Sherman's Food Adventures: 2011

Dinner @ The Roc

*Restaurant is now closed*

For some reason or another, I seem to associate the poignant line of "Welcome to The Rock" (a la Sean Connery) to The Roc Chinese Restaurant. Much like the way I always ridicule Alexander Semin during hockey pools and associate #Winning with Charlie Sheen, these jokes get a little tiring with everyone. I can't help myself. So here we go again... Welcome to The Rock! Yet this time, The Roc has moved for the 3rd time to its current location on the corner of Cambie and Marine Drive. Formerly Four Seas Restaurant, The Roc is pretty familiar with the same crew and same menu, albeit with slightly higher prices. Call it the "Westside" effect...

As mentioned, The Roc has moved several times. My first visit was over 10 years ago at their location on Kingsway near King Edward (it is Pho Thai Hoa now). The one thing we will always remember are all the times when we would all meet up for cheap Dim Sum there. They then moved further East on Kingsway and were closed for awhile since the buildings next to it burnt to the ground. Unlike these previous locations, the new one is more spacious and there are actual parking spots to be found. In fact, both my parents and I found parking right in front (which would've been impossible at the 2 former locations). As I walked into the place, the owner-lady immediately recognized us. Good memory, since we haven't been frequenting the place in the last 6 years.

Given this class of Chinese restaurant, there was the usual "pick 'em" dinners. We went for the dinner for 4 which included choice of 4 dishes, complimentary crab, rice, soup and dessert. The Daily Soup consisted dried bak choy, carrots and pork bones. I liked how the soup came out steaming hot. Furthermore, it didn't seem too saturated with salt nor msg. Then something strange happened, we actually got a complimentary crab that was neither small nor emancipated. Was it due to the fact the owner-lady knew me? Whatever the case, we were pleasantly surprised with the Crab with Cream Sauce. As mentioned, the crab was meaty, fresh and flavourful. The sauce was not necessary creamy, it had the typical starch-thickened texture. They could've eased up with the fried starch coating, but that wasn't a huge issue.

Next, we had the Stir-Fried Gai Lan with Beef. The gai lan was vibrant and crunchy while the beef could've stood for more tenderizing. Flavour was good though and there was evidence of good wok heat (no pool of water on the plate). Sticking with our usual dishes, we got the Seafood & Tofu Hot Pot. I'm not sure if the pot was all that hot, but the ingredients were pretty good. The fried tofu was silky, the shrimp and scallops were cooked perfectly while the pieces of basa were moist and flaky. The squid could've stood to be less cooked. As for the Peking Pork Chops, these were a partial fail. The pork chops were over-tenderized, so there was barely any texture. To further compound the problem, there was far too much sweet sauce which made the dish soggy. Edible, yes. Good, not so much.

Our last dish was the Scrambled Eggs with Shrimp. This was a large portion with plenty of cold-water shrimp mixed within the fluffy eggs. Well, mostly fluffy eggs that is, there were some clumps here and there. Other than that, the dish was properly seasoned and went well with our rice. All-in-all, a decent meal at a decent price. Considering its new Westside digs, The Roc still doesn't put much of a dent into our wallet. Of course there is better Chinese food to be found nearby, but not at the prices they are charging. We'll need to drop by for Dim Sum in the near future, their prices cannot be matched by any of the other Chinese restaurants in the Neighbourhood.

The Good:
- Reasonable prices
- Large portions
- Decent eats

The Bad:
- Sparse service
- Decor is a bit dated

The Roc on Urbanspoon

Baci Ristorante

The work staff party. Oh how I look forward to it. Not. Especially when it's not even my workplace! Hey, I have no problems with the people. In fact, Viv's co-workers are very nice and I have a blast with them. However, the whole schmoozing thing is not really my cup of tea. And especially just returning from Black Friday 2 hours prior! I was more tired than Charlie Sheen after a night of #winning. The last thing I wanted to do was party. As a good husband, I obliged and we made our way to Baci on Hastings. Incidentally, Viv has recently been here and thought it was decent. Well, we'll see how decent it is! Keep in mind that this was a large party. Despite the fact most of the items in the group menu are available on the regular menu, keep in mind this was an atypical visit to the restaurant.

