Sherman's Food Adventures: October 2013

O Grill Yakiniku

With a name like ChineseBites, you'd think all of our meals would be of the Chinese variety.  True, many have been, but there was an exception.  Now make that 2 exceptions as we made our way to O Grill Yakiniku.  Honestly, I wasn't even sure how to categorize the place as the menu featured items that were Korean, Japanese and Chinese.  Whatever the case, most of the stuff would be grilled anyways, so I concluded it to be a catch-all Asian BBQ.

There I met up with the regulars including Alvin, Grace, Amy, Diana and Janice. The first thing I noticed about the place was the temperature.  It was freakin' colder than one of Viv's stares when I insult her mother.  We understood that the restaurant could get pretty warm due to the BBQs, but really, we were never warm ever during our meal.  At the very least, it was somewhat alleviated by the pot of Chicken Soup at our disposal.  It was hot, natural-tasting and not sodium-ladened.   We got a few appies to start including the Chicken Nuggets, Fried Squid Tentacles, Sweet Potato Flour Balls and Mushrooms.  I found the nuggets to be crunchy, firm and seasoned with wok salt.  The squid was a bit chewy with only a mild amount of salt.  The exterior was crunchy with a touch of grease. The sweet potato balls were glutinous and sweet with a light crunch.  The mushrooms were buttery and really not all that interesting. Before starting up the BBQ, we were presented with the Ground Pork on Rice which featured a few slices of oshinko.  Told you the food here was "Asian".  The rice was nicely textured being chewy and slightly glutinous.  The meat was somewhat moist, but otherwise pretty bland.

After firing up the BBQ (which too a few attempts), we were served the Premium Short Ribs sliced super thin.  This way, it cooked really quickly.  With Alvin doing the grilling (the rare times he cooks), it turned out really well being moist and flavourful from the fat. Next up was a selection including Corn, Beef Finger (meat between the ribs), Beef Toro and Pork Belly.  The beef finger was pretty good being tender and meaty.  It had a pronounced beef flavour as well.  Curiously, the beef toro was tough and chewy despite being only lightly kissed on the grill.  On the other hand, the belly was fatty and moist.  Our second round of items included Rib Steak, Pork Jowl, Beef Tongue, Spicy Chicken & Basil Chicken.  The small nuggets of rib steak were not bad being well-marbled.  As per usual, the pork cheek was bouncy in texture with enough fat to provide flavour once grilled.  The beef tongue was sliced a bit thin and cooked up quickly.  Since there were raw and were not pre-cooked, they ended up to be a bit chewy with lots of meat resistance.  The duo of chicken was pretty good where the spicy version was tender and mild.  The basil chicken was unmistakable with a big herbal hit.

We also got a few Prawns and they were more or less standard rinsed frozen prawns.  They did have a nice meaty snap though.  Surprisingly, we were treated to 4 different types of dessert including a Custard with Strawberry Sauce, a Coconut Ice Cream, Almond Pudding and Mochi.  The custard was somewhat like a softer panna cotta.  The ice cream was ice cream, but give them kudos for dressing it up.  Although it looked like creme caramel, the flower shaped pudding was almond.  The only dessert worth talking about was the mochi.  It was fantastic after being grilled and dipped into the condensed milk - slightly crisp on the outside and ooey gooey on the inside.  As a whole, I was mostly indifferent.  Not that anything was particularly bad, but nothing really stood out either.  It was okay and in the words of Forrest Gump, "that's all I have to say about that...".

*All food and beverages were comped*

The Good:
- Diversity
- Meats were mostly okay
- Well-ventilated (albeit cold)

The Bad:
- It was cold
- Okay experience, but not overly impressive either
- Too many cuisines in one place?

O Grill Yakiniku 炎燒日式燒烤 on Urbanspoon


Happy Planet Smoothies and Soups

Quick what do bike lanes and Happy Planet have in common?  If you answered Gregor Robertson, then you get a gold star!  Okay, it's easy to complain about the bike lanes, but it does follow Happy Planet's philosophy of being socially responsible.  Their products feature natural and organic ingredients and yes, they support local farmers and help feed the hungry. With that in mind, I was able to sample some of their new prepackaged soups and of course smoothies as well.

My daughter insisted we try the Fraser Valley Mushroom & Marscapone Soup first.  For a mushroom soup, it was rather light and watery.  However, there was the natural woodsy essence as well as a touch of thyme and a slow rumble pepper.  The most noticeable thing was the conservative use of sodium.  Compared to canned soup, this one contained 1/2 the amount of salt.  Next we tried the Chatham Carrot & Ginger Soup with coconut cream & curry.  Also a touch on the watery side, this soup had a nice balance of flavours.  The ginger was just right where it didn't overwhelm the sweetness of the carrots while the amount of curry provided a mild spice.  It wasn't too creamy despite the use of coconut milk.

