Sherman's Food Adventures: September 2013

Thien Trang

It seems like every meal with my in-laws involves Dim Sum (and especially at Tung Sing Chin...  which I'm not a huge fan of).  Imagine that, eating with my Mother-in-Law and suffering through mediocre Chinese food...  Can someone get me a copy of that Miley Cyrus performance?  Uh, better not...  So this time around, I suggested we do Vietnamese and headed over to Thien Trang (which used to be the old location of Mui Ngo Gai).

To begin, we had both the Spring and Salad Rolls.  With a crisp exterior and filled with ground pork, onions, carrots and wood ear mushrooms, the spring rolls were pretty good.  I liked how the filling was not too loose nor too dense.  It had a nice sweet onion and fish sauce flavour.  They could've done a better job draining the oil as the plate was quite greasy.  As for the salad roll, it was attractively constructed with meaty shrimp and a nicely textured rice paper wrap.  The crunch from the lettuce was good while the vermicelli still retained a bite.  We would've liked some basil though.  Moreover, the dip was a bit too peanutty and could've used more hoisin.

Viv had the Pho Dac Biet and it was a pretty decent portion full of al dente noodles and tender meats.  I particularly liked the brisket as it was slightly fatty and really soft.  Light in colour and flavour, the soup was more sweet than savoury.  I could pick out some of the aromatics but in the end, it was a fairly mild broth.  Since we had 3 bowls of pho at the table already, I decided to go for the Bun Bo Hue.  Right when it hit the table, I was happy to see the inclusion of pork blood and feet.  That, at the very least, made it look legit.  I found the soup to be mildly spicy with a hint of aromatics.  The lai fun was slippery and chewy while the meats were good.

I also got a Grilled Pork Banh Mi and it was decent.  The fatty pork had a deep caramelized colour and flavour which was sweet and a bit smoky.  Combined with the crunchy veggies and a fairly crusty baguette, it was not bad for a non-banh mi joint.  The kids ended up sharing a Combo C which included Lemongrass Chicken, Vietnamese Ham and Egg with Rice.  Sharing the same dark hue as the grilled pork, the chicken was a bit firm along the edges.  It was flavourful though with caramelized sweetness. All-in-all, the dishes we had at Thien Trang were solid.  Furthermore, we found the service to be honest and attentive.

The Good:
- Solid eats across the board
- Nice people

The Bad:
- Flavours were mostly mild

Pho Thien Trang on Urbanspoon

Happy Valley

Restaurants changing ownership is nothing new.  It happens all the time and sometimes quite often at certain locations.  However, when it comes to Asian restaurants, it gets slightly complicated.  Sometimes, the establishment gets a Chinese name change while the English name remains the same.  This way, it is cost-efficient way to changeover without needing to register a brand new name.  Happy Valley out on Broadway in Vancouver changed over a couple of years ago and it was about time we checked out their Dim Sum service.

Big D was a little late in arriving, so Betaboy and I took charge of doing the ordering (good thing too, since Big D usually orders far too much).  We started with the Sui Mai which were very large and looked appealing with a dollop of tobiko on top.  However, the chunks of pork were chewy with lots of gristle.  On the other hand, the shrimp had a nice snap.  Flavourwise, the dumpling was peppery and sweet with a good amount of porkiness.  The large Haw Gow were surprisingly bland.  I guess they didn't season the cold-water shrimp much.  By virtue of being rinsed properly, the shrimp had a buttery snap while the dumpling skin was a touch thick.

Next up, we had a couple of rice noodle rolls starting with the Salty Donut Rice Noodle Roll.  The donut itself was crispy even with all the moisture from the rice noodle and sweet soy sauce, yet it was dense in the middle.  Soft with still a bit of elasticity, the rice noodle was thin and well-made.  As much as there should be some green onion and dried shrimp mixed in with the noodle, we found there was too much of it.  We also had the BBQ Pork Rice Noodle Roll that shared the same good characteristics of the other roll.  Interestingly, along with the fairly lean BBQ pork, there was a good amount of pea leaves.  I personally didn't mind it, but it was not really a combination that made sense.

