Sherman's Food Adventures: May 2012

Pho Boi

Usually, whenever Rich Guy and I meet up for eats, it doesn't come cheap. After all, Rich Guy is well-known for avoiding diners, drive-ins and dives... I'm sure he is not a Guy Fieri fan. Too bad really since good food can usually be found in the most unusual of places. However, Rich Guy does make exceptions, particularly when it comes to South Asian food. You see, it is almost unavoidable that many South Asian restaurants are not exactly the most classy of establishments. I'm not saying there aren't any, it is just not that common. Therefore, he had no objections in meeting me for some Vietnamese food at Pho Boi. Now if you look closely at the picture, the parking sign reads "Pho Hoa". Yes, this was a former location of the big Vietnamese chain. Other than the name change, not much seemed to be different.

We started with the Appetizer Combo which included one each of the Shrimp Salad Roll and Spring Roll. In addition, there were 3 fried drumettes. The salad roll was not very good due to the really dry and unchewable (in parts) rice wrapper. On the inside, some basil would've been a nice addition for flavour. As for the spring roll, it was okay. A bit scrawny, but it was crispy and the filling was not gritty and actually quite flavourful. The 3 wings were an utter disaster though. They were fried far too long and they were pretty skinny. For myself, I had the Pho Dac Biet which was pretty standard. What I mean by that is there was an average amount of noodles (which were not overcooked) and a decent amount of meat (which was tender). In terms of the broth, I found it to be mild with only a some hint of MSG. I would say it was somewhere in between savoury and sweet without very little meat flavour.

Rich Guy went with his go-to dish being the Lemongrass Chicken with rice. As you can clearly see, the chicken was far from grilled. Lacking in colour and char marks, the flavour was muted. Sure there was lemongrass and hints of sweetness, but it was weak. Consequently, the "meh" nature of the food here didn't make us forget Pho Hoa. Rather, it almost seems like merely a name change and nothing much else. With that being said, the place is okay in a pinch though, but not our first choice.

The Good:
- Not expensive (well, not many Vietnamese restaurants are)
- Friendly service

The Bad:
- "Meh" food
- Interior needs an update

Pho Boi on Urbanspoon

Go Thai

Don't you love a restaurant that just doesn't look right from the outside? I'm not talking about something that necessarily looks sketch or anything. Rather, the place doesn't look representative of the food it serves. Case in point with Go Thai out in New West. If my memory serves me right, the location used to be a donut shop. Hence, it as far from resembling a Thai restaurant one can get. However, Big D indicated that they do, in fact, serve authentic Thai food there. Fine. I'm up to a food adventure. We decided to meet for lunch one day. Arriving first, I found that the place was packed. The only tables left were on the inside not near the window. *Sigh* Oh well, I had to make due with the light that was available.

We decided to split 3 lunch specials between the both of us (yes, if Mijune was here, she'd get 5 for the 3 of us...). Anyways, we started with the Chicken Green Curry. We found the curry to be rather thin lacking in the coconut milk department. However, it still had an aromatic flavour and some spice. The large chunks of eggplant were very nice as well as the vibrant peppers. As for the chicken, it was slightly dry and there was only a modest amount. Most of the same things could be said about the Beef Red Curry as it was watery as well. Once again, that was not a huge deal since the sauce is supposed to go with the rice anyways. It was quite mild with a little flavour added by the bamboo shoots. Interestingly, in both curries, I could see the basil, but didn't get much from it.

Lastly, we had the Pad Thai which was alright for what it was. We liked the fact it was not heavy on the ketchup. However, the noodles were a touch goopy. There was a good amount of big chicken chunks, pressed tofu and pickled veg though. Although saucy, it did have a good balance of flavours including a mild tang. People have to remember that restaurants produce food that the majority of their clientele, not for the small percentage of authenticity-hungry diners. Ultimately, Go Thai is pretty serviceable if someone wanted a quick Thai food fix. Not necessarily outstanding, yet far from bad, it does the job.

