Sherman's Food Adventures: June 2009

Pasta Polo

After picking up DT (we'll call him Rich Guy from now on) from the airport today, I made the long trek from Richmond to Coquitlam. For my troubles, he gave me a really big bag of Cornick. I looked at it all confused. What the heck is Cornick? The only other Filipino snack I am familiar with is Clover chips (which rock by the way). It turns out Cornick is somewhat similar to Corn Nuts; but they are not as hard. Not wasting a second, I dug into the bag and I couldn't stop eating it. Rich Guy suggested I save some for Viv. I promised that I would try. One side effect of eating too much Cornick is that you'll have garlic breath that's radioactive! Having just returned from a really long flight from the Philippines, I figured Rich Guy would not have anything at home to eat for dinner. Mind you, even if he did, he'd probably still go out to eat. Right there and then, we decided to meet for dinner at Pasta Polo in Coquitlam. On my way to Pasta Polo, I saw the sign right on Lougheed at Lansdowne; however, when I turned in, I totally missed the entrance. If you look at the picture, you'd miss it too. The main door reminds me of a nightclub.

We decided to get a variety of dishes which included Mussels Marinara, Avocado & Shrimp Salad, Italian Sausage Penne, Meatballs Florentine with Linguine and a kid's Pepperoni Pizza. Arriving steaming hot, the mussels rested on a white wine marinara sauce. Each one of the sweet mussels were open, welcoming in the broth. Stunningly colourful, the salad arrived with a bevy of greens, avocado, shrimp, strawberries, tomatoes, kiwi fruit and prawns. Wild berry herb dressing and mozza toast was served on the side. I realize it's difficult to get excited about a salad; but this one was a winner. After the first 2 dishes, the food so far was very good; yet, surprisingly, once the pastas arrived, the meal began to fall flat.

Both pastas were served on deep dish plates; thus, there was more pasta than met the eye. Incidentally, all the pastas are organic and freshly made. We found the Meatball Florentine with Linguine a bit bland. Although there was plenty of fresh tomato flavour; there wasn't much else. Moreover, the linguine itself was a bit mushy. However, the meatballs were pretty good being packed with lean meat and spinach. Conversely, where the linguine fell flat, the Italian Sausage Penne was a bit more flavourful. There was a bit of spice to the sauce due to the spicy sausage, peppers and onion. But yet again, the sauce still managed to be a bit bland and the pasta was a bit soft. The texture really didn't make me want to eat more of it.

Where the pasta fell flat, the pizza did not. Since my son is not a big eater, we all sampled his pizza and it was pretty good. The thin crust was crunchy and not oily at all. Taste wise, it had just enough sauce and there was plenty of mozzarella cheese. I went away from the dinner at Pasta Polo a bit conflicted. Many people have recommended this place to me; yet I wasn't blown away. Did I have unrealistic expectations? I had asked Rich Guy and Viv during the meal about their thoughts. Both thought it was okay, but nothing really incredible. When I'm on the fence regarding a restaurant, I ask myself - did I want to eat more of the food? The answer was: "some of it". I did want to eat some more Cornick though... Therefore, I'll file this under the indifferent category.

The Good:
- Very reasonable prices
- Friendly service
- Some good dishes

The Bad:
- Pasta was far from al dente
- Pasta sauces were a bit weak/bland

Pasta Polo on Urbanspoon

Doña Cata

*Now closed*

Viv and I tried to eat at Doña Cata on Monday; but we had a brain cramp and didn't check if they were open before going. Undaunted, we tried again today because we are so committed in our culinary pursuits. No, not really. We actually wanted to try the Dim Sum at Western Lake across the street; however, they were crazy busy. I'm not sure when they do not have a lineup. You know how I love lineups. Therefore, we looked across the street and figured that we should eat at Doña Cata instead. Joining us for this meal was Whipping Girl. She had the week off and was available for lunch. I first tried Doña Cata's tacos at EAT! Vancouver and came away impressed. Today, we were going for the very same tacos and some other goodies as well.

