Sherman's Food Adventures: January 2011

Recipes to Riches

Okay, here we go... Another recipe contest. Yah, I reluctantly entered one last year and I ended up winning. But honestly, that was more of a popularity contest than actually about the food. Now here comes the ultimate recipe contest. Produced by Food Network Canada and Global TV, Recipes to Riches is a cooking reality show attempting to find the best recipe in Canada. There are 7 categories and the winners from each get their food featured as a President's Choice product. The top prize is $250,000 and is the largest sum ever to be awarded to a winner of a Canadian reality show. Auditions start in Halifax on February 5th with Vancouver on the 12th and finally wrapping up in Montreal on 19 and Toronto on the 26th. Head over to www.recipetoriches.ca to enter. Hey, I might do the same!

MyChef

*Restaurant is now closed*

Back in December, I was invited to drop by MyChef to try them out. I did exactly that; but I only had one dish and honestly, it's kinda hard to figure out what the food is about by trying one item. Therefore, I waited this long to do a post because I made a return visit almost a month later to try out a breakfast item on my own coin. Before I talk about the food, lemme give you some background about the place. In addition to the cafe, MyChef is a catering business that uses local and organic products. The cafe is situated within the eclectic Main Street corridor. It's cozy and family-friendly. For me, it reminds me of something you'd find in Portland.

I asked the friendly employee at the counter what to have if I would only order one dish. His response was the Moroccan Chicken with rice. With a generous helping of 2 pieces of chicken, it was not as flavourful as I would've hoped. It wasn't bland per se; but with all the spices that go into a dish like this, it didn't really show up. With that being said, the dried apricots were front and centre adding another level of sweetness. As with any braised chicken, it wasn't exactly juicy; but it was tender. The rice was chewy and slightly dry, which was the perfect accompaniment to the sauce.

On a return visit, I decided to try out their breakfast. I started with a their daily soup first, which was the Chicken, Rice and Beans. For me, the soup had a "homemade" feel to it. It wasn't salty or "processed" tasting. Lots of rice, chicken and beans, it felt good for the soul. I could pick up some herby taste; yet it had a tang to it. The tang was actually pleasant; but I couldn't put my finger on it. Was it lemon? As for my breakfast, I went for the Pulled Pork Eggs Benny. Unlike the pulled pork on pancakes at Deacon's Corner, there was a definite Asian slant to this version. Rather than BBQ-sauced pork, this one had five-spice hints. At first, I wasn't sure how this would work; yet in the end it was fantastic. It went well with the perfectly poached eggs, barely cooked spinach and cubed hashbrowns. The Hollandaise was very tart with lots of lemon. I personally love it; but some might find it too strong. For me, I would definitely order this again. So I liked the Benny while being indifferent with the Moroccan Chicken. Maybe I have to come back a third time as a tie-breaker.

The Good:
- Cozy, welcoming place
- Reasonably-priced
- Some interesting items

The Bad:
- If you don't like sitting with strangers, there is not much choice

MyChef on Urbanspoon

La Spaghetteria

For as long as I can remember, La Spaghetteria has been in the Entertainment book. Every year, I would tear out the coupon in hopes of trying it out. That hope has lasted for 15+ long years. For some reason or another, I just never got around to it. In the meantime, I would go practically everywhere else for pasta other than La Spaghetteria. And it's not like I didn't have access to it either. I used to live in Coquitlam and that wasn't too far away. Now I live in Burnaby and New West is not really that much of a drive either. Finally, the time has come. Well, if it weren't for Miss Y, my coupon would be in the recycle bin by the time next November hits. You see, it is her birthday and guess where I took her?

For the as long as I've know her, she has raved about the Penne Arrabiata here. So much so, she even liked it more than the one from Q4. Now that is a bold claim. What is more shocking is that she raves about a dish that a particular restaurant is known for. Normally, she'd do the unthinkable, like order a lasagne from a Japanese restaurant. Wait... I did that... You know what? She's right about the penne. It is better than the one we had at Q4. Perfectly al dente penne with just the right amount of sauce, I thought this was the best pasta of the meal. The sauce was tomatoey with just the right amount of spice. Nicely done. If the penne arrabiata is her favourite, then Linguine alla Vongole is mine. To change things up a bit, I went for the cream sauce rather than my usual preference of tomato. I have to say that this one was not really my favourite. The pasta was overdone and the cream sauce was not very flavourful. Not much in the way of clam flavour or anything else. For a recent comparison, I would say the one from Jimoco was better.

