Sherman's Food Adventures: August 2013

Saigon Fare Cafe

Here I was again, all alone and in need of food.  What to do? Go to a fast-food joint and have a burger and fries?  Nah, not really all that healthy and no I didn't want to blog about McDonald's (although I do like the Filet-O-Fish!).  Japanese?  Nah.  I can only order so much.  Head into Richmond for some Chinese food court action?  LOL...  right... Oh yeah!  My ol' standby - Vietnamese food!  But where?  I was on Marine Drive and I remembered there is one such place called Saigon Fare Cafe.  So off I went.

I got the Pho Dac Biet and it was a little rustic in appearance with a light-coloured broth that had some oil droplets.  Although not rich in flavour, it wasn't bland either.  There was a good balance of sweetness to go with the salt content.  I couldn't pick out any particular flavours though.  The meats were a bit homestyle as some of the pieces were haphazardly cut (some where thick chunks).  With that being said, thy were not chewy though.  Not the most elegant Pho, but more than acceptable.  As for the Banh Mi Dac Biet, the bun was far too hard and dense.  It wasn't as if it wasn't crusty.  It was plenty crusty, but hard at the same time.  Too bad really because the ingredients were good - lots of tender meats and a good amount of pate.  With a decent splash of Maggi and all the usual stuff (pickled veggies, cucumber, cilantro and peppers), it could've been a good sandwich.

Lastly, I tried the Lemongrass Chicken on Rice (yes, I was hungry, or so I thought).  The rice had a nice chewy texture while the piece of chicken on top was really moist and juicy.  There was plenty of char on one side which resulted in a nice caramelization of flavours. In the end, the food didn't differentiate itself from the bulk of the Vietnamese restaurants in town, but it was decent and of course, well-priced.

The Good:
- Friendly people
- Decent eats
- Interesting open-kitchen (you can watch your food being made)

The Bad:
- Banh Mi bun was far too dense
- Limited menu

Saigon Fare Cafe on Urbanspoon

Ho Yuen Kee

Costanza has never been good with names.  Amazingly, his mind can twist a name from Memo to Ramone or Salade de Fruits to Pomme Frites.  Yah, go figure.  So when he remarked how his co-worker had raved about a Chinese restaurant called something "Yuen", that didn't really didn't help me decipher what it was.  First, I needed a location and second, was "Yuen" really in the name?  Well, I finally was able to figure out that it was Ho Yuen Kee out on Fraser Street.  Well, he wanted to try it out much to my chagrin.  Great.  The place where I ordered Peking Pork Chops and instead, received Sweet & Sour Spareribs.  That wasn't the biggest issue, it was how the manager argued that we ordered the wrong thing.  But whatever, I was willing to do a return visit because the food is generally pretty good there.

Since we had the kiddies with us, ordering the Peking Duck was a given.  The first course was the classic crispy skin with flour crepes.  The skin was crispy with a pleasing colour.  There was a bit of moist and tasty meat attached to each piece.  We liked how the layer of fat was not that noticeable, even with the breast portion.  The crepes were pan-fried, then steamed version, which meant they were not the fluffiest, but they did hold up and didn't dry out much.  When we were deciding what to order, I tried convincing Costanza and Elaine to try out the wontons.  Thinking back, I believe these are some of the best in the city.  We went ahead with a large Wonton Soup and it was massive at 24 of them.  These large puppies were filled with mostly whole shrimp which had a beautiful snap texture.  They were not overseasoned, so that the natural flavour of the shrimp was noticeable.

Onto another signature item, we had the Crab on Fried Rice.  Their more popular version is made with lobster, but we didn't feel like eating lobster or paying for it either.  For such a seemingly simple dish, it was pretty darn good.  The chewy rice was stir-fried with corn and tobiko which meant there was plenty of sweetness and pop.  Some of the crab juices (aided by salt and MSG) were infused with the rice, creating another layer of flavour.  The crab itself was fluffy and the seasoning had penetrated into the meat.  The second course of the Peking Duck (being the Duck Lettuce Wrap) arrived with some pretty ugly cuts of lettuce.  No matter because the filling was pretty good.  Unlike some other versions, there was more duck than anything else.  Being that it was moist to begin with, this made the dish successful.  However, with so much duck, the filling did lack a bit of crunch.

