Sherman's Food Adventures: April 2010

St. James's Well

How about that, I ate lunch at Brewster's Pub yesterday and now here I am at another pub today. It seems like I get on these tangents such as ramen 2 days in a row recently at Santouka. Now, unlike yesterday, I was off work and could enjoy a cool one. I had been wanting to visit St. James's Well (what's with the spelling?) for some time now; but something always gets in the way. In fact, we were suppose to go about 3 weeks ago. Strangely enough, I got an email from RBC (yes, he works there and those are his initials...) on that same day suggesting I try the place. Well that was a sign. So Pomegranate and I went straight for the well right after work. Since RBC loves the place, he joined us as well.

Due to a scheduling boo boo, which I am the only one to blame, RBC had rushed over early to meet us, only to find out we were not there. I got tied up at work and didn't leave on time. He had left and finding out that we were still at the pub, he came back. He's a good guy for not getting mad at me. Well, he does read my blog everyday, I guess he just wanted to be mentioned? Anyways, while we were waiting for him to return, Pomegranate and I shared the Stuffed Baby Yorkies. These are essentially Yorkshire pudding stuffed with roast beef and topped off with horseradish cream. This to me is a very unique; yet ultimately logical dish. Think of it, everything you see in a traditional English roast beef dinner in one package. I though these were pretty good, although Pomegranate has had them before when they were hot outta the oven. Thus, he thought these were not as good as the last time. For me at least, I enjoyed the nice bite of Yorkshire pudding with beef and horseradish cream, the perfect combination. Dipped into the au jus made it even tastier.

If that wasn't enough for an appetizer, both of us got a cup of Guinness, Crab, Corn and Cheese Soup. My goodness, this was a very rich and creamy soup. If this is a cup, then I don't want to think how big a bowl is. This was more than enough since it was really so rich. The flavours in this soup was actually quite mild and I really didn't get a sense of the Guinness. Rather, it was mostly sweet due to the corn and crab (which I also didn't see much of). Since we had 2 very filling appetizers (and beers), we weren't really in the mood in eating much more. Thus, we decided to share Sablefish & Chips. We substituted Poutine for the chips. It's not often you find sablefish (aka black cod) as a choice for fish 'n chips. When we got our order, it was quite obvious why halibut is the most popular fish. Being that sablefish is quite fatty, frying it in batter just didn't seem to work. Although the fish itself was cooked perfectly being moist and flaky, the entire thing was very greasy. To me, that didn't work, especially when dipped into more fatty goodness - the tartar sauce. However, the tartar sauce was quite good. It was very flavourful with lots of dill. We also liked the side of mushy peas. It still retained some texture and with the addition of mint, it made for some nice flavour.

I'm not sure why we ordered a dish of French-Canadian origin in an English Pub. Serves us right though because it wasn't so good. The fries were not crisp, in fact, they seemed very generic. Best to use double-fried fries in this particular dish. Despite the generous portion of cheese curds, they were way too small and completely melted into a blob-like mess. I like it melted, but not in this way. However, the gravy was quite nice, having depth without the saltiness. RBC settled on the Steak & Guinness Pie. Visually, it was quite appealing with a crisp, flaky crust and a good amount of meat. He really enjoyed the pie stating that it tasted really good and rich. However, on his last bite, he put something into his mouth that he thought was the last piece of steak. Wrong. It was a blob consisting of undissolved roux. If you can imagine the concentrated flavour in that, He didn't enjoy it and almost horked. Thus, he told our server such. To the restaurant's credit, they offered a replacement (even though it was all finished) or a dessert. Since we were leaving, both were not
options. Consequently, they paid for his beer. It's a small token; but hey, we thought the restaurant handled it with class and appropriateness.

As with any pub, generally, the expectation is that the food will be generic, fried and unimaginative. Yet, the food here at St. James's Well definitely bucks the trend. Sure, there are the pub classics like fish 'n chips, meat pies, burgers and such. However, there are many English favourites such as Bangers and Mash mixed in with some dishes you won't find anywhere else. Although my visit didn't yield any gastronomical revelations, I found the food decent and interesting enough to warrant future visits. The great service we received didn't hurt either.

