Sherman's Food Adventures: July 2012

Deer Garden Signatures

When I was first asked to join a Summer hockey league playing out of the Richmond Oval, I hesitated. Man, that is quite the distance from my house! Also, Richmond? Really? And during rush hour? Wow, that is a sacrifice for sure. Well, after being blown out in our game and not to mention being extremely hungry from all the shots I faced, I called upon the one person who I can count on - Mijune. Not exactly though. She wasn't very hungry. Therefore, she'd only be good company while I gorged. I guess that in itself made my trek out to Richmond worthwhile. We decided to visit Deer Garden Signatures since I wanted something soupy while she only wanted a drink. I know, the horror... Mijune NOT wanting to eat.

When I said I was hungry, I meant it! I decided to order 2 noodle soup combos all to myself, including 2 sides! Mijune had one of the drinks though, so I did hold back a bit... I ended up with a Lychee Green Tea while she had a Vanilla Milk Tea. Pretty standard stuff although it would've been nice if they didn't use takeout cups for eating in. Okay, for those who aren't familiar with Deer Garden, their signature item is the Orginal Fish Soup. I went for lai fun as my noodle choice with fish puffs and fish as my toppings. They claim to not use any MSG in the soup and that could partly explain its mildness. Yes, it was pleasant enough, but it was pretty bland. On the other hand, it was a pretty large bowl of food for the price.

For my second bowl, I had the Peanut Sauce and Chili Soup with rice vermicelli. I much preferred this one since it was bursting with flavour. The broth was noticeably peanutty, yet not like a Dan Dan Noodle for instance. The chili sauce with dried shrimp further amped the aromatics. For the 2 toppings, I got beef brisket and ox tongue. I kept offering my tongue to Mijune, but she refused. To bad really since it was moist and tender. Ahem. The brisket was very fatty which made it melt-in-my-mouth tender. This is where our chit-chat got kinda weird. Mijune was discussing the fact that in order to get the full taste of a dish, one needs to get right in there and eat many bites. She equated it to foreplay without the sex. Er... Um... What??? Not wanting to eat and then being lewd... What happened to Mijune???

Anyways, as for the 2 sides, the Pork Chop with Maggi Sauce was surprisingly moist. It had just enough Maggi sauce where it didn't overwhelm the meat. The Desert Wings with Ginger (yes, Desert) were fried beautifully where they were moist on the inside and crisp on the outside. I didn't get a whole lot of ginger, but they were seasoned enough. Believe it or not, I actually dusted off most of the food except for the a bit of noodle and fish soup. The server wondered if I wanted to pack it. My response was, "It's all soft anyways, it's over". To that, Mijune started giggling. Honestly... What's up with that? Did she wake up in the gutter on this day? LOL... Whatever the case, the food was cheap and it did the job.

The Good:
- Good value
- Lots of choice
- Food comes out quick

The Bad:
- It's okay, but not sure if the fish soup is that good
- Naturally, service is rushed and sparse

Deer Garden Signatures 鹿園魚湯米線 on Urbanspoon

Fable

I'll admit it. I'm a big fan (as well as Viv) of Top Chef on Bravo (Food Network up here in Canada). Naturally, I'm also a fan of Top Chef Canada as well. Hence, we are always curious as to what the chefs are up to once the competition is over . After the first season of TCC, we headed over to Dale McKay's Ensemble for a good, albeit pricey meal (portions are small). Although neither Trevor Bird, Curtis Luk nor Jimmy Stewart won the second season, we were anxious to try out Trevor's vision at Fable. The concept of the place is simple, farm-to-table, hence the
name. We met up with the couple that we had met during the Summer of Love dinner a month back. They were chomping at the bit for a more fulfilling experience this time around.