As if 2 pastas weren't enough, we got an order of the Gnocchi in meat sauce as well. From the picture, I'm sure you'll notice the gnocchi are absolutely huge. Despite this, they were very fluffy. In fact, probably too fluffy. For me, it lacked any real texture. With that being said, I'd much prefer soft than too chewy. I did like the meat sauce though, it was slightly tart with a good balance of sweet and savoury. It went well with the gnocchi. While we were ordering the gnocchi, Miss Y remarked that there was not a whole lot of meat in any of the pastas. It's like we read each others' mind since we both agreed on sharing some Meatballs as well. I mean, we ate some meatballs... er... uh... whatever... Nothing wrong with these meatballs. They were meaty while still being moist. A good combination of garlic and herbs provided the flavour with the slightly tart tomato sauce balancing it out.

Although we had ordered way too much food for 2 people, I had a yearning for pizza. I thought we needed to try it just to make sure. So we did! We gave the Pizza Margherita a go and I wish we hadn't. Not a terrible pizza by any stretch of the imagination; but it wasn't a Pizza Margherita. The lack of fresh basil and the use of regular mozzarella was enough to show it was just a "pizza". I found the crust a bit doughy and too soft. There was a good amount of cheese; but little else in terms of flavour. Best to stick with the pastas... And about those pastas, I would say it is a bit of hit and miss. Overall, it ain't bad and I would probably go back to try some of the other offerings. The Entertainment coupon helps temper the slightly high prices. With that being said, the pastas are around the same price as Boston Pizza and gawd, this is better than BP.

The Good:
- Good pasta if you pick the right one
- Pretty good service
- Lots of choice

The Bad:
- Average pizza
- Prices are slightly high

La Spaghetteria on Urbanspoon

Chilli House Thai Bistro

*Restaurant is now closed*

There was a time when we would do the AYCE lunch at Thai House (which has recently been revived) with a big group of friends. And why not? It was inexpensive while offering up lots of choices. Sure, there are those who will immediately point out that Thai House isn't exactly the pinnacle of Thai cuisine. But honestly. We're in Vancouver, not Thailand. As mentioned over and over again, restaurants are in the business of making money, paying their bills and employing a bunch of people. Consequently, they are not really all that interested in satisfying a minority of people who want over-the-top Thai food. Restaurants conduct their day-to-day operations to satisfy their largest customer base. If it is "safe" Thai food they want, that is what we'll all get. For all those whiners who want to slam any ethnic restaurant for their lack of authenticity or proclaim the "food is better in Thailand", they can buy themselves a plane ticket and go there. We live in Vancouver, the restaurants operate in Vancouver and voila. End of discussion. Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now... For me, I consider Thai House the McD's of Thai food. That in itself is not necessarily an insult. Thai House does what it does well - makes Thai food accessible to all for a reasonable price.

As we all know, going out for Thai food can sometimes be a pricey proposition due to the modest portion sizes. Unless we want to visit hole-in-the-walls such as Lhy Thai, one can easily spend $20.00+ for dinner. So imagine my curiosity when I found out that Chilli House Thai Bistro began offering an AYCE dinner for only $16.00. If you don't already know, Chilli House is affiliated with Thai House as with Urban Thai, Charm and Samba. So yes, there are similarities between all of them except Samba. Other than the fact I wanted to try their AYCE, it was a perfect opportunity to meet up with some friends over the holidays. Joining us tonight were Bluebeard, Nikita, Herbie the Lovebug and LanaBanana. Good thing too, that means we could order lots and try almost everything on the menu!

