Sherman's Food Adventures: April 2012

Via Tevere

Where? A Neapolitan pizza joint on Victoria in a predominantly residential area??? That's what I thought when my sister-in-law mentioned it to me in passing. This was actually over a month ago when Via Tevere had not even opened for business. For some crazy reason, I thought it would be a great idea to go visit the place on its opening night right after Friday night hockey. Fail. We waited in line for about 20 minutes before deciding to ditch the plan. However, we all agreed that we'd try again some other night at a later date. So after Friday night hockey a month later, I suggested we give it another shot. Low and behold, Emilicious had already been to the place twice in the past week! *Gasp* She food cheated on us! Twice! Fine, we quickly forgave her since one could only hold out so long right? Well, it turned out for the better since her positive experiences convinced people to stay and wait for a table this time around.

We finally got a table after waiting for about 45 minutes. Lucky that we made the cut since they were just about to run out of dough. Since we had a big group of 9, only half of us were seated first. Emilicious, Gordo, Ginseng and myself went ahead and ordered things to share, in total disregard for the others (who were still outside waiting for a table). Hey, it's a dog-eat-dog world! Or in this case, it was only pizza, no dogs were involved. Rather than ordering 4 pizzas, we went for variety starting with the Frittura Neapoletana for 2. This appetizer platter consisted of fried pasta, potato, risotto balls and meatballs. For myself, I liked the fried pasta squares. It reminded us of fried mac 'n cheese. The noodles were sufficiently chewy while flavoured by the minimal amount of sauce. The risotto balls were crispy on the outside while the rice still had a very slight chew. They were crispy and cheesy on the inside. I wasn't a huge fan of the meat balls though. They were not really all that flavourful and the texture of the meat was quite soft.

Onto their specialty, we went with the classic Margherita which arrived with beautiful leoparding on the crust. The middle of the pizza was tender, yet not mushy while the edges were crisp, chewy and nutty from the burnt portions. The pizza dough was well-seasoned almost bordering on salty, yet not that overbearing. We really loved the San Marzano tomato sauce as it was balanced and flavourful. For our second pizza, we went with the most expensive being the Capricciosa consisting of prosciutto cotto, salame, artichokes, mushrooms and olives. Naturally, this was a collection of flavours which included the salty-tartness of the olives, Earthiness of the mushrooms and saltiness from the meats. Normally, I'm not a huge fan of so many toppings on a thin-crust pizza, but I did like this one.

In addition to the pizzas, we had the Pasta del Giorno which was the Penne Arrabiatta. With al dente pasta and just enough sauce to coat, this was a surprisingly good attempt (despite not being a pasta joint). There was a decent amount of spice to kick things up a notch while still maintaining a fresh tomatoness about it. Lastly for dessert, they ran out of their donuts, so we settled on the Risotto Pudding and Tiramisu. Although I'm not a huge fan of rice pudding per se, I didn't mind the Risotto Pudding. It was semi-sweet with real vanilla bean and orange zest (which also added some floral qualities as well). The rice was still chewy and overall, it was surprisingly "light". When we took a look-see at the Tiramisu, it appeared promising. Unlike many of the "cookie-cutter" pre-made frozen variety, this tiramisu was fresh and well-made. With lady-fingers soaked with a just-sweet-enough espresso hit and a balanced amount of marscapone cream, this was a much better than average tiramisu. At the end, we all agreed that Via Tevere was well worth the wait not only for the pizza, but for the great service and vibe as well.

The Good:
- Wood-burning oven, the right ingredients = good Neapolitan pizza
- Attentive service
- The place has a nice vibe

The Bad:
- The place is not very big, hence you most likely have to wait
- Parking in the area is not that great

Via Tevere Pizzeria Napoletana on Urbanspoon

Hi-Nippon

Other than softball season, I don't make it out to Kitsilano very often. However, we were in the neighbourhood and an eating opportunity awaited us. From all the great choices, we settled on Hi-Nippon. Huh? Seriously? Yes, we did. Why? Well, the kiddies like cooked Japanese food and hence, they held the trump card. Believe me, we tried to find something more interesting. Driving up Arbutus almost to Kerrisdale, then down Broadway almost to UBC, we couldn't decide on something. Finally, we just gave up and parked in front of Hi-Nippon. Don't get me wrong here, I have nothing against the place. It's just that when we have to settle on plan D or E, the excitement just isn't there.

