Sherman's Food Adventures: January 2014

Blue C Sushi

Honestly, I'm not a huge fan of crowds or crowded places.  Hence, it totally explains my disdain for places such as Crystal Mall or any T&T parking lot.  So when Viv suggested that we go visit Snowflake Lane in Downtown Bellevue during the Christmas break, I was a bit hesitant.  Fine, I did it for the kids, but figured it would be a great idea to arrive early for some food first.  However, many of the surrounding restaurants tend to be either mediocre and/or expensive.  Whatever, convenience mattered the most and we settled on Blue C Sushi.  Similar to the nearby locations of Sushi Land and Sushi Maru, Blue C employs conveyor belts, that circle the restaurant, to transport food.  One merely picks up a colored plate (each with a different price point) to serve themselves.

For the kids, this can be an incredible novelty despite not wanting to eat half of the items coming around.  We did end up picking some items that we knew they would eat including the Fried Sushi Rice.  Well, consistent with the name of the dish, it was cubes of sushi rice dumped into a deep fryer.  With that being said, they were alright with a hard crunchy exterior and chewy, slightly vinegary rice inside.  We also got the Chicken Katsu which was also very crunchy on the outside.  As for the white meat, it was not exactly moist, yet was not overly dry either.  There wasn't a lot of flavor on its own, but with the accompanying sauce helped matters.

As for Viv and I, we were somewhat uninspired with the selection coming around.  But since we were hungry we got some maki sushi starting with the Rainbow Roll.  This consisted of a California roll topped with slices of salmon, tuna, ebi, red tuna and avocado.  As evidenced in the picture, the roll was haphazardly constructed.  I found the rice to be on the drier side and very mild in flavor.  Next, we tried the Tuna BLT featuring bacon, lettuce, tomato and avocado topped with seared albacore tuna and ginger-bacon marmalade.  Despite the flavorful sounding description, the roll was not as tasty as it would suggest.  The dry rice didn't help matters either.

Continuing on, we had the Spicy Tuna Roll with Tahitian yellowfin tuna, spicy mayo, cucumber and scallions. This particularly roll wasn't that spicy despite its name.  As much as the sushi rice and construction of the rolls were mediocre, the actual fish itself was okay in most applications.  It wasn't super flavorful, but at the very least, it wasn't fishy.  However, this didn't apply to the Salmon Nigiri as I found it far too soft and not particularly appealing.  Furthermore, it was sliced rather thin (but in this case, I didn't want much more, so it was a good thing).  To be fair, the salmon in the rainbow roll was fine, so it was possibly just bad luck or it was sitting around too long.

On the other hand, I did like the Spider Roll as it was packed with plenty of soft-shelled crab.  I found it crunchy and naturally, soft with the body portion of the crab.  Not even the dry rice bothered me much with this roll.  Lastly, we tried the Sesame Noodles which were served cold.  As the name suggested, it was tossed in sesame oil.  The noodles were toothsome and it did taste pretty good.  In actuality, we had a few more items, but there is no real reason to talk about them as there was nothing exciting.  Personally, I would head to Sushi Maru instead because you would be getting roughly the same quality of food for less.

The Good:
- Attentive and friendly service
- It has got the novelty factor
- Convenient for shoppers

The Bad:
- Mediocre sushi
- Expensive

Blue C Sushi on Urbanspoon

Jade Garden

As much as I have tried all the available Dim Sum in Bellevue, I have yet to try any in Seattle itself. It's even more curious that I haven't visited Chinatown, where the "best" Dim Sum could be found at Jade Garden.  Now, anytime something is declared the best, it is always debatable.  So I could only do one thing - go for a food adventure!  This time, Goose (fine resident of Bellevue) and his family joined us. Luckily for us, he directed us to free parking which is always a bonus - hey, it could pay for some haw gow!

On that note, we did get some Haw Gow (Shrimp Dumplings) and they were so so.  The dumpling skin was soft and gummy where it stuck to each other.  As for the filling, it was mushy with some bits of shrimp that had a mild snap.  In terms of flavor, I found them almost bland, but with a touch of sesame oil.  The Sui Mai (Pork & Shrimp Dumplings) were okay with an array of textures.  Mixed within the fatty and mushy parts, there was some chewy pieces of pork.  The dumpling tasted quite sweet with a definite pork flavor.

