Sherman's Food Adventures: June 2014

Asia Kitchen

If you are familiar with the now closed New China Kitchen in Coquitlam, you don't need much familiarization with mediocre & greasy North American Chinese food.  Naturally, with more refined tastes, those types of buffets are going the way of the Dodo in the GVRD (like Foody Goody and Grand Buffet). The food was so nasty that it tasted like they used Dodos...  Is that how they became extinct???  Anyways, that doesn't mean there aren't some ambitious restauranteurs who dare to offer us AYCE Asian food.  From the ashes of NCK, we now see Asia Kitchen with their Vietnamese a la carte menu or the option of an AYCE buffet.

After watching a movie at Silvercity next door, we decided to hit up the place for dinner. Selection-wise, we were greeted by 2 long hot buffet stations.  For my first plate, I sampled Fried Rice, Sweet & Sour Pork, Chili Salt Shrimp, Fried Basa, Szechuan Beef and BBQ Pork.  I found the pork to be a bit dry, but the sauce was nicely balanced.  The shrimp had good flavour but the shell needed to be fried longer as it needed to be removed rather than eaten.  I liked the beef as it was properly tenderized while sporting a decent spiciness.  The veggies were still vibrant and crunchy. I tried their Hot & Soup Soup and it was predictably lacking in body, but it did have a good tartness though.

Next, my 2nd plate consisted of Fried Chicken, Singapore Noodles, Curry Chicken, Lemongrass Chicken Wings, Mussels, Fried Squid, Honey Garlic Pork and Green Beans.  The exterior of the chicken was a bit dried out, yet the meat itself was juicy and well-seasoned.  Lacking in ingredients, the noodles did have nice curry flavour though.  I wasn't a huge fan of the squid as the batter was strange and not all that crispy (it was hard).  I did like the green beans as they were not overcooked.   As you can see, I didn't get to try everything because of the many different dishes available.  Mind you, some just didn't look all that appetizing, so I skipped them.

There was also a make-your-own noodle section.  It was okay with a slightly spicy & sour broth with rice noodles and a selection of fish cake.  One item I did try without taking a picture of it was the Dungeness Crab. It was actually decent where it wasn't mushy. Furthermore, there was a salad bar and hard ice cream. Considering the price for dinner was $14.95 ($15.95 on weekends), I thought it was okay considering the selection.  Yet, in general, the food reminded me of something I could get at the mall food fair.  Now that can be considered a positive and a negative.  On one hand, the food was edible, but on the other, it isn't something I crave either.

The Good:
- Decent service
- Okay for a buffet

The Bad:
- Some repetitive sauces/ingredients
- Okay if you want quantity...

Asia Kitchen on Urbanspoon

The Sandwich Shop

When Meat & Bread burst onto the scene in Vancouver, it upped the ante when it came to the good ol' sandwich.  Many have followed since then including ones located in the burbs.  My favourite amongst the bunch is Big Star out in New West, yet they do not offer a Porchetta such as Meat & Bread.  However, when I was in Lonsdale Quay one day, I noticed that there was one on the menu at The Sandwich Shop.  Could we actually have a legit competitor, out in North Van no less?  Well, only one way to find out...

Naturally, I gave the Porchetta on ciabatta a try first.  It consisted of caramelized onion, garlic jam, arugula and cracklings. When I didn't see a pork roast or anything of the sort under the heat lamp, I should've known that my sandwich would be cold-to-lukewarm.  The pork itself was not hot which didn't do it justice.  I liked the cracklings as they were crunchy, but nothing else stood out other than the unnecessary addition of overpowering truffle oil.  Even the caramelized onions didn't add any impact.  There was a dire need for spice and acidity here.  Fortunately, the Korean Short Rib was much more flavourful.  It was dressed with kimchi, pickled daikon, green onion and sesame seeds.  I found the short rib to be moist and tender where the kimchi added spice and crunch.  With extra crunch and acidity, the daikon livened up the existing flavours.  However, the moisture in the sandwich killed the bread on the inside and things got really messy and soggy.