Off to the last 2 soups, we tried the Monteregie Potato and Leek with cracked pepper.  As with the other ones, this was not as thick as one would imagine.  However, I guess if it were too creamy, that would be against their "feel good food" slogan on every package.  Despite the lack of creaminess, it was still decent with plenty of ingredients.  It had a nice peppery hit as well as the taste of leek.  Lastly, we tried the Chilliwack Broccoli & Cheddar with fresh cream & garlic.  One taste and the cheddar announced itself.  The freshness of broccoli and fresh cracked pepper appeared with the second layer of flavours.

As for the smoothies, I really liked the Coconut and Pineapple.  Naturally, it tasted like a light tasting pina colada without the booze.  It was refreshing and not heavy.  The Raspberry and Cherry was pretty sweet due to the ingredients and likewise, it was refreshing.  As for the Extreme C+, the guava was quite apparent as it was the dominant flavour.  Lastly, the Blackberry, Boysenberry and Black Currant was a typical berry drink with a light thickness.  As I've had Happy Planet smoothies before, they were pretty much what I expected.  However, the soups were a new thing.  I enjoyed them, but yearned for some naughtiness (I mean more cream and sodium), but in the end, that would counteract what they set out to do.

The Good:
- Nothing feels unhealthy
- Not too much of anything
- Smoothies are always on point

The Bad:
- Soups are a bit watery and light tasting (but they were meant to be)
- Of course healthy and quality ingredients come at a price

Hansik Korean Restaurant

Having returned late Monday night from Ft. Lauderdale after a 3 week vacation, the best course of action was to do nothing the day after right?  Nope. Boss Woman asked if I wanted to come out to the championship game of our softball league.  Um.  I was in no shape or form (unless round counted) to do any physical activity, let alone an important game.  But with the promise of eats afterwards, I couldn't say no...  

Ironically, we ended up at the exact same location as last year's after championship game eats.  However, out with Columbus and in with a Korean restaurant named Hansik.  And no, there was still a lack of A/C. We started with the complimentary Banchan that included stewed potatoes, kimchi and turnip.  Nothing really all that special about them and in particular, the kimchi was a bit weak.  Our first dish was the Bibimbap ($8.99) which sported a good amount of toppings.  Nothing was amiss except the addition of iceberg lettuce created a weird texture.  Luckily this time, Boss Woman was aware that taking the egg was a no-no (she took it last time we were at Jang Mo Jib, to our horror).

Moving along, we had the Japchae ($13.95) where the noodles had a nice chewy texture.  The dish was not greasy, but was overly sweet though.  There was no absence of ingredients including the vibrant crunch from the broccoli and wood ear mushrooms.  The portion size was pretty typical for this dish.  I still cannot understand the price point for this dish in general at most Korean restaurants...  Being somewhat similar albeit with more meat and watery, the Bulgogi ($14.95) was tender and really moist.  It was also quite sweet much like the japchae.  As mentioned, it was a bit watery, yet the noodles were not mushy.

Not particularly the best dish to share amongst a table of 7, we had the Sundubu ($8.99) with seafood.  The soup came out boiling hot with plenty of ingredients including the silkiness of a raw egg.  Although there was mild spice, the broth was on the thinner side.  We didn't notice much depth.  We really liked the tofu though as it was soft and silky.  Somehow Bam Bam was able to split this 7 ways...  Amazing.  Completing the "usual things one would order at a Korean restaurant" was the Pajeon (seafood pancake $12.95).  We thought this was executed quite well and looked really good.  It was crunchy, yet not too dense inside.  There was a good mix of green onion and seafood.

Up next, we had the Jeyukbokkeum (spicy pork $14.95) which was pretty good in my opinion.  There was a decent amount of meat on the cast iron plate that exhibited some spice and again, plenty of caramelized sweetness.  The pork itself was tender while still retaining a natural meatiness.  Strangely labeled as "Korean BBQ" on the menu, the Kalbee (short ribs $17.95) showed definite signs of being BBQ'd.  Underneath the charred and caramelized exterior, the meat was a bit chewy.  On the other hand, it wasn't difficult to eat either.  Surprise surprise, the dominant flavour was sugar.

Onto another meat dish, we had the Chicken Gangjung (sweet & spicy chicken $14.95).  I'm a huge fan of this and I found they did a good job with it.  The chicken was crispy on the outside and juicy inside.  The spice level was good where it balanced out the sweetness.  Then out of nowhere, we were treated to a dish on the house being the Tteokbokki (spicy rice cake).  Was it my camera?  Anyways, the flavour profile started off sweet then finished with a good level of spice.  The rice cake itself was still a bit hard in the centre. Overall, we found the food to be decent for such a small little non-descript joint. Prices were a bit higher then we would've expected though.