Located at the former Re-Fuel (and before that Fuel), the layout for Fable remains mostly the same with an open kitchen at the entrance. The dining room is at the back with very little natural light (bad for pictures!). With a focused menu, we planned on trying most of their dishes starting with the Sawmill Bay Oysters. These little oysters were accented by a vodka mignonette with citrus bits. These were sweet and a good start to the meal. Next up was the Chickpea Fritter with pickled red onion, pea shoots and curry mayo. One bite into these falafel-like fritters and a whoosh of curry hit our senses. They were not dense, yet could've been slightly crunchier. The pickled onions added the necessary zing to brighten up the dish. The soothing mayo added another layer of curry as well as moisture to the fritters.

Probably our favourite appie was the Spaghetti and Meatballs, which was really tagliatelle and a duck meatball. Crispy outside and meaty/ducky inside, the meatball was money. There was a lot of flavour including a hit of liquorice which I suspect was star anise. The pasta was perfectly al dente. The sauce was a combination of duck jus and Parmesan foam. A good combination of flavours and there was no mistaking the star of the dish which was the duck. From our favourite to the most interesting appie, we had the Canned Tuna which was a concoction of albacore, potatoes, tomato and olive oil sous-vide in a jar with crostinis on the side. The result was super moist tuna and potatoes which could literally be spread onto the crostini if one wanted to. We didn't do that though. The richness of the olive oil combined with a noticeable lemon kick resulted in a nice balance of flavours.

Moving onto the mains, they came in 2 waves because we wanted to share them without worrying about anything getting cold. Arriving first and majestically plated was the Potato Crusted Chicken resting on ratatouille. This was a large portion which would be more than enough for one person. The chicken was moist and tender which was a great contrast to the very crispy exterior. It was like crunchy shredded hashbrowns on the outside. The ratatouille was tart and offered up some acidity to the dish. We thought this was executed well. From one fowl to another, we had the Duck Breast with scallion perogies and sauteed cauliflower. Although the duck meat wasn't as pink as we would've liked, the meat was still moist and easy to chew. The skin had a nice colour, yet could've stood to be crispier. The perogi was very soft with a slightly runny filling. No real issue for me since I don't like overly dense perogies anyways. Besides, the filling was well-seasoned. The little cauliflower florets were just cooked retaining a bit of crunch.

So far so good with all the plates we had until the Halibut & Chorizo served in a "chowder" with mussels, tomatoes, chives and fennel. There was nothing inherently wrong with the chowder as it was creamy with lots of chorizo goodness. Furthermore, it had a spicy kick and really benefited from the fennel. The problem was the halibut itself as it was not flaky. In fact, it was mushy. We were perplexed as we were confident that they would not knowingly use a bad ingredient. But the texture of the fish was just not right. Too bad really since the dish itself was quite pleasant. Lastly, we had the Gnocchi with pesto, pea shoots and sweet peas. The gnocchi was too soft and mushy. It was almost slimy in texture and highly unappealing. Again, that was unfortunate since the flavours of the dish really sang. There was a fair amount of lemon which combined with the sweet peas to form a nice balance. If only the gnocchi were better, this would've been a solid dish.

After this, we decided to share 3 desserts. The first was the Chocolate Pudding with cinnamon, walnut praline and "bits of pieces". This was a fairly small dessert with more stuff than pudding itself. There was a chocolate twizzle along with brownie bits and crunchy praline. Lots of textures and plenty of chocolate goodness. There just wasn't a lot of pudding (which was smooth and sweet). Our second dessert was the Daily Sweet Bites consisting of mini-pavlovas, dulce de leche macarons and marshmallows dusted with cocoa powder. The pavlovas were crisp on the outside and airy on the inside with a sweet raspberry jam. As for the macarons, they were pretty good with a crisp exterior yielding to a light inside which was only slightly chewy. It was only semi-sweet. Looks like the judges got it right on Top Chef Canada regarding Curtis' macarons. The marshmallows were soft and fresh. They were sweet, but not incredibly so. Last but not least was the dessert I was waiting for - Lemon Pot de Creme. This was topped with lemon granita and gin foam. Oh yeah, this was my favourite dessert (since I love lemon sweets and in fact, it was good too). It was super smooth, silky and only semi-sweet. The lemon hit was doubled by the tangy granita on top. The gin foam was pretty light only marginally impacted the dessert (which it should anyways).