I returned one more time to try their Pulled Pork sandwich which was soggy on the bottom before I even dug in.  There was a positive to this though as the pork was moist and no stringy. It was bathed in a mild BBQ sauce that was on the sweeter side, yet not overly sweet.  The crunch from the coleslaw did its job, but I would've liked to see more acidity. Overall, I thought the offerings from The Sandwich Shop to be pretty average.  There is definitely potential, but ultimately, the sandwiches don't really deliver as their descriptions might suggest.

The Good:
- On the right track...
- Meats are generally on point
- People are nice

The Bad:
- Pricey for what you get (portion-wise)
- Soggy
- Why have a heat lamp when the pork is not there?

The Sandwich Shop on Urbanspoon

All Day Cafe

Easter Egg hunts in Vancouver can be an exercise in Russian Roulette.  No, we're not talking about gambling with chocolate eggs, rather, the weather can cause havoc with any Easter plans.  Hence, we decided to take the kiddies to Lonsdale Quay for their indoor egg hunt in the market.  However, with no real organization preventing people from starting before the stated time, only a few kids were fortunate to find any eggs.  Prior to that, we had arrived early and decided to grab some breaky from All Day Cafe.

We had no illusions about the food at All Day Cafe.  The place is more about location and convenience than artisan bakery or high-class brunch.  Hence, it wasn't surprising that the Croissant was only moderately buttery and practically not crispy-at-all on the outside.  Given that, it was still fine as the inside was soft and airy.  My daughter ended up slathering a bunch of jam on it and she was happy.  Viv tried out their Coffee and it was pretty much standard stuff that neither offended or created lasting memories.

With a limited prep area and no kitchen, I wondered how they would produce a Smoked Salmon Benny.  It was pretty apparent as the dish hit the table.  On top of the same croissant, several slices of smoked salmon were dog-piled by a mound of scrambled eggs (actually steamed) and smothered by an obscene amount of Hollandaise.  The sauce was more thick than buttery and more sweet than acidic.  For me, it tasted like the packaged variety.  But, for what it was, it did the job.  Ultimately, our expectations were not very high and that worked in our favour.  Besides, the ladies behind the counter were so sweet and accommodating, it made up for any deficiencies.

The Good:
- Really nice ladies behind the counter
- Food comes out quick
- Nice location

The Bad:
- No kitchen = they do what they can
- Location and view are the draws, not the products

All Day Cafe on Urbanspoon

Pho Express Angkor Noodle House

Milhouse and JuJu are great friends.  Why?  For starters, they put up with my constant yammering about food and they still continue to eat with me.  Second, they often order way too much food to my complete joy.  Third, they are really accommodating where they will travel for food.  That was the case just prior to Burger Palooza (like I needed more food...).  I needed to be on Robson, so they joined me at Pho Express Angkor Noodle House.  Although they boasted Thai food, we stuck with the Vietnamese portion of the menu.

We shared an order of Spring Rolls to start which were constructed with rice paper.  However, we found it to be fried too long and/or the rice paper had dried out too much.  Therefore, the exterior was tough exhibiting a firm crunchiness.  Inside, the filling was dense and that only added to the overall heaviness of the spring roll.  It did taste okay though with mild hints of fish sauce and sweet onion.  For myself, I went for a small bowl of Bun Bo Hue because I had another dish coming (you didn't think I'd eat only one small bowl right???).  I found the broth to be super mild despite the oil slick.  I didn't sense much lemongrass either.  The soup was still flavourful, but just not in a typical Bun Bo Hue fashion.  Noodles weren't too soft while the meats were tender.

