Sherman's Food Adventures: 2014

Black Angus (Lynnwood)

Another year and yes, another Black Friday...  It's been 2 years since I have participated in the post-apocalyptic display of mass consumerism all crammed into a 2-day frenzy.  This time around, I enlisted the help of Miss Y and Whipping Girl to help me wade through the craziness.  No, there was no Costanza this time around.  Sorry bud, Miss Y and Whipping Girl are much better looking than you!  Finding deals and places open on a Thanksgiving (for shopping) is not a problem on Black Friday, but getting a bite to eat that doesn't involve a drive-thru is another matter.  Alas, the chain restaurant (Black Angus in particular) came to the rescue...

Normally, I don't really talk about restaurant bread unless it is something that is more unique than white bread.  Yes, this was the case here as we were served a Molasses Loaf that somewhat resembled the honey-oat at Subway.  We weren't planning on eating it much, but ended up dusting 2 of them off.  Was it because we were hungry after wading through the crowds at Target or was it really that good?  Honestly, we weren't really sure...  Since the portions at the table next to us looked rather large, we decided to share 2 entrees.  Each came with 2 sides and I was excited to try the Wedge Salad.  When it arrived, it looked like a plain ol' green salad.  At first, we though they made a mistake, but after a taste, it indeed has the blue cheese dressing (that was supposed to come with wedge salad).  Our question was: why call it a wedge salad when we didn't get a wedge of iceberg lettuce???

Okay, onto the mains, the sizzling cast iron pan of our Rib-Eye arrived first.  It was served on a bed of caramelized onions which were the beneficiary of the super hot pan.  Hence, they were sweet and yes, caramelized.  However, the steak itself was super-bland.  We understand that there is no need to over-seasoned a good cut of beef, but usually, rib-eye should be flavorful to stand up on its own.  It didn't do that in this case.  On the other hand, it was relatively tender (for that cut of meat).  It was served with onion rings (with the other side being the salad.  We enjoyed the crunchy onion rings but really, there wasn't much of it.  Those pictures on the menu are deceiving!

Lastly, we shared the Full Rack of Ribs with a loaded potato and green beans. For par-boiled ribs, these weren't bad as they still retained a meatiness (without being wet nor dry).  There was a decent amount of charring which added a smokiness.  Personally, I thought the BBQ sauce could've been smokier as it was rather sweet. I wasn't a huge fan of the potato though as it was rather dry.  Also, it didn't live up to being loaded as there could've been more topping (which would've made up for the dryness too).Although a bit greasy, the beans were still crunchy and vibrantly green (with the goodness of bacon!).

For dessert, we had the White Chocolate Strawberry Cheesecake since I was out-voted (I wanted to just leave...).  Well, I guess I was wrong a the cheesecake was solid with a creaminess that was not overly sweet.  It wasn't too firm, not too soft which is exactly how  like it.  With the items we did try, we felt that somehow the meal was lacking even though nothing was particularly amiss.  I guess being a chain restaurant, Black Angus did what it was supposed to do, especially on a holiday.  Not something I'm aching to return to, but whatever, we got fed when most other places were closed.

The Good:
- Large portions (except for the puny onion rings)
- Friendly service (that we received)

The Bad:
- Pricing can get up there
- Food is okay, but nothing to write home about

Western Lake

Okay, I'll admit it - the last few times dining with the mother-in-law has been reasonably enjoyable.  *Gasp* Could it be???  Yes, hell has frozen over; traffic rules are being obeyed in Richmond and Government is not wasting our tax dollars.  Therefore, it was with as little hesitation as there will ever be when we decided to take her out for her birthday.  With the choice of restaurants left up to her, I was cringing and reserving myself in dining once again at Tung Sing Chin (ew...).  But surprise, surprise, she picked on of my favs being Western Lake.  Am I going to win Lotto Max now too?

