Sherman's Food Adventures: January 2012

Matoi Sushi

Fate would have it, after my father-in-law's 70th birthday, it was my dad's 70th as well. And of course it called for more eating! He really didn't want anything big and in fact, wanted something a bit more healthy. So we gathered up the immediate family (which would be me, Viv and the kids) and planned on trying out Osamu Sushi in Coquitlam. Widely regarded as one of the best Japanese restaurants in the Tri-Cities area, it seems that every time we try to eat there, something gets in the way. This time, they were booked up solid and no tables were available until late. With kids in tow, that wasn't an option. So onto plan B, we went to another popular Coquitlam Japanese restaurant - Matoi Sushi (which is Japanese owned and operated).

Located in the same plaza as Hon's and White Spot, there is ample parking for those who care (I do!). Seeing how it was my dad's birthday, we decided to get the Chef's Special Sashimi combo which boasted many different types of fish including hamachi, tai, tuna and skipjack tuna among others. As you can clearly see, the sashimi had a nice sheen and looked fresh (of course as fresh as previously frozen fish can get). In general, nothing tasted amiss and in fact, tasted very good. The preparation was spot on while the textures pleasant. Next up were 2 maki rolls: Dynamite and Real Crab California. Honestly, I actually prefer imitation crab meat over the real thing when it comes to sushi. It just has more flavour. Sure, it is not as valuable as real crab meat, but that is not the point. One thing I will concede is that real crab meat has a much more pleasing fluffy texture. As for the sushi rice, I thought it had a pretty good consistency. Moreover, it exhibited nice hits of vinegar and sugar.

Moving onto some cooked items, we had the obligatory Deluxe Assorted Tempura which featured a fried whole spot prawn. Impressive-looking while not exactly easy to eat though. I found the batter to be slightly excessive which became more of an issue when the tempura cooled down. On the inside, it was no longer crispy. However, when eaten right away, there were no problems. Since we already had tempura, it was a bit repetitive to order the Ebi Mayo. I did it anyways because it happens to be one of my favourite dishes. I could eat so many of these accompanied by a cool beer! I wasn't totally convinced with this version though. The ebi were coated with far too much tempura batter. It reminded me of something I'd get at a Chinese buffet. Too bad really since the ebi had a nice snappy texture and the chili mayo was nicely flavoured.

Finally breaking the yakiudon streak, the kiddies agreed on a Oyako Don rather than fried noodles. Thank goodness! Guess who usually ends up finishing the noodles when they change their mind? Just call me the trash can... This was a fairly decent portion consisting of moist chicken with egg. We felt that there was just the right amount of "sauce" which penetrated all the way to the chewy rice. It was on the sweeter side and could've benefited from a bit more soy or less sugar or mirin. Then for no apparent reason other than for diversity, we also had the Teriyaki Beef. Little did we know it was not served a la carte and also came with rice. Don't you hate it when that happens? If we had known, we would've ordered something else. No matter, it was not bad, if not a touch dry. On the positive side, it was not doused with an obscene amount of syrupy sauce. In that respect, this was actually not too bad.

Not sure what possessed me to order the Oden other than pure curiousity. You see, oden is merely a collection of boiled items such daikon, fish cake and eggs in a soy and dashi broth. Nope, nothing too exciting or bursting with flavour either. Mind you, I like Chinese hot pot and there are some similarities... Well, there was not much to say about the oden really. The broth was very light, seemingly missing the soy. The daikon was cooked nicely being soft while not falling apart. The fish cake was not bad, but one of the fish balls had a weird texture. With most odens, this was served with a side of Japanese mustard which added the necessary kick to the mild ingredients. On the topic of mild, Japanese food is generally pretty balanced. So it comes as no surprised that the Grilled Eggplant was delicate. Much like the one I had at Miko Sushi, this one was soft, yet not mushy and very lightly seasoned. Not particularly my cup of tea, yet I could appreciate the effort it took to prepare eggplant in a way that it borders on mush while not being so.

