Sherman's Food Adventures: June 2011

So Hot So Pot

Finally. The rain stopped long enough for us to get a softball game in. Too bad I never had the opportunity to break in my new first base glove. You see, I had no choice but to get a specialized glove for the position I play. Our shortstop, Silent Bob, has an arm that can rifle the ball at me which can potentially break a hand. Up until this season, I've been using an infielder's glove and let's just say I'm not going to play with fire anymore. The problem with a new glove that has not been broken in is the stiffness. The chances of me dropping a ball just increased threefold. Of course, to some of my teammates, that is no different than usual. Hey, I can't help it if I got food on my mind. For all I know, the softball being hurled at me resembles a really large takoyaki! So despite a short bench and a couple of dropped balls (on my part), we were able to eek out a win.

With the game out of the way, our focus turned towards food. Seeing how the weather has been rather chilly for May, we decided to utilized the last remaining cold days for hot pot. With our close proximity to Richmond, we headed in that direction searching for a boiling pot of broth. The first thing that came into my mind was So Hot So Pot. Located at the East end of Alexandra along restaurant row, the name elicited many giggles. Yah, the name is easy to ridicule; but honestly, what Chinese restaurant has a "normal" name??? Anyways, as we walked into the place, we were pleasantly surprised how modern and spacious it was. We've had our fair share of hot pot experiences in less-than-clean environments, so this was a plus. We were seated at a spacious round table and quickly ordered our food. Once again, much like every other hot pot joint out there, the broth is an extra charge. Thus, it is really a good idea to go in a big group to split the costs. We decided to get half Chicken Broth and half Satay. The chicken broth was a bit weak while the satay was predominantly peanutty.

Everything pretty much arrived at once, so I was busy snapping photos while everyone had to wait. Boss Woman was impatiently asking if I was "done yet". So if the photos look sub-par... blame her! One of the standards of Chinese hot pot is fatty beef. In this case, it was labeled as Marbled Beef. Whatever the case, beef with fat and sliced thin is usually buttery soft and delicious. In this case, it was good. Another popular items these days is Pork Jowl or cheek. The meat is fatty; yet at the same time, it exhibits a gelatinous-like chew. This was no different here. Then arrived a dish that no one wanted to touch other than Boss Woman and myself. Pictured in this plate of offal was Beef Stomach (honeycomb tripe), Pork Intestine, Beef Tripe (bible tripe), Beef Tendon and Pork Kidney. The 2 types of tripe were prepped correctly so they were easy to chew once cooked. The intestine was pretty much the same except for one really chewy piece. The tendon was also soft and easy to eat while not falling apart either. The kidney was cleaned properly so it didn't exhibit much gaminess.

Next dish consisted of Beef Balls, Cuttlefish Balls, Shrimp Balls, Fish Tofu, Wontons and Chive Dumplings. As with many places these days, all of the meatballs are fresh, not frozen. The good thing about this is that they cooked quicker. The bad thing is they are harder to put into the broth as they stick together and to the plate. We shouldn't complain though, fresh is better than frozen. Mind you, I'm sure some of the raw ingredients were previously frozen anyways... The wontons were pretty much typical pork wontons while the chive dumplings were well-received all around. Something that caught our attention on the menu was the Xiao Long Bao. Nothing special about it really; but we've never boiled XLBs before. Normally, a good XLB has a thin dumpling skin; thus boiling them would result in a disaster. Well, of course these had thicker skin and therefore, they stayed intact. By just looking at them as a regular dumpling, they were actually quite good. The meat had a nice texture and meaty taste.

When the plate of Oysters & Mussels arrived, it drew a reaction. Maybe it is foreshadowing a different type of "reaction" from eating them? Ahem. I'll leave that to your imagination. The actual response was to the size of the oysters. They were really large. Even after cooking, they had not shrunk by much. We were pleased at the freshness of them as well. As for the mussels, they were your typical frozen New Zealand green lip variety. We also got some White Shrimp and these were the imported frozen, then defrosted variety. Nothing wrong with that considering the price we paid. We weren't expecting live spot prawns! There were some other items we had and they were more than acceptable. After all, hot pot is pretty simple - fresh ingredients = good hot pot. The service we received was not bad considering the nearby competition. Everyone left happy and really full.

