Sherman's Food Adventures: March 2010

John's Greek Taverna

I'm not even sure how we ended up at John's Greek Taverna today. I think we were looking for a completely different restaurant and since we were running short on time, it was close enough. If we didn't pull into the parking lot accidentally, we would've never known that this place even existed. There are a whole bunch of businesses hidden from the main thoroughfares. In fact, there are a few other restaurants too. Nice. Now in addition to my random wanderings in Surrey, I will now pull into random parking lots and circle around looking for hidden restaurants. Yah, that's a past time that is both a bit strange and might draw the attention of the authorities. Hey, it's not a stretch. Happened before!

Not to worry this time around since the cop shop is literally next door to this place. They can watch me from their desks if they like. Since we were pressed for time, we quickly ordered and amused ourselves with the fake fire above our heads (it was blowing tissue paper emulating fire). We started with the Calamari and it was a pretty large portion. Despite being crispy and not too oily, there was too much batter. It completely overwhelmed the pieces of squid. The tzatziki was alright, could've used more lemon. For my main, I had my favourite which is the Roast Lamb. Honestly, I was torn on this one. I don't want to be mean; but this dish was horrible. There is no other way to describe it. Yes, there were 2 generous pieces of lamb on the plate. But both were tough, hard, stringy and salty. I really didn't enjoy it and had to stop eating it. It wasn't all bad though. I did like the fresh Greek Salad and the rice was alright. The potato was okay as well, it could've used a bit more flavour though.

Curiously, Father D chose a dish that was not very Greek. He was craving steak and went for the Steak Sandwich. And believe it or not, it was pretty darn good. As you can see, the meat is nicely charred and it was cooked as requested (medium-rare). It was served on a nice piece of garlic toast and the accompanying Caesar Salad was solid. As for the fries, they were forgettable being fried a bit too long. You'd think a steak sandwich would be filing enough for lunch; but Father D also had a Beef Gyro! It was good as well. Packed with plenty of fresh ingredients and beef, this one was a winner.

So, 2 out of 4 dishes were good. The one dish I'd hope to be good was in fact, terrible. I'm not sure if that was a one-time mistake with the lamb or not. I seriously hope that it was a off-day since that would be embarrassing for any Greek restaurant. Again, this made it tough for me. I didn't want to be harsh, especially given the really good service we got as well. But... the lamb was that bad. Until I try it again, for now, I would take a pass.

The Good:
- Good portions
- Friendly staff
- Comfortable environment

The Bad:
- Pricey
- Worst roast lamb I've had to date

John's Greek Taverna on Urbanspoon

Vanya

An impromptu hot pot at home tonight resulted in the need to do a bit of shopping today. Usually, T&T serves as the one-stop destination for hot pot related products. However, as most of us know, it is definitely not the best value. Case in point, the sliced beef for hot pot is so overpriced, it costs more than a prime rib roast if you calculate on a per pound basis. Thus, I never buy hot pot beef at T&T. I find the best place to get quality beef for a reasonable price is Hankook Meats on Kingsway which can be found in the same complex as Samosa Garden. Since we had not eaten lunch yet, we thought of places to go near Hankook Meats. One place that came to mind was Vanya. Viv swears that we've been here before; but some reason or another I don't remember it.

Prior to it changing hands, the place was Japanese-run. Now, apparently it's not. However, the sushi chef and staff are all Japanese (information provided by several readers). Suffice to say, there is absolutely no parking in the Collingwood area during the daytime, especially on the weekend. Despite the sign not indicating so, the adjacent parking lot does have spaces reserved for Vanya. Now, if you were expecting a modern, fancy Japanese restaurant, stop reading now. Vanya is definitely ol' skool in the same vain as Koko. However, the restaurant decor, carpet and furniture has seen it's best days. A good candidate for restaurant makeover.