Little did I know, there is actually free underground parking. We parked a couple of blocks away. For me that is a real bonus since the parking is expensive in Downtown. Anyways, we finally got down to ordering starting with some appies. The first to arrive was the Tia Muk Tod or fried squid. Nothing wrong with this dish. The squid was tender with some chewiness and the breading was crispy and none-too-oily. The same can be said about the Fried Chicken Wings. Fried until crispy and juicy inside, these were gobbled up quickly. I particularly liked that they had flavour of its own, so it wasn't solely up to the sauce. As for the sauce, it was sweet and tangy. Not too sound repetitive; but the Por Pia Tad or spring rolls were also crunchy. It had a nice colour and the vermicelli and veggie filling had a nice fish sauce flavour to it. Didn't really need the accompanying sweet chili dip.

We ordered some salads as well starting with the Yum Neau or beef salad. By the looks of it, we weren't expecting the salad to have any impact. As it turns out, the salad had quite the kick. Although, the heat did not detract from the other flavours such as fish sauce and lime juice. The beef was quite tender as well. The second salad was Yum Woon Sen which consisted of shrimp, minced pork, vermicelli, onions, peppers, scallions, chili flakes, lime juice and fish sauce. Once again, the salad had an apparent heat to it with a nice kick of tart and saltiness. I think other than the green salad and tofu appetizer, we had ordered everything that was available. We ended up getting the only soup which was the Tom Yum Goong. It's essentially Tom Yum soup with prawns. Curiously, it was not as flavourful as the one we had at Charm. That doesn't mean it wasn't good though. It still had obvious hits of galangal, lemongrass and fish sauce while the prawn was perfect. Ultimately, it ended up to be quite mild tasting.

The Chicken Satay would be our second last out of the "appetizers". By this point, we were actually getting full. I must give it to my eating companions, they stuck with it. Anyways, the chicken satay was quite meaty employing all white meat. For me, I much prefer dark meat since it is generally more moist and flavourful. However, more people prefer white meat and I can understand why they would use it here. With that being said, it wasn't dry and the peanut sauce was pretty good. Unlike some other versions, this one was light and not sweet; rather, it was very nutty. Okay, now for our last appy which was BBQ Short Ribs. The short ribs were tender and meaty albeit quite salty (too much fish sauce?). However, this was completely rectified by the fabulous dipping sauce which has a slight kick and tonnes of tartness. This easily cut through the heaviness and saltiness of the ribs.

By now, we were seriously doubting we could handle the main dishes; but we wouldn't stop would we? So we got down to business with the curries staring with the Beef Green Curry. With obvious similarities to the Thai House version, there was a pronounced coconut richness with only a mild amount of spice. The beef was both plentiful and tender with lots of nicely cooked eggplant and peas. For those who complain that the curry should be spicier, you have to realize that the food is made to satisfy the lowest common denominator. Hence, if you want it spicier, just ask. In terms of spice, the Pork Red Curry was milder than the green curry despite the red hue. This is generally the case, which is why I prefer green curry. With less spice, the other flavours, specifically the bamboo shoots, came through. Tender pork, green peppers and basil rounded out the ingredients. Our last curry was the Chicken Yellow Curry. I'm a bit biased when it comes to yellow curry. It is not personal favourite, possibly since it most closely resembles the Chinese version. I've never been a huge fan of it. It is more aromatic and less spicy than green and red curries. Ultimately, it has less impact which actually goes well with the chicken. This one here was what it was. I did like the potatoes though, nothing better than soft potatoes in curry!

Well, it was inevitable that we got a couple orders of Pad Thai. Seems like I have it every time I'm in a Thai restaurant. Call it the "tourist" approach to eating ethnic food. Anyways, it is widely known that there is no tamarind in the Thai House version of Pad Thai. Now, for me, I prefer tamarind; but... and this is a profound but... most people wouldn't really know the difference and frankly do not care. The main question here is: was it still decent to eat? Yes it was. The noodles were perfectly chewy with just the right amount of moisture. The lack of tamarind was partially alleviated by the abundance of pickled turnip with added a nice tang and crunch. The requisite pressed tofu, egg, sprouts and ground peanuts rounded out the dish. Did I miss the tamarind? Yah. But that's just me. I can't speak for everyone. The other well-known Thai noodle dish is the Pad See-Ew. It most closely resembles a Chinese fried noodle dish due to the use of soy as its main flavouring agent. Despite the mild taste, in some ways I enjoy this more than Pad Thai. This one was more than acceptable with a plethora of crisp veggies and chicken. The noodles were perfectly cooked and there was no excess moisture.

