Sherman's Food Adventures: September 2012

Nha Trang Vietnamese

After our first Sunday morning hockey game of the season, we briefly considered visiting Nha Trang on Broadway. We ended up passing and headed to Pho Quyen instead. It was an interesting choice considering both restaurants do not look that inviting from the outside. You have Pho Quyen with its tinted windows which made it appear closed and then Nah Trang's frontage is so cluttered that it looks more like a disorganized produce store than a Vietnamese restaurant. Despite this, I remained intrigued. So I made my way out there the following week. Upon entering the place, it was quite obvious that they kept the Greek decor of the previous restaurant. Hey, it's about the food, not the decor in a Vietnamese restaurant right?

I ended up ordering the Bun Bo Hue since someone else already got the Pho Dac Biet. Despite the lack of pork knuckle, the Bo Bun Hue was passable. It wasn't that spicy and did exhibit some fragrance. There could've been more lai fun noodle, but there was enough meat (which was tender). As a side, I got a House Special Banh Mi which was toasted up nicely where the bread was crunchy while airy inside. There was a decent amount of meats. The pickled veggies were a little weak, yet were still crunchy. The meal would not be complete without an order of Pho Dac Biet right? Well, if Miss Y was here, I guess we wouldn't even order Pho. She'd probably ask for a Moussaka or something... Considering the leftover decor of the former restaurant, I would probably not be surprised if someone tried to order that... So the Pho was actually not bad. The broth wasn't exactly super flavourful, but it was pretty typical and exhibited a sweeter taste. We couldn't really pick out the individual flavours as it was on the lighter side. The noodles were slightly clumpy while the meats were tender an moist. The portion size was neither big nor small.

With trying to cover all the basics, we also got an order of the Lemongrass Chicken & Pork Chop on rice. The chicken was moist and tender with a mild char on the outside. There was definitely a lemongrass hit. The same could besaid about the pork chop as well, yet it was not as moist as the chicken. This was quite a large plate of food consider the amount of rice as well (which was chewy and well made). In general, Nha Trang did the job with little fanfare. In a sea of Vietnamese restaurants in Vancouver, it merely slots in the middle somewhere. Okay if you were in the neighbourhood, but not some place you'd need to specifically drive to either.

The Good:
- Food is passable
- Prices are not bad (like most Vietnamese joints)
- Service was decent

The Bad:
- A bit messy inside and outside (if that matters to you)
- Pho broth a bit weak

Nha Trang Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Hukuya

Back in the day (and I mean really back in the day), I would frequent Red Robin. Hey, despite what you think, their burgers are actually not bad. Furthermore, their fries with a side of tartar sauce really rocked. In addition to the Metrotown location, we'd hit up the Lougheed Mall spot every now and then (since we went to SFU). Each time we went, there was this Japanese restaurant right next to it that I didn't pay much attention to. In fact, even more recent visits to Red Robin (it's for the kids I swear!) have yielded as much attention to that Japanese restaurant as a handicap sign in a Richmond parking lot. Vaguely, I think Viv has actually tried the place out on her own and it wasn't very memorable. Then that begs the question: why was I wanting to try the place out anyways? Well, one was due to location because Rich Guy was in the neighbourhood and the second was plain curiosity. Let's just hope it doesn't kill the cat.

We started with Tuna & Salmon Sashimi which was not bad. The slices were large with the salmon having a buttery consistency with some resistance. The tuna was not mushy while still being soft. It was pretty fresh as much as frozen fish can get. Next up was the Appetizer Tempura which were in big pieces served in a cool basket. They were crispy and not oily. The batter was thin and each item was not overcooked. This was not bad. We got a couple of specialty rolls with the Volcano arriving first. It was large and presented on a long narrow plate. It consisted of a dynamite roll inside (imitation crab and ebi tempura) with tuna on top. The spicy sweet sauce had a good hit of srirracha. The sushi rice was on the gummier side, yet did have okay flavour with some sweetness and rice wine vinegar.

As a filler of sorts, we got the Katsu Don which was not very good. There was far too much in the way of wet ingredients such as onions and veggies. This made the rice mushy and soggy. In fact, there were more ingredients than rice (may seem like a great idea, but in the end, did not work). The fried pork cutlet was super thin and the batter merely slid off, not being crispy at all. The sauce (there was too much of it) was predominantly sweet and only further made the rice more soggy. Lastly, we go our second specialty roll in the Baked Scallop. There was a mess of small scallops on top of the roll. And when I say mess, I mean literally. This was probably one of the few times where I will say there was too much scallop. Yes, it was a good value, but the considerable amount of scallops (which were a touch fishy) only served to degrade the eating enjoyment.

