Sherman's Food Adventures

Feast Buffet (Dinner)

Before we get into this post, I would like to state that I much prefer proper sit-down meals rather than sloshing through mounds of mediocre food found at a buffet.  Okay, with that out-of-the-way (and hopefully silencing some haters), I do admit that the occasional all-you-can-eat meal can be fun and offer up a selection of food that even the most bountiful of meals cannot match.  One of the better AYCE spots in the Seattle area is Feast Buffet in Renton.  I've been here before several times for lunch but never for dinner.  This time around, it was as good as any other time to experience the difference between the two (other than the price $26.99 vs. $31.99 adult weekend lunch vs. dinner).

The biggest difference was very obvious when we were seated.  All we had to do was look over to the Seafood section of the buffet where there was a long lineup.  This was for the Half-Lobsters which were served individually to diners by a staff member.  Yes, I wouldn't trust anyone with a tray of lobsters either!   You know what?  These were actually quite good.  Yeah yeah, I know they were of the frozen variety.  They still had a bouncy meaty texture to them and were not overcooked.   In addition to the lobster, we also found Snow Crab Legs, Fried Shrimp, Mussels and Fried Fish as well as Black Bean Clams.  The best of the bunch was the plump clams and surprisingly, the snow crab.  It was fairly meaty and had a springy texture (even though we know they were also frozen).  To get you money's worth, it really was all about the lobster though.

One of the largest and most popular food stations is the Sushi and Sashimi.  I believe Feast boasts the largest selection in the Seattle area (maybe Mizuki comes close).  The main difference between lunch and dinner is pretty obvious with one quick scan of the station - much bigger selection of sashimi.  We found salmon, tuna, hokkigai, hotate, unagi, red tuna and tai.  Although no one can ever compare buffet sashimi to the expertly prepared variety at legit Japanese restaurants, these ate fresh and were fine texturally.  The variety of Nigiri was also more extensive compared to lunch with hotate, hokkigai, salmon, tuna, unagi, tai, seared salmon, tako and inari.  Again, considering the venue, I thought the rice was acceptable.  Yes, it was a bit dry and lacking in seasoning, but it wasn't terrible either.  As evidenced in the picture, the fish on top was vibrant in colour with a fresh sheen.  Not the best, yet certainly not bad either.  To round things out, there was a selection of "California-roll" based Maki Sushi as well as tempura and condiments.

With the cooked food, there was plenty to choose from, but I decided to hit up the Chinese and Dim Sum stations first.  If we were to compare the dim sum here with what we would normally find in a regular restaurant, some items were respectable.  Their chicken feet must be from gigantic chickens because they were extremely plump.  As such, there was plenty of soft cartilage and fat underneath the fried skin.  Tripe was tender while the spareribs were meaty.  I wasn't impressed with the Shrimp Dumplings and Siu Mai though.  Both were dry and lifeless.  I decided to try some of the Chinese food in the Broccoli Beef, Honey Shrimp and Sweet & Sour Pork.  Pretty typical North American-style Chinese food.  At least they didn't overcook the broccoli.

Other than the seafood, the one station that does it for me would've been the Mongolian Grill.  Yes, it ain't the sexiest food nor is it particularly the most "worth it", but I enjoyed the freshness.  With an array of choices for vegetables, noodles and meat, one can have a customized plate food.  Only problem is that it will fill you up really quickly.   They did a good job here where the noodles were still al dente and the veggies crunchy.  Shrimp was bouncy while the steak was surprisingly tender and well-charred.  This is best shared amongst a few people.  One needs to save room for more variety!  Only issue is that you have to wait there for it to be done.  I saw some people leave, but then your dish could be hijacked or waiting there getting cold.

