness to make something simple and homey without any excuses.  On the top of not sexy, the Sprouted Rye Sourdough with local farmhouse butter with honeycomb looked like your usual table bread.  Well, it kinda was, but the side of butter was what set it apart.  It was creamy, light and the little nuggets of honeycomb were bursts of crunchy sweetness.  Really good.

Onto the bigger dishes, I sampled the Sungold, Farms Lamb Rack with fava beans, English peas and green garbanzo hummus.  If this looked like a few repeats in terms of ingredients, you are correct.  With a seasonal menu, you will often find multiple uses of fresh ingredients.  Now that being said, I wasn't feeling this combo though.  As much as the sous-vide lamb was succulent and perfectly prepared, the garden-like compliments seemed like it belonged with another protein (like a fish perhaps?).  On the topic of fish, the BC Ling Cod was seared perfectly.  It was flaky and moist in an almost pollack-type texture.  I found it was a bit oversalted though.  It sat in an aromatic brown butter dashi with kimchi choy and pea tips.  I thought this was a composed and well-thought out dish, it just needed less salt.

The best item by far (for the bigger dishes) was the Twice-Cooked Half Spring Chicken with spruce honey glaze.  Impactfully smoky with completely rendered skin, this was beyond delicious.  Honestly, I don't think chicken could be executed more expertly than this.  The meat was succulent and tender (even the breast).  Flavours had penetrated the meat and then add in the sweet smokiness of the crispy skin, it was pure enjoyment.  Our last protein was the Blue Goose Ranch Beef Short Rib with angelica root glaze, sunflower and turnips.  As you can clearly see, the short rib was fatty and completely marbled.  It appeared to be sous-vide, then finished off with good crust on top.  Hence it was buttery soft and tender.  Personally, I would've liked to see the fats activated a bit more, but it was still really good.

As if we needed dessert after all this food (for 2 people!), but when with Mijune...  So we had both the Strawberries with fresh cream and wild herbs as well as the Rhubarb with sweet buttermilk and elderflower.   Yep, no attempt at pastries here, but no problem as these were the perfect end to so much food!  The glazed strawberries were fresh and sweet which were naturally complimented by the lightly sweet cream.  As much as the rhubarb looked even more simple, I kept picking at it.  Something about the combination of tangy and sweet rubarb with the frosting-like buttermilk cream.  It just went well together.  Kudos to the chef, as you can clearly see, there was some risks taken here.  The creativity and use of fresh ingredients amounted to unique dishes with interesting flavours.  Boring this is not.

The Good:
- Seasonal menu means everything is fresh
- On point execution of proteins
- Unique dishes

The Bad:
- With seasonal ingredients, some repetition occurs
- Desserts are pretty simple (but still tasty)

Di Beppe

Costanza really loves Italian food.  He cooks it at home, eats it at restaurants and I swear, fantasizes about it when he's sleeping.  Yah, talk about #foodporn...  So when we needed a spot to grab a bite to eat before the Bryan Adams concert at Rogers Arena, I pointed to the relatively newly opened Di Beppe in nearby Gastown.  Located in the former location of Joe Pizza, the same ownership group decided to go in a different direction with a half-cafe and half-restaurant concept.  Featuring a simple menu of pizza and pastas, this was perfect of our purposes,.

We went for 2 pastas including the Spaghetti Carbonara.  Portion size was modest, but the execution was on point.  Firm with a slight rebound, the pasta was exactly to our liking.  Coated evenly, there was the saltiness of the guanciale and pecorino.  There wasn't any excess moisture, but the sauce was neither clumpy nor dried out.  It was accented nicely with just the right amount of black pepper.  Our second dish was the featured pasta being the Pappardelle with fava bean ragu, mushrooms and Parmesan.  For a vegetarian offering, this was equally tasty and impactful.  I found the freshly-made pappardelle to be perfectly al dente.  The fava bean ragu was hearty and properly seasoned.  Ample porcini mushrooms ensured that there was even more body and umaminess.

For our pizzas, we decided to go for the standard with the Margherita.   However, it was not the typical Neapolitan-style pizza found at most places in Vancouver these days.  Rather, we found a thicker Naples-style pizza from the Sorentine peninsula.  Despite its appearance, the crust was airy and fairly light while crunchy throughout.  The light tomato sauce was mild with some tang and spice.  What really made this pizza was the big chunks of buffalo mozzarella that did its best impression of burrata (of course not as creamy).  Our second pizza was the Rapini & Sausage.  This was actually pretty spicy complimented by the meatiness of the sausage.  We found the rapini to be a bit too cooked where it became a touch mushy.  I guess that is always the challenge with veg on pizza as the dough has to cook through.  But overall, we thought the food was on point at Di Beppe and we wouldn't be opposed to returning.