We had a set menu which allowed us to choose our mains. Everyone started with a salad with a simple balsamic and EVOO dressing. Then we were all presented with a Penne mid-course. The pasta was al dente and bathed in a mild rose sauce. To kick things up a notch, I sprinkled some Parmesan and chili flakes to make my own Penne Arribbiatta of sorts. After those additions, it was very good. For my main, I had the Basa Fillet with lemon butter sauce. I realize that basa isn't exactly an expensive fish, yet I actually like the texture. Call it a softer version of cod. This one was pan fried perfectly where it was moist while having a nice crust on the outside. The garlic white wine sauce was fantastic with tartness while still be quite balanced. All of us got the same accompaniments due to convenience (which we totally understand). The broccoli was cook right being still crunchy while the roast potato was soft on the inside. The orange glop on the plate was a mix of carrots and rutabaga. Despite several strange faces made by other diners after they found out it was rutabaga, it was actually quite good. Nice texture and sweetness.

Viv, being the meat-eater that she is, went for the Vitello alla Parmigiana. Well, I actually wanted it myself, but for variety purposes, I went for the fish. The piece of veal was quite substantial and fried up nicely. The outside was crisp while there was very little in the way of mushy spots. The meat itself was fairly moist. It could've been a touch more juicy, yet it wasn't too bad. We liked the marinara sauce, it had a nice consistency with a good balance of tartness. I liked this more than the fish I ordered. Doh! The other meat option was the Pollo alla Baci (or chicken breast with brandy and mushroom cream sauce. Some people remarked that the butterflied chicken breast looked like a heart. For me, it looked like someone's rear end. No matter, the chicken was moist while the sauce was flavourful and rich. Nothing amazing while solid nonetheless.

For the vegetarian option, it was a Risotto with the same accompanying vegetables. To me, this didn't look like a lot of food. Furthermore, the risotto was pretty average. Nothing terrible, yet at the same time, nothing memorable. I guess forgivable since they were super busy? Obvious from the picture that the risotto remained in a clump and didn't spread. Lastly, we were all presented with Tiramisu for dessert. I liked the lady fingers were soaked while not being drenched. I personally can't stand "wet" tiramisu. I didn't get a big espresso hit and the flavours were pretty mild. However, I thought it was good tiramisu based on the textures. This was a pretty solid end to a decent meal considering the circumstances. For such a small kitchen, we were pretty impressed with the overall quality of the food. Was it awesome? Of course and we weren't expecting as much. For a large party, you merely want food that is decent. Baci was able to do that and based on Viv's previous visit, they may not be my first choice, but they're decent enough.

The Good:
- Consistency, even though we had a large group
- Live music

The Bad:
- Gets pretty loud in there due to the live music

Baci Ristorante on Urbanspoon

Mr. Zhang Karaoke & Restaurant

In a moment of brilliance (or maybe just common sense long overdue), I decided to park in the Burnaby Library parking lot instead of the circular hell otherwise known as Crystal Mall. Yes, I know there have been many who have pleaded for me to do this so that I could maintain my sanity whilst shopping. So on my leisurely jaunt from the library, I walked past a new restaurant that caught my eye - Mr. Zhang Karaoke Restaurant. Okay, several things in the name made me ponder. First, Mr Zhang... Right, the same place that used to be on Victoria Drive. Second, Karaoke Restaurant??? Okay if they say so... Well, the very next week, I suggested to the family that we go try it out. And just like the previous week, I once again parked at the library. So peaceful... No congestion, no pie shaped parking spots, no one stealing my spot and most importantly, no Corolla taking 10 minutes to park.