So the meal started off strong and maintained momentum until the Halibut and Gnocchi. It was revived at the desserts and finished nicely with the Lemon Pot de Creme. Naturally, no meal will ever be perfect because there are so many variables in running a restaurant - from the busy kitchen, equipment and raw ingredients. Therefore, if we had to look at the good dishes, they far outnumbered the bad ones. Hence, the meal could be deemed a success. We enjoyed the different approaches to seemingly standard dishes and also the whimsical interpretations of some items such as the Canned Tuna. Prices are on the higher side, yet not totally out-of-line considering the location. Then again, chain restaurants charge almost as much and I'd much rather eat at a place like Fable.

The Good:
- Farm-to-table with local suppliers (if that matters to you)
- It has got the Top Chef Canada thing going on there
- Interesting eats with personality and flavour

The Bad:
- A bit pricier than other restaurants in this class (but not by much)
- Dining space is crowded and warm

Fable Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Money Foods Enterprises (Chinatown)

There was a time when Chinatown was the shiznit. Yes, you heard me. It was the place that all Chinese people would descend upon for eats, shopping and driving hell. Now, that is easily eclipsed by Richmond, especially the driving part... Now, all we see are empty stores, ol' school wares, elderly folk and tourists. We used to visit Chinatown every now and then when we lived in Downtown. Not so much ever since we moved to the burbs. So whenever I am passing by, I do get a bit nostalgic dropping by Kent's for takeout and The Boss for some pastries. One thing I rarely do is get Chinese BBQ. It's probably because I'm spoiled by places such as HK BBQ Master.

Yet, I did stop while passing through, partly since I found parking right away. Yes, that has been another revelation - parking is not a problem anymore... I remember the ol' days where we would circle for 30 minutes with no luck. How things have changed. Still, my parking spot was attained through traditional means. That means I made a U-Turn in the middle of the street and then backed up to get it. Hey, when in Rome... I guess my maneuver impressed the staff at Money Foods because the guy at the counter kept talking to me about my new hybrid. I had to really put my Cantonese to work! How the hell do you say "hybrid" in Chinese??? Okay, enough of my blabbing, onto the food. So the standard of any Chinese BBQ has to the Roast Pork. They do the whole pig here and hence, you really get the luck of the draw. Go early, and you get the butt. Go later, you get the shoulder. Go in between and you get the best part - the belly! Well, I went late and got the shoulder and some rib meat. It wasn't bad though, pretty moist, fatty and not over-seasoned. The crackling was a touch hard, yet crunchy. Not bad.

I also got half a BBQ Duck which was aesthetically- pleasing with its nicely charred skin. The meat was mostly moist where the dark meat was more seasoned (that's where the marinade pools up). Going in a slightly different direction, I decided to get some of their chilled items. I got a pound of the Marinated Jellyfish which was pretty bland. I added some of the accompanying wok-fried salt and sesame oil mixture and it didn't really seem to go. At the very least, the jellyfish had a nice crunch and was rinsed thoroughly. Lastly, I got a pound of the Jellied Chicken Feet. These are deboned and cooked just enough so they are crunchy in a jellied manner. These had a good texture and were seasoned with enough salt, sesame oil and white pepper. All-in-all not bad. Of course HK BBQ Master is better, but Money is okay.

