Sherman's Food Adventures: June 2010

Da Rae Oak

*Restaurant is now closed*

While dining at the Lion's Den with some fellow bloggers, I got a phone call. Turns out that I forgot that we were supposed to meet up with Costanza and Elaine for dinner. One look at the time, and I realize that I'd be eating again in 2.5 hours later. Doh! I was hoping to grab a "snack" at Ba Le. Well, that ain't gonna happen anymore! I ended up going for a haircut, then went home to pick up the family. So after a brief intermission, here I am eating again. Located right next to Samosa Garden, Da Rae Oak is not a very big restaurant. We were lucky to get a table for 8, as the place filled up pretty quick and was packed by the time we were eating.

As with most Korean restaurants, our meal started with the complimentary Banchan consisting of stewed potatoes, sprouts, wakame, daikon and kimchi. Nothing particularly exciting or offensive, these little dishes did their job. We started off with the Mul Mandu (steamed dumplings). These perfectly cooked little morsels were filled with pork and veggies encased in a thin dumpling skin. Dipped into the spicy, vinegary and sweet sauce, this dish was a winner. Up next was the Gam Ja Tang (pork bone soup). This was the soup for 2 version served on a portable burner. Is it just me or this soup in any shape or form grossly overpriced considering the raw materials? I realize there are quite a few examples of curiously expensive Korean dishes; but this one confuses me. The pork neck bones used are generally quite inexpensive. However this large soup costs $19.50. The only thing that might explain the high pricing would be the amount of time required boiling the broth and thus softening the meat. With that being said, this type of long boiled soup is normally complimentary in Chinese restaurants. Okay, despite my ranting, the soup itself was quite good. The meat fell off the bone and had soaked up the flavour of the broth. The broth itself in turn had a nice body to it from the bones while exhibiting some spice.

Bibimbap is such a simple dish; yet to me at least, oh so good especially served in a hot stone bowl (dolset). The ingredients were both plentiful and good while the rice was quite mushy. Even the sizzling hot stone didn't save it. Considering that I had to add the gochujang to it, it became even mushier. A dish that I have never personally ordered in a Korean restaurant, partly due to my preconceptions, is the Kan Poong Gi. It is essentially deep fried chicken in a sweet and hot sauce. To me it seems to be related to sweet and sour pork. When it arrived, it sure bore a striking resemblance with the fried pieces, peppers and pineapple. The only difference was the lighter colour of the sauce. I'm not sure about the spicy part; but it was sweet and a bit sour. It was alright; however nothing I'd order again. Nothing against this version of the dish in general, it's just too much like sweet and sour pork.

Something that we always order by default at a Korean restaurant is the Japchae, even though it is another example of an expensive dish (which is mainly just noodles). We liked the japchae here. Consisting of a good amount of ingredients, it wasn't overly oily (it generally is due to the risk of the noodles sticking). Flavourwise, there was a good amount of "wok hay" which translates into good caramelization. The last dish, Chicken Udon, was more for the kiddies. However, if you look at the picture, it doesn't resemble any udon I've ever encountered. But that wasn't a problem at all since the noodles were very good. Cooked al dente with a good amount of elasticity, these noodles had a nice "bite". The soup was had depth without being salty. It was flavourful and I really hope it wasn't MSG! Even the pieces of chicken were tasty. I probably ended up eating more of this than the kids. Don't worry, there was enough to go around, it was a big bowl! Actually, all the dishes were well-prepared and well-seasoned. Pretty solid food in my books. Mind you, like most Korean restaurants, the total bill wasn't cheap. Furthermore, service was extremely sparse despite being courteous when we got some.