For only 4 adults and 2 kids, we went a bit overboard with the food thanks to me.  Serves them right leaving me in charge of ordering.  But then again, I was paying...  Arriving in record time, the Peking Duck and Duck Lettuce Wrap were served almost simultaneously.  As evidenced in the picture, the duck skin was fried a deliciously-looking golden hue.  It was crispy and the fat was manually removed underneath.  We found the crepes to be moist and nicely chewy.  As for the lettuce wrap, the mixture was a bit wet, but still exhibited a nice crunch.  With a generous amount of tender duck, the dish was well-seasoned.

While we were even barely into the Peking duck, the Fish Maw & Crab Meat Soup arrived.  This was chock full of soft, yet not mushy, pieces of fish maw.  There was a modest amount of crab.  When we spotted some, it was fluffy and not overcooked.  The broth itself was silky and not overly thick.  It was well-seasoned with plenty of depth.  As I was just digging into the soup, our 3lb Lobster in consume sauce with noodles was crammed onto the lazy Susan.  This was well-prepared where it was fried just enough that the meat was still juicy and bouncy.  I liked how there was a minimal amount of starch coating as well.  The sauce was a little on the salty side though.

We hadn't even touched the lobster when the Scrambled Eggs and Prawns was set onto the already overloaded lazy Susan.  When I finally got to the dish, the eggs were really fluffy with an appealing amount of moisture.  They were barely cooked being silky and well-seasoned.  The large prawns were on point with a wet snap.  By the time the Stir Fried Pea Shoots with garlic arrived. we had to resort to piling stuff on top of the soup at the side of the table.  This was a fairly large portion of well-prepared pea shoots.  Most of the leaves were tender with a slight crunch, but some were somewhat tough.  The dish was garlicky and well-salted, yet quite greasy.

Some people were still stuck on the lettuce wrap dish when Steamed Black Cod with black bean sauce was forcibly-wedged onto the lazy Susan.  This was the most disappointing dish of the meal as the thin slices of fish were overcooked.  Hence, it did not have its signature butteriness.  Furthermore, the tofu underneath should've been silken because it was not particularly soft either.  Lastly, we had the 1/2 Crispy Chicken.  It was fried a golden brown with crispy skin all around.  The meat was far too dry and salty though. This was the end of a fast & furious meal in an equally busy restaurant.  The food was a bit hit and miss, with really good ones and equally poor ones.  We didn't particularly like the expedition of dishes because we got all of them within 20 minutes.

The Good:
- Some good dishes
- Good portions
- Well-priced for the quantity

The Bad:
- Cramped and super busy
- Food comes out far too quickly
- Hit and miss this time

Western Lake Chinese Seafood 西湖海鮮酒家 on Urbanspoon

The Brasserie Bistro

Here I go experimenting with Groupons again.  This time, it was another deal that I couldn't pass up, especially with a 20% off coupon to go along with the discounted Groupon deal.  Not to be confused with La Brasserie, The Brasserie Bistro is located in the Coast Hotel on Denman in Downtown Vancouver.  Seemingly lost in a time capsule from the 80's, the décor and vibe of the place screamed out Christopher Cross and something about "Sailin" a la elevator music.  Whatever the case, we gave the place a chance.

I decided to try their Clam Chowder which arrived in a deceivingly deep bowl.  It was indeed creamy, but by appearances alone, it appeared that the milk ingredients had separated from the rest of the broth, hence giving it a cooked egg white look.  There was a decent amount of ingredients including bacon, onion and clams.  Those flavours would dominate the soup which wasn't necessarily a bad thing.  Viv opted for the Quinoa Salad which was in need of some acidity as the flavour profile was pretty weak.  However, there was a significant amount of red onion which overwhelmed everything else including the toothsome quinoa.  Despite consisting of mainly fresh and vibrant ingredients, the radicchio was not that great.