The Good:
- On point pastas
- Unique pizzas that were also good

The Bad:
- Portion-size (for the pastas) were a bit small
- Cozy dining space, not great if you need lots of room

Downlow Chicken Shack

Food from the South has never been a big thing in the GVRD.  As much as you try to find good ol' Southern cooking, you only come up with a few restaurants and with that, the results can be pretty mediocre.  Lost amongst the plethora of Asian eats, there has been an increasing interest in food from other parts of the world.  The newest to join the fray is the DownLow Chicken Shack from the same people at Merchant's Workshop, Doug Stephan and Lindsey Mann.  This is not a new creation by any means as they have been serving their Nashville Hot Chicken for several years now on select days.  Finally, they have set up shop where everyone can enjoy on a daily basis.

I originally attended a media preview and sampled the Hot Chicken Sandwich on a milk bun with DL sauce, sweet n sour slaw and house pickles.  As you can clearly see, they put the whole chicken breast in there.  It was super crispy on the outside while completely doused in their signature hot spices.  Inside, the chicken was juicy and moist.  The one I tried was "hot" on the heat level and yes it was spicy.  However, it wasn't burning hot where I couldn't taste anything else.  For this visit (with my friend Steve), I decided to try a few things including the 1/4 Dark in "mild" heat level.  Since there was just a touch of spice, the smoked paprika came through much more strongly.  Completely rendered and crunchy, the skin was perfect.  Much like the sandwich and even more so, the dark meat was juicy and delicious.

To get a sense of the Chicken Breast without the bun and other stuff, I got it in the "hot" heat level by itself.  This yielded a more distinct taste of the heat that gradually got hotter and hotter as I ate.  Again, with the considerable amount of succulent white meat, the spiciness wasn't unbearable.  In fact, it was well-balanced where I could taste layers of flavour rather than just heat.  However, the spice level was amped up a notch with the Chicken Wing in "extra-hot" heat level.  Again, the skin was well rendered being crunchy without any flabbiness.  Since there was less meat than the breast, the spice was more evident.  Again, it was a slow rumbling heat that got more pronounced as I chewed.  With that being said, it also didn't overwhelm. 

For sides, we got the Cornbread with cheddar and jalapenos.  This was a sizable piece where the cheddar added a rich saltiness while the jalapenos were a touch spicy and tangy.  The cornbread itself was rather sweet while a bit dry and crumbly.  Doused in DL sauce, the Fries were served hot and crispy.  I didn't tell them how spicy I wanted it and the sauce came creamy and mild.  For the tasting, I had it spicy and I highly recommend that you ask for that.  Although the prices might offer up a bit of sticker shock at first, the fried chicken at DL Chicken Shack is legit.  Execution is spot on and the flavours are equally good.  With all things considered, I would come back again and again, gladly paying the price (which we did!).

The Good:
- On point chicken, crispy and juicy
- Delicious spice blend, from mild-to-super hot
- Nice people

The Bad:
- A bit pricey for some (but worth it IMO)
- Cornbread could be more moist

Green Leaf Cafe (Burnaby)

Essentially started by Miku, the aburi sushi craze has not stopped.  In fact, we have many places offering the infamous aburi salmon oshi to varying degrees of success.  For me, Miku/Minami is still the gold standard while a few produce very good replications such as Yui Bistro, Kishimoto, Victoria Sushi and Green Leaf.  The latter has now opened up a bigger location at the old Paros spot adjacent to Lougheed Mall.  We decided to check it out with some relatives who were visiting for the weekend.

Since we have been eating non-stop since they arrived, we needed some greens, so we ordered the Green Leaf Salad with a light ginger vinaigrette.  Yah, this wasn't anything sexy, but it was a nicely constructed and fresh salad.  Loved the bits of corn as it provided texture and pops of sweetness.  Okay, as much as the salad was a nice departure from the heavy foods we've been having lately, this was not the reason we were here.  So we made sure there was balance with the Crispy Chicken (15 piece) seasoned with garlic soy and served with garlic mayo.  This was on point with a thin layer of uniformly crispy batter.  The chicken remained moist and juicy while being lightly flavourful.  I would've liked to see more garlic soy for impact.  Even without the mayo, I thought the chicken stood on its own.

Okay, we were really here for the aburi, so we got the Green Leaf Signature Aburi Platter consisting of mackerel oshi, tuna yuuke oshi, tobiko roll, salmon oshi, basil prawn oshi and scallop oshi.  Compared to the first time I had these at their Kits location, I thought everything was more carefully made and less greasy.  My favourite was the tuna as it was buttery soft with aromatic hits of sesame oil.  The salmon was not far off with a creamy oshi sauce accented by a thin slice of jalapeno.  With the brightness of basil and the saltiness of parmesan, the ebi was possibly the most impactful of the bunch.  My son loved the scallop as it was buttery soft with equal parts of creaminess atop chewy sushi rice.  The only thing that could've been better would be the doneness of the fish as it was fully cooked.