One of the most disappointing stations was the Carvery.  For the pricing, one would expect more than mashed potatoes, sausage, ribs and roast beef.  I mean, not that anything was necessarily bad, it just wasn't that important to eat.  That is the complete opposite of most buffets where we would find chicken and/or turkey, ham, prime rib and the sort.  Making up for this was the massive Dessert Bar where it occupied the whole center of the buffet.  Not that anything was amazing, but the variety was good.  In addition to cakes and little bites, we found fruit, a chocolate fountain, hard ice cream, made-to-order crepes and a Taiwanese shaved ice station.  Now if I had to choose between the lunch or dinner service, I would pick lunch hands-down (especially on the weekdays, if you can make it).  The extra cost for dinner is just not worth it for a few more items.  With all that being said, Feast doesn't do everything well, but for a buffet, it does it well enough in relation to everyone else.

The Good:
- Lots of choice
- Decent Japanese food station
- Relatively reasonable price for weekday lunch

The Bad:
- Carvery is embarassing
- Dinner is hardly worth it

Cheesecake Factory (Bellevue Square)

Did you know that one of the first ever posts I did on this blog was the Bellevue location of Cheesecake Factory (picture courtesy of Vanfoodies)?  Now you won't find that post anywhere because I deleted it.  Why you might ask?  Well, it was crappy to be honest.  The pictures was with my Blackberry (LOL) and the writing was pretty brief.  So off it went into cyberspace trash forever.  I've been back since to this location many times, but never wrote a post about it because...  well, most people have been to Cheesecake Factory and I didn't feel inspired to write anything.  This time around, it was for lunch and we had a few of their lunch specials and yes, I felt like blogging about it.

Interestingly, they the menu claims that their specials are smaller portions of their regular sized dinner servings.  If you know anything about Cheesecake Factory, their regular portions are quite large.  Hence it was no surprise that the Miso Salmon looked practically like the usual one.  As much as some of the dishes are merely large here, the salmon is one of my favourites.  This one was no exception with buttery and flaky salmon.  The miso glaze was salty but mostly sweet with rice underneath.  Another one of their more popular items is the Chicken Piccata and yes, it didn't look small at all.  There was a bevy of tender and moist chicken tenders bathed in a buttery and tangy sauce.  Although there was a noticeable amount of capers, the sauce was not salty.  This was good with the fairly al dente angel hair pasta.

Although there are more better dishes to order off the menu, Viv had The Everything Flatbread Pizza which was pretty good, if not typical.  It was on the thicker side, but didn't eat too dense.  The bottom and edges were crispy and nutty with enough browning.  As stated in its name, there was a bevy of pepperoni, sausage, peppers, onions, mushrooms, mozzarella and tomato sauce. For myself, I also had a lunch special in the Famous Factory Meatloaf with mashed potatoes, mushroom gravy, grilled onions and corn succotash.  This was once again a pretty large portion for lunch.  The meatloaf was moist, meaty and well-seasoned.  Gravy was rich and full of umaminess.  Naturally, this was more comfort food than anything, so I wasn't expecting much.  It did the job well.

Shockingly, my daughter settled for the kid's menu and ordered the Spaghetti and Meatballs.  Turns out I should've steered her away from this despite the cost-savings.  This was a pathetic interpretation of the classic dish as there was hardly enough sauce for even half the amount of pasta.  Therefore, the dish was clumpy and flavorless.  The only redeeming thing about it was the robust meatball that had plenty of natural texture.

Of course we couldn't end the meal without a few slices of cheesecake right?  We decided to try one of their featured selections in the Upside Down Pineapple Cheesecake.  What a complete mistake this was as the thing was practically inedible.  The sugar content was far too high and each bite was not pleasant.  Even the pineapple was far too candied for our liking.  Fortunately, we had a much more appealing Raspberry White Chocolate for our second cake.   This was much more representative of what Cheesecake Factory is all about.  It was definitely cheesy and rich without being super heavy.  Sweetness was purposeful and the raspberry helped lighten things up.  As you can tell, I like Cheesecake Factory.  Yes, I know there are detractors out there and I don't necessarily disagree.  Some of the dishes here are not very good, only saving grace is the portion size.  However, if you pick the right things, you get both.