In the end, we were pretty full since we had ordered quite a bit of food for 2 people. At the same time, we were feeling "meh" about the eats. Nothing particularly inedible, but nothing was memorable. The food could be classified as serviceable for a decent price. The Korean lady that served us was very friendly and accommodating. I would say Hukuya fits into the group of the many Japanese (non-Japanese run, just FYI) restaurants that are acceptable in the GVRD.

The Good:
- Reasonable pricing
- Good portions
- Nice people

The Bad:
- Food is average

Hukuya Sushi on Urbanspoon

Pho TEN

At one point in time, there was little to no eating options along Steveston near Highway 99. I remember playing hockey at Richmond Ice and the only places we could hit up were Boston Pizza (*shudder*) or the bar upstairs. Now with the development of Ironwood, there have been more options added over the years. I have to say most of them have been less than impressive. Well, the fact that some of them are just standard chain restaurants didn't help too (Kesley's didn't survive here). So when I was reading up on where to eat around the area, I was drawn to Pho TEN. So many great reviews. I just had to see for myself.

And yes, I did go by myself, trying out 2 dishes and 2 more on a subsequent visit. The first visit, I had the Pho Dac Biet. The broth was light in flavour and colour. Although it was lacking depth, the broth was balanced though with equal amount of sweetness and savouriness. Yet, there was very little in the way of meat flavour nor the usual ingredients that go into the soup. There was a decent amount of noodles, which were not exactly chewy nor soggy. The meats were sliced thin and very tender. A decent, if not average, bowl of Pho. The Lemongrass Chicken Banh Mi was nicely plated and carefully constructed. There were chopped pieces of chicken combined with pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber, cilantro, a thin slice of pepper, black pepper and mayonaisse. The bun could've stood to be toasted a bit more, but it was not bad. The chicken was pretty flavourful with a good char on most pieces. It was slightly dry though. The amount of mayo was excessive where I got good gobs of it in several bites. Of note, it was actual mayo, not butter mayo usually found in a banh mi.

On a second visit, I started with the Salad Roll. This was a pretty basic roll consisting of shrimp, vermicelli, pork and sprouts. It was wrapped neatly where it wasn't too tight or loose. The rice wrapper had a nice chewy texture which was still moist. The dip had a good balance of hoisin and peanut sauce. One thing I would've liked to see was some basil in the roll itself. For my main, I went for the Lemongrass Chicken & Spring Roll on broken rice. The large piece of chicken was cooked perfectly where it was moist and juicy. I particularly liked that the fatty chicken skin was removed. I am personally not a big fan of unrendered chicken skin. I didn't get a whole lot of lemongrass flavour, yet the chicken was still tasty. I was slightly disappointed at the use of wheat wrappers for the spring rolls, but they were still decent nonetheless. The filling was flavourful and of the right consistency (not mushy nor chewy). So you know the expression, "it's all relative"? Well, that would be the case here that Pho TEn is relatively better than the other dining options in the area. I've had better Vietnamese (more authentic too), yet Pho TEN is more than acceptable for what and where it is.

The Good:
- Good service
- Clean and tidy
- Okay food

The Bad:
- Not the most authentic

Pho TEN on Urbanspoon

L'Artista

It seems like whenever we meet up with Italian Stallion and Wolvie, we go for pasta. Is it due to some subconscious decision on my part? After all, Italian Stallion is well... Italian! Maybe he legitimizes the meal for some reason? Not sure, but once again, here we were eating Italian food. And much like other times, we were at a place (L'Artista) on Hastings in North Burnaby. Not a difficult thing to do since there are so many Italian eateries in the area. We were lucky to score a last minute reservation on a Saturday. They were fully booked and we had a 1.5 hour window to eat. We really had no problem with the time limit since we were warned in advance when making the reservation. We were just happy to get a table.