The Good:
- Spacious and clean
- Service we got was good
- Parking lot actually has space

The Bad:
- Much like any other hot pot joint these days, the price can get up there if you add stuff (like sauces and broth)

So Hot So Pot on Urbanspoon

Gain Wah

Way back when, the place for Chinese food was in Chinatown. If this statement makes you want to LOL and possibly ROFL, I don't blame you. Believe me, prior to the explosion of Chinese restaurants outside of Chinatown starting in the mid-80's until now, the go to joints were Ming's, Kam Gook Yuen, Hon's (original location on Main Street), Park Lok and the ol' Hong Kong Cafe. If you are reading this and only have a glazed confused look on your face, you are probably under the age of 20. For me, I still remember the prime rib dinner served by really old waiters at the Hong Kong cafe. Their pound cake was money as well. Dim Sum was only available at places like Ming's and Pak Lok where the lineups would put anything now to shame. Then we had the wonton noodles at one of 3 locations of Kam Gook Yuen. Another classic is Gain Wah. I remember visiting this place a lot when I was a wee one. And honestly, I don't think I've been back since. So when we finished up Sunday hockey at Brit, it seemed like as good as any time to do a revisit a few decades later.

Kaiser Soze was elated at this proposition since he doesn't believe that food should cost an arm and a leg. Well, with most Chinese restaurants, we should be talking about kidneys and livers rather than arms and legs... JuJu isn't too picky with his restaurants and was okay with the idea as well. He decided to carpool with me down to Chinatown since parking can be an exercise in frustration. Kaiser Soze decided to drive himself. Fate would have it, I spotted a parking space nearly in front of Gain Wah. However, it was across the street. No matter, we're in Chinatown and I'm Chinese! So I pulled a U-turn into the space. Hey, when in Rome... Of course Kaiser Soze drives by shortly afterwards. Apparently I took his space! Serves him right for not carpooling with us! LOL... Upon entering the restaurant, it is clear that not much has changed. Totally ol' skool, this is the antithesis of modernism. Hence the prices are cheap and portions are large.

I started with the classic Wonton Noodles. Talking about ol' skool, these were pork wontons with no shrimp. With reasonable expectations, they were okay. The meat had a nice bouncy texture while it might benefited from more seasoning. The noodles themselves were perfectly chewy and sat in a decently flavourful broth. This can't compare to the more fancy wonton noodles offered in Richmond; but it does the job at $4.00. Unsatisfied with only a bowl of noodles, I also had the Offal Congee consisting of liver, kidney, pork and stomach. The congee was modestly seasoned (which means less or no MSG) and not really too thick. I found the meats to be overtenderized; hence not having much texture at all. On a positive note, they were cooked properly, so they weren't chewy (but I guess it wouldn't be due to the tenderization). Seeing how Viv probably needed food too, I got an order of the House Special Chow Mein to go as well. I got them to plate it first, so I could take a picture. I tried some too before I packed it up. This was pretty much your typical fried noodles topped with sauce. I found the noodles to be not too greasy and perfectly fried. The sauce was the pretty typical starch-thickened variety. Enough flavour and enough well-cooked ingredients. This can be considered a good value dish.

JuJu also ordered something for his wife being the Salted Fish & Chicken Fried Rice. Again, we got them to plate it first prior to packing it up. I sampled it and found the rice to be underseasoned despite the salted fish. I usually like my fried rice to be dry (due to day old rice and a hot wok); however, this was a bit too dry. This was a decent attempt at this dish; yet hardly a memorable one. For himself, JuJu had 2 items just like me. He started with the BBQ Pork and Wonton Noodles. Similary to my bowl of noodles, it was a pretty standard, if not unexciting offering. To change it up, he also got a Fish & Tofu Hot Pot all for himself (and a bowl of rice). Sadly, this was not good. The fish was both overcooked and of poor quality. It was very dense and difficult to chew. On the flip side, the fried tofu was fantastic - silky on the inside and chewy on the outside. Furthermore, the sauce had depth and a garlicky hit while not being salty.