The Good:
- Some interesting items not found anywhere else
- Pretty decent food for a pub
- Great service

The Bad:
- Possibly some things sounded better than they turned out to be

St. James's Well on Urbanspoon

Brewster's Pub

Sometimes it seems like the good ol' pub never gets the respect it deserves. Well, think of it. Most people associate a pub as a place to grab a few drinks and possibly order some (mostly fried) items to keep it company. At times, most people don't even give a rat's ass about the food since they are inebriated. In that state of mind, practically anything tastes good, especially food that is in a shade of brown. That probably explains the draw of Denny's in the early morning hours. I have to admit it, I don't give pubs much respect when it comes to my gastronomical decisions. In fact, I'll probably go out of the way to avoid them since many serve prepared food supplied from Sysco.

All of the aforementioned reasons most likely led to my hesitation in trying Brewster's Pub even though I've passed by it countless times. I even avoided it to eat at Lucky Horse nearby. Today, Ma and Bubble Girl joined me for lunch. We were searching for a Japanese restaurant in the Newton area that I had not tried yet. We ended up at Tokyo Sushi Express and seeing how I just ate at the Scott Road location the day before, I was not that interested. However, there was Brewster's Pub nearby and Ma thought it would be a great idea. Fine, I'll try it. Even though I could not have any alcohol since we had to return to work afterwards. That's just plain wrong! It's like going to burger joint and ordering quiche. Wait, Miss Y did that...

I don't know about you; but if I'm at a pub, I'm ordering wings, sans alcohol or not! We decided to share an order of their Salt & Pepper Dry Wings. We were quite happy with the amount of well-seasoned wings for $9.95. Slightly on the dry side (I guess that's fine given they are dry wings), these were quite good. Bubble Girl and Ma both decided to get the Beef Dip. Nuts, I was hoping that they'd get different items. Well, at least Bubble Girl substituted a French Onion Soup for her fries and Ma got onion rings. Nothing mind-blowing about the soup; but as you can see in the picture, it certainly has all of the components such as the crouton and copious amounts of cheese. Bubble Girl said it was pretty good. Now if you check out the picture of the beef dip, you'll notice that it's real roast beef. Not only that, it's a bit on the rarer side too. Now that's what I call a beef dip! Combined with caramelized onions and cheese, this was a satisfying sandwich. Kudos for a well-made beef dip.

For myself, I ordered one of their specials - the Cajun Ribeye Steak with mash potatoes and Caesar Salad for $10.99. A strange choice since I already had steak the night before... Okay, I'm not really sure why there was a big BBQ sauce slick atop the steak since it's a Cajun steak. Whatever, the steak was cooked a perfect medium-rare and was quite tender. I thought the BBQ sauce detracted from the steak itself. The mash potatoes seemed like they were freshly made and were a tad on the dry side, the generic gravy helped in that respect. As for the Caesar Salad, it did the job more or less. Romaine was crisp and not overdressed.

Well, it looks like a random pub adventure turned out to be pretty good. At least for the dishes we tried, they all turned out pretty well and at a reasonable price. Unlike some other pubs, Brewster's is well-maintained and clean. Furthermore, the service we got was efficient and friendly. The only issue was that the table of men beside us were a bit curious as to why I was taking pictures of the food with my massive flash (it's dark inside). Think of it, it's not a usual sight to have someone snapping photos inside a pub...

The Good:
- Good portions
- Decent food
- Reasonably priced

The Bad:
- Don't expect gourmet food
- It's still a pub, so the ambiance is not for everyone

Brewster's Pub & Liquor Store on Urbanspoon

Tokyo Sushi Express (Scott Road)

For lunch today, I wasn't really sure where to eat. After all, there are not many restaurants nearby that I haven't tried already. While driving down Scott Road, I noticed that the new Japanese restaurant residing at the old location of Pico Bello had opened for business. I quickly pulled into the parking lot to give it a shot. Yah I know, Japanese food for the second straight day. Honestly, I can eat Japanese food every day if I had to. Thank goodness there are a lot of them. Of course, there are a lot of Japanese restaurants; yet not necessarily Japanese-run. Well, I can confidently say that Tokyo Sushi Express is Chinese-operated. With that being said, I will say what I've been preaching all along: it doesn't matter who makes it, as long as it tastes good.

