Sherman's Food Adventures: May 2010

Swallow Tail Supper Club

Admit it. We all like sticking it to the establishment. Whether it be by protesting on the steps on the VAG (Vancouver Art Gallery! Get your heads outta the gutter!) or merely bitching about it while sitting in front of the TV, we all like to somehow get back at the Government. After all, we elect them with certain promises and expectations hoping to be fulfilled. What ultimately transpires is that we bend over and take it. Much like the new HST. I'm not going to get into a political debate over that here, after all, this is a food blog. However, with the growing number of underground restaurants popping up, we really can stick it to the MAN (not trying to be sexist here, but the current Premier is a man...). Having already given NFA (No Fixed Address) a shot, I was ready for another. Once again, Jonathan graciously took the reigns of organizing another meal. This time it was the Swallow Tail Supper Club. Proudly proclaiming themselves as "an underground supper club... sleuthing out wild BC foods and smuggling them to the table", it gives me the gratification that in some way, we are revolting against high prices and taxes. Yah, it's pathetic. Speeding and eating at underground restaurants - that is the extent of my lawlessness...

As we (Kim & Anita) arrived at the location, we were ushered outside to the deck since it was such a nice day. There, we met up with Victoria, Joyce, Frank and Jonathan. Mijune, Jenny & Ricky and Ben & Suanne arrived later. We were served an amuse bouche consisting of Farmhouse BC Gruyere & Sour Apple Tart on handmade puff pastry with apple reduction. At first, I thought the large piece of gruyere might have been too much for the other ingredients; but it turned out to be well balanced. A good mix of sweet, tart, savory and nuttiness. After that, we were ushered to the basement or the "dining room". Walls adorned with wine welcomed us to a cozy, if not "That 70's Show" decor with a table consisting of 2 separate sections and a mish-mash of chairs. Hey, that really didn't matter to me since it's the food that counts!

We started with the Stinging Nettle Soup with arugula, sweet peas and garden rosemary finished with a radicchio cream garnish. Served on the side were BC stout bread cubes. Having a consistency similar to pea soup with spinach, I enjoyed the smoothness. Flavours were subtle with a hint of bitterness from the radicchio. My only wish would be that the soup be hotter. Next up was the Cedar Smoked Romaine with pecorino/parmesan, portugese olive oil vinaigrette and garlic croutons. A bit similar to the Caesar at the Sandbar, the romaine heart is served as is. The smoky cedar flavour was really apparent while the romaine retained all of its crunch. Combined with the vinaigrette and the cheeses, this resembled a Caesar; yet by virtue of a lighter dressing, it allowed the smoked flavour to shine.

Following the salad was the Baked Live Dungeness Crab with Averill Creek BC Pinot Gris, with red pepper and star fruit. Garlic and crab butter was served on the side. For me, the natural sweet and saltiness of dungeness crab combined with plenty of garlic and a perfect amount of wine made for a tasty eat. Translation: the baked crab was in its natural state (baking retains more of the flavour rather than boiling or steaming). Adding the crab butter only further enhanced the already flavourful dish. We actually used the remaining croutons to soak it up. I only wished that my portion of crab was cooked a little less since the body meat was slightly overdone. Our meat dish consisted of BC Bison Tenderloin with red onion jam (braised in noble ridge meritage), creamed parsnips with garden rhubbarb, sauteed leeks with cattails in BC chardonnay, cleavers and chive flowers. We thought that the tender bison was masterfully grilled with a nice charred exterior. I was not a big fan of the jam since it was quite sweet and detracted from the natural bison flavour. The creamed parsnips were nice but for me, there were too many ingredients accompanying it.

For our dessert, we had the Beer Battered Crepe Blintz with (Limbert Mountain Farm) cream, Earl Grey tea creme anglais, apples & huckleberries and Amontillado Sherry reduction (consisting of pepper, lemon rind, vanilla bean). Under the dark lighting, I didn't even realize it was a blintz. There wasn't anything inherently wrong with the dessert; but for some reason or another, something seemed to be missing. The blintz was slightly crispy and the cream was certainly creamy. There was a understated tart and sweetness as well. Maybe it was too light of a dessert?