As I walked into the restaurant, the one thing that I immediately noticed was the extremely tight seating arrangements for the larger tables. You either have to be really thin or like to be squashed against a wall. For us, we just let the kids sit in those spots. And for the kiddies, we got them an order of the Seafood Rice Noodles in soup. This was a pretty large portion consisting of perfectly al dente noodles. There was plenty of ingredients consisting of basa, imitation crab, fish tofu and one prawn. I liked the soup base since it took on all of the seafood flavour and as a result was naturally sweet. Since the place is a Szechuan joint, we decided to go for some spicy items starting with the Szechuan Chicken in Spicy Sauce. Arriving piled high and doused with a peanut-based sauce, we felt this was good value. Despite being whole pieces of chicken with bone attached, it wasn't terribly hard to eat. The chicken itself was not dry and with the addition of the sauce, it was actually quite moist. We would've liked to see more heat, yet it was still a well-balanced dish.

Now I realize that a Szechaun restaurant is not the best place to order Xiao Long Bao. However, I had read a review on Yelp! that stated the ones here were pretty good. OMG. I should've taken that review with a grain of salt. Heck, I should've grabbed the whole box of Windsor. These had barely any broth while the gritty filling had far too much in the way of greens (flavour was okay though being meaty). The dumpling skin was somewhat thick at the top as well. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt though because they are not a Shanghainese restaurant. With marginal XLBs, we weren't holding out much hope for the Potstickers. Although our suspicions were pretty much correct, I found them to be relatively better than the XLBs. The dumpling skin was on the thicker side while not overly so. The filling was once again full of greens, but it wasn't so much an issue here since it works better with a potsticker than an XLB. One other thing that I personally didn't care for was their sweet black vinegar. It goes well with steamed crab, but not dumplings.

Now back to a Szechuan dish in the Eggplant with Spicy Sour Sauce. And like just on cue, this was good. Hmmm... Szechuan dish good in a Szechuan restaurant... The eggplant was oil-blanched perfectly being soft, yet not mushy. Despite the oil-blanching, the dish wasn't overly greasy though. We found the sauce to be a good mix of salty, sweet, tangy and spicy (although once again, we could've done with more heat). They asked if we needed a bowl of rice to go with it and really we should've had order to take advantage of the good flavours. However, we didn't because we had already ordered the House Special Chow Mein. Don't let the simplicity of the dish fool you, the flavours were good. Moreover, the noodles were al dente and the crunch from the veggies really worked. Generally, most of the food did work out except for the 2 Shanghainese dishes. That is forgivable since those are not their specialty. Therefore, if you order the right dishes, it can be a good experience at Mr Zhang's. Not sure about the karaoke though!

The Good
- Reasonable prices
- Decent eats if you pick the right items

The Bad:
- Seating is not really all that comfortable if at a big table
- Stay away from the XLBs

Mr. Zhang Karoake & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Maria & Maria Cafe

*Location closed but owners are looking for a new storefront in the future*

As I was driving along 82nd on my way to Costco, something caught my peripheral vision. Smack dab in the middle of auto repair shops was something that made me smile - a new restaurant! I ground to screeching halt and pulled into the first parking spot available (actually there are very few spots around). Maria & Maria Cafe eh? Well, considering where it was located, I fully expected a run-of-the-mill sandwich shop purely existing for the local businesses. As I walked into the place, the minimalistic decor was interrupted by the warm greeting from 2 friendly ladies. Much to my surprise, this place serves Filipino food as well! Finally. A break from the regular stuff nearby. Don't get me wrong, I love Indian food, but to have something different in this area is an achievement. Much like finding something other than Chinese food in Richmond or car turn signals that work too...

Looking through the menu, there are the usual breakfast choices as well as sandwiches and wraps. I wasn't interested in those since there was the Filipino menu on the wall. Incidentally, that wall is covered with comments from customers. It's very cool that they really want to connect with their patrons. I ended up going for the Lechon Kawali or fried pork belly with garlic rice and fried egg. The crisp pieces of pork belly were fatty, of course, and heavily salted. By itself, the salt content stung, but eaten with the rice, it was just right. And about that rice, it was beautifully flavoured by the fried garlic on top. Mixed with the 2 runny over-easy eggs, it was a tasty concoction. Simple, yet infinitely more interesting than most offerings I've had lately.