For me, I don't really care about decor, as long as the food is good. We decided to order everything a la carte and started with the Assorted Sashimi. At $11.00, the portion size was quite underwhelming. But the quality of the product made up for it. Viv was quite impressed with the wild salmon and tai. They were both fresh and delicious. I liked the tako since it was the perfect texture of slightly chewy while not too chewy. Although the tuna tasted fine, we thought it was a bit mushy. Not knowing what to expect, we got the Seafood Salad. It turns out that shrimp and imitation crab stick accounted for all of the seafood. With large uncut leaves of crispy lettuce, the salad was pleasant to eat, if not a bit boring. The copious amount of vinaigrette was a tad on the salty side.

Originally, I was tempted to order the Futomaki for $9.00; rather, we inquired about the Vanya Roll. Turns out for $8.00, it is the seafood equivalent of a Futomaki. Consisting of wild salmon, tuna, tai, hokkigai, ebi, mackerel and imitation crab, this was a really large roll. And with 9 pieces, we thought this was a great value. Great value aside, the roll was delicious as well with many different flavours and textures at work. The sushi rice was a tad dry; yet it still had a good chewy consistency. Often, when we order gyoza, it is not fried up properly (due to lazy kitchen staff). Well, I have to say that the gyozas were nicely browned. The soft, thin dumpling skin encapsulated a fluffy meat and veggie filling. Really good gyozas.

We got 2 items specifically for the kiddies (which we end up eating if they don't...). The first was the Oyako Don. They used white meat in this particular case and to our surprise, it was tender and juicy. Mixed with fluffy egg and just the right amount of mirin/soy/dashi mixture penetrating the rice without making it salty. As expected, we got the Tempura Udon again. Hey, my son likes udon and tempura (only the batter though!). The udon was alright, the noodles were a bit soft while the soup was pretty flavourful. I wasn't a huge fan of the tempura though. The batter was a tad thick and had a layer of sogginess beneath the crispy outer coating. Although not perfect, the meal at Vanya was satisfying. Definitely reminds me of the style you'd find at Hi-Genki and Koko. Not modern Japanese food; but good home-style Japanese food. Nothing wrong with that.

The Good:
- Friendly staff
- Honest food
- Authentic

The Bad:
- Interior is in need of an update
- Not as inexpensive as you'd think

Vanya on Urbanspoon

Song Huong (Surrey)

Quick... What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Vietnamese food? Pho? Banh Mi? CTV's filthiest restaurants? On that note, it's amazing that most of the places I go are on that list. Ultimately we are at the mercy of what restaurants want to put on their menu. Thus, we are quite familiar with Pho, Banh Mi, Spring Rolls, Salad Rolls and the sort. Not until recently, I tried the Beef 7-Ways at Thai Hang. Well, it was more like Beef 5-ways, since they didn't have the other 2. It is offered only in a select few Vietnamese restaurants in town. Other than Thai Hang, Song Huong is the only other place I know for sure that serves it. Luckily for me, they have a Surrey location in addition to the one on Nanaimo in Vancouver. Why? Well, Pomegranate and I could swing by for lunch at the Surrey location, not the Vancouver one! The first thing I noticed is that this location is a whole lot smaller than the one in Vancouver. We thought the plastic green bananas and chili peppers with a slight dusting of cobwebs really enhanced the decor. Seriously, it doesn't matter, we were not here for the ambiance... Knowing how we were about to eat lots, I picked a larger table (from my last experience at Thai Hang, you need space for this meal!).

I know the the last time at Thai Hang we only got 5 ways although the menu stated 7. The menu here at Song Huong specifically states Beef 5-Ways. There is no Beef 7-ways! Has downsizing and belt-tightening affected this meal as well? What's next? Beef 1-way? Isn't that just a "steak" here in North American cuisine? I certainly hope this trend doesn't continue! Fine, 5-ways it is... I guess for that reason we added an order of spring rolls to make up for the missing 2 courses. The crispy blistered exterior gave way to a "tight" filling of meat, vermicelli, carrots and wood ear mushrooms. I mention that the filling was "tight" because it was a whole lot better than the one at Bao Chau. The one there was mushy and loose.

