Sherman's Food Adventures: January 2009

Honolulu Cafe

That's it, 4 losses in a row. This is becoming sad. I guess our once powerhouse of a hockey team has withered away into mediocrity. Time to sign some free agents! Get rid of the goalie... er... Wait, scratch that. Anyways, only 3 of us were wanting to go for eats tonight (or should I say morning). You see, these 10:30pm games are not exactly the ideal situation for eating afterwards. There are still some places we haven't been to that are open; but for some reason or another, we made our way back to Honolulu Cafe. It was either that or Gold Train Express next door. Milhouse shuddered and chimed in his opposition to that idea.

Open until 1:00am on Friday, Honolulu Cafe is a Hong Kong-style cafe, which serves up Chinese food, Hong Kong style-Western food, and other variations of other ethnic foods such as curry. The late night menu is a bit different from the regular menu as it has slightly smaller portions; yet it includes a drink of your choice such as Ovaltine, Horlicks, pop, iced tea etc... There is also a set meal that you can choose either 2 ($11.95) or 3 ($14.95) items which is served sizzling on a hot plate. The meal also includes choice of soup, garlic toast, a side of spaghetti or rice, choice of sauce and a choice of drink. For some reason or another, I love these types of meals. Sure, most of the items only have a passing resemblance to what you would find at a non-Asian restaurant; but I don't mind it (especially if there is beef tongue!) I chose the 2 items meal, settling on the Chicken Steak & 5oz Ribeye Steak. I got my Borscht first and if you ever had this at a HK-style cafe before, you'll know that it is not borscht. Rather, it is tomato soup (no beets) with a bit of tang. This was no different in this case, in fact, it was too tangy. The dish itself included fries and vegetables as well. Usually, when we find "steak" at most Chinese restaurants, it is merely a piece of crappy meat tenderized the heck out of with baking soda. In this case, I was happy that it was not. Rather, the meat had the texture of meat and it was cooked perfectly. The chicken steak (a deboned leg) was tender and juicy. Another shocker came in the form of barely cooked cauliflower and carrots (no mushy veggies!). I asked for black pepper sauce and it wasn't really all that peppery. And considering that I had a side of spaghetti as well, there wasn't enough sauce to go around.

If that wasn't enough, I also had the Salted Fish and Chicken Fried Rice (this is an acquired taste) . For $6.50, I thought the dish was a good value. There was lots of tender strips of chicken in the rice and I thought it tasted pretty good. Lots of salted fish too. The rice itself had a nice dry and chewy texture. Fried rice should be slightly dry, where you can differentiate each grain of rice while you eat it. This is the result of high wok temperature (wok hay) and the use of day-old rice. But one thing I couldn't let go was the amount of oil used. The rice glistened like the forehead of a pubescent male teenager. Milhouse surprisingly bypassed the salted fish & chicken fried rice (his favourite) and tried out the Malaysian Seafood Fried Rice. I sampled it and there was good flavour, not spicy; but definitely well-seasoned. Lots of shrimp, squid and imitation crab meat nestled within the rice as well. What I said about my fried rice applies to this one too. Good; but too much grease. Apu had the Satay Beef Instant Noodles. Yes, that is not a typo, he really did have instant noodles. Apparently he likes the texture over rice noodles. He liked how flavourful it was (and a bit spicy), as well as the barely cooked noodles.

The food in general at Honolulu, whether it be lunch, dinner or late night, is decent. If you don't expect gourmet food, then you'll be satisfied, especially at the price you pay. Service is efficient and as good as it gets in a restaurant like this. However, I was a bit grossed out by the condition of the restaurant itself. The dining room looks disheveled and the walls really need a cleaning. But other than that, Honolulu Cafe is a decent place to have a quick, inexpensive meal.

The Good:
- Good value
- Food is acceptable for the price
- Efficient, if not sparse service

The Bad:
- Restaurant is in need of cleaning
- Food is greasy
- Parking lot is only good for really narrow cars

Honolulu Cafe
3340 Kingsway
Vancouver, B.C.
(604) 438-8632

Honolulu Cafe (Kingsway) on Urbanspoon

Top Gun Sushi

*This restaurant is closed*

Had a little more time for lunch today and reflected on all the food I had eaten in the last couple of weeks. Boy, was I feeling guilty! I really needed something that would be healthier, lighter and would rid me of the guilt. Naturally we decided on all-u-can-eat sushi! The closest one was Top Gun Sushi in New Westminster. I have been to this place many times and it is generally an okay place to have lunch and dinner. I definitely prefer Fish on Rice, despite their poor service.