For those who have only considered Taco Bell or Taco Time as your only source for Mexican food, be prepared to experience the real deal. Much like confusing Manchu Wok as Chinese food, Taco Bell is a poor representation of the cuisine. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with eating at Taco Bell (well, for some people at least), just don't call it authentic. Adorned in salmon, green and and purple, the dining room is not very big and modestly decorated. The late Doña Cata (Catalina Espejo Munoz) is enshrined in a portrait right in the centre of the south wall of the restaurant. Her granddaughter is now the current operator of the restaurant. Arriving at our table, as we were settling in, were complimentary tortilla chips beautifully present on a wonderful Royal Chinet plate. At any time, you can help yourself to the 9 different sauces. This is where you can customize your meal by experimenting with the sauces. I personally liked the Avocado which was a good combination of smooth and spicy.

We ended up ordering 3 pulled pork tacos to start. Unfortunately, they were not as good as the ones at EAT! Vancouver. Some pieces of the pork were dry and stringy. Compounding the problem was the copious amount of pork fat cascading down our hands from the tacos as we ate them. At the very least, the soft taco shells and the overall flavour were very good. Viv and Whipping Girl decided to get the Alambres. Viv settled on the Ballena which was a combination of Pastor, Bisteck, Carnitas, tomatoes, onions and peppers. Whipping Girl had the Dona Cata Special which consisted of Pollo, Longanzia, tomatoes, onions and peppers. Both dishes had a good helping of filling accompanied by their choice of tortilla. Flavour-wise, the fillings were pretty good; but didn't stir any excitment. Again, the true attraction here are the sauces. This is where you can make your meal into something outstanding.

Once again, I went for a completely different dish for variety purposes (for you Drea!). I went for one of their breakfast specials - 2 Chicken Enchiladas (which included a glass of OJ). As it arrived in front of me, I initially couldn't even see the enchiladas. They were buried beneath a whole lot of lettuce, cheese and sour cream. Taste-wise, the whole dish was a bit bland, despite a good deal of sauce. I think next time I'm going to add a whole bunch of chipotle sauce to give it a kick. Overall, the food was good, service was friendly and prices were reasonable. Bottom line - Doña Cata is a solid choice for authentic Mexican food.

The Good:
- It's authentic
- Many different sauces to choose from
- Friendly service

The Bad:
- Nit-picking here, but the washroom entrance is difficult for anyone with a wheelchair or walker

Doña Cata Mexican Food on Urbanspoon

Flo Tea Room

*Now Closed*

It was such a downer last Monday, our softball game was canceled because the other team didn't have enough players. That meant... *GASP* No eating! Talking it over with Boss Woman, Miss Y, Bear, Judes, Hot Chocolate and Milhouse, we all agreed to still go out and eat next time regardless of game or not. Now that's what I'm talking about! Today we were playing at Shannon Field near Granville and 61st. Miss Y originally asked me where and how to get to Shannon. I had mistaken Shannon for Winona Park and gave her incorrect directions. She questioned my directions and upon closer inspection, I realized the directions were wrong. She indicated that I was confusing her with my incorrect directions. However, I told her that she doesn't need any help in the confusion department in regards to getting lost. LOL... The funniest thing happened during the game, Bear hit a grounder and they made a force at 2nd. However, he thought that was the 3rd out when it really was only the 2nd out. So he walked off the field rather than going to first. Suffice to say, the other team threw to first and he became the 3rd out. Bear is usually a very alert ballplayer; but a few innings back, he complained about being hungry. I think he understands why I have brain cramps when I get hungry!

After the game, we decided to go to Flo which was only 3 blocks away. Flo is a hybrid Hong Kong-style cafe, bubble tea joint and Taiwanese food. In fact, it's right beside 2 other bubble tea places, I wonder how all of them survive? The first thing that struck me was the reasonable prices of all their food. I guess anything would look reasonable after I paid $14.00 for a sandwich at Havana. Judes had the Honey Garlic Chicken set meal which included rice and 2 sides of pickled veggies. She indicated that the chicken was moist and not over seasoned; however, the rice was a bit hard. Hot Chocolate settled for the Curry Sliced Beef because they had no lamb. She was quite disappointed by that fact; however, she did like the curry regardless. There was a underlying heat to the curry which was not overbearing. The beef was tender as well; but I suspect baking soda was the reason why.

