Sherman's Food Adventures

Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant

To say we did a lot of driving on this road trip would be a understatement.  Most of it was pretty boring with nothing interesting to see or do.  Furthermore, the choice of restaurants was so poor on our drive from Fremont to LA, we didn't even bother stopping!  So on the leg that involved heading from Bryce Canyon over to Salt Lake City, we already knew that fast food might be our only hope.  However, I had a silly idea...  Why don't we stop in Fillmore and eat a Chinese buffet?  Viv looked at me blankly.   Yes, this was not exactly the most appetizing nor smartest idea I've even come up with.  But I made enough of a case for it and therefore we stopped at Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant...  in the middle of nowhere...

When we arrived, a big tour bus carrying Chinese tourists was just leaving, so I guess it was a good sign???  Well, the place definitely could use some TLC, especially the washrooms, but oh well we were committed to eating there.  There were 2 buffet stations with an array of usual items and a few strange ones mixed in.  One of which was the pig's feet as well as pig's stomach.  Personally I love both, but I'm not sure how many others would agree with me.  They were fine with little gaminess and the desired texture of gelatinous while tender.  Some more familiar items included fried chicken wings, fried rice and beef & broccoli.  Nothing remarkable about any of them except that the wings were pretty large, juicy inside and crispy on the outside.

The other section featured a mish mash of things including orange chicken, tomato and eggs, spicy garlic eggplant, spring rolls, stir-fried thick noodles, mushrooms, tofu, fried rice, shanghai bak choy and mustard greens.  If we had to rate the appearance of the food on scale of 1-to-10, I would give it a 5.  Yah, not the most appealing food to look at but it did eat okay.  The noodles were not overly greasy while being chewy and mildly seasoned.  The veggies were mostly overdone except for the broccoli.  Seasoning on that was also rather conservative.  On the other hand, the eggplant was fairly garlicky and spicy.  We weren't super fond of the orange chicken as it was a bit dry with a soggy exterior.  It also could've been more impactful as it lacked tang.

At the very least, there was variety and the food was fairly traditional, which was surprising.  There was no question that the food wasn't outstanding, yet it was not terrible either.  Considering its location, I guess one shouldn't expect too much.  Now the place used to be a lot cheaper, so we didn't feel that the pricing was necessary inexpensive either (given the variety and quality of food).  Ultimately, it did the job for us and we didn't have to go for some random fast food.

The Good:
- It's okay given the circumstances
- People seemed pretty nice
- Some traditional Chinese dishes

The Bad:
- Not as cheap as you might think
- The place needs a deep cleaning

Stone Hearth Grill

Sometimes, when traveling in relatively remote and sparsely populated locations, the only options for eats are either fast food outlets or local spots that may or may not be good.  So after an awesome visit to Bryce Canyon National Park (love those hoodoos!), we were on our way to nearby Tropic, Utah.  Now one wouldn't expect anything great to eat in such a small sleepy town right?  Wrong.  Nestled far away from the main street (conveniently named Main Street), Stone Hearth Grill bills itself as fine dining.  We were seated out on the patio overlooking the fabulous hills of Utah.

We started things off with the House-Made Bread that looked and ate like focaccia except without the herbs.  It was pan-seared aggressively with butter making the exterior crispy, nutty and of course buttery.  The side of miso butter with black and white sesame on top was full of umaminess and fermented saltiness.  Such a simple creation, but full of flavor and texture.  Next, we had the Burrata atop of ripe tomato.  It was finished off with thinly sliced zucchini and a chive oil and balsamic reduction.  First of all, the burrata was fresh and at its creamy best.  Secondly, the tomato was plump and delicious while the balsamic added a sweet tanginess.

