Sherman's Food Adventures: January 2013

Pizzeria Barbarella

It has been a fast & furious year for Neapolitan-style pizza in Vancouver in 2012.  In addition to Novo, BiBo, Nicli Antica and Verace we saw the appearance of Farina, Famoso, Via Tevere and Barbarella.  I've tried them all and there are definitely ones that stand out.  One of them is Pizzeria Barbarella, operated by Terry Deane, who originally ran Ah-Beetz out in Abbotsford.  I had the good fortune of trying the place out before he sold it, so he could open up shop in Vancouver.  I was looking forward to its opening because I knew it would be good.  In a way, Terry helped introduce thin-crust high-heat cooked pizza to the Lower Mainland, albeit out in Abbotsford.  I was so excited that I went on opening night of Pizzeria Barbarella.  Nearly one year later, I thought it would be a good idea to see how they were doing.  In fact, we were a table of 12, half of them kiddies, since we had just done the Stanley Park Christmas Train.  A hungry and boisterous bunch!

With such a large group, we got 8 pizzas to share including one of the Amatriciana consisting of tomato, fior di latte, aged mozzarella, house cured and smoked pancetta, red onions, fresh garlic, chili flakes, parmigiano reggiano and extra virgin olive oil. Unlike last time, there were noticeable pieces of pancetta on top which added plenty of savouriness to the pizza.  There was some spice from the chili flakes and plenty of cheesiness as well.  The plethora of toppings did make the crust a bit softer than the rest of the pizzas.  With that being said, there was a good amount of leoparding which ensured a smoky-nuttiness. I thought the dough was adequately seasoned as well.  Hands-down, our favourite pizza was the Funghi (much like last time) with besciamella, fontina, oven roasted cremini mushrooms, parmigiano reggiano and white truffle oil.  Being less salty than last time, this was a tasty pizza.  Lots of Earthiness going around from the mushrooms and the drizzle of truffle oil.  With less moisture, the crust was significantly more crispy.  I liked how it was chewy enough, without being difficult to eat.

Our second favourite pizza was the Salsiccia consisting of tomato, fior di latte, aged mozzarella, house made fennel sausage, pickled peppers, basil, parmigiano reggiano and extra virgin olive oil.  We thought the fennel sausage and the peppers defined the flavour profile of the pizza.  The pickled peppers added a zing which really added to the mild-tasting tomato sauce.  The next pizza was the Diavola with tomato, fior di latte, aged mozzarella, spicy salami, nicoise olives and extra virgin olive oil.  It may of looked like a pepperoni pizza, but it certainly was not.  The spicy salami lived up to its namesake while the olives added another burst of flavour.  Last but not least, the classic Margherita arrived.  With plenty of fresh basil (added after the fact) and a beautifully baked crust, this was a solid pizza.  Considering that most of the ingredients are made in-house and the care that is put into each pizza, I would not hesitate to put Barbarella in the top-3 of thin crust pizzas in town.

The Good:
- Care put into every pizza
- Lots of the ingredients are house-made
- Spacious dining room

The Bad:
- Although spacious, the dining room is a bit stark
- Service was friendly, but had to ask for items more than a few times
- A little pricey, but worth it IMO

Pizzeria Barbarella on Urbanspoon

No. 1 Chinese Restaurant

*Restaurant is now closed*

Often, there are restaurants in the locations that just don't seem accessible.  Some are located off alleyways (such as Judas Goat and Salt), some are hidden in industrial complexes (such as Calypso and 2 Chefs) and some are prominent from street level, but most people just drive on by without stopping.  The location of our latest food adventure led us to the corner of Hastings and Boundary.  Yes, a busy intersection indeed, but not really a place one would usually stop for food.  This is especially true for the Northeast corner because it sits at the very far end of the Heights while not really in the heart of the Vancouver side of Hastings.  That is probably why the former European restaurant gave way to its current tenant - No. 1 Chinese Restaurant.  Now this post will consist of 2 parts.  Why?  Well, I had visited the place with my family first and was about to publish the post when I was ironically invited for dinner by the owner.  I applaud them for extending the invite even though I had already eaten there on my own dime.  So the first part will be my initial visit and the second will be the invited dinner.  Nice way to compare both experiences too.