The Good:
- Generally well-prepared and well-seasoned food
- Okay portions

The Bad:
- Sparse service (lack of staff)
- Tight seating

Da Rae Oak Korean on Urbanspoon

Bella Gelateria

Randomly, I get a call from Rich Guy. He had his brother on the line and he wanted to speak with me. Strange, I don't get many calls from his brother, who by the way will be referred to as Richer Guy. Yah, he's got even more money than Rich Guy. Dude has got a Ferrari! Apparently, Richer Guy had visited this new gelato place located in the Fairmont Pacific Rim. Completely at random, he had stumbled upon it and scored some samples. He got so excited by the quality of the gelato, he just had to tell me about it. It so happened to be that we were dining nearby tonight. Thus, we headed down to meet Richer Guy across the street.

This happened to be the last testing day before their actual grand opening on June 25th. I was introduced to the owner, James, who attended the Italian Culinary Institute and advanced masterstraining at Carpigiani's Gelato University. This guy is serious about gelato! In fact, he is the first in North America to employ commercial gelato equipment which is used in Italy. The impressive equipment help keep the gelato rich by limiting the amount of air. Furthermore, every ingredient is fresh. Nothing is preprocessed or prepackaged. The result? The best damn freakin' gelato I've ever had. Since he was giving out free samples to random visitors, I tried almost all of them. The Gewürztraminer Sorbetto really impressed my palate. Sweetened just enough, it felt like I was eating wine. That was also evident when I was trying out the Chocolate Fondent. It was like eating pure chocolate. The flavours are intense, the texture is smooth and the quality is obvious.

The store display is quite confusing to most people since you don't actually see the gelato. The reason for this is that if the gelato is exposed, it is compromised. So, everything is hidden under lids until it is time to scoop. There are 3 sizes - small ($4.95), medium ($5.95) and large ($6.95). Considering the care put into the creation of the gelato and sorbetto, the quality ingredients and the prime Downtown location, I find the prices to be extremely reasonable. In fact, these prices are comparable with popular places such as La Casa Gelato and Amato. However, they are not even remotely close to what Bella Gelateria can produce, in my opinion. It is not often I get blown away by anything, especially desserts (since I'm not a dessert person). But at this moment, the best gelato in town has got to be Bella Gelateria hands down.

The Good:
- Quality ingredients
- Made with care
- Reasonable pricing

The Bad:
- Mostly walk-up traffic, there is no parking here and if you get a spot, it'll cost you
- Limited flavours (which can be a good thing since it ensures quality control)

Bella Gelateria on Urbanspoon

Chill Winston

When looking into the high cost of eating, Ben believes that, "Asian food has to be the best value around". Hey, I'm with him 100% there. There is no better value than Asian food, particularly Chinese food. However, after awhile, I tend to get bored of it all. Time after time, we seem to go get wonton noodles after hockey. Great value? Yes. Interesting? Not exactly. Lionel Hutz and I agree that there is absolutely no fun in visiting a Chinese restaurant late at night. No atmosphere, no style, no service and no scenery. Well, I guess there was scenery at Chill; but that didn't help us when we were waiting over an hour for our drinks. So for once, we decided to head somewhere hip that had an energetic vibe and food that didn't have dumplings in it. Originally, we tried to visit the Alibi Room; but that turned into an epic fail. Turns out they were really busy. Furthermore, the hostess at the front-of-the-house completely ignored me when I was the first in line. She proceeded to help 2 other groups until Lionel alerted her of my annoyed existence. Apparently, she thought I was with another group. Uh... No...

We ended up leaving and headed over to Chill Winston instead. It was beginning to sprinkle and luckily we got a table pretty quickly inside. Immediately, Lionel noticed that the scenery was indeed quite nice (staff and patrons alike). I concurred and found it fortunate Viv wasn't around. I guess by virtue of her reading this, I'm a dead man... The place definitely has a nice vibe to it. For me, I do like this type of restaurant every now and then. Wanting the best of both worlds, Lionel Hutz ordered a Spinach Salad and added the steak from the steak salad. It was a mix of Baby spinach, sunflower seeds, strawberries, oranges, goat cheese with a balsamic pear vinaigrette. He liked the salad; but thought that the steak was overly salty. Moreover, he was never asked how he would like the steak done. Mind you it came out a perfect medium-rare. He was a bit miffed at the extra $6.00 for the steak since both salads were roughly the same price.

