Sherman's Food Adventures: February 2013

Sen Bistro

*Restaurant is now closed*

If one wanted to find some good Xiao Long Bao in Vancouver (and I mean only Vancouver, because there are just as good or better in Richmond), then Lin Chinese Cuisine would come to mind.  Yah, the place is pretty basic with its dark Creamsicle-coloured walls, super tight seating and overall afterthought decor.  That is somewhat ironic when you look at their latest venture.  You see, they took over the old location of Posh on Broadway at Burrard and did little to change it (including the big exhausts above each table because they still offer Sukiyaki?!?!).  Hence, they inherited a modern-looking dining space that apparently has inspired their menu as well.  I was invited, along with many others, to check out what they were cooking up at their new place named Sen Bistro.

We started off with an appetizer sampler consisting of Celery & Dried Scallop, Lotus Root and Chicken Salad with spicy peanut dressing.  Served on the side was Broad Bean & Sherchai Mash.  I liked the celery as it was vibrant and had a nice crunch while the dried scallop offered up some saltiness which combined well with the sesame oil.  However, I found the lotus root marinated in a strawberry pickling liquid to be strange.  I enjoyed the crunch, but wasn't a fan of the sweet sryupiness of the liquid.  As for the chicken salad, the main problem was the meat itself.  It was stringy and dry which ended up being quite mealy when eaten.  Too bad really since the sauce was pleasant enough with a smooth peanut hit with only a hint of spice.  Despite the visuals, the bean & sherchai mash grew on me as I ate more of it.  It was smooth and salty with bits of crunch.

Next up was the Sticky Rice Sui Mai which looked better than it ate.  I found the filling gummy with an equally doughy wrapper.  I found the flavours to be rather bland despite the appearance of shiitake mushrooms and Chinese sausage.  The accompanying dish was much more flavourful being the Salt & Pepper Crunchy Tofu.  The plethora of peppers, onions, garlic and chilis really amped up the flavour quotient.  However, I found the tofu to be too crunchy.  But that could've been the whole point.  So chalk it up to personal preference.  From flavour explosion to completely mild, we had the Chicken, Enoki & Shiitake Soup. This was okay where the broth was sweet, yet somewhat bland.  The ingredients were good though, especially the crunch from the snow peas.

Onto the entrees, we began with a visually impressive offering in the Flambé Salmon. In reality, it didn't do much for the final product, which was "alright".  The fish was cooked slightly past what I would've liked (however, we took our time to take pictures, which meant the fish cooked longer on the hot plate).  On top, there was a red pepper sauce with fried garlic.  It was a curious flavour which was slightly sweet and a bit tart.  Not particularly plated in an attractive manner, the Braised Pork with pumpkin in soybean paste hit our table.  I found the belly to be melt-in-our-mouths worthy, yet we were wondering about the pumpkin - it didn't seem to go.  The sauce was a little on the sweet side as there was a bit too much hoisin mixed in with the soybean paste.  Steamed Buns and Pan-Fried Pancakes were served on the side. The buns were pretty standard while the pancakes were crispy, greasy and slightly dense.

Something a bit more traditional arrived next - Golden Honey Prawns and Garlic Chili Prawns.  I found the honey prawns to be slightly overdressed, but in the end, they had a nice snap and were sweet.  The chili prawns had less snap, yet had a richer flavour profile consisting of sweet, salty and spicy.  Moving away from the proteins, we had the Wok-Fried Vegetables which consisted of eggplant, snap peas, mushrooms and carrots.  Due to the large amount being prepared, the veggies got a bit mushy.  As evidenced from the glistening sheen, the whole dish was greasy.  I did like the addition of vinegar as it brightened up the flavours.

For dessert, we were served Pumpkin Pudding with a yam ball and a chocolate Pocky stick???  Yes, a look of bewilderment was had by all.  Sadly, I didn't like this pudding at all as it didn't have an appealing texture since it was dense.  And personally, I'm not a huge fan of pumpkin. Secondly, we had the Glutinous Rice Balls filled with either strawberry jam or ground peanuts & sugar.  I got the latter which was not bad.  The jam really didn't go and was rather unappealing. The pumpkin dessert, in essence, exemplified our meal - confused.  I do appreciate the effort put forth by the chef as it would be really easy to just replicate the menu from Lin.  However, I thought the food missed the mark.  I also think that retaining the Sukiyaki setup further adds to the confusion.