Okay, here we go, the Peking Pork Chops.  Yes, that dish.  This time, they got it right with actual pork chops rather than spareribs.  The meat itself was tenderized so it was easy to chew.  However, there were some pieces which were just a bit underdone.  The sauce was mild and mostly sweet lacking in tang.  Lastly, we got our veggies in the form of Stir-Fried Pea Shoots with garlic.  We found this dish too greasy while the pea shoots being just ever-so-slightly over-cooked.  However, they were still tender and seasoned properly.  Once again, the meal was generally pretty good highlighted by their signature dishes.  Yet, the other 2 were just okay.  The service we got wasn't bad per se, but it was sparse due to the full restaurant.  Prices are pretty high for this class of restaurant, but well worth it if you pick the right dishes.

The Good:
- Signature dishes are very well-executed
- Some of the best wontons in the city

The Bad:
- Pricey for this class of restaurant
- Service gets sparse sometimes 

Ho Yuen Kee Restaurant 何源記 on Urbanspoon

PNE 2013

Originally, we weren't planning on visiting the PNE this year due to "theme park overload" from our recent Florida vacation.  However, much like every year that I can remember, we went anyways because who doesn't want to eat copious amounts of fried food, watch the Superdogs, the Peking acrobats or buy a mop from the Showmart (and proceed to carry it for the rest of the day...) And similarly, I was invited to the media food tour of new and interesting eats at the PNE.  Hence, it was back-to-back PNE days (for me at least).

On the media day, we started early with our day of gluttony at 9:15am starting with Cheese Please grilled cheese sandwiches.  I sampled the Basil Tomato Soup first and it was surprisingly good.  Although it was on the sweeter side (probably appealing to the kiddies), the soup was flavour-packed with lots of tomato and basil.  I liked how it was slightly chunky where it helped break up the creaminess. Onto our first sandwich, I tried the Jalapeno Popper with fried jalapenos, cream cheese, tortilla chips and cheddar on whole wheat. This definitely had a kick which I really appreciated because there are so many "spicy" items that never come through.  The crunch from the chips added a great texture while the amount of cheese(s) was just right.  I was only mildly impressed with The Philly with pulled beef, smoked Provolone and caramelized onions.  I felt there was not enough cheese to bring the whole thing together.  It was merely a beef sandwich.

Onto our next stop (Think Sweet Deep Fried Pies), I was able to sample 2 pies.  The first was Apple Pie with soft serve ice cream.  I found the crust to be relatively thin and crispy. Hence it was somewhat light and easy to eat.  Inside, the big chunks of apple were soft in texture while maintaining a bite.  However, I found them to be semi-sweet with a need for some tang. The soft serve was creamy and pretty sweet.  For some variety, I also gave the Raspberry Pie a go.  Inside, it was just sweet enough where the texture was pretty typical pie-filling. Naturally, the raspberries would not hold their shape as much as apple. With that being said, if I had to choose, I'd stick to the apple pie.

With more fried goodness on the horizon, we leisurely strolled over to Pickle Pete's deep fried sweets and treats.  Keeping the theme of its namesake, we were given a bowl of their Fried Pickles and Fried Green Beans (served with either chipotle or ranch dip). I really liked both as the pickles were flavourful without being too salty.  The batter remained crunchy throughout and with a dip into the ranch, there were good things happening.  As for the green beans, they were also very crunchy and tender inside.  Despite the obvious deep-frying, neither were extremely greasy.  I wasn't a huge fan of the Fried Philly Cheesesteak though.  Somehow despite the tender beef, I found the whole thing wet and not that crunchy on the outside.

Situated on the old location of Whales Tails, Elephant Ears offered us a Banana Bacon Ear consisting of a folded fry bread containing bananas and bacon topped with icing sugar and chocolate.  Yes, health food this was not (and everything else for all that matters). If I had to compare, the fry bread was definitely more chewy than the old whales tails.  Possibly more gluten?  This in turn resulted in a less-crispy product.  I guess from a personal point of view, I prefer something less chewy.  In terms of flavour, the sweet bananas and salty bacon did go well together, however, the addition of sugar and chocolate made the whole thing really sweet.