Next up, the Black Bean Spareribs featured mostly rib and meat pieces with very little in the way of cartilage.  The meat was chewy while tender at the same time.  Although the visuals do not suggest a whole lot of flavor, there was plenty with just enough balanced seasoning. As for the Phoenix Talons (Chicken Feet), there was good and bad elements.  On the positive side, there was a good amount of flavor which was sweet and savory.  However, the chicken feet were too hard and had not been cooked long enough.  Hence, they were firm with crunchy cartilage underneath.

We ended up ordering both the Shrimp Rice Noodle Roll and the Mushroom Rice Noodle Roll (not pictured).  I found the rice noodle itself to be relatively thick and dense, yet it wasn't too cumbersome to eat.  The shrimp filling could've had more snap, but at the very least, it wasn't mushy.  I liked the mushroom one more as there was plenty of filling which meant it was naturally flavorful.  With the same mild snap, the Shrimp Spring Rolls were crunchy, sweet and airy (due to the modest amount of shrimp filling).  Despite the visuals, they were not very greasy.

Alas, we couldn't get away without ordering the Lo Mei Gai (Sticky Rice) with four kiddies at the table.  We found it to be a bit dry, however, with the plethora of ground pork, it provided the necessary moisture.  Much like the sui mai, we could taste the pork since the seasoning was mild.  Although Xiao Long Bao are native to Shanghainese cuisine, we got an order anyways (this meal was Cantonese Dim Sum).  It was not bad with all things considered.  They were big with a chewy skin.  The filling was gingery with barely any soup.  Texturally, it was underprocessed, which made it chewy.

We then moved onto 2 fried items including the Fried Taro Dumplings. These were fried up crispy and not overly greasy.  I found the taro to be smooth and well-seasoned while the filling to be slightly dry.  It did taste okay though.  With a similarly dry pork filling, the Fried Dumplings were crunchy and somewhat greasy (but they always are greasy due to the glutinous rice flour).  On that note, the layer of glutinous rice was far too thick which may have contributed to that.  Moreover, with a thick exterior, it was a bit cumbersome to eat.

Also for the kiddies, we got a steamer of the BBQ Pork Buns.  These weren't bad as the buns were fluffy and not overly dense.  The pork filling was on the sweeter side though as it tasted more like candied meat.  Yet, what kid wouldn't like candied meat?  Hmm...  As it is abundantly clear from the picture, the Stuffed Eggplant was yearning for some real black bean sauce.  As such, the dish was lacking flavor despite the inclusion of shrimp mousse.  As for the mousse, it was firm (with little bounce texture) and added only a touch of sweetness.  The eggplant was fried nicely though as it wasn't overly mushy.

At the end, I had to get an order of the Bible Tripe because Dim Sum is not Dim Sum without offal (in my opinion).  This was decent as the tripe was tender while still retaining a chew.  Flavourwise, there could've been more ginger and green onion, but it wasn't bland at least.  For dessert, we got a couple orders of the Egg Tarts.  Within the flaky, buttery shells, the egg custard was semi-sweet and somewhat firm.  These were pretty good.  In the end, we thought the meal was pretty good for Seattle.  I'm not sure if it is necessarily the best as Top Gun in Bellevue does a good Dim Sum service as well.

The Good:
- Ol' skool push carts if you like them
- Decent service
- Decent eats for Seattle

The Bad:
- Busy and cramped
- For those who want to compare to Vancouver, of course it is not as good

Jade Garden on Urbanspoon

Shanghai Cafe

Having only visited Seattle only a month ago, we made an impromptu return due to the fire hazard we were creating at Goose's house.  You see, we use his place as a mailbox of sorts for our US online purchases.  So we made the trek down and stayed our 48 hours to bring back goodies, including my brand new Canon 6D camera.  Pressed into action without even a single adjustment, the pictures in this post plain suck.  Anyways, with a decent Shanghainese meal the night before in Vancouver, we thought it would be good idea to try it at Shanghai Cafe in Bellevue (what were we thinking?).

Beginning with the Hot & Sour Soup, we instantly knew this was not going to be a typical Shanghainese food experience.  It was pale and not what we expected at all.  The prominent ingredients were enoki mushroom, button mushrooms, egg and tofu, which meant there was little-to-no texture.  Furthermore, the "hot" portion of the soup was mainly from white pepper which created an unusual flavor.  If this was called something else, it wasn't that bad, but it wasn't hot & soup soup as we know it.  Next, we had the Mongolian Beef, which was actually not bad.  The oil-blanched beef was somewhat chewy, yet not overly so.  It was bathed in a sweet, mildly spicy and savory glaze which was appetizing and screaming out for rice.