Lastly, we were served Limbert Mountain Farm double cream with Earl Grey tea. I'm not much of a tea connoisseur; but combined with the rich cream, I enjoyed the hot beverage. It was a nice end to a relatively good meal. It started off quite strong and weakened slightly after that. For $49.00, I thought it was a good value despite the fact I was craving a Filet-O-Fish afterwards (if you don't get this reference, click on the link). If I had to make a comparison, I found the NFA dinner more filling with slightly better ambiance. With that being said, I still think it's definitely worth checking out.

The Good:
- Some interesting uses of different ingredients
- Friendly proprietors
- Locally-sourced fresh ingredients

The Bad:
- For me at least, the portion size was too small
- Table arrangements could've been a bit better (didn't like the bench without backing)

Swallow Tail Secret Supper Club on Urbanspoon

Earl's (Strawberry Hill)

Here I am again, at Earl's. Now you might be wondering why I am subjecting myself to generic, underwhelming and generally expensive chain restaurant food? Well, there are a few reasons. First of all, Ma had $100.00 worth of gift cards to spend and I was actually moderately pleased with my food the last time at Earl's. After all, it's really hard to turn down free food! Initially, Ma joked that we would not need to use all of the gift cards for our meal. However, with 3 of us and knowing full well of Earl's pricing, I was pretty confident we'd spend it all. On that note, it is increasingly difficult to find reasonable pricing at places like Milestone's, Cactus Club, Joey's, Moxies and Earl's these days. It seems that you can't get out of there without spending at least $20.00 per person. However, I can understand this from a business point of view. The operating costs in terms of food, staff, rent and the such need to be covered. Hey, when I was in University, most people I hung out with would regularly eat at these places without hesitation. Once again, these types of chain restaurants serve a purpose and usually do it quite well.

So off we headed over to the Strawberry Hill location and it looked pretty much like any other Earl's. Again, the familiarity and consistency are real draws for some people. And yes, the "staff" were pretty much consistent as well. Let's just say the food ain't the only attraction here, at least for some people. We started off with the Dry Ribs, which seems to be a staple of most menus these days. Fried, tossed in salt and fresh cracked pepper, these ribs were good. Crispy on the outside while still moist on the inside, the only thing the ribs needed was more salt. For myself, I decided to go for the Prawn & Scallop Linguine. Prepared with a citrus white wine cream sauce with scallops, prawns, grape tomatoes, basil, arugula, toasted pine nuts and grated Parmesan, it was quite good. The pasta itself was slightly on the softer side; but not extremely so. It did soak up all of the flavour from the sauce and I found it balanced without being too creamy.

Ma had the Certified Angus Beef Top Sirloin Sandwich which consists of 5oz sliced sirloin, sauteed onions, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and Dijon mustard on ciabatta. The good thing about the sandwich was the perfectly cooked steak (rare). The bad thing was that it was chewy and tough. That was quite peculiar since technically the steak should have been tender despite its rareness since it's not a fatty cut. Otherwise, Ma enjoyed the flavours and thought it was pretty good. Another dish at our table was the Cedar Planked Salmon which was served with a tropical fruit salsa consisting of chopped pineapple, mango, red onions, fresh cilantro and mint. Also on the plate were garlic butter fingerling mashed potatoes and asparagus. The salmon was cooked perfectly where it was just beyond uncooked and the salsa was a nice fruity addition.

The last dish was the Jamaican Jerk Oven Roasted Chicken which consisted of 2 boneless pieces of jerk marinaded chicken topped with a mango and pineapple salsa. Roasted fingerling potatoes and asparagus rounded out the dish. The jerk spices were quite mild while the chicken itself was quite tender. Nothing remarkable about the dish; yet nothing bad about it either. I must admit, this visit to Earl's was actually quite good. I was impressed with the decent portion sizes and the level of execution. I guess this time around, I got to sample the more "expensive" entrees unlike last time. The fact that everything was pretty good, albeit not cheap, may have softened my stance on Earl's.