The Good:
- Large portions
- Huge menu
- Pick the right items and it'll be good

The Bad:
- Most of the menu is just size and really heavy food
- Don't understand the lineup

Ham & Eggmans

Vancouver's brunch game has steadily evolved where stand alone spots are fairly common.  So that means no one should be defaulting to a hotel or chain restaurant for their morning (or early afternoon) eats.  Now I'm not slagging the aforementioned spots because they can be good in their own right.  Rather, I'm merely suggesting that these independent places can not only hold their own, they can be unique and offer up a more homey experience.  One of the newer joints is Ham & Eggman's out on Rupert in shuttered location of Aburi King.

I was recently invited along with the foodie fam (Joyce, David, Maggi, Hanson and Diana) to try out their brunch service.  Diana has been here before and she really wanted to order the Oatmeal with seeds, nuts and dried fruit.  Well, she is a smart woman as it was actually really good!  Completely cooked through but still appealingly chewy while not too wet, the oatmeal was spiked with enough cinnamon for effect.  It wasn't very sweet where the other ingredients could be heard.  Another one of her suggestions was the Wild Mushroom Benedict.  As it turns out, this was also very good with a properly toasted English muffin (stayed crispy, but wasn't hard either).  There was plenty of button mushrooms underneath.  Not sure about the wild part, nevertheless, they were buttery and well-seasoned.  Eggs were soft poached and the Hollandaise was rich, but had enough tang to balance.

We got versions of their hashes in the Pork Belly Hash as well as the Lomo Saltado Hash.  For those who are hungry, these 2 were the largest plates of the bunch.  The pork belly hash sported crispy pork belly, Asian greens, cabbage, shiitake & kennebec hash browns tossed in gochujang BBQ sauce.  Normally, when something has gochujang, I cringe because it is completely overused.  Not here though, there was just enough of it to be noticed without being goopy.  Potatoes remained crispy while the big chunks of pork belly were buttery soft and tender.  Consisting of Peruvian style marinated steak, fajita peppers & onions, grape tomatoes and fresh herbs, the lomo saltado was full of earthiness from the initial hit of cumin.  The sweetness of the peppers and onions were also prominent.  I found the steak lean and a touch dry, but still tender.

For our one choice of scramble, we ended up choosing the Mexican since it had the best chance at having some colour.  Other than that, we also found the combination of house-made chorizo, fajita peppers & onions, aged cheddar, salsa and sour cream appealing.  The best part of the scramble was the eggs itself.  Unlike many other versions, the eggs were still fluffy and not overdone.  There was plenty of ingredients that made the whole thing hearty and filling.  On the side, the kennebec potatoes were awesome being crunchy (remaining so until we finished the last one) with a fluffy interior.  Something a bit different was the Shakshuka with Turkish style spiced tomato sauce, poached eggs, feta cheese and fresh herbs.  Although the eggs weren't cooked within the sauce, that didn't detract from the dish.  I found this version to be very bright and tangy being on the lighter side.  Best eaten atop the accompanying toast and runny eggs.

Our last 2 dishes were pretty similar in the Chicken & Waffles and the Waffles by themselves (with hash browns though).  Flanked by a huge bowl of fresh fruit, the fried chicken thigh was very good.  It was aggressively fried where the batter was crunchy and not greasy at all.  The chicken itself was moist and juicy.  Although the Belgian waffles were crispy on the outside, we found them to be a bit dense.  For the plain waffles dish, it was served with hash browns, maple syrup and strawberry compote.  I thought it was a nice touch they included real maple syrup rather than the thick artificial stuff.  That is pretty much the theme of the place as everything is house-made except for the bread.  Seeing how we practically ate the whole menu, I can confidently say that most of it is well-portioned and carefully made.  I would come back.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Well-portioned
- Everything made in-house
- Some interesting items on the menu

The Bad:
- Waffles could've been less dense

Seaside Provisions

It isn't a huge surprise that many of the best and well-known restaurants in the GVRD are located in Downtown or at least close by.  That is not a revelation as this is pretty much the same in any other major city in the world.  With housing and operational costs being so expensive in the Downtown core, we are seeing more and more people, along with the accompanying services, pop up in the suburbs.  One of the newest, and in my opinion the nicest, developments is the Shipyards in North Vancouver.  Mijune and I were recently invited to try out Seaside Provisions located in the Seaside Hotel smack dab in the middle of the action within the trendy Shipyards District.  Also, I returned with my family within the week to try more items on our own coin.