The Good:
- A touch cheaper than other places (such as in Richmond and parts of Vancouver)
- Not bad
- The staff were actually chatty and nice

The Bad:
- It's okay, but there is better (if you wanna travel)
- Not the most appealing of storefronts (lots of seafood soaked water in front)

Money Foods Enterprises Ltd. (Chinatown) on Urbanspoon

La Chocolaterie

Way back during Christmas, we got a box of chocolates from La Chocolaterie as a present. Within the bag, there was an ice pack and instructions for us to put it into the fridge immediately. Huh? I normally wouldn't put chocolate in the fridge because it just gets all hard and unappealing. Well, these were no regular chocolates I would soon learn. When I opened up the box, it was as if Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat had exploded inside. Rather than a bunch of brown cubes, there was a veritable rainbow of colours. "What kind of chocolates are these?", I asked myself (and oh, how could I not know about them either???). It turns out that these chocolates were from La Chocolaterie within the Izumi-Ya Japanese supermarket (similar to Fujiya).

Included in the box was a colourful selection of chocolates that included flavours such as matcha, blueberry, mango, chocolate and strawberry. The flavours were true without being too sweet while the texture was smooth. Definitely something different. Not satisfied with this sampling, I made my way out to the little store while I was in Richmond. The Lemon Basil caught my eye and it truly delivered. With a texture somewhat reminiscent of cheesecake and flavours of tart, sweet, creamy and herby, this had a unique, yet tasty quality. I was hooked. I'm not a sweets guy, but I'll gladly eat these everyday. Too bad they are located in Richmond. So far away! Oh and that traffic thing too...

The Good:
- Different
- Clean flavours
- Loved the texture

The Bad:
- Pricey
- Needs to be refrigerated (if that matters to you)

La Chocolaterie on Urbanspoon

The Perch

*Restaurant is now closed*

Pho. You know, the Vietnamese beef noodle thing. It appears that we seem to do the Pho thing a little too often after Sunday hockey. I guess with the endless options, we could continue our Pho-tastic adventures every week. Seeing how it was National Egg Day, it just didn't seem appropriate to go for soup noodles (unless it involved an egg, such as Nabeyaki Udon...). So we decided on breakfast instead. Wait, I decided on breakfast. As much as that can be an easy thing to do (like make it yourself in your own home), there are times when it can be somewhat interesting - the Red Wagon is one of those such places. However, we weren't in the mood for lining up since we were pretty hungry. Curse you Guy Fieri! So I took a gander at the selection in the neighbourhood and The Perch seemed like a good bet.

The place has an eclectic feel which is part hipster and part not. The brunch menu is small with one feature of the day. It happened to be the Bacon Cheddar Avocado Benny on this particular Sunday. Good enough for me, so that's what I had. Well, that and the fact everyone else picked the other items I was interested in (no duplicates!). With a runny yolk, crispy meaty bacon and ripe avocado, there were all the components for a good benny. In fact, this was an excellent benny because the cheddar Hollandaise was what brought it all together. It was cheesy, rich and had the right amount of acidity. The hashbrowns could've used more browning though.

Mihouse went for my original choice which was the Pulled Pork Hash. He opted for scrambled eggs on top and it was both plentiful and fluffy. The generous amount of pulled pork was fairly moist with some tang and sweetness from the onions. The hash would've been even better if the potatoes were more crisp. JuJu had what was probably the most interesting item in the Bacon & Cheddar Baked Eggs. It may have looked like a lasagne when it first hit the table, yet it was more like a tasty messy cheesy concoction. The abundance of cheddar and bacon guaranteed flavour which incorporated runny eggs and baked beans. Lastly, Kaiser Soze had the standard Breakfast consisting of 2 eggs, bacon, hashbrowns and toast. He really liked the thick-cut bacon which was meaty and nicely crisp. Moreover, the over easy egg had a runny yolk despite the appearance of being overcooked. Overall, we were all satisfied with our meals. The prices were reasonable and everything seemed to be executed nicely (except for the hashbrowns). Throw in some genuine service and a funky atmosphere, this place has the potential of a return visit.