Although not perfect (and what is really), our meal at Matoi was actually pretty good. I would say it gives Fuji Sushi a run for its money when comparing one authentic Japanese restaurant to another in Coquitlam. We thought the slightly higher prices were fair for the portion and quality of food. Furthermore, the service was quite good. They made sure we had enough tea and always came by to clear our plates. The place was busy throughout our meal, so I guess that is at the very least, a good indication.

The Good:
- Pretty good eats
- Pretty good service
- Japanese operated, if that matters to you

The Bad:
- Slightly higher prices (worth it in my opinion)

Matoi Sushi on Urbanspoon

Saboten

We've all heard the expression, "do one thing and do it well". When it comes to restaurants, that may be the kiss of death if no one wants to eat that one thing. It can be further complicated by totally messing up the one thing they were supposed to specialize in (ie. don't have wonton in your restaurant name if they suck). The newest addition to the Vancouver food scene is Saboten, which does Tonkatsu (fried pork chop) and really doesn't deviate much from it. They have over 500 locations worldwide and the newest addition in Aberdeen is actually an "express" version. Originally, I was invited to the media event, but I couldn't make it. So I did the next best thing and visited the place a couple of days after on my own. Well, not really on my own because JuJu tagged along. On a side note, his nickname means "small pig" in Cantonese. Wouldn't this be cannibalism???

Located in the former Strawberry Cones stall, the place was busy. Looks like the curious were getting their tonkatsu fix. JuJu decided to try their Loin Katsu Don, which included a miso soup and tsukemono. For the price, we both agreed that the portion size was bordering on being expensive, but just barely. As for the tonkatsu itself, boy was it super moist. The darn thing was almost airy (if you can call a pork chop airy). There was a good amount of dashi, mirin, soy mixture which was leaning towards the sweeter side. It penetrated all the way into the rice which made the whole bowl flavourful. JuJu dusted it off pretty quick and was actually still hungry afterwards (not a stretch for him though). For myself, I knew better and got 2 items starting with the Tenderloin Katsu Curry. It also came with a miso soup and tsukemono, as well as shredded cabbage. I loved the light crispiness of the coating combined with the tender and airy meat. It was like eating something other than pork (in a good way). The curry was predictably mild and slightly sweet. I liked how it wasn't too sweet like some other Japanese curries. There was quite a bit of white onion which added another level of flavour.

Not satisfied with only one item, I also got the Tenderloin Katsu Sandwich. I knew I needed it since the orders being picked up didn't look particularly large. With the same fantastic cutlet as the previous 2 items sandwiched in between soft white bread, it was good. Loved the grainy mustard which added a distinguishing flavour. However, this was gobbled up quickly and honestly, I looked longingly at the other food stands in search for more food. That pretty much sums it up though. The tonkatsu is indeed fantastic, but there is just not enough of it. A heavier eater might need 2 meals just to get full.

The Good:
- Fantastic crispy and light tonkatsu
- They do only one thing and do it right

The Bad:
- The stuff is too light... can't get full
- I wouldn't say it is necessarily expensive, but it ain't cheap either (for what you get)

Saboten (Aberdeen Centre) on Urbanspoon

Chun Hing

After attending the Chinese Restaurant Awards in Richmond, I was about to head home for dinner. Wait. I had not planned on cooking and I was too tired to go out to eat (shocking, I know). So there I was. In the land of endless Chinese food. What to do? Duh. Rhetorical question. So I headed over to the nearest spot that I could get Chinese takeout. I pulled into the Yaohan parking lot with immense trepidation because fighting through traffic and parking was not something I was looking forward to. Imagine my surprise when not only did I find a parking spot right away, people stopped for me as I crossed the street. When I waved a black Mercedes by, they actually gave a "thanks". Huh? I am in Richmond right?