Top Gun sushi is actually one of 3 Japanese restaurants run by the same company, they include Kingsway Sushi and Richmond Sushi. All of them are not run by true Japanese people, but if you are cognizant of that, you probably would not expect authenticity. I often wonder what the staff would do if someone actually wanted to order in Japanese? It would be like walking into a Chinese restaurant and the staff are Italian. Anyways, as mentioned in my other review of Kingsway Sushi, there are 2 menus for dinner. One is the regular AYCE and there is a deluxe AYCE. Although the deluxe AYCE has substantially more choice, it is not worth it if you do not like raw food. If you mainly like the cooked food with sushi rolls, stick with the regular menu. You will be paying a $6 premium for things you probably won't eat.

The AYCE lunch is a good value at $10.95. I know some people will argue that the Japanese food is generic, not authentic, mass produced, not refined etc... Let me state that $10.95 will get you only a burger and fries at most places (if you are lucky). So my colleague and I ordered quite a few things for lunch (since I want to eat less...). The Salmon Nigiri Sushi was fresh and had a good amount of fat, which I personally like (it tastes better and has a buttery quality). The Beef and Chicken Teriyaki came swimming in sauce and were a bit cold. The Oyster Motoyaki was also luke warm, but at least the oyster was fresh and it tasted alright. The sushi rolls (California Roll, BC Roll and Dynamite Roll) were pretty standard fare, neither very good or offensive. The Shrimp Bombs (which are minced shrimp balls coated with bread crumbs) were alright, the shrimp is barely noticeable since it has lost its texture and flavour from being ground up. They remind me of a Chinese Dim Sum dish called Shrimp Toast. Although the Gyoza was pan fried with a well browned bottom, I never have liked these AYCE Gyozas. They are way too stiff and are bland. The Chicken Karaage was fried nicely with a crispy skin and moist, juicy interior. The Ika or calamari were big rings of squid, but they were a bit chewy and salty. The highlight of lunch was surprising the Black Cod Collars. No, there aren't a bunch of collarless cods swimming around; rather these are the leftover pieces that are not used during dinner service. But unknown to many people, this is probably one of the tastiest parts of any fish (it's soft and a bit chewy at the same time).

The dining room at Top Gun is spacious and has nice views of the Fraser River. The restaurant was not always a Japanese restaurant, previously it was a bar/restaurant. Thus, it's strange to see the remnants of the old bar with the mural of cowboys splashed on the North wall of the restaurant. Essentially you have a Chinese-run Japanese restaurant in a Saloon. In front of the cowboy mural, there is a salad bar where you can serve yourself to Edamame (soy beans), green salad, spicy bean sprouts, cold whole shrimp, Sunomomo salad (vermicelli in a vinegar dressing) and mango pudding. The service is efficient since the staff uses PDAs to take your order, it goes directly to the kitchen. Overall, I would say the food at Top Gun Sushi is average at best. However, it is a real good value, especially if you take into account the environment, cleanliness and decent service.

The Good:
- Good value, especially at lunch
- Efficient service
- Comfortable dining room with a view
- Validated parking

The Bad:
- Food is pretty average
- Some dishes were cold
- For the same price, you get less selection than some other AYCE restaurants

Top Gun Sushi
#230 - 810 Quayside Drive
New Westminster, B.C.
604 523-3474

Business Hours:
11:30am - 2:30pm, 5:30pm - 10:00pm (Wed - Mon)

Top Gun on Urbanspoon

Dim Sum @ Kirin (Coquitlam)

*Restaurant is now closed*

When looking for the best Dim Sum in the GVRD, one of the first Chinese restaurants that come to mind is Kirin. There are several locations including City Square in Vancouver, Downtown, Richmond, New Westminster and Coquitlam. The Coquitlam Kirin is located in Henderson Centre which happens to be an Asian mall. However, over the past few years, it has become more of a ghost town with only a few businesses left. Kirin is one of the few tenants remaining, mainly because there is very little competition for this class of Chinese restaurant in Coquitlam. Much like the other locations, the Coquitlam Kirin has an elegant decor which is inviting and upscale. The cleanliness of the dining room and washrooms are a real plus since Chinese restaurants are synonymous with their apparent lack of sanitation. The staff are quite attentive and eager to please. In some sense, I found the service a bit too contrived, as in they tried to hard to please. It's almost freaky how the manager greets you at the entrance. It's like he's trying to sell you something on those infomercials. But then again, I guess this is much better than being rude.