For my daughter, we had to get the Stir-Fried Pea Shoots and really, we need more veggies in our diet.  Yet, this was the farthest from healthy one could get as the whole thing was doused in grease.  One mouthful and our lips were protected from the cold more than a whole stick of Blistex.  On the positive side, the shoots were tender with some crunch as well as being nicely seasoned.  Onto the Shanghai Rice Cake, we were once again confused at the visuals.  Rather than the rich hue we are used to (with the use of dark soy), the whole dish looked like it hadn't been out in the sun in years.  Furthermore, the slices of rice cake were woefully overcooked being mushy and sticky.  Lastly, and we really didn't mind it, there was lots of seafood (typically, this dish has spinach, Napa cabbage and julienned pork only).

And for the most important dish of all, the Xiao Long Bao, it was crammed into a steamer far too small.  Hence, when we tried to pick up one, all of them came out and soup splattered everywhere.  However, there was very little of it and was predominantly sweet with not a whole lot of other distinguishing flavors.  To be fair, the dumpling skin was decently thin (albeit chewy) and the filling was moist. Okay, now I get it.  If this is the competition in Bellevue, Din Tai Fung has nothing to worry about.

The Good:
- Friendly people
- They tried

The Bad:
- Was that really Shanghainese food?
- A bit pricey for the portion size

Shanghai Cafe on Urbanspoon

Jin Jiang Shanghai Restaurant

As much as there are great places to get Shanghainese food in the GVRD, Burnaby doesn't seem to be one of them.  Sure, there is Crystal Palace and Shanghai Elan, but neither elicit tasty thoughts with the former being far below average.  With the departure of Wang's in Crystal Mall, there has been a XLB black hole of sorts.  Enter Jin Jiang located in the former New Age Chinese strangely nestled in the Best Western motel on Kingsway.

We started with the Wine Chicken which was a decent portion for the price.  With a properly gelatinized skin and only a hint of gelatin underneath, the chicken itself was somewhat firm.  It wasn't dry though and there was a mild xiaoshing wine hit.  Not a bad start.  Next up was the Seafood Hot & Sour Soup.  We liked how there was a good representation of scallops and shrimp.  On the other hand, they were a touch rubbery.  As for the soup base, it was decently flavourful with some depth.  I liked how there was a balance of tartness and spice where there was little reliance on chili oil.  Rather, there was heat built into the broth with chili sauce.

We also got the Shredded Pork with Hoisin Sauce to go along with a couple of fried buns.  The pork was not exactly chewy, yet was not overly tender either.  It was pretty obvious that it was not marinated in baking soda.  Depending on your preference, the texture of the pork would either be natural or not tender enough.  In terms of flavour, it was mildly spicy with lots of savoury elements.  There was was a considerable oil slick on the bottom of the plate though.  With the same grease issue, the Shanghai Pan-Fried Rice Cake was decent.  Each slice was toothsome and seasoned just enough with dark soy.  There was plenty of Napa cabbage but somewhat of an absence of spinach and shredded pork.

As for the most important dish of all, the Xiao Long Bao was also decent.  With a medium thick dumpling skin (which was not doughy), it was not hard to eat them.  The pork filling was tender and moist while the soup had a pronounced sweetness accented by only mild hints of xiaoshing wine.  Good for Burnaby I suppose.  Moving along, we had the Peking Duck, much to the delight of my son.  The duck skin was mostly crispy (with some soggy pieces) and it was good that they scrapped off the layer of fat.  Interestingly, they stacked the crepes one on top of each other in a bamboo steamer.  Totally impractical to remove as they stuck together.

The second course of the Peking Duck was the Duck Lettuce Wrap.  With a noticeable dark hue, the dish was impacted by the overuse of dark soy.  Hence, it was neither attractive to look at nor balanced in taste.  Also, there was an uneven ratio of duck meat to crunchy veggies.  Don't get me wrong, I'm glad they were generous with the duck meat, but then the texture was meaty rather than crunchy.  As we were dining, the whole restaurant was packed and it was a Thursday.  I guess there are not too many good Shanghainese options in Burnaby considering Crystal Palace is terrible and Elan is average.

The Good:
- Spacious restaurant
- Decent eats
- Decent service, but was overextended when busy

The Bad:
- Greasy
- Staff were overextended 

Jin Jiang Shanghai Restaurant 錦江上海菜 on Urbanspoon

Cho Sun BBQ

Out of the blue, my son asked if we could eat Korean BBQ for dinner.  What???  For a kid who lives off KD and hot dogs, this came as a complete shock.  So after a visit to the Burnaby Museum with Guy Smiley and Girl Smiley, we headed off to Cho Sun. We were told it would be a 15-20 minute wait.  In my own mind, it didn't seem possible as the place was packed and with only a few big tables too.  Well, shiver me timbers, not only did a table open up around 15 minutes later, it was fit our party exactly.  