The following week, Hot Mama tagged along for return visit. Upon my arrival, the 2 ladies remembered my name and welcomed us warmly. Once again, I referred to the menu on the wall and decided on the Bangus with garlic rice and fried eggs. Bangus is another name for milkfish, but in this case, my order looked more like a pomfrit. No matter, it was fried fish of some sort. Since the fish was fried to practically a crisp, there was no need to fear bones or even the head. The whole thing could be eaten just like that. Once again, mixed in with the runny eggs and tasty rice, it was an interesting meal. Hot Mama, being the conservative eater, had the Chicken Wrap and it was more or less your typical wrap.

On a third visit, I merely had what they had prepared that day, which happened to be Pancit and Chicken. The pancit was very flavourful, if not a touch dry. I liked the mixture of meats they put into it though. As for the chicken, it resembled a pot pie as they described. It was very creamy and the components were cooked perfectly. Loved the addition of Chinese sausage, it gave the dish a unique taste. Some forgettable veggies and plain Siopao completed the plate. Hey, it ain't blow-your-socks off food, at the very least it is different and served by 2 ladies that can't help but make one smile.

The Good:
- Something different in a sea of the same
- The 2 ladies there are super friendly and personable
- Inexpensive

The Bad:
- Limited menu of sorts
- Minimalistic decor and limited seating

Maria & Maria Cafe on Urbanspoon

North Burnaby Wonton House

By virtue of where I live and the routes I take home, passing by North Burnaby Wonton House is inevitable. Every time, I take a look and ponder. Was I too hard on the place? I blogged about it a long time ago and let's just say I wasn't very nice. So 3 years have passed and I still wonder. I promised myself that I would give it another shot. I thought it would happen sooner than later, but with so many tasty eats in town, I really didn't have the time for it. Until now. Still recovering from a nasty bought of the flu and with Viv coming down with it herself, it looked like a night of McD's... Wait, why not do take out from North Burnaby Wonton House instead? So I dialed them up and put in an order for pickup.

I took the quick jaunt over there and when I was presented with my food, it looked like it could feed an army. For $38.00, this Dinner for 4 seemed like a really good value. Included in the meal was Wonton Soup to start (12 wontons in all). Okay, the first time I visited NBWH, my bone of contention was that they couldn't possibly put "wonton" in their name if they had mediocre wontons. Well, not much has changed. These all-pork wontons were slightly dense and far too meaty. At the very least, the broth was tasty, if not salty. Now any North Americanized Chinese food isn't complete without Spring Rolls right? We got one each of these cabbage and carrot filled fried cylinders. These were actually very greasy and could've stood for a quick drain or soak from a paper towel first. They were crunchy though and the filling was crisp and decently seasoned.

Then a dish I would never order if it weren't included - Almond Chicken. As you can clearly see in the picture, the thin sliver of chicken represents only 1/4 of the dish. The other 3/4 would be comprised of flour, starch and baking powder. Yet, if you like fried dough, this is the dish for you. Again, this was very greasy dish which was not totally unexpected. Unlike other versions I've had of this, there was a nice sweet glaze drizzled on top with the toasted almonds. The Beef Chop Suey was probably the healthiest dish of all with broccoli, cauliflower, baby carrots, mushrooms, water chestnuts, cabbage, carrots and beef. This wasn't bad since most of the veggies were still slightly crisp. Furthermore, the beef was tenderized perfectly where it was easy to chew while still retaining some meat texture. The starch-thickened sauce had a nice colour and taste, which also meant no pool of water either.