The Good:
- Okay eats
- Prices are alright
- Friendly staff

The Bad:
- There's better, but not necessarily nearby
- Portions are on the smallish side

Go Thai on Urbanspoon

El Comal

Sometimes food in weird places can be a real selling point. For instance, let's put a restaurant in the shadiest part of town and people will flock to it. Hey, for it to be located there, it must be good! Well, not necessarily, but it is a start. Then you have "meh" food in the most obvious of places. That is when a restaurant benefits from location, location, location. Then there are restaurants that cannot be found unless you knew of it either by pure chance or someone else telling you about it. Wait, I forgot one more... Restaurants that are located in Richmond. Good food, but extra insurance may be required for one's car.

Now I didn't need extra insurance nor any defensive driving for this food adventure. The location of the restaurant ensured there would be very little traffic. Tucked inside an industrial complex on Winston in Burnaby, El Comal would qualify as one of those secret restaurants. I knew about this place quite a while ago. Someone mentioned it to me, but I never got around to eating there. The day finally came when Big D raved about his meal on a prior visit and insisted we do lunch. Hey, how many times have I passed up food? So Mexican food eh? That's like rolling the dice up here in the GVRD. However, I've had some good experiences with Mexican food as of late with visits to Taqueria Jalisco and Taqueria Playa Tropical. Would this visit to El Comal be 3 for 3?

Looking over the menu, I decided to start with one each of the chicken, beef and chorizo Tacos. These were more Tex-Mex than anything with meat, cheese, lettuce and tomato in a soft tortilla. I found them quite mild including the chorizo. The meats were on the drier side, but these were decent if one wasn't expecting an authentic taco. For my main, I had the Veggie Tamales served with rice and refried beans. For something that looked so flavourful, it turned out to be rather flat. Even with peppers inside the tamale, it was lacking in flavour. The masa was a little stiff, which meant there was less lard (more healthy, but not as tasty!) I'm sure they eased up on the spice level to appeal to more tastes though. Again, this was acceptable for what it was.

Big D had his go to dish being the Beef Enchiladas with salsa verde and salso roja. He graciously let me attack his food for the sake of the blog (what a nice guy!). Again, despite the vibrant colours, the flavours were muted. The shredded beef was moist and in the end, it was pleasant enough to eat. Slick ended up with the Beef Burrito which was quite substantial. It also came with rice and refried beans as well as the same 2 sauces. I never got to try this, but it was essentially the same flavours as the enchiladas which meant it was not exactly mind-blowing. Yet, he enjoyed it nonetheless. Actually, that sorta sums up my experience as well. Despite the lack of pop from the food, I thought the eats were decent. I would go to Taqueria Jalisco and Taqueria Playa Tropical first though.

The Good:
- Interesting eats in a non-interesting area
- Inexpensive

The Bad:
- Flavours are muted
- Not a whole lot of seating when busy

El Comal on Urbanspoon

Szechuan House

"Do you wanna go for lunch?", asked Rich Guy over MSN. Do dogs sniff their rear ends and lick their balls? Uh, could there be a more rhetorical question? However, the place he suggested made me draw a blank. "Szechuan House near Metrotown, you know on Imperial...", he tried to explain. I thought he was referring to the place right next to Alvin Garden, but nope, it was closer to Beautiful Island. When I told Viv about it, she was in disbelief as well. She was trying to jog my memory about this place we've passed by many a time. Hey, I love food, yet I never said I knew everything! Nervously, I replied yes. Why the apprehension? Well, the place is known for its authentic spicy Szechuan cuisine and that didn't sound like something my kids would enjoy.

No worries, we were sure that they'd have some noodle dish that was not spicy. Besides, Viv and I both love spicy so it would be a tasty meal for us. One of their specialties is Boiling Beef, otherwise known as the "Stir-Fried Beef in Full Special Sauce, Top Finished w/Chilli Oil" on their menu. WTF? I would've never figured out what dish they were talking about by reading the menu name. Whatever the case, we were able to order the right dish and it was a pretty big portion (it'd better be for $15.95!) with lots of tender beef. This spicy concoction was seemingly composed of an entire bottle of chili oil with plenty of chili pepper and Szechuan peppercorns. The result was a tongue-numbing experience. For those who don't like spicy food, just don't bother because this would blow your tastebuds away. For me, I thought it was a good compromise between spicy while still being able to taste the other ingredients.

