Sherman's Food Adventures: December 2013

JDR's Cafe

Alright.  What if I told you about a restaurant where you can buy lottery tickets, have a donut and a salad roll whilst drinking bubble tea.  And what if this restaurant is located in Tsawwassen?  Yes, all of this can be had at JDR's Cafe and no, this is not a joke.  I'm not even sure how to categorize this place.  But Bubbly convinced me to pay it a visit and ironically, to give their bubble teas a go.

Well, to be completely frank, I really shouldn't have ordered any bubble teas.  I ended up with a Strawberry Slush with pearls and a Mango Slush with coconut jelly.  One sip of the strawberry and whoomp there it is...  instant high blood sugar.  Insulin anyone?  It tasted like liquid candy much like the strawberry on a Pocky stick.  The Mango didn't fare any better resembling a more potent version of instant mango pudding.  Far too sweet and far too artificial tasting.  It makes Bubble World taste like the best stuff on Earth in comparison.

Fortunately, I ordered a Viet Chicken Sub to go for kicks and it was actually pretty good despite my reservations (and the fail of the bubble teas).  The bread was toasted nice and crisp while the grilled chicken was moist and flavourful.  Add in some pickled daikon and carrots (which were a touch too sweet), mayo, jalapeno and cilantro, it was a flavourful sandwich.  I was planning on going back to try their breakfast, but really, that wouldn't have been interesting anyways.  Let's just say I won't be returning anytime soon for the bubble tea...

The Good:
- Cheap
- Friendly people
- An eclectic mix of stuff

The Bad:
- If you consider sugar and food colouring a tasting drink

JDR's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Wah Lun

Wow.  It is very rare that I visit the same restaurant twice within the same week.  However, this was the case as we popped by Wah Lun for dinner with the family.  At least it was for dinner, not Dim Sum like last time.  For those unaware, there are usually 2 different chefs for Dim Sum and dinner, hence, the food quality for either are mutually exclusive.  And yes, that is my justification for doing 2 visits so close to each other.

We started with the complimentary order of Poached Free-Range Chicken which was roughly more than a quarter.  If we went for the 4 course menu, it would've been half a chicken.  I thought the skin was nicely done as it was gelatinous with a layer of gelatin underneath.  Flavourwise, the chicken was well-seasoned while retaining a natural sweetness.  We appreciated that the minced ginger condiment was easy on the green onion.  As for the Daily Soup, it consisted of pork, carrots and herbs.  It was very flavourful which led me to believe that a good amount of MSG was in there.

For a small lil' Chinese restaurant, the Peking Duck was surprisingly good.  With a rich hue and a crispy texture, each piece of skin benefited from the courtesy fat scrape.  Hence, when wrapped in the slightly dry pancakes, it was not heavy to eat.  As much as they were super generous with the shrimp chips underneath, there was actually too much of it.  The second course was the Duck Lettuce Wrap.  There was decent enough wok heat to caramelized the ingredients (which remained crunchy) while the addition of diced Chinese sausage added both aromatics and the necessary saltiness.  I wasn't a huge fan of the way they hacked up the lettuce though as there were holes everywhere (lead to huge epic fails of ingredients leaking all over the place).

The Peking Pork Chops was easily the least successful dish of the meal.  As it hit the table, the unappealing pale reddish colour was a clear indication that there was not enough Worcestershire sauce added.  Hence, it tasted more like a sweet & sour sauce.  Furthermore, the pork chops themselves were a touch dry while the batter had become soft and clumpy.  However, that was the only poor dish as the Seafood & Tofu Hot Pot was bursting with ingredients.  The prawns had a nice snap while the fish was moist and flaky.  The squid could've been a bit more tender, but it wasn't horrible.  We liked how there wasn't too much moisture in the dish and when there was, it wasn't salty.

For our vegetable dish, we had the Gai Lan with Beef.  This was well-prepared with crunchy vibrant stalks with tender slices of beef on top.  There was a minimal amount of moisture on the bottom of the plate. Lastly, for dessert, we had Mango Pudding in the form of small koi.  These were actually better than most powdered mango pudding offerings.  There was actually some tartness, but no, there was no real mango to speak of (as with everywhere else).  For the price we paid, the food was pretty decent and well-portioned.  I'm not sure why the rating for Wah Lun is that low, but it might have to do with their previously indifferent service.