At first, we were a bit confused with the decor because the Swiss-like country murals still adorned the walls.  Was it going to be Swiss-Chinese fusion?  That would certainly be interesting!  Nah, with many Asian restaurants, they put the money into the food rather than seemingly frivolous luxuries such as renovations.  Hey, it's a small family-run restaurant, I ain't complaining!  We decided to go for the "build-your-own-meal" which included a Pumpkin Seafood Soup to start.  It didn't sound that promising, but in the end it was not bad.  The starch-thicken broth was sweet, but not pumpkin pungent.  It featured properly prepared bits of seafood (shrimp and scallops) which added some nice snap texture to the silky soup.  When the weather is cold, hot pot dishes seem to hit the spot, so we got the Salted Fish, Chicken & Tofu Hot Pot.  This came out bubbling and chock full of stuff.  The tofu was soft and silky while the chicken was tender.  Although there was a lot of salted fish (the hard type), the flavour didn't penetrate into the sauce. However, the sauce was not exactly bland either. 

Next up was the Gai Lan with Beef.  This was a healthy portion where the gai lan was vibrant in colour with a nice bite.  The plethora of beef was probably sauced a tad too much, yet was easy to chew while not over-tenderized either.  For the kiddies, we got the Scrambled Eggs with Shrimp.  Much like any test of skill, scrambled eggs done correctly is difficult.  Now imagine making lots of it and in a high BTU wok pit.  Of course it involves a lot of babying including the addition of starch and oil (as well as seasonings).  This one was more or less a good attempt.  The eggs were fluffy and not too greasy.  The shrimp were large and exhibited a good snap.  Looking for something a bit different, we opted for the Sing Qua with Pork Cheek.  This was a mild dish with lots of textures including chewy pork cheek (in a good way), juicy sing qua as well as crunchy wood ear mushrooms, carrots and onions.  Lastly, we had a spicy dish in the Twice Cooked Pork Belly with cabbage.  I found the belly to be a decent compromise between moist and sufficiently cooked.  What I mean is that the belly was not chewy in a fatty kind of way, which is quite off-putting in my opinion.  The cabbage was crunchy while the sauce was somewhat spicy (we would've liked it hotter), but I can understand that the heat level was set for the mass appeal.

Okay, now for our second visit, we started off with the 4 Seasons Green Beans which were well-prepared.  As you can clearly see in the picture, there was a good level of wok heat which led to a caramelized colour and flavour (use of dark soy probably helped too).  Unlike many of versions of this dish, the pork was julienned rather than ground.  We liked this as we could actually pick it up with our chopsticks and eat it.  The spice level was
medium while we appreciated the lack of saltiness.  Next up was the Fish & Tofu Hot Pot.  Again, this was a well-portioned dish where the fish could've been sliced thicker because it ended up to be too crunchy.  However, the flavours were balanced between savoury and sweet (where it wasn't overly salty).  For this meal, we were able to order whatever we wanted, but it was suggested we try 2 of their very best dishes.  The first one was the Curry Brisket and Tendon.  I was skeptical about the suggestion, but after one sample, I understood why.  The rich curry was spicy with full-bodied flavour.  It was not a starch-thickened goop like most other Chinese restaurants.  With a hint of coconut milk and a big hit of curry, I wanted to eat more and more of it.  I found that the only thing that could be better was the brisket and tendon - they could've been slightly more soft.

On our last visit, my mom spied the table next to us and they were dining on the Lamb Hot Pot.  Well, there was no doubt we'd try it this time around.  Despite being one of their pricier items, it was a very large portion.  The flavours were again quite balanced with only a modest amount of gaminess.  Much like the previous dish, the only thing that could've been better was the tenderness of the lamb (sounds like some weird romance novel or Anthony Hopkins flick...). Last, but certainly not least, was the Golden Fried Silken Tofu.  This was another recommended dish and I was a bit puzzled.  Fried tofu?  Really?  Well, I ate my words as this was fantastic.  In fact, I'm going to add it to my Top 40 (well, now 41) things to eat in Vancouver.  The crispy breading on the outside was light and seasoned just enough where it caressed the perfectly cooked silken tofu (which was beautiful contrast).  I couldn't stop eating these.  This was a fine ending to 2 above-average meals.  For a small family-run restaurant, the food is good, well-portioned and reasonably-priced.  A fine addition to North Burnaby, where decent Chinese food is severely lacking.

