Sherman's Food Adventures: February 2014

Kao's Family Restaurant

Normally, I'm pretty shy despite exhibiting verbal diarrhea at times.  Hence, I haven't gone seeking out public appearances all that much.  Recently, I received an email from a faithful reader (now to be known as Ned Flanders) who has gone on his own food adventures in search of diverse and tasty food.  He thought it would be a great idea to meet up and we ended up heading over to Kao's Family Restaurant in Richmond.  Not sure why he chose Richmond because by reading the blog, he would've known my "love" for the place...  LOL...

Since Miss Y was in the neighbourhood, she stopped by to join us.  She was only late by 15 minutes to my complete shock.  Anyways, starting with some offal, we tried the Pork Intestines and Beef Tendon.   I found the intestines to have the right texture which combined a fatty tenderness with only the necessary amount of chew.  Naturally, being intestine, there was a certain level of gaminess, but it was not overpowering.  The accompanying sauce was flavourful in a savoury manner that was aided by the nice zip of grated ginger.  As for the tendon, it was very soft, yet still maintained its shape and some texture.  The seasoning penetrated the tendon while the soy dressing was mildly balanced by some sugar. A sprinkle of pepper on top added a background spice.

The Crispy Chicken Nuggets were super airy and light.  Juicy and super tender, the chicken was dusted with a crispy, barely-there batter.  Personally, I didn't like the inclusion of the chicken skin because some parts were still quite fatty.  However, the other portions were very crispy and rendered.  Flavourwise, I thought it was predominantly salty with little in the way of any 5 spice nor pepper.  Since not many places serve Stinky Tofu, it was necessary for us to try it.  I've had it before, but this version was more pungent and sharp.  I thought it was fried quite well and the chili sauce was a good accompaniment.  Yet in the end, it was a bit too sharp for me personally (not that it wasn't any good).

Our order of Spicy Wontons featured tiny dumplings filled with smooth processed pork.  These were not inundated with too much wrapper, hence they were light and easy to eat.  The sauce was a nice balance of soy, chili oil and sugar.  We also gave the Beef Noodle a try and it featured really moist beef shank.  It practically melted in my mouth with little chewing (probably braised a bit too long).  As for the noodles, they were not too soft nor al dente (but then again, we didn't eat them right away).  As for the broth, it had a nice amount of chili oil and overall flavour, however, there was very little depth or meat flavour.

Lastly, we had the Fried Chicken Rice which was mostly a duplicate of our chicken nuggets, except with a larger piece of chicken. Hence, the texture and flavours were similar, however, by virtue of being a large piece of chicken, the meat was a bit more moist.  In the end, we thought the food was pretty good for a small, hidden family joint.  Nothing Earth-shattering, but okay for a quick casual meal.

The Good:
- Friendly family-run restaurant
- Okay pricing
- Decent eats

The Bad:
- And the winner of the most hidden restaurant goes to...
- Don't expect any ambiance
- Insufficient parking lot

Kao's Family Restaurant 台灣高家小館 on Urbanspoon

Raglan's Bistro

Sometimes I really wonder why we drive so far away for food after Friday hockey.  You'd think since we are in North Van already, we'd eat in well, North Van!  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out.  Wait, maybe a rocket scientist wouldn't figure that out! So, in my personal goal to be more assertive, I suggested we go to Raglan's Bistro out on Lonsdale.  We've been there before, but that was like 5 years ago.  Lots can happen during that time, such as the introduction of bike lanes in Vancouver...

For $9.00, we weren't expecting much, but when the Classic Poutine hit the table, it was of a significant size.  We liked the fries as they were crispy and held their own against the gravy.  However, the melted Mozzarella was a definite let down.  Now if we put away the authenticity attitude for a moment, the poutine as a whole was not bad as the gravy had a nice consistency without being salty.  We were surprised again when the Spicy Mexican Nachos arrived as they were ginormous with chips piled high and topped with beans, guacamole and spiced sour cream.  Not bad as there was no absence of flavour where pockets of spiciness were strewn throughout.

Again, for $9.00, the Coconut Prawns were also a surprise.  The butterfly prawns were fried up really crunchy while not being too greasy.  I didn't get a whole lot of coconut hits, but the dipping sauce was a nice balance of sweet and spicy.  As for the prawns, they had a light snap and were moist.  Since no one ordered the burger, I got a 360 Burger for the heck of it.  The burger patty was charred crispy and smoky, yet was fairly dry.  I got quite a bit of onion essence from it.  The rest of the ingredients were fine while the ciabatta bun was toasted up nicely.  Crispy and slightly dense, the side of fries did the job.