The Dim Sum at Kirin is generally quite good and consistent. It definitely ranks up there with the best such as Imperial, Fisherman's Terrace, Spicy Court, Red Star, Fortune House, Sun Sui Wah, Sea Harbour and Victoria. I've been to all of the Kirin locations many times over and I've rarely been disappointed with the food. Rich Guy and I took in Dim Sum at the Coquitlam location since he lives nearby. On a side note, I'm not really all that impressed with the ordering system at Kirin. There are neither push carts or an ordering sheet; rather, you have to flag down a manager and order verbally. This presents several problems. First, it's quite difficult to get a manager to take an order since there are only a few of them. Second, there is not way to properly ascertain if you received your full order until you pay the bill (where you finally get to see the checklist). There have been many instances where we did not receive certain dishes and it becomes a he said, she said situation when settling the bill.

pretty good being crunchy and modestly seasoned exhibiting a nice sesame oil aroma. Next up were the Beef Balls (not what you think it is),
which are normally a mix of ground beef, water chestnuts, green onions, cilantro and baking soda, were good. The beef itself was not overly saturated with baking soda, so that was a plus. Many Chinese restaurants make the mistake of using too much baking soda; thus the beef loses all texture and flavour. These were pretty good with a nice beef texture while still being soft. There was the right amount of cilantro and green onion where it didn't overpower the meat. With a similar filling, the Beef Rice Noodle Roll was quite interesting. You see, this is the first time I've seen fried Chinese donut pieces hidden within the meat. That provided an interested texture contrast which usually doesn't exist with this dish. The noodle itself was a little on the chewier side; but it was still very good.

The Sui Mai (shrimp & pork dumpling) was visually quite appealing. A good mix of crunchy shrimp and slightly chewy pork (which is a good thing) topped with tobiko made for a delicious morsel. While the sui mai was aesthetically pleasing, the Scallop & Shrimp Dumplings were not. With one looking like a beached whale, it didn't look promising. And indeed it wasn't. The dumpling skin was far too chewy and the dumplings themselves were too small. Good ingredients, poor execution with this one. I am a big fan of offal (which is animal innards) and seeing that Mixed Beef Offal was available, I was all over it. Rich Guy doesn't really prefer it and thinks it's "awful"; thus I had it all to myself. Too bad the tripe was undercooked and chewy. The tendon was soft though; yet the dish was lacking flavour. Overall, this location of Kirin lags behind the other locations in terms of food consistency. Personally, I still prefer the City Square location more, but Kirin Coquitlam is still a solid choice, especially since there is no real competition nearby.

The Good:
- Nice decor
- Good service (albeit a bit overzealous)
- Lots of parking

The Bad:
- Food is not as good as the other locations
- A bit pricey (but I guess it's consistent with the class of restaurant)
- Expediting of the food was a bit slow

Kirin Restaurant
1163 Pinetree Way
Coquitlam, B.C.

Business Hours:
11:00am - 2:30pm, 5:00pm - 10:30pm (Mon - Fri)
10:00am - 2:30pm, 5:00pm - 10:30pm (Sat, Sun & Holidays)