The Good:
- Perfectly executed proteins and veggies
- Decent amount of food
- Great service

The Bad:
- Still not cheap to eat here
- More cleavage than you can imagine (well, this is certainly a good thing for some people)

Earl's (Strawberry Hill) on Urbanspoon

Japadog (The Store)

When people look at the culinary scene in Vancouver, there are the usual suspects such as Bishop's, Blue Water, Cioppino's, CinCin, Il Giardino and Market. However, the one place that most tourists end up lining up for is the infamous Japadog. That's right, our gastronomical legacy (for now) happens to be a hot dog cart. Yup, we are known for tubes of mystery meat topped with Japanese ingredients served roadside whether it rains or shines (mostly rain unfortunately...) Hey, don't laugh. When the Olympics were here, Japadog got worldwide exposure and literally captured the imagination of many visitors. Watch the franchise expand all over North America! But first things first. The Japadog store located on Robson near Richards has been a long time coming. However, it was an epic fail that it did not open prior to the Olympics since that part of Robson became the hub of activity. Imagine the money they could've made! No matter, they did pretty well at their cart locations despite this. Finally, after what has seemed like an eternity, Japadog, the store, has gone live.

Early last year, I had visited the original Japadog cart on the corner of Burrard and Smythe in front of the Sutton Place Hotel. I gave both the Terimayo and Okonomi a try. As much as I wanted to dismiss it as merely a dressed-up hot dog, I really liked it (especially the Terimayo). Something about the combination of Japanese ingredients combined with the lowly hot dog made it work. A subsequent visit yielded the Misomayo and although it was good too, the Terimayo held a place in my heart. Today, I braved the threat of a lineup to give some of the new items at the Japadog store a go. There was a small lineup and it only took about 10 minutes before I was in. There were a few items on the menu that piqued my interest including the Love Meat; but honestly, it wasn't Japanese enough for me to try (despite its easy to ridicule name...). I settled on 2 items with the first being the Tonkatsu. Much like the name implies, it is a fried piece of pork slathered in tonkatsu sauce topped off with shredded cabbage and mayo inside a soft roll. Well, I liked this one. How could you not? Look at it. It was crispy, saucy with a nice crunch and smooth mayo.

I wasn't as enthused with the Yakiniku which is a hot dog topped with beef sandwiched in between a "rice" bun. It wasn't exactly the easiest thing to eat with things falling out all over the place. The sauce made it even messier as the rice did not hold up. The rice itself was somewhere between sticky rice and sushi rice. I did like the hot dog itself. It was quite meaty and had a nice snap. The whole thing didn't taste bad per se; it would be best eaten with a knife and fork. Another new item on the menu is the addition of fries. These "Shaked Fries" are exactly that. Fresh from the fryer, they are placed in a paper bag and shook with the selected seasoning. Choices include Aonori, Teriyaki, Japa Shio and Butter & Shoyu. I went for the latter. Although the seasoning itself was pretty flavourful and unique, the fries were quite average. They were very generic and lacked any real crunchiness despite being crispy (if that makes any sense).

Depending on your personal preferences, the new items will either be a hit or a miss. However, they have the favourites on the menu which will still attract new and old customers. At the very least now, people don't have to stand out in the rain (unless the line is long) and they actually have somewhere to eat it other than the sidewalk.

The Good:
- Menu still has the favourites: Terimayo, Okonomi and Oroshi
- Has an actual eating area
- Food is expedited much more efficiently than the cart

The Bad:
- Not sure about the fries, they need some work

Japadog on Urbanspoon

Bandidas Taqueria

"I want to eat meat" is what Father D proclaimed as we were leaving Downtown. For a fleeting moment, I thought of heading to Samba; but we weren't that hungry. Besides, I was already robbed by the parking meter of all my spare change. I wanted to leave Downtown pronto! I figured we could go to the Brave Bull; yet it was not open for lunch. So there we were driving down Commercial Drive looking for eats. We drove right past Memphis Blues, Vera's and ended up at Bandidas. Uh... isn't that a vegetarian joint? Yup, I brought Father D to a veggie place when he wanted meat. And worst of all, I had to park at a meter. Scrounging up all the loose change I had left, which were mostly dimes, I fed the meter enough for 40 minutes. Well, we'd have to eat fast.