By virtue of arriving pretty early for lunch, we got one of the window seats which allowed for good lighting. Believe me, Japanese restaurants and good lighting generally do not fit into the same sentence. Feeling less than inspired, I pretty much ordered whatever, beginning with a sushi combo which included a Spicy Tuna Roll and 2 pieces each of tuna, salmon and tai Nigiri. We found the sushi rice to be rather dry. On the other hand, the conservative use of the rice in the roll helped alleviate some of the textural issues. The rice was somewhat flavoured which also helped the cause. The fish was pretty good except for the tai (snapper). We realize that it is a chewier fish, but this was unusually tough. For good measure, we got their House Roll as well. Again, there was not a lot of sushi rice and plenty of filling (well, mostly imitation crab meat). Not a bad roll in the grand scheme of things.We had to get our usual order of Assorted Tempura because our kids love it. I mean they love the batter. Maybe we should just get them to give us a plate of tempura bits next time... Anyways, the tempura was light and crisp, however it was greasier than a Chinese kitchen floor. There was literally a pool of oil on the plate. Furthermore, the ebi was gummy and not that appealing texturally.

Now for the fail of the meal - the Tonkatsu Don. On appearance alone, it looked good with a huge pork chop and egg on top. But much like Jay Davidson in The Crying Game, wait... bad analogy... Okay, the pork chop was actually soggy, dry and chewy all at the same time. In fact, the coating slid off the pork. Furthermore, the pork and rice were not that flavourful except for some sweetness.The dish we got for the kiddies turned out much better. Arriving sizzling and bubbling, the Chicken Yaki Udon exhibited good caramelization and did so further on the hot plate. We liked how it wasn't wet where no liquid could be found on the bottom. Also, the noodles were chewy and well-seasoned. There was a good noodle-to-vegetable ration as well. The chicken was not exactly prepared properly though because the batter was mushy and clumpy.Hi-Nippon, to me, is somewhat of a curiousity. Looking at some of the reviews online, one would conclude that the stuff is fantastic. This was hardly the case. I wouldn't say it was bad per se, however, there is much better elsewhere. Funny thing is that all the food looked the part, but some just didn't cut it. I thought the sushi was much better than the cooked food. So it is quite possible a better overall experience could be had if one stuck with the sushi and sashimi.

The Good:
- Prices are decent for the area
- Service is friendly and attentive
- Sushi is okay

The Bad:

- Cooked food needs some work

Hi-Nippon Japanese on Urbanspoon

Kwan Kee Noodle House

Unless you live in Surrey or you really love to travel for food, you'd never know about the Guildford T&T food court. I like to call it the mini-mini version of the Crystal Mall food court, except with a less-frustrating parking lot. Inside, you'll find a location of Ba Le, 2 Chinese food stands, a Korean stall and a wonton noodle joint. Since Mrs. Spray Bottle was under the weather, I promised to get some take out and bring her back a steamy bowl of wonton soup. And yes, I made my way out to Kwan Kee Noodle House which is within the T&T food court. The place is pretty much a one-man (actually it is a one-woman) show. So patience is needed while one waits for the food to be prepared. I decided to get a little of everything to sample their wares.

As mentioned, I got a bowl of Wonton Soup for Mrs. Spray Bottle. Unlike many wontons found in the burbs, these were comprised of shrimp only. They did look a little weird in colour and slightly strange in texture too. However, they were not bad since the shrimp filling had the proper snap texture. They were on the smaller side though. The broth was quite light while not being bland either. For myself, I went for the Sui Gau Noodles in soup (to be a little bit different than wontons). In actuality, the sui gau were pretty much the same as the wontons except being slightly bigger and with the addition of wood ear mushrooms. Hence, they exhibited the same qualities as the wontons with the added snap of the mushrooms. The wonton noodles were cooked al dente with a pleasant chewiness.

I also got the Assorted Offal as a side and honestly, I was a bit taken aback at the portion size. Not a whole lot for almost $8.00. Furthermore, it wasn't really all that good either. I found the tripe to be woefully overcooked, practically melting into nothingness. On the positive side, the spleen, lung and brisket were good (mmm... spleen...). Yet, the one thing that left a bad taste in my mouth (literally) was the sourness of the braising liquid. Not pleasant. Lastly, I had a bowl of Preserved Egg and Salted Pork Congee. Now this was pretty good. The congee base was thick and remained thick until the last spoonful. It was only lightly seasoned and did not reek of MSG. There was plenty of preserved egg and pork, which made the congee hearty. The pork had a nice texture, yet it could've been saltier.

I dunno. Is it just me? Maybe I'm just getting pickier. People swear by this place and in all honesty, the food was not bad for a food stall. However, some things could be better and I couldn't get over how awful the offal was (sorry for the pun). However, the place serves a purpose and the rest of the stuff is reasonably-priced and more than edible.

