Sherman's Food Adventures: August 2012

Cray Kitchen and Bar

Okay, here we go. Another crawfish adventure... After the epic fail of a meal, otherwise known as Crawfish King, I had a difficult time convincing anyone from my softball team to try out GVRD's other crawfish joint. I would enthusiastically mention after our games to no avail. The responses ranged from ignoring me to nervous indifference. Alas, it seemed like a monumental task to convince anyone to eat at Cray Kitchen and Bar, even though they have nothing to do with Crawfish King. Finally I had a taker, in fact 3 takers. Herbie the Lovebug, Lana Banana and their sidekick agreed to the task. In fact, Herbie the Lovebug was stuck in neutral regarding this meal. Generally, he doesn't prefer eating with his hands and also, the perceived value just wasn't there. To be fair, all these types of restaurants, whether it be Crawfish King or the Crabpot in Seattle, are never places one should visit for a cheap meal. You pay for the experience. Whatever the case, we made a reservation for 7:15 on a weekday. Turns out the novelty of the crawfish thing was still in full force as the place was packed. Originally, we were offered the table right at the front door, but it really couldn't accommodate 5 people without creating an obstacle for others to cross. So we had to wait for a different table at the back which didn't become available until 8:00pm.

We decided to get a good amount of food since a boil isn't exactly a filling experience (all those shells). In addition to our Southern boil, we started with some Fried Oysters. For $9.99, it was an unimpressive basket of food. Yes, we do realize that oysters (especially certain types) are quite expensive. But 5 small little oysters for $10.00? If they do intend to serve these types of oysters, then I suggest they "prop" them up with either shredded lettuce or a bunch of fries. Hence, it would at the very least look like more. Size withstanding, the oysters were actually quite nice being fresh and just cooked. Seeing how we were already getting potatoes for our boil, Herbie thought that fries would be somewhat redundant. So he suggested we get an order of Onion Rings. Again, for $6.99, it was a meager amount. They were thick and fried crisp. Not bad. Pretty typical onion rings.

Now onto the main event - the Southern Boil! We got 5 lbs. each of the Crawfish and Shrimp in a the everything mix in medium. We added 3 potatoes, 3 corn and 12 slices of andouille sausage. Everything came a little at a time, which was welcomed since our table was really small. Moreover, that ensured our food would be hot and fresh. The crawfish came in various sizes (which is normal) and were cooked nicely. Viv and I thought these were "muddier" than the ones we had at Crawdaddy a few months ago. Not that the restaurant can necessarily control this, it was just an observation. We liked the spice level as well as the abundance of garlicky flavour. The "sauce" was very powerful. So much so, we had to get a side of Bread to soak it up. We would've preferred that it wasn't grilled since it was a bit too crunchy. Just give us a baguette and we'd be happy. Compared to Crawfish King, the sauce was much less greasy, which made it easier and more enjoyable to eat. As for the Shrimp, 4 bags were perfectly cooked where the shrimp had a nice snap and were super sweet. However, one bag was woefully overcooked. The meat was literally mush. For a moment, we considered the chances of it being spoiled, but since the shrimp are usually frozen fresh from the source, that shouldn't be the case.

The 3 Potatoes were pretty decent in size and were nicely prepared. They were in one piece with no disintegration, yet were nicely soft inside. The Corn was sweet and the niblets still had a pop. Lastly, they served the Sausage on the side (mixed with sauce) because it would be easier for us to find. Good idea, but then again, the whole point is to have them cooked with the seafood (can't win with either way). They were good though, with a slight spice and a nice snap. They were a touch overdone with some of the edges being hard. Okay, to compare this experience with Crawfish King, it wouldn't even be fair because nothing could be worse. However, as a whole, the meal was pleasant enough. The service was friendly and attentive while the food was okay. To be fair, this type of eating will never be "cheap" due to the lack of competition and high raw material costs. So don't expect to leave spending under $30.00 each. But if you must dine this way, Cray Kitchen is a better option than Crawfish King.