For our mains, I went for the Lamb Shank which was covered in what looked like a regular brown gravy.  Whatever it was made of, it ate and tasted like plain ol' gravy.  Too bad really, as a proper silky demi-glace would've been perfect with the large shank.  And about that shank, it was surprisingly prepared on point.  It was succulent and moist while being devoid of any dry or chewy spots whatsoever.  Viv ended up with the Full Rack of Ribs with fries and coleslaw.  I asked if she would share her rack with me...  right in front of the kiddies!  Gasp... Anyways, for a parboiled version of baby back ribs, these were done right with very little meat shrinkage.  Furthermore, they were fall-off-the-bone tender with no dry portions.  We found the BBQ sauce to be lacking though as it didn't have much impact.  The generic fries were fried crispy while the coleslaw was strangely salty.

For the kiddies, my son had his ever interesting Chicken Strips and Fries which were more or less standard.  The chicken was fried crispy where the meat was still tender.  The fries were crispy much like Viv's dish.  As you can see in the picture, my daughters Mac n' Cheese looked more like a soup than anything.  Hence, the noodles were really soft while the sauce was a bit grainy and lacking in sharpness.  She didn't mind it though, so who was I to judge?  Overall, if I had to judge, the food was below average.  Nothing particularly bad, but somehow, it wasn't all that appealing to eat either. In reality, the Brasserie exists as a hotel restaurant (in the Coast) that serves up non-offensive eats which may not impress either.

The Good:
- Decent portions
- Super friendly and attentive service
- Kid-friendly

The Bad:
- Stuck in a time warp...  Modern it isn't
- Nothing inedible, but nothing overly appealing either

Brasserie Bistro on Urbanspoon

Belgian Fries

Sometimes returning to a restaurant that I haven't been to in a long time is like suddenly calling up a friend that I've neglected over the years.  Wait, that sounds horrible...  If you are one of those people reading this blog right now, I'm sorry...  Too busy eating!  I digress.  So seeing how we hadn't been to Belgian Fries in nearly 6 years, it was time to see if their poutine was better than the last visit.  Hey, there have been some new friends in town like La Belle Patate and the Spud Shack.  Oh darn, there I go neglecting old buds again...

So, my son had the Cheeseburger and Fries with garlic mayo dip.  The burger was pretty straightforward with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle and cheddar on a sesame bun.  Well-charred and meaty, the beef patty was on the drier side, but did have a natural taste.  The side of fries were nicely crisp while still being quite starchy.  We liked the dip as there was quite a bit of roasted garlic.  With one piece each of salmon and cod, my daughter attacked the Fish n' Chips, in particular the salmon.  We weren't sure why because it was super thin and hence became more like salmon jerky.  The batter was quite nice though being paper thin.  Yet it was soggy in places.  The cod didn't fare too much better as it was no longer moist.

Viv and I shared the large Smoked Meat Poutine which was a considerable plate of food.  The cheese curds were legit being squeaky where most of them were not melted (that's good).  As for the gravy, it was thick and a touch salty, but it didn't interfere.  We really liked the smoked meat as it was well-charred on the outside where it had a rich smokiness.  The large chunks were tender and well-brined.The fries stood up to the gravy and remained relatively crispy in spots.  Overall, this revisit was acceptable where anything other than the poutine was pretty average.  With that being said, I prefer my new friends in La Belle Patate and the Spud Shack more.

The Good:
- Crispy, potatoey fries
- Decent poutine

The Bad:
- The other items we had were average

Belgian Fries on Urbanspoon

Vancouver Foodie Tours (Granville Island Market Tour)

Quite a few years ago, there was a little food tour that could.  The brainchild of Michelle Ng, Vancouver Foodie Tours attempted to offer up a culinary experience that represented the local scene while being reasonably-priced. Fast-forward 4 years and Vancouver Foodie Tours has expanded to 3 separate tours, each offering something different.  I've been on 2 of the 3 and was recently invited to the 3rd being the Granville Island Market Tour.  Personally, I enjoy an occasional stroll through the market, so this was something I was looking forward to.

