Sherman's Food Adventures

Ramen Gaoh

As mentioned in my Ramen Raijin post, the ramen scene in Burnaby is getting serious.  What was only a few joints including Kamamarui, Kawawa and Hakkaku at one point, I didn't think I'd ever see the day with so many options.  Located within a stone's throw from Hakkaku, Ramen Goah has set up shop in the old Papa John's pizza location on Hastings at Willingdon.  Unlike many of the ramen joints in the GVRD, Ramen Goah offers up a signature ramen with 2 versions of miso (and a veggie one too).  We ended up checking it out on a weekday (where it was still very busy).

Another feature they have on their menu is their variety of Gyoza.  We ended up with a regular order as a combo to the ramen and also their Truffle Parmesan.  The gyoza itself was tender with a juicy pork filling.  Thin and lightly chewy, the dumpling skin had a nice mouth feel and bite.  As you can see, there was an aggressive sear on the bottom which was good for texture and flavour.  As much as the cheesy gyoza was interesting and flavourful, we much preferred the regular one.  Their Chicken Karaage was both good and bad on one plate.  We liked how the chicken thigh meat was juicy (like really running juices juicy), tender and seasoned.  Furthermore, the batter was crispy and decently light.  However, each piece was far too large which meant oil retention was high and the practicality of eating it was low.

For myself, I went for their featured Scorpion Ramen with spicy ground pork, chashu and gai lan.  I ended up with spice level 2 and numbness 2.  I thought the whole thing wasn't as spicy as I would've thought.  Maybe I needed 3 and 3?  Whatever the case, it was still pleasing to eat with the rich, almost creamy and spicy broth.  The noodles were al dente while the chashu was sufficiently fatty and tender.  To get to the ground pork, I had to drink quite a bit of the soup which was okay, but it was rather rich for me to finish it.  My son decided on the Red Miso broth and although it was advertised as more flavourful than the milder White Miso broth, it really wasn't.  There was the usual deep flavour that we find with red miso, but it wasn't as impactful as we would've hoped.  Despite this, it wasn't as if it was not good.  It was.

That leads into Viv's bowl of White Miso Ramen which was only slightly milder and more subtle than the red miso. It was lightly creamy where the noodles were al dente and the chashu was a meaty tender.  The egg was on point with a runny yolk.  I thought the miso ramens were good, but not exceptional.  Their real draw is the Scorpion Ramen as well as their gyozas.  A nice addition to the Burnaby North hood.

The Good:
- Spicy Scorpion Ramen
- Gyoza
- Okay pricing

The Bad:
- Miso ramen okay, but not exceptional
- Karaage good, but too big in size

Kokoro Tokyo Mazesoba

What?  Another ramen joint???  Yes, this is yet again another blog post on a new ramen restaurant opening up in Downtown Vancouver.  But wait a minute.  There are a few things different about this place.  First of all, it isn't located on and around Robson Street.  Second, it features a spacious dining space with an indoor waiting area (no lining up outside in the cold!).  Third and more importantly, it serves up mazesoba or translated as "mixed noodle" without soup.  Yes, they still have the regular soup ramen, but their calling card is the mazesoba and their Hokkaido creme cone.  Although I hate lining up for anything, we decided to do so and try out this soupless ramen...

After a 35-minute wait, we proceeded to order 2 each of the mazesoba and regular soup ramen.  Viv went for the Niku Mazesoba featuring made in-house multi-grain soba, slow-braised chashu, spicy minced pork, raw egg yolk, green onion, seaweed flakes, chives, minced garlic and ground saba fish.  As much as I wanted to write this off as a gimmick or fad, this combination of ingredients with the al dente soba was truly delicious.  There was a certain spiciness combined with the meatiness of the pork as well as the unmistakeable flavour of nori.  The silkiness of the egg yolk made for a creamy and silky texture as well.  She decided to make hers a combo by adding a 3-piece order of Chicken Karaage with spicy mayo.  Although the karaage looked appealing being golden brown, the batter was doughy and undercooked on the inside.  It was lightly crispy on the outside, but the doughiness killed the dish.  The chicken was juicy and tender though.