The Good:
- Convenient for take out
- Pretty good choice for a small food stall
- Not bad for its location

The Bad:
- Some items seem expensive for what you get
- There is better, but not necessarily nearby

Kwan Kee Noodle House on Urbanspoon

Cindy's Palace

Ah yes, I remember Cindy's Palace. This is the place my mother-in-law refused to do a re-visit. There is a story behind this. You see, she had asked Viv to go out for Dim Sum one day. Instead of going to her standby (which is Fortune City - not that great by the way), she wanted to go somewhere different. Viv pleaded with her to not go somewhere new since I wasn't available to go. That way, we could all go to that "new" restaurant together. Nope, no can do, she insisted on going to Cindy's Palace, which incidentally is run by the former owners of Golden Phoenix (now Phoenix Garden). However, she assured Viv that she would gladly go again so I could try it out. Then on the day we were all supposed to meet up for Dim Sum, she suddenly had a change of heart and insisted we go to Fortune City! WTF? Her rationale? Cindy's was "meh". And Fortune City is good??? I swear she is bi-polar. Well, not trusting her thoughts about Cindy's, we made plans to go for Dim Sum with Guy Smiley and Girl Smiley to see for ourselves.

We arrived a touch past noon on a Saturday and of course there was a lineup. It wasn't bad though, only about 5 parties deep. Unfortunately, when we did get seated, it was the table right near the entrance. To say the seating arrangements were tight would be a huge understatement. The table right next to us couldn't get out unless one of us got up. To further complicate things, they do it ol' skool here with push carts. Consequently, we got our food almost all at once which completely cluttered up the table. I guess we could've not ordered everything, but c'mon, how could we resist? The first thing I took a picture of (yes, only picture-taking, no eating for me until that is done) was the Shrimp Spring Rolls. These were cut diagonally and plated nicely. It is hard to tell from the picture how big these really were. These were easily 1/2 times longer than most typical spring rolls. Furthermore, they were bursting at the seams with filling. It was a mix of chopped shrimp and mousse. The rolls were crispy and not greasy. Pretty good overall.

Next was the Blackbean Pork Spareribs which were on the chewier side. They were mildly seasoned with a predominant garlic flavour. The pieces were mostly of the rib variety with only a few that were cartilage. These were not bad. Something that was sorta bad was the Fried Squid. The darn things looked lifeless and unappetizing. And with one bite, yes, they were pretty awful. They were chewy and hard with a dense batter. There was hardly any flavour or spice. Only good thing about them was the lack of grease. Although I suspect that the batter merely soaked up the grease while the plate sat around getting cold.

Making us forget about the squid was the absolutely enormous Haw Gow (shrimp dumpling). These things barely fit into the bamboo steamer and had to be extracted
carefully. The dumpling skin was a touch firm whereas the shrimp filling had the proper texture. It was "bouncy" and had a nice snap. It could've used a touch more seasoning though. The Beef Meatballs continued the enormous theme as they also barely fit onto the sauce plate in the bamboo steamer. These had a good bounce texture where the meat was tenderized without becoming mushy. In addition, they were balanced in flavour where it was neither too salty nor too sweet (and just enough green onion). With the 2 large portioned dishes we just had, it was no surprise that the Sui Mai (pork & shrimp dumpling) was equally big. Again, these were crammed into the bamboo steamer and were actually stuck to each other. Unfortunately, much like Ron Jeremy, the only good thing about these was its size. First of all, the pork was over-tenderized and soft. Furthermore, the entire dumpling was loose and practically fell apart after the first bite. To top it all off, the shrimp didn't have a snap to it (albeit they were large whole shrimp). It did have a decent flavour though with a good mix of sweetness and savouriness.

Moving along to a non-gargantuan item was the Beef Rice Noodle Roll. The rice noodle itself was thin and soft without losing its structural integrity (did I just say structural integrity in reference to food?). Also, the beef filling was tender while retaining a meat texture. Something that we don't see that we don't really order anymore are the Fried Glutinous Rice Dumplings. It's not that we don't like them (in fact we love them), they are just not that healthy. Usually, these are pretty greasy since the glutinous rice flour absorbs a significant amount of grease. But with push carts coming around with them, well... resistance was futile. These were actually not really that greasy and were crisp and had a pleasing texture. the one thing we would've liked to see was just a bit more of the well-seasoned and non-gritty ground pork filling.