We met at Edible Canada at the Market to start our tour led by enthusiastic tour guide, Andrew.  Seeing how it's never too early for some vino, we were treated to a glass of Merlot to go with our Wild Mushroom Benny with foraged mushrooms, buttermilk biscuit, poached free range eggs, spinach, Hollandaise and mixed field greens.  This was nicely executed with a perfect runny yolk mixed with a creamy Hollandaise.  The sauteed mushrooms added a woodsy aromatic touch to the dish.  From there, we headed into the market to JJ Bean and sampled their Christmas Reserve Coffee that featured freshly roasted beans from the day before.  To be frank, this was not my cup of tea (or should I say coffee?).  I've had JJ Bean coffee before I haven't been disappointed, but this had a finish that I personally don't enjoy.

Making our way through the weekend hustle and bustle in the market, we visited Terra Breads next.  We were treated to a bevy of baked goods including Rosemary & Olive Oil, Blueberry White Chocolate and Pecan Fruit Crisps.  Although not pictured, we sampled a fantastic Chocolate & Cherry Pantone.  It was airy and light with the balanced sweetness from the ingredients.  I guess our next stop was necessary as one surely couldn't visit the market without having some fresh fruit.  At the #1 Orchard fruit stand, we cleansed our palates with slices of Honey Crisp Apple.  Nothing much to remark other than the apple was sweet with a semi-firm crunch.  Nice and refreshing.

Onto my favourite stop of the tour, we stopped by Oyama Sausage Co. where we tried a selection of cured meats including Okanagan Red Wine Prosciutto, Rosette Lyon, Campange Parisienne, Kazu Copa, Duck Prosciutto, Elk Prosciutto and Truffled Duck Breast Salami.  Of these, I enjoyed the duck prosciutto the most since it was buttery, purposefully salty and appealingly gamy.  Naturally, the black truffle in the salami was a treat as well as the pate that went well with the olive bread from Terra.  Taking a short few steps, we visited Benton Brothers Fine Cheese.  We were given a selection of 2 cheeses including the 6-Year Old Cheddar and Qualicum Rathtrevor.  Firm, notably sharp and nutty, the cheddar was flavourful.  As for the Rathtrevor, it resembled a Gruyere as Andrew pointed out.  He was right as it was salty, sweet, aromatic and nutty.

After this, we stopped by at the Granville Island Tea Company for some Chai.  Being Chinese, I am used to drinking tea without any additions such as cream and sugar.  With that out of the way, I do not mind chai though as the aromatics of the cinnamon and cloves really add to the experience.  In this case, it was good for our sense of smell as well as taste where the tea was purposefully sweet.  On the topic of sweets, we made our way to an ol' favourite being Lee's Donuts.  There, we sampled 2 freshly made treats that included a Glazed Donut and Gingerbread Donut.  Soft, warm and sinfully sweet, the glazed donut at Lee's gives some of the newer donut shops a run for their money.

We ended the tour right where we started at Edible Canada where we sampled various items including some toffee crunch which was a nice end to an enjoyable tour of various vendors in and around the market.  I thought it wasn't too rushed while the variety of vendors kept things interesting and fun.  Combined with the knowledgeable and friendly tour guide, I consider this tour to be a great way for tourists to get a quick taste of the Granville Island Market (and for locals to get re-acquainted).

The Good:
- Nice variety
- Knowledgeable and friendly guide
- Not too rushed

The Bad:
- Due to the cramped nature of the market, it makes it challenging for bigger groups
- Parking could be an issue for busier days

Full Ramen

For all the ramen that is available in the GVRD, most of it is found in a small radius in the Downtown core.  In fact, most of them do not stray far from Robson Street and hence the people that live there are in Ramen heaven (or not, if you hate ramen...).  But what about the burbs?  Yes, there is one in Coquitlam, a few in Burnaby and surprisingly few in Richmond.  Hey, how about Surrey???  Okay, stop laughing (or it you aren't, good for you).  That is exactly the mission Hot Mama and I were on where we visited Full Ramen in Fleetwood.  Yes, kinda random, but what the hey, you never know until you try...

