Sherman's Food Adventures: May 2013

Mega Donair

When a hidden gem never makes it past being "hidden", often it ends up closing.  That's what happened to my favourite place for freshly fried falafels...  Ben Laila didn't last very long, but in its short existence, there was a loyal following.  Now, rising from the ashes, Mega Donair has set up shop. For me, many of the donair joints in town are roughly the same, offering the same items at the same reasonable prices.  But there is something that sets Mega Donair apart - they make their own Pita Bread to order.  That's right, much like fresh pizza dough, they flatten it out and grill it on the flat top when you order.  You can't get anymore fresher than that.

That wonderful chewy bread went with my Combo Plate consisting of lamb and chicken. It included a salad, humus and rice.  There was an option to supersize it, but the regular size was more than enough food.  The humus was smooth and complimented the fresh bread.  I found the lamb moist while the chicken a touch dry, yet was somewhat alleviated by the good amount of garlicky tzatziki.  I got a Beef Donair as well since the place is named Mega Donair.  Well, it was certainly large in size with plenty of tender meat and fresh ingredients.  Again, the fresh bread really made the difference as it did not have that "stale" quality like the packaged stuff.

Lastly, I got a few Falafels just for the heck of it (since the last place had the best falafels). They were fried fresh which ensured their crunchiness.  However, I found them rather dense and lacking in flavour.  The dousing of sauces helped in that regard though. Whatever the case, the fact they make their bread to order is a real plus.  I hope this place survives longer than the last one.

The Good:
- Fresh, made-to-order bread
- Good portions
- Nice people

The Bad:
- If it matters, food takes a bit longer due to the freshly-made bread (worth it IMO)

Mega Donair on Urbanspoon

Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh???  Hasn't this joint been blogged about by a gazillion people???  Well not that many, but you get the idea.  No, Phnom Penh is not exactly a hidden gem anymore. Go back 15 years and include their long gone Broadway location, it was a somewhat hidden gem then.  I remember Rich Guy and I would go there all the time for their Luc Lac Beef and Chicken Wings.  Heck, we still do that.  Things just don't change, except for our age.  Yikes!  Well, seeing how I haven't blogged about the place in nearly 5 years, we decided to hit up the place after Monday night softball. 

Okay, let's cut to the chase.  We were here mainly for their famous Fried Chicken Wings.  These crispy pieces of joy were wok tossed with onions, garlic, chilies, pepper, MSG and salt.  Served on the side was the necessary and highly effective lemon white pepper dip. Another one of their most popular dishes is the Butter Beef.  Now personally, I find it not bad, but not exactly outstanding either.  The reason for this is the beef itself.  I find it overly chewy for a nearly rare application.  However, the seasoning rocked in my opinion.  It was a good combination of salty, sweet, tart and herbal (from the cilantro).  On the other hand, I found that there was just a touch too much of it on the plate, but I can see cilantro lovers disagreeing with me.

We had another classic item being the Dry Noodles.  It consisted of flat egg noodles with shrimp, ground pork, pork slices, liver, dried shrimp, fried onions, cilantro and green onions bathed in a sweet and salty soy concoction.  Mixed together, all the different textures and flavours created a symphony in my mouth.  Yes, other places offer the same dish, but Phnom Penh does it best.  Going off the board, we decided to give the Fried Rice Cake (Bot Chien) a try.  This was a simple stir-fry of fried rice cake cubes, egg and green onion.  Naturally, the rice cake cubes were dense, but they had a pleasant chew.  The side of sweet chili soy added the necessary flavour as the dish itself was quite mild.

Back to the the classics, we had the Oyster Pancake.  It had a nice exterior crispiness which gave way to a starchy "oystery" (I realize that is not a word...) interior.  This was a good dish, but paled in comparison to one of their most popular items (chicken wings withstanding) being the Luc Lac Beef (or Filet of Beef with fried egg).  Just something about the way they prepare it, it just works.  From the tender slices of beef to the rich, flavourful sauce, I could eat this over and over again (wait, I do!).  And really, we were happy to do a return visit.  Sure, some people may not get why this is one of the most popular restaurants in Vancouver.  But we do.

