Sherman's Food Adventures

Joe's Grill

For all the unique and fancy eats that are available in Vancity, we often forget about the basics.  Yes, lost amongst the poke bowls and Downtown brunch spots, there are little diners that dish up your typical greasy spoon breakfast.  One of the more well-known joints is Joe's Grill sporting 4 locations in Vancouver.  I frequented the West 4th location when it was still open where I could get a filling, well-made breakfast for pocket change.  So when we made our way to the Drive after Sunday morning hockey at Britannia, I was surprised to see a location right across the street.  Going down memory lane, we went basic with Joe's Grill.

Since the seating was at a premium, we waited a bit for a table.  We also waited awhile for our food too, but that was well worth it since they didn't merely slap things together.  Dr. Dre went for the Avocado and Tomato Benny served with house hash browns.  This was surprisingly composed dish where the effort put into making it really showed.  Softly toasted, the English muffin stood up to the creamy Hollandaise that was buttery and rich.  It could've used a touch more acidity though.  The ripe avocado added even more body to the dish while the bits of tomato cut the heaviness with some tang.  On the side, the hash browns were fantastic being crispy while soft in the middle.  They were beautifully caramelized and browned.  Kaiser Soze went for the 3 Pancakes with 2 sausages and strips of bacon.  He also added 2 eggs for good measure.  Boy, this was a lot of food where the pancakes were thin and fluffy while the rest of the items were prepared to his liking.

Milhouse went with the Corned Beef Hash that featured the same fantastic house made hash browns.  Hence, we knew it was going to be good.  Mixed in with the crispy, yet soft chunks of potato (with the skin on), the well-seared corned beef was aromatic and a bit crispy on the edges.  Combined with the peppers and onions, this was a solid hash that wasn't overly greasy.  His scrambled eggs were not bad as they were not overdone.  For myself, I went for lunch with the Reuben with fries.  The bread was extremely buttery which also meant it was super crunchy.  There was enough corned beef and sauerkraut for impact.  The accompanying house-cut fries were super crunchy while retaining some potato goodness inside. So judging by the pictures, you can clearly see that this wasn't some fancy breakfast.  However, it was well-made and well-priced.  Sometimes the basic is all that you need.

The Good:
- Inexpensive
- Overall well-made food
- Decent service

The Bad:
- Very few tables
- Food takes awhile to arrive

Kamei Royale

With all of the newer restaurants in town, we often forget about the long-standing ones.  Some of  you wonder why they are still in business and some, you may have not even bothered eating there since they are not plastered all over social media.  If I think way back to my youth, THE place to go get Japanese food was Kamei.  It was at the Broadway Plaza location that I first tried sashimi and I've never looked back.  It's now an Ebisu, but that is still part of the same restaurant group.  So when it came time to choose a nicer Japanese restaurant to take Viv's dad for Father's Day, we went ol' skool and made a rez at Kamei Royale in Downtown.

We kicked things off with the Deluxe Assorted Sashimi featuring beautiful slices of hamachi, sockeye salmon, albacore tuna, Atlantic salmon and tako as well as uni, ebi and hokkigai.  This was carefully prepared and consisted of supremely fresh items that you can clearly see in the picture.  Textures were on point and the natural sweetness really came through.  Nothing here was average.  They fried the prawn heads for us upon our request.  We also got a dozen Oysters to whet our appetite.  These Royal Miyagis were shucked properly without any shell fragments or damage to the oysters.  They were sweet and lightly briny with plenty of juices residing in the deep shell.

Onto more sashimi, we got the Unagi Sashimi Boat with albacore tuna, Atlantic salmon, hokkigai, California roll, dynamite roll, assorted tempura and a mini-unagi don.  Again, the sashimi was on point as the previous order we had.  As for the maki sushi, it was decent with chewy rice and carefully constructed rolls.  As for the don, it was a nice little treat of chewy sushi rice topped with buttery charred unagi.  It was sauced enough to flavour the rice.  Presented on a multi-level wood board, the Deluxe Sushi Platter included tuna, salmon, kanpachi, hamachi, ebi, hotate, ikura, uni, tamago and unagi.  On the bottom, there was a Mango Paradise Roll. Not trying to sound repetitive, but the nigiri were fresh with properly textured and seasoned rice.  As for the roll, it was carefully constructed and the mango was ripe.