Normally (in North America), Kung Pao Chicken is more of a mild-tasting, sweet, syrupy dish. The one we had was nothing further from that. This authentic Szechaun version had tender pieces of chicken (that were not battered and fried), red chilis and roasted peanuts bathed in a fairly spicy sauce featuring a good hint of black vinegar. Hence, despite the inherent tongue-blasting spice, there were complex hits of sweet, tang and savoury. Another classic dish we couldn't pass up was the Cumin Lamb which Rich Gal and I lobbied for. As the name suggests, there was a considerable amount of cumin which was flavourful while not overwhelming. I thought it helped temper any gaminess which Rich Guy and Viv were worried about. Comparatively, this was a mild dish with only a hint of spice. Although the lamb was tender, it was slightly on the drier side.

Whenever we're at a Szechuan restaurant, Rich Guy just has to have the Sliced Pork with Garlic & Chili Sauce. His favourite is the one from New Szechuan, but I think the one here was better. The thinly-sliced fatty pork had a nice jellied quality which had the right resistance. It was caressed by a garlicky and spicy chili oil sauce which completed the package. The spice-fest continued on with the Ma Po Tofu. The silky tofu was perfect as practically every piece was intact despite its delicateness. Much like the other dishes, it was laced with a good amount of chili oil and spiciness. Hidden beneath the oil was a thick meaty sauce that clung to the tofu. This was pretty good. Definitely not a wimpy version.

For the kiddies, we got one non-spicy item being the Preserved Vegetable and Pork Noodles. The fresh noodles were both al dente and plentiful. It was topped with lots of preserved veg and tender julienned pork. The kids seemed to enjoy it and in actuality, we liked it too since it acted as a reprieve from the other spicy dishes. I guess it is pretty obvious that this is not a North American-style Szechuan restaurant. No sissy spices here, it's the real deal. If you enjoy burn-a-hole-in-your-tongue spiciness, this is the place for you (assuming you order those dishes). With that being said, we found the spiciness bearable since we could still taste the other flavours in each dish. Definitely a place we will try again.

The Good:
- Real Szechuan cuisine
- It's spicy, but controlled (well, you could request spicier too!)

The Bad:
-Too spicy for some
- Not exactly cheap

Szechuan House Restaurant (Burnaby) 巴渝菜舍 on Urbanspoon

Oru

I'll admit it. When I received an invite to try out Oru's new revamped menu, I was slightly hesitant. After all, the place had some pretty dubious reviews strewn all over the internet. In fact, Whipping Girl had told me about her experience there and let's just say it didn't make me want to visit the place anytime soon. C'mon, there was an $18.00 Banh Mi on the menu! Sounds like fusion gone wrong (and overpriced). Enough said. Little did I know that Executive Chef David Wong had left to open his own restaurant on the Island. Replacing him is well-traveled and experienced chef Darren Brown, who redid the menu and refreshed the layout of the restaurant.

We were first treated to some appies from the Skybar and then moved onto a tour of the facilities. To say that the food services in the Fairmont Pacific is impressive would be an understatement. It is refreshing to see Darren Brown's influence on the operation. Most of the ingredients are made in-house, right down to the sausages and cured meats. Oh and I can't ignore the BLT we sampled beforehand. This was made with their house-cured bacon and let's just say I could've eaten more than what was offered on the plate. We finally made it back to Oru and were seated with a nice view of the open kitchen. Arriving first was the Sunchoke Soup which was a pure veloute of roasted sunchokes (no onions) with truffle foamed milk. Immediately, there was a big hit of truffle oil. The soup was flavourful, creamy and rich without relying on salt. I liked how it was smooth while retaining some texture. Next up was the Notch Hills Beet Salad consisting of pickled and poached baby Sorrento beets, beet chutney, chimichurri vinaigrette and Cabrales blue cheese. I'm not normally a huge cilantro fan, but there was just enough in the chimichurri to brighten the flavours without making it taste pungent. A beet salad is usually, well, a beet salad. However, the shaved blue cheese on top really made it pop with an Earthy saltiness.