As mentioned, Bandidas is a vegetarian restaurant specializing in Mexican food. So instead of ground beef, we find tofu. That didn't sound all that appetizing to Father D. I'm not even sure if I did a good job in making tofu look good. I think I mentioned that it tasted like linoleum... Hey, I'm into tofu and wasn't all that concerned. We started sharing 4 soft tacos - 2 each of the Leona Gayle and the Camillo. Consisting of smoky-sweet chipotle organic tofu, pinto beans, cheese, roasted red salsa, romaine lettuce & sour cream, the Leona Gayle was okay, but not as flavourful as the ingredients would suggest. I personally wasn't a big fan of the corn tortilla, it was dry and hard. However, I really liked the Camillo with its spicy breaded walnuts, pinto beans, cheese, purple cabbage, fresh red salsa and sour cream. For me, it was the crunchy walnuts that made the taco. Just the texture and sweetness was all it needed.

For my main, I had Dave's Enchilada filled with jack cheese and sweet chipotle tofu topped by a house-made mole. From what I could taste of the mole, it was slightly smoky and sweet. The flavour from the tofu detracted from the mole; but not in a bad way. I really enjoyed the tofu (didn't miss the meat). Father D had the Heuvas Rancheros which consisted of 2 free range eggs on corn tortillas with ranchera sauce, sour cream, pinto beans, roasted yams and potatoes. Although everything on the plate was good, he wasn't a huge fan of the sauce. The whole thing became a bit watery. Like me, he wasn't a big fan of the tortilla; but he did really like the potatoes. By virtue of being meat fans, we were okay with the meal; yet slightly indifferent. We could see why Bandidas is so popular with its big portions, creative use of veggie ingredients and energetic vibe.

The Good:
- Healthy portions
- The place has a nice vibe
- Creative uses of non-meat items

The Bad:
- Not as flavourful as we would've hoped
- Service is a bit sparse
- A bit unrefined (and it really isn't supposed to be either)

Bandidas Taqueria on Urbanspoon

Grand Honour Hot Pot

Rain. That is probably the last thing we wanted on a Monday. You see, it was our first softball game of the year and I was pretty excited about it. Sure, the eating that comes afterwards is always something to be happy about; however, I got a new composite bat. I really wanted to try it out! Not only did it rain, it was pouring. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, the game was not called. So I made the long trek out to Shannon field near Granville and 63rd. Yah, pretty far from where I live. Lo and behold, the game was indeed canceled. Turns out that neither team captain had each others' phone numbers, so no one knew it was a no go. So with rain beating down on me, I was busily going from car-to-car trying to get a read of where we were going to eat. Hey, we can't let this opportunity to eat pass us by! We really couldn't get a consensus and all that going back and forth just soaked my jacket. Finally, I just let Boss Woman make the decision (after all, that is her nickname). She thought since the weather was crappy, we should go for hot pot. That sounded alright to me and I had actually passed by Grand Honour on the way to the field. So off we went to hot pot, except for Silent Bob. You see, he didn't even know what hot pot was all about. I tried enticing him with tripe, intestine and pork bung in boiling broth; but that only encouraged him to leave. Hey, his loss, I get more bung for myself!

This also marked the return of Miss Y and Bear to my eating adventures. Milhouse and Boss Woman were present as well. So not to confuse everyone, there are actually 2 Grand Honour restaurants kiddie corner to each other. One is hot pot (with regular menu items as well) and the other is just a Chinese restaurant. So for $18.00, it is all-you-can-eat at Grand Honour, which I find as a reasonable price, considering its location. However, much like every other hot pot joint, the soup base costs extra. It's like paying your cell phone bill and having the stupid system access charge on top. Sneaky! So depending on how many people are dining with you, it can add $2.00 - $4.00 to your total cost. We ended up getting 2 hot pots which tacked on $16.00 to our bottom line. One thing that struck me immediately was the lack of service at this place. It took quite a long time to even get our order in. In fact, I saw one of the servers reading the newspaper. Uh, WTH are you doing dude? Also, it took forever for our soup to boil (probably 15 minutes). You see, this is important since they could limit your stay to 1.5 hours. With the slow service and even slower boil, that ate up 30 minutes already. Luckily for us, the place wasn't busy for a Monday night and they never enforced the time limit. But you can see that this could be a problem if it were busy.