Gadget Girl decided on the Spicy Pepperoni Deluxe Pizza made with a whole tortilla shell.  It was a bit too wet from all the ingredients though.  Thus, the super think crust did not stay crunchy for very long. She thought the flavours were pretty mild, but then again, she asked for less spicy.  Both Milhouse and Lionel Hutz had the Beef Burrito stuffed with black beans, aged cheddar, tomato and green onion with garden salad, chipotle sour cream and salsa.  There was a definite lack of beef, but there was a smokiness from the char.  Overall, it was okay (due to the fresh ingredients), but not especially flavouful.  In reality, the food was fine for the price and considering it was late night eats on the North Shore.  Not particularly memorable, but did the job.

The Good:
- Reasonably priced
- Good portions
- Funky surfer thing going on

The Bad:
- Food is pretty average
- Seating is a bit squished

Raglan's Bistro on Urbanspoon

Ta-Ke Sushi Buffet

My Asian buffet adventures in the States have been well-documented on this blog.  The variety and sheer massive amount of food are rarely duplicated in Canada.  Call it operating costs and more likely consumer demands that dictate the lack of such establishments locally.  However, there is one new spot out in Langley that tries to emulate that type of buffet offering a mix of Japanese, Korean and Chinese.  Nikita and Bluebeard, who live nearby, were curious about the place, so we met up along with Herbie the Lovebug and Lana Banana.

Considering the cost of $27.99 per adult (on weekends), there was not a lot of selection in terms of food.I tackled the hot food section first and it was a mish mash of Asian food with such items as Bulgogi, Spring Rolls, Chicken Karaage, Tempura, Short Ribs, Dungeness Crab and Broccoli Beef.  The temperature of the food was the one thing that was quite troubling from the start - everything was stone cold.  Despite being set in chaffing trays, the food must've been sitting there for who knows how long.  For the record, we were there at 5:00pm.  As surprised as I was to see dungeness crab, I wasn't shocked to find out it was really dead/frozen crab as the meat was mush.  At least the fried items were not half bad.

The real draw here is the serve-yourself Sushi Bar and it was more or less acceptable given the venue.  There was an okay selection of rolls, nigiri sushi and sashimi.  Naturally, the rice was not exactly great, but it was alright with a slight chew albeit dry and somewhat mild tasting.  The fish wasn't the best quality, but at the very least, it looked okay.  I did find the salmon a bit too soft for my tastes while the tai was really chewy. One thing I liked was the saran wrap atop all of the sushi and sashimi as it kept things from drying out (despite the fact it made it hard to pick up items).  Unlike the hot food section, the sushi was adequately stocked each time I went up.  For example, they only had 5 pieces of prawn tempura available at anytime and that lasted all of 10 seconds.

Tucked at the back, there was a quasi "Salad" section with a few random desserts (including cubed Costco cheesecake).  Back to the salads, there Banchan, Japchae, Kimbap, Sunomono, Spinach Gomae, Salad Roll and some strange Smoked Oyster appie.  Nothing particularly exciting about this section but at the very least, everything was edible.  However, the Kimbap had this weird cheese sauce on it that made it taste funny.  Off to the right of the desserts, there was a beverage station that included various soft drinks and surprisingly a Sun Rype juice dispenser.  Yet for $27.99, one would expect drinks to be included.  Now this brings everything back to what is perceived value.  For us, that was far too expensive for the variety and quality of food.  I do realize it is impossible for a Canadian buffet to even come close to an American version.  However, if this is the only attempt we've seen so far up here, then I'm much rather make a quick trip across the border.

The Good:
- Only one of its kind at the moment as the rest have come and gone
- Okay service
- Clean and modern

The Bad:
- Hot food was cold
- Lack of selection for the price
- Mediocre eats

Ta-Ke Sushi Buffet on Urbanspoon

Rama Sweet Restaurant

I've been asked why there are no recommendations for Indian restaurants on my blog.  Fair question.  Well, the reason for that is simple, there are still so many more Indian restaurants I need to try first.  And really, anyone who knows will tell you, Indian food made at home is going to be better.  But I can't recommend a friend's house as the best Indian food in town (unless they want random visitors).  So continuing down my Scott Road food adventures, it has brought me to Rama (formerly Raja, but with an "M" pasted over the J).

