Sherman's Food Adventures: January 2010

G-Men Ramen

Wow, almost everyone I know has been to G-Men Ramen. It has taken me that long to give it a try. No, it's not because of being located in Richmond. That has nothing to do with it. Honest! One reason is that Viv doesn't really like ramen all that much. Second, my son doesn't like ramen all that much. But I like ramen very much! So ultimately, it would be a solo jaunt for G-Men. Opened up by the people who operate Gyoza King, it has been so popular, there is usually a lineup. For me, I hate lineups. Thus, I made it a point to arrive as it opened. Now, I'm a big fan of tonkatsu broth and for some reason or another, they only have chicken broth during lunch time.

So I had no choice but to choose the Shoyu Ramen (in chicken broth). I added a side of Takoyaki and Onsen Egg. I must've only waited for 3 minutes and everything arrived. Normally, the Takoyaki at Gyoza King are very good; however, I found the ones here a bit mushy and not really all that hot. They tasted fine with plenty of bonito and just enough sauce; but honestly, these were not very good. I loved the Onsen Tamago, which is a soft poached egg in very low temperature water. So velvety and perfectly cooked, there was just enough shoyu for flavour without overwhelming the delicate egg. If they could put this in an eggs benedict...

The ramen itself was done al dente and had that "bite" we all look for in fresh noodles. The pork slices were fatty and tender; yet not all that tasty. Probably because it was sliced super thin. I did like the Ajitama (cooked egg with a golden centre), it was perfect. The shoyu chicken broth was quite oily and rich. Lacking the depth of a tonkatsu broth, the oil slick at the top helped give the soup some body. It was a bit on the salty side (maybe too much shoyu?); but at the very least it made up for the "lightness" associated with chicken broth. A solid bowl of ramen; however, I much prefer the tonkotsu broth, which is not available during lunch and vice versa. For me G-Men was alright. If I was in the area, I might stop by again; but if I had a choice, it would still be Menya, Benkei or Kintaro.

The Good:
- Excellently prepared noodles
- Flavourful broth (even though it was chicken)

The Bad:
- Only one type of broth available for lunch and dinner
- Cha sui is sliced super thin and a bit bland

G-Men Ramen on Urbanspoon

Menya

Okay, what's the deal with ramen these days anyways? It seems a new one opens up every month. I'm not complaining! I like ramen. I even liked instant Nissan ramen and ate it quite often as a child. I have barely eaten much of it anymore ever since they put the nutritional facts on the package. The eye-popping cholesterol and saturated fat numbers scare the living daylights out of me! With those numbers, I might as well just grab some bacon and stuff it in my mouth. Yes, instant ramen is not very healthy and contain a plethora of chemicals. Hmm... This probably explains how I turned out... I digress. I know, I know, instant ramen and fresh ramen are not even comparable.

Alright, I finally made it over to Menya after many attempts, including a Sunday (they are closed). I was able to convince Pomegranate to join me despite the fact both of us had already ate dinner. Thank goodness the portions are not very large. We just treated it as a "snack" or a "second dinner" if we were Merry and Pippin. We were seated next to a couple where one person was doing a demonstration of their iPhone. Seeing this, Pomegranate started to do the same with his. Wow, it can be a phone and a leveler at the same time! I'm sold!

Seeing that I could add Gyozas and a Takikomi Rice Ball for an extra $3.40, I did the expected... A bit small, fluffy and served hot, the gyozas were pretty good. As for my Nagahama Ramen (pork bone soup), it was honestly quite small. I wasn't that hungry this time, so it was not an issue. But I can see how this would not be enough for me (at least) if it were an actual meal. Small is one thing; but in terms of overall execution, I thought it was a success. The noodles were al dente with the "bite" and chewiness we expect with a perfectly cooked ramen. Unlike what others have lamented, I did not find the tonkotsu broth salty at all. It had depth and a silky richness only reserved for slow cooked broth over a long period of time. I could taste and feel the bone marrow that had dissolved into the soup. The fatty cha shu was moist, soft and melted in my mouth.

Pomegranate opted for the Shoyu Ramen. Although there is supposed to be dashi in the shoyu broth, Pomegranate thought it was a bit fishy. For me personally, I would welcome more bonito flavour; but I guess it's a personal preference. The rice ball (consisting of kelp, carrots, tofu skin and soy) was nice texturally being a tad chewy; but personally, I thought it was bland. Compared to Kintaro or even Benkei, the portions at Menya are quite small. However, I did like the noodles and the broth was rich and flavourful. Service is basic while being very polite. Despite the portion size, I'd gladly return for another bowl of ramen.