For my main, I had the Chinese Red Duck & Scallop featuring a braised duck leg, grilled scallop, broccolini, corn and miso puree, green onion and ginger relish and prawn chips.  At first, I was apprehensive in ordering this, but it turned out to be pretty tasty.  The five spiced duck leg did its best impersonation of duck confit with tender gelatinous meat.  It was full-flavored featuring crispy skin and rendered fat.  I thought the corn puree to be a touch too sweet, but it was a nice counter balance to the saltiness of the duck.  Medium-rare and plump, the sweet scallop was perfect.  My daughter wasn't really hungry and ended up with kid's Pan Seared Trout with Yukon gold potato puree and broccolini.  Barely cooked through, the trout was perfectly tender and moist.  Loved how they didn't overcook the broccolini either.

Viv ended up with the Roasted Poblano Relleno with cashew butter, red cabbage, avocado, salsa verde, apple, toasted seeds and cilantro.  There was a lot going on in this gluten-free and vegan selection.  Yes, you read it right, this was vegan and it was actually quite good.  Beyond the tender roasted pepper, the cashew butter was smooth and "cheese-like".  There was no spice to the dish other than the salsa verde.  However, the rest of the ingredients offered up plenty of other flavors.  My son didn't stray far from his usual with the 12oz New York Steak prepared a perfect medium-rare.  It was tender and meaty while nicely seasoned by an aromatic and bright taragon butter.   Mash was the same as my daughter's dish and the broccolini was still crunchy.

For dessert, we shared the Vanilla Cheesecake with blueberry compote as well as the Lemon Tart with berries and raspberry sauce.  Creamy and NY style, the cheesecake had just the right amount of vanilla and sweetness.   Normally, blueberries are rather subtle, but the compote here was impactful, slightly tangy and purposefully sweet.  As for the tart, the lemon curd was the right viscosity and appealingly tangy.  It was not overly sweet while the tart shell was firm enough for a great mouth-feel.  Now this was a surprisingly delicious meal in the middle of nowhere.  I guess if you look hard enough, there is good food to be found, even in the strangest of places...

The Good:
- Proteins were on point
- No lack of flavor
- Very nice people

The Bad:
- Not sure about the side of ginger and onion condiment with the duck
- Location is remote, you actually need to know where you are going

Birdhouse

So our original plan was to eat at the Birdhouse for lunch and then Big John's BBQ for dinner.  That got switched around since the Birdhouse didn't open until much later.  So after our lunch at Big John's we visited the stunning Lower Antelope Canyon via Ken's Tours.  That was an awesome experience even though it was completely sweltering outside.  Make sure you make a reservation because you cannot visit the canyon without a guide because it is on Navejo land.  Okay, back to the Birdhouse...  Let's just say their A/C units couldn't keep up with the heat and once again, we were dining "hot" once again.  

We ended up ordering the Whole Chicken Family Meal that came with 2 large sides. Consisting of 8 pieces of wings, drumsticks, thighs and breasts, this was enough for the 4 of us.  We found the batter to be decently seasoned, but not impactful.  It was crispy and fairly well-rendered except for some of the flabbier parts of the skin.  Underneath, the meat was moist but not juicy.  With that being said, the breast meat wasn't exactly dry either.  As for our sides, we chose the Mashed Potatoes, Broccoli Salad and added a Mac n' Cheese.   The mash was pretty creamy with a pale-looking gravy.  Taste-wise, this wasn't anything to write home about.  Spiked with bacon, red onion and mayo, the broccoli salad was fresh and crunchy.  We've made something like this at home before, but had added dried cranberries.  This probably needed it for some balance.  Pretty basic, but ultimately good, the mac n' cheese was cheesy enough with al dente macaroni.

To ensure we had enough good, we tacked on an order of Fries as well.  These crinkle cut fries were served hot and crispy.  They were also lightly seasoned which meant ketchup wasn't necessary.  Moreover, there wasn't a whole lot of grease to them either.  As you can pretty much guess, the food at the Birdhouse was more-than-acceptable at a reasonable price.  Definitely did the job and the kids enjoyed it.  They really need to fix the A/C though as it was uncomfortable sitting inside and eating fried chicken in 100+ heat.