Kaiser Soze went for something that I would normally order for myself - the Brisket and Tripe Noodles. Essentially the same as the wonton noodle except for the change in protein, it was also quite good. The brisket and tripe were soft and flavourful. Similarly to me, he also got a Minced Beef Congee. Since the congee base is exactly the same for all the different varieties, it was just like the offal congee. Not exactly that thick nor that flavourful. The minced beef was sufficiently tender, so he enjoyed it nonetheless. Although Gain Wah is still quite popular among the locals, it was walking into a time warp. The decor and food haven't seemed to change in the last couple of decades. And being such, I much prefer Congee Noodle House/King. However, if you just wanted ol' skool greasy spoon Chinese food on the cheap, Gain Wah is your place.

The Good:
- Cheap
- Friendly service
- Retro, if you like that

The Bad:
- Food is so-so
- You don't come here for the ambiance

Gain Wah on Urbanspoon

McRib @ McDonald's

McRib. Wow, I haven't seen you in awhile. You return every now and then; but for only a brief visit. I remember back in the day, there would be a bonus hand-warmer that would accompany you. As your box clearly states - an old friend is back. However, I'm not sure what type of old friend comes slathered in BBQ sauce and you'd want to eat them. Well... I'm sure that is not a stretch for some people. And what is with you? You're merely a formed pork patty that has been pan-fried, slathered with BBQ sauce topped by onions and pickles on a bun. Why do I crave you so? I'm not sure what I was thinking when I was a little one; but right now, as an adult, you taste strangely like a breakfast sausage patty with a BBQ sauce in need of some smoke. Well, at least you were free, courtesy of McDonald's Canada. I gotta give it to them though. They didn't take offense to my indifference towards their new 1/3 pounders...

Back to the McRib... Is it nostalgia? Or do I put you high up on a pedestal much like the girl I was infatuated with in high school... Whatever the case, I look forward for your return every now and then. People may laugh. People may scoff. People may shill. I don't care. They don't understand. I grew up with you. And as the box states, it is a love affair. A strange one at that. With your fleeting existence, I really think it is a fling more than anything else. Now for a real affair, I much rather caress a Filet-O-Fish. Ah yes, I cheat with you very often. In fact, Viv doesn't mind. She sometimes joins in! I visit you often. Especially when my actual meal did not "satisfy". You complete me when I'm longing. Longing for fulfillment. Yah, you are fast food. Again, people will laugh. People will judge. And people will want to ridicule you. Don't pay attention to them. They are haters. They are food snobs. You complete me when I'm hungry. You had me at tartar sauce...

North Garden

For the longest time, we have avoided North Garden. I'll admit it. We were influenced by what others have said about the place. Honestly, I often wonder if businesses understand the "word of mouth" principle. If you build up a poor reputation, it'll catch up to you sooner or later. So with all the bad vibes about the place, we just didn't feel the need to try it out. However, that has never stopped me before since each individual experience is different. Although I put considerable trust with my friends in terms of their tastes and opinions, it is best that I find out for myself. So, with a little trepidation, we were hoping this wasn't going to be a Kawawa. As much as North Garden is a Chinese restaurant, complete with Peking Duck on the menu, it doubles as a Hong Kong-style Cafe. Located in the former Lonestar (long gone BBQ restaurant), it is a relatively spacious restaurant with high ceilings and plenty of natural light. Despite the this, the laminate floors have definitely seen their better days. Some renovations might do wonders here.

Although we were only here for lunch, I was actually pretty hungry and went for their 4-Item Combo. I opted for the Beef Steak, Pork Chop, Chicken Steak and Fried Imitation Scallops. I had a choice of sauce and chose black peppercorn. As always, the meal started with the Chinese version of Borscht. With no beets whatsoever, this is pretty typical. The Hong Kong-style cafe take on borscht is vegetable soup with a few drops of Worcestershire sauce. With that in mind, this was pretty standard stuff. As for my meal, the meats were prepared surprisingly well. I asked for my steak to be rare and it was exactly that. Hence, the thin minute-steak was not tough at all (probably tenderized). The chicken steak, which is a deboned leg, was juicy while the pork chop was slightly dry. As for the "scallops", they were fine if you were expecting fried pollack. I found the peppercorn sauce to be kinda weak. It was more of a gravy of sorts than being peppery. I really liked the veggies, they were vibrant and still crisp.