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

The Good:
- Comfortable digs
- Give them props for trying to be different

The Bad:
- I wasn't even sure what cuisine I was eating
- The Sukiyaki needs to go

Sen Bistro on Urbanspoon

Ace Burger

While we were dining at Cardero's (which was on my birthday), we decided that Milhouse deserved a birthday meal of his own.  Due to our hockey schedule, the only time where Gordo, Lionel Hutz and myself could do this was on a night of an 11:00pm game.  Great, the only options afterwards would be Denny's (*shiver*) and Knight & Day (*double shiver*).  So it is no secret that Milhouse loves burgers, so a late-night burger joint was probably our best bet (thus, no Asian food).  Open until 3:30am, Ace Burger was just the place that we were looking for.  Formerly Sunset Burgers, gone are the "Kobe" burgers and in with bigger patties, yet slightly higher prices.

We decided to share a bunch of sides to go with our burgers starting with the Fries, which were fresh-cut and fried beautifully.  They were lightly crisp with a pleasant starchiness that is consistent with Kennebec potatoes.  After trying out the plain fries as a baseline of sorts, we proceeded to have the Poutine with a good amount of cheese curds and beef gravy. There was a good combination of melted curds and non-melted ones.  These were decent curds as they exhibited a slight squeak (not a huge one though).  The beef gravy was thick, rich and a touch salty.  We felt it went well with the fries and cheese curds.  An above-average poutine in my books.  Our last side was the Tempura Battered Onion Rings with tzatziki.  These large suckers were crunchy and not overly greasy, but the onion inside was slightly firm.  Hence, when we bit into them, the batter slid off and we were left with a barely cooked piece of onion.  Despite being labeled as "tempura-battered", there appeared to be panko bread crumbs mixed in which provided a nice texture and crunch.

Seeing how we were celebrating Milhouse's birthday, we encouraged him to get the biggest and baddest burger on the menu.  This turned out to be the Royal Ace consisting of two beef patties, cheddar cheese, bacon & ketchup.  We added a fried egg to it for good measure and to test his tolerance to more cholesterol.  As you can tell, this burger was too big for anyone to actually put their mouth around.  Even after attempts to squish it down to a manageable size, it turned out to be a fork and knifer.  And if you can imagine, the darn thing was cheesy, greasy and probably took a few years off Milhouse's life.  He enjoyed it though, remarking how moist the patties were.  For myself, I went for something different in the Lamb Burger consisting of a "Lam" patty (I thought only Chinese menus had spelling mistakes... or was this a Chinese lamb?), Feta cheese, "tatziki" sauce (2 errors in the same description!), cucumber & lamb sauce.  I found the patty to be moist and plenty lamby.  The addition of feta and tzatziki made for a Greek-tasting burger.

Both Lionel Hutz and Gordo had the Original Ace Burger with cheese.  And according to both, their patties were moist as well while cooked all the way through - a good sign of consistency.  Loved the copious amount of melted cheese too.  One thing I would've liked to see was a more creative bun.  It seemed a bit generic.  So as you can ascertain, our meal was not bad.  I would probably hit up some other burger joints before Ace, but if it were a late night or an early morning, Ace would be a decent option.

The Good:
- Decently-sized burger patties
- For us, they were cooked properly
- Open late

The Bad:
- A little pricey
- Onion rings could be cooked a bit longer or not sliced as thick

ACE Burger Bar on Urbanspoon

Pearl House Restaurant

Playing late-night hockey in Richmond usually affords Gordo and I the opportunity to eat in Richmond afterwards. It works out for us because we are not normally in the courtesy-car capital of BC. However, Gordo just wasn't feeling it this time. He still wanted to do late-night eats. He just wasn't digging the whole Richmond thing. Apparently, our last visit to Yummy Cafe left a bad taste in his mouth, literally and figuratively. Therefore, he wanted to leave Richmond for Burnaby instead. Slight problem. Although there are late-night spots in Burnaby, there are few and far in-between. Originally, he suggest The One, but gosh, I've been to that place far too many times. I needed something different. The only place I could come up with was Pearl House which was just a bit further down on Kingsway.

Yet another Taiwanese joint, it was perfect since Gordo was in the mood for bubble tea and TBN. And as per usual, he started off with a beverage, being the Strawberry Mango Slush. This was served in a large cup which couldn't even hold all of it. Reminiscent of The One, it was a highrise of slush. It was certainly blended well-enough, but it was super sweet. It masked the fruit flavours. And referring to my MO, I had the Chicken Nuggets to start. These were large and indeed very crispy. Chicken was moist and there was definitely a salty, peppery and 5 spice thing going on. This was good. As expected, Gordo went for the Beef Sirloin Noodle with wide noodles. The noodles were toothsome. By virtue of choose wide noodles, they maintained their chewiness throughout. The beef was moist and tender where he pretty much didn't need to chew. The soup had a bit of spice and plenty of seasoning. There wasn't a huge amount of depth, however, it was a respectable bowl of TBN.