I decided to get an order of the Poutine to start. I liked the Jack Daniels demi-glace; however, I didn't get much in the way of JD flavour. I wasn't a huge fan of the cheese. For some reason or another, the texture reminded me of crumbled dry tofu. The fries were nothing special; yet they did their job. For my main, I went for the Bison Short Ribs. Not sure why it was plural since there was only one rib... Now, that one rib doesn't look all that big; but I assure you it was enough meat. It was fork tender and had a smoky molasses flavour with a touch of bourbon. It was accompanied by a wonderful potato salad and grilled zucchini.

Polka King had the Halibut which was supposed to come with corn on the cob and rustic summer salsa with black beans and white wine reduction; but they didn't have any corn and substituted asparagus instead. He enjoyed the properly cooked items; but he questioned if it was really worth the price he paid. That brings up the idea of value once again. Of course we can never compare ethnic Asian restaurants with places like Chill Winston. The price we pay takes into account the location, style, staff and raw materials. If you merely want value, Chill Winston may not be the place for you. However, if you want a hip place to hang with some friends, eat decent food and see and be seen, this is the place for you.

The Good:
- It's trendy and energetic
- Nice outdoor seating
- Great "scenery"

The Bad:
- Some items are pricey
- Food is not bad, but not great either

Chill Winston on Urbanspoon

Thu Mai Coffee & Sandwiches

Awhile back, I attempted to pick up some banh mi from a little shop right next to Pho T&A in Whalley. However, for some reason or another, I morphed into the next coming of Shaggy and even food couldn't entice me to go in there. Maybe it's just me, but there were a group of men playing cards and smoking like chimneys which just made me feel unsettled. Thus, I ended up going to New Town instead. Today, I pulled up my big boy socks and decided to give it another go. Hey, I'm a pretty big guy. Maybe if I go in with intention and a scowl on my face, I could look intimidating. Yah right, I think I look as intimidating as Erkel in an MMA tournament. Whatever the case, I walked in like I meant to. Ordered 3 banh mi. Sat down and didn't make eye contact.

It's funny how there is this big sign that says "No Smoking", while the air in there was slowly resembling the LA skyline. As for my banh mi, it took quite a long time and I had to sit nervously for roughly 8 minutes or so. Once I got my order, I quickly left reeking of Export A Gold. In one piece, while probably losing 3 years of my life from second-hand smoke, I made my way back to work. Of course I had to take pictures of my sandwiches; but I had to go straight into a meeting. Thus, it was a gong show of sorts, where I had to take a picture of the sandwiches really quickly and bringing them in to meeting. Yah, food takes precedent over everything else. What can I say? I decided to go for 3 subs with the first being the Cold Cut. With good amount of meat and crisp daikon, carrot and cucumber, this had all the potential for a good sandwich. However, it's quite obvious from the pictures that the bread is too dense. Not that it wasn't crusty on the outside; but it was too doughy on the inside. Flavourwise, it could've used more pate, although there was plenty of fish sauce.

Ignoring the bread, the Meatball sub was quite good with a decent amount of strongly onion-flavoured meat. The Shredded Chicken suffered from being too dry. The meat was a bit stringy and lacking flavour. Possibly, even more fish sauce and mayo-butter could've saved it. Honestly, these were some pretty average banh mis. Not horrible; yet not something I would necessarily ache to eat again. But, there isn't much in the way of competition nearby, so it is a viable option... If you are brave enough that is.

The Good:
- Decent amount of filling
- Ingredients are fresh
- Like with most banh mi, it's cheap

The Bad:
- Bread is too dense
- Not sure about the overall surroundings
- No Smoking? Yah right...

