Sherman's Food Adventures: May 2014

EAT! Vancouver 2014

Another year and another version of EAT Vancouver! at BC Place is upon us.  I've been attending consistently over the past few years where more recently, it has been part of the media preview.  This year, it was a bit different as we had a tour of a few featured vendors.  After that, we had free reign with the many booths proudly showing their wares and/or serving some little bites and samples.  Of course there is the adults-only "Sips" area with samples of beer, wines and spirits.  Probably the main attraction are the shows including a host of celebrity chefs including Rob Feenie, Chuck Hughes, Lynn Crawford, Vikram Vij and Ned Bell.

One of the first things we visited was a section dedicated to vendors associated with the Hawker's Market. We were able to sample some some items from Wonton Girl including the Beef Wonton and Yam & Cauliflower with a soy drizzle.  These were fried until crispy while not greasy.  I found the beef filling to be moist with light hits of sesame oil and cilantro. With the yam & cauliflower, I thought it was pleasantly smooth and sweet with the nice accent of chives.  Right next door, I had something that was quite interesting in the Vegan Coconut Bacon from Sailin' On.  Shaved and toasted, the coconut took on a buttery sweetness.  They reminded me of these Chinese coconut candies in terms of overall flavour.  Not really a "bacon" substitute, but good on its own.

Bosa Foods had an elaborate display highlighting many of the products they offer at their store.  For me, the one thing that caught my fancy was the Truffle Salami.  Freshly shaved, these were buttery from the fat and slightly salty with the strong aroma of black truffle.  I didn't get to try any of their other items which included tomato & bocconcini and goat cheese with red pepper jelly.  Nearby, there was an interesting booth called D-Way Ramen (which was really D-Way Foods).  They were serving up fresh ramen with boxed broth.  I tried their Pork Shio Broth and it was pretty decent for a pre-prepared product.  It was flavourful with a good saltiness except lacking in a bit of texture and depth.  I inquired about where I would buy some and they really couldn't come up with an answer for me.

Off to the "Bites" section, it was a bit troubling to see only 6 vendors.  In fact, many were not setup, but in all, there would be only 10.  I did get to sample Dunn's and their famous Montreal Smoked Meat.  These slabs of brisket are smoked in Quebec and shipped over to BC where they are steamed for 3 hours and served to hungry diners.  Not much to say other than "yum".  There was an option to try Max's right next door as they were offering Halo Halo and Pancit Pabalok, but I was actually not that hungry.  Instead, I sauntered over to an interesting booth, The Lo Gourmet Bao, manned by 2 fun-loving guys.  With a name like that, it was no surprise to find mantou filled with beef.  Normally, they would have other fillings, but this was the best way to serve it at EAT.

Lastly, I headed over to "Sips" for some beverages. After putting down 2 tickets as a "deposit" for my glass, I was immediately drawn to Jaw Drop Cooler Co. due to their colourful display (and also the fact someone was drinking it and I was curious).  I went for the Sucking Lemons and it was refreshing and not overly strong nor sweet.  Hence, once could easily down many of these in one sitting.  Right next door, I sampled the Amber Ale from Yukon Brewery.  This was really good with a hoppy presence with a nice smooth finish.  There was much more to try, but I had to drive (I'm so responsible...).  This was a fairly well-represented section as well as the main vendors.  All-in-all, EAT! Vancouver 2014 is pretty much the same as before. However, the Bites section was not as big as the previous year. 

Triple Coconut Tree

Yet another in my long line of revisits has been Triple Coconut Tree.  My original experience was underwhelming and I had every intention of eating there again, but call it the "it's too close to my house" syndrome.  Yah, I've been out to Langley for pho before going back to TCT.  But with Big D looking for lighter eats, it looked like a great opportunity to head back.  We did consider heading back to Woody's for some more of their daily specials, but even we get sick of fried food sometimes.