Viv chose another HK-style cafe favourite in the Baked Pork Chop Rice. It is a fried pork chop on top of fried rice and baked with a diluted ketchup-based sauce. Sounds sketchy I know; but if done right, it is one of my favourites. This one was pretty good in my books. The fried rice was dry, which is a good thing since there is an abundance of sauce already. The sauce itself was mildly sweet with some tomato tartness. We found the pork chop to be moist and meaty with a slight crunch on the sides. For the kiddies, we got the Pickled Greens and Pork Vermicelli. Once again, this was a pretty typical version of this soup noodle. I thought the tenderized julienned pork was the perfect texture (which is slightly chewy while still super tender). Combined with the right amount of pickled snow cabbage, it was a good compliment to the al dente vermicelli. The soup was somewhat bland; but that didn't matter since there was enough flavour from the other ingredients.

Seeing how we didn't get to try their dinner items, we returned the next week with the whole family. We ended up with the dinner for 4 which included a choice of soup. We went for the Hot & Sour Soup since we could safely assume the wonton soup would not be great. From the rich colour to the ample ingredients, this was a respectable hot & sour soup. It was definitely tart and plenty spicy. For our first dish, we had the Stir-Fried Seafood with snow peas. With a bevy of properly cooked basa, prawns and squid, this was a pretty good value considering it was included as an option for the "build-your-own-meal". The peas were also cooked properly being vibrant and crunchy.

Next up was the Satay Beef with Vermicelli Hot Pot which arrived nice and hot. Too bad there wasn't much liquid left, which made the vermicelli a bit clumpy. Well, at least that is better than soggy vermicelli I suppose... There was a good amount of properly tenderized beef mixed with peppers and pineapple. Although there was sufficient seasoning, I would've preferred this to have more satay flavour. It didn't exactly scream out spice. Now for a dish that might confuse people who have never seen it before. The Fried Fish with Cream of Corn Sauce may not exactly sound that appetizing; but if you grew up eating it... Yes, it really is merely fried pieces of basa with a side of diluted and thickened canned cream of corn. Well, the fish itself was fried nicely being moist on the inside and crispy on the outside. The sauce was typical, nothing much to talk about. We ended up getting the sauce served on the side because the fish tends to get soggy with it on top.

Lastly, we got the Sweet & Sour Pork. Despite its bad rep due to the perception it is a North American Chinese dish, we still love it. Goes well with rice! When it arrived, it was aesthetically pleasing with a deep red colour (more food colouring!). However, the sauce was merely sweet. No tang, no sour, no nothing. The meat itself wasn't bad per se, it was fairly moist. But for some reason, it was dense. Possibly a refry? Most Chinese restaurants cut cooking time by frying the pork either the night before or the morning of and then refrying it to order. No problem with that if it doesn't affect the dish. In this case, it did. So after 2 meals here, it is clear the food is mostly acceptable. There is definitely better nearby, so this would probably not be a return visit. Furthermore, the service as a whole is quite indifferent and inattentive. I wouldn't go as far as saying it is bad; yet it is not a plus either.

The Good:
- Lots of choice
- Lots of room
- Lots of parking

The Bad:
- Lots of indifferent service
- Washrooms and floor need some repairs

North Garden on Urbanspoon

Lee's Chicken (Newton)

*Restaurant is now closed*

When I used to live in Coquitlam, my go-to place for fried chicken was Lee's Chicken. However, much like many of their other locations, it went the way of the dodo bird. So then I was merely stuck with Church's and KFC. There were some options though. LA Chicken (a spinoff of sorts from the defunct Lee's) in Richmond continued the "freshly" fried tradition in its current location. Then not too long ago, I got to once again experience Lee's out in Abbotsford. However, for some reason or another, the Newton location of Lee's never showed up on my radar. I knew it was there; but I kept forgetting about it... until now. Getting a little bored of eating Asian food all the time, I decided to grab some fried goodness at Lee's.