The Good:
- Chicken wings!
- Relatively inexpensive considering everything
- Lots of choice

The Bad:
- Service is okay, but not stellar either
- Pick the favourites, other dishes are pretty average
- Super busy

Phnom Penh ้‡‘้‚Šๅฐ้คจ on Urbanspoon

Collaboration Long Table Dinner @ Pumphouse

If my memory serves me correctly, the Pumphouse Pub in Richmond has never been known for its food.  It was an ol' skool pub serving its faithful patrons booze with some food on the side.  Therefore, I've never been inclined to stop and go eat there.  It's like that ugly Hawaiian shirt in your closet that exists, but is never worn.  Hey!  I don't have any Hawaiian shirts...  Okay fine I do.  Don't judge me.  Anyways, I recently got an invite to check out the renovated Pumphouse (now part of the Kooner Hospitality Group) that aims to offer more than the usual pub experience. In fact, it was for their Collaboration Long Table Dinner featuring Master Sushi Chef Shunji Yamamoto from Guu and Chef Daniela Iaci - yes something completely unexpected for a pub.  And naturally, a craft beer pairing for each of the 5 courses as well.

Not noted as a heavy drinker, Mijune joined me on this food adventure anyways (yes, she's a cheap drunk).  We started with the Portobello & Oyster Mushroom Tempura with an Italian spicy roasted tomato sauce and a yuzu citrus ponzu aioli. Possibly due to not being served immediately, the portobello mushroom was not crispy.  As for the sauces, both were good with the aioli being fresh and light while the tomato having a rich full-bodied flavour with a spicy finish.  This was paired with an Elysian Savant IPA which helped cut the grease.  Next was the Korean-Style Spicy Beef Tartare with arugula salad and horseradish creme fraiche topped with onions and capers. The beef was aesthetically-pleasing while being tender and buttery.  The kimichi spices were a bit of a surprise, but worked offering up a good spice level.  This was paired with an Elysian Superfuzz Blood Orange Pale Ale which was fruity and light.  Not sure if this was the best choice for this dish, but I liked it nonetheless.

Moving along, we were curious with the Mac-n-Motoyaki consisting of roasted kabocha pumpkin puree with motoyaki sauce, sauteed shrimp and cauliflower. This was actually a pretty good combination of flavours.  The motoyaki was greasy (but then it should be) and rich and went well with the snappy shrimp and crisp cauliflower.  However, I found the macaroni a bit disconnected with the sauce (which was mostly sweet). I liked the Elysian Immortal IPA since it helped lighten up the greasiness. Chef
Shunji prepared the Aburi Sushi in front of us which was a treat.  As expected, the sushi rice was well made with a nice chewiness and balanced flavour. This was our favourite item of the meal and wished to have more of it. We found the Odin Frey'as Gold Kolsh Style Ale to be crisp and clean which went nicely with the sushi.

The sushi was accompanied by an Uni Risotto finished with soy sauce and crispy prosciutto.  Well, there is no sugar-coating this one, it was not prepared properly.  The risotto was clumpy and pasty which wasted such a wonderful ingredient such as uni (and yes, they forgot the prosciutto which was served on the side).  Lastly, we finished off with the Japanese-Style Coffee Jelly with cold-pressed 49th Parallel coffee with marscapone mousse and stout reduction.  I found that the sweet marscapone was essential in balancing out the bitterness of the coffee jelly. However, as Mijune stated, this dessert would've benefited from some cake (as a complimentary texture).  The Alameda Black Bear Stout was surprisingly light and did not overwhelm the dessert. Overall, I have to give the Kooner Hospitality Group credit for trying to elevate dining experiences at their restaurants.  This particular meal was interesting and a good value ($50.00 with beer). Despite some execution issues, it has me intrigued about the next Long Table Dinner.

The Good:
- Good value considered 5 beers!
- Can't be criticized for being boring

The Bad:
- The portions in this particular meal were small
- Some execution issues

Pumphouse Pub on Urbanspoon

Ban Chok Dee

Most people assume chain restaurants and Langley go hand-in-hand like Canadians and the Bellingham Costco.  Hey, check out 200th Street, there is practically every chain restaurant represented.  And let's not forget the only BC location of the Olive Garden.  However, for those who know, there are some gems to be found here if you look hard enough.  Estrella's and Hilltop Cafe are good examples of that.  So when Bluebeard (a fine resident of Langley) saw a Groupon for Ban Chok Dee Thai, he wondered if we wanted to join him and Nikita for dinner.  That we did and planned to watch a movie at Colossus as well.

Before any of our dishes arrived, we were presented with some complimentary Shrimp Chips and spicy peanut dipping sauce.  These were slightly spicy and of course crunchy.  For our actual appies, we started with the Chok Dee Lime Leaves Wrap.  We all loved this dish as there were many layers of flavour starting with the sweetness of palm sugar, lime and basil then a hit of spice, finishing off with the roasted cashews.  There was a nice contrast between the crunchy veggies and the moist chicken.  Next up, we had the Chicken Satay which were made with lean breast meat.  Suffice to say, they were a bit dry.  It did have a good char though and was properly seasoned.