Although a bit murky and cloudy, the Pho broth itself was rather mild and mostly sweet.  I didn't think the individual flavours were that apparent as it was more muddled than clean.  However, I did like the temperature of the broth as it was scorching hot which ensured that both the rare beef and sprouts would be somewhat cooked.  On the topic of the beef, the modest amount was really tender.  As for the noodles, they were on point being chewy and not clumpy. Of note, I asked for cilantro only, but was told everything was mixed together.  But what about the cilantro in my banh mi?  I digress.  Big D was at his healthier eating again and got the Pho Ga.  One sip of the broth and it was apparent they dumped a whole lot of MSG into it.  It was super sweet and really flavourful.  I did like the addition of fried garlic as it added more savouriness and aroma.  Like my pho, the noodles were on point while the chicken meatballs were moist and bouncy.

Naturally, this wouldn't be enough food for us, so I got the Lemongrass Chicken with shredded pork and fried egg on broken rice.  This was a fairly large portion with chewy rice and really juicy chicken.  It had a light browning that really didn't add much in the way of caramelization, but the chicken itself was marinated enough to counteract that.  They could've been a bit more generous with the shredded pork as I finished it in one bite.  Lastly, we tried the Banh Mi Dac Biet.  First off, I really liked the bread as it was really airy and crusty.  Second, there was pate to go along with the nicely pickled carrots.  However, they really needed to add some fish sauce or Maggi as the sandwich was quite bland (if they did add it, there wasn't much of it).  Furthermore, they really skimped on the meat.  Passable - that would be the best way to describe TCT.  I guess it was better than my original visit, but I'm not aching to return anytime soon.

The Good:
- Fairly good portions (except for the banh mi)
- Decently large menu
- Acceptable service

The Bad:
- More on the average side
- Broth a bit muddled

Triple Coconut Tree Restaurant 椰子城越南餐廳 on Urbanspoon

Buckstop

For all the times we've been out for late night eats after hockey, I think we have gone through the gamut of various cuisines.  Naturally, the large percentage has been Asian, but due to the lack of variety beyond this, we have resorted to re-visits.  One thing we haven't eaten in the later hours of the day (or the next morning) is Southern BBQ.  Well, there are couple of things working against that including the heaviness of the food and the fact no BBQ houses are open past midnight.  Until now...  And that is what brought us to Buckstop...

After trying out their fabulous Warm Potato Chips with BBQ Rub and a side of horseradish aioli during Burgerpalooza, I had to order them again.  These light and crispy house-made chips were deadly as one could literally eat the whole bowl without knowing it.  The sweet and slightly spicy rub added a certain smokiness to the chip while not over-salting it.  The aioli provided a notable coolness combined with a mild bite.  Next up was the Fried Dill Pickles with cajun aioli.  These were nicely prepared with the batter staying put on each pickle wedge.  They were lightly crisp with only the slightest doughiness.  I thought the spice level of the ailoi was a good match to the salty pickles.

Seeing how this was going to be both a meat and deep-fried fest, we felt guilted into ordering the Smoked Beet Salad with goat cheese, candied walnuts, arugula puree and mandarin vinaigrette.  The beets were indeed smoky which was slightly tempered by the smooth goat cheese and mildly bitter arugula puree.  The vinaigrette was sweet and only somewhat acidic.  I thought the beets were on the softer side though, but the crunchy walnuts added the necessary texture.  With a side of salad (yes, that made everything more healthy...), we felt the Bacon & Jalapeno Mac n' Cheese was cheesy enough but not really spicy.  Rather, it only exhibited a moderate amount of bacon which helped with the layer of flavours, but ultimately it was closer to the regular version (which was not a bad thing).