For myself, I chose the Mentaiko Cream with house-made multi-grain soba, spinach, slow braised chashu, minced garlic, gound saba fish, seaweed flakes, raw egg yolk and spicy cod roe (I omitted the green onions).  This one was similar-tasting except with a more pronounced fishiness from the roe combined with the saba.  For some, the brininess could be a bit much (Viv preferred hers over mine), but I personally loved it and this was right up my alley.  Again, the egg yolk helped everything adhere to each strand of chewy soba.  To add even more punch, I used the provided vinegar and chili flakes at the table.  This added a kick as well as some tang.  After I was done, the remaining sauce was not to be wasted.  One could as for a bowl of rice (at no extra charge) to mix into it.  Imagine how tasty that was!  Yes, I enjoyed that as much as the noodles.

For the kiddies, they didn't stray far from their favourites and stuck with the traditional soup ramen.  My son had the Tonkotsu Ramen with wood ear mushroom, chashu and soft yolk egg (he also omitted the green onions).  As you can see in the picture, the soup was pretty cloudy.  In fact, it was downright creamy and porky.  I personally prefer my broth to be more on the lighter side, but this was still fairly tasty and impactful.  There was an ample amount of tender thin noodles (could've been more al dente) hidden within the broth.  Although the chashu was fatty, it was more on the meaty side (but was not chewy).  My daughter had the Tomato Tonkotsu with chashu, wood ear mushroom, corn, green onion, tomatoes and soft yolk egg.  This was essentially the same broth, but with tomato added.  Hence, it was aromatic and lightly tomatoey.  We preferred this over the regular tonkotsu.

To end the meal, it was our intention to try the Hokkaido Crème Cone, but they ran out, so we were stuck with the Hokkaido Crème Cup.  This was pretty rich and creamy with plenty of milk flavour.  In fact, it was so strong, my daughter didn't want to eat any.  Well, more for me then!  I liked it because it wasn't too sweet while being quite aromatic.  Good, but not something that I would necessarily order again.  So in the end, there was enough to differentiate Kokoro Tokyo Mazesoba from the rest of the bunch.  Good thing too as many are merely blending into the scene.

The Good:
- Tasty mazesoba
- Spacious restaurant
- Quite a bit of choice

The Bad:
- Expensive
- Soup ramen is fine, but stick with the mazesoba

El Santo

To me, it seems like the 'burbs are seriously benefiting from the mass exodus of families from Vancouver proper.  Well, the rise in real estate prices across the board isn't what I'm referring to either.  I'm not even sure that is a "benefit" per se, maybe a curse perhaps?  Okay, other than that, increased traffic and housing density, the actual "good" change is the opening of interesting and "better" restaurants in their neighbourhoods.  As the demand increases for anything other than chain restaurants and mom n' pop shops, we find places like El Santo setting up in the former restaurant wasteland of New Westminster.

Located near the swank Piva in the Anvil Centre, El Santo offers up Mexican eats in a modern and hipsterish restaurant.  We started the festivities (they do have live music on the weekends) with the made-to-order Guacamole Trio featuring tomatillo & citrus, mango and chicharron.  Of the three, I thought enjoyed the mango the most due to the tropical-taste as well as the sweetness.  There was some spice with the chicharron while the citrus guacamole could've used a bit more impact..  Neatly presented, the Ceviche de Atun consisted of BC albacore tuna charred citrus, red onion, avocado brûlée, radish, cilantro and chips.  This wasn't complicated in terms of flavour, but it was good nonetheless.  The natural and subtle tuna flavour was at the forefront accented by a touch of acidity and sharpness from the red onion.  Personally, I could've used a bit more punch, but that might've overwhelmed the delicate tuna.

The most stunning item of the meal had to be the El Santo Huevo sporting a masa battered soft-boiled egg, house-made chorizo and habanero apple jam.  Essentially their version of a Scotch egg, this was perfectly prepared.  As you can see, the egg yolk was deliciously runny while the egg white was delicate.  The thin layer of chorizo was meaty and slightly spicy (could've used a thicker layer of it though).  It was encased in a crispy masa crust.  I didn't even use much of the jam since it tasted good on its own.  For our choice of Tacos, we chose the Pescado sporting beer battered BC ling cod, avocado lime crema, shredded cabbage, tomato, scallion and salsa verde.  Yes, this was essentially a fish taco, but it was a good fish taco.  The tortilla was tender with a chew while the fish was crispy and flaky.  With a squirt of lime, there was a nice acidity to go with the rest of the fresh ingredients.