Onto some mains, we tried the Pad Thai, which was mostly sweet in need of more tang.  The chicken could've stood to be less chewy as well.  We liked how it wasn't wet nor too dry and also it wasn't the ketchupy type either.  Overall, it was still pretty good.  As for the Beef Penang Curry, it was not our favourite.  There was nothing particularly wrong with the flavours per se.  There was a fishy, salty, sweet and spicy thing going on and it went well with our rice.  The biggest issue was the beef - it was dry and hard.  It took considerable effort to chew.  We realize that Thai cooking doesn't employ a tenderizer to the meat, but maybe they should've used a more tender cut.

Moving along, we had the Chicken Green Curry which was generous in portion size.  The curry was definitely coconutty with balanced flavours.  Despite this, we would've liked to see just a bit more punch with the flavours.  We asked for medium and it was not overly spicy.  Lastly, we had the Cashew Chicken and this was not devoid of flavour.  There was a good mix of sweet and savoury while the dish exhibited a good wok fry.  This was a nice end to a relatively enjoyable meal.  The food was generally pretty good while our surroundings comfortable with attentive service (even though we had a Groupon too).

The Good:
- Solid eats
- Clean and comfortable environment
- Decent service

The Bad:
- Some of the proteins could've been less dry and chewy

Ban Chok Dee Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Dishcrawl Vancouver (Main Street)

Have you ever dined at a restaurant and wanted to leave after one dish?  Were you yearning for variety or was the food boring?  Well, maybe a Dishcrawl is more up your alley.  Instead of staying put for a multi-course meal in one restaurant, one can experience 4 dishes in 4 different restaurants.  It's somewhat related to a food tour, but instead of little bites, we're talking about an actual progression of dishes. I've already been to the Gastown Dishcrawl and once again, I was invited to experience their Main Street version.

We started at Cottage Bistro where we were presented with a plate of 3 items.  It included Jazzy Potatoes (herb flavoured, bacon jam with mustard seeds, JD and sunflower seeds), Mao Gua Maki (shiitake, enoki and greens wrapped with melon atop a miso aioli) and Spicy Eggplant Tartini (double-cooked and blended with artichoke, olives and banana peppers). I found the potatoes more starchy than fluffy while the jam was spicy and sweet.  I didn't get much of the Jack Daniel's though. I liked the fuzzy melon wrap as the veggies were crisp and there was a certain brightness that worked well with the salty and sweet thing going on.  I really liked the fluffy eggplant that exhibited a nice spice level.

Next, we took a stroll down to Spice Up where we were presented with a platter consisting of Vegetable Samosa, 9 Bean Salad, Eggplant Bharta, Parantha and Butter Chicken. I liked how the samosa was not greasy while still exhibiting a nice crunch which yielded to a soft potato filling.  I wasn't fond of the bean salad as they were too firm for my tastes.  The butter chicken was made with fresh tomatoes which in turn made the flavours very mild, yet fresh.  I liked the big moist piece of chicken though.  The eggplant was my favourite item as it exhibited a wonderful smokiness.  It was further amped by elements of spice, savoury and zestiness.  It was a veritable flavour explosion in my mouth of moist eggplant.

Taking a walk across the street, we ended up at Itadakimasu Izakaya which I had just recently visited.  Still fresh in my mind, we were presented with 3 familiar items consisting of the Tuna Tataki Taco, Ebi Mayo and Pork Belly Bun. Much like last time, the rare tuna and Asian coleslaw rested in a light and crispy taco shell.  Due to the amount of time from frying and then hitting the table, the tapioca flake encrusted ebi was a bit cold.  Too bad as the hot version would be crunchy and kissed with a sweet chili mayo dressing. Unfortunately, the mantou had dried out and gotten cold by the time we sampled it.  Last time, it was fluffy and lightly crispy on the top where it contrasted the soft pork belly nicely.

Our last stop was dessert at East is East.  We were presented with Chai to start and it was sweet to begin while finishing off with spices. Then the 3 desserts arrived consisting of Persian-Style Rice Pudding, Vegan Chocolate Pudding and Gulab Jamun. With pistachios and cardamom, it had this kulfi thing going on, which was good in my opinion.  The chocolate pudding was okay, but I've never been a huge fan of it.  It was gritty and had far too much berries on top.  But it's vegan and I'm sure some people love it.  And call it personal tastes, I'm not a huge fan of gulab jamun either.  With that being said, this one wasn't incredibly sweet, so I ate it.  Besides, I love East is East, so it was nice to end there.  Not a bad Dishcrawl, definitely enjoyable and diverse.