The Good:
- Rich, velvety tonkotsu broth
- Perfectly cooked noodles
- Polite service

The Bad:
- Portion size is small
- Not the most comfortable place to sit (you wouldn't linger anyways)

Menya Japanese Noodle on Urbanspoon

Tom & Jerry's

*Note - Everything on the menu is under $10.00 now and kids eat free*

"Where???" "You want to go where to eat?" That was Viv's response when I suggested we go to Tom & Jerry's for dinner tonight. "Aren't there better options than that???" She really didn't seem enthused about my dinner destination. Hey, I was driving and I was determined to eat at T&J's. Whoa, wait a minute, why the rush to go there? Admittedly, the first reason involved a little coupon from the Entertainment Book. Second, I drive past that place all the time and I keep daring myself to eat there again. Again? You've eaten there before? Yes, when I was working at the PNE (eons ago), I ate there once with some friends. To tell you the truth, I had very little recollection of the food. For some, T&J fits into the same class as a Knight & Day or even an ABC. But, hold it right there. I think we're getting ahead of ourselves. Let's see how the meal went first...

Billing itself as a family restaurant, immediately, one can ascertain that there will not be gourmet eats here. However, one look at the menu and there is a level of sticker shock. Other than the sandwiches and burgers, most entrees hover around the $15.00 mark or more. Again, we'll have to see how the food stacks up to the price. The adult meals may seem a bit pricey; yet the kids meals are quite affordable being roughly $5.00 to $8.00 (without beverage). Of course my son chose his favourite - the Grilled Cheese with Fries. At $4.99, this was a pretty decent price especially since the sandwich was made with lots of real cheddar. For my meal, I went for the 10oz Baseball Sirloin served with mash potatoes and veggies. You know what? When it arrived, I was pleasantly surprised at how colourful and fresh looking the veggies appeared. This is complete night & day compared to Knight & Day (feeble attempt at humour there). In addition, the mash potatoes were made of real potatoes! As for the steak, it was exactly how I like it, medium rare while closer to rare. It was moist, tender and juicy. It's really too bad the onion gravy on top completely negated the natural meat flavour. With that being said, I did like the sauce, it was quite tasty while not being salty.

Viv's dish was the baked Lasagna with a Caesar Salad to start. For what its worth, the romaine was fresh and crisp while there was just enough salad dressing. Nothing really special about the dressing mind you; but it did the job. The lasagna itself was massive. Initially, it didn't seem all that much; however, if you take into account the depth of the dish, it was quite substantial. Curiously, the sauce had bits of carrot and meat which made it resemble a Bolognese sauce except it was still very tomatoey. With that, it was tart and frankly quite one-dimensional. Again, it did the job. The lasagna noodles were surprisingly al dente. No small feat since it was sitting in sauce. This was all finished with a good amount of cheese on top.

We were in complete amazement that the food was decent. Of course, decent for this type of family restaurant that is. Compared to other places such as ABC, Knight & Day and Denny's, I felt the food was better. I wouldn't say better in terms of the raw materials necessarily; but definitely in the execution. The steak was cooked perfectly, as were the veggies and so was Viv's pasta. Nothing tasted extraordinary; yet everything was pleasant enough to eat. The service was pretty friendly as well. Who would've thunk? I was ready to press "Do Not Like" on Urbanspoon. Now, I'm bordering on actually hitting "I like". Well, maybe not yet. I'll have to give it another try first...

The Good:
- Execution of food was spot on
- Personable service
- Good portions

The Bad:
- Prices are a bit high (but made up by the portion size)
- Interior might need an update

Tom & Jerry's on Urbanspoon

The Elbow Room

Once again, I'm in Downtown attending a conference. Time to learn something new or to expand my horizons. Nah, not really... It's the perfect opportunity to eat! With so many great restaurants within walking distance, I was as giddy as I could possibly get. Cunningly, I rounded up some of my co-workers to join me in some culinary delights. We decided (well, more like I decided) on visiting an old favourite of mine when I used to live in downtown. The place is The Elbow Room, which is part diner and part improv. With your plate of food, there is generally a large side of abuse and humour. Patrick and Brian have been operating this Vancouver favourite since 1983 when it was located at 720 Jervis Street. They moved to its current location in 1996 and have been giving patrons "attitude" ever since.

As evidenced by the pictures of various celebrities on the wall, The Elbow Room is more than your regular diner. People come here for the shtick. But what about the food? Well, I decided to have brunch "My Way". No, I did not break into song like ol' Blue Eyes; although it does seem like I get my way when it comes to the picture taking. Everyone knows by now that if they dare touch their food before a picture is taken... Anyways, My Way is an an omelet with baby shrimp, bacon, avocado, Camembert and feta cheese. Cranberry toast was served on the side. If you were expecting a French omelet, you can stop reading now. As mentioned, this is a diner. Predictably, the eggs were a bit overcooked. It's really too bad the cheese did not get a chance to melt much. Ultimately, the omelet was still good; but it would've been better if the cheese had melted and adhered to all of the other components.