The Good:
- Although a bit sparse at times, service was really friendly and efficient
- A different way of eating

The Bad:
- An expensive way of eating
- Some of the tables are a bit small for all the food on the table

Cray Kitchen and Bar on Urbanspoon

PNE Eats 2012

Like many Vancouvrites, my yearly schedule always includes a visit to the PNE. It's not so much that I really need to reload my supply of Sham Wows or mops, rather, I go for the food. Of course, there are the usual places such as Whales Tails, C-Lovers, Curry-in-a-Hurry and the lot. However, over the years, there have been more and more different food options. In particular, the "anything-you-can-put-in-a-deep-fryer" variety. Back in 2009, I tried the fried Jelly Belly as well as the fried Oreos with the latter being better. I was all set to head to the PNE with food on my mind when they came a-callin', literally. I was invited to sample some of their new hot items with other media on a rainy morning. But before that, I am literally going to get ahead of myself and fast forward to the end of the media tour where we were craving something savory after sampling only sweets.

Since we were right next to the BBQ stalls, I headed over to Smokin' Babes, where they were serving up big racks... Er... Anyways, this was the continuation of my BBQ mission from last years PNE where I was only able to hit up 3 of the 5 vendors. I went for their $22.00 platter which included 4 pork ribs, pulled pork and brisket. Sadly, this was my least favourite as the meats were really dry, especially the brisket. The sauce was zesty, tangy and sweet, which was quite appetizing, but that didn't help save the stringy pulled pork. The ribs were slightly better as they were fall-off-the-bone, yet hardly tender. If one likes a drier BBQ, this would be it. The very next day (I'm really out of chronological order here...), I went and tried out the last stall being Smokin' Guns. Unlike everyone else, they did not have any brisket. Rather, they had a beef and pork rib combo for $23.00. I added a pound of pulled pork for $6.00. This meat monstrosity was my favourite of the bunch. The pulled pork was moist, not oversauced and tender. And the sauce was a good balance of sweet and smoky with a hint of spice. The pork ribs were moist, well charred and had a nice bark. The same could be said about the beef bones as they were not dry at all, yet had a nice exterior bark which was chewy and smoky. Only downside was the big pool of oil from the all the meats especially the pulled pork. I realize there should be fat, but this was a bit unappetizing.

A visit to the PNE would not be complete without a simple fry bread called Whales Tail (or elephant ear, beaver tail or a interpretation of bannock). My son loves it only with Parmesan. He was wanting another once he finished. There is something about a piece of fried dough which soaks the paper towel it is on... But hold on, he can't just eat fried bread... So we picked up a plate of Perogies from Hunky Bills (yah, much healthier eh?). These fried carb-heavy dumplings were oily, sweet (from the onions) and buttery. The dousing of sour cream and side of sausage qualified it as fair food. I'm glad we did a fair bit of walking as I could feel the calories pile up.

Okay, back to the media event... Meeting up with some of the regulars (Sean, Kevin and Alvin), we set out towards the Showmart to sample Monkey Butter. This is a small business originating out of Vancouver producing an all natural peanut butter in an array of gourmet flavours. I got to sample the Bacon Peanut Butter and I could really taste the difference. It was not too sweet, a bit runny and very peanutty. As Michelle (from the Georgia Straight) stated, it could've been heavier on the bacon. Heading out from the Show Mart, we made our way to a familiar vendor - Pennsylvania Dutch (where I had the fried Jelly Belly and Oreos). This year, they put a spin on their funnel cake by adding maple and bacon (hmm... a bacon theme going on here). Of course, the funnel cake was as good as it has been in years past being crisp and light. The addition of maple syrup and what appeared to be Costco bacon bits, contributed a sweet and salty slant. I also got to sample their new item which was the Fried Wagon Wheels. Predictably sweet and gooey inside, it reminded me a of a fried smores. Definitely not a diet food (am I repeating myself?).

Around the corner, we were led to a brand new vendor, Powers Chocolate, which featured 2 chocolate fountains where skewers of fruit and treats were covered in silky dark and milk chocolate. I sampled both the chocolate-covered strawberries and the peanut & chocolate covered mashmallows. I liked how the chocolate didn't rely on sugar for flavour. Rather, it was not too sweet and had a nice sheen, indicating it was higher quality. I was surprised that even the marshmallow covered in chocolate wasn't overly sweet either. From a newbie to a classic, we headed over to La Casa Gelato for some samples. Although I have certain preferences for gelato in Vancouver, there is no denying the popularity of La Casa at the PNE. We sampled 2 of their new offerings in Durian and Maple Bacon. Durian is an acquired taste which I can most accurately describe as having a fruit gaminess. It is definitely sweet and aromatic, but can be off-putting to some. As for the Maple Bacon, it was more maple than bacon (what's with the maple bacon theme?).