With a focus on seafood, it was no surprise they started us off with some Kushi Oysters accompanied by chili oil vinaigrette, ponzu and and meyer lemon.   Properly shucked with no shell fragments, the oysters were beautifully fresh being sweet and briny.  Of the 3 sauces, I enjoyed the lemon the most as it was acidic and bright.  The ponzu was quite powerful in terms of salt, so only a few drops were needed.  Only slightly spicy, the chili oil was nice, yet at the same time, it wasn't necessary for much of it as it would've overwhelmed the delicate oyster.  Up next, we were presented with the Steelhead Salmon with nuoc cham, crispy shallot, cucumber ribbons and coriander.  Buttery and sweet, the salmon was fresh and served in large slices (that resulted in a meatier texture).  I thought the nuoc cham wasn't overpowering (as it could be), but a bit too sweet.  More acidity from the lime juice would've brought more life to the dish.

Since we didn't order the Seafood Platter on our initial visit, we were determined to try it out this time around.  The platter was actually a 2-tiered tower with the top sporting kushi oysters (with the same accompaniments), crudites, olives, Peruvian peppers, pickled pearl onions, red pepper condiment and tortilla chips.  Nothing unusual about this tier other than the properly shucked sweet and briny oysters. On the bottom tier, we found crab cakes, mussels in chili oil, lobster rolls, tuna ceviche, razor clam conserva and ikura.  The crispy crab cakes were full of fluffy crab and little filler.  We enjoyed the lobster rolls as there was no filler as well.  The bread was soft and nicely toasted.  Tuna was good, but there was a bit too much filler in the mix though.  The real treat was the briny razor clams.  Wish we had 2 tins!

Although not on their regular menu (as it was a daily feature), the Seared Sea Scallop was one of our favourites.  It was evenly and attractively seared where it was caramelized.  The scallop remained buttery soft and naturally sweet.   Despite the saltiness of the tamari soy butter, the scallop was still able to stand out.  To literally top it off, we found fried cauliflower and sourdough crumble (which helped soak up some of the soy butter).  A dollop of chive crème fraîche completed the dish.  My favourite of the night had to be the Clam & Mussels "Paella".  I put that in quotations because rather than rice, we found pearl barley instead.  So no, this wasn't a paella, but it was plenty tasty though.  Beyond the fresh and plump bivalves, the matbucha was deliciously savoury and slightly zesty.  Lots of flavour and impact to go with the natural sweetness of the clams and mussels.  Some fried cauliflower and labne topped off the dish.

Continuing with some of the "small plates" (which were not really all that small), we had the Burrata with white anchovy, chive oil, tomatoes and grilled sourdough from Lift Bakery.  Normally, I prefer the burrata whole, but I'm sure this would've increased the price of the dish (which was a reasonable $13.00 as it was served), however, this was not a huge deal.  I thought the cheese was creamy and fresh while the tomatoes were plump and bright.  I personally love white anchovies, so this was the salty brininess that I was expecting.  On the side, the grilled sourdough was crispy with an appealing chewiness.  For $12.00, the Grilled Octopus was a substantial dish at very reasonable price.  It was also good with braised and then grilled octopus that was tender with an appealing chew.  I would've liked to see a bit more char though.  Underneath, we found a smooth hummus, caramelized roast fennel and tangy confit gem tomatoes.

In an equally large portion, the Humboldt Squid was also a solid dish.  The large slices of squid were attractively grilled where they were tender with a bite.  I found that they were seasoned enough on their own but the squeeze of lemon did liven things up.  Things stayed bright with the side of quinoa tabbouleh.  Flavours were amped by the tangy and aromatic chermoula as well as the nutty tahini.  A splash of chili oil added a touch of spice to the dish.  Moving onto the larger items, we had the Roasted Free Range Game Hen with ajvar, kale and almond.  Tender and juicy, even the breast meat was moist.  We would've liked to see the hen crusted with the ajvar instead and then maybe finished off with some charring.  This way, the beautiful sweetness of the roasted red pepper would've been activated even more so.  Another winner in the value department as it was only $29.00.