Onto the next dish, we had the XO Fried Daikon Cake.  The cubes of daikon pudding were fried up golden brown and lightly crispy.  As much as they whole dish was fried then wok-tossed (in more oil), it wasn't incredibly greasy.  In terms of flavour, it was aromatic and only slightly spicy.  Speaking of spicy, the Curry Cuttlefish had a mild kick while exhibiting plenty of sweetness from the seasonings and the plethora of slivered onions. Overall, there was good flavour including a significant curry hit.  The cuttlefish itself was chewy with a buttery snap.

We shared some balls next, namely the Beef Meatballs.  Although there was some bounce to the processed meat, the general texture was a bit on the softer side.  Furthermore, there was a general lack of seasoning as the meat was quite bland.  We needed a good amount of Worcestershire to help the cause.  On the other hand, the Bean Curd Skin Rolls were pretty good.  The bean curd skin exhibited a good fried chewy texture while still being moist.  The ground pork mixture benefited from the ample amount of crunchy wood ear mushrooms, yet the meat itself could've had more texture.

With only 3 people, I was not sure why we ordered the Sparerib Rice Hot Pot (oh wait, Big D was there...  forgot).  As shown in the picture, it was hard to see the rice since there was a good portion of bouncy spareribs, phoenix talon and gai lan.  The rice itself was a bit wet though.  Since one chicken foot is hard to share, we ordered the Phoenix Talons as well.  These were pretty good as the skin was fried nicely while the cartilage underneath was soft. Flavours were balanced with a bit of garlic.  Overall, we thought the Dim Sum was pretty decent.  Service was prompt as well.

The Good:
- Prompt service
- Decent eats

The Bad:
- Parking lot is a bit of a disaster
- Shape of restaurant doesn't lend itself to spaciousness

Happy Valley Seafood Restaurant 名閣海鮮酒家 on Urbanspoon

Grain Tasting Bar

Not too long ago, where Grain Tasting Bar currently stands, there was an old dark bar.  I remember going there once.  It was an old dark bar.  Thankfully, somebody figured out that it wasn't exactly a hot place to hang out.  Now with a renovated space that is both modern and open, it benefits from the large windows that affords the place with plenty of natural light. To compliment the existing tapas menu they now offer brunch, specifically Benedicts.

I was invited to go try their specialty Benedicts and I brought along the family since I could not possibly eat 5 of them myself (unlike Alvin).  However, by virtue of being a bar, we could not actually eat there and ended up heading upstairs instead.  We started with the Dungeness Crab with tomato, lemon and fresh herbs.  I found the eggs to be poached properly being runny.  The crab was fluffy and light but I wasn't sure if the tomato was necessary (it was pretty though).  The Hollandaise was creamy and flavourful, yet could've used a touch more lemon.  Next up was the Oyama featuring Pamplona chorizo, red wine prosciutto and arugula.  As expected, this was on the saltier side due to the cured meats with a nice hit of spice from the chorizo.  It is worth noting that one egg was not runny in this dish.

Next up was the Smoked Tomato Bruschetta made with G.B.E Farms tomatoes and aged balsamic vinegar.  Naturally, this was the one token vegetarian offering on the Benedict menu.  Hence, I was only mildly interested because I love meat.  Viv, being the devil's advocate thought it was a lighter choice where the fresh tomatoes brightened up the dish.  I didn't get much smokiness even though the tomatoes were smoked.  For the kids, they shared the Grilled Chicken consisting of Barnston Island Spinach, avocado and diced tomato.  There was an abundance of ripe avocado and wilted spinach to compliment the grilled chicken.  However, the chicken was a bit dry and lacking in seasoning.

Lastly, we were presented with the Prime Rib topped with blue cheese, pickled onions, horseradish and fried onions.  This was the most substantial version with a thick slice of super moist prime rib.  The 2 applications of onion added crunch and zip to the dish.  We wished there was more blue cheese though.  Overall, we thought the Benedicts were good with something for everyone.  The one-price-for-all was a bit confusing though as the crab and prime rib were clearly worth the $15.00, but not the bruschetta.

*All food and beverages were comped, but not gratuities*

The Good:
- Substantial amount of food
- Reasonable pricing considering the venue and location
- Comfortable digs

The Bad:
- Not sure if one price-for-all is a good idea

Grain Tasting Bar on Urbanspoon

Earnest Ice Cream

Awhile back, I had the good fortune of sampling Earnest Ice Cream at the Swallow Tail's Pop Up Soda Shoppe.  The brainchild of Ben Ernst and Erica Bernardi, they sought to make quality ice cream from whole food ingredients.  Now, with their store opening up on Fraser near King Edward, their wares are accessible more than ever.  By sheer luck, I noticed a Facebook post indicating that they were opening up shop.  Hence, I hightailed it down there on the same day dragging along Costanza and Elaine.