The Good:
- Stuff was prepared properly
- Service was friendly and attentive
- Eclectic decor

The Bad:
- Not the most spacious place
- Limited menu (for breakfast)

Eat, Drink & Perch at the ARC Cafe on Urbanspoon

Darband

Streets with specific ethnic eats - there are quite a few of those in the GVRD. Indian restaurants along Scott Road, Chinese on every street in Richmond, Italian on East Hastings, Vietnamese on Kingsway... The list can go on and on. One more is the Korean expressway AKA North Road. But wait a minute... What's this? A new Persian restaurant, amongst Kimchi and Bibimbap? Shouldn't this be located on the North Shore??? Well, only one way to find out... Gather the troops and attack the food! So Rich Guy, Slick and Big D formed the eating machine for this adventure.

I needed the troops too since the Kebab Combo #4 caught my eye (for only $43.95!). It consisted of 1 x Tenderloin Beef, 1 x Chicken, 2 x Koobideh and 2 x Ground Chicken. Also included were 4 plates of basmati rice and a Salad Shirazi to start. This was a refreshing way to start the meal. Although it wasn't a true version of the salad, we didn't care. As mentioned, we all received a plate of basmati rice with a side of butter. It may seem like a small addition, but the butter adds both texture and flavour. I would've liked to see more saffron rice as it was only sparingly sprinkled on top. Then we were presented with a large platter with all of our kebabs. From left to right: Beef Tenderloin, Chicken, Koobideh & Ground Chicken (alternating) and Tomato. The beef tenderloin was fork tender while the chicken was nicely charred, yet a bit dry. The koobideh and ground chicken were processed enough so the meat was not gritty. There was a good onion hit from both of the kebabs. The only thing I would've liked to see was a touch more charring on the kebabs other than the chicken.

For the heck of it, we also got the Lamb Shank with Baghali Polo. The lamb was super moist and wasn't gamy at all. The meat had that fatty gelatinous texture which makes lamb shank tasty. The accompanying braising sauce was fatty and flavourful. For this dish, the rice was laced with plenty of dill and Lima beans. We were pretty content at the conclusion of our meal. Was everything perfect? No. But it was still quite good especially for the price.

The Good:
- Reasonable pricing
- Good eats
- Friendly family restaurant service

The Bad:
- Meats (other than the chicken) could've used more charring
- A better mix of saffron rice would've been nice
- Not sure if they had A/C or not, but it was warm in there

Darband on Urbanspoon

The Fat Dragon

*Restaurant now closed*

Generally, our eating adventures are dictated by the location of our games. For instance, if we are playing in South Vancouver, we naturally head to Richmond. So what to do when we play at Strathcona? Other than Phnom Penh, most of the other restaurants in Chinatown are closed. We could go to Downtown, but this seemed like the perfect opportunity to try one of two places: Cray Cafe or The Fat Dragon. Now after our Crawfish King debacle, no one on the softball team was overly excited about another crawfish adventure. Fair enough. Worked out for me because I was looking forward in trying out the Asian-inspired BBQ at The Fat Dragon (from the people of Campagnolo). In particular, the smoked half pig's head. So I did a hard sell to my softball team about the place. Yes, it is located right near Oppenheimer Park, but there was still light out. Yes, it's an Asian-inspired BBQ, yet why not try new things? And I really wanted some head. I mean the Pig's Head... Milhouse and LuLu Bomber ended up sharing head with me. Man, there is no way to make this sound right...

As we made our way there, Boss Woman was very adamant that I close all the windows and lock the car. Okay, the area ain't exactly Oakridge, but it's not that dangerous! Once inside and looking through the menu, we spotted the Bao Buns section in the menu and for $2.50 each, we were all enticed to try a couple each. Hey were were already getting head, why not some buns too? Sorry, it was too easy... Anyways, I got one each of the Slow Smoked Beef Deckle and the Crunchy Squid. The beef deckle (which is the fatty piece of meat on a prime rib) was moist and tender with a nice bark. There was some crunch from the cabbage as well as the caramelized peanuts, but it could've stood for more peanuts. Furthermore, we all felt it needed more punch in flavour. This could've been possibly be attributed to the Crunchy Squid Bao which was a fan favourite. The crispy squid was a perfect compliment to the soft bao. The scallion, coriander and special smoked chili salt added a good combination of flavours which were bolder than the beef deckle bao. However, they could've eased up on the scallions as there was far too much of it.