From the many choices within the Yaohan food court, I decided to go with a place that I've tried before, which was Chun Hing. With food piled high and a 4 for 3 special, it seemed like a good bet. The Honey Garlic Chicken was the most impressively stacked item (is this an unintentional pun???), so I decided to give it a try. Turns out that it was all drumsticks cut into two. They were fried up crisp while being juicy and moist inside. There was lots of sweet honey flavour without a gooey mess. Being Chinese doesn't prevent me from eating the so-called "North American" items, so I went ahead with the Sweet & Sour Pork. At the very least, this was not the North American radioactive-coloured version. As you can see, the pieces of pork were meaty and easy on the batter. There was just enough sauce that it didn't turn it into sweet & sour sauce with pork. I would've preferred more zing since the sauce was predominantly sweet. Furthermore, despite our disdain for fillers, this dish would've benefited from more pineapple and peppers.

For my obligatory offal selection, I got the Brisket, Tendon and Daikon Stew. I really liked this one. The brisket was super moist exhibiting none of the stringiness sometimes found in these stews. The tendon was perfectly soft while not falling apart. I loved how I could taste the flavours of the soy and star anise without a huge amount of saltiness. Moreover, the daikon was nicely cooked where it still had texture. To up the veggie content, I went for the Stir-Fried Eggplant. In actuality, it looked more like an eggplant hot pot without the hot pot. We weren't a hug fan of this dish. It was a tad too mushy (and that is taking into account that it was eggplant and had been sitting around for awhile) and was a little mild in the seasoning department. I mean, there was enough sodium, yet little in distinguishing flavours. Lastly, much like any eggplant dish, it was quite greasy (maybe even more greasy than usual as evidenced by the oil slick at the bottom of the plate).

Lastly, to go with all the food, I got an order of their Fried Rice. It was pretty plain with some egg and frozen veggies. I would say the rice had a decent chewy texture but it lacked some of the nutty caramelization typically found in a commercial wok-prepared dish. I liked how it wasn't greasy though. As a whole, the food was a fantastic value, considering the amount they crammed into each container. Was the food outstanding? Well no, but with reasonable expectations for a food stand, this did the job for dinner that didn't empty out my wallet.

The Good:
- Good portions
- Well-priced

The Bad:
- Food is a bit hit and miss
- Like anything in Richmond, parking is always unpredictable

Chun Hing (Yaohan Centre) on Urbanspoon

Dine Out @ C Restaurant

At this stage in my gastronomical adventures, I'm not a huge fan of Dine Out. No, I'm not being a food snob or anything. It's just that I've had some pretty underwhelming experiences in the past.
The main problem is that some restaurants choose to meet the price points by offering food that is not truly representative of their regular menu. Hence, it does not give a clear overall picture which then in turns defeats the purpose of Dine Out in the first place. I find the whole event becoming watered-down. Now, that is not to say that there are no diamonds in the rough to be found. Seeing how I eat enough as it is, I wasn't planning to do Dine Out this year. However, I was contacted by C Restaurant to try their Dine Out menu. Okay, I was conflicted. First, do I go back on my original plan and actually do a Dine Out meal? And secondly, the rating for C Restaurant on Urbanspoon can be only described as horrible. What to do? A little more information gathering led me to the conclusion that C would be worth trying since they traditionally have good Dine Out menus and the rating on Urbanspoon is a bit misleading. Furthermore, Chef Robert Clark is back in the kitchen since Lee Humphries is away for a few weeks.

Others invited to the meal were Melody, Joyce, Diana, Stephanie and Alvin (who I have to credit for the picture of the restaurant). We started with an Amuse Bouche which included (from right to left) Smoked Salmon Cannelloni stuffed with goat cheese topped with creme fraiche and preserved lemon, Seared Tuna, Spot Prawn, Quail's Egg topped with truffle aioli and crispy bacon and Golden Beet. My favourite had to be the quail's egg (since I love eggs!) because it was poached perfectly with a runny yolk. Furthermore, the truffle aioli and bacon combined put a mouthful of flavours in one little bite. Our first official course was the North Arm Farms Beet Panzanella Salad served with harissa dressing and shaved ricotto salata. I really liked the beets as they were soft while still retaining some firmness. Loved the harissa dressing as it added an ethnic taste to the salad. I wasn't particularly fond of the croutons as they had a fairly hard, yet not crunchy texture. The Dine Out menu at C Restaurant has a few supplemental courses if one wishes to add for an extra charge. One of these is the Sauteed Spot Prawns with kale, chilli, lime and romesco sauce.
This was a nice plate of food consisting of perfectly cooked spot prawns, just barely-cooked kale and a flavourful sauce. The romesco exhibited its classic nutty texture and with this version had a real acidity to it. A nice counterbalance to the sweet prawns (if used sparingly).