For my main, I had the Stewed Pork Belly with rice. This was prepared nicely with 3 large slices of stewed pork belly. The meat was not completely melt-in-my-mouth, but the fat did. It was gelatinous and had everything one would look for in stewed pork belly. The skin itself was really good with just the slightest amount of bite which yielded to fatty goodness. The whole thing exhibited a rich flavour (5 spice and star anise) with full of depth. This reminded me of my dad's stewed pork recipe, which gave the entire dish a home-cooked quality to it. Our visit to Pearl House essentially exorcised the demons of Yummy Cafe. The food was pretty decent and did the job for late-night. Definitely an option for Burnaby.

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

The Bad:
- Modest portion sizes

Pearl House Restaurant 珍珠小館 on Urbanspoon

Won Jo BBQ & Noodle Restaurant

I'm sure it is not lost upon most people that attractive restaurant exteriors can be a determining factor when it comes to eats.  That is especially true if it is a random meal.  As much as I generally let the food do the talking, there are times I am susceptible to the "glitzy" allure of some places.  And those lineups...  People lining up for food, it must be good right?  Just like freezing your ass off in a lineup to get into a club...  To find out it is empty...  Hmm...  Well, this was not the case with this food adventure.  Won Jo, located on North Road (aka Korean food central), cannot be any further from "sexy".  In a seemingly desolate strip mall in, the place never looked inviting to me. However, I just needed to try it, especially since I started my mission to try all the Korean restaurants in Burquitlam.

Now, with cars parked in the front, the place looked slightly more enticing.  However, most people park at the back, which doesn't give the impression anyone is in the restaurant.  Walking into the place, the interior was much more typical, in a Korean restaurant sort-of-way.  We grabbed a seat and quickly decided on some items.  You see, that wasn't very hard since the menu is super simple with only a few items available.  From that small menu, we had the Mal Mandu first.  These boiled little dumplings were very good.  The dumpling wrapper was soft, yet still keeping a slightly chewy texture at the same time.  The filling was predominantly moist pork with only a few chives mixed in.  Surprisingly, the Banchan was plentiful and well-prepared.  There was kimchi, pickled daikon, sprouts, stewed potatoes, broccoli, seaweed and pickled onion.  Furthermore, they served us a big urn of spicy turnip.

Having had a pleasing bowl of Beef Rib Soup recently at Jong Ga, I decided to order it again, albeit with noodles.  Generally, the soup comes pretty mild, so I did what I usually do (which was to add salt).  The beef was pretty tender while the noodles were thin and soft. Moving along, we ended up trying out the BBQ with Chicken and Beef.  Despite the appearance of very little marinade, the meat did char nicely on the grill and was adequately flavourful.  Furthermore, the meats seemed to be pretty decent quality as well. Alas, I wasn't able to try their noodle hot pots (as they are quite popular), but if the food we sampled is any indication of everything else, there is no doubt we'll be back.

The Good:
- Solid eats and good portions
- Reasonably-priced
- Friendly, if not sparse service

The Bad:
- Sparse service
- Limited menu

Won Jo BBQ & Noodle Restaurant on Urbanspoon

East is East Contest Winner!

Congratulations to Kristina P for winning the $75 to spend at East is East!  Please contact me at admin@shermansfoodadventures.com so I can mail it out to you!  Remember to go eat lots, even more than I did!

MBA 168 BBQ Enterprises Ltd.

On a recent visit to my favourite Chinese bakery (Karmony), I noticed a BBQ joint next door. Great, I could continue my search for the best Chinese BBQ outside of HK BBQ Master. But what is up with the name? MBA 168 BBQ? So one needs a Masters in Business Admin to make Char Sui??? I've heard of numbered companies, yet I didn't get this name. Oh well, it really doesn't matter what the place is called right?  Otherwise, why would places like Pho Bich Nga and Fook Yue ever existed in the first place.  At least they didn't name the place Burgoo BBQ or something like that...

