Sherman's Food Adventures: March 2014

La Cigale French Bistro

Whipping Girl has always been a faithful food companion, through the good eats and the bad ones.  She is open to sharing her food and lets me take my pictures without much fanfare.  Imagine my joy when she wanted to treat me to La Cigale French Bistro...  Apparently, she had an expiring coupon that needed to be used ASAP.  Yes, those pesky expiry dates are closer than they appear!  So I met her at the restaurant with bells on.

We were started off with their popular fresh Puff Pasty Sticks which would've been warm and probably soft inside.  I say this because I was late arriving (due to traffic for the Paul Simon concert) and missed the fresh sticks by 15 minutes.  Despite this, they were crispy and light.  With an actual appie, we had the Tuna Tartare consisting of albacore, avocado, tomatoes and onion with radish and sprouts on top.  We got the natural sweetness of the ingredients and the textural contrast of the croutons, yet the whole thing was lacking in acidity.  That would've added more brightness and pop.

I requested that we should keep it easy on the bread for the meal and guess what Whipping Girl ordered?  In addition to the aforementioned 2 items (that had bread), she picked out the House-Made Pate served with cornichons & mustard and 1/2 Baguette with Tapenade.  Thanks Whipping Girl...  The pate was meaty and slightly dense where it was mild-tasting with no particular flavour standing out.  I did get a bit of sweetness from the onion though.  The baguette was really good though being crusty while airy inside.  Of note, the vinaigrette with the salad was nicely balanced (with a good amount of Dijon).  The tapenade had a predominant black olive flavour with only the slightest hints of capers and anchovy.

Onto the mains, we had the Braised Beef Short Ribs with peppercorn sauce.  The generous portion of short rib had a firm exterior bark which was smoky and salty. On the inside, the meat was sufficiently moist and tender with some gelatinous portions.  As for the sauce, it was definitely the beneficiary of heavy cream, wine and only modest amount of peppercorns.  With only a minor pepperiness, the whole thing was far too salty.  Our second entree was the Vol au Vent de La Mer.  I thought the mildly seasoned cream sauce went well with the seafood as it stayed in the background.  As for the seafood itself, the shrimp had a nice snap while the salmon & halibut were alright.  However, the squid was tough and chewy.

On the side, we added some Frites and they were somewhat crispy while being on the denser side.  I found the aioli on the side to be really salty though.  Lastly, for dessert, we shared the Monaco Tart which was a decadent combination of firm tart shell with marscapone, chocolate, peanuts and super sweet caramel.  Despite being a bit too sweet for my tastes, we both agreed that it was a pretty balanced tart when all the components were eaten with each other.  At the end, we were pretty stuffed and had to pack the rest to go.  We thought the food was not bad, but could be even better with a few tweaks.

The Good:
- Attentive and friendly service
- Decent portion sizes
- Cozy room

The Bad:
- Some seasoning issues (too salty)
- Pricey

La Cigale French Bistro on Urbanspoon

Chicken & Pizza King

Quick.  Where would you go to get take-out Fried Chicken at a moment's notice?  KFCChurch's? Lee'sLA Chicken???  A Korean restaurant?  Yes, those are the more obvious places and really, not a whole lot of choice.  We did have Popeye's at one point and Jollibee is at least a year away from their Canadian stores.  So, I finally relented and decided to try an independent place called Chicken & Pizza King.  Yah, the outside looks sketch and well, the inside is even sketchier, but everything deserves a chance right?

So to get a good handle on the food, I went for both items in their name starting with a medium Pepperoni & Chicken Pizza.  I found the crust to be fairly standard for a take-out joint.  It was of a medium thickness while being on the denser, chewier side of the crust continuum.  As for the toppings, there was sufficient meat and cheese, but there could've been more tomato sauce as I could barely taste it.  Moving onto the Fried Chicken, I liked the thin crispy batter.  Delicately seasoned with a hint of spice, I thought it could give the big boys a run for their money.  However, the chicken itself was not brined which meant it was rather dry and ordinary tasting on its own.