Now onto the main event, we shared the Half-Stop BBQ consisting of beef back ribs, St.Louis pork ribs, brisket, smoked chicken, pulled pork, fries, coleslaw and baked beans with hush puppies, cornbread and honey butter.  Starting with the brisket, it was juicy and tender with thin ring of bark.  The pulled pork was in bigger strands (being a touch stringy) and aggressively laced with a unmistakable bourbon BBQ sauce. It was decently tender.  As for the pork ribs, there was a smoky and slightly spicy rub on the outside while the inside was surprisingly moist, falling-off-the-bone.  Predictably, the smoked chicken was on the drier side, but not incredibly so.  It was mildly flavoured with a touch of smoke.  Lastly, the beef ribs were nicely charred while being fatty and tender.  On the side, the cornbread had a nice exterior crunch, but alas it was dry.  However, the hush puppies were fantastic with a light crispiness yielding to a nearly fluffy dense interior.  In the end, we were stuffed and quite pleased with our first ever late night BBQ meat fest.

The Good:
- Meats are mostly tender and not excessively dry
- Good service
- Open late

The Bad:
- Rather narrow seating arrangements 
- Liked the bourbon BBQ sauce but it was a bit too sweet

Buckstop on Urbanspoon

Damso Modern Korean

With only Milhouse and Sweet Tooth up for eats after Friday night hockey, the world was my oyster.  Why?  Well, these 2 faithful eating companions are always game for food anywhere, anytime.  Hence, I could choose anything I wanted!  It's like Lindsay Lohan in a liquor store... Since it was a late game, we ended up going to a place that has been on my list for a long time - Damso out on Denman.

To ensure that we ate this meal with a clear conscience, we got the Kimchi Garden Salad to start (at least there was something green on the table...).  We really liked this concoction of organic spring mix, house-made bacon and of course kimchi.  There was a good balance of flavours including the tangy mild spiciness of the kimchi along with the acidity from the dressing.  The meaty bacon added body to the salad as well as some savouriness.  Next, we tried the Seafood Waffle which did its best impression of a Korean seafood pancake.  And in all honesty, we preferred this over the traditional offering.  The crispy waffle was packed with seafood and only a bit of green onion.  It was not as greasy as a pancake and the drizzle of thick sweet soy only helped amped up the flavours.

We got one each of the Korean Tacos made with a hand-stretched tortilla, beef belly, onion, cabbage and chili sauce.  Although the taco shell was on the drier side, we appreciated its freshness.  The beef belly was sliced really thin where it was super tender and moist.  The ample amount of chili sauce added both the necessary moisture and sweet spiciness. With poor dish management (my fault), we ended up with the Matang, or yam fries with red wine glaze and a side of maekom sauce.  Since I wasn't really paying attention, I failed to see that another dish already had yam fries as a side.  Oh well...  These were really good being crispy and light.  The glaze had a real impact as it added a syrupy sweetness.  I liked how they were not overly greasy either.

Next up, the Beef Tartare was neatly plated with thin strips of marbled-beef.  It was accented with Asian pear, green onion, pickled beets, green onions, jalapenos and quail egg.  With all of the ingredients mixed together, I thought the flavours were mild, yet not bland.  At first, I was concerned with the size of the strips of beef, but it turned out to be buttery and super soft.  Naturally, the quail's egg added even more smoothness.  However, I would've liked to see more acidity as the flavours were somewhat flat. Served in a cute jar, the Pickles consisting of broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, green beans and asparagus  were crunchy and preserved with a vinegary brine that had just enough sweetness as a balance.  

Lastly, we had the Kimchi Beef Bulgogi Burger with yes, yam fries.  I thought the sesame bun was a good choice as it was not too dense.  Inside, the ample amount of beef bulgogi was moist and properly dressed. Not a ground-breaking dish by any means, but it worked and that can't be said with a lot of fusion food out there. In the end, we felt their take on Korean food was mostly successful.  Definitely interesting and tasty eats, especially considering the time (which was well past midnight).

The Good:
- Interesting
- Their take on fusion is palatable
- Open late

The Bad:
- Don't try to fit a big party in there
- Maybe be even more daring and inventive?