From what I could gather, the Roast Pork was exclusively the belly which I prefer. Roast pork is not roast pork if it is lean and chewy. As per usual, I asked for a pound of it and it turned out to be pretty decent.  Of course it doesn't hold a candle to HK BBQ Master, but the crackling was crunchy and light while the meat was moist and fatty.  It wasn't too salty and there was a good amount of roast pork flavour. As for the BBQ Pork, I went for the half and half, which is a fattier cut of meat. In turn, the pork was not dry. Yet, it was hardly moist. It was obviously marinated for awhile which made the meat somewhat salty and not "meat-like". It had an overprocessed texture and flavour in my opinion. Lastly, I got half a BBQ Duck which had the similar over-marinaded texture and flavour as the BBQ pork. The meat was a tad too salty while having that non-duck-like texture, including the breast meat.  It was as if they brined the duck too long.  So other than the roast pork, the other 2 items were mediocre at best.  It would be better to hit up Kent's Kitchen up the street instead.


The Good:
- Reasonable pricing
- Roast pork is not bad

The Bad:
- BBQ pork and duck are overprocessed

East is East - Chai Lounge

Once upon a time...  I decided to organize a blogger's dinner at East is East (Broadway location).  Back then, that was a relatively doable exercise as there were only a few truly active blogs.  If we were to do such a thing now, we'd need a rent a hall or something.  I came away from that dinner relatively pleased since the food was above-average and the price was right (yes, I realize I just named a TV show...).  3 years later, I got an invite to try out their recently relocated spot on Main.  Since I could bring a guest, I enlisted someone who was at that original blogger's dinner - Mijune.  Oh, and the fact she could eat a whole cow herself was another determining factor.  And this is not a joke, the "thing" to order at East is East is the Silk Route Feast which is essentially an all-you-can-eat menu for $25.00 per person.

We did end up ordering the Feast, but not before we noticed some interesting items unavailable on that particular menu.  Hence, we decided to start with a half-and-half order of their Mango Prawns and Prawns Masala. We found the mango prawns to be the better of the two with a rich, creamy sauce that exhibited a understated sweetness to start while finishing off with spice.  The prawns themselves had a nice snap and were cooked just right.  As for the prawns masala, they were bathed in a tomato sauce that only had a hint of tang while exhibiting a mild-to-medium level of spice.  The Vegetable Pate with hemp also caught our attention.  I was a bit skeptical at first because I am a full-blown "Meatatarian", however, it was much better than I thought it would be.  The texture and flavour could be best described as mushy processed meat (akin to that defunct canned pate from Puritan).  Now yes, that may not be a ringing endorsement, but in a strange kind of way, I didn't mind it.  I kept eating it, so I didn't dislike it right?

Now onto the Feast.  We had a choice of soup, salad and carbs for the meal.  We ended up with one each of the Mystic Soup and Squash Soup. One sip of the mystic soup and there was a definite lemongrass/ginger hit.  It was possibly too strong as it overwhelmed the creamy coconut and mild green curry flavours.  Interestingly, they used both button mushrooms and enoki.  As for the squash soup, it was more like lentil soup as the texture was more hearty than smooth.  It had this mulligatawny thing going on which made it complex in flavours.  For our salads, we tried the Tabouleh and Beet Salads. I found the tabouleh to be pretty good with vibrant ingredients and mildly dressed while the beet salad was sorta ho-hum.  The beets were a bit soft while the flavours were sweet but understated.

Now this is where the eating got serious as we started round one with 4 items.  I gave the Afghan Eggplant a go first.  It consisted of baked eggplant sauteed with herbs, tomato, onion and garlic topped off with yogurt.  I found the eggplant to be moist yet not a complete mush.  The flavours were a pleasing combination of tartness, spices and the cooling effect from the yogurt. When we originally ordered the Alu Gobi, they informed us that it was not ready just yet.  When it finally arrived, we gave it a try and it was indeed not ready.  Both the cauliflower and potato were too firm while the flavours did not mesh with the ingredients.  However, we got another order later and it was much better since it was given some time to cook down.  The ingredients were softer while the tang of the tomatoes really announced themselves as well as some spice.

Moving onto some meat dishes, we had the Lamb Pan Kebab roasted in ginger, onion, tomato, garlic and five spice curry.  This was my personal favourite as the lamb was only slightly gamy exhibiting a really nice char.  The meat was sufficiently tender and flavourful.  It was further amped by the smooth and creamy sauce that gave a hint of spice.  We also liked the Minced Beef Kebab with mushroom, green pepper, tomato and herbs. The formed beef kebabs were moist and soft, yet still meaty in texture.  Once again, there was a good char which naturally added some smokiness.  The mild lentils underneath were nice texturally as they still maintained a bite.