Hot Mama decided to go for the Tonkotsu Ramen with chashu, half golden yolk egg, kikurage mushrooms (wood ear), menma (bamboo shoots), bean sprouts and scallions.  As much as the bowl didn't look especially large, there was a substantial amount of noodles which were appealingly toothsome.  As for the broth, it had a natural pork flavour that was accented by the usual dose of salt.  I wouldn't say it had incredible depth nor richness, but it was decent.  As for the chashu, it was fatty which in turn helped achieve a melt-in-our-mouth texture.  For myself, I had the Kakuni Ramen in a miso broth.  It included the same items as the aforementioned ramen except with braised pork belly.  As such, the meat was fatty and richer in taste.  Due to being in larger chunks, the meat wasn't overly soft, but it wasn't chewy either.  The miso broth was unmistakable in flavour but not overly salty.  It had a bit more impact than the tonkotsu.

We also shared an order of Gyoza that featured a relatively thin and chewy exterior skin.  Inside, the ratio between cabbage and pork was good while the meat was not dense.  I felt that they could've done a better job with the exterior sear.  After it was all said and done, we were mildly impressed with the food at Full Ramen.  Sure, it wasn't exactly Downtown quality, but for Fleetwood, it was more than acceptable.  So stop laughing will ya?

The Good:
- Decent ramen given its location
- Decent pricing
- Decent service (I can't think of another word than "decent")

The Bad:
- Decent, but of course Downtown is better (but not as much as you would think)

Full Ramen on Urbanspoon

Leila's Donair Town

Sometimes, it's hard to tell the difference between one donair joint to the next.  It might possibly have to do with when most people visit these types of establishments.  Yup, it could be for a quick bite or something late at night when one either has the munchies or inebriated. Well, for me, I was in the right frame of mind when I made my way to Leila's Donair Town.  I was trying to see how they compare to Donair Star down the street.

Similar to other donair joints, the Lamb Platter was large and generously portioned.  I liked the rice as it was firm, chewy and seasoned (unlike Donair Star down the street).  As for the lamb, it was mostly moist.  However, the pieces were very inconsistent as some were really large and some were in little bits.  Furthermore, I found the flavours to be quite muted.  I also found the hummus to be far too salty which made it strange in flavour.  It was quite smooth though.  The small Chicken Donair was a real deal at $3.99, especially given its size.  However, I wasn't a huge fan of the chicken itself.  I found it lacking flavour and most troubling of all, the meat was dry and lifeless.  Sure, it isn't supposed to be ultra juicy, but not this dry.

On another visit, I had the Super Beef Donair with hot sauce.  For $4.99 ($3.99 regular size), this was a substantial amount of food.  However, the beef was a bit too salty for me where it hid all the other flavours.  It was moist though and combined with the hot sauce, the donair was still satisfying.  As for the other sauces, they were too thin where the donair started to get soaked and mushy.  So as you can clearly ascertain, there are discernible differences if I had to compare Doniar Town to Donair Star down the street, with the latter being better hands down.  But then again, for the price, you really can't lose with either.

The Good:
- Cheap
- Friendly enough lady

The Bad:
- Sauces are too thin
- Inconsistency

Leila's Donair Town on Urbanspoon

Venice Garden

My most recent visit to Venice Garden shouldn't have encouraged me to return a little over a week later.  You see, it was late at night (or should I say early the next day) and we had stopped by after hockey.  Milhouse and Lionel Hutz received their orders early on and I had to wait over 30 minutes for my wonton noodles despite an empty restaurant.  The staff kept staring at me sans noodles.  Yes, maybe you should do something about it! Nope, no sorry, no nothing...  So returning with the family and my parents, it was to no surprise that the experience started off on the wrong foot even before we ate anything.