Possibly tied with the best dish of the night (with the "Paella"), the Roasted Whole Sea Bass was beautifully prepared.  The fish itself featured evenly roasted skin with moist meat underneath.  It was fresh and featured the brightness of the sea.  It was accented nicely by the vermouth butter sauce, capers, clams, confit garlic and fresh herbs.  I enjoyed that the vermouth was definitely apparently while cooked down properly.  The sauce did not overwhelm the fish while complimenting it completely.  Again, the buttery plump clams were a bonus. On my second visit, we once again ordered the whole fish which was Salmon with mussels in a butter sauce.  If you look at the picture, you will notice it wasn't a whole salmon.  Rather it was 3 large pieces of salmon.  It made sense as a whole salmon might've been too big and really, hard to cook too.  Well, they did a good job here as it was crisped up on the outside while being flaky and moist on the inside.  Similarly to the other whole fish we had, there was enough shellfish to form a separate dish.

We also had the Wagyu Short Rib with creamed corn, broccolini and chili sauce.  The large rib was melt-in-our-mouths tender and fatty.  Interestingly, we really enjoyed the creamed corn underneath.  It was so appealingly sweet. The broccolini was cooked just enough where it was still crunchy.  We weren't sure the Chinese chili sauce was a good match here though.  A bit too salty, the dish would've been fine without it.  We had one more dish that was different from the first meal in the Gnocchi with wild mushroom, burnt butter molcajete sauce and crispy sage.  This was a large portion and also pretty good.  Although the gnocchi was on the firmer side, it still had a good mouth feel when chewed.  The molcajete was a bit more tomatoey than ones I've had in the past, but this version was perfect for this particular application.  Tangy and with just a hint of spice, it brought things alive.  Loved the bevy of mushrooms on top as it added both texture and umaminess.

From here we moved to the 3 available desserts including the Churro Donut.  This was rather ironic as we had churros and donuts earlier in the day.  The concept of the dessert was fine as the churro was crispy and sweet with the usual hit of cinnamon.  Further hits of rich sweetness was provided by the dulce de leche underneath.  In the centre, there was yogurt with a dusting of dehydrated raspberry powder.  The one thing they could've improved here was the oil content as the donut was soaked in too much of it.  To lighten things up, the featured Pavolva dessert was just the thing we needed after a filling meal.  It was large and crispy on the outside, while exhibiting elements of airy chewiness inside.  It was topped off with whipped cream, strawberries marinated in sherry vinegar and sancho pepper powder.  I thought the strawberries were impactful providing a sweet fruitiness combined with a natural tang and acidity from the vinegar.  Although not that noticeable, the pepper powder did add that "je ne sais quoi" background hit.

Our last dessert consisted of a Dark Chocolate Semifreddo with frangelico, cacao nibs, dulce de leche, cookie crumble and sea salt.  This was a solid dessert where the semifreddo was exactly how it should be, semi-frozen where it was firm, but soft enough to separate with a fork.  It was lightly sweet with the appealing bitterness from the dark chocolate.  The extra shot of sweetness was provided by the dulce de leche.  As you can see, my 2 visits pretty much tackled the entire menu.  From these experience, I am confident to say that most of the dishes at Seaside Provisions are good.  Love the use of an array of ethnic ingredients and sauces in their dishes.  Makes things interesting with unique flavour profiles.  Portions are generally good for the price and you get a certain Downtown vibe while being on the North Shore.

*First visit was complimentary, but second visit was at our own cost*

The Good:
- Reasonable pricing
- Well-portioned
- Lively dining space

The Bad:
- Nuoc Cham could've been less sweet
- Churro Donut was too oily

Maizal RMF

There was a time when we could count on one hand the selection of Mexican Restaurants we could choose from in the GVRD.  Of those, there weren't a whole lot of "real Mexican food", rather we had an interpretation of Mexican food.  To be fair, Vancouver was probably not ready for RMF anyways.  Recently, I was invited to try some of the eats at Maizal RMF (yep, it stands for real Mexican food) on Main Street.  The place has been open for about 3 years and is family run.  It may not be as sexy as say La Taqueria or Le Mezcaleria, but it serves up honest home-style authentic Mexican food.