In addition, I got Fries and Gravy as part of the combo.  I didn't mind the fries as they were fried up crispy.  As for the gravy, that was horrible.  Now I understood why the lady suggested I try the macaroni salad in place of the gravy...  Looking more like dirty water, it tasted like salty flour.  Not exactly something I would dip my food into, let alone eat it.  Hey, I tried to be different and avoid the obvious places for fried chicken and really I shouldn't have.  Chalk this up to curiosity gone wrong.

The Good:
- Okay pricing I suppose
- Friendly enough
- Batter is okay

The Bad:
- Chicken is dry and bland
- Gravy should be only used as a glue-substitue
- Pizza is barely average

Chicken & Pizza King on Urbanspoon

Hamburger $2.85

With the rising cost of living these days, anything that resembles a deal gets a lot of play.  For instance, places like The Dime and The Famous Warehouse are well-known for their "everything is $4.95" menu.  Then there is X-Site Grill (and some copycats) who have daily specials for cheap while the regular menu won't cost you much either.  A new player in town aims to trump even those seemingly untouchable deals with a $2.85 burger.  As a food cart operating on the corner of Granville at Pender in Downtown, there is probably nothing cheaper for the amount of food.

I've tried to visit the cart on several occasions, but it never materialized.  Finally, I decided to just drive down there for the sole purpose of doing so.  Yes, I realize the irony that I probably spent more in gas and parking than the burger itself...  Arriving just as it opened, the short line moved quick.  I picked up 2 Hamburgers along with a Cheeseburger. For $2.85, you get thick-sliced tomato, lots of iceberg lettuce, a decent-sized frozen burger patty, teriyaki sauce and mayo on a relatively light bun.  Hey, for the price, it is a decent burger. The patty itself was on the drier chewier side, but the ample wet ingredients made up for it.  I found it beefy in flavour while the teriyaki was not overly sweet.

Now the Cheeseburger (for $3.50) had a completely different taste due to the slice of processed cheese.  It was definitely saltier and in a way better because the amount of produce watered down the teriyaki sauce in the hamburger. In reality, if I had been passed the burger without knowing the price, I'd be content because it is a decent burger.  But since the price is only $2.85, there really isn't a whole lot to complain about.  In the end, I believe personal satisfaction should be based on perceived value.  In this case, it is one heck of one.

The Good:
- Cheap
- Decent for the price
- No lack of ingredients

The Bad:
- Meat is a bit chewy and dry
- Long lineup during peak periods

Hamburger $2.85 on Urbanspoon

Pho Tan

With all the Pho joints that I've visited in the last 5 years, it is a curiosity that I've ignored one of the most popular choices in Vancouver.  I mean, it hasn't been intentional and really, the location isn't exactly inaccessible either.  Chalk it up to it being merely too obvious of a choice.  However, I am trying to eat everywhere, so eventually I'd get to it.  And that day finally arrived when we were driving up Main Street in search of eats.

Starting with the Pho Dac Biet, I sampled the broth and the taste was clean.  I could taste a mild meatiness accented by the sweetness of daikon and charred onion.  It wasn't particularly salty or MSG-ladened.  As for the meats, everything was as it should've been while the noodles were still toothsome.  This was a very solid bowl of Pho (but I still like Pho Tam more).  I was only moderately happy with my Bun Bo Hue as it was missing the pork knuckle and blood.  However, the broth had an okay spice level.  On the other hand, I didn't get much in the way of lemongrass nor shrimpiness.

The kids split the Cambodian-Style Dry Noodles consisting of egg noodles and seafood in a sweet soy sauce.  The noodles themselves were nicely al dente whereas the seafood was pretty good.  The shrimp had a snap while the squid was tender with a bite.  I found the soy sauce to be a bit too sweet though.  Lastly, we shared the Grilled Chicken, Shredded Pork and Egg on Rice.  I wasn't a huge fan of the chicken as it was cooked too much where the exterior became a bit hard.  The interior wasn't much better as it was not juicy at all.  Flavourwise, there was a good char with a noticeable sweetness.  All-in-all, a more than acceptable meal.  My preference is still Pho Tam, but Pho Tan is fine for Vancouver.