Ever since the chain began to downsize, the locations have not exactly kept up with the times. Looking very much like how it looked 20 years ago, it is not a place one would necessarily want to linger. However, I did linger and ordered a 4-Piece Dinner to boot. I opted for half original and half spicy with a potato salad. Just like I remembered it, the chicken and fries arrived hot and fresh. The chicken was super juicy, even more so than Church's. And it was flavourful, in a KFC kind of way. Hey, it's like a hybrid of Church's and KFC - the best of both worlds in my opinion. On a side note, I'm stiff baffled as to why KFC continues to make consistently dry chicken. Well, I'm in the minority it seems because KFC seems to do very good business. Anyways, the spicy was decently flavourful while not being overy spicy. I think the one from Church's is much spicier. Sure, the fries were your frozen Sysco-type (and the Sysco truck was out front I might add...); but they were fried perfectly crisp. As for the side of gravy, it was pretty scary looking; but it was not clumpy and had a nice peppery kick.

I didn't care for the potato salad though. It was too mustardy. If I had to choose, I'd much rather have the KFC potato salad (if I had only those 2 options). Now if I had to choose which fried chicken I prefer most, it is no contest. Even when Popeye's existed here, I still liked Lee's more. At the very least now, if I want my Lee's fix, I don't have to go out to Abbotsford.

The Good:
- Tasty batter
- Moist, juicy chicken

The Bad:
- A bit more expensive when compared to the specials offered by KFC and Church's

Lee's Famous Recipe Chicken on Urbanspoon

Izumo Japanese

Much like the time I ended up at Northern Tadka, I was actually on my way to Taste of Punjab for a revisit. And the same thing happened again. I didn't make it to the Taste of Punjab for the second time. You see, Mijune was wanting to try out the place and well, my conscience too over. I had promised to dine with here there. Hence, I decided to wait until she was available. So I ended up at the Japanese restaurant in the same complex instead. Now, there seems to be a Japanese restaurant in every strip mall in and around Vancouver. So for me at least, I wasn't expecting much. Yet, I am always ready to be surprised by a great find.

Walking into the place, it was quite obvious it was not Japanese-run. Again, that is not really important if the food is good. Think about it. Just because it is Japanese-run, doesn't necessarily result in good food. I must concede that it would be a good start at least. Now, I'm not going to make this post that long because Izumo is another example of a non-Japanese-run restaurant that is quite average. These are a dime-a-dozen in this city and it only exists to serve the locals. For the Lunch Combo I tried, I would have to say that sashimi was neither good nor bad. It was pretty typical. I thought the teriyaki chicken was to meager with the meat. Hence it was dry and not satisfying. The tempura was pretty average as well with the batter slightly too thick. I got a Rainbow Roll so I could try their sushi rice and yah, it was pretty average as well. The best way to describe it would be dry and mealy. Too bad really since the ingredients were not bad as you can clearly see. Yah, as you can tell, not much enthusiasm from me in this post. A total reflection of the eating experience...

The Good:
- Staff are friendly
- Dining room is clean and spacious

The Bad:
- Food is so-so
- Prices are a bit high

Izumo Japanese on Urbanspoon

Westview Oriental

The Easter long weekend was an epic fail in terms of eating out. 4 days off and only a few meals to show for it. The reason? No hockey games to play means no eating out afterwards. Furthermore, Viv was not really in the mood for eating out since she had a lot of work to do. Arghhh.... The agony. To compound the issue, Rich Guy was unavailable to eat either. I might have to resort asking strangers to eat with me. Wait, that is normal for Mijune. She is often seen asking complete strangers if she could try their food. Alas, I am not so brazen. So when Sunday hit and we were without eats in the morning, I declared we were going out for Dim Sum. No ands, ifs or buts. However, Dim Sum on a Easter Sunday is akin to boxing day. So I had to find an obscure place to try without the crowds. Aha! Westview Oriental! What? Dim Sum in North Van... Doesn't sound promising does it? Well, I've passed by this place countless of times. It's in the same plaza as where Sizzler used to be. Yes, remember that place?