I saved my commentary about the Tempura for our actual order of the dish.  Strangely, it arrived quite a bit after the boat.  Wouldn't they have fried it all together?  Anyways, it was crispy and light despite the visuals.  Interestingly, the pieces were rather large including the huge ebi.  It was buttery and had a light snap.  Okay, the fact that our orders of tempura (one in the boat) arrived so far apart was already strange.  How about our 2 orders of Gyoza...  Not only did they not arrive together, they were 20 minutes apart!  Huh?  Well, they were not worth waiting for though.  They looked sloppy and ate as such.  Although they were aggressively seared, the gyozas were not crispy and in fact, were very greasy.  Some were torn on top side (bottom side in the picture).

Onto some rolls, we had the Samurai Roll which was essentially a California Roll topped with unagi, black & red tobiko and unagi sauce.  Think of it as a variation of dragon roll.  Again, this was neatly presented and constructed.  The roll was tight, but overall, it wasn't dense. Loved that it wasn't oversauced, so the flavours weren't too sweet.  Since torched sushi is now a standard item these days, we decided to try their Salmon Oshizushi.  Their version included both Atlantic and sockeye salmon, ikura and a light mayo sauce.  Of course this wasn't as good as Miku's, but it was pretty respectable.  The sushi rice was on point while the salmon was fresh and noticeable (partly due to the absence of overpowering ingredients).

To add more carbs other than rice, we got the Nabeyaki Udon loaded with a bevy of ingredients including clams, mushrooms, spinach, carrots, fish cake, egg and ebi tempura.  We found the noodles to be appealingly chewy while the dashi broth to be fairly bland with only a touch of sweetness.  The Chawan Mushi didn't actually arrive last, we just decided to get a few orders at the end.  This was pretty on point with silky egg custard where there was very little water floating around.  Hidden inside, the large prawn was meaty and had a sweet crunch.  Flavours were subtle but there including the background taste of sake.  This a pleasant end to a surprisingly solid meal that wasn't as expensive as we envisioned.  Funny how we forget about places like this.  Maybe I should find some other good oldies too.

The Good:
- On point service
- Solid eats
- Carefully prepared food

The Bad:
- Prices are a touch higher, but it is Downtown and good quality
- Gyozas were terrible
- Dish expediting was strange (same items came out at different times)

Ho Yuen Kee

Ever since Old Buddies closed their location on Alexandra Road in Richmond, it meant that their famous wontons could only be found at their original sister restaurant, Ho Yuen Kee.  So what's the problem you may ask?  Well, the Fraser Street location is indeed more convenient for me and I don't have to fight with luxury SUVs either, but the whole reason I avoided the place was their equally famous service (or lack of).  Alas, I returned to the place recently with Nora, Lesley and Joyce and had some of their greatest hits.  A month later, I was back at it with my co-rec hockey team to celebrate the end of the season.  This post focuses mainly on the most recent dinner, but I included one dish from my first meal as well.

What else would we start with other than their legendary Wontons?  We got the large order and I swear, there were like 40+ of them (the picture shows the remainder after the first round).  They used to be a whole lot bigger (like 2 times the size), but I think they made that up with quantity.  No matter, they were still very good and did not disappoint.  Comprised mostly of shrimp and a bit of mousse, there was a firm rebound that had a great mouth feel.  In addition to the natural brininess, there was plenty of sesame oil and a touch of white pepper.  The broth itself was fragrant and flavourful, if not a touch salty.  The meal prior to this, we actually did something different and had the Fried Wontons.  With the same great filling, these were juicy and texturally-pleasing.  There was a firm crunch to the wrapper which was a great contrast.  It was served with a side of sweet and sour sauce.

Okay, remember that one dish from the first meal?  It was no other than their signature Lobster with Sticky Rice.  There are many other versions out there, but they were one of the first places to do it in Vancity.  This was solid as usual with chewy rice supplemented by sweet pops from the corn niblets.  Of course the rice was the beneficiary of the lobster juices and sauce.  The lobster itself was prepared just right being bouncy and sweet.  One of the more surprising dishes we ordered was the Shredded Chicken Salad with wonton crisps, julienned veggies, pickles and jellyfish.  I normally associate this dish with nearby Koon Bo, but this was a more-than-respectable version.  This was actually 2 orders (as you can't order only one) combined into one plate.  The textures were all there including the tender chicken, bouncy jellyfish and crisp veggies.  However, the amount of cilantro was a bit excessive as it dominated the flavour profile of the dish.