The Good:
- Decent eats
- Relatively diverse menu

The Bad:
- Owner was friendly enough, but servers are indifferent
- Food is fine, but I expected better

Pho Tan Vietnamese Restaurant 新記越南餐廳 on Urbanspoon

Late Night Dim Sum @ Pelican

Sometimes, people get confused whether Dim Sum is breakfast, lunch or ultimately brunch.  For me, it is essentially a Chinese-style tapas that can really be eaten anytime of the day.  They do that in Asia, but some reason or another, it has never caught on in Vancouver (despite the large appetite from Dim Sum).  Before it closed, HKYK used to do late night Dim Sum.  But now what?  Well, one can do an early morning Dim Sum before 2:00am at Pelican (and get a head start on Dim Sum before everyone else).  We decided to try this out after our Friday night hockey game.

Joining me for this unusual meal was Milhouse, Lionel Hutz, Sweet Tooth, Polka King (shockingly) and My Cousin Vinny (yah, 2 yuths...).  Interestingly, we were seated at the same table the last time I was here...  with my psychotic MIL.  Anyways,  we started with the Spicy Green Beans and they were oil-blanched enough so they were tender while still maintaining a crunch.  There was no absence of flavour and spice, but it was on the saltier side.  Next, the Shrimp Spring Rolls were fried crispy with a mix of mousse and whole pieces of shrimp.  There was only a light snap to go along with the mild flavours with a hint of wasabi.

I wasn't a huge fan of the Haw Gow (Shrimp Dumplings) as the skin was doughy and thick.  But worst of all was the overly mushy filling which featured a predominantly mousse texture with bits of soft shrimp.  It was also far too mild-tasting as well with very little distinguishable flavours.  The enormous Sui Mai (Pork & Shrimp Dumplings) were afflicted with large chunks of pure pork fat.  I didn't find this appetizing at all as they were chewy.  If they had chopped it into smaller pieces, it would've been fine.  As for the pork, it was meaty and only slightly bouncy.  I also felt there was not enough shrimp and shiitake mushroom to offer varying flavours.

Onto the Xiao Long Bao, we understood that the chances of them being good were as good as Charlie Sheen being monogamous.  Since Pelican is not a Shanghainese restaurant, we expected that the dumplings would have a thick doughy skin and no soup whatsoever.  In that sense, they were okay as a plain ol' dumpling because the filling was moist and meaty.  The Steamed Spareribs were okay tasting with plenty of seasoning and garlic.  However, the meat was on the chewier side.  There was very little in the way of cartilage which meant it was mostly the meatier parts.

With the Steamed Bean Curd Skin Rolls, we thought it was well-executed.  Within the moist, yet chewy exterior, the pork filling was tender and meaty.  Flavours were mild so that we could taste the ingredients without being overloaded with salt.  Furthermore, there was just enough sauce which was not that impactful.  The Beef Meatballs were on the softer side with only the slightest of bounce.  With that being said, they were okay with a higher ratio of greens to meat which meant we could really taste them.  Since they were probably steamed from a frozen state, there was too much moisture that made them slightly mushy.

Our last savoury dish was the Lo Mei Gai (Sticky Rice). It was rather wet, hence, the rice was more mushy than sticky. The moisture seemed to be from the plethora of ground pork (mixed with starch-thickened sauce).  As a result, it did taste good though with lots of meatiness.  Lastly, for Sweet Tooth's sake, we got a double-order of the Mango Pudding prepared in Hello Kitty molds.  There were quite firm and not very sweet.  As expected, it wasn't full of mango flavour either.  I guess it is pretty clear that the food was pretty average at best (not unlike my recent visit).  But since there are not a whole lot of places that do late night Dim Sum, Pelican works in that respect.

The Good:
- Open late
- Dim Sum until 2:00am
- Decent albeit forgetful service

The Bad:
- Mediocre food
- Forgetful service

Pelican Seafood Restaurant 又一村海鮮酒家 on Urbanspoon

Shining Garden Restaurant

Ming Dynasty, I hardly got to know you.  No I'm not talking about the actual dynasty that ruled China from 1368–1644.  Hey, I'm not that old!  Rather, it was the short-lived restaurant near the corner of Nanaimo and Broadway.  Heck, this location has experienced quite a few changeovers and now the latest flavour is Shining Garden.  Despite not looking like one, it is actually a quasi-Hong Kong-style cafe that also serves up full dinner service.  We decided to try it out one night with the whole family.