For a small little place, the Butter Chicken was pretty good.  We liked the consistency as it was just thick and creamy enough.  The dollop of ghee on top added to the richness.  There was a nice balance of flavours as there was enough tomato to balance out the cream with a hint of tartness.  To top it all off, there was a slow rumble of spice to go along with the tender chunks of chicken.  Unfortunately, the Palak Paneer was not nearly as successful.  First of all, it was not even lukewarm which was a turnoff.  Second, there was only a modest amount of paneer.  Lastly, the sauce itself was overly mild bordering on bland.

Our favourite of the bunch had to be the Lamb Vindaloo as it was a veritable explosion of flavours.  There was a noticeable spice level where it hit on the first bite and lingered past the last.  In addition, the amount of onions added a caramelized sweetness to accent the ginger and vinegar hits.  Completing this dish was large tender chunks of lamb.  Of course we got an order of Naan as well and it was good.  On the bottom, it was crispy while the rest of the naan was soft and chewy with nice blistering. Except for the palak paneer, everything we had was pretty good.  Not bad for a little place hidden in the corner of a strip mall.

The Good:
- 3 out of 4 items were well-executed
- Friendly people

The Bad:
- Didn't like the palak paneer
- Place is small and a bit dingy

Rama Sweets & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Giovane Cafe & Market

Remember the nursery rhyme where it starts off as "this little piggy went to the market"?  Well, it is not a stretch to say that I have finally found that piggy.  At Giovane Cafe & Market, it can be found as smoky cheese in the display case.  In fact, looking over the rest of the market, I think I found the other piggies as well - prosciutto, sausages and so on...  Joking aside, Chef Darren Brown has created a high-end market consisting of exclusive and rare products sourced from Italy (with some locally).

Grace and I were invited to check out the market as well as sticking around for dinner at the wine bar afterwards.  The first thing that struck me was that I didn't recognize many of the products for sale. The reason being is that many of the items are directly imported from Italy.  In fact, they carry a line of Vianova flavoured olive oils that are a direct partnership with the manufacturer.  On that note, we were treated to an olive oil tasting that featured 4 different samples.  Depending on the region, each had their own distinctive taste.  If you are every in the market, I suggest you try some for yourself.

After our tour of the market, we sat at the wine bar and were treated to food that was sourced from the market itself.  We started with a selection of cheese including Burrata flown in from Italy (since it should be consumed within 48 hours). The cheese held up exhibiting a creamy stringy interior.  We also sampled the Stracciatella and by virtue of it being directly related to burrata, it shared the same stringy qualities. We added some sweet balsamic and it went really well with the bread.  Lastly, we had the Scamorza Affumicata which was shaped as little piggies in the display (as mentioned earlier).  This cheese was smoky and firm.  Onto the next items, we sampled some house-made Charcuterie consisting of Lardo, Coppa and Duck Prosciutto.  Served with each was Quince Pineapple Mostarda, Fig and Grainy Mustard.  I particularly liked the duck as it was a pleasant salty with a smooth, chewy texture.

Moving on, we tried their Bianco flatbread with mozzarella, fontina, fingerling potato, garlic, rosemary.  The crust was lightly crispy with a nice chewiness.  It wasn't oversaturated with ingredients which meant it didn't become soggy.  Furthermore, the simple ingredients enabled the natural flavours to shine including a nice drizzle of EVOO.  Onto a couple of pastas, we had the Rigatoni al Norma first.  The combination of tomatoes, eggplant, capers and basil created a wealth of flavours which was pretty sweet.  However, the acidity from the capers helped balance it somewhat.  Next, we had the Bucatini Amatriciana which featured very al dente pasta tossed in guanciale and a spicy tomato sauce.  We found that the heat escalated with every chew, yet was balanced by the acidic and sweet tomatoes.

We ended up trying the Ling Cod Puttanesca as our final savoury dish.  The fish was beautifully seared with a crisp exterior leading into a moist and flaky interior.  There was a good level of acidity and saltiness from the olives and tomatoes. Finishing off the meal, we shared 2 desserts including the Tiramisu and Dulce de Leche Caramel Budino.  The tiramisu was creamy and sweet while the budino was very sweet due to the caramelized condensed milk.  Yet, we weren't here for the desserts (although they do have some good ones).  Rather, we were treated to carefully prepared food which used products sold at the market.  Definitely a place to check out if one was looking for that special ingredient to elevate their home-cooking.