Since we were on their greatest hits, it was only natural that we got the 2 courses of Peking Duck as well (in fact, we did it for both meals).   The first course featured crispy skin where the fat was well-rendered.  With that being said, the layer of fat was not very significant to begin with, hence they had used the right type of duck for this application.  Since the fat was negligible, the layer of meat underneath was impactful and added more substance to the wrap.  About that wrapper, the crepe was medium-thick, yet not doughy.  It didn't dry out even when the last one sat out for most of the meal.  The second course was the Duck Lettuce Wrap which was well-portioned.  In fact, the chunks of duck were abnormally large.  Not sure if they were just lazy or they meant to make it that big.  Whatever the case, it made for a robust filling for the wrap.  It was subjected to enough wok heat where there was caramelization while the veggies stayed crisp and most importantly of all, there was minimal moisture.

Onto 2 staples of Cantonese meals where there are children in attendance.  Yep, we had the veritable Sweet & Sour Pork as well as the Peking Pork Chops.  Although the plate of sweet & sour pork was paler than Taylor Swift at the beach, it ate a whole look better looked.  Sure, some red food colouring would've made it more aesthetically-pleasing, but do you really want to eat all that dye?  With that being said, it could've used a bit more vinegar since it was mostly sweet.  As for the texture, it was aggressively fried, so some pieces were still slightly crispy while others had soaked up plenty of sauce.  For some reason, they decided to add enough food colouring to make the Peking pork chops a deep shade of red.  We liked how the pieces of pork were bite-size rather than the whole chop.  The pork was tender while retaining a meatiness where the sauce was both sweet and tangy.

As requested, I added some veggies to the mix including the classic Gai Lan with Beef.  Underneath the plethora of beef, the large stalks of gai lan were cooked just enough that they retained a fresh crunch.  There was no chewiness since the gai lan were not old or dried out.  As for the slices of beef, they were tender without being over-tenderized.  The dish itself was not overly oily comparatively while the moisture on the bottom of the plate was minimal.  In terms of seasoning, I found the dish to be flavourful without being over-the-top salty.  Continuing on with the veggies, we had the 3 Types of Seafood with Broccoli.  Once again, the veg was wok fried properly where it was fully cooked, yet still crisp.  Seasoning was similar to the previous dish where it was impactful without being salty.  All the seafood including the shrimp, squid and scallops were texturally on point.

As if this wasn't enough things in a shade of green, we also added the Stir-Fried Pea Shoots with garlic.  Although the portion size was modest, much like the other dishes, the execution was consistent.  It was just as good as the dish I had only a few weeks prior.  There was enough wok heat to caramelize the flavours and activate the aromatics from the garlic.  Hence, there was very little moisture left on the plate.  Each tender pea shoot was still lightly crunchy.  To balance all these veggies, we really had to get some protein and that we did in the form of a whole Crispy Chicken.  Clad in a beautiful golden hue, the crispy skin was well-rendered.  Underneath, the meat was tender, including the breast.  There was a light brine that added some saltiness to the meat as well as keeping it moist.

For the kiddies and also acting as our carbs (since we didn't order any rice), we got a duo of stir fried noodles.  The Stir-Fried Flat Rice Noodles with Beef was a fairly solid dish.  It was only moderate greasy (as this dish can often be oily since the noodles can stick to the wok otherwise) and was well-seasoned.  The noodles were not clumpy and still nicely chewy.  There was a good amount of tender beef, but equally, there was too many sprouts.  Our 2nd noodle was the Stir-Fried Yee Mein, which is typically found at the end of Chinese banquets.  This was another good version where the noodles were chewy and subjected to enough wok heat.  There was no moisture at the bottom of the plate which was another indication of proper wok temp.  One thing I would've liked to see was a bit more colour (dark soy) and a touch more saltiness.

For some strange reason, the last dish to arrive was the Fish & Tofu Hot Pot.  Despite the usual lettuce underneath to "prop" up the fish, there was actually quite a bit of fish as you can see (the lettuce is also there to prevent sticking and burning at the bottom).  The fish was buttery and flaky while the fried tofu was silky.  There was a good amount of salty garlickiness in the starch-thickened sauce for impact.  As you can imagine, the 2 meals I had at recently at Ho Yuen Kee were solid and consistent.  The portion sizes were adequate, but probably a bit smaller than other equivalent restaurants and the pricing is a tad more as well.  On the other hand, solid execution and consistency makes up for it.