*Note: This was an invited dinner where all food was comped*

The Good:
- Above average eats for this class of restaurant
- Reasonably-priced
- Large portions

The Bad:
- They put their money into the food, not necessarily the decor
- Location is a bit awkward, but they do have a parking lot at the back

No. 1 Chinese Restaurant 第一家菜館 on Urbanspoon

Dinner @ Bing Sheng

Over 3 years ago, we had tried Bing Sheng and had a great Dim Sum experience. Seeing that, we also checked out their dinner service. Yuk. That was not very good. Hence, we never went back, at least for dinner. Fast forward to the present and they have apparently changed chefs and revamped some of the menu. My parents were eying the dinner for 6 which regularly goes for $168.00. However, on a weeknight, it is only $138.00. Being the typical Asian people that we are, we couldn't resist. For a weeknight, the place was mostly full, so it appeared that their dinner service was heading in the right direction.

The first dish to arrive was the Crispy Milk with Spare Rib in Salad Dressing. Yes, fried milk. If you haven't had this before, think flour-thickened sweet milk which is battered and fried. It's sinfully good. The one here was, in fact, done right with a crispy exterior except the batter was pretty oily. The milk had a nice consistency and wasn't too sweet. As for the spare ribs (they were actually pork chops), they were prepared in nice sized pieces which could be easily eaten without a need for a knife. They were meaty, moist and really easy to chew (while still retaining a meat texture). I'm not normally a huge fan of mayo-based sauces, but this one wasn't too bad as there was just enough of it, but it was really sweet though. Up next was the Peking Duck (which came in 3 courses) much to my son's excitement. He absolutely loves crispy duck skin... Maybe he has some hope as a foodie after all... The skin had a beautiful roasted colour where it was crispy and light. The fat was nicely rendered (or removed) while the attached meat underneath was a bit dry. We loved how they didn't cheap out on the hoisin and gave us lots. I hate it when a restaurant gives a puny dish of hoisin that is gone after a few spoonfuls. The crepes were thin, soft and only a touch gummy.

The second course of the Peking Duck was the typical Lettuce Wrap. The properly sized diced veggies were crunchy with lots of duck nestled in between. The filling was on the milder side, but with plenty of hoisin, it wasn't a huge problem. We liked how they trimmed the lettuce into medium-sized cups which were easy to handle where it held a good amount of filling. Too many restaurants just merely hack it up and it is actually a chore to wrap the ingredients. Moving onto the third Peking Duck course, we had the Dried Fish Maw & Duck Soup. It consisted of dried fish maw, duck, flowering chives, wood ear mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms and bamboo shoots. There was quite a bit of duck, as well as bamboo shoots. Normally, that wouldn't be a problem, but the shoots could've been rinsed a bit longer because it became the predominant flavour. The soup was silky with the right consistency (just enough starch) and was bordering on being salty.

Arriving on a bed of wonton noodles, the Sauteed Fresh Lobster in Supreme Stock Sauce was perfectly cooked (fried that is). The meat was sweet and had a nice bounce texture to it. The noodles were al dente and helped soak up the mildly seasoned sauce. Since there was quite a bit of noodles, it would've been good if there was more sauce. Next was the Steamed Chicken with the usual grated ginger and green onion condiment. First off, we liked the overall appearance of the chicken as there was a sheen along with the pleasing colour. The skin looked "tight" and there was a layer of gelatin underneath. Since it was a free-range chicken, the meat was slightly chewy, yet still moist. Even without dipping it into the condiment, the chicken had enough seasoning to hold its own.

Moving along to our veggie dish was the Braised Baby Bak Choy with Shiitake Mushrooms. Despite the high probability of a watery outcome (since bak choy lets out a lot of moisture), the dish was surprisingly not (I realized the irony of tight and moisture in the same post...) The bak choy still had a crunch and due to the good wok heat, the pool of water at the bottom of the plate was kept to a minimum. Further helping the cause was a silky oyster-based sauce that was properly starch-thickened. On top of the bak choy were large tender and plump rehydrated shiitake mushrooms. Our last savoury dish was the Yeung Chow Fried Rice. This thing was loaded with lots of lean BBQ pork, plump cold water shrimp and egg. The rice was a touch soft, yet still retaining a slight chew. Although there wasn't a whole lot of salt added to the rice, it wasn't bland. We liked how it wasn't greasy either.