Continuing on, we were presented with the Qualicum Island Diver Scallops which were seared beautifully and served with sesame sweet peas, smoked salmon lardon, preserved lemon condiment all atop a cauliflower puree. The scallops were pretty small, but packed a sweet punch. There was a multitude of flavours going on the plate including the nutty sesame peas, sweet, tangy lemon and the smooth flavourful puree. The small piece of salmon added a salty smokiness which capped off the flavourfest. Then the dish we'd all been waiting for showed up - the Kalua Pork Belly (Fraser Valley pork belly, pineapple, maple-mustard glaze, fried sage, pork cracklings and lotus root puree). Okay, let me get this out of the way first - the pork belly was not as melt-in-my-mouth as I would've liked. However, I'm not sure if that was the intention or not. It was cooked so slowly that the fat had pretty much rendered down leaving mostly meat. For me at least, I like my pork belly fatty and melty. With that being said, there was a lot to like about this dish. The cracklings were crispy and light while the bak choy was crunchy albeit salty. The sweet glaze went well with the pork belly, yet the lotus root puree looked odd in colour. It did taste good though with a nice balance of flavours.

Before the meal, I had pegged the pork belly to be my potential favourite. It turned out that the Sake Cured Haida Gwaii Sablefish took the honours. When curing sablefish with sake, one needs to be careful as it can turn the fish to mush if not careful (like the one I had at NFA). No problems here as was flaky and moist with a beautiful sear. It was served atop an Alaskan salt cod brandade with roasted sunchoke, melted leeks, fennel, chorizo in a tomato-mirin broth. All these ingredients provided all the flavour needed and therefore, the fish was not aggressively seasoned. The salt cod emulated the texture of crab and offered up saltiness (of course). With the mildness of the broth and the conservative amount of chorizo, the sablefish was able to stand on its own.

Moving onto dessert, we were presented with the Strawberry Rhubarb Vacherin with buttermilk ice cream. This ended up to be very refreshing, like a palate-cleanser to a degree. A palate cleanser for what you might ask. Well, we had one more sweet dish which was the Textures of Chocolate. Starting from the top left corner clockwise, we had the Carmella Mousse with textures of puffed rice and praline and Alpaco Consomme with hints of fresh mint. Both of these were made with Valrhona chocolate. On the bottom right, we had the Mi Amare chocolate cremuex mille fieulle made with Michel Cluizel chocolate and on the bottom left, the Mangaro Lait Chocolate Bar with cocoa nib nougatine made with Cocoa Barry. Of these, my favourite was the Carmella. It was essentially a rich and deluxe version of a Crunch bar. Loved the textures and smooth chocolate. This was a sweet end to a solid tasting menu. On this experience alone, it is quite obvious that Darren Brown wanted a more classic approach incorporating housemade ingredients which represent Westcoast cuisine and then some. *Note - this meal was comped*

The Good:
- From this tasting, it appears the food has a direction
- Dining space is simple yet elegant

The Bad:
- Prices are pretty high

Oru at Fairmont Pacific Rim on Urbanspoon

Fraser Court

When it opened 2 years ago, we had tried out Fraser Court's Dim Sum service and it was pretty decent. However, we never had a chance to sample their dinner menu. Normally, we'd do that pretty soon after but fellow blogger (I mean absent blogger) Jessica had a pretty disappointing experience. So we never had a real good reason to eat there. However, my mother-in-law booked a whole table as part of an association dinner, which meant we were literally forced to go. Yah, forced to go for dinner - #firstworldproblems. As we arrived, they were doing Karaoke on stage and lemme put this out there - if you are tone deaf, please do not subject people to pain. They continued to do this throughout dinner. The horror! At least they did a rendition of Shanghai Beach... Love that song!