Lastly, we stopped at Granny's Foods that were offering Fried Cheesecake and the interestingly named Fried Kool Aid. The cheese cake was wrapped in a tortilla of some sort and fried. The result was a partially melted cheesecake. It was creamy and full of cream cheese flavour though. As for the fried Kool Aid, think of them as Kool Aid flavoured fritters. Interesting to say the least. Well there you have it, another year of the PNE and an another year of eating really healthy food... I guess the indulgences go hand-in-hand with the PNE. Much like car accidents and Richmond...

54th Ave Cafe

With the realization that my concussion will keep me out of hockey for the forseeble future, I have to turn to other activities to fill the void. Seeing how I had not touched a golf club in a year and the fact that Polka King was coming out to play, I was ready to hack it up. Yes, that is the same Polka King who was a regular on my food adventures before he was imprisoned... er... I mean married. Ultimately, I did hack it up, but I had fun and there were eats to be had afterwards. Shockingly, Polka King was able to join us for food! Did he finally take a stand? No, apparently, Polka Dot was out with the girls and he was a free man... for a couple of hours. Did I just hear a whip? Since we were pretty hungry, we ended up going somewhere close which was 54th Avenue Cafe. I was nervous though since there hasn't been anything good said about the place. One thing I do know is that I don't have anything good to say about the parking lot. Can they make it any tighter?

Completing our foursome for golf and eats was Hans and Frans (yes, they are brothers). Hans had the Hainanese Chicken which was dry and chewy with little flavour. However, the ginger and onion was pretty good (with mostly ginger). The rice was properly cooked, yet, it was merely plain rice. For me, the whole point of Hainanese Chicken is to have chicken oil rice on the side. This is where the rice is pan-fried in the chicken oil (rendered from the poaching) and then cooked in the chicken broth with ginger. This was a huge disappointment. Polka King went for the Yeung Chow Fried Rice which was a decent portion with lots of shrimp. It was cold-water crunchy while the BBQ pork was lean and plentiful. The rice was not greasy bordering on dry. That wasn't a problem though since fried rice should be chewy and somewhat dry. The one issue with the fried rice was the lack of seasoning. It was bland.

Frans opted for the Black Pepper Chicken Steak. It was a huge portion consisting of 3 whole deboned legs that were nicely panfried. The meat was moist and juicy. There was a good amount of sauce, but it was very mild and didn't have a huge hit of pepper. For myself, I went for the "build-your-own-noodle" with the Flat Rice Noodle in Fish Broth. I chose fish filet and ox tongue for my 2 meats. The fish broth, to me, was a bit odd. It had a somewhat sour finish to it and really didn't taste like fish. Furthermore, the fish filets were more like fish chunks. They were okay in texture though. On the other hand, the ox tongue was overcooked and practically melted in my mouth. Normally, there should be a slight resistance, rather than mushiness. And how likes mushy tongue in their mouths anyways??? Er... So our visit to 54th Ave Cafe pretty much summarizes what others have said - the food is average-to-poor. For us, it was edible, but there was at least one issue with each of our dishes. Their low prices is probably their one saving grace. As for the service, it was not bad for us, so no issues there. The bottom line is we are not clamouring for a return visit anytime soon.

The Good:
- Cheap
- Convenience (with tight parking lot and all)

The Bad:
- There is just something off with every dish

54th Ave Cafe 54街茶餐廳 on Urbanspoon

Toyotomi

It is Summer right? So what's with the rain and cold weather??? When has Summer become a 3-week season in Vancouver? Well, that was the case the day of our Monday softball game. It was raining all day with no signs of letting up. Was there going to be a game or not? Apparently yes. For myself, it was a bit iffy anyways due to my concussion. I tried playing one inning and the running did me in. My headache returned and hence, I had to shut it down. That really sucks. No hockey and now no softball. Well, at the very least, there was food afterwards. Due to Fall in July, we took advantage and decided to hot pot it. Once again, our close proximity to Richmond (we played at Oak Park), we headed over to Toyotomi. I must note that the place isn't the most obvious location for a restaurant as it is on the bottom floor of an apartment complex. Whatever the case, they have free parking and the price of their AYCE hot pot is only $14.99.

Their AYCE menu needed a bit of deciphering as it had grey-out sections which only apply if we paid a $6.00 surcharge. Therefore, it really depends on what one wants which would ultimately determine the bottom line. Moreover, the menu is an eclectic mix of unrelated food as well. There were the usual hot pot items, yet there were things like Chicken Nuggets, Fries and Onion Rings as well. Good for the kiddies I suppose??? These were pretty standard stuff that looked like frozen Costco products (which is not necessarily a bad thing for this type of restaurant). Wait, there was more fried goodness in the form of Fried Tofu and Fried Mochi. The fried tofu had a weird texture akin to fish cake while the fried mochi wasn't bad. It was not too dense and only semi-sweet. The strange combination of offerings continued with the Beef Tataki. Despite the large slices of meat, they were tender and bathed in a balanced sweet, tart and salty dressing.