Both Milhouse and JuJu had bowls of Pho, however, Milhouse went for the XL size.  I was able to sample the broth and it was definitely more savoury than sweet.  It didn't appear to contain much MSG as it was on the light side.  We also couldn't pick out individual flavours either.  Whatever the case, the flavours were clean.  As for the noodles, they were plentiful and al dente whereas the meat were sliced thin and easy to eat.  Not to be outdone, JuJu went for the Lemongrass Chicken Banh Mi as well.  Hidden in the crusty and fairly light baguette, there was plenty of chicken.  It was well-charred and flavourful, yet with only the lightest hint of lemongrass.  The pickled veggies were julienned thin and more tart than sweet.

Lastly, I had the Lemongrass Chicken on Rice which was a bit anti-climactic as the meat was exactly like the one in the Banh Mi.  It was well-charred where the skin was completely rendered.  However, once again, the lemongrass was not really there while the chicken meat was a touch on the dry side.  The rice was good though, being chewy while not dry. Although not without some faults, we felt the food at Pho Express Angkor Noodle House (what a mouthful!) to be more than acceptable given its location in Downtown and its reasonable pricing.

The Good:
- Inexpensive for Robson
- Decent portions
- Decent eats

The Bad:
- Of course there is better outside of Downtown, but this is Downtown...
- Looks like the decor has been leftover from the many previous restaurants (not unlike many Vietnamese restaurants)

Pho Express Angkor Noodle House on Urbanspoon

East River Seafood Restaurant

When JuJu gets a craving for a specific food, there is little in the way to convince him to eat anything else.  That was the case after Sunday morning hockey.  He wanted Dim Sum, no ands, ifs or buts. For the fear that he would suddenly turn green and rip off all his clothes, we relented and decided to hit up East River for some reasonably-priced eats.  Besides, no one would want to see him rip off his clothes anyways.  Also, we most certainly do not want to see anything green on him either...

Fortunately for us, we were able to snag a table pretty quickly since there was no budging, table-stealing nor foul language.  Either these other people in line were not paying attention or they were scared at sight of a very hungry JuJu. Starting with the basics, we had the Haw Gow (shrimp dumpling) and Sui Mai (pork & shrimp dumpling). We found the thin haw gow skin to be somewhat doughy.  Inside, the shrimp filling was mousse-like with a moist snap.  Flavourwise, these were sweet with a hint of sesame oil.  As for the sui mai, they were soft and mousse-like as well. There was a decent amount of shrimp and shiitake mushroom in the mix which afforded both texture and flavour.

Next up was the Shrimp Spring Rolls which were served up piping hot and crunchy.  These were not greasy at all (oil was hot enough) where the shrimp filling was sweet and garlicky.  There was only a mild snap texture due to the addition of shrimp mousse.  JuJu wanted something more substantial, so we got the Stir-Fried Rice Noodles with Beef.  What JuJu wants, JuJu gets... The noodle exhibited good wok heat where there was a caramelization of flavours without being oil-logged.  There was just the right amount of soy for effect whereby the saltiness was kept to a minimum.  Texturally, the beef was tender while the sprouts retained their crunch.

Onto the rice noodle rolls, we had both the Shrimp Rice Noodle Roll and Beef Rice Noodle Roll.  With a good amount of snap-textured shrimp, there was some substance to the roll.  Flavourwise, it was mildly seasoned where the shrimp flavour still came through.  It was fine on its own without the sweet soy. The noodle itself was thin, yet a touch firm.  As for the beef, it was properly tenderized.  There was a slight chew to go with the moist beef which was welcomed since many times, the beef is over-processed.  There was a balanced amount of green onions for colour and flavour.

I'm not sure why we order the Xiao Long Bao at Cantonese Dim Sum joints because they rarely turn out.  However, what JuJu wants, JuJu gets... On cue, the dumpling skin was thick albeit not particularly doughy.  Rather, it was soft and easy to chew.  The filling was moist and meaty tasting where there was some juice that had hints of ginger and green onion.  Then we got an order of mystery dumplings that looked like Chiu Chow Fun Gwor.  I'm not sure if we even ordered them.  Whatever the case, they weren't very good as they fell apart on contact.  The filling was mushy with a mix meat, nuts, pickled veg & dried shrimp.  We didn't really care for them.