The Good:
- Decent eats
- Friendly people

The Bad:
- Lack of A/C when it's warm
- Not as cheap as one would think

Hansik Korean Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Dim Sum @ Bing Sheng

Gosh.  We really must've missed Dim Sum in Vancouver.  Case in point, for the second straight day since returning from Florida, we went out for "Yum Cha".  This time, it was a revisit at Bing Sheng (haven't been here for Dim Sum in 5 years).  And just like the last time, they really must invest in a better quality awning as it looked disheveled and worn.  Haven't they gone through like 3 of them already???

Anyways, we weren't here for that.  Not sure a sexy awning would make food taste better...  or does it?  I guess I'll have to see... We started with the Fried Taro Dumplings which were crispy on the outside and not overly greasy.  With just the right thickness, the layer of mashed taro was fluffy and moist.  The filling was also very good with a decent amount of pickled vegetable.  On the topic of vegetables, we got the obligatory dish being the Stir-Fried Pea Tips with Garlic. This was  well-prepared with tender pea tips that still retained a mild crunch.  With good wok heat and garlic, there was appealing flavour without a pool of water at the bottom.

Next up was Shrimp Rice Noodle Roll where the noodle was soft and relatively thin, yet still retained an elasticity.  The fairly large shrimp were well-seasoned and exhibited a meaty snap.  This was one of the better rice noodle rolls I've had of late.  Onto more carbs, we had the Fried Turnip Cake with XO Sauce.  Not sure why they put down pan-fried on the menu as they were clearly deep fried (much like all other places).  Dunno, maybe it sounds healthier?  Whatever the case, these fried cubes of daikon pudding were medium-firm with  slightly crisp exterior.  There was a bit of spice from the wok toss and the dried shrimp added aromatics.

Onto the most important items of the meal, we had the Haw Gow (Shrimp Dumplings) and Sui Mai (Shrimp & Pork Dumplings).  For the ones we had, the haw gow were fantastic.  The large pieces of shrimp had a buttery snap with a proper amount of moisture.  We could really taste the sesame oil and white pepper as the filling was not over-salted.  The dumpling skin was nicely steamed where it was thin with a slight chew.  As for the sui mai, they were so big, it was a challenge to get to them out of the bamboo steamer.  The whole pieces of shrimp had a nice snap while the pork had a slight bounce texture.  There was a good balance of flavours with a nice accent from the shiitake.

As much as I loved the previous 2 dishes, my preference is the offal part of Dim Sum, especially the Honeycomb Tripe.  In addition to the ample amount of minced garlic, there was some flavour from the peppers on top.  Despite the presence of some spice, it wasn't enough to mask the slight gaminess of the tripe.  In terms of texture, the tripe was soft with a bit of chew.  So far, everyone was pretty good but that was not case with the Phoenix Talons (Chicken Feet).  These were pale and over done.  The skin was broken in many places and far too soft.  Underneath, some of the cartilage had melted away.  Flavours were okay though with garlic and sweetness.

With a similar flavour profile as the previous 2 dishes, the Pork Spareribs were seasoned with a good amount of garlic, a touch of black bean and diced peppers. In addition to being well-seasoned, the meat itself was well-textured with a nice bounce texture while being tender.  Continuing on, we had the Fish Maw & Chicken.  This was a fairly large portion where the chicken was moist and tender.  The entire dish was properly seasoned with a big hit of ginger and garlic.  We liked the large slices of shiitake and the colour of the wolfberries on top. The one fail of this dish was the fish maw as it was way overdone where it was practically melted away.  

The kiddies had to wait awhile for their favourites which were the Shrimp Spring Rolls and Lo Mei Gai (Sticky Rice).  Although they were small, the spring rolls numbered 4 which was enough for everyone.  The shrimp, like in all the previous dishes, had a nice snap with once again, plenty of garlic.  These were crunchy will minimal grease.  As for the lo mei gai, the sticky rice was firm with some chew.  The meat filling was on the saltier side with a good zip from the pickled vegetable.  The use of banana leaves ensured that the rice did not stick.

Our last 2 dishes consisted of Fried Golden Tofu and Gwai Fei Bao (BBQ Pork Buns with sweet topping). Although the tofu was crispy and light, it was devoid of any flavour whatsoever.  As for the buns, they were really good.  The exterior was sweet and crispy while underneath, the pastry was soft and buttery.  Inside, the BBQ Pork lean and sweet.  As you can probably guess, we were pretty happy with the Dim Sum at Bing Sheng.  Other than 2 dishes, everyone was on point and well-portioned.  Definitely a good option for mid-ranged Dim Sum in Vancouver.

