Sherman's Food Adventures: April 2013


Normally, you'd find me bringing out the whole family when dining at a hotel restaurant.  Think of it - safe food in a generally kid-friendly environment (assuming it's not a boutique hotel or something).  However, this time around, it was going to be the boys meeting up for lunch at Mosaic in the Hyatt Regency. Snake thought it would be a good idea to meet up for the first time since Vegas just to hang out. Good thing too, it would probably be less expensive...  Actually, I've been to Mosaic before, prior to blogging, and it was a pretty typical hotel restaurant experience - no surprises.  Since then, they have reno'd and the dining space has a nice modern feel to it and lots of natural light from the big windows.

We started off with some biscuits and they certainly looked better than they ate.  They were far too dense for our liking.  But whatever, that was the complimentary bread, not really a big deal.  As usual, I couldn't resist ordering only one thing, so I started with the Seafood Chowder. I found it thick, yet floury thick rather than creamy.  It was mild with only a hint of the sea.  The fish was flaky and moist while the veggies were not mushy despite being diced into little bits.  For my main, I went for the Seared Haida Gwaii Albacore Tuna Sandwich. As evidenced in the picture, the tuna barely kissed the grill.  That was perfect in my opinion as the natural texture and taste of the fish was not compromised.  Combined with the crunch from the arugula, lemon aioli and the soft ciabatta, this was well executed.

Costanza actually shared half of his Club House for the other half of my sandwich.  Not a bad trade (even though mine cost more!) since it was a well-made sandwich.  The toast was done right, bacon was crispy and the turkey was real meat while the rest of the ingredients were fresh.  The accompanying fries were decent being crispy and lacking that generic feel to them.  Chill had the Thai Fry consisting of long beans, peanuts, garlic, chilis and ground pork atop coconut basmati rice.  This was actually not bad for a non-Asian restaurant.  The beans were still crisp and the meat was moist while there was noticeable heat to the dish.

Continuing on with the Asian theme, Snake had the Curry Bowl with chicken. He found the chicken to a bit dry while the flavours were mild and the sauce thin.  Despite this, it wasn't as if the dish wasn't decent.  Pretty typical curry from a non-Indian joint.  And naturally, the naan wasn't really traditional naan (but we weren't expecting it to be).  Lastly, Vandelay tried the Fish & Chips featuring ling cod in a Granville Island pale ale batter served with spicy remoulade. He found the batter to be thick while the fish was slightly dry.  He thought a traditional tartar sauce would've been better than the remoulade.  Well, there you have it, a meal with some typical lunch items mixed in with some surprises.  Not bad, and in the end, Mosaic offered up a decent alternative to the chain restaurants nearby.

The Good:
- Classy and comfortable dining space
- Attentive service
- Okay pricing considering location and class of restaurant

The Bad:
- As with any meal, pick the right dish and it'll be good, pick the wrong one and it is not as good

Mosaic Bar & Grille on Urbanspoon

Burnaby Empty Bowls Fundraiser 2013

Recently, I was invited to attend the Burnaby Empty Bowls Fundraiser at the Metrotown Hilton. It is an biennial gala which helps raise funds support local programs for children, youth, and families in Burnaby that provides nutritious food and helps build skills that encourage healthy lifestyles.
The Empty Bowls Project was originally launched in 1999 by Burnaby’s Food First Committee, a coalition of social service agencies and volunteers, to raise awareness of the existence of hunger and poverty in Burnaby. Participating vendors included The Pear Tree, EBO, The Hart House, Metrotown Hilton, Valley Bakery, Chez Christophe and the Burnaby School District's Ace-It Culinary Program.

After we picked up our unique hand-made ceramic bowls, Viv and I headed off to the Pear Tree first where Chef Scott Jaeger and Stephanie Jaeger were plating the Ham Hock Terraine with pickled vegetables and mustard aioli.  In typical Scott Jaeger fashion, the dish was intricately plated and pretty to look at.  The narrow slice of terraine was topped with mushrooms and pickles resting on a an impactful mustard aioli.  The saltiness of the hock was balanced by the sweetness of the aioli and the other components.  The accompanying Spring Pea Soup was surprisingly light and refreshing.  Naturally sweet, it went down easy.