We were a bit ambitious with our ordering. Wait, lemme rephrase that. I was too ambitious with the food selection and ended up ordering another noodle dish in the Pad Mee. In some ways similar to Pad Thai, the flat rice noodles are replaced with thin vermicelli noodles. Generally, it is more spicy as well. In this case, it wasn't appreciably spicier. It was sweet with some tang with a bit of hot. I did like the texture of the noodles, they were al dente and coated with just the right amount of sauce. Once we got through the noodle section, it was onto the main dishes starting with the Garlic Pork. As a whole, everyone seemed to like this dish the best. Lots of tender pork intermingling with a slightly sweet, slightly spicy and garlicky sauce. Now for the rest of the dishes, I put them in one picture because they were all somewhat similar on some levels. There were subtle difference; yet not enough for me to go into much detail. Going clockwise starting on the top left is the Gai Pad M-Mung Him Ma-Pan (Cashew Chicken), Pad Bai Grapua (Basil Chicken), Pad Makuayaw (Pork with Eggplant) and Pad Prig Khing (Beef with Green Beans). I thought the best of the bunch had to be the chicken with basil. It had the most unique taste of basil with Thai chilis. The cashew chicken was almost the same minus the basil and add cashews. The other 2 dishes were not bad and ended up to be what was expected of them.

As for dessert, there were 2 choices and of course we had both. In fact, we had one of each for everyone at the table. Yes, we are indeed gluttons. Anyways, the first one was the Black Glutinous Rice Pudding. Served with sweet coconut milk, we thought it was only "okay". We did like the chewy texture; but the dessert had very little impact in terms of flavour. We realize it is supposed to be mild. It's just not our personal favourite. We all liked the second dessert - Kanum Sakoo (Tapioca Pudding). A combination of sweet corn, taro and carrot mixed with tapioca in sweet coconut milk, this was naturally sweet. Interesting combination of ingredients that worked together. This was a pleasant finish to a truly value-packed meal. For $16.00/person, there is not much to complain about really. Sure, it was not the best Thai we ever had nor were we expecting it. But it was serviceable and at-most-times, surprisingly good. Say what you want about the Thai House Group. For me, they make Thai food accessible and at a reasonable price. Consider the many locations that exist in the GVRD - they must be doing something right.

The Good:
- If you do the AYCE, it is a fabulous value
- For us, the food was more than acceptable
- Service was very good

The Bad:
- For those who travel to Thailand frequently, are originally from Thailand, are experts in Thai food or Thai food snobs... well you get the point...

Chilli House Thai Bistro on Urbanspoon

Sun Yee Cafe

*Restaurant is now closed*

Once again, choosing an eating destination after Friday hockey can be somewhat of a challenge. You see, we have people on the team that live in different parts of the GVRD. Hence, we need to generally find centrally located destinations. Not too difficult right? Well, tack onto the fact that we need to find places that close late as well makes it tricky. This week, it was made even trickier since Gadget Girl wanted to find a place that would be close to Ketchup's house. She had given Ketchup a ride to the game and needed to drop her off at home before we met up. That further narrowed our search for late night eats. After some negotiations, we settled on Sun Yee Cafe. It seemed to satisfy all the criteria and no one objected. It's a tough job finding an agreed place to eat! Anyways, I've been curious about this place for quite awhile since I drive by it every time I go for late night Wednesday hockey.

From the outside, Sun Yee is very hard to miss. It has got the classic bright yellow Asian awning. To me, it looks like any other Chinese restaurant. Not so fast. It is actually a Hong Kong-style cafe complete with late night specials which include a beverage. Being the greedy people that we are, Boss Woman and I shared 3 dishes. We started with her favourite Scrambled Eggs & Shrimp on flat rice noodles. All the individual components of this dish were cooked correctly from the slightly chewy noodles to the crunchy shrimp. Despite the nice appearance of the dish itself, it was sorely lacking salt. Our second dish was the XO Seafood Fried Rice. The XO represents a sauce consisting normally of chili oil, dried scallops, garlic, dried shrimp and sometimes Virginia ham. Hence, the rice is fried with the sauce and seafood. We liked the chewiness of the rice and the decent amount of seafood. There was a some kick from the XO sauce; yet the rice was also lacking a bit of salt.