Since we were there after 9:00pm, we were afforded the opportunity to have 2 pieces of sashimi per person (which totaled 16 pieces). We went for the Spicy Tuna and Salmon Sashimi which arrived in a scallop shell on ice. It was nice to see that they practiced food safe here as the ice kept cool things cold (including the hot pot items). As for the fish, it was pretty standard with nothing amiss. Now the spicy sauce was another story. It was some thick, syrupy concoction which was not spicy at all. Not sure what it was, but the more suitable name would be sweet sticky sashimi. As mentioned, the Hot Pot Ingredients were put on ice. It actually all arrived in a large oyster shell-shaped plate. There was a mix of fish cake, dumplings, frozen tofu, fish balls, pork intestines, wood ear mushrooms, fresh ramen, instant noodle, soba, rice cake, tripe, wood ear mushroom, edamame, sui choy and watercress. Nothing seemed amiss and everything did what it was supposed to. Due to the low price of the hot pot at Toyotomi, they could be excused for not having freshly made meatballs nor dumplings.

We had 4 choices of meat which we promptly ordered. It arrived on one plate with the Lean Beef in the front, Chicken to the right, Fatty Beef on the top and Vegetarian Pork in the back. As you can tell, the fatty beef was well-marbled. If you don't like beef fat, don't order this. However, when boiled, it was buttery and tender. The lean beef was predictably less tender and more dry. The chicken had a good amount of fat which kept it moist (not to mention it was dark meat too). The vegetarian pork was well, vegetarian pork. Enough said. For our choice of broth, we decided to go for half and half of the Japanese Pork Bone Soup and the Spicy Broth. The pork bone soup was exactly that with a large bone peeking out from the boiling liquid. It was mild. The spicy broth lived up to its namesake with a considerable kick while not destroying our tastebuds either.

Hey, this was a pretty decent hot pot for the money. There were no real surprises, other than the weird mix of food, and we were all satisfied at the end. There are very few places that have such a low starting price for AYCE, so Toytomi represents value, not necessarily outstanding eats. The one thing that really impressed us was the attentive service. They were always checking on us and even gave the kiddies at the table a complimentary box of Pocky each. Hey when someone gives you free Pocky, it's a good day.

The Good:
- Cheap
- Attentive service
- Clean washrooms

The Bad:
- Pretty standard AYCE stuff, don't have too high expectations

Toyotomi 豐臣家 on Urbanspoon

Palki Indian Restaurant

Okay. Why are people so desperate to score a goal in pickup hockey that they would do it at all costs? For the 3rd straight week, someone had crashed the crease in search of that goal which will put them into the NHL. The by-product? My second concussion of the year. Thus, I never got to finish the game and afterwards, I wasn't in the mood to go very far for eats. It's funny how we play Sunday morning hockey at Brit and always drive somewhere for eats afterwards. Why? Well, there are some pretty good places to visit right under our noses. A block away, there is the Drive, where an eclectic array of eats await us. Finally, I suggested we just walk over and pick a place. Well, not really. I had somewhere in mind already and there was no choice. Call it a friendly dictatorship... In the past, I was alerted to a place called Palki Indian Restaurant. I figured it would be a good opportunity to finally see what it was all about.

With JuJu and Milhouse joining me for eats, I figured we'd do 3 lunch specials only. Well, we did order 3 specials, but with JuJu around, that would surely not be enough. Hence we started with a few items including the Shrimp Pakora. These were not as crunchy as we would've liked, but that's not saying they weren't good. The overall texture was pleasing and despite the amount of batter, it wasn't doughy nor greasy. Flavourwise, they were quite mild with a sprinkle of cumin on top. Three condiments were served on the side which included hot sauce, tamarind chutney and mint chutney. The hot sauce was quite spicy and I thought it went the best with the pakoras. Our second "appie" was half a Tandoori Chicken. It arrived on a truly sizzling hot plate (sometimes it is for show, this one was HOT). The pieces of chicken were large and moist, including the white meat. The flavour was mildly spicy (we had requested medium) with a smokiness from the good char.