Thu Mai Coffee & Sandwiches on Urbanspoon

Le Do

I've been playing Sunday morning hockey over the last 3 summers and have only been out to eat after once. Honestly. What a waste. Think about it, a large group of hungry individuals probably in need of restaurant food... Hmmm... I take advantage of being on several sports team as an excuse to eat out, why not this group as well! So while changing out of my goalie gear, I overheard JuJu craving Pho. Hey, that's my kinda talk! I immediately invited myself to the conversation and even offered up a suggestion. There were a few places mentioned with us finally settling on Le Do, which was nearby. Since I'd never been to Le Do before, I accidentally walked into the diner on the corner and sat down (there is Le Do signage on the building). I was thoroughly confused to see the absence of srircha and hoisin on the tables. I asked if they served Pho and the server told me it was a few stores down. Sheepishly leaving the place, I went to the right restaurant.

Ultimately, all of us decided to get some Banh Mi to go with our Pho. I went for the cold cut which had a good amount of meat. On the other hand, the meatball sub had so little filling, we thought they had forgotten it. Upon further digging, we found it underneath the daikon and carrots. I was so hungry after hockey, I devoured my banh mi without looking closely at it. Either it had none or very little pate since I couldn't taste any. The bread itself was quite dense and not very crunchy. Definitely no where in the same class as the ones from Au Petite Cafe. As for our Pho, we all went for different ones and predictably, I went for the one with everything. I really liked how the soup was steaming hot. That is very important when there is rare beef and cold sprouts going in. Moreover, the broth itself was both aromatic and not too heavy (as in salty or msg). We thought it was a good balance of sweet and savory. With perfectly done rice noodles and a decent amount of tender meat, the Pho is definitely above average here.

Kaiser Söze had the Spicy Pho and although it had all the good elements of the regular Pho, it was not really all that spicy. If you look at the picture, it doesn't even look spicy. I guess when ordering, it would be prudent to ask for it to be spicier, or better yet, just order a regular Pho and dump loads of srircha into it. Prior to ordering, I had called Viv and asked her if she wanted anything. With confirmation, I ordered her a Chicken, Shredded Pork and Egg Pie Rice. If you're wondering why it's plated despite being takeout, it was intentional. Hey, plated food looks better in a picture than a Styrofoam container! Viv enjoyed this dish and remarked that the egg pie (egg, pork, vermicelli & carrots) tasted better than it looked. If you are wondering where the shredded pork may be, it's the jelly looking strands on top of the rice. Yes siree, it's shredded gelatinous pork fat! Hey, it's good, don't knock it. And that pretty sums up the food here at Le Do, it's solid, if not unremarkable. But for the reasonable prices they charge, it's a good choice for Vietnamese food.

The Good:
- Inexpensive (yes, I know most Vietnamese restaurants are inexpensive, this one is just more so)
- Good portions (other than the missing meatball in the sub)
- Solid food

The Bad:
- Pretty tight squeeze inside
- While the food is good, it won't blow your socks off either

Le Do Vietnamese on Urbanspoon

E Bei Sushi

The dreaded double-header. When one game of softball won't do, where we have to play another immediately after. This is a result of previous games being rained out. Imagine that, games being rained out in Vancouver. Surely that doesn't happen very often. No... in Vancouver? Excuse my sarcasm; but endless crappy weather for the last 2 months has not made me a happy camper. Mind you, I'm not a happy camper in general because I absolutely hate camping. My idea of camping is staying at a Motel 6. Call me pathetic, I don't mind. Camper I am not. So playing the actual double-header is really no trouble since I like to keep active. However, there are 2 issues. First, it further delays my eating. Second, being that we end later, there are fewer dining options for a Monday.

The games actually went by pretty quickly since we handily won both. It was nice to see the other team still have fun despite being thumped twice. Afterwards, we contemplated a few choices including the current special at the Hamilton Street Grill ($13.00 steak dinner!). However, Boss Woman kept whining about going into Yaletown. My goodness, it's a Monday and it was getting close to free parking time anyways. What's there to complain about??? Then she said it would be a better idea next week when we play at Canarvon. Uh... That's not much closer than Montgomery Park to Downtown. The reason? Because I was scheduled to drive her that night. For the love of... I'll leave it at that. Maybe I should change her name to Fussy Woman! So we ended up going to a place nearby that I've already blogged about. No matter, it's all good. The last time I was at E-Bei, I had forgotten my camera; thus we had crappy pictures from Rich Guy's cellphone. I was more than happy to return to not only redo some photos; but to see how things are going more than a year later.