If you thought we were done, we weren't even close as we sauntered over to Gourmet Burgers and their over-the-top creations and unique burgers.  There was a selection of game burgers consisting of Kangaroo, Venison, Alligator, Camel and Wild Boar.  I sampled the Venison and predictably it was dry due to the lean meat.  It was only somewhat gamy which in turn added plenty of flavour, even without condiments.  Lastly, I couldn't leave without taking a shot at The Vortex.  Consisting of an 8oz top sirloin patty, 2 fried eggs, 4 slices of cheese, 5 strips of bacon, lettuce, tomato served between 2 grilled cheese sandwiches, I couldn't even finish a quarter of it.  The grilled cheese was a nice departure from the regular burger bun.

Surprisingly, we stopped by the Wings food truck next (I didn't even know they had one) and were treated to 4 different wings and a breaded pickle. I really liked the deep fried pickle as it was crunchy and flavourful.  Much like my previous experience with Wings, the wings were still relatively moist inside.  Lastly, we ended the tour at an icon - Ernie's Ice Cream.  This soft serve stand is one of my favourites for its rich and smooth ice cream.  A great way to finish off an adventure of some new eats at the PNE.  Although there are some hits and misses, it is definitely nice to see a wide variety of different food choices added every year.

London Pub

You know times are changing when there are more non-Asian establishments opening up than Asian ones in Chinatown.  Call it gentrification, the declining relevance of Chinatown or the growth of Richmond as Chinese-central; interesting things are happening.  Driving by on Pender reveals boarded up iconic shops and then further down on Georgia and Union, we begin to see non-traditional shops opening up.  It also speaks to the shifting demographics of Strathcona.  Whatever the case, we were doing our usual Monday night softball game at the nearby ball field and decided to hit up one of these new establishments being the London Pub.

Milhouse and I started with the Salt & Pepper Wings ($12.00). We found them to be rather dry and over-fried.  Sure, the skin was crispy and nicely rendered, but the meat was devoid of moisture.  Furthermore, for salt and pepper wings, they weren't really salty nor peppery either.  I tried the London Pub House Sandwich first ($12.00 + $3.00 for poutine).  It was constructed of smoked turkey, bacon, cheddar, leaf lettuce and sundried tomato mayo within 2 slices of cranberry sourdough.  The bread was toasted nice and crunchy while the ingredients seemed to work well together.  I liked the ample amount of mayo as it provided the necessary moisture to the dry bread.  One thing we would've liked to see was crispier bacon.  We ended up substituting the Green Chili Cheese Fries for the regular fries.  This was their version of poutine where the green chili sauce served as the gravy.  I found it tart and not that spicy, but as I dug deeper, it was did have a nice kick.  As for the cheese, let's just say they were not actual cheese curds.

After finishing half of the sandwich, I moved onto the Cottage Pie ($14.00) consisting of slow cooked ground beef, stewed with Guinness and roasted root vegetables topped with mashed potatoes and cheddar.  This was very much like a Sheppard's pie, except with melted cheddar atop the potatoes.  The ground beef was in medium sized pieces and was easy to chew.  I liked the little firm cubes of sweet carrots strewn throughout.  Flavourwise, it was quite mild with a meatiness to it, however, I didn't get much Guinness.  The side salad was sad and wilted due to be in the proximity to hot food.  Judes ended up with the Strongbow Pulled Pork Sandwich ($14.00) which was not really her thing.  The meat was rather dry and jerk-like with large chunks of inedible burnt pieces.  I personally liked the slow-rumbling heat to the sauce, but she thought it was too spicy.

Hot Chocolate went for the Tequila Shrimp Tacos ($10.00) consisting of 3 hard shell tacos filled with Tequila-lime marinated shrimp and shredded lettuce.  It was served with house made salsa and chipotle crème.  She thought the shrimp were far too small to have any real impact while the flavours were muted.  The use of hard tacos didn't seem to fit with the ingredients whereas a soft taco may have been less overwhelming texturally.  Lastly, Boss Woman had the British Fish & Chips ($15.00) which came with minted peas, coleslaw and tartar sauce.  She remarked that the fish was moist and flaky with a crispy batter.  It wasn't too greasy either.  Overall, we found the food at London Pub to be "meh".  Seeing how it took 45 minutes for it to arrive, the overall experience was disappointing despite the pleasant staff.