We started out with a plate of Antipasto which was pretty standard and did the job. It was a pretty decent portion though. For our first dish, we had the Gnocchi with meat sauce. We thought the texture of the gnocchi was a good compromise between being dense and soft. The sauce was very mild with only a light tomato tang. It could've used a touch more seasoning. It did have a nice consistency though as it clung onto each gnocchi. When the Risotto Alla Toscana was presented at our table, we looked at it in a bit of confusion. If someone told us it was a vegetable rice medley, we would've believed them. In fact, it was a good vegetable rice medley with more ingredients than arborio rice. There was plenty of flavour from the Italian sausage and cheese. However, this was not really a risotto in our minds. It was far too wet and brothy.

To spice things up, we went for the Spaghetti All'Arrabbiata prepared with tomato sauce, garlic, capers, chili peppers & anchovies. I've had this many times before except with penne rather than spaghetti. The pasta was perfectly al dente with lots of chew. The sauce was hearty and tart, yet not really all that spicy. I guess this would be due to our personal preference of having it spicier. Lastly, we had a meat dish being the Veal Pompei consisting of lightly breaded veal, topped with ham, fresh sliced tomatoes and mozzarella, then baked in the oven. I wasn't a huge fan of this dish. In general, the whole thing lacked flavour and since there was so much sauce, the breading became soggy and slid off the veal. The veal was moist though. The plate itself was a large portion and the flavours were non-offensive. I can envision this doing really well on an early bird special. If you know what I mean... So it wasn't terrible, just not overly exciting or impactful.

"Non-offensive" would be the best way to describe pretty much all the food. The gnocchi and spaghetti were pretty decent while the risotto and veal could be polarizing. You either would like it or not. Considering the portions sizes and the fact we were able to use the Entertainment card for this meal, it was acceptable. One thing to keep in mind is the food at L'Artista cannot be compared to more modern Italian eateries in town. So if it is judged on its own merits, it is an okay option along Hastings street.

The Good:
- Portion size is pretty good
- Service is friendly
- If you have the Entertainment Book, the price becomes pretty inexpensive

The Bad:
- Some of the flavours are muted
- Food is okay, but not really all that interesting either

L'Artista Ristorante Italiano on Urbanspoon

Ali Shan

How I loathe thee Crystal Mall... For your circular parking lot with only one way in and out. For your pie shaped parking spots which only serve to confuse already confused drivers. For your narrow pathways leading to lower levels (with various scratch marks on the walls as evidence). I loathe thee enormously. However, you tempt me with your wares, in particular, good eats. Therefore, I can put up with the aforementioned challenges, including those who rush into the elevator before I can actually exit the darn thing. I can also put up with a door slammed in my face. And yes, I can even put up with the utter chaos in the marketplace (lineup anyone?).

Yes, on my quest to finally dine at all of the restaurants at Crystal Mall, it brought me to Ali Shan (incidentally located on the exterior of the mall on Willingdon). I had the option to park outside, but my Chineseness prevented me from putting coins into the meter. Therefore, I ran the gauntlet and parked in the circular lot. The things I do to save a buck... So with kiddies in tow, we weren't in the mood for any form of lineup. Naturally, there was one at Ali Shan which lasted about 30 minutes. Once seated, we quickly got down to ordering and started with the Chicken Nuggets. Originally, I had hoped that my daughter would nibble on some, but that was quickly quashed due to their spiciness. For me, I liked the spice and the hint of five spice powder as well. The nuggets were crisp and juicy in the middle.

Viv went for the Spicy Beef Wide Noodles, which as the name implies, had a good kick. The broth wasn't exactly meaty in flavour, yet it was plenty flavourful nonetheless. The wide noodles had a nice bite while the beef was tender albeit fatty. For myself, I went for another prototypical Taiwanese dish being the Chicken with Rice Noodle in Sesame Oil Hotpot. There was no mistaking the sesame oil in the broth. It was pretty strong while the broth was on the sweeter side, which I particularly liked. The thin noodles were on the softer side (which is pretty typical) while the good amount of chicken was tender and moist.

Lastly, we got a plate of the Seafood Fried Noodle, which was full of properly cooked seafood. The noodles were al dente and there was no absence of seasoning, yet the pool of water at the bottom was not appealing. What was even more unappealing was the long waits for service. The severs were clearly overextended and they did the best they could. However, they really must hire more people because it took forever for everything. Other than that, the food was both inexpensive and above-average. Moreover, my car suffered no dents while parked at Crystal Mall... Bonus!