Much to the chagrin of the people sitting around me, I choose the Spicy Flank and Organ Hotpot. They always cringe at my food selection; but really, the organs are the best part! But, to my utter dismay, the hot pot only consisted of pork's blood and brisket. I thought they gave me the wrong order, but the receipt indicated that this was the right dish. The hot pot was okay, but it was generally bland and not spicy. But, it was quite large; I was so full after finishing it. Naturally, being a bubble tea joint as well, I added a Lychee Slush, which I proceeded to spill on my camera. Luckily it wasn't too bad; but horror reigned in my expression when it happened. The reason for the spillage was not only due to my clumsiness; rather, they really fill the cup to the brim. If you do not drink some right away, the slush will melt and spill over. Boss Woman had the House Special Chow Mein and again, the dish was really large. Resting on top of the fried noodles were a plethora of baby bak choy, bbq pork, scallops, chicken and shrimp. Moreover, the noodles were crisp and combined with the sauce, it was al dente.

Miss Y was having a hard time deciding on what to order. She was bouncing around some ideas and I have no idea how she ended up with Eggplant & Seafood Fried Udon in X.O. Sauce. No matter, it was a good choice because it was packed with ingredients and in her words, "they didn't put too much filler such as the bean sprouts". I think she mentioned that 5 times during dinner. Boy, I give Miss Y such a hard time, one day she's gonna just lose it on me! Oh and she said it tasted good too since it wasn't salty. Milhouse ordered Roasted Thai-Style Chicken Fried Rice. He indicated that the rice was perfectly al dente whereas each grain was discernable. Flavour-wise, the rice was just right, being not too salty. Bear got his ol' standby - Baked Pork Chop on Rice. Boss Woman shared her dish with Bear and she commented that the rice was pretty standard, not much to write home about. For me, I really didn't like the colour, it was quite pale. Without tasting it myself, I won't say whether it was good or not; but it really didn't look that good.

Lionel Hutz had picked something that I would normally order - Twin Steaks & Mexican Spiced Prawns. The meats consisted of one chicken steak (de-boned leg) and one pork chop. The plate of food definitely looked impressive and Lionel gave a grunt of approval in between chewing. The picture for his dish is a bit blurry because I was rushing to take it. He's not blogger-friendly when it comes to making him wait to eat while I snap a picture. I was supremely stuffed after my meal at Flo, the portion size was very generous for the price. In terms of the food itself, it was decent; if not a bit bland. I've definitely had better. The bubble teas were very large and decent; yet no threat to places like Dragonball. In the end, I was just glad we got to eat since it appears we all look forward to it on Monday's. Especially after today, it looks like I'm not the only one who was thinking about food throughout the softball game.

The Good:
- Generous portions
- Reasonably priced
- Comfortable seating arrangements

The Bad:
- When you try to be a jack of all trades in terms of food, there will be some misses
- Bubble tea was not bad, but some dedicated bubble tea joints are better

Flo Tea Room on Urbanspoon

Uprising Breads

We had just finished having lunch at Havana on the Drive and I was waiting at the intersection of Commercial and Venables. Looking over to my left, Uprising Breads caught my eye. Boy, this place has been around for as long as I can remember. Despite driving by it many times, I've never tried it. A quick last minute decision found me turning left instead of right. Viv was wondering what I was up to. I declared that this would be the day I actually tried Uprising Breads. Better late than never! I quickly zipped into a parking spot and away we went. On the outside, there were some people enjoying some coffee and pastries. Inside, there were people doing much of the same thing. This place is indeed quaint.