The Good:
- Solid eats
- Signature items are really good
- Consistent

The Bad:
- Service is so-so
- A tad pricey for this class of restaurant
- Portion sizes are small, but not very large either

Oka-San Kitchen

Okay, this post on Oka-San has been nearly a year in the making.  We've actually dined here on 4 separate occasions.  Finally I decided to get down to writing the post!  The whole reason we've done so many return visits is due to the kiddies absolutely loving Spam Musubis.  Actually, I remember picking up one every morning while Viv and I were in Hawaii back in 2004.  A few Summers ago, the kiddies got their first taste of it in Hawaii and they've craved it ever since.  In addition to musubi, they serve other Hawaiian favourites with a Vancouver twist of course (like many other different cuisines).

Unlike our first visit, we decided to try their creamy srirracha Poke Bowl over the original.  For me, I think both are good, but if you wanted a kick, then the spicy one is the way to go.  Instead of the aromatic sesame oil, it was replaced by a mildly spicy creamy dressing that was just enough to coat each piece of buttery fish.  The rice was chewy and slightly dusted with togarashi.  Added into the mix was wakame, crispy seaweed, lettuce, avocado, crab meat, cucumber, tobiko, mac potato salad, red onion, radish and pickled ginger.  As such, this was one hearty bowl with varied textures and flavours.  Everything seemed to work well with each other but I thought there was a bit too much red onion as it was pretty pungent.  To be honest, there was too much stuff to make this a legit poke bowl (should be fish and onion only), but it works in Vancity.

We got other Hawaiian dish in the Loco Moco featuring a hand-made beef patty atop rice and smothered in a mushroom and onion gravy.  It was served with potato wedges and potato mac salad.  The large beef patty was meaty and lean with bits of sweet onion strewn throughout.  I thought it was nicely seared with caramelized flavours while the gravy on top was flavourful and rich.  Once again, there was far too many onions in my opinion as it tended to throw the flavours out-of-balance.  Maybe I'm being too picky, but I would've liked a classic mac salad on the side rather than it being mixed with potato.  Also on the table was Chicken Teriyaki with Ebi Mayo and Tuna Tataki.  Chicken was tender with only a touch of sweet sauce.  It definitely could've used more. 

My son went to his go-to dish - Spam Musubi.  Yep, the last time we were in Hawaii, he ate these like there was no tomorrow.  As simple as these can be (essentially sushi rice topped with seared Spam and held together by nori), this has to be one of the better versions in town.  In fact, there aren't many places that serve this period.  The rice was chewy with the right amount of moisture while the Spam was caramelized with a sweet tangy glaze.  They added a piece of fluffy tomago on top for good measure.  These were a lot more filling that one would expect.

Of course this wasn't the only thing he ate, so he went ahead and had his other favourite being the Unagi Don with a side of Tuna Tataki and Wakame Salad.  Again, the rice was on point with a chewy and not too wet texture where the buttery unagi helped flavour most of it.  We could've used one more piece though.  The tuna tataki was buttery and soft while seared just ever-so-slightly on the outside.  Loved the sweet, salty and tangy dressing that also had sesame oil.  My daughter wasn't in the mood for most things on the menu except the Masago Spaghetti.  Portion size was modest, but the execution was good with al dente pasta enveloped by a fairly creamy sauce that had a bright brininess from the masago.  Not sure of the onions though as it was a bit strong for the sauce.

Lastly, we tried their Butter Mochi Cake which was semi-sweet and aromatic.  Loved the crispy exterior textures giving way to the soft and slightly chewy interior.  So from all these visits, we can definitively say that the food at Oka-San is generally good.  Sure, some creative license has been used on the dishes here, but nothing is offensive.  Prices are on the higher side, but the quality makes up for up.  However, one of the biggest issues is the time it takes for the food to arrive.  Yes, in "Mother's" restaurant, it should take more time as she puts her love into making the food.  On the other hand, don't expect to get out of there with a quick meal.

The Good:
- Unique food as not many places serve Hawaiian cuisine in Vancity
- Food is generally carefully made
- Super-friendly people

The Bad:
- Pricey
- Food takes a long time to come out

St. Lawrence Restaurant

Similar to my visit to The Botanist, this dinner at St. Lawrence has been a long time coming.  To be blunt, one reason it took so long was the rumour circulating that they do not appreciate picture-taking in the restaurant (flash or no flash).  However, much like The Botanist, the reviews were solid and people were raving about the French Canadian cuisine.  Fine, I'll bite.  So I agreed to meetup with Maggi, Kristina and David for a meal among friends and early enough that there would be some natural light for some pictures (smartphone and camera).  Turned out that they didn't say anything about the pictures, so the delay trying the place was stupidity on my part.