There was no doubt we would be trying their Tacos and so we did with all of them!  Now everyone knows that a good taco starts with a solid tortilla.  They take things seriously here as they make them fresh to order.  Our first set was served on blue corn tortillas topped with Barbacoa, Pastor, Carnitas and Chicken.  All of them featured meats that were moist and tender.  This is not always the case with tacos I've had in the past.  Some have argued that Mexican cuisine tends to have drier meats, but I would like to challenge that as I've had otherwise in Mexico itself.  Anyways, I particularly liked the carnitas with the creamy avocado on top as well as the airy and crispy chicharrón.  Our next set of tacos were served atop corn tortillas consisting of Chipotle Chicken, Beans, Chicken Mole and Pescado.  I would've liked to see a bigger piece of fish, but the pescado was fresh and bright due to the salsa.  I found the fish to be crispy on the outside and flaky on the inside.  Interestingly, my favourite of the bunch was the beans due to the richness and spice of the flavour profile.  The meatiness of the beans negated the fact there was no meat.

On that note, our next two tacos were also vegetarian being the Plantain and Tofu Verde.  Featuring roasted plantain, rice, beans, pico de gallo, sour cream and fresco cheese, this taco was not devoid of body nor texture.  I found the plantain to be firm enough without being too hard or stiff.    There was so much of it, the taco itself was rather filling.  Naturally, it was a touch on the sweeter side, but since plantains aren't incredibly sweet on their own, there was balance.  Loved the texture of the fried tofu puffs and the green sauce was pleasant, but there was an aftertaste that didn't really scream out Mexican.  Maybe frying regular tofu on the flattop might've worked better.  Our last set of tacos were the Shrimp with rice, pineapple and black bean.  This was predominantly sweet with some spice that worked well with the perfectly cooked shrimp.  The rice and beans helped balance out the sweetness.

Something new to the menu (not even on their website), they are featuring brunch items and we sampled the Chilaquiles and Sopes.  I found the chilaquiles plenty flavourful from the ample sauce.  At the same time, it did soften up quickly due to the thin cut.  Eggs were perfectly fried with runny yolks.  The sopes were topped with salda verde and sour cream which allowed for brightness to balance off the robust texture of the sopes.   Another item off their regular menu that we tried was the Chicken Flautas with served with beans, lettuce, sour cream, cheese, red and green salsa.  Essentially two crispy rolled tacos, these sported plenty of shredded chicken.  Possibly due to the frying, it wasn't as moist as the chicken we found in the tacos.  No matter, it was till good where there was plenty of ingredients to create a hearty meal.  With that said, maybe a little less saucing would've kept them crispier for longer too.

Almost an afterthought, theTorta was one of my favourite items of the meal.  Beyond the savoury and meaty barbacoa, the star of the show was the bread and its preparation.  Light and airy, the bread was toasted just enough that it was crusty and provided so much appealing texture.  It also succeeded in keeping the whole thing together while retaining its original texture despite the wet ingredients.  Onto the sweets of the meal, we had the Churros with ice cream.  These were pretty much textbook with a uniform shape and consistent crunchiness on the outside.  They were fried in oil that was hot enough so that there was little absorption.  Inside, there was a light fluffy chewiness.  There was enough cinnamon sugar for effect without being overwhelming.

Last but certainly not least, their version of a Tres Leche Cake was a lot lighter due to the use of a Japanese-style angel food cake as the base.  Soaked in just enough of the 3 milk mixture, it was moist and purposefully sweet and aromatic.  Loved the nuts on top as it added both texture and nuttiness.  Wish there was more though.  Overall, the food at Maizal is fresh and prepared with pride.  The food definitely reflects the influence from Rodrigo's mother.  As mentioned, Maizal may not have the cachet as some of the other higher profile Mexican spots in town, but it does dish up authentic eats at a reasonable price.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- House-made tortillas
- Solid home-style cooking
- Super nice people

The Bad:
- Chilaquiles could've been crispier