Ending off things, we shared the Torta de Cachete with a side of Papas Mexicanas.  This was my favourite item other than the egg.  Normally, I'm disappointed with the bread in most tortas because they tend to be overly dense.  This one was completely different being almost banh mi like.  It was nicely toasted, airy and super crunchy.  Inside, the tender and moist beef cheek was accompanied by crunchy cabbage, tomato, avocado and peppers.  On the side, the potatoes were beautifully fried and tossed with poblanos, caramelized onions and confit garlic.  This was an aromatic accompaniment to an awesome sandwich.  I would've liked to see a touch more salt to amp the flavours up even more so.  However, in general, the food was good at El Santo and the vibe just as nice.  A great addition to the New West food scene.

The Good:
- Proteins were on point
- Carefully prepared eats
- Nice spot to hang out for an evening out

The Bad:
- Food needed just a touch more salt

Sapporo Kitchen

From my time working in Ladner, I was able to try most of the restaurants in the area.  Although it will never be a culinary destination, some of the spots did the job and really, what else would one expect?  Yes, it was home to a hidden gem in La Belle Auberge, but that sadly shuttered its doors over 5 years ago.  Recently, we have seen the restaurant scene change a bit with the addition of Il Posto in the old Dancing Pig location.  However, there is another spot that has quietly operated under the radar in Sapporo Kitchen.  I know, I know, Ladner needs another Japanese restaurant like Richmond needs more new drivers.  However, it is nice to see a trendier Japanese spot in the village with a modern menu.

With anything modern and Japanese these days, it is all about the aburi.  As such, I went for their Taste of Aburi consisting of salmon, hamachi, toro, tuna, hotate and amaebi.  Okay, if you look at the presentation and execution, this would look more at home in a Downtown Vancouver Japanese restaurant, but really, this was Ladner.  Although it would never be confused for Miku or Minami, this was quite good.  Fish quality was fairly impressive with noted natural flavours without being fishy.  The sushi rice was nicely textured with a pleasant chewiness.  For those who are wondering, yes, I did get the spot prawn head deep fried.

Of course that wouldn't be enough for my lunch, so I decided on the Leo Set for good measure.  Oh man, this was quite a bit of food sporting 10pcs sashimi, chicken teriyaki, 4pcs california roll, ebi sunomono, tempura and miso soup.  Once again, I was treated to carefully prepared sashimi which included albacore tuna, sockeye salmon, tai, hokkigai and tako.  I found the tempura to be also executed on point with a light crispiness while easy on the grease.  Well-charred and tender, the chicken teriyaki was non-offensive with just the right amount of sauce.  Not much to say about the sunomono and Cali roll because they were textbook, but ultimately good as well.

Also on the table, Halfie had the Saba Set consisting of a generous piece of mackerel which was surprisingly moist considering the usual texture of the fish.  It was simply prepared and went well with the usual bowl of rice.  On the side, she chose the Takoyaki which was too doughy and dense for her liking.  However, that was the only blemish to a surprisingly solid Japanese meal out in Ladner.  Glad to see that the restaurants are finally catching up to the rest of the Lower Mainland in terms of quality, presentation and overall modern concept.

The Good:
- Well-prepared eats
- Great service
- Good modern-traditional hybrid decor

The Bad:
- A little pricey

La Villetta

Alas, I finally made it out to La Villetta on Hastings in North Burnaby.  Having lived in the neighbourhood for the last 13 years, I've been meaning to give it a try.  However, I get distracted by shinier and sexier new restaurants (generally located away from North Burnaby).  But with my daughter asking for Italian cuisine for her birthday dinner, I thought it was a good opportunity.  In actuality, she wanted Korean BBQ, but we had that scheduled for the following night (for my brother-in-laws birthday dinner).  I digress.  We ended up going early on a Friday night where we were greeted to classic decor and warm service.

We shared 2 salads to start with a Caesar and a Caprese.  Although the Caesar was aggressively dressed, it rode the fine line and didn't go over it.  Therefore, the salad was creamy, cheesy and salty, but just enough.  Featuring the inner most part of the romaine heart, the salad ate extra crunchy and crisp.  I rather enjoyed that since I'm not a fan of the more leafier greens.  As for the Caprese, it was pretty straightforward with slices of fresh mozzarella atop slices of ripe sweet tomatoes.  It was finished with a drizzle of balsamic reduction.  My only complaint was the minuscule amount of chopped up basil.