As for our beef meal, the first course was the sliced rare beef, which we cooked in a hot pot on a portable burner. The beef was plenty fresh; yet it was a tad chewy. If it was sliced a bit thinner, it would've been easier to chew. Also included in the meal were hot sauce, lemongrass, sweet anchovy sauce and cooked vermicelli. On another plate, we were supplied with pickled daikon/carrots, pearl onions, bean sprouts, cucumber, tomato, romaine lettuce, mint, Thai basil and perilla leaves. We proceeded to make our own salad rolls with the supplied dry rice wrappers (which we soaked in hot water first). A tip to those who have never had this meal before - only dip the rice wrapper briefly in the hot water. It further softens once you put it on the plate. Otherwise, it'll be too wet. Also, don't be too greedy and overload the wrapper, you won't be able to close it. I learned this the hard way at Thai Hang. This time around, I was a roll wrapping superstar. LOL...

The next beef dish was the Satay Beef. Buoyed by a mound of picked veggies, there was actually very little meat here. Furthermore, the meat was also quite chewy and dry. The beef at Thai Hang was both more tender and flavourful. Apparently, the 3rd, 4th and 5th courses of beef were the beef meatballs/sausages. One version is wrapped in pepper leaves. Another is wrapped in fat and one is more sweet. However, I have a hard time differentiating between the two, except one has onion. By the time we were finishing up, we were stuffed beyond belief. Seeing that his meal will only set you back $26.00, it is a good value. However, it's really too bad that there wasn't the 7-course option. It's funny how I've had this meal twice and have yet to experience the full 7-courses. I may need to do this next time I'm in California since it is more prevalent done there. But for now, I'm more than satisfied with this unique meal that is definitely a change from the usual pho options.

The Good:
- Good value
- Food quality appears to be solid
- Friendly staff

The Bad:
- Restaurant a bit run down (not particularly unusual for this type of restaurant)
- No Beef 7-Ways option

Song Huong (Surrey) on Urbanspoon

Lucky Horse

While at Toyko Ken a month ago, I spotted a Chinese restaurant within the same shopping complex. I really didn't think much of it. After all, what's so special about a Chinese restaurant? There's one every few blocks in the GVRD. However, for some reason or another, I wanted to try it. They always say that curiosity killed the cat. Well, as long as they are not actually serving cat at the restaurant, it's all good. With a name like Lucky Horse, I'm pretty sure Cat is not on the menu. Ma was a bit nervous since I've taken her to a few places that serve items she's not entirely comfortable with. To this day, she still talks about the chicken feet I ordered for Dim Sum. She didn't end trying them though.

Today, I suggested we try Lucky Horse out while assuring her that they did not serve horse. It's only in the name! Well, when we were presented with the menu, I was absolutely sure there was no horse. In fact, I was almost certain that I would not be finding authentic Chinese food here. Why? The menu was printed only in English! Furthermore, with "Chinese and Canadian Food" on the front of the menu, it served almost as a warning. Ma exclaimed that, "there is North American food in here!" Alright, I ain't a food snob and do have the guilty pleasure of partaking in the occasional Manchu Wok/Panda Express meal. Yah, call it a lapse of judgment, giving in or just plain desperate; but if my expectations are for North American Chinese food, I'm okay with it. With my "Chineseness" turned down a few notches, we went about our business of ordering. There was a dinner for 2 that seemed quite reasonable for $23.00; but we wanted some leftovers, so we went for the dinner for 3 at $30.00. Hey, it sounded like a good deal with Spring Rolls, Chicken Chow Mein, BBQ Pork Fried Rice, Sweet & Sour Pork and Chop Suey. As we waited for our food, I assumed my role as the token Chinese person in a "Chinese" restaurant...

The Spring Rolls arrived hot and crispy. Other than the obvious oil slick at the bottom, these babies were actually quite good (they were veggie-filled). Looking much like something you'd find at a food fair Chinese joint, the BBQ Pork Fried Rice was a bit dry. However, I'd rather have it dry than soggy. It did the job, nothing more, nothing less. While the rice had a dark soy tinge, the meat on top of the Chicken Chow Mein was paler than Nicole Kidman. We found the noodles to be on the softer side; but again, they did the job and the copious amount of chicken meat didn't hurt the dish. Exhibiting a red that does not readily exist in the real world, the Sweet & Sour Pork turned out to be pretty solid. Most, if not all of the pieces were meaty with very little fat on them. Despite the colour, the sauce had a nice balance of tart and sweetness. I particularly liked that there was very little in the way of fillers in this dish.