We started with a the complimentary Daily Soup which was a concoction of dried bak choy, carrot and pork bones.  The soup itself was not bad since they were easy on the salt.  Hence, we could taste the meat and veggies.  However, the darn thing wasn't even lukewarm which greatly decreased our eating enjoyment.  That theme continued with the 4 Seasons Green Beans as they were not very hot (temperature-wise) for something that exhibited good wok heat.  With just a touch too long in the oil-blanch, the beans were lacking some snap.  Yet, with the aforementioned wok heat, the flavours were caramelized and slightly spicy.  I thought the ground pork was nicely cooked as it was almost fluffy.

Next up, we had the Lobster with Sticky Rice which was also... you guessed it, not very hot.  For something that is supposed to be steamed with the lobster on top, it was only mildly warm.  That would indicate it wasn't actually steamed.  Despite this, it was pretty good though (while lacking true lobster flavour in the rice).  The rice itself had an appealing chewy texture with shrimp and baby scallops.  Fried just right, the lobster itself had a buttery texture.  We decided to try one of their signature items being the Soy Free-Range Chicken. Although this was cold as well, we didn't mind as the chicken was decently moist and tender for free-range chicken.  Underneath the skin was a nice layer of gelatin which was just as flavourful as the accompanying sauce (it was a good balance between salty and sweet). 

For the kiddies, we got the Scrambled Eggs with Prawns.  This was done very well with fluffy, barely-cooked eggs which hid large butterflied prawns.  They had a wonderful snap and were just cooked.  The dish was a touch salty though. As evidenced in the picture, the portion size was very good and unlike the previous dishes, it was not cold.  Lastly, we tried the Curry Beef with coconut milk.  They did a poor job in reheating the brisket in the curry as the whole thing was not even lukewarm.  Moreover, the brisket liquid diluted the curry and made it watery.  Too bad really as the brisket itself was really moist and the curry was flavourful with only a mild hint of spice.  As you can probably guess, the food needs to be hotter here.  Lukewarm is just not acceptable nor Food Safe.  Too bad really because the eats were relatively decent.

The Good:
- Decent eats
- Nicely renovated
- Large portions

The Bad:
- Barely lukewarm food
- Not very attentive service

Shining Garden Restaurant 麥田餐廳 on Urbanspoon

Thai Chef Casual Thai Cuisine

Awhile back, there was this pretty good Persian restaurant on North Road, right beside Pho Japolo.  Big D, Slick and I enjoyed a filling meal on the cheap and vowed to return.  Well, it closed before we could do that.  Maybe Persian food doesn't work along North Road?  Seems like all the Korean restaurants do quite well...  Now in its place, there is Thai Chef Casual Thai Cuisine.  Maybe Asian food might do better?  We were about to find out...

Starting off the meal (lunch special), we were all presented with a Spring Roll with a side salad.  The spring roll was served piping hot and crunchy.  Inside, it was stuffed with vermicelli and cabbage.  The textures were on point while the flavours were peppery and spiked with fish sauce. Judging from the aroma and visuals, we were pretty sure there was no ketchup used in the Pad Thai.  However, the overuse of palm sugar emulated a "ketchup-type" feel as the rice noodles were very saucy and syrupy sweet.  Hence, it totally overwhelmed the flavours of the other ingredients (pressed tofu, pickled turnip, peanuts and sprouts).

We also went for a couple of curries including the Chicken Green Curry.  This was a creamy and very mild concoction which was also the afflicted with too much palm sugar.  Hence, the curry was quite sweet which overshadowed any spice or the pungency of shrimp paste.  I did get the basil and a considerable amount of bamboo shoot essence though.  Continuing on the same theme, the Beef Red Curry was sweet as well.  Hence, it was not really all that spicy, yet the bamboo shoot really came through.  The ingredients had vibrancy and texture while the beef was mostly tender.  Judging by the dishes we had, the food at Thai Chef was decent, yet we would've preferred that they were more conservative with the palm sugar.

The Good:
- Reasonably-priced
- Nice people
- Seems authentic

The Bad:
- Too much palm sugar

Thai Chef Casual Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

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