You see, they had put us at a small table despite a reservation.  No matter though, we did only have 6 people and they did put us in a table for 6.  However, we asked for a larger table because we would be ordering quite a few dishes.  The waitress assured us that the food wouldn't all come out at once. You know, we should've believed her like we should listen to Zoltar.  Yes, all the food arrived almost immediately where we ran out of room real fast.  The first dish, Peking Duck, nearly took up the whole table by itself.  Some pieces were crispy while the breast portions were a bit soft.  They left a tonne of meat attached.  We found the crepes to be on the doughier side, but they weren't dry though.  Luckily our next dish was not very big being the Dungeness Crab atop noodles dressed in a consumme sauce.  Since this was a special, the crab was rather puny, but still fresh and meaty. Although the sauce was on the goopy side, it was well balanced and not too salty.  Underneath, the noodles were clumpy, but that also meant they weren't to wet either.

When the Duck Lettuce Wrap showed up, we barely had room and had to do our version of Tetris.  My dad was annoyed and proceeded to tell the server off about what she had told us earlier.  To be fair, it wasn't her fault (as she can't control the kitchen), but she should've at least apologized, instead she said "too bad".  Interestingly, there was no lettuce to go with the filling.  We asked the manager for some lettuce and she replied "for what?".  Um, the lettuce wrap!  Geez...  We found the filling to be full of moist duck, but it was far too salty and reeking of bamboo shoots.  Also, the lettuce was wetter than a Vancouver Fall day.  At this point, we had dishes dangerously near the end of the table, but we had to fit the Fried Sole somehow.  This was not very good as they obviously took the deadest fish and fried the heck out of it.  Mrs. Vikie's has nothing on this fish as it had a very unfishlike texture being crunchy throughout.

Moving onto a kiddie favourite, we had the Scrambled Eggs and Shrimp.  We found the eggs to be silky and barely cooked.  It was not excessively seasoned nor was it overly greasy either.  As for the shrimp, it was a bit hit and miss.  Most were a bit overcooked being rubbery while a few had gone bad where the texture was mushy.  Furthermore, this meant some portions were a bit fishy in taste.  By now, we had to resort to amalgamating items so we could clear enough room for the next dish, which was the Peking Pork Chops.  Again, this was an inconsistent dish as some pieces of pork were nicely textured (being bouncy with a meatiness) while some were overly soft.  The sauce was on the sweeter side, yet still exhibited a certain tartness.  It was goopy though which made the pork a touch wet where the light batter began to absorb the moisture.  At this point, our server informed us that we had to pay cash as the credit card machine was down.  Couldn't she let us know earlier???  Oh and if you think it went down at that point, think again, it was down a few weeks later on a return visit...

Our last dish was mercifully delayed as our table needed another dish like Renee Zellweger needs another shot of Botox.  Since the Eggplant Hot Pot arrived sizzling, it would've been a hazard on a crowded table, especially with kids.  A bit spicy and sweet, but ultimately bland, the eggplant did have a nice soft texture.  Fortunately the slivers of fatty pork were well seasoned.  Otherwise, the dish would've been rather flat.  The wood ear mushrooms added the necessary textural contrast to the soft eggplant.  For some inexplicable reason, Milhouse and I returned for some late-night eats including the Wonton Noodles.  With all things aside, I gotta admit that their noodles were pretty good.  They were toothsome with a nice rebound texture while the soup was flavourful albeit a bit salty.  The large whole-shrimp wontons were nicely crunchy while exhibiting the right amount of seasoning.

I also got the Pork Offal Congee consisting of stomach, liver and meat slices.  Unfortunately, there wasn't any kidney.  I thought all of the meat items were cooked just enough while the congee itself was silky and thick.  It remained mostly thick until the last spoonful.  I liked how it wasn't aggressively seasoned. After 3 visits in as many weeks, it was better clear that the casual dishes were pretty solid while the dinner items were hit and miss.  Yet, the one constant was the terrible and rude service.  I realize good service and Chinese restaurants go together like courtesy and merging lanes, but really, all I expect is the basics.  If that can't even be achieved, then there is really no point to eating out...  I can just head over to my mother-in-law's place for dinner.

The Good:
- Casual dishes like wonton noodles and congee are good
- Open late

The Bad:
- Not bad service, but rude service
- Hit and miss food

Venice Garden Seafood Restaurant 海皇美食 on Urbanspoon

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