The Good:
- Reasonable pricing
- Good portions
- Decent

The Bad:
- The service we got was okay, but not exactly warm and fuzzy either
- Tables are set close together

Wah Lun Chinese Restaurant 華麟海鮮酒家 on Urbanspoon

Jollibee

My son loves skin.  Alright, before you call child protection services on me, I will clarify...  He loves crispy skin such as Peking duck, roast pork cracklings and fried chicken.  For a kid who is as adventurous as a vegan at a Texan BBQ, he sure loves the crunchy stuff.  Hence, while we were at Southcenter in Tukwila, it seemed like a good idea to hit up Jollibee.  For those who are unaware, Jollibee is a fast food chain out of the Philippines which is famous for their fried chicken.

Okay, let's get right to the meat (sorry for the pun) of the meal with the 3 PC Spicy Fried Chicken with 2 sides (corn & fries).  With one bite into the crispy and greasy chicken, the juices ran down my hand.  It was so tender and moist - an indication of a good brine.  But the best part was the spiciness.  It hit my tongue with force but had a nice sweet, almost BBQ-like finish.  Dunking it into the mild gravy helped temper the spiciness.  The fries were pretty crispy with a starch coating.  Not really fond of the corn though since it was a bit tough.  As much as they are famous for their fried chicken, I had to try their Aloha Burger.  It was a pretty simple concoction of beef patty, lettuce, bacon, cheese and pineapple, however, I liked it.  The bun was super soft and while the beef was well-done, it was not overly dry.

My daughter insisted on the Spaghetti with ham, sausage, beef and cheese. It was a predictably sweet with barely any zing due to the use of banana ketchup.  The pasta was not too overdone.  A great spaghetti for kids, but an acquired taste for adults familiar with the American version. Her order came with a regular piece of fried chicken and it was also a recipient of a good brine.  Juicy and flavourful.  We also tried the Pancit Palabok (Fiesta Noodles on the menu) it was saucy, slightly seafoody, savoury and sweet.  For a fast food joint, with prepared ingredients, this was was a decent version with layered flavours and enough meat.  Overall, the meal was enjoyable, but the star was and will always be the spicy fried chicken in my opinion.

The Good:
- Juicy and flavourful fried chicken
- Decent value
- Something different if you haven't tried it

The Bad:
- Compared to an actual Filipino restaurant, the rest of the food is average, but then again, it's fast food...
- Long lineups at this location

Jollibee on Urbanspoon

Mandarin Buffet & Grill

I get asked often as to why I visit buffets so often when I'm in the States.  The answer is pretty simple really - it serves to fill up our tummies and there is always something for the kids to eat.  Believe me, I realize the compromises that need to be made since finding outstanding food at a buffet is as likely as Miley Cyrus being classy.  So to emphasize the convenience of it all, we headed back to Mandarin Buffet for a revisit since we were staying nearby.

One thing I particularly like about buffets in the States is that many charge per year for children.  Hence, the costs don't go out-of-control like in Vancouver where you'd pay full-price for some older kids. Mandarin Buffet is comparable to some of the other ones in the area including Haiku, Blue Fin and Mizuki.  In other words, it means the selection encompasses everything from sushi to pizza.  On the topic of sushi, I found the varieties to be decent, yet the overall quality to be mediocre.  Compared to Mizuki, the rolls didn't look as appealing nor was there any sashimi to be found.  Naturally, the sushi rice was texturally off being dry and flavourless.

To be fair, it was all edible and acceptable for a buffet of this type.  I did enjoy the hotate (scallop) served on the half-shell though as it was buttery and surprisingly fresh-tasting.  Moving onto some cooked items, the first station featured items such as crab, fried frog legs, honey shrimp, chicken wings, fried shrimp, teriyaki chicken, fried banana, French fries, baked baby scallops and pizza.  As expected, the crab was not that fresh while the shrimp were frozen.  The honey shrimp was pretty decent being crispy and laced with a sweet mayo sauce.  Incredibly large, the fried frog legs were somewhat moist.  The chicken wings, on the other hand, were dry albeit crunchy.  I didn't bother to try the pizza.

Next section consisted of Chinese food in one from or another.  Representing the "Dim Sum" was sweet sticky rice (which we hated), sui mai, tripe and chicken feet.  Pretty subpar including the dry sui mai and soggy tripe.  However, the chicken feet were really good being plump and gelatinous.  In addition, there was Shanghai bak choy, broccoli beef, sesame chicken, squid, crayfish, clams, fried rice, fried noodles and salmon.  The veggies were all okay if not a bit greasy.  I found the sesame chicken to be dry and chewy.  The clams were pretty plump though where I had a few helpings.  Not sure why the salmon was in this section though.  No matter, it was dry and pale.