Our second round consisted of the 2 fish offerings from the menu.  The first was the Seasonal Fish which was Basa Thai Curry.  By flavours and appearance alone, it looked like a yellow curry.  It was creamy and had a nice kick.  The fish itself was cooked just right as it was flaky and moist.  However, the Wild Salmon was nothing but.  The darn piece of fish was cooked far beyond what it should been.  The meat was a dry, chewy mess which was neither appetizing nor really all that edible.  Too bad really since the flavours were quite nice.  There was supposed to be miso, but we could hardly pick it out, but the mix of red and green curry was quite nice as it had a nice kick to it.

Continuing on with the Mijune diet (emphasis on "die"), we had the Palak Paneer.  This was pretty good and admittedly, better than some Indian restaurants I've been to.  The whole thing was super smooth and creamy.  It was quite mild, yet the texturally on-point morsels of cheese highlighted the entire dish. The last time I had the Mango Butternut Squash (at the Broadway location), I was in the minority when I stated I liked it.  Most people, including Mijune, thought it had the texture of baby food.  Well, I can't disagree with that, but the flavours really hit a homerun for me.  The combination of squash, mango, coconut milk, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and curry leaves created a flavour explosion.  The flavours of tart, sweet, spice and savoury were all there, especially the tang from the mangoes. 

Something not found on their online menu, the Okra, was an interesting dish.  It was a combination of okra and potatoes in a spicy and tangy tomato sauce.  The okra was predictably slimy, yet not overly so.  It still had somewhat of a bite.  The dish was pleasant enough, but somehow, these flavours seemed a bit redundant.  And on the topic of re-occurring flavours, the Eastern Ratatouille seemed to echo that sentiment.  It was a combination of zucchini, lentils, potatoes, eggplant and garlic sauteed in herbs & spices.  So naturally, we had the tang of the tomato with a mild combination of spices.  Either we were getting really full (which was true) and/or we were experiencing familiar flavour fatigue.

Onto another common Indian dish, we had the Chickpeas (or Channa Masala) in an onion and tomato sauce with herbs & spices.  I found the chickpeas to be on the softer side, but they still maintained their shape and were not mushy.  The usual spices were there such as coriander and cumin which of course were found in some of the other dishes we had as well.  And these spices were repeated in the Chicken Masala as well except with a creamy twist.  In this respect, the flavours were similar yet different at the same time.  The creaminess really complimented the moist chicken as well as the decent level of spice.

Now, as we were preparing for dessert, Mijune noticed that we missed one of the available dishes.  There was only one way to alleviate this problem...  Get an order of it!  So our last savoury item was the Peas & Cheese with potato mixed in with a creamy, slightly spicy sauce.  This was pretty straight-foward with soft peas and equally soft cheese.  The whole thing was thick and rich, perfect with rice and/or naan, which we didn't have any left!  But while we were eating our meal, there was no shortage of Boulani, Naan, Afghan Rice and Basmati Rice. I know this may be blasphemous for me to say this, but I really liked the boulani.  So much so, it was better than most, if not, all of the Afghan restaurants I've been to.  Chalk it up to personal preference, but I found it to be the right thickness and crisp, light texture with just enough filling.

Now onto dessert.  We shared 2 of them including the recommended vegan Chocolate Pudding.  Predictably, the pudding wasn't exactly smooth.  Rather, it was a bit grainy.  Yet, at the same time, it wasn't bad either having a rich dark chocolate flavour.  The plethora of strawberries and cherries in a sweet syrup watered down the dessert somewhat.  As for the Eastern Ecstasy, it was hands-down our favourite of the two.  It consisted of rice pudding, ice cream, a warm galub jamun sprinkled with rosewater, pisatchios and cardamom.  The rice pudding itself had a nice texture, but lacked flavour.  However, the ice cream more than made up for it, including the always sweet galub jamun. This dessert had a kulfi flavour to it, especially with the pistachios and cardamom. 

Yes, we really did eat all this food and we left little to waste too.  Call it the hazards when eating with Mijune...  In the end, we thought the food was consistent enough to be considered good.  Considering one orders the feast and can actually eat a lot, it is a fantastic value.  East is East succeeds in being a safe, reasonably-priced restaurant for those who want to venture past regular Western fare in favour of more exotic offerings.  

The Good:
- Although exotic sounding, the food is a good introduction for most people
- Feast is a good value
- Food is above-average

The Bad:
- Some artistic interpretation with a few dishes, it might offend those authenticity snobs

East Is East on Urbanspoon