  Damso Modern Korean Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Dae Gill Sushi

Meeting up with Bluebeard and Nikita is always a pleasure because it satisfies 2 criteria: one, to go out and eat; and two, we have an excuse to eat in Langley.  Why Langley?  Well it ain't the culinary destination in the GVRD, but there are some gems.  And you can't find gems if you keep digging only in the same place, unless all you want are cubic zirconias.  Ah yes, cubic zirconias...  from the Shopping Channel.  Hey it looks just like a diamond, but not!  Try to pass that off to your spouse/partner or girlfriend!

Anyways, we met up at Dae Gill Sushi this time around and by looking at the name, we figured it was Korean-run. Starting with the Assorted Tempura, we were a bit confused with the sauce drizzled on top.  In the end, each piece was really crispy but they could've eased up on the batter.  Veggies were done right as well as the meaty ebi.  Our Assorted Sashimi was plated flatter than the Prairies as each slice was quite thin as well.  Everything seemed okay except we didn't like the little scallops (too small) and the barely defrosted tuna which was super frigid.

Next, we had the Dragon Roll which was inexpensive at $6.95, but when it showed up, we could see why as it was no bigger than a regular roll.  Consisting of only avocado with unagi, tobiko, bonito and sauce on the outside, there wasn't much substance.  Furthermore, the rice had too much moisture where it was gummy and sticky.  On the other hand, it was seasoned quite well.  For our second roll, we had the Spicy Salmon topped with tempura bits and spicy mayo. Since it was afflicted with the same sushi rice, we found it heavy.  There was a nice spiciness to it though that was not overbearing.

For the kiddies, they shared a Chicken Udon that featured far too much white onion.  It not only complicated a normally simple item, the flavours were all out-of-balance.  The dashi was actually quite good, but the sweetness was too much due to the onions.  As for the chicken, they were in little bits and we had to hunt for them.  While we were finishing up, Nikita and Bluebeard lamented that Dae Gill is yet another mediocre sushi joint out in Langley (not a gem this time around).  Totally edible, but hardly something one would be clamouring to re-visit.

The Good:
- Friendly people
- Okay pricing

The Bad:
- Obviously not authentic, but the real problem is the mediocrity of the food
- Need to fix that floor, an accident waiting to happen

Daegill sushi on Urbanspoon

The Fish Counter

You'd think that a city such as Vancouver, being located on the West Coast, should be overloaded with places to enjoy seafood.  Well, that is partly true.  I'm not sure if we can include all the Chinese restaurants in town with "seafood" in their name because they are really a restaurant that happens to serve seafood (which probably is not Ocean-Wise).  For me, Vancouver should have more places that serve exclusively seafood.  So when Chef Robert Clark teamed up with Mike McDermid to open up the Fish Counter (which is Ocean-Wise), I was chomping at the bit to go.  And really, it isn't a restaurant per se, rather it's a fish market with a takeout counter.

Viv and I were deciding whether to share a bowl of Clam Chowder or Seafood Bouillabaisse, so when it came time to order, I made the best decision possible - get both!  I tried the chowder first and it was not made with cream, hence, it was less heavy and rich.  Instead, it was only a lightly thickened broth that was definitely on the sweeter side (which was further enhanced by the corn).  I really didn't get a significant clam hit even though there was plenty of it in the soup.  In the end, the chowder was okay but really didn't hold a candle to the Bouillabaisse (for 95 cents more) as there was a bevy of halibut, salmon, mussels and clams.  You can't see it in the picture, but it was a meal in itself.  With a dollop of garlic puree and a noticeable amount of big slices of garlic, the broth was predictably garlicky.  Combined with the sweetness of the tomatoes and fennel, this was good for $6.90.