Despite no one wanting in on the action, I decided to get the Tendon & Tripe anyways. What I want, I get?  Well, this time at least...  I found the tripe to be soft with a bit of chew left while the tendon was just right straddling the line between soft and firm.  Although on the bland side, there was still decent hits of garlic and sweet notes.  So far so good, but the Steamed Black Bean Spareribs were not so much.  Texturally, these were more dry meaty rather than moist and bouncy.  However, most pieces were rib portions with very little fat and cartilage.  Where it really fell flat was the seasoning as it was one note tasting like there was a good amount of MSG.  Moreover, there was too much starch as the sauce was clumpy.

Into the homestretch, we had the Bean Curd Skin Rolls.  The pork filling was on the chewier side rather than a rebound texture.  The crunch from the celery was a nice break from the chewy meat.  Overall, the dish was bland while the sauce was clumpy.  Lastly, we had the Lo Mei Gai (sticky rice) which featured rice that was a bit dry.  That might've been exacerbated by the lack of filling.  Flavours were good though with a good amount of pickled veg in the meaty mix.  Although JuJu was satisfied from being fed, we all agreed that the food was just a smidgen above average.  However, with reasonable pricing, East River is an option for casual Dim Sum eats.

The Good:
- Slightly above average
- Food comes out quick

The Bad:
- Service, what service?
- Some misses with the hits

East River Seafood 東江海鮮酒家 on Urbanspoon

Biercraft Tap & Tapas (Commercial)

"I would like some beverages", exclaimed Emilicious after Friday night hockey.  And no, she wasn't talking about a Diet Coke either.  Consequently, I suggested Biercraft Tap & Tapas since it would fulfill that particular request as well as eats.  But honestly, I just wanted to do a re-visit since it was 5 years ago that we had last been to the place.  It was in the middle of Summer and since they were sans A/C, we lost as much in sweat as we took in drinks.  Well, it wasn't Summer this time around, but it was still plenty warm.

We ended up starting with an order of the Mumbai Wings and mint mango raita.  Although not particularly juicy, the wings were coated with enough sauce to help alleviate that issue.  They were crispy though with a balanced hint of curry to go along with the zesty tangy thing going on.  The raita was rather mild, but was pleasant enough.  The Korean Short Ribs were nicely executed with a smoky char.  They were sweet like typical Korean marinade with some savoury elements.  The meat was moist and tender except for the parts around the bone.  We also got the Sesame Tuna with wilted spinach, wasabi mayo.  Much like last time, the tuna was expertly prepared being rare and texturally on point.  However, it tasted exactly the same too which was mild and lacking in acidity.  A touch of lime would've brightened up the flavours.

Next, we tried the Drunken Mussels in a Biercraft Pilsner, cilantro and lime butter broth.  The good amount of mussels were a little overdone as they had lost their buttery texture.  There was no mistaking the Pilsner in the broth, but it wasn't bitter being cooked down enough.  I could get the lime, yet it wasn't overpowering.  We got a bigger item in the Braised Beef Mac n' Cheese made with BBQ braised beef brisket, macaroni and 4 cheese sauce. I liked the BBQ sauce as it was tangy with sweet and smoky elements.  However, it took over the dish and I could barely make out the cheeses.  Furthermore, the brisket was on the stringier side.  We liked how the macaroni was al dente though.  As for the side of frites, they were crunchy, yet overly firm.

Lionel Hutz decided to share exclusively with Gordo (such anti-social people!).  They also had the short ribs along with 2 more items including the Biercraft Burger consisting of a fire grilled house-made patty, toasted kaiser, crispy onions, lettuce and tomato.  He thought it was a decent burger with a well-charred patty that was somewhere in between moist and dry.  They also had a Caesar Salad made with a zesty lemon and asiago dressing, romaine, crispy bacon and cheese baked croutons.  Yes, a Caesar salad is as exciting as physics textbook, but this one wasn't bad.  The romaine was vibrantly crunchy while the dressing was creamy and not lacking in acidity.