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

Ba Le Deli & Bakery

Here we go, another ol' favourite that I blogged about a long, long time ago (just like yesterday's Phnom Penh post).  In the meantime, I've visited Ba Le plenty of times but never felt the need to blog about it again (even after the installation of their own oven).  However, after visiting quite a few Banh Mi joints in the GVRD, it was only natural that I come back to the well for a comparison.  For those who haven't been to the place in awhile, it has doubled in size and yes, they baked their own baguettes now.  Pricewise, they are only slightly more than before.

I decided to order 3 subs starting with the classic Cold Cut (Special, Dac Biet or whatever they call it).  As much as people have lamented the change in bread, I found their in-house baked baguette decent being light and airy with a pronounced crunch.  Although the amount of meat in the sub was not substantial, it was enough while I could taste the pate.  Probably not my favourite Banh Mi in town, but good nonetheless.  I gave the Shredded Chicken a try too and upon eating it remembered why I rarely order it.  The chicken was somewhat stringy and dry with very little flavour.  Fortunately, there was enough butter mayo to provide some moisture.  Moreover, the pickled daikon and carrots helped add some needed flavour.

Lastly, I had the Meatball Sub which was decent with moist ground pork which had a good amount of sweet onions.  Good but I personally prefer the one from Au Petite more.  Naturally, the best Banh Mi in town is highly subjective.  It could range from Tung Hing to Kim Chau and then some, but the Banh Mi at Ba Le continues to be a reliable option in the GVRD.

The Good:
- Still one of the better ones in town
- Bigger place and they make their own bread now

The Bad:
- Skimpy with the filling
- The parking lot just plain sucks

Ba Le Deli & Bakery on Urbanspoon

EAT! Vancouver 2013

Here we go again, another year of EAT! Vancouver 2013 and I was given a media pass to check it out.  I arrived early to take a gander at all the various exhibitors and available eats.  The usual tourism booths were mixed in with a diverse selection of products that could be eaten or used to create eats.  I brought along Choobee since I hate being alone and plus, she loves food as well.  Although she has not updated her blog in years!  Anyways, I sought out Kitchening & Co. first because her macarons are one of the best kept secrets in town.  Much better than some of the big boys in my opinion.

With a big "food truck" type display, the people from Oikos (by Dannon) were really pushing their yogurt.  And with good reason too because the choice of flavours were both interesting and appealing.  I went for the Key Lime with toasted coconut topping while Choobee had the Fig.  We bumped into Sean and he had the Coconut Vanilla with dried cranberries.  I really liked the rich thick yogurt which was just sweet enough with the refreshing hit of key lime.  The crispy toasted coconut was a nice addition.  Nearby, Saman Bakery were offering up samples of their carckers and treats including a moist and chocolaty Macaroon.  Yes, not a macaron, but a macaroon (the one with the toasted coconut, not almond flour).

Choobee wandered around and spotted some chocolate from Green & Blacks which is both organic and fair trade.  She tried some of the dark chocolate and it was pretty good with a nice bitterness while being not too sweet.  I went for the milk chocolate and I found it sweet, yet still nice.  I was quite thirsty at this point and went looking for some refreshment.  After a few rounds, I decided that I'd better get a bottle of Mash, because it was a low calorie alternative to the really sweet offerings.  The Lemon Peel Ginger Root was just the right drink as it was refreshing and lightly sweet with a balanced amount of ginger and lemon.

Of course we couldn't leave without hitting up the Bites of Vancouver.  I got a few tickets and paid a visit to one of my favs right away - EBO.  They were serving a couple of their signature items being the Chicken Satay atop freshly made Roti.  Yes, that sounds strange for a non-Malay restaurant, but trust me, the man in charge knows what he's doing.  Also, the Lamb Slider on brioche was really good being juicy and flavourful.  At first, I wasn't going to get a Dunn's Smoked Meat Sandwich, but I gave in.  I essentially picked at the meat as I wasn't going to fill up on bread. It was pretty good being moist and flavourful.

Lastly, I decided to try the Chili from Gramercy Grill and although it was on the watery side, it did exhibit a impactful spice level.  There was a nice balance of ingredients as well.  Of course the limited items that I did try was only a small taste of EAT! Vancouver.  It runs until Sunday, May 26th, so you still have time to check out these and much more.

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