Kirin (Coquitlam) on Urbanspoon

Charlie Don't Surf

It's a bright winter day here in the lower mainland with the threat of snow tomorrow. Living all my life here in the GVRD has taught me one thing - if there is sunshine, you'd better take advantage of it. Thought long and hard of where to eat for lunch today and we drew a blank. Looked in the Entertainment book and alas, Charlie Don't Surf! What better place to spend a lunch hour than the sunny surroundings of the strip in White Rock! I hadn't been to Charlie Don't Surf in ages and we made the trek there for lunch. The dining room at Charlie Don't Surf is quite eclectic, with a bit of everything. It almost looks like a garage sale; yet it comes across as inviting. We were lucky to have a seat right by the window to enjoy the spectacular view of the water. On a sunny day, there is nothing better than the view on the main strip in White Rock. We decided on 2 appetizers, Dry Ribs and Calamari. The dry ribs were plentiful and meaty. Unlike most other places, the ribs were actually ribs and were not the cartilage type (which are not as easy to eat and are more fatty). The calamari was a miss, it was plentiful and tasted quite good. But, it was a bit greasy and there was more batter than squid. For our entrees, I had the West Coast Bouillabaisse, which had a generous amount of shrimp, halibut, salmon, prawns, clams and mussels. The extremely fresh seafood was bathed in a saffron spicy tomato pernod broth. The broth was outstanding, it was a complex combination of flavours - fresh tomatoes, basil, licorice (from the pernod), seafood (naturally), and a hint of saffron. No flavour was too strong to overwhelm the dish. Despite the rather messy appearance of the dish, do not let that fool you, it's very tasty! My colleagues had the Halibut and Chips and the Chicken Burger. The halibut had a very light batter which was not oily at all. The fish was again, very fresh. However, the fries were not very good. The chicken burger was a butterflied breast and was cooked perfectly, still maintaining a juicy texture. After our meal, we were completely stuffed, the portions are more than adequate and the prices are reasonable. However, the food definitely is not gourmet. You come here for the view and the late night. The service was friendly and efficient, our drinks were refilled promptly and our food was expedited properly. Charlie Don't Surf is a decent place to eat; but there are better choices on the strip in White Rock.

The Good:
- Good portions for the price
- Great view
- Good service

The Bad:
- Food is hit and miss
- Parking could be an issue
- Dining room is a bit tight
- Charlie don't know food presentation

Charlie Don't Surf
15782 Marine Drive
White Rock, B.C.
(604) 538-1988

Business Hours:
11:00am - Late (7 days a week)

Charlie Don't Surf on Urbanspoon

Lin Chinese Cuisine and Teahouse

We planned to visit my grandmother-in-law at Vancouver General where she's recovering from hip surgery. Funny how she thinks that she didn't have the surgery because her hip hurts. We tried convincing her that it hurts because of the surgery, but she insists it hurts because it wasn't operated on. Go figure. Anyways, she seemed quite docile today, maybe she has accepted that she's actually had the surgery? Of course anytime I have an excuse to go out, eating at a restaurant is in the plans. We took advice from Snake, who recommended Sushi Town to me and went to Lin Chinese Cuisine on Broadway near Granville. He had heard a friend raving about this place and relayed the information to me. Of course I had to try it!

The one thing that defines Lin is their handmade fresh noodles and Xiao Long Bao. We started with with a fairly large bowl of Hot & Sour Soup (a pretty good value at $5.99). On the surface, the soup looked pretty appetizing with a nice rich colour and plenty of ingredients. However, we felt that there was way too much sesame oil and not enough hot & sour. Therefore, the flavours were not remotely balanced. Good soup; but not hot & sour at all. Of course, a visit to Lin cannot go without having their famous Xiao Long Bao. Recently voted the #1 XLB in Vancouver (as of 2010), these teamed Shanghainese soup dumplings are indeed very good. With a super thin dumpling skin and bursting with juice (more like pork gelatin), these were comparable with those from Shanghai River and Shanghai Wonderful. Depending on your personal preference, there can be a debate about which one is the best.

One dish we got that was a little off-topic, since it's not exactly related to the other Shanghainese-style Dim Sum items, was the Honey Prawns. Usually found on appetizer platters in a Chinese wedding meal, these fried prawns are tossed in a mayo-honey sauce. The result is a predominantly sweet product. In this case, the prawns were cooked perfectly crunchy and there was just enough sauce. The Szechuan Beef Noodles arrived in a mildly spicy broth, and had a generous helping of tender beef. The noodles themselves were fresh, being quite soft. A solid bowl of noodles; but it was missing something. Probably a bit more spice would've intensified the broth. We got a bowl of the Chicken Noodles for the kiddies (not something I'd particularly want to order for myself). It arrived in a very flavourful chicken broth. Despite tasting very much like a rich chicken soup, I couldn't get over the fact it maybe the result of MSG. I hope I'm wrong... The noodles were accompanied by strips of chicken and vegetables. The kids like it and in fact, so did the adults, which is rare since we are not that usually that enthused with chicken anything.