For dessert, we were accepting the fact the dreaded sweet red bean soup would be coming our way. To our utter surprise, that was not the case. In addition to a plate of cookies, we were each presented with a Steamed Egg Custard. Although it was on the watery side, the custard was still silky smooth and only semi-sweet. We would've liked to see a bigger ginger hit as the flavour of the custard was mostly one note. At the end of the meal, we were impressed to see that they had, in fact, improved their dinner service noticeably. Considering the reasonable pricing, Bing Sheng has now become another solid choice for dinner.

The Good:
- Reasonable pricing with all things considered
- Solid execution for this dinner

The Bad:
- Service can be hit and miss

Bing Sheng Restaurant 炳勝風味大酒家 on Urbanspoon

Chung's Fish n' Chips

*Restaurant is now closed*

A few months back, I was in Ladner and in search of quick eats.  Originally, I planned to grab a sandwich at Localz Urban Cafe, but something stopped me in my tracks.  No, it wasn't somebody cutting me off.  Remember, I was on the South side of the Fraser!  Rather, there was this new fish n' chip joint across the street.  Yes, I ogle new restaurants like a decked out import surrounded by models at SEMA.  But the darn place didn't have a name!  There was only a sandwich board advertising fish n' chips...  It's like the restaurant was naked!  *gasp*. Well, I took my chances and decided to give a go.  It turned out to be a good decision and I planned to visit it again in the near future.  Well, the near future came faster than a sperm donor.  I was contacted by the restaurant to return because they had put up real signage since my visit.

So I dragged the family down to quaint Ladner Village for some deep-fry action.  However, we didn't start with anything fried.  Rather, we had 2 each of the Salmon Tacos and Shrimp Tacos.  We liked how the tortillas were soft, yet thick enough to hold up to the wet ingredients.   The salmon was cooked just enough so it was still moist.  We liked how fresh the fish tasted.  As for the shrimp, they did not have the snap we were looking for and surmised that they might've been cooked too long. Next up was a good amount of Calamari served in a cone basket.  This was pretty good with crispy rings which were just tender enough.  It was not greasy.  The tzatziki was thick with a decent amount of cucumber and zing.  

For my main, I went for the Ling Cod and Halibut.  The first thing I noticed was that the batter didn't have the same zing as the previous visit.  However, it was still thin and crispy.  For all the fish n' chips I've tried, this has been one of the thinnest layers of batter I've seen.  Essentially, the is no batter hiding a small piece of fish.  And much like last time, the fish was fried beautifully including the halibut.  It was flaky and just barely cooked.  I found the fries to have more "body" as they were starchier.  Previously, they were airy and light, which isn't exactly a bad thing, but I just didn't think it went with the fish very well.  As for the tartar sauce, it was good being a combination of creamy and tart.  The coleslaw was okay with a noticeable fresh crunch, but I would've personally preferred more acidity.  Viv went for the Salmon & Chips which can be really tricky to prepare.  Salmon is fantastic when cooked right, but a disaster when overdone.  In this case, they nailed it as it was flaky and still full of moisture.  Combined with the same crispy thin batter, it was a winner.

My daughter had the Kid's Fish n' Chips which featured a large piece of cod.  This was more than enough for a child in my opinion.  And guess what my son had in a fish n' chip joint???  Chicken Strips of course!  Well, they were chicken strips... He ate them and heck, I wasn't going to complain.  So this was a successful revisit to a place many people wouldn't even know about.  I say, get to know it because the fish n' chips are good.