Last time I was here, it was for the late-night AYCE for $12.95. A decent deal except for the fact that most of the items available are not necessarily the most desirable ones. I don't blame them, most other late-night AYCE Japanese restaurants have similar menus. Well, this time, we were 30 minutes from the late-night menu; but we stuck with the regular AYCE since we really wanted the good stuff (well as good as it can get in an AYCE environment). As you know, I'm not really into the AYCE Japanese thing anymore; yet I still do it for "research" purposes. With recent experiences at Kawawa, Sui Sha Ya and Il Uk Jo, my research is becoming dangerous proposition!

Well, at the very least, I knew what we were getting into this time. I've been to E-Bei a half dozen times before. I normally talk about items as they arrive; but there was no way I could keep track. You see, almost everything showed up at once fast and furious. I could barely keep up with the pictures! Now this would usually scare some people because that would indicate pre-prepared food. Not in this case, items that should be cold were cold and hot things were hot. Don't know how they did this so efficiently... I don't want to know honestly. Anyways, I'll start with the Kaki Pon (raw oysters on the half-shell). I am quite skeptical of raw oysters in an AYCE meal; yet these were actually decent (not mushy or fishy). I really had no idea what type of sauce was on the oysters though. It was slightly spicy and sweet. The same could be said about the Sashimi (tuna, salmon, tako, hokkigai and spicy salmon). Decent for AYCE. It appeared, smelled and tasted fresh. I especially liked the tako. It was slightly chewy while still being quite tender and sweet.

As for the Nigiri, there is a substantial selection and we ended with 2 plates. The first plate was mostly masago, tobiko and ikura. Not exactly my favourite; but loved by Miss Y and Bear. The second plate was comprised of mirugai, shark's fin, abalone and lobster. Except for the mirugai (geoduck), all the other items are imitation. I believe the "abalone" to conch. I personally liked the mirugai the best since it was a bit crunchy, a tad chewy and naturally sweet. The sushi rice was pretty average being bland and slightly gummy. Thus, the various Maki Sushi were alright. The same average rice essentially limited how good the sushi could be. Too bad really, the ingredients were actually decent. We also got a whack load (not sure how much that is) of Prawn Tempura. Although there was too much batter on most pieces, the tempura was still crunchy. However, with so much batter, it was a bit too crunchy. We ended up with 2 separate orders of Beef Short Rib and Bear pretty much ate all of it. What can I say. He's a short rib, dessert, mushroom-hate bear. I have to admit that the short ribs were pretty darn good. They were tender, flavourful and quite lean.

Another standard item in AYCE is the Chicken Karaage (most likely chicken wings). So of course we ordered it. I think we do that by default despite the fact we wanted it or not. These were pretty much what you'd expect out of a fried chicken wing. Admittedly, these were good. Juicy and flavourful on the inside and crisp on the outside. Moving along to the Tuna Tataki, it was surprisingly decent as well. Seared evenly on all 4 sides while dressed in some form of vinaigrette, it had both a nice texture and flavour. Now to another "imitation" item which was the Fried Scallops. The fact they are uniform in shape and taste like pollack would easily indicate that they are not scallops. Despite this, they are what they are and if you like it, they were fried nicely. I'm personally not all that enamored to deep fried pollack. One item that can go horribly wrong in an AYCE Japanese meal is the Beef Tataki. So many times it has been cut too thick, served frozen or in Kawawa's case, suffering from serious freezer burn. Although the one here was not stellar; once again, it was decent. Sliced thin enough, thawed completely and dressed with ponzu, this did not offend.