As mentioned, we also ordered 3 of their lunch specials which included naan and rice. We ended up sharing them of course (just how I like it!). With more meat than sauce, the Butter Chicken was definitely a bit different than I am used to. The pieces of chicken seemed to be randomly cut into large chunks which made it hard to access the sauce. Usually, it is the other way around where there is far too much sauce and no chicken. Trust me, we weren't complaining about the generous amount of meat, it just could've been in smaller chunks. As for the sauce, it was a bit more on the tomatoey side, yet not tart. In fact, the flavours were a bit muted and it could've stood for more salt. I am not going to comment on the spice level as we had requested medium (I personally would've asked for spicy).

The Lamb Curry was equally full of large chunks of meat. However, they were in a more manageable size. The meat was moist and tender while the curry was mild with a noticeable anise flavour. We loved the consistency of the sauce as it was the perfect thickness. Lastly, the Chicken Korma was aromatic and smooth. Once again, there were large pieces of chicken which were sufficiently moist. The sauce was thick and balanced with a natural sweetness. With that being said, the flavours could've been more amped (and this is taking into consideration that it was medium). Although the Naan was pale in appearance, the non-visible side (which goes on the walls of the tandoor were nicely charred and crisp. The interior of the naan was soft and chewy. Due to the amount of food we ordered as well as the portion size, we probably ate more than was necessary for lunch (JuJu doesn't understand this concept). In terms of food quality, it wasn't bad considering its location. Flavours could've been more bold, but that was partly our fault for requesting medium spice.

The Good:
- Large portions with lots of meat
- Friendly service
- Nice dining space

The Bad:
- Flavours were muted

Palki Indian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Ji Sushi

*Restaurant is now closed*

Boy, we haven't done AYCE Japanese for the longest time. I guess it is for the best since it is generally not the best way to experience the cuisine. At the same time, it does serve a purpose and as long as expectations are reasonable, it can be okay. Well, the purpose this time was Kaiser Soze's birthday. After Sunday hockey, we decided to treat him for lunch. In this case, he could eat as much as he liked while our costs were controlled. LOL... We're cheap! The nearest one we could think of was Ji Sushi out on Broadway at Cambie. Located in the former Rasputin, Ji Sushi doesn't really have a "lunch" AYCE. Rather, it is referred to as "Happy Hour". For $11.95, the AYCE menu is pretty limited, yet okay considering everything.

Milhouse, JuJu and I arrived before Kaiser Soze and Beebs, but that didn't stop us from ordering food. Poor etiquette yes. 3 hungry men after hockey = no etiquette. Now things didn't get off to a great start. Something as simple as Miso Soup should be at the very least be decent. Not this one. It was cold. The Gomae was okay though. The spinach had a nice texture while the addition of sesame seeds was welcomed. The dreaded "sauce" was pretty sweet though. Again, something as simple as a Green Salad should be minimally edible. Well, the lettuce was fine but the significant pool of water at the bottom not only washed out the flavours, it just looked plain wrong. The Ebi Sunomono was a bit sweet, yet otherwise okay.

Moving onto the Beef Teriyaki, it was clumpy and dry. There wasn't too much sauce which didn't help things texturally, but at the very least, it wasn't too sweet nor salty. The Chicken Teriyaki was tender and fried crispy on the outside. Pretty typical AYCE version of the dish. Next up were the Chicken Katsu and Tonkatsu which seemingly looked the same and tasted like it had the same sauce (which didn't resemble Tonkatsu sauce in any way). Both were overcooked, yet very crunchy. On the topic of crunchy, the Chicken Karaage was crisp while juicy inside. They were well-seasoned too. As for the Gyoza, they were decent. The dumpling skin was not too thick and was fried up nicely. The meat was a bit loose though. The Fried "Scallops" (pollack), were good for what they were, yet the Fried Gyoza were essentially fried wontons without much filling.

The Nigiri, Cones and Maki Sushi were pretty average with bland rice (which had a decent texture though) and thinly cut fish. I guess the best description would be "passable". The Tempura was thickly battered and overcooked. Not sure why Gordo ordered the Beef Udon, but it was alright, but the soup was tasteless. Yet, at the end of the day, it was an AYCE Japanese lunch and we should not expect too much. At the same time, there are acceptable AYCEs and not-so-good AYCEs. This would fall into the latter.

The Good:
- Service is okay
- Cheap

The Bad:
- Food is below-average

Ji Sushi 吉壽司 on Urbanspoon