Just as I thought, the place was none-too-busy when we arrived at opening (11:00am). In fact, this was one of the most relaxing Dim Sum environments we've ever seen. No chatter, no mess, no lineup or some random employee yelling out stuff. So this is how they roll out here. I don't mind it at all! Of course, it is a moot point if the food ain't good... We started with the Soya Fried Rice Noodle Rolls (again... for the kiddies). They were quite dark, almost burnt in appearance. In actuality, it didn't taste burnt; but it was getting close. Despite the colour, it could've used a bit more flavour. Yes, I realize there is hoisin and sesame dipping sauces; but it needed a bit more soy sauce nevertheless.

Next up was the Sui Mai (Shrimp & Pork Dumplings). These were really large with a pleasing amount of tobiko on top. However, the texture was not exactly pleasing though. The dumplings were far too soft and did not exhibit the bounce and chew we were looking for. Furthermore, we found it slightly underseasoned. When the Shrimp Spring Rolls arrived, my son perked up from playing his DS. He loves spring rolls albeit only the crispy exterior. And yes, these were really crunchy. Too bad they were oil-soaked and the interior was doughy. The shrimp was both plentiful and texturally pleasing though. Something we don't see on most Dim Sum menus these days is the Shrimp Toast. I remember eating this as a kid and I also remember how oily they were. Nothing has changed. Take white bread and fry it and it will do its best impression of a sponge. Oil aside, this shrimp toast was pretty good. Crispy and a good amount of shrimp mousse on top, my daughter loved it. My son, he didn't touch it. Something to do with sesame seeds...

Another one of my favourite items at Dim Sum is the Black Bean Spareribs. Normally, the draw of this dish is tenderized pork that is soft enough to chew while still maintaining some bite. Sadly, this one was over-tenderized. Therefore, it was too easy to chew. At least the seasoning was good, a nice combination of salty black beans, garlic and some chili flakes. Arriving next was the Haw Gow (Shrimp Dumplings) or AKA "the standard". If a Dim Sum joint gets anything right, it has to be this. I would give this attempt a passing grade since the shrimp was perfectly textured being crunchy and just cooked. However, it was severely under-seasoned. It needed everything including salt, sugar, white pepper and sesame oil. I resorted to using hot sauce to eat this since there was so little flavour. As for the dumpling skin, it was a little on the thicker side; yet not overly so. Strangely, the Crab, Shrimp and Corn Dumplings fared much better in the flavour department. With essentially the same shrimp filling, the addition of imitation crab meat and sweet corn provided the necessary enhancements. As such, the dumpling was savoury and sweet with a nice pop provided by the corn niblets.

We got an order of the Beef Meatballs in hopes the kiddies would have some. Silly me, what was I thinking? The meatballs have green things in them, the kids refused to touch them. Fine, it was up to me to touch the balls... Ahem... Well, these were some fine balls. Mixed with just the right amount of green onion and water chestnuts, the meat was texturally bang-on. Not too chewy, not too soft, these were some bouncy balls! After this, we were essentially done; however, there was a roaming platter of freshly-baked Egg Tarts. We didn't need any convincing. We got an order despite being full. As with anything hot out-of-the-oven, these were probably good on that fact only. However, they were indeed very good. The tart shell was flaky and a tad oily (hope that was vegetable shortening... I hope...). As for the egg custard filling, it was quite sweet. It had a nice silky texture though.

Initially, I gotta admit that Westview Oriental was not what I thought it would be. The Dim Sum experience was a lot better than I expected. First of all, the place is actually appointed with nice furnishings and decor. It was almost soothing to dine here. Plenty of space. No yelling or overly loud discussions from the neighbouring tables. Even the washrooms were acceptable. In general, the service was quite good bordering on friendly. Is this really a Chinese restaurant??? Apparently so. And to boot, the Dim Sum was more than acceptable as well. Sure, I've had better; but considering the location, it's certainly an option for the locals.

The Good:
- Clean and inviting dining space
- Food is decent
- Service is also acceptable

The Bad:
- Prices are a little on the higher side

Westview Oriental on Urbanspoon