So other than the addition of a sushi bar and Asian-theme lighting, the restaurant looks almost as it did before. I was the first to arrive for lunch and was greeted warmly by the staff. I think that one of the servers is actually Japanese since she didn't understand a word of what the other staff were talking about in Cantonese. I did and it's interesting to eavestrop on their conversations. Apparently, they are still working out their kinks being so new. I was tempted to order a combination lunch; but I decided to do a-la-carte to try more of their sushi. For me, cooked food like Teriyakis and Yakisobas are not necessarily the best indication of good Japanese food.

I started with Salmon & Tuna Sashimi and they came in really large slices. It's not the best sashimi I've ever had; but honestly, it wasn't too bad. Fish was not mushy and it tasted alright. Next up was 4 pieces of Nigiri which included Unagi, Inari, Toro and Chopped Scallop & Tobiko. Interesting that these looked a bit small since there was very little rice. Not really an issue for me because I don't like too much rice with my nigiri anyways. It was more or less decent for its location. The sushi rice itself exhibited an acceptable texture where it was slightly chewy and a bit sweet. Not much in the way of vinegar and it was a tad on the dry side. I also decided to try out the Phoenix Roll which consisted of imitation crab, scallop, tamago and cucumber encased in a soy wrap. The roll looked nice and was pleasant enough to eat; however, it could've been rolled a bit more tightly. I had to gingerly dip each piece into the soy/wasabi mixture so it wouldn't fall apart.

As if this wasn't enough, I decided to try out the Takoyaki as well. While I was waiting for it, I heard them yelling (and they were doing their best Cantonese "yelling") about where the takoyaki was. That made me a bit nervous because that would indicate premade takoyaki which would ultimately be deep-fried, not pan grilled in a mold. When it arrived, it looked the part, maybe a bit more bonito would've helped with the presentation. They weren't bad per se; but the inside was not as fluffy as I would've liked being a tad doughy. But it did taste alright. And that probably sums up my meal, it was acceptable. Nothing great while nothing bad. It's okay given that there are not many Japanese dining options nearby. Pricewise, I thought it was pretty reasonable and the service (for me at least) was extremely attentive.

The Good:
- Reasonably-priced
- Attentive service
- Food is alright

The Bad:
- Lacks a bit of authenticity (if that matters to you)

Tokyo Sushi Express on Urbanspoon

Akashi-Ya

For me, the corner of King George Highway and 72nd is a bit frustrating. You see, there are medians on all 4 approaches to the intersection. Essentially, if you are driving in the opposite side as to your location, you're pretty much screwed. Think of it similar to Richmond, especially #3 Road, except the traffic moves here. Sure, there are "secret" ways around it as mentioned by Drew (in the comments of the Kyoto post). However, I always seem to get stuck going the wrong way. One time, I thought I'd be creative and pull into a side street. Well, I ended up in one of the many strip malls along KGH. Although it was not my ultimate destination, there were a few restaurants there and I filed it away for future food adventures. One was Lido Chinese buffet and I filed it away in my "if I'm desperate or drunk" category. A couple of stores down is a plain looking Japanese restaurant named Akashi-Ya. I would've actually tried it that day; but it was not open yet.

Honestly, it's a bit difficult to find really good Japanese food out in the burbs. In fact, since I've never gone to Japan personally, I'm sure I don't even know what the "best" Japanese food is like. However, I base my thoughts on the very best I've had in Vancouver. Thus, as we move away from the those places (such as Ajisai), our expectations must be tempered. So, as a disclaimer, if I say the food is "good", it may mean "good for (insert city) ". On a side note, I really have a problem with people who complain that the food here is never as good as it is in (insert country) . Duh. Of course it won't be; but how many people are going to get on a plane to have an "authentic" dinner in the originating country of that cuisine???