One of the most interesting dishes we had was the Tornado Omelette Rice with sweet & savoury demi glace, garlic flakes, tomato and chili.  Yes, this is a mashup of a Korean tornado (or volcano egg) with a Japanese omerice.  The result was a silky and fluffy egg exterior encasing fried rice that was sweet, savoury and slightly spice.  The onion really came through while the sauce was a good compliment to the mildly-flavoured egg.  Neatly plated, the Mentaiko Creamy Linguine was surprisingly spicy.  So much so, it lingered even after several bites.  We found the pasta to be somewhere a bit past al dente, but not overly so.  Thick and creamy, the sauce didn't eat as heavy as it appeared.  The ample amount of cod roe added pops of brininess.  On top, the butterflied prawns were prepared perfectly being sweet with a snap. 

Rounding out our dishes, we had one each of the Sockeye Salmon and Hamachi Sashimi. Without even needing to say a word, it is pretty obvious from the pictures that the both were fresh and vibrant.  The sheen and colour were dead giveaways to what we were about to be treated to.  Although the salmon had a firm butteriness while being naturally sweet, the beautiful hamachi stole the show.  It was delicate and tender with the slightest bite.  There was a definite taste of the sea to go with the usual sweetness.  It goes without saying that our experience at the Lougheed Mall Geen Leaf was better than our visit at their Kits location.  Everything was carefully prepared and the food was generally quite good.  We thought the pricing was reasonable as well.

The Good:
- More spacious than their other location
- Reasonably-priced
- Food was above-average

The Bad:
- The cook on the aburi could be less aggressive

Honey Salt

Fresh off the all-you-can-eat $40.00 Dim Sum at 1886, we returned the day after for brunch at Honey Salt.  We decided to do a low-key brunch for Father's Day after the extravagance and pricey brunch at H2 in the Westin for Mother's Day.  Besides, my mom cares way more than my dad about where to eat in general.  For those unfamiliar with Honey Salt, the original location hails from Las Vegas (or more accurately Summerlin).  Their country-style theme meshes well with their farm-to-table concept.  Upon entering the dining space, I would say they have succeeded in executing their vision with an inviting and airy decor.

We ended up ordering a few dishes for the table including the Honey Salt Market that was mostly a glorified crudites.  It was whimsically plated with charcoaled beets, asparagus, heirloom tomatoes & carrots, crispy kale, pickled veggies, sweet potato chips, charcoal salt, cauliflower hummus and goddess dip.  Although it wasn't a very complex concoction, the appealingly plated veggies were fresh and crunchy.  I wanted to like the dips, but they were not impactful.  Firm and almost crunchy, the outer layers of the citrus brioche Monkey Bread were caramelized and smoky.  Yes, it was pretty sweet, but it worked in this case as the interior of the bread was spiked with cinnamon and little sugar.  For those who wanted to up the sweetness, there was a side of honey bourbon sauce.  As much as I enjoyed the flavours, I would've preferred a softer bread (on the inside).

For my main, I went for the Fish & Chips with smashed peas, tartar sauce, malt aioli and fries.  In terms of execution, the fish (I believe it was cod) was perfectly flaky and almost buttery.  As for the batter, it was crunchy on the edges, but not-so-much near the centre.  This is illustrated by the lighter colour too.  I found the tartar to be thick, creamy and tangy while the malt aioli was a nice compliment to the crunchy, yet airy fries.  Viv had the Biloxi Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich with creamy slaw, durkee's dressing and pickles on brioche.  We liked how they included 2 thick pieces of fried chicken since it made the sandwich hearty and filling.  Tangy and acidic, the slaw and crunchy pickles brought the heaviness down a notch.  The little salad on the side was not an afterthought as it was bright, sweet and tart.

My dad ended up with the Dungeness Crab Roll which was served as a trio of mini-rolls.  It was supposed to come with salt & vinegar chips, but he opted for a salad instead.  Although the description on the menu stated celery salad, there was little in the way of filler.  Rather, there seemed to be only fluffy crab throughout with a light mayo dressing.  It was a nice little bite with the buttery toasted roll.  Our only complaint was the bits of shell we found with the crab.  As per usual, my mom went for the Steak & Eggs consisting of RR Ranch strip loin, 2 eggs, latkes and house-made tomato jam.  This was a nicely composed dish with a beautifully charred medium-rare steak and equally well-executed sunny side eggs.  Nutty and crunchy, the latkes were nicely textured inside and out.

The kiddies decided to share 2 dishes in the BC Smoked Salmon Board and Eggs Benedict.  Again, the smoked salmon board wasn't particularly complex, but the plating was appetizing.  They didn't skimp on the big slices of buttery salmon and there was a side of potted salmon as well.  Completing the spread was onions, capers (he omitted these), tomatoes and soft yolk egg.  The benny featured peameal back bacon, soft poached eggs, spinach and Hollandaise.  Runny, but with completely cooked whites, the poached egg was perfect.  Silky and buttery, the Hollandaise was good, but could've used a touch more lemon.  In terms of atmosphere and service, Honey Salted nailed it.  As for the food, it was mostly good with some issues here and there.  But it wasn't enough to prevent us from going back.

The Good:
- Comfortable dining space with appealing decor
- Attentive service
- Brunch was above-average

The Bad:
- Some minor issues with a few dishes
- No validated parking