Next up was the Slow Cooked Lamb Chop with black truffle, mint and Dijon from EBO at the Delta Burnaby Hotel.  This was our favourite offering of the event.  Apparently we weren't alone with this sentiment as they had the longest lineup throughout the night.  The lamb was super tender and practically fell of the bone.  It was cooked medium-rare and had just enough natural flavour. The sauce was understated yet flavourful while the Dijon added a mild acidity. We also got a sample of their famous Roti Canai with red curry and it was freshly made being crispy on the outside while light and slightly chewy on the inside.

The students of the Burnaby School District's ACE-It Culinary Program offered up 2 dishes.  The Duck Confit Ragout in choux pastry was fairly moist but the flavour profile was a bit too tart.  We did like the big chunks of plump mushrooms though.  The side of blueberries was a good accompaniment, but they were far too cold.  As for the Macadamia Encrusted Cod Filet and Seared Scallop on a bed of orzo risotto, each item was slightly overdone while the orzo was too watery. The scallop was a bit rubbery as well.  But props to them for a well-made dish considering the other heavyweights in the room.

 Over at The Hart House table, Chef Alana Peckham offered up Nori-Wrapped Albacore Tuna with cucumber, daikon, sweet shoyu aioli and bonito flakes. We liked the individual components as they were fresh and crisp.  But together, the tuna got lost.  Admittedly, this was probably the lightest dish at the event, so it was a nice break from the rich offerings.  In terms of the Chilled Melon Gazpacho with honey dew, cucumber, jalepeni, cilantro and lime, it was interesting, but not our favourite.

At the Metrotown Hilton table, the Harissa Rubbed Beef Tenderloin with red quinoa fathoush salad was prepared beautifully with a spicy bark on the outside while being medium-rare on the inside.  It was soft and so easy to eat.  We loved the crunchy quinoa salad underneath as it provided texture and brightness.  The accompanying Low Fat Avocado and Blueberry Laban was smooth and delicious. For dessert, the Valley Bakery offered up a delightful Pavlova.  The meringue was airy and light.  As a dessert, it was not overly sweet.

Lastly, we go to sample treats from Chez Christophe. The Mini-Macarons were really nicely executed with a light exterior shell giving way to a soft chewiness.  Flavours were apparent while not tasting artificial.  The Chocolates were quite good too with a dark bitterness while melting into silkiness in our mouths.  This little sample made me want to visit his store ASAP (which I did).  This was a fine finish to a great event that supports worthy causes.

Pho Chung Nam

Whenever we return from any trip out of Vancouver, big or small, we crave Chinese food.  Fresh off a particularly uninspiring Dim Sum experience at Noble Court in Bellevue, we were in need of some food therapy.  Of course venturing into Richmond was on the table because it would be on our way home, but in the end, we decided to avoid the traffic and head into New West instead.  New West???  For Chinese food?  Are you mad?  Well yes and apparently our destination, Pho Chung Nam, decided to take Chinese food off the menu completely.  Apparently, that didn't only catch us off guard, all the other patrons seemed confused as well.  I think they better change their signage ASAP.

Fine, I guess we were eating Vietnamese food, even though we had it recently.  We really didn't want to go somewhere else.  So we started with the Spring Rolls, even though we really didn't order it. Apparently there are 2 items on the menu with the same number.  Whatever, more food to eat right?  Well, these were the wheat wrapper variety, which were crispy and served hot.  There was a noticeable sweet onion hit, but there was a too high of a veggie-to-meat ratio.  Next up was the Banh Mi Dac Biet.  The bread was crunchy but rather dense.  There was pate, but it was barely distinguishable.  Furthermore, there was an absence of a salty kick from fish sauce and/or Maggi.

Onto something that we were bound to order - the Pho Dac Biet.  The broth was clean but with an overly sweet slant.  Despite the obvious overuse of MSG, it exhibited very little depth.  The meats were okay, but the portion was rather small.  For the kiddies, we got them a Pho Ga and man was it full of MSG.  The broth was super flavourful which could only mean one thing...  Being the free-range variety, the chicken was very chewy, hence the kids avoided it.  The meatballs were good though.  In the end, this was not a good version of Pho Ga.  Lastly, we tried the Lemongrass Chicken, Grilled Vietnamese Ham and Fried Egg on Rice.  The rice itself was a bit too dry while the nicely fried egg did help somewhat.  We liked the chicken though as it was flavourful and charred nicely, as with the pork.  This was a decent end to a so-so meal.  Nothing particularly bad, but nothing really that stood out either.  Consider it an average Vietnamese restaurant.