There was no doubt as to which dish we had to get no matter what - Oreilles de Crisse or fried pork rinds with maple syrup & spice.  Whimsically plated in a maple syrup can, these crunchy little bites overflowed onto the plate.  Whatever they seasoned these with, it should come with a warning that addiction is likely.  Just enough of a hint, the maple syrup was lightly sweet while balanced off by the savory spice.  I could literally eat a few plates of these myself.  The next dish was something quite rare in Vancouver.   As Kristina remarked, the Quenelle de Poisson resembled the French Canadian version of a Chinese fish ball or mousse.  She wasn't far off, but the quenelle was a lot more delicate and airy than the Chinese version.  It was sweet and fishy (in a good way) being complimented by the lobster cream sauce that was aromatic while easy on the salt.  The side of shrimp were buttery and perfectly prepared.

Our next 2 small dishes were comprised of Steak Tartare with chèvre noire & potato chips and Chicken & Duck Terrine.  If you know my tastes by now, I really like food that exhibits a certain level of acidity and tanginess.  Therefore, my personal bias ensured that I would like this tartare.  For others, it was a bit overwhelming in addition to the strong truffle essence.  The chunks of
chèvre noire were pretty impactful which also took away from the tender beef.  Again, I still enjoyed the tartare and the chips were the perfect vessel.  As for the terrine, it was a nice portion that featured large chunks of tender meat, fat, pistachios and spices.  All together, there was enough inherent meat flavours to make an impact.  Of course, the mustard was a welcomed condiment too as it brightened things up.

Onto our larger plates, we started with the feature of the day which was Crispy Veal Sweetbreads with red wine & truffle sauce, onion ring, chanterelles and corn.  This had to be some of the largest pieces of sweet breads I've ever eaten.  As such, beyond the crispy exterior, the centre was soft, tender and moist (partly due to execution and partly due to thickness).  With the woodiness of the mushrooms combined with the sweetness of the corn as well as the beautiful red wine sauce, there was enough umaminess for impact rather than relying on salt.  Although the Côte de Porc with fromage Oka & sauce charcutière didn't seem like a sexy dish, it turned out to be delicious.  Let's start with the pork chop itself, it was fully cooked while still moist and succulent.  It sported a caramelized sear and sat atop pomme puree with Oka cheese which was decadent being smooth, creamy and nutty.  The butcher's sauce was no slouch either being meaty and deeply flavourful (not salty though).

Staying with heavy and rich food (you get the theme here right?), we had the Steak St. Lawrence consisting of a medium-rare grilled hanger steak, bone marrow, sauce aux poivres & frites.  Due to the cut of meat, its inherent natural meat flavour was definitely at the forefront.  As evidenced in the picture, it was perfectly prepared.  I enjoyed soaking up every drop of the silky demi that was full-of-depth and completely cooked down.  Of course we couldn't dine at a French Canadian establishment without ordering the Tourtière de Ville au Cerf (Venison Meat Pie).  Oh wow, this was very good featuring flaky pastry that held up to the ingredients.  Inside, the meat filling was super tender, appealingly dense and flavourful.   There was a pretty noticeable finish of cloves and nutmeg after the initial hits of meatiness and sweet onion. Not to be outdone, the jus was pretty rich and gelationous.  Loved the sweet syrupy house ketchup on the side.

Onto the sweets, we got serious with the Riz au Lait Façon L’ami Jean (Rice Pudding with salted caramel).  This was for the table and sported candied walnuts and their version of cinnamon toast crunch on the top.  Usually rice pudding can be pretty plain, but this was nothing like that.  Beyond the creaminess of the base, the caramel added depth of sweetness.  This was all aided by the sweet crunch from the toppings.  As a person who can't stand really sweet anything, the Tarte au Sucre
(Sugar Pie & vanilla cream) was not really something I preferred.  However, it was actually quite good.  Now I wouldn't be able to finish the whole thing, but the 2 bites I had were rich, deeply sweet and densely creamy.  I guess this was the perfect way to end the meal as it represents St. Lawrence very well.  The food is heavy, rich and in some ways, in your face.  But they make no apologies as they offer up delicious traditional French Canadian cuisine.

The Good:
- They don't hold back and produce truly delicious French Canadian cuisine
- Attentive wait staff
- Developed flavours that aren't reliant on salt

The Bad:
- Really heavy (that is what the food is like)
- On the higher end of the pricing spectrum (I thought it was worth it)