Our last dish of Chop Suey consisted of broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, baby corn and beef. Honestly, the veggies were cooked perfectly with good colour and crispness. Too bad the beef was chewy and there was way too much salt. If you are thinking that the food looks suspiciously like the one you'd find at Manchu Wok, Flaming Wok and Panda Express, you're right. The only difference is that you are being served and the food is cooked to order. Yah, I wasn't expecting "real" Chinese food here. With that in mind, the food was pretty average for North Amercian Chinese food. But, for the prices they charge and the large portions, it will satisfy their target customer. I'm just not one of them.

The Good:
- Cheap
- Good portions
- Friendly staff

The Bad:
- Of course it ain't authentic! They never claim to be...
- A bit salty

Lucky Horse on Urbanspoon

Kwan Luck

Located in the old Dragon Inn resides a Chinese restaurant that is open until 3:00am. So what's the big deal you ask? Since our Friday night hockey games are becoming later and later, these are the only restaurants we can rely on for some eats. Yes, desperate times call for desperate measures. It's getting so bad, I'm considering going back to Knight & Day! Wait, that's just plain lunacy. I take that back. So Milhouse, Dr. No-Share (formerly Dr. 911) and Polka King joined me in exploring the unexplored. Kwan Luck was not even on Urbanspoon. That's how obscure it is. When we entered the place, I was a bit confused at the decor. On one hand, it looked like any other greasy spoon; but then they got these chic Ikea-looking lights in a range of colours hanging over every table. Chinese restaurant? HK- style cafe?

Whatever the case, I really didn't care. One look at the menu and it looked more like your regular Chinese restaurant with a few HK-style cafe items. Of course Dr. No-Share decided on a dish all to himself, so we ignored him and got some items to share. It started off a bit weak in that the Wonton Soup was average at best. Consisting of wontons made solely of pork, we expected some shrimp in them, to no avail. At least the broth was not too bad. Not too salty and a bit of meat flavour (we think it was chicken?). As we were wondering if this was a sign of things to come, the Baby Gai Lan and Beef set us back on tract. It sure looked good and it was. The baby gai lan were tender yet had a nice crunch. The beef was properly tenderized and the entire dish was not seasoned aggressively. What I liked the most was that there was no pool of oil on the bottom of the plate.

Being the "banana" (a term to describe an Asian who is white on the inside and yellow on the outside) that he is, Polka King really only knows a few food items in Chinese. In his broken Cantonese, he wanted his favourite dish "Gon Chow Ngow Hoh" or Fried Rice Noodles with Beef. It seems like that's the only thing he orders... Maybe he doesn't know anything else in Cantonese? When it arrived, the colour was a bit pale (lack of dark soy); but the flavour was pretty good - caramelized soy flavour with chives and tender beef. Again, this wasn't excessively oily (which is usually is) and that was a plus. Now if Polka King only knows one item, Milhouse is not far behind. He didn't need any arm-twisting when the Salted Fish & Chicken Fried Rice was suggested. He seems to eat this exclusively as well. If I only ordered what I knew... say... in German, I'd be eating only schnitzel all the time. I need to teach them some other dishes! Okay, the fried rice was also pretty good. The rice was firm, dry and full of flavour from the salted fish. There was enough "wok hay" (high heat from the wok) to cooked the lettuce without it being soggy.

Lost in the food was the Preserved Egg and Salted Pork Congee. It was almost an afterthought. Why? Well, it was pretty average at best. The congee itself was not particularly that thick and there was a real lack of ingredients. I had to search within the congee to find bits of egg and pork. Dr. No-Share had the Beef Congee and it looked a bit better with a decent amount of beef. However, the congee here has nothing on Congee Noodle King or Congee Noodle House. In fact, I would say that Kwan Luck is not the place to go for congee or wontons for all that matter. However, the fried rice, noodles and main dishes seem to be executed quite well and at 2:00am in the morning that is a real plus.