After we put in our order, we would never see any server until the food came and at the very end when the dishes needed to be cleaned off the table.  In fact, we went up to the counter to pay. The Japchae arrived first and it was a large serving with a good ratio of veggies to noodles.  Not a whole lot of meat in it though.  A touch greasy and clumpy at the same time (not sure how they managed that), it did taste good.  It was on the sweeter side with a hit of sesame oil.  The noodles were still chewy and the veggies were still somewhat crunchy.  Next was the Dolset Bibimbap which was not sizzling when it hit the table.  In fact, there was barely enough heat from the stone bowl to create any rice crust at all.  Forget about the crust, the darn thing was actually lukewarm which defeats the purpose of a hot stone bowl.  Despite this, the rice was not wet and the ingredients were good.

As a table, we got 2 C-1 Combos which included rice, soup, short ribs, beef, chicken and spicy pork.  Everything was textured as it should be from the tender (with a slight chew) short ribs, to the tender chicken.  One thing that was very apparent was the amount of sugar used in the marinade.  Dipping into the ultra sweet soy sauce made the food taste like candy.  The Banchan arrived last, which wasn't a huge deal as it is usually eaten with everything else during the meal.  It included green salad, kimchi, stewed potatoes, pickled daikon, sprouts and zucchini.  Nothing was out-of-the ordinary, but we found the potatoes extremely sweet.  Overall, we enjoyed our meal in spite of the shortcomings.  However, it is worth mentioning that there are better Korean BBQs out there.

The Good:
- Decent value
- Food is okay
- Food comes out quick

The Bad:
- Korean food can be sweet, but this was very sweet
- Service is but a rumour

Cho Sun B.B.Q. Korean Restaurant on Urbanspoon

The Boss (Metrotown)

Sometimes, convenience trumps everything (especially with kids).  As much as there are many dining options at Metrotown (in the mall itself), most are downright terrible.  Therefore, while we were there getting our Santa photos down (yes, this was in December), we went to an ol' standby being The Boss Restaurant.  Ah yes, I remember eating 2 dishes myself there when I was a kid.  No chance my son would do that, he can barely finish one small bowl.

Even with that in mind, I proceeded to order more than enough starting with the regular - Breakfast A + B. Huh?  No, this was not a skill-testing question or some sick algebra joke, rather, it was the combination of 2 breakfast items for one price (can be ordered separately as well).  The first dish was the Sunny Side Egg with Fried Basa.  What?  Fried fish for breaky???  Well, it was a whole lot better than the "wiener".  That's right folks, you get a wiener for breakfast at a HK-style cafe.  Hey, the fish was good being crunchy on the outside and super moist on the inside.  Eggs done nicely too.  The second item was the Ham & Macaroni in Soup.  Okay, breakfast is different here alright?  WYSIWYG really with this, but the chicken soup was decently flavourful.

For myself, I wanted some tongue.  Yes, I really did, in the form of the Ox Tongue with Spaghetti.  Now if the sauce looks a lot like watered down and sweetened ketchup, you are completely right.  Yah, it'll make Italians roll over in their sleep, but for a HK-style cafe, it's normal.  With that in mind, the sauce was a good consistency where it also had a balance of sweetness and tartness.  The pasta was somewhat al dente while the ox tongue was tender and fatty.  I offered Viv some, but she hates tongue (uh...). On the other hand, she loves the Baked Pork Chop on Rice instead.  With a very similar sauce albeit a touch more tart and thick (from the baking), it was pretty good.  The fried rice underneath was chewy while the pork chop was still somewhat crispy and moist.

For our last dish, we had the Pork & Preserved Vegetable Fried Vermicelli.  In years past, this would be made with BBQ duck, but they got rid of it (probably due to the high cost).  This was still pretty much the same except for the change in meat.  It exhibited plenty of wok heat where the dish had moisture, yet not dry.  In terms of flavour, I thought it was seasoned enough where it let the preserved vegetable do most of the work.  Once again, The Boss was a pretty predictable experience.  However, the portions have gotten significantly smaller over the years.  Also, it doesn't seem like the service has changed much either.

The Good:
- Predictable decent eats
- Food comes out quick

The Bad:
- Portions are kinda small
- Service can be iffy sometimes

The Boss Restaurant 大班餐廳餅店 on Urbanspoon