I asked one of the staff if I could take some pictures. He looked at me blankly for what seemed to be an eternity. I finally broke the uncomfortable silence by explaining that I write a food blog. Immediately after that, he seemed to break out of whatever trance he was in. There were so many yummy things to choose from, it took me awhile to decided. Finally, I decided to get 2 Cheddar Scones, a Blueberry Cheesecake Square, a Lemon Cranberry Square, a piece of Carrot Cake, a Smarties Chocolate Cupcake and a half dozen of Smuffins.

When we got home, I quickly took some pictures and then dug right into the carrot cake. Oh, this was good! The cake itself was full of carrot and raisins which was topped by a fairly sweet cream cheese icing. Then I decided to take a bite of the scone. Hmm... Okay, I needed to nuke it first for 20 seconds. Alright, much better! It was fluffy and there was more than enough cheddar to flavour the scone. I was tempted to slap on some butter; but I resisted. I ended up giving the cheese cake to my mom, so I didn't get to try it. However, she did say it was good and she knows her cheese cake, it's one of her favs!

I finally got to try the lemon cranberry square the day after and boy did it have a lot of zing. However, the tartness was not overwhelming and I could still taste the butter... mmm... buuuutter... I also ate one of the blueberry muffins and I found it a bit dry. Not dry enough to make it bad; but it was not as moist as I would've liked. Mind you, it probably means less fat which translate into a healthier muffin. I didn't get to try the cupcake because my son ate it; I'm sure he liked it. It's chocolate, has icing on it and is topped with smarties. What's not to like? I did like the items I got from Uprising Breads, they were more than adequate. I've had better, but for the prices and the quaintness of the store, it's got something that is lacking these days - character.

The Good:
- It's a neat bakery in a neat location
- Decent products
- It's got character

The Bad:
- Maybe it's just me, but I thought it was a bit expensive for what you get

Uprising Breads Bakery on Urbanspoon

Havana

Chatting with Kim (I'm Only Here for the Food!) on Saturday, I noticed that I rarely eat Latin food. The times I've been to the Caribbean, I regret I haven't tried more of it. I guess the lack of Latin American food in the GVRD is one reason I don't eat it enough. But the main reason is probably that I do not know where to find "good" Latin American food. Well, Kim is a good resource; maybe I should just go eat out with him more often. However, I was on a mission today, I was going to eat Latin food! So Viv and I headed over to Dona Cata for some of their famous tacos. But to our dismay, it is closed on Mondays. Undeterred, we headed over to Commercial Drive in search of Latin food. As we cruised down the Drive, we noticed that many of the Latin restaurants were closed as well. Was this a coincidence? I'm not sure, but alas, we finally ended up at Havana near the North end of the Drive. Viv's been to Havana before and she liked it, so we parked and headed over.

I've walked past Havana many times admiring their awesome patio; but just have never walked in. Let me say, walking into the restaurant brought me back to Miami, particularly South Beach. The decor and ambiance took me on a vacation without leaving home. One thing struck me while I was perusing the menu: it's not cheap here. Now I'm not saying that the prices were expensive; but for what we were getting it wasn't inexpensive. Mind you, the dinner menu seems like a better value, which is usually the reverse in most restaurants.

We decided to start with the Tostones, otherwise known as plantain chips. When we arrived at the restaurant, it was pretty full, so it will probably explain why it took 35 minutes for the chips to arrive. However, that's pretty long for an appetizer. Well, at least they were worth the wait. The chips were really crispy and fried just enough to give it a very nice colour. The accompanying red pepper aioli and green chili dip was fabulous. There was just enough heat and flavour to compliment the chips.

After we finished the chips, almost another 20 minutes passed before we got our mains. Suffice to say, I don't care how busy the restaurant was. If I do not get all my food within 30 minutes during lunch, it's too long. Viv had ordered the Fried Chicken Sandwich and at first, I was wondering what's so special about it. Well, upon closer inspection; in addition to the fried chicken, there was pickled cabbage, green chili mojo and jerk mayo. All the flavours really worked in this sandwich. You got spicy from the chilis, tartness from the cabbage and salty-sweet from the mayo. For myself, I chose the Media Noche which is supposed to be a smaller version of the Cuban sandwich. However, in this case, the main deviation from the traditional sandwich was the bread. It was served on a Ciabatta and was not pressed. Despite this fact, I enjoyed the sandwich. The combination of ham (Black Forest in this case), roast pork, Swiss cheese and pickles was very tasty. Viv remarked that the bun probably detracted from the sandwich.