The Good:
- Spacious and open setup
- Got all the pub amenities
- Pleasant staff

The Bad:
- Food is meh
- Food took forever to arrive

London Pub on Urbanspoon

Kaneda

"Late-nite AYCE sushi".  Wow, that is a phrase we haven't used in awhile.  As much as we've been spoiled by some pretty good Japanese food in the past few years, there are times we go back to the well.  Admittedly, in years past (a long time ago), we would do AYCE sushi regularly.  We understood the risks - mediocre food, but lots of it!  So with that in mind, we headed to Kaneda (former Vancouver location of Fish on Rice) after Friday night hockey.

As we arrived, we were impressed at the warm greeting and relatively attentive service throughout our meal. But then again, the place wasn't exactly full...  So the first item to arrive was the Oyster Motoyaki which only contained little bits of oyster.  We found the motoyaki sauce was far too salty which really made it unappealing to eat.  On the other hand, the Beef Short Ribs were pretty good being nicely charred and tender.  Much like the motoyaki, there was far too much salt.  Fortunately, the Teriyaki Beef and Chicken were not oversauced.  They were pretty typical though with thinly shaved beef and deboned chicken thigh.  Onto some fried items, the Vegetable Tempura was alright, but the batter was a touch thick.  As with most AYCE versions of Agedashi Tofu, this one arrived more bare than a Superstore shelf.  It was okay though being crispy and light with a particularly sweeter sauce.

Moving onto the Maki Sushi, the rolls appeared okay, but the rice was not that good.  It was dry, but worst of all, it tasted salty.  I'm not sure if they actually put salt into it, but it sure tasted like it.  Then again, this was AYCE, so great sushi rice was not expected.  Other than the rice issue, I found the fish to be somewhat underwhelming.  This was further exemplified with the Sashimi.  The salmon wasn't bad per se, but the tuna was subpar being really mushy (in not a good way).  And to further drive the point home, the tuna atop the Nigiri was just plain wrong.  The poorly presented tuna combined with its texture, it looked unappetizing.  And really, with the dry rice, it wasn't very good.  On the bright side, the salmon nigiri was a bit better.  Suffice to say, the Sushi Cones were average as well. Moving away from sushi, I really needed to comment on the Sunomono Salad.  There wasn't anything wrong with it, unless you had bad luck.  We all ordered one, but Gordo's was flavourless with soggy noodles.  Consistency issues anyone?

Going full tilt into the fried stuff, we had the Fried Smelt which was pretty good despite the use of too much batter.  The fish was not overcooked and of course was full of eggs.  The batter was crunchy and properly seasoned without being greasy.  On the flipside, the Chicken Karaage was overcooked being dry and too crunchy.  It was also underseasoned where the meat had really no flavour at all.  The same could be said about the Tonkatsu as it was also overcooked and lacking any taste.  Even the sauce on top didn't help matters.  But worst of the fried items must've been the Croquette as it was dense, floury and too sweet.  It was crispy on the outside though.  The Ika Karaage was a bit greasy, yet still crispy and only slightly chewy.  Although the Gyozas were nicely browned, they were not crispy at all.  However, they were again "alright".  Frankly, that is all we could come up with in general.  We had some other items, but they were not inspiring enough for me to write about.  No wonder we don't really do Japanese AYCE anymore...

The Good:
- Food comes out fast
- Service is pretty good
- There is sashimi for late night and lunch menus

The Bad:
- Food is not good

Kaneda Japanese Restaurant 金田 on Urbanspoon

Tung Sing Chin

* Restaurant is now closed*

I finally succumb.  I finally decided to do a re-visit post for Dim Sum at Tung Sing Chin.  After the repetitive nature of going there over and over again I just had to take pictures of the food and blog about it.  You see, my in-laws love the place (I may not be in total agreement of that), and we've been frequenting it often for Dim Sum.  Even with my mother-in-laws incessant complaining, we had agreed to eat there again. I was starting to get the shakes from not taking pictures!