The Good:
- Open late
- Decently executed dishes
- Reasonably priced

The Bad:
- Average congee and below average wontons

Kwan Luck on Urbanspoon

Karmony Bakery

While leaving Nancy Wonton House, Viv and I noticed a Chinese bakery a few blocks away. In my mind, I was thinking to myself that we should really try it out. I quickly ask my son if he wanted some buns. He gave me a "yes" and I made an immediate left turn for some impromptu Chinese pastries. Little did I know, Viv had the same thoughts and was quite happy I did so. Nice to see we were both thinking about food. Mind you, I'm always thinking about food, so it's not that much of a stretch. In fact, while my buddies look at women while we're in the car, I'm checking out restaurants... "Hey, check out that the sexy awning of that restaurant!". LOL...

Ironically, I'm not a big fan of bright red and yellow awnings; yet, that was what attracted me to Karmony. I guess there is a rhyme to the reason. On the inside, there is a modest display of buns and pastries. I was in the process of getting some items when Viv suggested we try some of their apple tarts. Well, anytime we get apple tarts, they will inevitably be compared to the ones at New Town. Flaky and crunchy on the top while sweet and tart on the inside, I have to admit that these ones were pretty good.

I also ended up getting some Pineapple Buns and BBQ Pork Pineapple Buns. There is no pineapple whatsoever; but the name is due to the top crust resembling a pineapple. We were pleasantly surprised with the texture of the dough. It was light and quite soft. I only wished they had put more filling, it was sparse and uneven. It did taste pretty good though. Not too sweet while nice and crumbly on top. I gotta say this was a pretty nice find. Definitely better than Maxim's and either equal or better than Pine House (in terms of the pastries, didn't try the cakes).

The Good:
- Reasonably priced
- Soft, slightly chewy dough

The Bad:
- Shop doesn't look at that impressive inside (doesn't matter really)
- Limited selection

Karmony Bakery on Urbanspoon

Fatty Cow Hot Pot

Originally we were set to visit Golden Sparkle for late night eats after hockey tonight. However, the actual operating hours are not even close to the ones indicated on their take-out menu. For Fridays and Saturdays, the menu states that they close at 2:00am. In reality, they close at 10:00pm. So everyone please take note! As a precaution, I always look out for other potential restaurants for future visits. Little did we know, it would be necessary as a backup tonight. We already knew Nancy Wonton House would be open; but there was another place open across the street... Fatty Cow Hot Pot? Hey, I recall reading Ben's post about it. Hmm... Late night AYCE hot pot? I recall doing it once with my softball team last year at Claypot. Well, it is a bit different than our usual wonton noodle exploits. Furthermore, the draw of all-you-can-hork tripe, intestines and pork blood just seemed too irresistible. On a side note, I know Fatty Cow is a bit a variation of the Chubby Lamb name; but honestly, what will we have next? Obese Chicken? Lardy Pig? Lipo Fish?

Joining me tonight were Milhouse, Boss Woman and Polka King. It's most unfortunate than none of them share the same love for offal like I do. Scratch that, Boss Woman doesn't mind it, in fact, she loves tongue. Uh... Anyways, AYCE hot pot was not really on our list of places to go; but there it was staring us in the face. Hey, we weren't going to say no! So we ended up paying an extra $7.00 for the Pork Bone Broth. Is it just me or hot pot restaurants should really just factor in the cost of the broth into the bottom line price? It's a bit of a scam in my books.

After checking off what seemed to be a massive amount of food, we were a bit nervous if we could finish it all. Remember, this is a late night meal after a game, not dinner! Fortunately, it just seemed like a lot, in reality it was just right because the portions were not too big. Since the place is named Fatty Cow, we had to get the Fatty Beef. Nicely marbled and thin without being too fatty, the beef cooked almost instantly. It was tender and moist. As mentioned, only Boss Woman shares the love for offal and we got the Chicken Giblets and Hearts. It arrived on the same plate as the Tofu. Not much to say about the chicken offal other than the fact that Milhouse and Polka King wanted no part in it. I must note that the tofu was quite silky while staying in once piece when cooked.