Despite the painfully long wait for our food, we enjoyed our visit to Havana. It helped that we weren't in a rush. We were just soaking up the nice weather and atmosphere. Again, the only thing that bothered me was that each of our sandwiches were $14.00 each. Hardly expensive; but it just seemed like we didn't eat $14.00 worth of food (operating costs and raw materials withstanding). However, the 4-course dinner for $25 seems like a fabulous deal, maybe I'll need to try that someday.

The Good:
- Really nice decor and atmosphere
- Nice patio
- Something a bit different

The Bad:
- Really sloooow kitchen (could be this time only?)
- A bit pricey for what you get
- As always, parking is hard to find

Havana Cafe on Urbanspoon

Alvin Garden

Last time we had a blogger's dinner, Ben (Chowtimes) organized it. While at the that dinner (@ Long's), he suggested that I should organize the next one. Reluctantly, I agreed. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy organizing things, I seem to be doing that all the time anyways. However, I certainly couldn't invite everyone, I don't think they made tables that large. I actually ended up giving Ben a call for some advice. He really had no solution for it either, you can't really please everyone. Well, I ended up inviting as many as I felt comfortable with and we ended up with the following participants: Kevin (604Foodtography), Jessica & Mark (Yum-o-Rama), Gigi & Jenkins (Ho Yummy!), Drea (TBDFBTI), Christina and ET (Doesn't TaZte Like Chicken), TS (eating_club Vancouver), Wilson (La Petite Vancouver) and Kim (I'm Only Here for the Food!). It was actually Kim who suggested Alvin Garden and we'll see if his recommendation makes him look good or not. See how I like to pass the buck?

From the outside, I would have never known that the inside was actually quite nice and clean. However, the tables are situated quite close together, so everything is a tight fit. We took quite a bit of time trying to decide what to order because frankly, we weren't familiar with most of the dishes. You see, Hunan cuisine is not very common in the GVRD. The dominant Chinese cuisine is Cantonese food. Thus, we just randomly ordered items off the menu with a little help from the server. We found out at the end that our dishes may have not been the right ones to order. Oh well, it just means we have to come back and do it all over again! While we waiting for our food, we got into the typical banter about food and my favourite topic - Richmond. One person posed the question which parking lot was worse: Aberdeen or Crystal Mall. Well, my personal choice would be Crystal Mall because why would you design a lot that is a big circle with only one entrance/exit? Futhermore, as a result of this circle, each parking spot is shaped like a pie slice. Imagine the difficulty for someone trying to use the lines as a guide to park straight! No joke, I once watched someone spend 10+ minutes going back and forth trying to park in one spot.

The food actually arrived pretty quickly; mind you, we really didn't get to eat until much later. Imagine 7 cameras taking turns snapping photos of EACH dish. Kevin was getting a little impatient because he appeared to be very hungry. I guess we got a taste of our own medicine since people who eat with me have to suffer the "don't touch it, let me take some photos first" procedure. Curiously, 5 dishes arrived before we even got the large soup we had ordered. It appears that they do not have a food expediting system present. The first dish was the Hunan-Style Braised Pork. Essentially, it was pork belly stewed in a mostly sweet soy broth. It was enjoyable to eat, while the dish itself was nothing special. The next dish, Duck Braised with Beer was quite spicy. By just tasting the sauce, you'd never know that there was beer. I guess all the alcohol had been cooked away or that the spice overwhelmed any other flavour that was present. Although I enjoyed the sauce with my rice, the duck itself was chopped into really small pieces. Therefore, it was tough to find any pieces with any meat on them. I mostly got bones in every spoonful.