So onto the food, the dinner was a set menu which started with the usual Appetizer Platter consisting of marinated jellyfish, honey garlic spareribs, jellied pork hock and sliced five spice beef shank. This was a well-composed dish where the jellyfish was crunchy, washed thoroughly (no fishy taste) and seasoned nicely with plenty of sesame oil, white pepper, chili flakes and soy. The honey garlic spareribs were meaty and crisp. There was a good amount of flavouring which was quite sweet with a touch of spice. The pork hock was sliced thin and aggressively salted. As for the beef shank, texture was fine yet it was on the sweeter side. Next up was the Stir-Fried Chicken and Scallops with snap peas and flowering chives. The snap peas were cooked perfectly. They were crunchy and sweet. The scallops were a touch overcooked which made them rubbery. The chicken, which was thigh meat, was moist and tender. The dish was quite mild and slightly greasy.

In place of the usual crab or lobster dish was the Stir-Fried Prawns with black vinegar. Normally, the prawns are deep-fried first for a couple of reasons. First, it is to quickly flash cook them evenly. Secondly, the frying makes the shell edible. In this case, the shell was tough to eat which meant we lost most of the flavour de-shelling them. Other than that issue, the prawns were meaty and naturally sweet. The seasoning was very strong and there was obvious hits of MSG. We liked the depth of flavour provided by the black vinegar. Right on cue, the soup arrived next. It ended up to be the Dried Fish Maw Soup with dried scallop, chicken, enoki mushroom and flowering chives. I loved how there was a massive amount of ingredients within the silky broth, however, it was far too salty. I needed to add some vinegar to cut the saltiness.

In place of the abalone, we had the Sliced King Mushrooms with baby bak choy. Naturally, the texture of king mushrooms would never be able to replicate abalone, so we could only think of it as cooked mushroom. In that respect, it was done right where it was not overcooked. The bak choy was just barely done retaining a crunch and vibrant colour. The oyster sauce was neither salty nor bland and it had a nice consistency (there was no pool of water at the bottom of the plate). Arriving with the head prominently displayed on the plate, the Free Range Chicken looked menacing to my son. I stuck the head in his bowl and he chucked it back onto the plate. Guess he wasn't eating this dish... Well, due to the nature of free range chicken, the meat can be chewy and lean. Hence, not everyone's cup of tea. For me, I'm indifferent. As long as it is prepared right, I have no problem with it. It was more or less done properly with a nice layer of gelatin between the skin and meat. We liked how there was a large serving of grated ginger on the side since the chicken was quite mild.

For our meat dish, we had a large plate of Peking Pork Chops. Depending on which piece we picked up, the texture ranged from dry and chewy to moist and fatty. There was just enough sauce to coat each piece. It had a nice consistency where the flavour was quite pronounced while being predominantly sweet. For our fish course, we had the Steamed Whole Live Tilapia. Okay, I'm just going to be frank here - I personally can't stand tilapia. Something about the texture - so mushy. Therefore, due to my biases, I can't say I enjoyed the steamed tilapia. Well, the fact it was slightly over-cooked didn't help things. After so many dishes of food came the filler items. Yah, the carbs when nobody really has any interest in eating anymore. I suppose it is better than at the start because one would be full too early. For me, I'd like to change it up a little and have it arrive in the middle of the meal. Too radical? Not traditional? Whatever, if they can serve egg tarts at the start of Dim Sum, we can most certainly have rice and noodles mid-meal! I digress...