Pomegranate went for the Monte Cristo (Two slices of bread dipped in egg, with turkey and black forest ham, smothered in mozza cheese and grilled to perfection), which is not necessarily the healthiest sandwich; but when done right is pretty darn good. This one was not bad. Ma ended up with the Boss Burger (Mushrooms, bacon, a fried egg and cheddar cheese). She liked how the patty was moist while being cooked all the way through. L-Pete also had a burger and pretty much echoed the same sentiment. However, the side of hash browns didn't garner the same enthusiasm. A bit small, and not really that cooked, it was an afterthought.

Hot Mama had the House Salad and it looked quite substantial. Loaded with red leaf lettuce, diced black forest ham, green and red peppers, mushrooms, tomato, sliced avocado, boiled egg, and feta cheese, she enjoyed it very much. But then again, for me at least, a salad is a salad. What can I say, I love meat! Now, the Elbow Room has decent (not great) food. You can do much better for the same price at a number of places in Yaletown, such as Provence Marinaside (especially for brunch) albeit a different type of restaurant. This brings up an interesting point. The food is okay; yet the portions aren't exactly humongous. At the prices they charge, you'd expect it to be. But people who focus on that alone are missing the point. There are so many restaurants these days that can be complete clones of each other and no one would notice any differences. In a sea of boring, the Elbow Room provides an eatery with character and owners that care (despite their insults). That's what makes the Elbow Room unique and a place where people don't mind being called "honey".

The Good:
- It's got character
- It's got 2 characters in Brian and Patrick
- Fun shtick

The Bad:
- A bit pricey
- Portions could be a bit bigger

Elbow Room on Urbanspoon

Azia

*Restaurant is now closed*

A conference in Downtown is exactly what I needed. I get to learn something. I get to mingle with colleagues. And most importantly, I get to eat! Yes, there is a variety of restaurants within such a small area, it's like a kid in a candy store. Furthermore, there are plenty of people to eat with, enhancing the experience even more. If dining with 6 of my colleagues wasn't enough for variety; Kim joined us as well. We ended up going to a restaurant which was fairly close to the Wall Centre (where our conference was held). Located in the Scotiabank Theatre building, Azia serves up cuisine from a wide range of Asian countries. Normally, that would scare some people, especially since Vancouver is already known for its authentic Asian food.

However, we must take into account that Azia tries to be all things Asian mostly to the Downtown crowd. With that in mind, we cannot expect the finest Asian cuisine around. They don't claim to be nor are they trying to be. Since Kim and I were the only Asians at the table, we had a unique perspective of the food. Kim and I were able to coerce everyone to order items to share. We ended up getting 4 dishes, 2 sushi rolls and Xiao Long Bao. With the Chinese dishes, it included soup, rice and spring rolls. Since there were only 4 dishes, we only received 4 bowls of Swirl Egg Corn Soup. Not sure if the DSLRs had anything bearing on it; but they brought 3 more so we all had soup. A nice gesture nonetheless.

Well, the meal started off pretty good, the Spring Rolls were crispy and not too oily. They were stuffed with quite a bit of filling. The first main dish to arrive was the Broccoli and Beef. Visually, it looked quite good with rich coloured beef and bright green florets. The broccoli was still crispy while the beef was a bit on the chewy side. The downside of this dish was its lack of flavour. Seems a bit impossible since the colour looks so good; but curiously it was.

When the Evil Jungle Green Curry first arrived, someone remarked that it didn't look green at all. Well, green curry does have green in it; but it's not really supposed to be that green. But, this version was devoid of any green at all. A clear indication that it will be mostly coconut milk with only a hint of spiciness. Actually, it was a bit spicier than it looked; yet it wasn't mind-blowing. As you can see, there is no absence of eggplant, chicken, and green beans. For the less adventurous, this is decent interpretation of green curry. At first, we weren't going to order Sweet and Sour Pork since it's a bit boring. Well, Hot Mama insisted we have it and here it is. Again, it looked alright with onions, peppers and pineapple. In actuality, it was too sweet and the pork was a tad overcooked. Mind you, it wasn't horrible.