Another popular Shanghainese Dim Sum dish has got to be the Potstickers. So, why not, we ordered some of those too. Nicely plated, these arrived golden brown on the bottom - exactly how they should be. The nice crisp bottom is a nice textural contrast with the rest of the soft dumpling. Although these are not known for their juice like the XLB, there was a decent amount of juiciness. Combined with an excellent filling with a good balance of pork and veggies, these were quite good. Last but not least, the carb overload continued with an order of the Shanghainese Stir-Fried Rice Cake. Just like the name implies, the dish consists of sliced rice cake (which is very similar to the Japanese mochi) which is stir-fried in dark soy accompanied by spinach and pork. Exemplified by good "wok hay" (or a really hot wok), there was a nice caramelized flavour while the spinach was still crisp.

Service at Lin is generally quite friendly; albeit the staff are very busy and overworked. For a small restaurant, the 4 staff members should be sufficient, but they always seem a bit hurried. Decor seemed updated, but the orange walls seemed a bit odd to me. Not sure if there was a clearance sale after Halloween on paint. Also, it seemed that the renovations ended at the washrooms. It was like walking from Yaletown into a Vancouver Parks and Recreation public washroom in one trip. Despite being clean, the washrooms are old and in need of updating. Parking could be an issue with Lin because it's in a very busy area of Broadway; so there is limited street parking. The food in general is not bad for Vancouver; but may have a hard time competing with Richmond.

The Good:
- Excellent Xiao Long Bao
- Good prices considering the prime location
- Friendly staff

The Bad:
- The staff are hurried and always busy
- Parking is scarce
- Dining room is super cramped

Lin Chinese Cuisine and Teahouse
1537 West Broadway
Vancouver, B.C.
(604) 733-9696

Lin Chinese Cuisine on Urbanspoon


Ba Le Vietnamese Subs

This... to me is an institution in Vancouver. Sure, there are a lot of Vietnamese sandwich shops around, but I believe that Ba Le is the best (well, not anymore, I like Kim Chau more). They have 2 locations in Vancouver, one in Chinatown on Main Street and one on Kingsway at Fraser. Today I visited the Kingsway location after helping Costanza take things to the city dump. After that tasteful experience, I needed something yummy to get the taste of crap out of my mouth. Luckily for me, the truck rental place is a block away from Ba Le, so off we went. Costanza was gracious enough to pay for my sandwiches after the city dump experience.

So, what is a Vietnamese sub anyways? Well, thanks to the former French occupation of Vietnam, we have a fusion of French and Vietnamese foods. The sub itself is a french baguette with pork pate, Vietnamese ham, headcheese, pickled carrots, daikon, cucumber, hot peppers, cilantro, butter-mayo and fish sauce. This may sound like an extremely weird combination of ingredients, but trust me, it works. If you are adventurous, skip Subway and Quizno's and try a Vietnamese sub!

Also, they are dirt cheap, one deluxe sub will only set you back $3.25. There are other varieties such as grilled pork, grilled beef, chicken and Vietnamese ham. In addition to the subs, there are other Vietnamese specialties as well. There is Bahn Cuon (rice noodle with pork and wood ear mushrooms) accompanied with a vinegar/fish sauce dressing and sticky-rice with sausage (don't know the proper name for it).

The service is efficient, they try to get the sandwiches made quickly and send you on your merry way. However, be warned that sometimes they are preoccupied with really large orders and you might have to wait awhile. In terms of eating at Ba Le, I don't recommend that, just take it home or eat it at a park. The dining area and counter have recently been renovated, so it's nice and clean. If you have never tried a Vietnamese sub before, do yourself a favour and try it. I'm sure that you'll be surprised how good it is. Moreover, get it from Ba Le, my favourite Vietnamese sub joint.