In a predictable shade of radioactive red, the Sweet and Sour Pork was far too sweet. They should've called this super sweet pork instead. With that being said, the pieces of pork were meaty (as evidenced by the dark coloured chunks) and moist. We liked the fact that there was an even ratio of meat to veggies. Sometimes, there are far too much in the way of onions and peppers. Again, much like the other dishes so far, it was a large portion. If you guessed there would be Chicken Chow Mein in this dinner set, you would be right. How typical right? Too bad, the execution was far from typical. The darn thing was so dry, it was a bit difficult to swallow. It was mealy and dense in our mouths. Moreover, some of it was not tossed evenly, so there were portions that were not as seasoned. The parts that were seasoned tasted fine with a good balance of sweet and salty. And despite the name, there wasn't really all that much chicken in it.

Lastly, there was the BBQ Pork Fried Rice, which they assured me didn't have onions. Really... What are those many specks of green in there? Yes, there are peas, I see them. However, look at all those green onions. Well, suffice to say, my son didn't eat any of it. This time, it wasn't the cook's fault, it was the person taking the order. Now, if you ignore the green onion thing for a moment, the rice itself was decent. The rice was dry and chewy (which is a good thing) with enough salt to taste. We liked how it wasn't greasy either. Alright.... This revisit pretty much validates what I thought about the place the first time. I really don't have any regrets then. Sure, it is a family business trying to do their very best, yet is that enough with so much competition these days? Now, if I look at the place from a non-Chinese point-of-view, the food is passable. Considering the prices and the portions sizes, there is good value here. So, if one is not too picky and just wants enough food for the week from one order, then NBWH is okay.

The Good:
- Inexpensive
- Large portions

The Bad:
- Food is hit and miss
- Wontons are pretty average

North Burnaby Wonton House on Urbanspoon

Espresso Vivace

I'm the first to admit that I am not a coffee connoisseur. However, that doesn't mean I don't enjoy a cup of Joe. When it comes to coffee expertise, I usually defer to Costanza and/or Vandelay. These 2 are coffee freaks who have really expensive machines in their homes. In fact, Costanza has his built into his cabinets! So while we were down in Seattle for Black Friday, Costanza made it a point to drag me over to Espresso Vivace to experience some real coffee. None of that watered-down sh*t found at Tim's or the burnt stuff from Starbuck's. Hey! I like Tim's! He then laughed at me... Well, I guess that proves my coffee tastes suck...

In need of nourishment, I decided to have a Turkey & Cheese Croissant with my Cafe Latte. I gotta say, even for my amateur coffee palate, it was quite obvious that this was a smooth latte. Naturally, with milk, it wasn't exactly going to be overly bitter. With that being said, I could tell that the coffee was incredibly smooth with a nice finish. In particular, there was a "nice" tart note at the end. Costanza explained that coffee is like wine where there can be certain fruity flavours imbedded in the overall profile. Now I realize that food is not the draw here and that is probably why my Turkey & Cheese Croissant pretty much blew. The pastry itself was hard and not really all that buttery. I actually had a difficult time chewing it. Ah whatever, they're not a pastry shop.

For Costanza, he merely had the basic Americano. I took a sip and yes, this was indeed a good coffee. You know when there is a moment of enlightenment and suddenly everything seems clear? Well, this was the moment complete with that music you would normally hear in the movies when something like that happens. Finally, I understood what a good coffee should be about. It ain't Tim's, it most certainly is not Starbuck's (however, people do still like it) and it is really not the stuff you get at any random restaurant. This was like wine where I experienced flavours that I would never associate with coffee. Could it be that I will actually start to enjoy coffee like it's meant to be? Well, at least this is a start...