For our Fish n' Chips, we decided to do 1 piece each of halibut and Pacific cod. We found the batter to be really light and crispy.  It was also easy on the grease.  Both pieces of fish were just right being flaky and really moist.  The accompanying tartar sauce had nice hits of dill and acidity while the kale coleslaw was sweet and tart.  As for the fries, they were extremely crunchy with little potatoness left.  We also tried the Oyster Po' Boy with greens, spicy cabbage and tartar sauce.  The 2 big oysters were fried beautifully where the outside was crisp while the inside was sweet and soft.  The tartar sauce worked well with the spicy cabbage (kimchi-like), but the roll could've been toasted as it was cold and dense.  For a takeout place, we thought that the food at The Fish Counter was pretty good.  Of course, some things could've been better, but the overall experience was positive.

The Good:
- Naturally fresh seafood (which is sustainable)
- Decent eats
- Nice people

The Bad:
- It's mostly takeout, only one table and some stand up counter space
- Fries are a bit too crunchy

The Fish Counter on Urbanspoon

Golden Oscar Cafe

With an early game on Friday, I had visions of finer eats afterwards.  Normally, our games end so late, our culinary options are as good as a properly parked car in a Richmond parking lot.  But my grand ideas came to a screeching halt as Mr. Blueberry had sold a rice cooker off Craigslist.  You see, the purchaser needed to pick it up that night (did he want to make rice that instance?).  Therefore we had to eat nearby so Lionel Hutz could go with him to ensure his safety.  No, I'm not making this up...  

So we ended up at Golden Oscar for a reluctant revisit of sorts. Yah, my great culinary plan fizzled down to a late-night HK-style cafe.  Whatever the case, we made the best of it.  Emilicious decided to have the Bitter Melon & Beef on Rice.  As much as I'm not a huge fan of bitter melon, this was alright as it wasn't overwhelming.  Furthermore, the beef both plentiful and tender.  I found the sauce on the saltier side, but then again, it was on plain rice.  Sweet Tooth had the Beef Fried Rice which featured individual grains of rice that where surprisingly a bit soft.  Not sure how they accomplished that.  Anyways, the wok heat was okay, but the dish lacked enough seasoning.

For myself, I had a meal that started with a choice of soup.  Since they were out of Borscht, I went for the Cream Soup.  One spoonful and my face went sideways.  What the heck was that in my soup???  Tuna?  Who the heck puts canned tuna in a cream of corn?  Suffice to say, I didn't like it.  The flavours and textures just didn't work.  As for my main, I had the Chicken Steak and Scallops with black pepper sauce.  I enjoyed the big ample pieces of chicken as they were super juicy, well-seasoned and crispy on the outside.  What I didn't like was the imitation scallops.  These were assaulted with an obscene amount of starch where the exterior resembled uncooked dough.  The gummy, unappetizing discs of goo should of been best left for wall-filler.

Lionel Hutz decided on the Curry Beef served with toasted bread. I found the curry to be slightly watery, but it was decently flavourful.  Much like other Chinese versions of yellow curry, this was mostly one note with only a touch of spice.  And similiar to Emilicious' dish, the beef was tender.  Milhouse went for the Black Bean Chicken Fried Noodle.  This was a fairly large portion (partly due to being the full-sized main menu version) with lots of juicy chicken and crisp veggies.  I found the sauce to on the weaker side, but it wasn't too bad.  The fried noodles were only slightly crispy and a touch greasy.

Mr. Blueberry (who arrived in one piece) and Gadget Girl shared the Chicken Chow Mein and Fried Rice Noodle with Beef.  Other than the difference in sauce and veggies, the chow mein resembled the previous dish.  However, with less ingredients and sauce, it wasn't as wet and more mild.  As for the rice noodles, they were glistening like usual.  The dish exhibited good wok heat and featured the same tender beef.  Overall, this revisit was alright for most people but the soup and scallops really turned me off.  I guess one's experience would greatly depend on the dish(es) ordered.

The Good:
- Reasonable pricing
- Open late
- Okay for late night

The Bad:
- Some things just didn't work

Golden Oscar Cafe & Restaurant on Urbanspoon