For dessert, we ended up trying the Sticky Toffee Pudding and Tiramisu. Consisting of warm toffee cake, sticky coconut topping, caramel and Chantilly cream, this was okay.  We didn't mind the cake as it was really moist and not crazy sweet.  But the coconut topping was really sweet and the texture interfered with the cake.  As for the Tiramisu, it was creamy and full of flavour.  We got lots of coffee and liquor which made it even more enjoyable.  Overall, this revisit was very similar to our original meal 5 years ago. So the consistency is there.  Other than a few issues here and there, the food was decent for late night eats.

The Good:
- Nice vibe
- Okay eats
- Open late

The Bad:
- Overly warm inside
- We were made to wait for table even though there were several chances to seat us

BierCraft Tap and Tapas Bar on Urbanspoon

Sushi California (Broadway)

Sometimes, there is no need for good sushi.  *GASP*  What???  No, I'm not suddenly regressing to my AYCE days nor have I suddenly changed my mind on Kawawa (went there recently... meh, don't even want to blog about it). Rather, there are situations where average sushi will do especially since we had the kiddies with us.  Therefore, we headed over to the new location of Sushi California out on Broadway and Yukon.  We've been to the original North Road store a few times and it is more or less mediocre sushi on the cheap.

Already bustling before 6:00pm, it appeared that many other people were looking for large portions and average quality eats as well.  We started with an order of Gyoza and they were pretty sad-looking.  With a pasty-white appearance that would make Rose McGowan look tanned, they ate as bad as they looked.  The skin was lifeless and chewy while the filling was overly inundated with veggies.  Furthermore, they were cold.  Next up was the Ebi Tempura and thankfully, it was served hot.  The batter was decently light and crispy while not overly heavy on the greasy.  I liked the ebi inside as it had a buttery snap.

We also had the Seafood Salad which consisted of mesclun greens topped with cold udon, prawns, hokkigai, one mussel, half an egg and baby scallops.  It was dressed in a vinaigrette that had a considerable sesame oil kick.  This was actually okay since the moisture was kept to a minimum and the udon was texturally on point being chewy.  With impressively large slices of tuna and salmon, the Deluxe Assorted Sashimi was more good value than great quality.  As I've said before, I like a good deal, but if the tuna is cut the size of a hockey puck, the textures are all wrong.  Case in point, would one cut beef carpaccio that thick?  Otherwise, the sashimi was okay where it had a healthy sheen.

Moving onto the maki sushi, we had the Chopped Scallop Roll and Double Spicy Tuna Roll.  My word, that was some of the worst sushi rice we ever had.  The texture was softer than rice you would find at a typical Chinese dinner.  It was mushy, wet and bland.  It made the rolls nasty to eat as the textures and flavours were all wrong.  Furthermore, I wasn't a huge fan of the scallops as they were a little too soft.  Luckily, the 1/2 Futomaki had much more in the way of ingredients to counteract the crappy rice.  Moreover, the crunch from the veggies and oshinko added texture and acidity.

Lastly, we ordered the Tempura Udon for the kiddies.  As expected, the broth was lacking body, but at the very least, it resembled dashi.  Some other places use soy sauce and consider it soup...  This was a good portion which featured a side of crispy and hot tempura.  As you can probably guess, our meal was not exactly that enjoyable.  Remember what I said about good value eats over quality at the beginning?  Well, I take it all back if the food resembles anything like we had here.

The Good:
- Cheap
- Super large portions
- Food comes out quick

The Bad:
- Crappy sushi rice
- Overall below-average quality
- Not the friendliest service

Sushi California on Urbanspoon