Our last dish was the Taiwanese Beef Noodle. I know, I know... Ordering a Taiwanese dish in a Hong Kong-style cafe is asking for it. And you know what? We deserved what we got. I bet Miss Y is laughing at me somewhere... You see, I give her a hard time for ordering stuff that a restaurant is not known for. As you can see, the broth was really light in colour. That was indicative of the taste as well. There was none. Bland, lacking depth, colour and salt, the bowl of noodles didn't taste like anything. In fact, the preserved veggies couldn't even save it. On the plus side, the noodles were al dente albeit too thick. Also, there was plenty of tender beef shank. Gordo, who was less ambitious than we were, only had the smaller version of the Soy Fried Noodles. I gave this one a try and it had very good "wok hay" exhibiting good caramelization from the high heat. No shortage of flavour in this one. The noodles were still chewy and it was only moderately oily.

Milhouse deviated from his usual Salted Fish and Chicken Fried Rice and ended up with the House Special Chow Mein. It usually consists of everything but the kitchen sink such as squid, BBQ pork, mushrooms, chicken, shrimp and bak choy. The noodles were crisp, ingredients were plentiful and there was just enough sauce. A decent version. He tried to offer me some; but honestly, I could only eat so much. Yes, I do have my limits! Lionel Hutz and Trudy-Frutti arrived much later since he drove all the way back home before meeting up with us. Home is actually somewhere around Kits. Apparently he had to drop off is hockey equipment first... Really? Hm... or is that a code word for something? I'm not going to speculate much more... So, when he did arrive, he ordered the Fried Rice with Curry Prawns and Chicken. There was definitely a good amount of properly cooked shrimp, not sure if they could qualify as prawns necessarily. He thought the rice had a good amount of flavour and curry which was only mildly spicy. Ginseng went for something that was on the regular menu. I didn't even know it was an option because we were too busy looking at the late night menu. Trudy-Frutti decided on the Preserved Vegetable and Pork with Rice Noodles in soup. It didn't look like much; but she remarked it was quite flavourful, especially when the stir-fried ingredients mixed with the soup. The noodles were just right with a bit of chew.

Ordering off the regular menu, Ginseng went for the Sizzling Black Cod Hot Plate. It came as a "Taiwanese"-like combo with rice and pickled veggies. I was thoroughly impressed with the amount of fish there was on the plate. Ginseng remarked that the fish was moist and there was good amount of seasoning as well. I asked if it was oily since it did exhibit a nice sheen and she thought it wasn't too bad. In terms of the food overall, it really wasn't too bad. Some items worked better than others, which is quite normal for a restaurant. However, the real draw here are the prices. They are very reasonable for the amount of food you get. Considering the fact it is open late makes it extra attractive since it gives an alternative to the wonton noodle joints nearby. Not great food, just okay food for a great price.

The Good:
- Large portions
- Inexpensive
- Lots of choice

The Bad:
- Food is largely hit and miss

Sun Yee Cafe on Urbanspoon

Cibo Trattoria

Snake. Where art thou Snake? Under a rock? In a cave? In soup? Oh I see. He's turning the big 4-0! Wow, that is indeed a milestone. Normally quite reclusive, even he admits it was time to celebrate. Inevitably, the question of where to go comes up. The criteria? Trendy, moderately-priced and located in Downtown. Naturally, it should serve good food too; but that is always subjective. So after a few ideas, I remembered a place that I had first read about in En Route on my flight down to San Francisco. It had awarded Cibo Trattoria the distinction of the best new restaurant in Canada for 2009. Honestly, these lists elicit much debate since they are generally the opinion of only a few. However, that would be true with any publication or website that does something similar. Hence, there is only one way to see if there was any credence for its lofty title - go try it out. Funny how I intended to visit Cibo immediately when I got back from San Francisco in November 2009. It has taken me over a year to do so! There are a lot of eats in Vancouver. Hard to get to them all.