Kim likes things spicy and decided on a classic - the Ma Po Tofu. Unfortunately, we didn't take into account that it would probably be mild. What we got was something less than mild, more along the lines of bland. It was more tart than spicy; however, I thought the tofu itself was decent. It held its shape while still being soft enough in texture. Yet another Chinese classic arrived next, the Kung Pow Chicken (classic is a very loose term in this case). What can we say about this one... Oh, it was bland. Now let me reiterate here, I'm speaking from the perspective of a Chinese person who grew up eating real Chinese food. So, everything will be bland to me and Kim. But I'll clarify this later in my conclusion. I digress... Texturally, this dish was pretty good with peanuts, peppers and onions. The chicken was quite moist as well. To fulfill the curiosity quotient, Kim suggested we try the Xiao Long Bao. Obviously, we already suspected that they would not be very good; but we thought it would be a good litmus test. Well, they really weren't all that good. First, the dumpling skin was doughy and the pork filling was a bit gritty. Second, and most importantly, there was little in the way of "juice" (which is critical).

We also needed to try out the sushi bar and got 2 rolls - Mango Roll and Spider Roll. Visually appealing with bright colours, the mango roll was alright. I would've preferred if the rice was a bit more firm. I like the mango wasabi sauce, it helped provide a sweet kick to an otherwise delicate roll. The spider roll was a little loose and was a bit hard to keep together when picked up. Despite that, once again, it was decent. When we finally got the bill, the total was indeed very reasonable, especially considering the decor, location and level of service. On the flip side, the portions were quite small. Obviously, the pricing and portion size go hand-in-hand. In terms of authenticity; predictably, it was only somewhat close. I mean it's not Manchu Wok we're talking about here. With that in mind, someone looking for a truly authentic experience should look elsewhere. Yet, that brings up the premise behind Azia. It doesn't advertise to be the best Chinese or Japanese restaurant. Rather, it's a place that caters to the Downtown and tourist crowd who want something safe, decent and inexpensive.

The Good:
- Nice decor, nice service
- Inexpensive
- Varied selection

The Bad:
- Portions are small
- Food is middle-of-the-road and safe (good for some, bad for others)

Azia on Urbanspoon

East is East

If you have ever checked Urbanspoon's "talk of the town" list of restaurants, you'll normally find new or popular places. Well, after you read this post; you'll probably find East is East at #1 shortly. The reason? Well, when you get a large number of food bloggers all together in one spot for dinner, it'll make any restaurants' numbers soar. So a simple suggestion for a dinner meetup suddenly became quite the production. The following people were in attendance:

Angie (Sea Salt with Food), Anita (La Petite Foodie), Darina (Gratinee), Jenny (My Secret Eden), Jessica (Yum-O-Rama), Jonathan (Food & Tell), Joyce & Frank (Van Foodies), Kevin (604 Foodtography), Kim (I'm Only Here for the Food), Melody (Gourmet Fury), Mijune (Follow Me Foodie), TS (eating_club [Vancouver]), Victoria (Victoria's Food Secrets) and Wilson (La Petite Vancouver).

Yah, that's a lot of people. And yes, that is quite a few cameras as well. I'm not sure what the people around us thought. At the very least, no one felt shy about taking pictures! At my table, we all decided to order all the different dishes available for the Eastern Plate (which consists of Dahl Soup, Afghan & Coconut Rice, Salad & Roti). The first 2 were the Lamb Kebob and Chicken Masala. I found that the lamb was a bit dry and a bit bland. I did notice the ginger, onion and garlic hits within the sauce; but it was not exactly savory. I really enjoyed the chicken, it was moist with a smooth and creamy sauce. Next up was the Peas & Cheese and Alu Gobi. I liked the texture of the peas & cheese (which also consisted of potatoes). Again, I thought it was a bit mild; but that is understandable since this dish is not supposed to be super spicy. The Alu Gobi (cauliflower & potato) was a bit more tomatoey than I'm used to; but it was good nonetheless. It was aromatic and a bit tangy at the same time.

All of us agreed that the salmon was a bit hidden by the sauce. As Frank noted, it could've been any fish. With that being said, I didn't dislike it and I actually found the salmon to have a nice sweet aftertaste. Despite a relatively flavorful sauce that was had a nice rich onion flavour, I wasn't a huge fan of the minced beef. It's a personal taste thing really, I didn't like the one at Saffron either. Something about the mushy texture... The next couple of dishes is where we went vegetarian. That's okay, I do eat vegetables sometimes. The Saag Paneer was smooth, mild and creamy. It starts off with a strong spinach flavour and ends with earthy mushroom aromatics at the end. My favourite dish was the Afghan Eggplant. The eggplant pieces were tender and there was a nice tang from the sundried tomatoes.