Arriving on another plate was the Chikuwa (tube-like cylinders of fish mousse) and Sui Gow (dumplings with wood ear mushrooms, pork and shrimp). Not much to say about the store-bought chikuwa; but the sui gow were pretty good with a lots of filling and a relatively thin wrapper. With any good hot pot restaurant these days, everything needs to be fresh. So it was nice to see that the Cuttlefish Meatballs along with the Shrimp Meatballs were such. Although not live shrimp (wishful thinking), the ones we got were fresh enough and had that "snap" texture we look for (rather than mushiness, which indicates deterioration). The one seafood item that surprised us was the oysters. When it arrived, the size of each one of them was shocking. They were some really large oysters. Even after cooking (which took a while), they were still quite big. In addition to that, they were fresh being sweet and not fishy. We also got some Cod Fish Slices that arrived on a dish with Bean Curd Stick and Taro. As with the other items, the fish was fresh and managed to stay in one piece even when boiled.

We also got a few more items which included Fish Tofu, Oil Noodles, Tripe, Cuttlefish and Fish Cracklings. They were pretty standard items and nothing was amiss. In fact, we thought all of the items were more than acceptable and fresh. For a hot pot restaurant, that is probably the most important thing to get right. Since it is newly opened, it is modern and clean with nice built-in units. Service is friendly while not being intrusive. Price-wise, it wasn't necessarily cheap; yet it is in-line with most other hot pot restaurants of this class.

The Good:
- Fresh ingredients
- Clean and modern
- Attentive service

The Bad:
- Some might consider it a bit pricey
- Could use a few more meat items on the menu (such as tongue...)

Fatty Cow Seafood Hot Pot on Urbanspoon

Full Moon Lao-Thai Restaurant

*Restaurant is now closed*

Here we go again. Another episode of Sherman's random Whalley adventures. Alright, I know, that doesn't sound all that promising and in fact, it sounds a bit dodgy. But rest assured, everything was on the up and up. And honestly, Whalley gets a bad rap all the time. If you've been here recently, it is really not all that bad. So, cruising up King George, I barely spotted a Thai restaurant hidden deep in a strip mall. It's so hidden, you cannot see it from the street. I had to park and walk-in to see if it was open. Yah, it was open alright. No customers around, but hey, I'll try anything. In fact, I was the only customer throughout my lunch there.

Okay, normally when I'm the only customer or early enough, I go straight for the window seat. No can do here. You see, there are no window seats. The only window in this place is at the entrance. Once you walk in, it's actually quite dark. Well, knowing I'd be using my flash, I picked a corner booth seat so I could creepily take pictures all by myself. I decided to try 2 items off the menu (didn't see a lunch special anywhere). The first was the Shrimp Pad Thai. Now if you look at the picture, you can see that it's quite
saucy. Honestly, I wasn't a big fan of this dish. Although there was a good amount of perfectly cooked shrimp, the abundance of sweet, tomatoey sauce didn't do it for me.

I also got the Red Curry with Basa. Hidden beneath the bamboo shoots, celery, carrots, peppers and onion lay an entire basa fillet. I was quite pleased at this discovery since that allows the fish to retain more moisture. If it were cut up into little bits, it would overcook much more easily. And the fillet was perfectly cooked with moist tender flakes bathed in a spicy (I asked for medium) coconut curry. I thought it was quite smooth with a definite kick at the end. This dish was good and plenty big too. No way I could finish it.

So essentially, I had one good dish and one not-so-good. I know being the only customer would result in attentive service; but I really thought the one waitress there was actually interested in providing good service. Considering the location, I possibly might give it another go since the prices are alright and the portions are big.

The Good:
- Good portions
- The curry that I tried is good
- Service is friendly and attentive

The Bad:
- Non-inviting dining space
- The Pad Thai was not so good

Full Moon Laos & Thai Restaurant on Urbanspoon