Next up was the second course consisting of Seared Albacore Tuna with Winter minestrone, Parmesan pistou and crisp basil. As evidenced in the picture, the tuna was seared ever-so-lightly and served mostly rare. That allowed the natural sweetness of the tuna to shine as well as keeping the texture light. The sprinkle of salt really intensified the delicate tuna. I thought the minestrone underneath was done nicely with some crunch and tartness. The droplets of basil added some herbal qualities to the dish. Our third course, the Seared Lake Babine Salmon continued on with the fish theme. It was served on a bed of squash puree and topped with an almond tapenade. The fish was beautifully prepared being moist, sweet and slightly rare in the middle. Loved the even sear on the outside. The squash puree was smooth and mild while it intermingled with the cubes of squash and firm brussel sprouts. The real surprise of the dish was the almond tapenade on top. It provided both texture and acidity.

The optional supplement for the salmon was the Roasted Beef Tenderloin. It was served with a walnut polenta, tarragon butter and confit of portabello mushrooms. I absolutely loved the demi-glace as it was silky and luxurious. The tenderloin was meaty and exhibited a deep roasted flavour. I really wish this was a bigger portion. Lastly, for dessert, we were served a Spiced Chocolate Pudding with vanilla Chantilly and caramel puffed rice. I liked their spin on the pudding with the Asian spices. It almost felt like there was five-spice in the pudding (well, not really but you get the idea). The crunch of the sweet puffed rice added the necessary texture to the smooth pudding. And as a final treat, a plate of Lemon Poppyseed Biscotti with a side of candied ginger arrived at our table. These were crunchy and we could not mistake what they were made of - buttery and a good lemon hit. Loved the candied ginger on the side.

I gotta admit that this Dine Out meal was a whole lot better than I expected it to be (and it is not because it was comped either). I can't comment on the service (as much as it was good) because it was a media dinner. However, if one was to start adding the supplemental dishes, the cost of the meal would go North of $70.00 in a hurry. Furthermore, if one was to look at the basic $38.00 menu without additions, it is predominantly comprised of fish and would leave individuals with bigger appetites longing for more food. Now, that is not to say that the $38.00 menu is not a good value. Considering the raw materials, the venue and the fact Robert Clarke is cooking in the kitchen, it is quite reasonable. This is fine dining folks, not a buffet. That is probably why I don't get too excited about Dine Out these days. Considering the quality of food I got at C Restaurant, I'd definitely return and would much rather order off their regular menu gladly paying the extra cost for more food.

*Note: This was an invited dinner where all food was comped*

The Good:
- Good execution with the proteins
- The basic Dine Out menu is reasonably-priced with all factors considering
- Nice location

The Bad:
- The supplements are enticing and will bump up the bill significantly (but that is a personal choice, no one is forcing you to do this)
- If we look at just the basic Dine Out meal, it may not satisfy big eaters

C Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Swallow Tail Secret Supper Soiree

Back in May 2010, I had the pleasure of breaking bread with fellow bloggers at Swallow Tail
Supper Club
. If you have no clue what I'm talking about, I don't blame you. Swallow Tail is not a restaurant, rather, it is a "secret" place where people meet to "donate" money towards a meal. Sounds like a restaurant in a different form right? Well, it is what we call an underground restaurant, much like No Fixed Address and The Birds Nest. To kick it up a notch, the folks at Swallow Tail have moved into the culinary tours and events business. And have they ever raised the bar. From the humble lil' house, the dinners have moved considerably more upscale. I was fortunate enough to be invited along with other bloggers to experience their Secret Supper Soiree. We were instructed to meet in front of the Pacific Central Station where we would be picked up by a double-decker bus.