So... To our surprise, the Yee Mein was pretty darn good. It was the right balance between being wet and dry. It was not oily and had plenty of flavour without being salty. Moreover, it was served steaming hot. Lastly, we had the Fried Rice which was an interesting mix of shrimp, baby scallops, ham, carrot, sliced gai lan stalks and egg. The rice was clumpy in spots. It wasn't wet, in fact, it was plenty dry. Hence, the texture was nicely chewy and a touch nutty from the
stir-fry. There was a good amount of ingredients which kept each bite interesting while providing texture and flavour. Overall, the dinner was not bad despite our initial thoughts. They must've done something to improve their dinner service recently which is quite important, considering that their seating capacity is very large. They need to fill the restaurant to make money! I wouldn't make Fraser Court my first destination for Cantonese food, but I wouldn't say no if someone suggested it either.

The Good:
- Big dining room, good for banquets
- Service is actually not bad

The Bad:
- Food has a few inconsistencies here and there
- For a big dining hall, it is sure cramped

Fraser Court Seafood Restaurant 紅日大酒家 on Urbanspoon

Bob Likes Thai Food

Sometimes I wonder if there is ever much thought put into naming a restaurant. There is the "let's name it after the street" approach such as Kingsway Deli, Slocan Restaurant and The Main. I really love the "it could mean something else" restaurant names as well. Come Along, Pho T&A and the defunct Pho Bich Nga are perfect examples. Oh and I really love the Chinese restaurants that are named "golden". Golden this, golden that, it actually gets a bit confusing. And let's not forget the iconic Fook Yue where Senor Rooster stands now. It was so outrageous, it made it onto Leno. I often wonder how that place did in daily conversation... "Hey, where did you go for dinner last night?" "Fook Yue"... Anyways, there are too many boring, run-of-the-mill restaurant names out there. However, Bob Likes Thai Food is certainly not one of them.

The Thai joint with a funny name caught my attention when it first opened, but due to its relatively early closing time, we could never make it after hockey nor softball. So I had no choice but to visit the place during the day instead. And coming in to rescue me from eating all alone was Rich Guy. Funny how we eat less together since he is back for good... We started with something a bit different in the Miang Kham which literally translates as "eating many things in one bite". These many things consisted of chaphlu leaves, roasted grated coconut, lime, shallot, peanut, ginger with tamarind palm sugar sauce. For such a simple dish, there was lots of flavour at work. It was aromatic with some spice, a touch of nuttiness, a bit herbal, sweet and crunchy. It practically had all the flavours my tongue could process. We liked it very much. Another interesting item we ordered was the Poutine by Bob. This version saw fried thin-sliced taro root topped by a green curry sauce with lemongrass, lime leaves, deep fried tofu and chilis. Although the flavours were fantastic - with a spicy coconutty curry, the taro chips were a fail. They were far too delicate to stand up to the moisture and ultimately became a soggy mess. Maybe if they used lotus root chips instead? Too bad really since the combination of green curry with the aromatic lemongrass and spicy chilis really did work. They could've added more fried tofu as well.

Seeing how their lunch specials (which included rice, salad and wonton crisps) were only $7.50 each, I did my best Mijune and ordered 3 to share. We started with the Eggplant Pad Ka Pow which was quite good. The eggplant was cooked perfectly. It was bathed in a sauce which was spicy, tart and sweet with a hit of basil. We liked how they were not shy about making the flavours bold. That would the same for the Chicken Green Curry. It was spicier than most other places which made it quite balanced. Rather than being predominantly sweet, it had savoury-spiciness that lingered on my tongue. Furthermore, there was no absence of chicken and bamboo shoots along with the requisite basil.

Lastly, the Pad Thai didn't disappoint as well. The dish exhibited good wok heat where the flavours were in sync. By virtue of using tamarind, there was a good tartness that was accented by some sweetness and savouriness. All the usual stuff was present including crunchy shrimp, pickled turnip, pressed tofu, crushed peanuts and bean sprouts. Despite the very non-Thai sounding name of the place, there is no mistaking that the food is legit. The flavours were definitely there, especially the spice level, and the prices were quite reasonable as well.

The Good:
- Reasonable pricing
- No sissy flavours here
- Pretty legit Thai food

The Bad:
- Limited menu (which also could be a good thing)
- Limited seating

Bob Likes Thai Food on Urbanspoon