The Good:
- Staff are pretty friendly
- Prices are okay

The Bad:
- Food is so-so
- Too much MSG

Pho Chung Nam on Urbanspoon

Noble Court

In my previous Bellevue Dim Sum posts, I've mentioned Noble Court on more than one occasion.  Why?  Well, it was one of the first Chinese restaurants in Bellevue that served Dim Sum.  Oh how times have changed, where there are better choices nearby and in Seattle itself.  But how can we know the present and the future if we don't know the past?  Yes, a visit to Noble Court was in order.  On the day of our departure, we hit it up early on a Sunday morning, which ensured us a table without the wait.  And as such, the push carts descended on our table like a moth to a flame.  My kids were wondering why our table was full of food so quickly (as they have grown accustomed to ordering food rather than push carts).

We started with the Lo Mei Gai (Sticky Rice wrapped in lotus leaves) as the kids were demanding it.  This was okay with slightly dry rice with a good amount of ground pork filling.  It could've stood for a bit more seasoning though.  We got another kiddie favourite in the Wu Gok (Fried Taro Dumplings).  Again, this was okay as the exterior was crispy and not too greasy while the layer of mashed taro was the right thickness and smooth.  The filling was essentially the same as the lo mei gai, which meant it was dry and a bit bland.  Okay, if you are familiar with Dim Sum, the one dish that can define a restaurant is the Shrimp Dumpling or Haw Gow.  Well, if this was the defining moment of our meal, then our meal was as good as the Lindsay Lohan's career.  These dumplings were terrible.  The shrimp filling was mushy and not very appealing.  Furthermore, there was a general lack of flavour while the dumpling skin was doughy.  One of the worst versions I've had in a long time (and this is taking into account we were in Bellevue).

Fortunately, the Sui Mai (another standard of any Dim Sum service) was better.  It was mostly comprised of pork with some small bits of shrimp and shiitake mushroom.  There was a bounce texture while the flavours were mostly sweet. On the topic of Dim Sum standards, the discussion must include the Shrimp Rice Noodle Roll as well (or some variation).  This particular one was thick, yet soft (possibly too soft) at the same time.  Once again, the shrimp (much like the haw gow) was limp and mushy with no snap.  It was on the bland side as well.  Naturally, Dim Sum would not be complete without an order of offal, so I got the Bible Tripe.  It was pretty standard with a good gingery, green onion hit while the tripe itself was pleasantly chewy.  There was on gaminess which meant it was rinsed properly.

Moving along, we had the Black Bean Spareribs, which had a relatively good bounce texture.  It was on the chewier side, but okay nonetheless.  In terms of flavour, it was porky with little else (even though we could clearly see the black bean).  One dish we could've really done without (in addition to the crappy haw gow) was the BBQ Pork Buns. There was nothing particularly wrong with the bun itself as it was soft and fluffy, but the filling was terrible.  It was quite sour and off-putting.  We realize that the filling can taste a bit tart sometimes, but this tasted like it had gone bad.  We didn't end up eating much of it at all.

Nearing the end, we decided to try their Preserved Egg & Salted Pork Congee.  It was rather smooth and semi-thick, however, it looked like it had been put through a food processor.  Therefore the texture was a little weird.  Furthermore, there was a general lack of flavour, which was partially due to the lack of ingredients. For dessert, we went for the Egg Tarts which were quite good.  The pastry was flaky and light while the filling was semi-sweet.  This helped erase the bad taste in our mouths from the sub-par dishes we had prior.  Not sure how they can really compete with better joints such as Top Gun and Joi's nearby...