The Good:
- Reasonably-priced
- Decent
- Nice people

The Bad:
- A/C needs to be stronger
- Chicken could use more seasoning (mind you, we could've gotten spicy)

Big John's Texas BBQ

After we were done at Zion, we made our way over to Page, Arizona for 2 of the most spectacular sights in North America, if not the world.  The first would be Horseshoe Bend and its absolutely frightening drop if one got too close to the edge.  Secondly, we made a reservation at the famous Antelope Canyon (can only visit with a tour company as it is on Navejo land).  Of course we couldn't do all this without provisions, so we had a few places in mind including Big John's Texas BBQ.  This was supposed to be our dinner destination, but since our choice for lunch wasn't open, we flipped them on our schedule.

Once again, the kids weren't that hungry possibly due to the 100+ degrees Fahrenheit temperatures.   Just like at Zion, we decided to sit outside instead of the shock of A/C and then out into the heat.  So they both ended up ordering off the kids menu that featured smaller portions.  My son went for the Beef Brisket Sandwich and my daughter had the Pulled Pork Sandwich.  With all things considered, they were indeed smaller than the regular version but more than adequate.  By visuals alone, one would assume that the meats were dry.  That wasn't really the case as both fell in between dry and moist.  Furthermore, they were not sauced, so once we added the BBQ sauce, the meats were fine.  There was a noted smokiness that wasn't too strong.  Viv did go for the regular-sized Beef Brisket Sandwich and yep, it was massive.  Lots of tender smoked brisket that was slightly more moist than the kid's version.  Probably just the luck of the cut.

In my mind, I only had one option on the menu which was The Sampler.  The plate consisted of beef brisket, pulled pork, spicy link sausage and baby back pork ribs.  I really enjoyed the ribs as the meat was fall-off-the-bone tender with a balanced smoke.  The bark was tasty on its own from the rub and char.  Definitely spicy, the pork link had a nice snap and wasn't overfly greasy.  On the side, the cowboy beans were pretty good with bits of brisket while the potato salad was creamy and eggy.  Also on the table was a big bucket of Peanuts, which I proceeded to eat addictively.  Don't throw the shells on the floor thought.  That's not how they do it there!  In the end, we were full and satisfied while not spending too much cash.  A great place for a family to dine in the Page area.

The Good:
- Reasonably priced
- Solid BBQ
- Lots of seating (if you don't mind sitting outside)

The Bad:
- Meats could've been a bit more moist, but it wasn't a deal-breaker

The Spotted Dog

After several hikes in the heat at Zion National Park, we were both tired and hangry.   So after the shuttle took us back to our hotel at stop 3, we just got off and entered the first restaurant we saw.  Now it wasn't completely random as The Spotted Dog was one of the choices on our original list.  Compared to the Whiptail across the street, the Spotted Dog is fancier with a more extensive menu.  Interestingly, it wasn't incredibly more expensive though.  Once again, we sat outside and enjoyed the fairly comfortable evening temperature.

Whenever there is a soup on the menu, my daughter secretly wants to order it, but bless her heart, she keeps quiet.  Seeing that, I ordered the Baked Potato Chowder with bacon bits, green onion and sour cream.  This was fairly heavy and rich especially with the sour cream mixed in.  However, the flavors were classic and yes, it ate like a baked potato.  We were also served some complimentary flatbread with a balsamic dip.  Hey, it was no extra charge, so even though it wasn't that great, it didn't matter.  For her main, she went big (unlike her lunch) with the Smoked Beef Shortrib smothered in BBQ sauce and accompanied by fingerling potatoes and string beans.  It was tender and gelatinous while sweet from the BBQ sauce.  Since they removed it from the bone, it was pretty easy to eat.  Beans were crunchy and vibrant.