We all hopped onto the pink bus and were whisked away to... of all places, the Vancouver Police Museum! Shuffling into the autopsy room, past the morgue, we were presented with a cocktail. After some mingling, we all congregated into the another room where we were served a Beet Salad consisting of blood orange granita, BB microns and pomegranate seeds. This was a refreshing, if not tiny start to our 5-course meal. Next up was the Tomato Consume with pickled cauliflower and Hijiki seaweed. It was served in a large beaker with a skewered pickled cauliflower. Although the concept seemed visually impressive, we had quite a bit of difficulty removing the cauliflower from the beaker. As for the consume, I felt it was overwhelmed by the pickling juices. I couldn't taste the base of the consume let alone the seaweed. There was definitely a novelty factor here with the venue, serving vessels and whatnot. Once finished, we loaded back onto the bus and took the short 3 block jaunt over to a totally new place called the Vancouver Urban Winery.

This was an unexpectedly nice venue. With a high ceiling and adorned with wine barrels as decor, the place was beautiful. There was several
long picnic-type tables set for us to enjoy our final 3 courses of the meal. For our appetizer, we were presented with a Poached Hen's Egg with forest mushrooms and a red wine reduction. The eggs were probably prepared in a thermal immersion circulator (if not, they were very skilled at using a regular pot!) and they were poached perfectly. Check out the beautiful free-range yolk! I love eggs and this was exactly how I like them. The mushrooms provided a good level of woodsiness and texture while the piece of baguette was cold and not that appealing texturally. Next up was the Pitt Meadows Flat Iron Steak with potato pave, root veggies and a huckleberry & rosemary jus. Due to the amount of guests and by virtue of cooking at a venue rather than a restaurant kitchen, the food was not as hot as I would've liked. Yet again, this was completely understandable. The medium to medium-rarish meat itself was tender and moist. It lacked the "seared" texture and flavour we normally would associate with a flat iron steak, but we need to take into account the venue. I loved the jus, it was super silky. I wished there was more of it. The shaved white carrot was
aesthetically-appealing and provided a nice crunch. As for the potato pave, it was good in both presentation and texture.

Lastly, for dessert, we had the Riesling Baba with Orange Blossom SemiFreddo, persimmon and pistachios. I like the semifreddo, it had a floral quality to it (as Kevin suggested) which was complimented by the pistachios. However, I found the baba to be too wet and overly sweet. Add in the sweet persimmon and this dessert was crying out for a touch of tartness as balance. In the end, I thought the secret supper soiree was a unique and interesting experience. Although I nit-picked at the food, it was pretty decent considering the challenges of multiple venues and whatever kitchen facilities that were at their disposal. The price for the soiree without wine pairings goes for $89.00 and $129.00 with wine. A group rate of 10+ with wine will set you back $99.00. In my opinion, I consider these prices to be reasonable if you take into account all the logistics (staffing, venue(s), food and wine). Of course, for someone who is only food-focused and are not interested in gimmicks and/or something out of the ordinary, they might not want to pony up the money. However, if you are the type who looks at the overall experience of an event and can appreciate the challenges of putting it all together, then it is worth a try for sure.

*Note: This was an invited dinner where all food was comped*

The Good:
- Unique experience
- Okay pricing considering everything that is involved (if you look beyond just the food)

The Bad:
- Pricey (if you are food-focused only)
- Not the most elegant of seating arrangements (if you care about that)

Swallow Tail Secret Supper Club on Urbanspoon

Faubourg

If I was given a choice between an appetizer platter or a selection of desserts, the appies would always take the cake (pardon the pun). It's not that I don't like sweets, I just happened to prefer the savoury eats more. Hence, this is partly the reason I have taken so long to visit Faubourg. In actuality, I wasn't even supposed to visit it at all this time around. You see, my mom has wanted to do afternoon tea for the longest time, but my dad has no interest whatsoever (runs in the family eh?). In fact, when they were in Hong Kong, she so desperately wanted to try out the high tea at the Peninsula, yet my dad had no desire to wait in line. As a result, Viv volunteered to take her for afternoon tea instead. I tried to coerce Viv into doing another post, much like her visit to Adonia. No dice. She'd rather put up with my suggestive humour (or is it non-humour in her opinion) than to take pictures and write up a blog post. Hence, I had really no choice but to tag along.