The Good:
- Decent variety
- Large dining room

The Bad:
- Overall sub-par Dim Sum
- Not enough servers

Sushi Maru

*Location is permanently closed*

Having ate a late lunch including a pit stop at Full Tilt for ice cream, we were not exactly hungry for dinner.  So we went shopping instead...  to the delight of our kids.  Not.  If you ever want to hear whining and complaining, just take a couple of tired kids to Wal-Mart.  I dare you.  After that, we were in search of late night eats in Bellevue.  That brought us to Sushi Maru.  Similar to Sushi Land, they employ a conveyor belt of food categorized by colored plates which determine the pricing.  I must admit, this is a novel and fun way of eating.  The kids were sure impressed, watching the food go round and round.  They couldn't keep their hands off the chocolate-covered strawberries and cake. Yah, we finally did give in at the end...

One of the first plates we grabbed was the Rainbow Roll.  Naturally, we weren't expecting much out of a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant, but the roll was okay.  The rice was kinda dry and lacking in flavour, but the fish was actually decent, as with the avocado.  Next up was a Grilled Red Snapper which was actually quite good.  The fish had a nice exterior crust while the inside was flaky and moist. Majestically plated, we had no idea what it was, but my best guess would be the Las Vegas Roll.  Essentially a Cali roll with cooked salmon on top with a mayonnaise dressing and tobiko.  This was not bad, considering it was only $3.65.

Moving along (literally as the food was actually moving along!), we had a Fried Roll of some sort.  I really couldn't decipher what it was because it didn't match any of the photos in the menu.  It was kinda ugly and disfigured.  It ate much like it looked being dry and hard, rather than crunchy and soft.  Something of an oddity was the Popcorn Chicken.  Resembling more like deformed chicken nuggets or small chicken strips, these were super crunchy and curiously topped with ranch dressing.  The white meat was relatively moist inside. Weird, but I give them props for making them from scratch.  As a side note, they used it for their Orange Chicken too (yah, don't laugh...).

We also tried some Nigiri Sushi and it was acceptable.  Yes it had the same dry flavourless rice, but the fish was okay.  For the kiddies, we got a plate of Fried Rice and it was surprisingly decent.  It was seasoned just enough and it experienced good wok heat.  Sadly, with all the options moving about, the kids were eying the Chocolate Mousse Cake the whole time.  We finally gave in to the pre-made slice.  Hey, it was fine considering it cost only $2.65. Okay, for those who are Japanese food aficionados, I'm sure you are reading this in horror right now.  However, Sushi Maru serves their target market (which is not you) for a reasonable price.

The Good:
- Lots of choice
- Reasonably-priced 
- Novelty factor

The Bad:
- Pretty average
- Pretty busy which means hard to flag someone down (they're friendly though)

Full Tilt

I remember a time when I could stroll up to the arcade and play games like Dig Dug, Galaga, Pac Man and the sort.  Well, there are certainly a number of game emulators out there and little gadgets that turn your iPad into a mini-arcade game.  But what if one could walk into a store and play the games in their full glory at 25 cents?  Also, what if there was house-made ice cream as well as fresh waffle cones?  Sounds too good to be true right?  Well, welcome to Full Tilt - where fresh ice cream and old school arcade meet.  Oh, throw in some comics and Magic cards too...

After our lunch at Luna Park, we decided to hit up Full Tilt on the suggestion of Scout and Lola.  For me, it was all about the waffle cone since the smell was intoxicating.  I decided to fill that cone with a scoop of Salted Caramel. I found it to be rich and creamy with very little air whipped in.  There was a definite hit of salt that really amped up the sweetness.  As for the waffle cone, it was crunchy and sweet.  Scout ended up with the Raspberry Sorbet (so as my daughter) and it was light and just sweet enough.  It wasn't icy.

Lastly, Lola had something a bit off the beaten path being the Horchata ice cream.  If you haven't heard of this before, it is a Mexican drink consisting of rice milk and cinnamon.  I found this one to be light on the cinnamon, but good nonetheless as it shared the same qualities as the one I had.  Overall, it was a fun experience as it brought back some good memories in terms of the ol' skool video games and Magic too (ack...  can't believe I admitted to that!).

The Good:
- Lotsa ol' skool games for a quarter
- Decent house-made ice cream
- Reasonably-priced

The Bad:
- Limited flavours (which would mean freshness though)
- Limited seating

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