The Good:
- Damn good coffee

The Bad:
- Just get the coffee, the pastries are so-so

Espresso Vivace on Urbanspoon

I Love Sushi (Lake Bellevue)

Somehow, my yearly gift-exchange with Goose for our birthdays has turned into treating each other for dinner. It started roughly 3 years ago... when this blog started to take form. Coincidence? You be the judge... Anyhoo, since I was down in Seattle for Black Friday, it seemed like a great idea to finally take Goose and his family out for his birthday dinner, which was long overdue from August. Originally, he suggested we do Haiku Buffet (which I already did earlier in the day), but he suddenly had a change of heart. Thank goodness too, what's with the buffets all the time here? Oh right, there are so many of them here! So what was our eventual eating destination? "I Love Sushi", replied Goose. Oh? Yah, I know you love sushi, where are we going to eat? "No, the place is called I Love Sushi!". Really? Uh... The name, it sounds like some take out joint. Who the heck names their Japanese restaurant "I Love Sushi"??? OMG, where are we going for dinner? Costanza and I were scared.

Imagine our utter surprise when we pulled up to the place, situated on man-made Lake Bellevue, and it was actually swank-looking. One glimpse of the menu and indeed this was no take-out joint. All of the main entrees were between $20.00-$30.00! WTF? So I normally don't talk about Miso Soup because frankly, it's boring and pretty generic. Not in this case. The soup had depth and I could actually pick out the flavours from the dashi. Moreover, the soup was very flavourful without being salty. This alleviated my fears about the place and I was ready for their food. Not knowing the portion size of their entrees, Costanza convinced me to share some appies starting with the Paradise Roll. Consisting of yellowtail, tuna, salmon and avocado on the inside and topped with 4 types of flying fish roe, we could immediately tell that this was fresh by appearance alone. The colours were pleasing and the sushi rice was fantastic. A good balance of chewy while not being dry, the rice had good hits of rice wine vinegar and sweetness. As mentioned, the fish was high-quality and the pop of the roe added texture.

Our second appie was the Kurobuta Pork Gyoza. Otherwise known as the Kobe beef of pork, the Kurobuta was moist and tender. Coupled with the fluffy gyoza skin, which was fried up nicely, this was one fine gyoza. The only thing we would've liked to see was more acidity in the dipping sauce. Moving onto the mains, Goose's kiddies shared the Tempura Dinner which included a small side of sashimi. Actually, most of the meals had a choice of sashimi or tempura as a side. Naturally, there was no need for tempura as a side in this dinner. The tempura was pretty good with a light crisp batter which was not greasy. As expected, the ingredients were top-notch and cooked just right.

Mother Goose went for the Sashimi Dinner with a side of tempura. As evidenced in the picture, the sashimi was prepared carefully and plated as such as well. Since I had a side of sashimi included in my meal, I didn't have to steal a piece from her dinner. I can honestly say that the sashimi is some of the best I've had in a long time. Sliced intricately and buttery smooth, the salmon was both sweet and delicious. The red tuna was equally good. Costanza and Goose both decided to have the Sukiyaki Dinner and my goodness, it was a large portion. Due to the appies, Costanza struggled to finish his dinner and in fact had to give me the rest. Hey, I wasn't complaining. The thinly sliced-beef was super moist and tender. It soaked up the mild, yet still effectively flavourful broth. The tofu was silky smooth while the veggies also benefited from balanced broth.

For myself, I had the Kurobuta Tonkatsu Dinner consisting of 2 large pork cutlets. As you can tell from the picture, the cutlets were fried up super crisp on the outside. Again, it was not greasy at all. In terms of the pork itself, there was a mix of super tender and moist portions with a few bits of harder chewy parts. It could be due to the thickness of the centre as opposed to the end. In general, this was both a filling and satisfying meal. I only wished that the tonkatsu sauce to have a sharper acidic punch. Well, that was an unexpected meal, for a place with a name like "I Love Sushi"... What we got was top-notch food prepared with care and with great service to boot. Now, all of this came at a cost though. With the main entrees in the $20.00 range, it definitely qualifies as fine dining. Therefore, it will depend solely on one's threshold for Japanese food to determine whether it is worth it or not.

The Good:
- Quality ingredients
- Properly prepared food
- Really good service

The Bad:
- Expensive
- Fairly limited selection on the menu

I Love Sushi on Urbanspoon