The one positive is that we got our items pretty quickly. Too bad we were still waiting for the soup to boil. After awhile, we grew impatient and started sticking things into the hot pot. The first item we tried was the Fatty Beef and it did live up to its name being quite tender. One quick dunk and each thin slice cooked on contact. One thing I noticed right away was that both soup bases (chicken & satay) were woefully bland. I think if one was to pay $8.00 for each, it should taste like something. Resembling turd, no one was brave enough to eat the Beef Balls (Vietnamese Style). I found them rather dry and overly chewy. We did like the Wontons and Sui Gow. Despite not containing much shrimp, the filling was tasty and fresh. Not looking like any Fish Tofu we'd ever seen, the wrinkled up fried items on the plate were apparently it. They looked and tasted like tofu puffs (but they were not since tofu puffs were on another dish).

Call me a sucker for anything cheek, the Pork Cheek (after a short dunk into the hot water) was "porky" and a had a nice soft chewiness to it. These tasted and appeared very fresh. We weren't expecting live Shrimp, so when we got them, it was no surprise. However, they were almost frozen solid. That makes for a longer time to cook and once again... about that time limit... Since they were not fresh, we didn't end up getting any head... er... I mean eating the shrimp heads... That's too bad, that is the best part. Who doesn't like head anyways? Next up was a plate of Chicken and Sole. As the picture suggests, the items had a nice sheen and were fresh. Now, a plate that I insisted on having - Tendon, Bible Tripe, Fresh Squid and Dried Squid. Look at it! Why Silent Bob would not like eating this is beyond me... Anyways, the items were pretty standard with the tendon being soft. For those who don't know, the dried squid is merely air-dried and re-hydrated by soaking in water (it's the darker item in the back).

In only a style that is uniquely Miss Y, she ordered a dish of noodles. Going against the Chinese thought of eating only the expensive items, we really didn't mind the noodles (especially the wonton noodles, nice and chewy). The meal itself was quite pleasant with fresh items at a reasonable price. However, the service, or lack of, was inexcusable. Not one person came and checked on us and the soup was never refilled. At the very end, we barely had enough broth to cooked up one piece of meat. It might as well have been Korean BBQ, the pot was so dry. That my friends is good enough to take a pass on this place.

The Good:
- Inexpensive considering the food and location
- Items are fresh
- Fairly comfortable digs

The Bad:
- If reading the newspaper is considered service...
- Might as well make it a serve yourself restaurant
- Soup base has no flavour

Grand Honour Hot Pot on Urbanspoon

Song Huong (Vancouver)

With a title like "Beef 7 Ways", it might sound more like a questionable movie found at the back of the video store rather than a feast of food. However, rest assured, it is indeed a meal and it doesn't involve any censoring. In fact, this meal is not very easily found in the GVRD. To the best of my knowledge, only Thai Hang and Song Huong offer this special Vietnamese meal. I'm not surprised since this feast is usually served at weddings. Having already tried Thai Hang (albeit missing 2 courses) and the Surrey location of Song Huong (they only had Bo 5 Mon), it was about time I got the full monty or rather all 7 ways (now that does sound like a questionable movie...). Seeing how we were meeting up with Nikita (Gluten-Free Guinea Pig), we needed to appeal to her dietary restrictions. Well, what better than Vietnamese food? It's all rice-based products here! Also, Herbie the Lovebug and Giselle were joining us as well and they are foodies in their own right. We can't possibly go for something usual and boring. Thus, it led us to the Vancouver location of Song Huong for hopefully an actual Beef 7 Ways this time around.