For some strange reason, the Soy-Fried Rice Noodle Rolls were nowhere as good as the steamed ones. These were very greasy and not all that appetizing. Yes, the colour was decent due to proper pan-frying and use of dark soy. However, the rolls themselves were hard, mealy and lifeless. Oh well, at least my son ate them. For once, we didn't order any offal, which made me feel offal (LOL... Sorry bad pun). On the other hand, we did get the Phoenix Talons (chicken feet), so the "odd food to some" quota was maintained. It was too bad that these chicken feet were pretty average. Most of them were not fried enough, so they were hard including the cartilage and gelatin underneath the skin. Therefore, it was hard to eat and really not appealing texturally. At the very least, the flavour was pretty good with lots of garlic.

Since the Dim Sum service was via push carts, we could somewhat control the food expedition. Hence, we got the Egg Tarts near the end of the meal as a dessert (not an appetizer, like most other Chinese restaurants...) These were light in colour in both the egg custard filling and flaky pastry. Therefore, the pastry was not as good as it could've been. It was still flaky in parts, yet in others, it was slightly doughy. The custard filling was a touch bland, but I like it that way more than being too sweet. These were alright. In general, Dim Sum at Cindy's was better than alright, yet there were some definite misses. But, based on the portion size and price point, Cindy's does offer good value. Of course there are compromises that need to be made, such as a lineup during peak hours (where the entrance really has not a whole lot of space to wait). Also, the seating arrangements are pretty tight due to the constraints of the existing building. Ultimately, our visit to Cindy's does prove one point though - it is better than Fortune City. So take that mother-in-law! LOL...

The Good:
- Large portions
- Reasonable pricing
- Push carts, if that is what you like

The Bad:
- Mostly decent eats, but some real misses
- Seating arrangements are not that spacious

Cindy's Palace 頭啖湯美食專家 on Urbanspoon

Gino's

"I don't want any Indian food nor other Asian food for all that matters", exclaimed Fussy Boy. "Uh, we're in Surrey you know...", I replied. The only choices we had were the chain restaurants and honestly, that wasn't really in the cards. What to do now? Well, we had to drive over the Patullo Bridge to find that non-Asian, non-chain restaurant that he was looking for. Oh, to complicate things even more, it had to be reasonably-priced as well. One more thing, it was snowing too. Thank goodness I drove the SUV. Where did we end up? At a completely random place called Gino's. If I had to describe the place, it is in the same ilk of a Gigi's or Neighbour's. You know, a little bit of Greek, a bit of Italian and some North American food to boot. That was partly what drew us to the place since we needed variety.

Fussy Boy went for the Greek food in the Beef Souvlaki. This was a neatly constructed plate of food as evidenced in the picture. The beef was slightly chewy, yet not overly so. It was grilled with a nice char which looked good and provided some smokiness. The rice was rice where it wasn't mushy and the Greek salad was vibrant and fresh. There was just enough dressing on top to provide the acidity and olive oil to go with the feta and dry herbs. Although the potato was not of the roasted lemon variety, it was perfectly textured being soft while retaining its shape. For myself, I went for my standby in the Roast Lamb. It was a fairly decent portion considering the price. I found it very moist and tender with only some parts of the exterior being dry. The meat was well-seasoned with hits of garlic. Similarly to the souvlaki, the other items on the plate were good. I liked the tzatziki as it was thick with plenty of cucumber.

Mrs. Spray Bottle went for the Gyro which arrived stuffed with tender beef and lamb, shredded lettuce, red onions, tomatoes and tzatziki in a warm pita. She enjoyed this very much since the pita was soft while the ingredients were fresh. The meat was flavourful and when combined with the thick tzatziki, there was a good balance of textures. Rather than the regular side of fries, she opted to substitute with a Poutine. Although the gravy was rich and flavourful without being salty, the generic fries didn't do it for us. If they had used fresh cut fries, it would've been better. Furthermore, the cheese curds were of the soft mushy type rather than the more desirable "squeaky" ones.

Lastly, Immature Girl had the Veggie Burger. Yes, the veggie burger. I'm not trying to hate on veggie burgers, but for restaurants that don't feature a diverse vegetarian menu, it can be an iffy experience. Whatever the case, they did their best to spruce up the vegetarian patty with plenty of mushrooms and cheese. The result was a surprisingly tasty burger. She didn't miss the meat and there was no absence of flavour. For what it's worth, Gino's is not a fine dining establishment. As such, the food should be judged fairly. For us, the prices were more than reasonable for the amount of grub on the plate. Furthermore, the food was above-average for this class of restaurant. Combined with friendly service and a decently comfortable dining space, it ain't a bad choice to grab a bit in the area.

The Good:
- Inexpensive
- Decent dining space
- Friendly service

The Bad:
- It ain't gourmet dining, so don't expect it to be
- Some of the proteins were not very large (but considering the price...)