Last hot section consisted of soups, breaded shrimp, Chinese-style ribs, fried fish, fried wontons, creamed spinach, green beans, button mushrooms, spring rolls and fried sesame glutinous balls.  Nothing to see here except for the crispy beans.  Lastly, we shared a dish from the Mongolian grill section.  Pretty typical stuff with noodles, veggies and meats.  Of note, as a public service announcement, stay away from the steak unless you consider the bottom of your shoe to be tender.  I didn't bother much with the desserts or salads, but the kids did enjoy the chocolate fountain.  Yah, yah...  I can feel the buffet haters rolling their eyes at this moment.  Hey, I don't disagree with you, but in the end, the kids were happy and it didn't cost us an arm and a leg (and there were some edible items).

The Good:
- Decent selection
- Okay service considering it is a buffet
- Edible

The Bad:
- Pretty average stuff, as expected
- Very busy, some items were empty for awhile, especially the sushi

Mandarin Buffet & Grill on Urbanspoon

Dim Sum @ Kirin (City Square)

For me, one of the most inconsistent restaurant chains out there is the Kirin group of restaurants.  The variation between each location can be as wide as a bike lane in Downtown.  Thus, by visiting one, there is no way someone can make a blanket assessment of the food.  In fact, that would be with any group of restaurants including some of the more popular chain restaurants in town.  Furthermore, considering Kirin has Dim Sum service, that is a totally different animal since it usually involves a separate chef.  And off we went to Kirin at City Square for the aforementioned Dim Sum.

Shockingly, not only did we get our reservation on time, we scored a nice table near the window.  Brownie points for them!  We started with the must-order Haw Gow (Shrimp Dumplings).  These were rather small with a mix of shrimp and mousse.  Mostly sweet with a hint of white pepper, the filling was a touch soft with a slight snap.  We found the dumpling skin to be floury with little elasticity.  Continuing on with shrimp, we had the Shrimp Rice Noodle Roll.  Interestingly mixed with fluffy eggs, the large whole shrimp had a buttery snap.  They were well-seasoned standing on their own even without the addition of sweet soy.

Next, we had the Steamed Spareribs which were pretty good.  Although a bit heavy with the cartilage pieces, there was very little fat. The meatier pieces had a chew with some bounce and were well-seasoned and garlicky.  This dish was ultimately very flavourful which led us to believe there was a good amount of MSG as well.  We found the Lo Mei Gai (Sticky Rice) to be firm while moist enough exhibiting that classic glutinous texture.  There was a good amount of fatty pork mixed with dried scallop which ensured an aromatic flavour.  Hence, there was a natural savoury and sweetness to the dish.

Whenever the Shrimp Spring Rolls arrive, it's like Christmas morning to the kids.  Maybe I should put some of them in their stockings?  Boy would that be interesting.  Anyways, my son's enthusiasm turned to dismay as noticed the pea shoots mixed in.  They were crunchy and hot with a loose shrimp filling.  The shrimp had a decent snap while being garlicky and properly seasoned.  Onto another fried item, we had the Deep-Fried Taro Dumpling.  Although these were fried up crispy with minimal grease, the taro itself was bland while the ground pork filling was far too fatty.  Not a relatively bad dish, it just wasn't great.

Onto the Sui Mai (Pork & Shrimp Dumpling), they were both good and bad at the same time.  As for the good, the dumpling had a nice bounce texture with a balance of flavours.  However, there was far too many chunks of fat that were unappetizing.  Furthermore, the dumplings were loose, which meant they fell apart after one bite.  We really liked the moist bounce-texture of the Beef Meatballs though.  There was a good mix of greens and dried orange peel to provide variation in flavours as well as colour.  The addition of water chestnuts afforded a light crunch which was a good textural contrast to the meat.

Of course we couldn't do without the obligatory offal dish right?  So we had the Crystal Noodles with Beef Tendon.  Despite the visuals from the picture, the dish was far smaller than it appears.  For us, this was pretty much a fail because the noodles were too soft while the tendon lacked any texture at all.  Furthermore, there was too much sauce that really didn't impart any flavour either.  Then we had the Phoenix Talons (Chicken Feet) which was an inconsistent offering.  You see, my claw was scrawny and over-fried while some of the others were plump and just right. I loved the ample amount of garlic they used as it was really flavourful.