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

The Good:
- Rare and unique items at the market
- Solid, casual fare at the wine bar

The Bad:
- It comes at a price

Giovane on Urbanspoon

Pizza Garden (Commercial)

For awhile there, I was doing the late night rounds of the slice pizza joints along and around Commerical Drive.  I forgot about it somewhat, only to return when I really had no one to eat with.  Having not visited Pizza Garden in 4 years, it was good as any other time to head back.  Interestingly, the pizza has moved towards a Neapolitan-style thin crust.  So I grabbed some slices to see what it was all about.  On a side note, it was almost impossible to take a picture of the front due to the bus stop...  I hope they get a discount in rent!

Seeing all the available choices, I got one of each to go.  After a brief stint in the toaster oven, I gave both the Pepperoni and the Prosciutto Funghi a try first.  I found the crust sufficiently thin, yet not super thin.  Despite the use of a wood-fired oven, there was only the slightest hint of leoparding.  Therefore, the crust was crunchy while not smoky nor super flavourful.  On the other hand, the salty meat toppings made up for it while the mild tomato sauce hid in the background.  There wasn't a whole lot of cheese, but that is not the point of this type of pizza anyways.

Moving on, I tried the Pollo Eccellente consisting of alfredo sauce, fior di latte, grano padano, grilled chicken, spinach, red onions and roasted red peppers.  As expected, the slice was not devoid of various flavours due to the amount of ingredients.  It could've done with a few less peppers though.  The last 2 slices consisted of Amante Spinaci (mozzarella, fior di latte, grano padano, pomodoro, spinach, black olives, ricotta, and pesto) and Hawaiian.  The veggie slice benefited from the olives and feta where it added the necessary flavours.  As seen in the picture, the Hawaiian was covered in ham.  For a slice pizza joint, it is nice to see that they are doing something different with the crust.  However, it could've benefited from more charring and leoparding for a Neapolitan pizza.

The Good:
- Thin crust Neapolitan-style pizza in a slice pizza joint
- Open late
- Plenty of toppings

The Bad:
- Not enough leoparding
- Could be thinner

Pizza Garden on Urbanspoon

Koryo Korean BBQ (Brentwood Mall)

Although I don't have anything against shopping mall food fairs, it is not really something that I am overly anxious writing about.  Don't get me wrong, I eat at food fairs every now and then because it is convenient and really, the kids like it.  However, I'm sure most people have tried most of the food stalls that are common with practically every food fair.  One that may not be as well-known is Koryo in Brentwood Mall.  Serving up Korean BBQ and a selection of sides, this has to be one of the best values I've seen.

Now to get things straight (for those food snobs out there), I'm not implying that Koryo could even be compared to an actual Korean BBQ restaurant, but it serves a purpose for where it is located.  I've actually eaten there many times and finally felt the need to blog about it.  Cutting right to the chase, their signature item is the Jumbo Combo for $10.49.  This massive plate of food includes short ribs, chicken, beef, fried dumplings, rice and 3 choices of sides (in this case, japchae, kimchi and broccoli).  Honestly, it can easily feed 2 people easily.  Although the meats are dry (in particular the chicken) and the sauce is teriyaki, the food is okay for a food fair.  For those less hungry, there is the Lunch Special that includes chicken, beef, rice, choice of 2 sides and a soft drink for $8.69.

Now I wouldn't recommend the Ginger Salmon ($9.49) though.  The pink salmon filet is dry and flavourless.  However, the ginger dressing is nice though.  Also, for takeout joint, the kimchi is flavourful and aesthetically-pleasing.  I've had the side of fried potatoes a few times and I have to say you will either love it or hate it.  I'm not a huge fan because they are super-greasy and overly sweet.  Whatever the case, if you goal is to get really full and on the cheap at the mall food fair, Koryo is a good bet.

The Good:
- Massive portions
- Good choices of sides (Banchan)
- Good value

The Bad:
- Meats are dry (since they are reheated)
- Flavours are too sweet (teriyaki sauce)

Koryo Korean Barbeque on Urbanspoon

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