The Good:
- Cheap
- Sub is very yummy
- Ingredients are fresh

The Bad:
- Not open late (since that would be the best time to eat one!)
- Seems to be always busy, lineups are long

Ba Le Sandwich Shop
#21 - 701 Kingsway
Vancouver, B.C.
V5T 3K6
(604) 875-6322

Business Hours
9:00am - 6:00pm (Mon - Fri)
8:00am - 6:00pm (Sat & Sun)

Ba Le Sandwich Shop on Urbanspoon

Dinner @ Victoria Seafood Restaurant

Generally, a city's Downtown core is home to some of the best dining in the area. That is a given since many people associate good food with the city centre. Furthermore, these "exclusive" restaurants depend on tourists. Thus, many become destination restaurants where not only the locals dine. For a city that is predominantly Asian, there is a surprising lack of good Chinese restaurants in Downtown Vancouver. Quite possibly, the nature of the cuisine doesn't usually exude elegance. After all, you can quite possibly get the best Chinese meal of your life at the local dive. Honestly, some of the best Chinese food can be found at mom 'n pop operations in East Vancouver and Richmond. But back to the tourist thing. If you are not local, it is quite difficult to know of these hidden gems. Of course, you can just read any Vancouver food blog, including this one, and find those out-of-the-way beauties. But if you must eat Chinese food in Downtown, there are really only a few choices, especially if you want a "nice" place. There's Kirin, Imperial , Victoria and to stretch the location into Chinatown, Floata. But honestly, stay away from Floata, it is both underwhelming in terms of food and service. In terms of dinner, Kirin and Imperial would edge out Victoria. However, Victoria gets the nod for Dim Sum by virtue of being better than Kirin and at the same time, less expensive than Imperial. By no means is it the best in town, there is better in Richmond. I am exclusively talking about Downtown only. Tonight, it was another random dinner at Victoria. You see, my parents love the place. It is not really because it is the best. It is because they feel comfortable here and I guess it is habit as well.

We started with an Appetizer Platter consisting of fried chicken knees (yes, that is right), smoked black cod and soy chicken. The knees were meaty and crunchy while the black cod was melt-in-your mouth good. The soy chicken well, was soy chicken, albeit cooked perfectly. Let me get this out of the way first, squab is a young pigeon, where the meat is very similar to duck. Generally, most people would tell you that Sun Sui Wah has the best Squab in town. However, for all the times I've had it here, I think it is equally good where it is moist and tender with perfectly fried skin. My mom loves Lobster in Cream Sauce and despite the lack of diners, we ordered a whole one to ourselves. The trick here is to fry the lobster meat until it is cooked while still retaining moisture and a slight chewiness. Then it is wok-tossed in a cream sauce consisting of butter, cream and broth. This version was pretty good. Maybe the sauce could've been a bit more aggressively seasoned though.

Another classic dish in a Chinese meal is Steamed Rock Cod. This is actually quite difficult to order these days since rock cod have been over-fished. This particular fish was steamed correctly where the flesh is cooked separating from the bone easily. Still moist and slightly chewy, it is dressed with sweet soya sauce and hot oil. So far the meal has been good, you might think why I rate it behind Imperial and Kirin? Well, the next dish, Sea Cucumber and Duck Webs with Pea Shoots, will shed some light. Nothing wrong with the perfectly cooked sea cucumber (soft while retaining its shape). But the veggies here are often water-logged. I'm not sure if it is because they lack a hot wok or whether they water-blanch their vegetables before stir-frying. The bottom-line is that their veggies are sub-par.

When it comes to dessert, I think that Victoria has probably one of the best selections for a Chinese restaurant. In addition to their daily dessert (which is usually a dessert soup), all of their Dim Sum dessert offerings are available. We got a Sweetened Soup with Water Chestnuts and Tapioca tonight. We also added a Coconut Pudding too. Typically, we get really good service here since my parents are regulars. However, I have both heard and witnessed less than stellar service as well. So it can be a bit of hit and miss (generally on the hit side more than miss). Again, the Dim Sum is a good bet for those wanting to eat in Downtown, with Dinner being decent.

The Good:
- Dinner is decent
- Comfortable dining space
- Prices are actually okay considering the location

The Bad:
- The vegetable dishes are watery
- Service can be hit and miss

Victoria Chinese Restaurant
1055 W. Georgia
Vancouver, BC
V6E 3B2
(604) 669-8383

Victoria on Urbanspoon


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