Much like other Vietnamese restaurants, the physical building was once another type of establishment. My guess is it was either Italian or Greek. In fact, this location was another Vietnamese restaurant prior to Song Huong. With a few modest changes, the interior honestly still does not look the part. But who really cares anyways? Since we had 5 of us and the Bo 7 Mon usually feeds 2 people (quite well I might add...), we went for 2 of those and added some spring rolls. Much like the ones I had at the Surrey location, they used rice wrappers here; thus the blistered appearance. These were good, served hot and crispy. The filling was not too loose or tight and quite flavourful.

As for our Beef 7 Ways, we got the obligatory condiments which included a large bowl of sweet fish sauce, lemongrass, crushed peanuts and sriracha with the seeds. On the plate of veggies, we had onion bulbs, sprouts, cucumber, tomato, pickled daikon and carrots, lettuce, mint and perilla leaves. On another plate, we got blanched vermicelli (no picture because it's a plate of plain vermicelli). Of course we got the dry rice wrappers; however, rather than being served on a plate, they just gave us the whole package (exactly how you'd find it at the market). Interesting... What next? Pork chops still in the styrofoam container with saran wrap? Anyways, a bowl of hot water is provided, so you can soak the wrapper before eating. One tip, it is only necessary to dunk the wrapper in briefly (even though it is not soft yet). It'll soften very soon, too much water will make it hard to use.

So a quick lesson on what the heck you do with everything in this meal. As mentioned, you get dry rice wrappers (much like the ones you see on salad rolls, except smaller). You soak 'em and then put whatever you wish from the veggies, condiments and vermicelli. Just don't stuff it too much, you won't be able to wrap the darn thing and will end up with a bloody mess. Added to everything else is the beef. The first course is the Raw Beef. No, you don't stuff raw beef into the wrap. Rather, you cook the beef in a pot of water on a portable burner. The beef cooks really quickly, so don't leave it in too long, otherwise it'll get tough. The second, third and fourth courses consisted of 3 types of "sausages" or "meatballs". The first one (Bo La Lot) is wrapped in betel leaves (can be pepper leaves too) much like the Greek dish Dolamthes (which are wrapped in grape leaves). Practically the same, the second sausage is wrapped in caul fat. The third type has a more pronounced onion flavour. These little ground beef sausages are grilled and are quite flavourful with definite hits of fish sauce. I personally like the one with caul fat more. Something about the fat on the outside, so yummy. The caramelization of the sugars and charring adds a slightly sweet, smoky flavour.

The fifth course consists of Grilled Beef over a bed of cabbage, onions and basil. This one is more of a beef salad than anything else and as you can see, very little beef to veggie ratio. The strips of beef were nicely charred and slightly chewy. Up at the sixth course, we had the Beef Congee. Usually, the congee is not that similar to the Chinese version since it is a whole lot thinner and sweeter. Furthermore, copious amounts of cilantro make for a completely different taste as well. However, this time around, the congee was thicker and not too sweet. In fact, it resembled a Chinese congee. We were not sure if this was the intention or just a one time aberration. So this time, I liked it. But, I do not like the normal watery version. The last course was a giant steamed Meatball consisting of beef, wood ear mushrooms, vermicelli and onions wrapped in caul fat. No one seemed to like this since it was extremely bland and a bit gummy. I didn't mind it and merely used the supplied condiments to make it taste good. Nothing a bit of sriracha can't liven up!

Well, finally I got the full 7 courses (sort of). I'm still looking for a version that doesn't have 3 types of sausages. Although there are small differences, they are still very similar and don't offer enough uniqueness. With that being said, the meal was a pleasure to eat and really hands-on. There is more than enough food for 2 people per order of the Bo 7 Mon. Despite only having 5 courses (more of each though) at Thai Hang, I give them the slight edge due to more meat.

The Good:
- Good value (but most Vietnamese restaurants are...)
- Food looks and tastes good
- Beef 7 Ways!

The Bad:
- Service is sparse due to the size of the restaurant and minimal staff

Song Huong (Vancouver) on Urbanspoon