So the first thing that caught my eye was a lunch combo which included most of the items I wanted to try (sashimi, tempura, California roll - hey it's a roll and choice of karaage, croquette or gyoza). However, I wanted to give the Spinach Gomaae a try first. Not the most appealing looking gomaae, it was a miss. I wasn't that happy with the toughness of the spinach itself. The dressing wasn't exactly what I was hoping for, but at the very least, it was not too overpowering. I was happy to receive some pretty decent-looking Sashimi, especially the wild salmon. And it was good being fresh-tasting and not mushy. When I first laid eyes on the Tempura, I was a bit worried. Looks like they used old oil; thus the darker appearance. Not to worry, it was crispy and the veggies were not overcooked.

I know, I know, a California Roll ain't exactly the best way to try roll sushi; but... I wasn't going to order more food, especially for lunch. Anyways, the sushi rice was acceptable. Still exhibiting a decent bite, while not being too dry, the rice encased fresh avocado. I had a choice for my last item between the Chicken Karaage, Gyoza or
Pumpkin Croquette. Since I eat the other 2 items regularly, I went for the Croquette. Quite crispy on the outside with a fluffy and sweet pumpkin filling, I enjoyed it. So once again, I must repeat... "For Surrey", I found that the food at Akashi-Ya to be decent, especially at a reasonable price too. Furthermore, the staff were friendly and kept my tea refilled. It's not going to provide any serious competition to the big boys in Vancouver; but for someone who is in the neighbourhood, it certainly doesn't offend.

The Good:
- Okay prices
- I found the fish fresh (well as fresh as flash-frozen fish can get)
- Decent service

The Bad:
- Gomaae was not very good
- Some other Japanese restaurants in the area are a bit better

Akashi-Ya on Urbanspoon

Lion's Den Cafe

Despite unwavering confidence in my own decision-making skills, Viv often reminds me otherwise. I suppose she is the second sober thought? Being a responsible wife? Or merely out to pull me back down when I'm too high on myself? Could be all three I suppose. Well, I must admit that it was totally an error in judgment that I decided to play hockey on Sunday morning. I was sick as a dog and really should've taken a couple of days off from work last week. But no. Being quite stubborn, I worked every day and decided to play hockey as well. It really wasn't too bad despite the throbbing headache. However, once the blood got pumping, the headache got worse and my play deteriorated. People were wondering why I wasn't moving. I was wondering why I was playing...

Oh it gets better! Having already missed an eating opportunity with Darina & Victoria at Les Faux Bourgeois on Thursday, there was no way I'd miss a meet-up with Kim, Karl, Jessica, Mark & Elaine at the Lion's Den. Yah, when most people would be in bed with plenty of cold medication, I decided to eat Japribbean food. Ja-what??? Yah that's right, a mix of Japanese and Caribbean food. Hey, why not? Trying not to contaminate my fellow bloggers, I tried to touch as few things as possible and ordered a ginger beer to hopefully calm my cough. We decided to share some dishes and started with the Jerk Chicken. It is really too bad we started with this dish since it was hands-down the best one of the meal. Everything else afterwards paled in comparison. The jerk chicken was really flavourful with plenty of heat; but not scorching hot. The meat was fork tender. The whole dish just worked.

Then, unfortunately, we were presented with the Curry Goat. It was completely bland comparatively. No heat, no body, no nothing. Although the meat was tender and a bit gelatinous, there was not even a whole lot of goat gaminess. Good for some I suppose; but I wanted to taste goat. The same could be said about the Oxtail as well; but for me at least, there was a noticeable sweetness to it and a richness due to the oxtail breaking down in the sauce (thus a bit gelatinous and full of body). The texture was right on as well, with fork tender meat with little morsels of fat. Hey, I'm a bit biased since I love oxtail. It's probably only second to my love for tongue. Replacing the rice for our Goat Curry was a side of Roti (filled with crushed yellow split peas). It looked to be nice and fluffy. However, it was quite dry and it was still dry even after dipping it into the curry.