Gino's on Urbanspoon

Sawasdee Thai

Finally. It has happened. No, it's not world peace nor have Chinese restaurant washrooms become clean enough where we can walk barefoot. Rather, my Friday night hockey games are starting at a reasonable hour. That in turn means we can actually go eat at most restaurants afterwards. So for the time being, no more wonton noodle joints, 24-hour "last resort" restaurants and generally sub-standard food. However, despite our earlier games, some restaurants remain out of our reach due to their relatively early closing times (on a Friday no-less). Originally, we were planning on hitting up Bob Loves Thai Food (which has been on our to-eat list forever), but they close at 9:00pm. Not only does this prevent us from going after Friday hockey, that time never worked for our Softball team either since our games ended at around 8:30pm. So as a second choice of sorts, we ended up heading to Sawasdee Thai.

Long considered an above-average Thai restaurant in Vancouver, Sawasdee changed hands not long ago and the reviews have been mixed. With 6 people, this was a good way to see for ourselves if the food was up to snuff. Actually, we almost lost Milhouse since he separated his shoulder during the hockey game. However, he was a gamer. Despite this, he was able to come out to eat since he didn't need his shoulder to chew. He did leave a trail of water on the restaurant floor as his ice pack leaked. For those not in the know, it appeared he had a bladder issue... Okay. Onto the food, we started with the Chicken Satay. There was a decent amount of moist breast meat on the skewers. It was well-seasoned and the char marks added a nice flavour. However, we were not impressed with the dip as it was very sweet and overwhelmed the chicken. The side of cucumbers did add some brightness but they were curiously bland. Our second appie was the Spring Rolls which were very large and stuffed with bean thread and mushroom. These were fried up beautifully crisp and none-too-oily. The filling was slightly dry, yet properly seasoned. Again, the dip was quite sweet and we only used it conservatively.

For our mains, Emilicious chose the Roasted Duck Curry which was a fan favourite. Served in a large square bowl, there was an abundance of tender duck slices, bamboo shoots, peppers, tomatoes, basil and pineapple. We liked how there were no duck bones, which made the eating experience that much better. Flavourwise, the curry was smooth, sweet and only mildly spicy (as per the table's request, if it were up to me solely, I'd go for super hot!). The dish I chose was the Gai Yaang (Thai-style BBQ Chicken). The chicken was served in large pieces which ranged from moist and tender to dry and dense. It really depended on whether one got the dark meat or the white meat. With that being said, the white meat wasn't inedible, it was just not juicy. The chicken was pretty mild on its own, however, the accompanying sauce added the necessary flavour. It was mostly sweet with some zing and spice.

Sweet Tooth originally wanted some red curry dish but since we already had the duck red curry, she settled on the Gai Pad Ma Khua. This was a stir-fry consisting of eggplant, chicken, peppers, basil and black bean. It was mostly mild and predominantly sweet with nicely texture eggplant which was not mushy nor "styrofoamy". The chicken, on the other hand, was quite dry and lacking in flavour. Due to liberal use of palm sugar, the black bean was not even noticeable, as with the basil. Next was the Pad Kee Mao which was another stir-fry dish of beef, baby corn, peppers, basil and fresh chili. Although the dish looked vibrant and appealing, the beef was nothing but. It was dry, chewy and barely edible. The rest of the dish was fine with crisp veggies and a solid basil hit. Much like the other dishes, there was no holding back in the use of sugar.

As for the starches, we got the Pineapple Fried Rice and a Traditional Pad Thai. The fried rice consisted of onion, tamato, egg, pineapple and dried shrimp. The rice itself was slightly wet, yet that was okay considering the ingredients. Again, common to the entire meal, the rice was pretty sweet. We were a bit indifferent with it. The Traditional Pad Thai was on the paler side, yet that was expected since we chose the tamarind version over the ketchup/sweet chili sauce type. Texturally, the noodles were good being chewy and not wet. The shrimp had a good snap texture while there was a curious absence of ground peanuts. We were expecting a touch more tang in this and once again, it was predominantly sweet. This was acceptable, but had the potential to be much better. Overall, we were satisfied with our meal despite various issues. One thing that we all agreed on was the level of sweetness of the food - it was excessive. Now, this might have had something to do with us requesting a mild spice level, which would allow for other flavours to be more prominent. Bottom line is we've had better Thai food before. Yet, Sawasdee does the job for a reasonable price with decent portions in a relatively nice dining space.

The Good:
- Okay pricing considering everything
- Decent portions
- Pretty good service

The Bad:
- Everything was a bit too sweet

Sawasdee Thai on Urbanspoon