Although we had many more items, the last one I'm going to talk about is the Oyster Motoyaki. It's almost a shock these days we find oyster motoyaki served in its own shell. Increasingly, we get it in a tart tin. Yah, I know it is more sanitary; but it just doesn't look right. I found the motoyaki pretty average. The sauce was a bit stiff and flavourless. Thus, the oyster became a bit lifeless. However, most of the meal was decent, especially considering it was an AYCE. Definitely a cut above places like Richmond Sushi, Kingsway Sushi, Top Gun and Fish on Rice. In terms of service, it is much better than Fish on Rice (which is notorious for its crappy service). It can give Ninkazu and Tomokazu a run for its money in terms of acceptable quality for an AYCE. Of course AYCE is never a great way to get quality Japanese food; but if you must, E-Bei is alright.

The Good:
- Decent food considering it is AYCE
- Decent service for this type of restaurant
- Good selection of items

The Bad:
- Seating here is extremely tight (the rooms are okay, if you are lucky to get one)
- Although the servers were polite, a few couldn't speak English very well

E Bei Japanese on Urbanspoon

Cold Stone Creamery

8 years ago, while visiting my cousins in San Francisco, I was introduced to Coldstone Creamery. I also have to give them credit for making me aware of In-N-Out and Jamba Juice as well. It seems like I merely go there to eat rather than visit them specifically. Last November, they served as my chauffeurs to different eating destinations. Often, I'd get a "where did you say you wanted to go???" " Yah Santa Rafael for some Cuban food!" "That's nowhere near us!" "Pleeeeease...." They're such good sports. Okay, back to Coldstone... The concept of taking freshly made ice cream and mixing it with different ingredients on a chilled stone surface was definitely intriguing. There is something appealing about food that not only allows for eater input; yet also has a "show" to accompany it. Call it the novelty factor. Despite the obvious signs of merely being a gimmick, I actually liked it. No longer was I eating plain ice cream. Now if you are thinking that it is just a bunch of Smarties, sprinkles and peanuts mixed in with soft serve, think again. Sure, you can go for the obvious basics such as crushed candy bars; but honestly, that's too much like a Blizzard or McFlurry. Go for the creations such as Apple Pie and Cheesecake Fantasy and you have a much more satisfying dessert.

As pointed out to me in my Marble Slab post, it is often a misnomer that Coldstone was the first to open. Actually, Marble Slab opened 5 years before Coldstone. With that being said, for some reason, I like Coldstone more. I only hope it's not the "we can only get it in the US" effect that influences my preference. Alas! Coldstone has finally made it up into the GVRD... sorta... You see, the current locations are situated in Tim Horton's. When I say in a Tim Horton's, it is literally built into the long service counter. In fact, the employees are wearing Tim's unis and there is no actual separation of stores. That would probably explain my cluelessness where I stood in the Tim's lineup at first. I waited and waited, where I found out that I only need to go straight to the Coldstone counter.

Without hesitation, I opted for the Cheesecake Fantasy in a "Love It" size which is the 8oz. The "Like It" is 5oz and the "Gotta Have It" is a whopping 12oz. Consisting of cheesecake ice cream, graham crust bits, blueberries and stawberries, it was not nearly as sinful as some of the other offerings. Sure it's sweet, and if you choose chocolate bar additions, it'll be complete sugar overload. There are lower fat/sugar options available. I didn't check those out on this visit. In terms of pricing, it is not cheap; but if you consider what gelato goes for these days, it's not that bad (I know it's different, don't flame me, just making a comparison in price only). For me, it is not often I go for desserts, that's reserved for Mijune; however, Coldstone is pretty decent if you pick the right combo.

The Good:
- Something a bit different from regular ice cream
- You get to pick what you want and watch it being made

The Bad:
- It's pricier than regular ice cream; but at the same time cheaper than "trendy" gelato places
- For now, being in Tim Horton's only, it kinda makes the experience a bit strange

Coldstone Creamery on Urbanspoon