The Good:
- Thin, light batter
- Fish is fresh
- Service is friendly

The Bad:
- Super small place, you might be tableless
- The shrimp could be better

Dishcrawl Vancouver (Gastown)

I remember a time when one wanted to visit more than one restaurant a day would required going out for breakfast, lunch, dinner and possibly dessert.  Yes, that would be a quite an undertaking and an expensive one at that.  However, in the past few years, the food tour industry has experienced a boom of sorts with many to choose from.  There are a wide range of tours that cost upwards of a few hundred dollars and as low as under $30.00.  Depending on your expectations, each and every one has something to offer.  However, with anything, the more you pay, the more likely there will be better food and possibly higher-end restaurants.  Recently, I was invited to give Dishcrawl a go with their 4-restaurant tour for $60.00.  At this price, Dishcrawls falls into the "in-between" category of food tours in the city.  Personally, I believe this is a reasonable price whereas anything over $100.00 begins to overlap into the fine-dining tasting menu options.

Unlike some of the other food tours, the Dishcrawl lineup of restaurants were kept secret up until a few days before.  I was notified to meetup at Catch 122 as the starting point of the tour.  Joining me on this food adventure were Diana and Janice.  Our first course consisted of Chicken Chicken Cordon Bleu, Portobello Wild Mushroom Risotto & Beef Bourguignon. Although it looked pale and lifeless, the chicken was actually quite juicy and flavourful.  The saltiness of the bacon (substituting for ham) penetrated into the meat.  Rather than Swiss, there was a blue cheese cream sauce which was subtle, yet effective.  I found the risotto to be inconsistent where some grains of rice were perfect while some were overcooked.  However, cooking such a large batch of risotto can be tough.  So I'll cut them some slack.  It was creamy, thick and Earthy though.  As for the Bourguignon, it was rich with a noticeable red wine flavour which was not sharp nor bitter.  The beef was moist while all the other components were texturally on point.  This was a good start to our crawl.  After about 45 minutes, we left for our next stop which was Terracotta Modern Chinese Cuisine.  There, we were served a Veggie Spring Roll, Crispy Fried Beans & Prawn Wonton Soup. Although the spring roll was crispy with a boatload of crisp veggies, it was really greasy.  Too bad really because it tasted quite good with the essence of sweet vegetables.  The tempura beans were indeed crunchy, yet were curiously bland.  As for the wonton soup, it was pretty good.  The prawns in the wontons had a good snap while exhibiting a natural sweetness.  The soup was a tad salty, but wasn't a deal-breaker.
Moving onto our next stop, Brioche, we were welcomed by the owner, Eduardo.  In terms of quantity, Brioche had the largest plate of food consisting of Tortellini with Salsciccia, Pesto Penne with Seafood and Fusilli with Wild Porcini Mushroom Sauce. The tortellini was slightly soft while the sausage afforded some spice and lots of meatiness to the dish.  The sauce was creamy and clung to each tortellini nicely.  The pesto penne was alright, but I didn't get much in the way of herbiness nor seafood as the flavours were flat.  On the other hand, the fusilli had a noticeable hit of flavour, in a salty kind of way.  Even with that, the mushrooms were there and I could certainly taste them.  There was just the right amount of creamy sauce to coat the pasta.  This plate of pasta could've been enough for dinner if you weren't a big eater.

Our last restaurant was somewhat of a surprise as I would've never expected Nuba to be our dessert stop.  We were presented with 3 items including Rosemary Mascarpone Mousse, Chocolate Quinoa Cake & Pistachio Mamoul. Right off the bat, I went for the quinoa cake first as it was gluten-free.  I'm always curious how these things turn out and surprisingly, it rocked.  There was a slight crunch with a soft and chocolaty middle.  It was warm and semi-sweet.  I found the marscapone mousse to be smooth and only slightly sweet while the mamoul was not my cup of tea.  It was quite sweet while the texture was dry and crumbly.  The texture didn't really bother me but the sweetness did.  At the end, I was full and satisfied with the Dishcrawl.  I personally think it is more of a social event that has food to go with it.  So to judge it solely on the eats would be nonrepresentational.  If we look at it as a complete event, I think $60.00 is fair.