They left the ordering to me which was probably a bad idea as I ordered far too much food starting with the Egg Tarts...  Dessert first?  Sadly, this happens quite often at Chinese restaurants during Dim Sum service.  If it is hot out of the oven (or not), food expedition means FIFO (first in, first out).  These were indeed hot out of the oven with a flaky and buttery tart shell.  The egg custard was somewhat firm, but was not too sweet.  Onto a savoury dish, we had the Black Bean Spareribs.  As evidenced in the picture, there was a whole lot of minced garlic which translated into the overall flavour profile.  Despite this, there was a lack of salt.  As for the texture, the meat was chewy, yet a touch too soft.  We liked that the pieces were easy on the fat and cartilage.

Next up was the Chicken Rice Hot Pot that featured a good amount of rice, but very little chicken.  Didn't matter really as the chicken was bland and over-tenderized where the meat texture was compromised.  The rice was pretty good though being dry and chewy.  One of my mother-in-laws favourite dishes is  Fried Smelt.  And I have to agree that it is a favourite of mine too.  Aiya!  We agree on something!  What has this world come to???  Anyways, the smelt were fried up crispy and wok-tossed with garlic, chilis, salt, pepper and of course MSG.  Personally, I thought it could've used a bit more salt.  I liked how the meat remained moist on the inside.

Onto another fried item, we had the Shrimp Spring Rolls.  I think my son practically ate this whole dish himself.  I don't blame him because they were fried up golden and crunchy with a minimal amount of grease.  The shrimp filling was plentiful, yet was lacking the classic snap texture.  The good amount of garlic helped ensure there was some aromatic flavour.  Continuing on with shrimp, we had the Haw Gow (shrimp dumplings).  Despite being large in size, the dumplings were not executed well.  The skin was floury and didn't exhibit any elasticity.  Although the filling consisted of large whole shrimp, there was a lack of a snap texture nor was there any apparent seasoning.

Onto even more shrimp, we had the Shrimp Rice Noodle Roll.  Again, there was a problem with the filling.  In terms of amount, there was plenty of large whole shrimp mixed in with shrimp mousse.  But once again, there was no snap.  Since they most likely used the same filling as the haw gow, there was a general lack of seasoning.  And while we are  at it, the shrimp in the Sui Mai (pork & shrimp dumpling) was exactly like everything else - no snap.  The dumplings were large though with a fairly loosely packed filling.  The pork was okay though being slightly bouncy.  Flavours were mild, yet we did pick out the shiitake mushrooms.

Moving onto some offal, we had the Tripe and Tendon.  There was no problem with flavour in this dish as there was plenty of sugar, garlic and gaminess.  The last flavour was probably due to inadequate rinsing of the tripe.  In terms of textures, both were pretty soft, but not enough to become mush.  For the kiddies, their favourite dish was of course, the Lo Mei Gai (sticky rice). The portion size was generous while the rice itself could've been less wet.  This was probably due to the large amount of filling consisting of ground pork.  Curiously, they added chestnuts to the mix.  I didn't think it went with the pork.

We got some veggies in the form of Stir-Fried Pea Shoots with garlic.  This was a well-executed dish consisting of crunchy pea shoots with plenty of garlic.  Again, there was a modest amount of salt used in the dish, yet we didn't mind it in this case.  Our last dish was the Stir-Fried Rice Noodles with Beef.  The individual components were done right including the noodles (which stayed intact), tender beef and crunchy bean sprouts.  However, they could've taken it easy on the sprouts as there was far too much of it.  Furthermore, the noodles needed more soy.  As you can probably guess, I found the Dim Sum to be average.  Sure, my in-laws love the place (they know the owner), but for me, this would not be my first choice for Dim Sum nor Dinner.

The Good:
- Large portions
- Value is there
- Parking lot, albeit small

The Bad:
- Seasoning issues
- Textural issues

Dung Sing Chin 東昇村海鮮酒家 on Urbanspoon