With a lineup out the door and over half-an-hour long, I guess we weren't the only ones tipped off by their grand opening. Patiently waiting for our turn, we had plenty of time to decide on what flavours to try.  Heck, with only 8 to choose from, it wasn't hard (the less the better as each batch would be more fresh).  For myself, I gave the Whiskey Hazelnut a go (bottom left).  It was quite sweet and I could definitely taste the whiskey.  I liked the crunch of the hazelnuts in each bite.  Viv had the Strawberry Basil (bottom right) and it was rich, creamy and had the natural taste of strawberries with a touch of fresh basil.  My daughter opted for the Blueberry which appeared to have lemon added to it since it had a more lively flavour than just blueberries.

Elaine went for the always popular Salted Caramel and it didn't disappoint as it was creamy, sweet and with the right amount of salt, elevating the flavours.  The crispy waffle cone didn't hurt either.  Lastly, Costanza's kid had the Tahitian Vanilla which no one got to sample as he practically inhaled it.  I guess it was good?  Looks like I'll be back for more (and different flavours too).

The Good:
- Great people
- It's hard ice cream and creamy
- Real ingredients

The Bad:
- Of course not cheap, but reasonable considering
- Limited flavours, but good for freshness

Earnest Ice Cream on Urbanspoon

Kobe Izakaya Lounge

"Have you heard of the Travelzoo coupon for Kobe Izakaya?", queried Whipping Girl one day. I actually had, but was a bit confused because I thought Kobe was purely a teppanyaki joint.  Apparently, they started serving a modest Izakaya menu down in the lounge section of the restaurant.  At first, I was hesitant to buy the coupon because the last time I was here, there was a "miscalculated" tip fiasco where someone had paid for the bill but accidentally left only an 8% tip.  We ultimately returned rectifying it, yet it was highly embarrassing nonetheless. Apprehensively, I bought the coupon and ended up forgetting about it until it was about to expire.  Naturally, I rushed to use it and of course bring Whipping Girl with me.

Not really knowing what we were getting into, I had tempered expectations.  We started with the Tuna Avocado Salsa consisting of ahi tuna, tomato, avocado and onion in a sweet soya sauce with wonton crisps.  This was a fairly substantial portion with fresh and vibrant ingredients.  The flavours were balanced except I would've liked to see more acidity.  The wonton chips were light but held up to the ingredients.  Next up was the Ebi Mayo in a sweet and spicy Japanese mayo sauce.  The prawns were lightly crisp and exhibited a meaty snap.  Creamy, spicy and sweet, there was just enough sauce clinging to each piece.

Continuing on with the deep-fried goodness, we had the Chili Garlic Calamari with a citrus, chili and garlic sauce.  With a mix of crispy and slightly soggy pieces, the squid was very tender (possibly too soft except for the tentacles).  I did like the noticeable citrus zing, yet didn't notice much of the chili though.  We really liked the Chicken Karaage as each nugget was crunchy on the outside and bursting with juice on the inside.  This was a well executed dish where the batter was nicely seasoned.  However, I wasn't a huge fan of the sweet chili sauce as it really didn't fit the dish.

Lastly, we tried the slow-cooked Short Ribs that were seared and marinated with a sweet glaze. The outer "bark" of the rib was flavourful and caramelized while the meat itself was somewhat stringy.  Yet it was sufficiently moist and rich.  By this point, we were pretty full since each dish was well-portioned.  In general, the food was more than acceptable for the price.  Oh, and I made sure the right tip was left this time.

The Good:
- Decent portions
- Decent eats
- Attentive service

The Bad:
- Limited menu
- As much as Izakaya is about having some drinks in a lounge, some people might not like the seating arrangements

Kobe Izakaya Lounge on Urbanspoon

WCompany Oktoberfest Cooking Class

In a time when restaurants are trying to separate themselves from each other, we are beginning to see a shift to alternative forms of dining.  For instance, we saw the rise of secret supper clubs such as Swallow Tail and the explosion of food carts.  Of course food tours have become popular as well as cook-your-own-food classes.  Now we have another form in and interactive cooking class offered by WCompany.  I was invited, along with other media, to check out their Oktoberfest session.