There was a small gap between these dishes and our final one. We were warned that the Okonomiyaki would take 30 minutes. It probably took longer; but when you're busy snapping photos and yakking, we didn't seem to notice. We actually added pork to ours and it turned out to be the star of the dish. Large morsels of tender pork (which had a good "porky" flavour) were like buried treasures within the flour and egg "pizza". The okonomiyaki itself was a bit disappointing though. I thought it was a tad on the doughy side. Although the sauce tasted alright, the colour was quite strange. I'm more used to a darker okonomiyaki sauce. As we were leaving, the owner insisted we all crowd into the restaurant for the story behind the stuffed lion (yes, it's in the restaurant). I'm not going to retell the story; but let's just say he is one charismatic fellow who cares about his business and customers. And that is partly the charm of the Lion's Den, even though the food is just okay.

The Good:
- Reasonably-priced
- Friendly owner and staff
- Interesting menu items

The Bad:
- Food on the whole is quite average
- Very small restaurant, but didn't really matter in this case, we sat outside in the nice weather

Lions Den Cafe on Urbanspoon

Empire Seafood Restaurant

Quick... What do you think most people are eating at Chinese restaurants right now, like right now? If you said Sweet 'n Sour Pork, that is hardly the right answer. However, I do have a soft spot for this oft-ridiculed dish. The right answer is king crab. That's right, those humongous, slightly scary-looking monstrosities crammed into live seafood tanks at the front of Chinese restaurants. Chances are that almost every table at Chinese restaurants, that serve king crab, will be munching on crab legs doused in an obscene amount of garlic. Last year, Costanza, Elaine, Viv and I tried the king crab meal at South Ocean. It was decent; but I really wasn't in the mood for another 3.5 hour meal. Thus, our new destination was another Richmond restaurant - Empire.

Now let's get this straight first. There are 2 Empire locations in Richmond. One on Alexandra and the other (which we visited today) is in the same complex as London Drugs on Westminster & #3 Road. Guess where I went first, not knowing which location Elaine made the reservation at? Yah, not only did I have to come to Richmond to eat, I had to do a bit of restaurant hopping as well. Meh, it wasn't really all that bad. I should just lay off with the Richmond jokes, the food is outstanding there. So, when we finally arrived, the restaurant was truly hopping. It was packed and barely anywhere to walk. Today, it was only my son and I joining Costanza and family. Viv was busy and I was not brave enough to bring both kids out, especially to a hands-on meal such as king crab. Ultimately, I still had a challenge on my hands since my son would probably not eat anything.

We ended up ordering a set meal which included 2 courses of the king crab. Up first was the Fish Maw with Seafood Soup. Honestly, despite the nice picture full of ingredients, the actual large serving bowl of soup had very little in the way of anything. The fact I could see large spots of broth didn't bode well for this soup. Where there was seafood, it was fabulous. However, the fish maw was diced up into little bits and barely any of it. I would definitely say this soup was a miss. The next dish was the Free Range Chicken. For me, I guess it totally depends on my mood whether I want to eat free range chicken or not. You see, this type of chicken is quite lean and the meat can be a tad chewy. Sometimes I'm in the mood for it, sometimes I'm not. I was indifferent tonight and thought it tasted alright (it had some seasoning) and the accompanying grated ginger amped it up a bit.

The main star of the meal, which is the King Crab if you haven't guessed by now, was a bit of a disappointment. In terms of the garlic, it was fabulous. I kept scooping up the garlic to eat on its own. Costanza watched in disgust. Hey, I love garlic! However, the crab itself was small and appeared to be on the Atkin's diet. There was very little meat in the legs. Furthermore, the 2nd crab course, which is the fried body meat tossed in chili salt, was hopelessly small. I figured that they must've used the smallest, skinniest, most pathetic crabs they got for the set meal. I realize that the set meal may work out to be slightly cheaper than ordering a king crab on its own; but somebody inform us will you? I mean, the other dishes in this particular meal were quite ordinary in my opinion.

And ordinary doesn't even explain the Braised Pork Ribs. During the meal, Constanza remarked how much he enjoyed this dish. For me, I just kept quiet. Why? Because I really couldn't stand it. The darn dish was not appetizing to look at or to eat. There was very little in the way of flavour despite the appearance of braising. Usually, braising pork ribs would result in a very rich tasting meat. Furthermore, I found the meat to be dry and tough. Don't ask me how they accomplished this with pork ribs in braising liquid.