Since it was a milestone birthday, Costanza, Vandelay and I wanted to go in style. Thus, I borrowed my dad's Benz for the evening. Funny thing too. We're grown adults and I'm still borrowing my dad's car... I really had to watch my alcoholic intake for the night since my dad would not be impressed if I got his car impounded. Furthermore, on a my serious note, drinking and driving is never cool... So we decided to order everything to share which made me a very happy man! We started off with one of their featured appetizers which was the Veal Bone Marrow. Roasted and served with crostinis and a side of relish consisting of capers, shallots, cornichons and parsley, this would be considered as one of those "wow" dishes. Such a simple product yielded the most "mmms". The tartness of the relish went well with the buttery marrow and crunchy crostinis. At the same time, we also had the Buffalo Mozzarella with crispy polenta, preserved eggplant, chilli and mint. We could see where they were going with this dish - the soft mozzarella contrasting the crunchy polenta. However, the cornmeal crust on the polenta was not necessary in our opinion. It made it rather hard and overly crunchy. However, the rest of the dish was really good. The eggplant added a nice flavour to the otherwise mild mozzarella.

Our last appetizer was the Bruscetta of Dungeness Crab with preserved cherry tomatoes, arugula, chilli and herb aoili. I really liked this dish. There was a good balance of flavours and textures. The crab was able to stand up to the mild herb aoili while the crunchy crostini provided a nice crunch to an otherwise "soft" dish. Add in the tartness of the tomatoes and the bitterness of arugula, there was no absence of flavours. From our appies, we went to 2 pastas starting with the Fresh Spaghetti Carbonara with guanciale, cream, black pepper, egg yolk and pecorino. First, I must give kudos for the al dente fresh pasta. Generally, it is more difficult to achieve; but they did it. Possibly a bit too al dente actually. It could've used probably a minuscule more time in cooking in the sauce. But that is nit-picking. This pasta was not short on taste despite the modest amount of sauce. This is probably due to the strong elements of the guanciale and pecorino cheese. With all that, the pasta was not heavy at all. Our second pasta was the Ravioli of Potato and Caramelized Onions with sage butter, aged balsamic and Parmesan. This was delicious with al dente pasta and a filling that was not dense while being naturally sweet from the onions. The sweetness was offset by the aged balsamic and it was brought together by a beautiful sage butter.

We also got 3 main dishes to share starting with the Crispy Duck Leg with prosciutto-wrapped treviso and preserved blueberries in grappa. As advertised, the skin was crispy and partially rendered. Inside, the duck was moist and not overly seasoned. The bulk of the flavour came from the prosciutto-wrapped around treviso (or red radicchio). The bitterness from the treviso combined with the cured saltiness from the prosciutto was a nice compliment to the rich duck meat. As for the blueberry grappa, there was very little and so it should be since it is quite strong. Next up was the Red Wine Braised Beef with soft polenta, Gorgonzola and wild mushrooms. With a pronounced wine flavour, the beef was very tender and moist. Despite adding more softness to the dish, I thought the polenta was a perfect match for the beef. It was an accompaniment that made its presence felt while not taking away from the star of the dish. The Gorgonzola added a slight sharpness that was just enough while the mushrooms were also a great compliment adding some texture and woodsiness.

Our last dish was the Veal & Proscuitto Meatballs with San Marzano tomatoes, sage, olives, slow cooked kale and pecorino. I really liked these meatballs. They were a nice compromise between being soft while still "meaty". They held up from all the cutting and prodding we did to them. Um... it's not what you think! Now the real star of the dish was the beautiful San Marzano tomato sauce. It was extremely flavourful which benefited from the plethora of olives which added a nice tang and saltiness. It might be a bit strong for those who don't like olives though. The creamy white beans underneath helped bring down and balance the bold flavours. Honestly, I've heard some negative opinions about Cibo and for what it's worth, I personally like Cibo. For the items we tried, nothing was bad and in fact, some were very good. The service we got was both attentive and courteous. The prices are not exactly cheap; but not outrageous either. Considering that 4 guys were full after sharing 3 appies, 2 pastas and 3 entrees, the portions were more than respectable.

The Good:
- Some bold flavours
- Pretty solid execution
- Nice little dining space

The Bad:
- The portion-to-price ratio might concern bigger eaters

Cibo Trattoria & Uva Wine Bar on Urbanspoon