The Good:
- Above-average eats
- Good portions
- Decent service

The Bad:
- Washrooms in need of renovation
- Crowded

Bing Sheng Restaurant 炳勝風味大酒家 on Urbanspoon

Dim Sum @ Dai Tung

If you haven't figured this out by now, I love Dim Sum.  So much so, I tried it 3 times in South Florida.  Either you can call me insane or deeply committed (wait, that could mean the same thing right?).  So guess what we had for our first meal out the next morning on our return?  Mexican.  No.  We paid a visit to Dai Tung, where it was only mediocre the last time I was there.  But I suppose it would be extraordinary compared to Florida eh?

Despite our small party (Viv, myself and the kids), we managed to order 14 dishes starting with the...  you guess it, Egg Tarts. I realize Chinese restaurants do not expedite dishes properly, but dessert first gets irritating sometimes.  But I guess they were ready, so...  Anyways, we liked them as they were flaky and buttery with a silky semi-sweet custard.  Next up was the XO Daikon Pudding Cake.  There was a good spice level to the dish from the XO sauce as well as a nice aroma from the dried scallops.  The daikon cake itself was soft with a good amount of dried shrimp and sausage.

When the Fish Tofu with pea leaves arrived it was not exactly what we envisioned.  And after taking a bite, it was definitely not what we were looking for.  The fish tofu balls were pure mush with no redeeming texture.  At least the pea leaves were okay, yet we regretted ordering this dish.  Surprisingly, the Haw Gow were not very good.  Instead of the hallmark buttery snap that is associated with the shrimp filling, this one was more meaty and dense.  Furthermore, I thought it was one dimensional in flavour without much in the way of sesame oil nor white pepper.  On the other hand, the dumpling skin was not bad being chewy and thin.

As for the Shrimp Rice Noodle Roll, it was afflicted with the same strangely texture shrimp.  Not that it was terrible, but for me, it seemed like they didn't prepare it properly with enough cold-water rinsing.  Maybe they meant to do this?  If so, I didn't like it regardless.  With that being said, the rice noodle was okay though being soft with some elasticity.  Predictably, the bits of shrimp in the Sui Mai provided no snap to the dumpling whatsoever.  The pork itself wasn't exactly exhibiting a bounce texture either as it was more meaty than anything.  Flavours were good though with a nice balance including shiitake mushrooms.

Continuing on with the mound of food we didn't have a hope in finishing was the Black Bean Spareribs.  Again, there was something amiss with the textures here where the meat was lacking bounce and chew.  It was as if they over-marinated it to the point of it being too soft.  Flavourwise, it was okay though with enough garlic and savoury elements.  For the kiddies, we had to get the Lo Mei Gai.  We found the rice slightly dry in parts, but the moisture from the ingredients made up for it.  It is worth noting that there was a good ratio between sticky rice and meat.  In terms of flavour, the entire thing was mildly seasoned.

Onto the weird portion (to some people) of Dim Sum, we had the Phoenix Talons (chicken feet, it sounds better with the dish name?).  These were pretty good with soft tendon and fatty tissue (mmm...  doesn't that sound good???) underneath moist fried skin.  With hits of garlic and sweetness, it was seasoned nicely.  As for the Tripe & Tendon, I found it a bit too flavourful.  Possibly too much MSG and/or seasoning meant I needed offset that with lots of tea.  Both were texturally fine though as the tendon was soft (while not melted) and the tripe was tender with some bite left.

Viv loves Potstickers and usually can't resist ordering them during Dim Sum despite the high chance of a let down. Typically, these are best eaten at a Shanghainese joint.  To be fair, these were not bad with a nicely browned bottom and a mildly thick dumpling skin.  The filling a little strange texturally, but did the job. We got a bowl of Minced Beef Congee for the kids, however, my son balked once he saw all the greens.  I didn't mind the watercress since it added a certain brightness.  On the other hand, that ensured the congee would become a touch watery at the end.  Otherwise, it was not bad with tender morsels of beef and a relatively low-sodium content.

Our last 2 dishes consisted of Soy-Fried Rice Noodle Rolls and BBQ Pork Buns.  I thought they did a decent job with the rice rolls as they were only mildly greasy.  I would've liked a bit more caramelization though.  The BBQ Pork Buns were a touch dry where the filling was pretty sweet.  The meat was a mix between lean and fatty pieces of BBQ pork.  At the end of the meal, I was a bit torn.  It wasn't as if the food wasn't any good.  Many of the dishes were prepared properly and the portion size generous.  However, the hallmark dish (Haw Gow) was not that great.  Considering how the prices are not exactly super cheap, I wouldn't necessarily line up to eat here.

The Good:
- Large portions
- Decent decor
- Service was acceptable

The Bad:
- We didn't like how they prepared the shrimp
- Not sure if I would suffer the lineup for the food

Dai Tung Chinese Seafood Restaurant 大同海鮮酒家 on Urbanspoon