Dark Helmet was mesmerized by the Thick Cut Szechuan Peppercorn Cured Pork Belly when he first spotted it on the menu. Look at the picture. I don't blame him. That is a man's wet dream right there. A half-a-pound of it rested on white bread drizzled with meat drippings. I took a good sample and the pork belly was beautiful. It was moist and dry at the same time. Huh? Yes really. The exterior had a desirable firmness and "candied" texture to it while the inside was sufficiently soft. In terms of flavour, there was only a slight spice with a predominant soy slant. We could've used more heat and a touch more sweetness to balance out the flavours. Gyoza King went for the Jalan Alor Chicken Wings which numbered six whole wings (including the tip). These Malaysian-inspired wings were definitely ethnic tasting. For some reason or another, I got the hint of five-spice, but there is typically no five-spice in jalan alor wings. Maybe it was the combination of flavours which emulated the taste. There was definitely some kick to the wings, which were slightly dry.

Boss Woman went for a couple of items starting with the Smoked I-San Style Pork Hot Links served with cucumber & coriander relish. These reminded me of the Thai Sausages I had at Maenam, except these were meatier and juicier. What really made this dish work was the sweet relish. It balanced out the savoury spiciness of the sausages . As a side, she had the Stir-Fried Noodles with Smoky Drippings. If there was a money dish here, this would be it. For something so simple, it was good. The noodles were slightly soft, but we really didn't care since the smoky drippings added both body and a depth of flavour. Mixed with the grated ginger and onion, the noodles were brightened up a bit (which was needed since the fat was so rich).

Bear and Hot Chocolate also had the noodles and they thought it was a highlight of the meal. They also shared an order of the Crispy Beef Ribs with soy-brown sugar glaze, fried garlic & scallions. I wasn't able to try any of these, but Hot Chocolate found her first rib to be rather salty, but then subsequent ones to be fine. At first, Bear thought they were a bit pricey, but the portion size was actually pretty good. Much like Hot Chocolate, he thought the ribs were a touch salty, but nothing out of the ordinary for soy-based Asian-fusion seasoning. They were not as dry as he expected, but the description was probably meant to clarify that there was no sauce. The texture of the meat was in-between, so he couldn't tell if they were boiled a bit first or slow cooked first then tightened up with some heat. In the end, they both liked the ribs. Dark Helmet had side of Long Beans with sambal and smoked almonds. These were crunchy with a kick. They were saucy but not salty.

Okay, enough with the various plates of food. The one thing I was here for was the Smoked & Roasted Half Pig's Head with bean sprout kimchi, cracklings, grated ginger & scallions, lemon wedges and iceberg lettuce cups. Now the visuals of the head was quite dramatic at our table. For Milhouse, myself and LuLu Bomber, we just dug in. The meat was super fatty, smoky and moist. The garnishes were pretty important in cutting through the grease. When made into a lettuce wrap, it was quite enjoyable to eat. Lots of different textures and flavours going on in one bite. However, with the copious amount of fat, there was a limited amount of actual edible meat. Definitely a novelty item which would fall into the category of "been there, done that". We all agreed that it was a good idea, at the very least, to try The Fat Dragon. We didn't go in with any prejudices and hence the meal was definitely interesting.

The Good:
- Something definitely different
- If you don't go in with an "Asian" bias, then some of the flavours really worked

The Bad:
- The prices are slightly high considering the location
- Portion size varies from okay to small

Fat Dragon on Urbanspoon