Located in a nondescript building near Clark and Hastings, WCompany looks impressive on the inside.  I was welcomed by a well-stocked kitchen and a "classy" dining space.  After a brief introduction by Chef Waldemar Bilski, he of 15 years of transatlantic experience, we were treated to house-brewed German Hefeweizen with Sausage Bites & Pretzel.  I found the pretzel to be firm and chewy with a slightly crunchy outer shell. With a healthy dose of butter, it added nuttiness and moisture.  The sausage had a good snap while being moist and soft with only a touch of meat texture.  I could clearly see and taste the herbs.

Next, the chef did a Spatzle making demonstration which I was involuntarily offered up to participate.  Making the spatzle by hand was an interesting exercise and sadly I butchered the sauteeing aspect of the dish.  I can do it with my own fry pan (it's the truth!). Luckily, the chef made some perfectly shaped spatzle for the main dish consisting of Sauerbraten, roasted potatoes, red cabbage and sauerkraut.  As expected, the whole dish exhibited a sour and tart theme including the sauerbraten which was tender but still retaining a meaty resistance. I particularly liked the fluffy potatoes that had been crisped up with lots of butter.

As a bonus, we were served a large piece of Potato Noodle which was dense but not dry.  The exterior benefited from the ample use of butter which gave a nutty flavour.  I thought there was a little too much salt though.  For dessert, we were served a Black Forest Cake in a jar.  I liked how this was a lighter version which was airy and mildly sweet.  The cherries at the botttom added a nice zip to the dessert. From my experience at WCompany, it is clear that the main draw is the sum of all parts as it offers entertainment, a social venue and interactiveness.  The food was fine, but partly due to the menu did not showcase Chef Waldemar's international experience.  However, I still had a good time and that is the whole point.

*Note - Meal and drinks were comped*

The Good:
- Interactive
- Something different
- Nice venue inside

The Bad:
- It won't come cheap ($80.00), but then again, you get the whole place

WCompany on Urbanspoon

Pig on the Street

Now in its 3rd year of existence, there is no shortage of food carts in Vancouver. We are seeing more and more choices congregating in common locations (which offers up lots of choice for hungry people).  But for me, I have been aching to try Pig on the Street.  C'mon, they had me at "bacon".  Apparently, I wasn't the only one with bacon urges as the place was pretty darn busy.  No wonder they are predicting a bacon shortage in the future!

While in line, I noticed some bacon Twisty Bread and I proceeded to add it to my order. Flaky, light, peppery, cheesy and of course with bacon, it was a piece of Heaven posing as a bread stick. With every sinful crispy bite, there were many flavours (peppery, cheesy and bacony) and textures at play.  I also gave their Blueberry Lemonade a try and it was very impactful with a noticeable tartness.  There didn't seem to be an overload of sugar while the blueberries served as a mild addition.  And while I was waiting for my wraps, I decided to eat dessert first (which is not really a strange phenomenon, especially during Dim Sum).  Their Bourbon Bacon Brownie was a flavour explosion in my mouth.  The immediate hit of bourbon and sweetness from the sauce was tempered by the bacon.  Yet overall, the rich brownie combined with the caramel yielded an overly sweet dessert.

Onto the wraps, I had the Pig LT consisting of double-smoked bacon, tomato, avocado, farmhouse cheddar, bacon & maple mayo and greens.  This enormous concoction was well-made as my first bite afforded a big smoky crunch from the ample amount of thick bacon.  The sharp cheddar was a nice accent to the smooth avocado while the maple mayo added just the right amount of sweetness.  At first, I was a bit annoyed with all the arugula, but it did serve a purpose as it helped lighten the otherwise heavy wrap.  Oh and the grilled flatbread was soft while maintaining its integrity to the last bite.  I also got Viv the Southern Piggy made with double-smoked bacon, bourbon BBQ sauce, grilled peppers, corn, cheddar, chipotle and greens. Getting past the same crunchy bacon, the star of the wrap was the chipotle as it as spicy and super impactful.  The pop of the sweet corn combined with the sweetness of the peppers helped temper the flavours a bit. All I can say about the food I tried is why did it take me so long?

The Good:
- If you love bacon...
- Well-prepared eats

The Bad:
- Food takes awhile when there is a lineup (but worth it IMO)

Pig on the Street on Urbanspoon

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