Now the next dish was really good. The Dong Ting Broiled Fish in Chili Soup was a symphony of flavours. The sweetness of the fish combined with the spicy and salty broth was absolutely delicious. Continuing on the spicy theme, the Pan Fried Spicy Chicken was quite an intimidating dish. The small pieces of chicken were hidden in a mound of fried red chilis. Although the dish itself wasn't incredibly spicy, the chilis made it look spicier than it really was. The chicken was very well-seasoned; but yet again much like the duck, it was cut up into little pieces. By now I was starting to sweat; but I think Kim was sweating much more than I was. Luckily he brought his own towel (smart move). The Ma Po Tofu looked spicier than it tasted; however, it was very well spiced. Another great dish to go with a big bowl of white rice.

Alright, someone tell me why we got the soup as our 6th dish? As mentioned before, the expedition of dishes was quite odd. I guess they merely brought out stuff as the kitchen cooked it. But soup in the middle of the meal? The soup we ordered was the Daily Soup which happened to be Corn and Pork. It arrived in a really large pot packed with corn and slow simmered pork. I really liked the soup, it was not very salty; in fact, it was rather sweet because of the corn. From sweet, right back to the spicy, the Pan-Fried Green Beans with Minced Pork had just enough heat. Combined with the sweetness of the crunchy beans and the saltiness of the minced pork, this was a balanced dish. Next up was the Double-Cooked Pork with Garlic and Chilis. I bet they buy their chilis in bulk at Alvin Garden, because they used them like there was no tomorrow. In this dish, the fatty pork appears to have been stewed first, then sliced and pan-fried; thus the double-cooked moniker. This was a solid dish, with many different textures and flavours.

Alright, here we go with the incorrect order of dishes once again. We got the sweet Pumpkin Cakes filled with red bean paste too early since there were a couple more dishes yet to arrive. Suddenly I felt like I was having Cantonese Dim Sum because of the randomness of the dishes. The pumpkin cakes were not really that sweet, even with the red bean paste. I liked the texture, it was very similar to that of a Lo Po Beng; however, the cake itself was rather bland and a bit oily. Now, from dessert, back to the entrees! The Steamed Ling Cod Head with Hunan Chilis was another intimidating looking dish. It was topped with a large amount chilis; yet, once again, it was not as spicy as it looked. In fact, the flavours were quite nice being a bit spicy and sweet. However, since it was Ling Cod head, it was boney and a bit hard to eat. I would have much preferred that they didn't cut up the head into little pieces.

Bringing down the spicy quotient was the Steamed Egg with Mince Pork. This is somewhat of a "home-cooking"-type dish that is usually very light in texture and flavour. For those who don't normally eat it, it could be misinterpreted as being bland. It was alright; but it was a bit on the watery side. The last dish of the meal was the Corn Cakes and it arrived in a big steamer. Once the lid was removed by our server, it revealed cone-shaped pastries. The consensus from the group was that the cakes were not very good. In fact, Jessica's boyfriend probably summed it up best - "it had the texture of Playdoh". This is not a ringing endorsement for the corn cakes. At the very least, they showed up in the proper order.

I generally enjoyed my meal despite the awful expedition of the dishes. I liked some of the dishes more than others; but that would be my personal preference. One thing I didn't like was the fact they cut up some of their meats into really small pieces. This is not good for eating or the actual cooking process itself. But really, Kim said it best. The main focus is enjoying each others' company. We had a blast chatting about our common interest - FOOD. Thus, the dinner almost became secondary. Mind you, some of our dishes seemed grossly overpriced such as the duck for $16.98, Ling Cod head for $19.98 and the soup for $14.98. After our meal was over, we looked around and noticed that we didn't order some really good looking dishes at other tables. I guess that alone warrants another visit.

The Good:
- Dishes that you would probably not find at other Chinese restaurants
- If you like it spicy, this is your place
- Service was a bit hectic, yet it was still friendly and helpful

The Bad:
- Some of the dishes seemed a bit overpriced
- They like to cut up their meats into little pieces
- Proper expedition of dishes was non-existant

Business Hours:
11:30am - 9:30pm (Mon - Fri)
12:00pm - 9:30pm (Sat & Sun)

Alvin Garden on Urbanspoon