We made a reservation to have their Pink Afternoon Tea which costs a competitive $25.50 per person. If you've never had afternoon or high tea before, there will be some sticker shock. Believe it or not, this is actually reasonable considering some can go in excess of $60.00 per person (The Fairmont Empress in Victoria). Of course, the selection and amount of food varies from place-to-place. Located in Kerrisdale, Faubourg is a quaint little place which serves up French pastries and a limited bistro menu in addition to the afternoon tea. We were seated in the reserved section at the back as opposed to the open seating in the front. Our Pink Afternoon tea arrived in a 2-tiered serving tray with the sweets on the top. We started on the bottom with the 3 sandwiches which included a Smoked Salmon & Cream Cheese Pinwheel, Roast Beef and Chicken Salad. I guess there is only that much one can expect out of tea sandwiches and these were no exception. I mean, they were pleasant enough to eat with fresh bread that was soft (except for the pin wheel since it was compressed slightly) and ingredients that were equally good. I liked the chicken salad the most due to the crunch of the celery.

As we moved from the sandwiches over to the warm Poppyseed Cranberry Scones, things started to get more interesting. The scone had a firm outer shell which gave way to a buttery soft interior. We could've eaten this without the marmalade or cream on the side. Loved the burst of sweet tanginess from the cranberries. Despite my preference for savoury eats, there are times when I actually appreciate sweets. In this instance, one would have to be impressed with the little treats on the top tier. From the bottom right to left, we had the Passionfruit Souffle, Spiced Hazelnut Apple Cake, Lemon Tart, Opera Cake, Berry Yogurt and Chocolate Mousse. The Passionfruit Souffle was super light and bursting with flavour. There was plenty of sweetness as well as tartness while the souffle was on the sweeter side in general. I loved the Spiced Apple Cake since it was super moist
where it was far from being dry. One bite and the spices immediately make their presence known with hits of nutmeg and cinnamon. Loved the tart apples on top which provided a balance to the sweetness.

Despite my indifference about desserts, I'm a sucker for Lemon Tarts. The one here at Faubourg was really good. I liked the firm tart shell which gave way to a creamy and tart lemon curd. I could've done without the rocks of sugar on the rim of the tart since it was sweet enough already. The Opera Cake looked appealing and was very pleasant to eat. The silky dark chocolate ganache was only semi-sweet and complimented the coffee syrup-laced sponge cake. Maybe it was too simple, but I wasn't a huge fan of the Berry Yogurt. It was essentially vanilla yogurt with berries and oats on top. Not sure why it was even on the plate. The Chocolate Mousse was of the denser variety, yet still smooth, rich and chocolatey. I particularly liked the candied ginger on top which added something different.

As we were leaving, there was no chance we'd pass up taking some pastries to go. Queuing up in the long lineup that almost went out the door, we had to get the Croissants. Herbie the Lovebug swears by and highly recommended them. Well, he was right since these had all the attributes one looks for in a good croissant. Crispy, flaky, buttery and aromatic, I could eat a half-dozen of these in one sitting. Well, I'd probably need a defibrillator nearby though. We also got a few tarts to go including a Pear Tart. The tart shell, much like the lemon tart, was buttery, yet held up to the wet ingredients. The pears were fragrant (in a pear kind of way, if that makes sense), however, it could've been a touch sweeter since it was very light tasting. In the end, Faubourg met our expectations and that in itself is an accomplishment. Prices are on the higher side which is common in Kerrisdale. On the other hand, the afternoon tea is competitively priced in comparison to Adonia and Secret Garden. From we could tell, Faubourg seems to fit into the neighbourhood and should maintain a constant clientele.

The Good:
- Delicately-made pastries
- Reasonably-priced afternoon tea (you have to compare with others since AT is not supposed to fabulous deal)
- The place has an air of decadence (if that makes sense)

The Bad:
- Service was a touch indifferent
- Fitting in the neighbourhood, prices are on the higher side
- Reserved section not really all that special

Faubourg on Urbanspoon