The Good:
- Reasonable pricing
- Novelty effect
- If you like socializing

The Bad:
- A bit rushed at times, but not that bad compared to other food tours
- Don't expect the food to be completely representational, it's a sampling social event after all

Dinner @ Come Along

Blueberry picking?!?!? In 30 degree weather? Is she nuts (yes, this was in the Summer)? Yup, that was Viv's plan for the day. Thank goodness she relented and took a rain cheque. After an afternoon of sweltering heat at Vandelay's son's birthday at Go Bananas, we were ready to enjoyed the benefits of A/C. Apparently, the A/C failed on the hottest day of the year at Go Bananas. Wonderful. I hope he got a discount of some sort. Now Viv is a persistent person. She still wanted to go blueberry picking the very next day. Fortunately, it was not as hot, but the threat of showers didn't phase her. So despite protests from Costanza and myself, we dragged both families out to save 50 cents on the pound by picking our own berries. Well, it wasn't that bad... Except for the rain, spider webs and bugs. After that, we were famished. So famished, we decided to go for something close by. In fact, one of my favourite restaurants. Well, not in terms of food, but for the name - Come Along. Oh I have been chomping at the bit to try their dinner service and to write my post too!

So Costanza was fixated on the Crispy Milk while looking at the menu (which had pictures for all the dishes). These were crispy and light, while not being overly greasy. The custard filling was not too dense, yet it wasn't as smooth as I would've liked. It was only semi-sweet which worked fine since there was a side of granulated sugar on the plate. Next up was the first course of the Peking Duck (which was on special for $23.00). From visuals alone, the duck skin had a rich colour and looked crispy. And yes, it was crispy without being hard and the fat was mostly removed. Although thin and easy to separate, the crepes were a touch dry. This was a surprisingly good attempt. Looking back at our meal at Top Cantonese, their Peking Duck pales (literally and figuratively) in comparison.

The second course, the Duck Lettuce Wrap, was also very good. The veggies were still crunchy while there was a good amount of moist duck meat. Combining for an appetizing colour was the use of dark soy and good wok heat. This in turn also produced good depth of flavour. Although I am not a huge fan of mayo (must... resist... making... inappropriate... joke...) in any of my Chinese food, I generally make an exception for the Honey Mayo Prawns and Walnuts. When it first arrived at our table, something didn't look right. They forgot to plate the walnuts! This was quickly corrected but the walnuts were a bit stale. Texturally they were fine, as well as the sweet glaze, however, the nuts themselves were stale. On the other hand, the prawns were large and crunchy. The batter was laid on a bit too heavy as it became gummy. There was just enough sweet mayo to coat each piece.

Originally, we were determined to order the Peking Pork Chops (a lot of meat, we like that...). However, we spotted the Sweet & Sour Pork at the table beside us (who were not Asian which doesn't really mean anything, but stay with me here). It was a really large portion and the nuclear red tinge was especially attractive. So we went ahead and changed out minds. When it was presented at our table, it looked noticeably smaller (it was still a good size though). Was there different sizes for Asians and non-Asians??? LOL... Hey, we love Sweet & Sour Pork too!!! Sadly, the pork looked better than it chewed because it was kinda tough. They had obviously refried it and it got dry (many restaurants pre-fry their pork so that it would take less time to prepare later). Dry pork aside, the sauce was balanced (between sweet, sour and savoury) and there was just enough of it. We also liked the addition of sweet canned lychees.

Another classic item we got was the Gai Lan with Beef. The gai lan was vibrant in colour and crunchy texturally. The slices of beef were tenderized properly being tender while still retaining a meatiness. The liberal use of ginger was nice as it helped somewhat alleviate the saltiness (and greasiness) of the dish. For the kiddies, we got the Yee Mein which are egg noodles that have been deep-fried then rehydrated. We got the classic dry wok fried version with shiitake mushrooms. The noodles were done nicely where they were still chewy with an elastic quality. Again, there was enough wok heat in combination with dark soy for a pleasing colour and flavour. There were lots of mushrooms which added both texture and another layer of taste. Lastly, for dessert, we didn't get the red bean soup (thank goodness), rather, it was the Tapioca & Pumpkin Soup. Nothing particularly great about it other than it wasn't red bean! Hmmm... I made it through a whole post on Come Along without cracking a joke... Until now... Costanza remarked that that, "If we go down next time, we should go down together" in reference to the States. But that only brought chuckles and smiles... Thank you Come Along.

The Good:
- Good Portions
- Decent eats
- Fairly reasonable pricing

The Bad:
- Although service was not bad, there were not enough servers
- A bit greasy (more than average for a Chinese restaurant)

Come Along Seafood Restaurant 金龍船海鮮酒家 on Urbanspoon

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