I took a page out of my daughter's ordering book by selecting the Braised Lamb Shank.  Hey, our lunches were too light...  Well, this lamb shank was huge and braised perfectly.  Falling off the bone, the meat was uniformly tender and moist without any dry portions (even on the outside).  What brought everything together was the Bordelaise sauce with mushroom, fingerling potatoes and green beans.  Silky and buttery rich, the sauce added depth and body to the already luxurious lamb.  Viv went with the pepita encrusted Red Trout with wild and brown rice, wilted greens and berries.  Although not medium-rare as we like our trout, this was still fairly moist and tender.  Normally, fruit and fish don't really go, but the mildly sweet berries was okay.

One of the more basic entrees was the Spaghetti and Meatballs.  This was probably our least favorite not because it was bad per se.  Rather, it was not unlike many other versions that we would find at any other restaurant.  Even though the sauce was tangy and we could taste some basil, it was fairly flat and one note.  The pasta was not al dente either.  On the other hand, the 2 large meatballs were okay though.  Not exactly super tender, they were not dry either.  For dessert, my daughter had the Molten Lava Cake which was meh.  It was pretty sweet while mushy and deflated.  Furthermore, it was only lukewarm, which was not appealing at all.  Despite the last 2 dishes, the food was pretty good for a small town.  Also, the prices were reasonable with all things considered.

The Good:
- Fair portions
- Above average
- Solid service

The Bad:
- Spaghetti and cake were not good


Whiptail Grill

While we were in Vegas, I met up with Zamboni Guy and he was perplexed why we were there for only one night.  Well, the priority was hiking Zion, Antelope and Bryce Canyon rather than gorging on buffets.  So we left rather early the next morning. The drive from Vegas to Springdale, Utah was fairly uneventful but the temperature gauge was well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  So imagine the shock to the system as we exited our air-conditioned SUV upon arrival!  Seeing how we needed to acclimatize to the surroundings (as we were going for a hike), we decided to eat outside at Whiptail Grill.

My son wasn't overly hungry due to the heat and also a rash that had developed (was it connected to the heat???).  So he merely ordered the Whiplash Wings in house BBQ sauce.  I'm not sure where they got their wings from... man these were huge and plump!.  Despite the amount of surprisingly spicy smoky sauce, the skin was still fairly crunchy.  It could've been rendered a bit more, but that would overcooked the wings as a result.   Underneath, there was a mess of house-cut fries.  So this was more like an entree in terms of size.  Maybe it was due to the heat because my daughter decided to get the kid's Quesadilla with cheese.  Sure, this wasn't anything exciting, yet as the same time, they managed to crisp this out nicely with lots of oeey goeey cheese.

For myself, I had something lighter in pan-seared Mahi Mahi Tacos with grape salsa, cabbage blend and salsa fresca in grilled flour tortillas.  This was truly refreshing especially in the heat.  The fish was a little dry, but not a deal-breaker.  Flavors were subtle with the sweetness of grapes and tang from the tomatoes.  The side of limes were necessary to liven everything up.  Viv ended up with the most substantial item in the Southwestern Chicken Sandwich with pepper jack cheese, smoked apple-wood bacon and chipotle aioli on a brioche bun.  Nothing mind-blowing, the sandwich still ate very well where the charred chicken was tender and moist.  Lots of complimentary flavors going on.  As you can see, Whiptail ain't anything fancy, but it did the job.  So with all things considered, this was a fairly decent lunch that set us up for the rest of the day.

The Good:
- More than acceptable eats
- Friendly people
- Food is fresh

The Bad:
- A little pricey, but okay due to the limited selection

Holy Smokes! The Blog is 11 Years Old!

Ah yes, the blog is not over a decade old.  Is it time to hang it up and ride off into the food retirement?  Not quite yet.  Life is busy, but manageable, so I'm going to keep it going.  Thanks again for all the support from the many loyal readers and also the foodie community.  Food truly brings people together and I've met some really awesome people along the way.  I hope to find more great eats on my adventures including wherever I travel.  As always, I'm running a draw for a $100.00 gift certificate to the restaurant of your choice.  Just leave a comment with your first name and last initial and I will pick a winner in a couple of weeks.  Good luck!