We also decided on a pizza to share as well being the Capicciosa featuring artichoke hearts, mushrooms and capocollo.  Although not particularly charred, the crust was still nutty and crispy.  It was thin enough that the crust didn't feel heavy, but robust enough that it didn't wilt under the ample toppings.  There was so much capocollo that it was at the forefront with a lightly spicy saltiness.  For our first pasta of the meal, we tried the daily feature being the Spaghetti with mussels and prawns.  This featured firmly al dente pasta coated with an arrabiata-like sauce that was tomatoey and slightly spicy.  There was ample brininess from the buttery mussels.

The kiddies wanted the Baked Lasagna and it turned out to be pretty tasty.  It was plenty cheesey with a thick layer of melted mozzarella on top.  It was well seared from the baking and created a nutty crust.  The sheets of pasta were tender while still retaining some texture (as in not being too soft) while the tomato sauce was rich and flavourful.  I would've liked to see a bit more meat in between the layers though.  Our last pasta was the Fettucine Creola featuring Italian sausage, chicken and shrimp in a rose sauce.  The pasta here was a little softer, but still al dente.  I found the sauce to be more on the creamier side, where there was just enough of it.  The chicken was a little dry while the sausage was meaty.

For our 2 meat dishes, we had the Lamb Osso Buco and the Scallopine al Marsala.  The fairly large lamb shank was beautifully tender and gelatinous.  However, I found it rather bland by itself.  I'm thinking that the braising liquid should've been more aggressively seasoned.  Although it was coated in a tomato sauce, it wasn't that impactful and rather one note.  On the other hand, the veal was super-impactful from the buttery sauce that was a touch on the saltier side.  The veal was tender and meaty while the mushrooms were buttery, yet soaked up all the salt from the sauce.  The various veggies on the plate were perfect though being vibrant and cooked just enough.

As if this wasn't enough food already, we also got the Seafood Risotto with prawns and scallops.  Normally, I complain there isn't enough cheese in my risotto, but this was actually bordering on too much cheese.  My mom disagreed because she loves cheese, but in terms of execution, the risotto as a touch thick.  But really, it was still good with al dente arborio rice and the aforementioned cheesiness.  They were pretty generous with the large buttery scallops and meaty prawns, not that we were complaining.  In general, the only dish we didn't like was the lamb.  Other than that, the food was pretty solid, carefully made and reasonably-priced.  Not sure why it took me this long to try it...

The Good:
- Reasonably-priced
- Fair portions
- Attentive service

The Bad:
- Lamb was a miss
- Compared to the newer Italian restaurants, the food is not as modern (but for us, it suited us fine)

Kokoro Ramen

With social media these days, it isn't very hard for news to travel fast.  When it comes to restaurant reviews, it can easily make or break a restaurant within days of opening.  However, is it really all that fair?  Think of it, when a place first opens, things are generally not running smoothly and/or preparation of the food will need refinement.  So to either gush about a place or write it off completely would be a pretty quick assumption.  A good example is Kokoro Ramen where it was skewered online when it first opened its doors.  Granted, some of the criticism was fair, but apparently they have improved upon their recipe.  Pebbles tipped me off to this fact as she has been there many times.  So with that in mind, I finally made it out there to see for myself.

Kaiser Soze decided to go basic with the Miso Ramen with no additions.  As such, it looked rather bare where the portion size was definitely on the smaller side.  We weren't sure if this would be enough for someone who was truly hungry.  This was further exacerbated by the modest amount of noodles, albeit they were al dente and appealing.  As for the broth, it was impactful with the distinct fermented aroma of miso.  This was actually rather pronounced which was a very good thing.  For myself, I went for the Shio Tonkotsu with black garlic oil.  One taste of the broth and the creaminess of the bone marrow really came through.  It was silky, meaty and full of umaminess.  I found the thin noodles to be a bit on the softer side, but still good.  The fatty slices of chashu were tender while still retaining a meatiness.