Fluffy and light, the BBQ Pork Buns were good.  The pork itself was lean with very few fatty pieces while the sauce was sweet and rich.  We felt this was one of the better dishes of the meal.  Finally, we got the Green Tea Pudding, which took forever to arrive.  Aren't these usually ready to go from the fridge?  Anyways, it was anti-climatic as they were bland and essentially the same as coconut pudding in texture. Overall, the Dim Sum was decent and surprisingly well-priced considering the class of restaurant.  The validated parking for the time we spent there was a plus as well.  However, the service was a bit slow and some dishes could've been better.  At the very least, the Dim Sum service at this location is a whole lot better than their dinner.

The Good:
- Okay pricing considering everything
- Despite being cramped, the dining space is nice
- Validated parking

The Bad:
- Service could be a bit better for this class of restaurant
- Food could be more consistent across the board

Kirin Seafood Restaurant 玉麒麟海鮮酒家 on Urbanspoon

Tasting Plates Burnaby Heights

I swear Vanfoodster made a deal with either someone up there or down there regarding the weather for his Tasting Plates events.  For the 3rd straight time, awful weather during the week gave way to clear skies when it mattered.  Either he is a great negotiator or has a stash of rabbit feet somewhere.  Whatever the case, I was invited to the Burnaby Heights edition along with Sean, Alvin, Diana, Amy and Jeremy.  I brought Whipping Girl partly because Chez Christophe was on the menu (something about her whining about wanting to revisit the place).

We started at Cafe Divano, where we were given an option to choose 3 treats from their display.  Alvin, being the VIP, got all of them, so the picture represents all of the available choices.  From left to right, there was a Savoury Brioche, Biscotti, Macarons, Macaroon, Chocolate Chip Cookie, Mint Chocolate Cookie and Mini-Croissant.  Not pictured was a cute Gingerbread Man.  Our choice of beverage included Spanish Latte, Cappuccino (pictured) and Christmas in New York.  Loved the soft brioche, but the macarons were terrible being hard and gummy.  Drinks were okay, if not a tad weak.  Next up was a car ride down to Yo Sushi and their tasting plate which included Red Dragon Roll, Tuna Tataki Salad and Kamikaze Roll.  Much like my original visit, the rolls were fine, if not oversauced.

Taking the stroll (no, we left the car alone) over to Cioffi's Deli, we were presented with and Antipasti Plate consisting of Crostini with Goat Cheese and Quice Jam, Prosciutto & Bocconcini Skewer and Mixed Olives.  Loved the prosciutto as it was meaty and nicely salty.  And since I love olives, there was no question I ate them all.  Going practically next door, we visited Cioffi's Meat Market and Gourmet Kitchen for a plate of food which included Penne with Turkey Bolognese, House Made Meatball Slider and Tuscan Chicken Sausage.  I particularly liked the sausage as it was meaty with minimal fat and veggies here and there.  The meatball was quite tasty too being well-seasoned and nicely textured.

Off to some sweets, we headed over to Glenburn Soda Fountain and Confectionery.  We were treated to Chocolate Covered Candy Cane or Eggnog Ice Cream Cones.  I liked the candy cane more as it was a good mix of mint and sweetness.  Then we tried their Butterscotch Sundae featuring Birchwood Dairy ice cream.  Smooth, dense and rich, the ice cream was accented by their house-made butterscotch which was deeply sweet with a slight salt finish.  Lastly, we had the Frostbites Cranberry Spice Soda.  This was refreshing, tart and slightly sweet.  A nice way to finish off after 2 decadent cold treats.

Getting back into my car, we headed up to Stan's Pizza Joint to no avail.  They were super busy.  So we went across the street to Posh Pantry where we had the Wild Mushroom Short Rib Ragout and House-Made Chips (in the microwave no less!).  The ragout was rich and meaty while not being overly reliant on salt.  The fantastic chips (more like crisps) were remarkable coming from a microwave.  Finally, we headed to the highlight of the event being Chez Christophe.  We were presented with a plate made up of a Mini-Douceur Canadienne, Olive Oil and Balsamic Macaron and Cannelle Noisette Truffle.  Loved everything on the plate.  Compared to Cafe Divano, this was a real macaron with subtle flavours and a delicate exterior giving way to a slightly chewy inside.

We tried once more to visit Stan's Pizza Joint, but after 15 minutes of standing in the doorway without being acknowledged, we left.  I've had the pizza a few times before and it is pretty standard stuff which does the job.  It's too bad we couldn't get to try it this time around.  Normally, there is not much fanfare surrounding the eats around the Burnaby Heights, but it was nice to see an event here.  Maybe we can coax Richard into doing a Surrey Tasting Plates?

 *Note - this was an invited dinner where all food was comped