The last item in this meal was a simple dish of Egg Noodles with Enoki and Sprouts. Bland, mushy and cold, I also hated this dish. My son didn't like it and wanted to stop eating it. This time, I don't blame him. If you add up the 3 dishes and the pathetic soup, they were more like throw-ins than actually respectable food. Take into account the crappy crab, the meal was no way worth $128.00. Honestly, I would've gladly done the meal from last year at South Ocean instead, even if it were 3.5 hours. I wasn't impressed with my meal at Empire at all.

The Good:
- There really wasn't any in this visit

The Bad:
- Food is below average
- Poor value for this meal at least
- Too cramped

Empire Seafood Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Bentei Sushi (Burnaby)

It's funny how we end up missing restaurants that are right under out noses. Case in point, I've been in the area for 5 years and have never tried anything in the Fair Market complex on Broadway in Burnaby. I frankly don't even know what exists there. It never fails, we end up going far away to eat since the closest restaurants are always there for us. However, we end up taking them for granted and never actually end up visiting them. Originally, after the kiddie's music lesson, we were gonna check out Kilala Sushi; but it's an actual sushi bar, so nothing for them to eat. Thus, our backup plan was to check out Bentei Sushi in the Fair Market complex. If there was ever an example of an throwback strip mall, this would be it. Nothing modern about this place. It's like they took a memory from my childhood and recreated it here. From the ol' skool storefronts to the "Safeway, Woodward's Food Floor of the 70's" Fair Market, you can feel right at home with your Camaro or Mustang complete with 8-track.

The ol' skool them doesn't end there. One glance at the decor inside Bentei reveals linoleum floors and 80's conference chairs. No, there is very little in the way of Japanese decor here other than some items on the wall and Noren curtains. We were greeted by a very nice gentleman who was a gracious host throughout our meal. We started with a plate of Nigiri consisting of 1 pc Toro, 1pc Chopped Scallop, 2 pcs Inari and 2 pcs Unagi. Alright, these were some of the biggest pieces of rice I have ever gotten with my nigiri ever, even more than some AYCE places (where they want to fill you up with rice!). And about that rice... Gosh, I really don't want to be mean (since the people here are so nice); but it wasn't very good being sticky and mushy. At the very least, the toppings were fresh and quite good.

We also got a plate of Tuna & Salmon Sashimi, which was quite fresh. One problem. Take a look at the tuna. Notice how it is in irregular sizes? I have to say this is a very poor attempt to slice sashimi. In fact, I'm not even sure I technically got 5 pcs of tuna since the bottom 2 pieces should really be one. Rounding out our portion of the meal was a Teriyaki Beef Bento with Yakisoba. Uh, the yakisoba looked and tasted more like Chinese chow mein than anything else. Hey, it was good chow mein, just not yakisoba. As for the Beef Teriyaki on rice, it was a bit dry and salty. However, with the addition of extra teriyaki sauce, the rice was actually quite good, if not now even extra saltier. For the kiddies, we got the "go-to" dish which is the Tempura Udon. As for the tempura, it was pretty good. The batter was fried crispy and not oily. Unlike quite a few places, the shrimp was not hard and overcooked. In fact, it was plump and juicy. I realize that udon is not really a "sexy" dish and there is not much to say about it; but this one was not bad. Some places cook the noodles too long and they become soft, not here. The broth was a bit one-dimensional though, tasting mostly of shoyu.

Once again, I'm in one of those dilemmas where I find it hard to be mean since the staff here are so honest and kind. However, I must report what I experienced and honestly, the food was on the bad side of average. Not to the point that I hated it; but not something that I would want to eat again. For those who live in the neighbourhood and do not have such high expectations for their Japanese food, Bentei is certainly inexpensive and still quite edible. It appears there are quite a few regulars who dine here, so I think that's the clientele it mainly serves.

The Good:
- Inexpensive
- Honest and caring staff

The Bad:
- Pretty average food
- Not the prettiest of restaurants

Bentei Sushi (North Burnaby) on Urbanspoon