The Good:
- Inexpensive
- Decent eats

The Bad:
- Overextended staff, long waits for everything
- Not the most spacious of setups

Ali Shan Restaurant 阿里山品味餐廳 on Urbanspoon

Fresh Restaurant and Lounge (Sheraton Guildford)

When one thinks of Sunday brunch, especially the buffet kind, Surrey doesn't normally come to mind. The usual Downtown hotels seem to be the most popular destinations. Well, that is pretty normal since we have several choices including the Pan Pacific, Hotel Vancouver, Sutton Place and Waterfront to choose from. Move into Burnaby and we have EBO at the Delta Burnaby and Metrotown Hilton. However, many may not know that the Sheraton Guildford offers up their Sunday Brunch at Fresh Restaurant. Since I live in the burbs myself and believe good food can be found outside of Vancouver proper, it was my duty to try this place out. Well, not really my duty, but it sounded a whole lot better than, "I heard of this place in Surrey and decided to try it...". *Yawn*.

So the whole family including the grandparents made our way across the soon-to-be-demolished Port Mann Bridge into Guildford. I foolishly parked on the street not knowing there was validated parking. So that is my public service announcement for everyone who intends to eat at Fresh. After we were seated, I attacked the spread with my camera. Yes, while everyone was getting food, I was getting photos. There was a decent selection of eats including various Salads: Mesclun Greens, Caesar Salad, Greek Salad, Crystal Noodle Salad with baby shrimp and peanut dressing, Potato Salad, Corn & Manitoba Rice Salad with white beans & basil pesto dressing, Field Tomato & Red Onion Salad with balsamic dressing and Spinach & Frisee Salad with stilton, walnuts & blueberry dressing. There was also the usual cold cut platter consisting of Roasted Tom Turkey, Black Forest Ham, Roast Beef and Genoa Salami. Honestly, I didn't pay much attention to this section.

What I really wanted to eat was the Seafood which included Green Lip Mussels with salsa fresca, Atlantic Red Crab, 3 types of Indian Candy, Oriental-style Salmon Gravlax, Absolut Vodka-cured Salmon Gravlax, Smoked Salmon and Peel & Eat Shrimp. Of all the items here, I liked the 2 types of gravlax. Although they were quite salty, I just enjoyed the different flavours. I really didn't like the crab as it was naturally the frozen variety. Hence the meat had a strange texture. Moving onto the Hot Food section, there was the usual Bacon & Sausages, a strange textured Scrambled Eggs (probably from a carton), Eggs Benedict, Xiao Long Bao, Haw Gow, Spring Rolls, Veggies and Roast Potatoes. There were 4 specific dishes in this section as well (which I will discuss later). As mentioned, the scrambled eggs were strange while the Eggs Benny was actually not bad. The eggs were poached beautifully runny while the thick Hollandaise was a bit too mild. It could've benefited from more lemon. The Dim Sum selection was most likely the frozen stuff where the filling of the Haw Gow (Shrimp Dumpling) was rubbery and loose. The dumpling skin was dry and thick. The XLBs were actually not too bad considering everything. The dumpling skin wasn't overly thick and the filling was moist. There was a modest amount of soup in the dumplings. It tasted mostly like the meat filling,

Now onto the "dishes" in the same section, I tried the Butter Poached Pollack with olive & sundried tomato ragout and basil polenta. As with most buffets, the fish was overcooked. I'll cut them some slack because it is a real challenge to keep fish moist in a buffet setting. The flavours were nice though, especially the olives since they provided a distinct saltiness to the dish. I love polenta. Unfortunately, the polenta in this dish was too gritty. Next up was the Tequilla & Lime Grilled Chicken with chipotle honey butter and Spanish Rice. This was actually a pretty good dish, due in part that chicken keeps pretty well in buffets (especially dark meat). I'm not sure if I tasted any Tequilla, but I definitely got a whiff of lime. When I lifted the cover off the Whiskey & Demerara Rubbed Top Round with Au Jus, I knew it wasn't going to be pretty. Pre-sliced roast beef sitting in a chaffing serving tray... says it all. I realize that to have a hand-carved roast would be more trouble and cost, however, the result of having the beef served this way was pretty much disastrous. The meat was really dry and chewy. Even the au jus, which was still had a bit of alcohol taste, couldn't save it.