Dre was smart about things and asked for the thicker yellow noodles prepared firm for his Kokuton.  Hence, his noodles were extra chewy and remained so until the end. We could really taste the pork in this as it was full-of-depth.  There was a umami mushroom finish to the broth that was very appealing and impactful.  Of course, the black garlic oil had a lot to do with this.  His soft-yolk egg was like everyone else's where it was soft and silky. Milhouse went in a completely different direction with the Spicy Tan Tan Ramen in a pork & chicken broth with ground pork, Tokyo negi and togarashi.  This wasn't as spicy as it appeared, but hardly bland either.  The broth was midly creamy while the noodles were al dente.  Egg was exactly as good as the rest of our orders as well as the chashu.

Ro had the Akaton Ramen consisting of pork broth, black garlic oil, wood ear mushrooms, bamboo shoots, chashu and a dollop of spicy sauce.  Although this featured thin noodles, they were still chewy and perfectly cooked (compared to mine).  The broth was quite similar to my shio tonkotsu except amped by the spicy sauce.  Once again, the egg and chashu were consistent with the others.  Lastly, I got a side of Chicken Karaage and although the colour was rather pale, it ate well.  Fairly crispy on the outside, the batter didn't eat greasy while the chicken itself was tender and moist.  I didn't really need sauce on the side as the chicken itself was seasoned enough.  For this visit, I guess we got the new and improved version of Kokoro because the broth was impactful  Prices and portion size can be contentious for some.

The Good:
- Broth flavourful and full of depth
- Chashu and egg on point
- Friendly service

The Bad:
- Small portion size
- Can get pricey when egg added

Pamir Diner

I've said it before, but I'll say it again - there is a lack of diversity when it comes to food in the GVRD.  Woah...  Wait a minute, what are you talking about???  Some would argue that Vancouver sports possibly the most ethnic cuisine in North American.  Yes, that may be true, but consider this - the selection of ethnic cuisine is predominantly Asian.  Nothing wrong with that, but some of the other options are lacking.  Of course this has plenty to do with demographics, however certain cuisines are poorly represented.  One of them is Afghani food.  Unlike Fremont, California (lots of relatives there, I go often), one could count on one hand the number of restaurants in the GVRD (Afghan Horseman, Afghan Chopan, Afghan Kitchen and Afghan Bakery).  Well, we can add one more in Pamir Diner out on Scott Road.  Miss Y and I decided to check it out for an early dinner.

So probably the best dish we had, arrived first, in the Mantu stuffed with ground beef, onions, and spices topped with special house sauce and mint yogurt.  Soft and tender with an appealing elasticity, the dumpling skin had good mouth feel.  Inside, the ground beef was moist, tender and peppery.  The garlicky tomato sauce on top was nicely accented by the cooling yogurt.  Lots of good textures and flavours going on here.  Next, we had an order of the Leek Bolani stuffed with leek and green onion and house spices pan-fried and served with yogurt and chutney.  This was pretty standard, if not a bit more doughy than other bolanis I've tried.  It was still fairly tender and nicely browned.  There was just enough leek and onion for flavour and texture without going over the top.

Onto the meats, we had both the Pamir Chicken and Lamb Tikka Kabobs.  As you can clearly see, the chicken was marinated and beautifully charred.  On the outside, the chicken was completely caramelized with an almost crispy crust.  There was some spice, but completely amped up with the cilantro chutney on the side.  We found the meat to be a bit dry though, but excusable since it was all breast meat.  Of the two, we thought the lamb was the best.  Also exhibiting the same crispy crust, the lamb wasn't as charred.  Now that didn't mean it wasn't flavourful though.  It was well-marinated and wasn't overly gamy.  The meat itself was succulent and tender.  I enjoyed eating this with the cilantro chutney and yogurt.

As a side, we added the classic Kabuli with the usual raisins and seared carrots.  The basmati rice was fluffy and flavourful without being overly greasy and salty.  I loved this rice since the pop of the sweet raisins and carrots really add a balance.  I could just eat this all by itself without any mains.  Too bad we weren't hungry enough to order the lamb shank because this goes so well with it.  Where is Mijune when you need her?  Overall, we enjoyed our meal at Pamir Diner.  I'm not sure if it is any better than Afghan Chopan, but it provides an alternative.

The Good:
- Tasty Mantu
- Nice people
- Loved the lamb kabobs

The Bad:
- Portions could be larger for the price