The last 2 dishes were the Mango Butternut Squash and the Chickpeas. Seemingly a simple dish, the squash was a bit more complex than it looked. In addition to the mango's natural sweetness, there were hints of curry and coconut. I could ate a whole big bowl of this. Other than humus, I'm not a big fan of chickpeas; but this version was not too bad. The sauce was on the sweet side with a nice herb aftertaste. All-in-all, the food may not have the "power" of more authentic places; but honestly, the food was pretty good. If you factor in that refills are complimentary, you have one heck of a value.

The Good:
- Quite the variety
- Unique decor and style
- Good value

The Bad:
- Could upset the "authentic" police
- Flavours are more on the safe side

East Is East on Urbanspoon

Li Garden

*Restaurant is now closed*

Goose had been raving about this small Chinese restaurant out on Victoria Drive that served up some pretty good Dim Sum. Now, if you know Goose, if he is raving about something, then there is something to it. Usually, he's not raving about food. Rather, it's about electronics, computers and sports equipment... like your typical male. Therefore, it only seemed natural for me to take this seriously and check it out. It's almost ironic that after I made the reservation, I found out that Goose, Mother Goose and their respective parents would be at the same place as well. Unlike some other similar Chinese restaurants, we got our reservation when we arrived. It also helped that the place was not full as of yet. I am really annoyed at restaurants taking reservations just to humour you. When you get there, you end up being in line with everyone else, possibly with a higher priority. I guess if there is an endless stream of customers, they don't give a rats ass about reservations.

Fate would have it, they gave us a table right at the window. Me and my camera were very pleased at this development. In fact, it was in a little enclosed space all by its lonesome. Light and privacy for my pictures: fantastic! Meeting up with us today were Costanza, Elaine and their 2 kiddies. With the 4 kids in total, it's bordering on chaos. That's not leisurely Dim Sum here! Once again, the 2 staples of Dim Sum are the Haw Gow (Shrimp Dumplings) and Sui Mai (Pork & Shrimp Dumplings. It's so unfortunate that Dim Sum carts seem to be going the way of the VCR; but it was rather amusing in my childhood to hear the familiar phrase, "Haw Gow, Sui Mai..." as the Dim Sum ladies walked by. As you can see in the picture, the shrimp dumplings are quite large. Despite filled with lotsa cold-water shrimp, the outer wrapper was on the chewy side. On the other hand, the sui mai were pretty good. There was a good combination of shrimp and bits of pork (with meat texture).

The Sparerib Rice was a bit of a disappointment. First, the rice was mushy and as you can see, the ribs were very bony. Not much in the way of meat. Another predictable flop was the Xiao Long Bao. I generally try to avoid this at Cantonese Dim Sum since it is a Shanghainese dish. Looking quite sad and deflated, these dumplings were devoid of juice and had an almost impenetrable skin. Fortunately, the Beef and Shrimp Rice Noodle Rolls were respectively quite good. The noodle itself was a tad on the chewier side; yet there was a good amount of filling.

We then worked our way through some "special" items off the Dim Sum menu. These are usually a bit pricier, albeit larger in portion size. The Shrimp Stuffed Eggplant was pretty good with the eggplant holding its shape and integrity. The Stir-Fried Pea Shoots were cooked nicely still exhibiting a nice "bite". We weren't that thrilled with the congee, as it was a bit on the watery side and quite bland. The Stir-Fried Spicy Green Beans were a quite greasy. It's the standard "deep-fried, then stir-fried" with more oil and spices method. It did taste a bit spicy, a tad salty and sweet. We were really not impressed with the sliced Beef Shank and Jellyfish. The beef was tough and chewy with little to no flavour. Although the jellyfish exhibited the "crunch" texture, it sorely needed more seasoning.

Our last few items included the Shrimp Spring Rolls, BBQ Pork Bun, Steamed Sponge Cake and Egg Tarts. At this stage, our table was becoming completely overloaded with food. To me at least, everything came too quickly. The spring rolls were very good packed with shrimp and having a crisp, non-oily wrapper. The BBQ pork buns were pretty average with a few too many pieces of fat (well, some people like it). The sponge cake was soft and not too sweet while the egg tarts were above average (there was more egg than tart shell). For a Chinese restaurant, I thought the service was not half-bad. Someone checked on us every now and then. Moreover, we saw more smiles than frowns. It may not seem like a big deal; but it's an achievement in this type of restaurant.

The Good:
- Inexpensive
- Portions are good
- Service was half-decent

The Bad:
- Food came out all at once (I guess some people wouldn't mind that)
- There is better Dim Sum within this class of restaurant (ie. Western Lake, Dai Tung)

Li Garden on Urbanspoon