The last hot entree was the Grilled Pork Medallions with herb spatzel and calvados jus. The pork had appealing grill marks which resulted in a nice charred flavour. Surprisingly, the pork wasn't dry. The sauce was flavourful and benefited from the lardons. As for the spatzel, it was fluffy and we thought it was done quite well. There was also an option to request a made-to-order omelet from the kitchen as well. The last section, naturally, was a table full of various Desserts. These included fresh fruit, several cakes, cheese and waffles. I sampled one of the cheesecakes as well as the strawberry shortcake. They were pretty standard and did the job. In fact, the buffet here at Fresh essentially did the job, no more, no less. Nothing really stood out nor did anything really stink either (well, except for the beef). Considering the price is south of $30.00 per person, it is definitely an option for those who don't want to travel all-the-way into Downtown for Sunday brunch.

The Good:
- Reasonably-priced
- Very good service
- Comfortable digs

The Bad:
- No freshly-carved roast

Fresh Restaurant and Lounge (Sheraton Guildford) on Urbanspoon

Pearl on Victoria

Not being able to play any sports due to my concussion has put a real damper in my life. I ain't getting any younger and each passing day is another lost opportunity to play. However, I made it a personal goal of mine to support both my hockey and softball teams even though I cannot play. I planned to attend each and every game until I got better. That is what a good teammate would do! Nah, who am I kidding? I just want to join them for eats after the game! The sporting activity is merely a 2 hour delay from munching on food... So that is what I did for a Friday night, I met up with the team after the game. Gordo asked if I had saw his nice goal. I sheepishly replied that I wasn't even there watching! LOL...

The food adventure brought us to Pearl on Victoria for some good ol' HK-style cafe action. Since it was an early game, we were able to get there before they closed (which is 10:00pm). Gordo decided that by merely eating one dish was not enough and started with the Crispy Egg Waffle. This one was a bit overdone with a very crispy exterior. Inside, it was a bit chewier than we would've liked, but in the end it did the job and it didn't suck. For his main he went for the Curry Beef Brisket on Rice. The curry was very flavourful, bordering on salty. It had a nice thick consistency with a nice kick. The ample amount of beef brisket was sufficiently tender. Apu wasn't very hungry and decided that some Curry Fish Balls were enough. The menu stated that there would be 6 pieces, yet as you can clearly see, there were 10. Not that he was complaining or anything, it was just more balls than he was expecting. And while I was trying to take a picture of his balls, he kept trying to play with them. I had to resort to yelling at him to stop playing with his balls! He did try to offer me one, but I was good. Besides, they were generic fish balls. However, the curry was the same as Gordo's dish and it did well in flavouring the balls.

For myself, I went for the 3 Item Combo consisting of Ox Tongue, Chicken Steak and Beef Steak in a black pepper sauce with spaghetti and mixed veg. Although the beef steak was small, it was thick and cooked to a perfect medium-rare. It was sufficiently tender and juicy. The chicken steak (essentially a deboned leg) was also cooked nicely being moist and juicy. As for the ox tongue, it was a bit on the softer side. I tried offering my tongue to everyone with no takers except for Emilicious. She took my soft tongue willingly. I tried again with Gadget Girl, but she merely replied with a glare. There was plenty of black pepper sauce which was flavourful while not all that peppery. I wasn't a huge fan of the spaghetti as it was the thick variety.

Gadget Girl, Milhouse and Emilicious ended up sharing 3 items. The first to arrive was the Preserved Duck Egg & Salted Pork Congee. It was thick and full of ingredients. There was just enough seasoning to add flavour without making the entire thing salty. The congee remained thick until the last drop. They also had the Satay Beef with Flat Rice Noodles which was quite flavourful with a touch of spice. The beef was tender while the noodles were al dented. Despite the appearance of too much sauce, it was the right amount for the bowl. Lastly, they had the Salted Fish & Chicken Fried Rice (which I forgot to take a picture of!). It was good with chewy nutty rice which was not greasy. There was plenty of flavour without being overly salty. The salted fish was in good sized chunks and was fairly soft. Despite holding up their closing time, the staff remained friendly and attentive. Considering there are no real competitors nearby, Pearl does a decent job for a HK-style cafe. Prices are good, food is acceptable and the service above average.

The Good:
- Reasonable prices
- Decent eats
- Good service

The Bad:
- Not a very big restaurant
- There is better, but not nearby and at that price

Pearl on Victoria 明珠茶餐廳 on Urbanspoon