Sherman's Food Adventures: 2015

Tea Wok

*Restaurant is now closed*

Tea Wok...  Where have I seen that name before?  Wait, there was Tea Work which was formerly located on 41st and Victoria.  There was another I believe on Kingsway at Nelson in Burnaby as well (now a Szechaun Chongqing).  Were they all related?  If so, I wasn't holding too much hope for the food.  But when we were thwarted at The One with a long lineup (when does that ever happen?), Milhouse, Lionel Hutz and myself had to resort to alternative measures in obtaining late night eats in Burnaby.  So we ended up at Tea Wok in the former location of 508 Bistro.

We started with 2 classic Taiwanese appies including the Deep Fried Chicken Nuggets and Red Fermented Deep Fried Pork.  Fairly large in portion size, the chicken nuggets were crispy, almost crunchy on the outside.  It was nice spiced where there was definitely a salty peppery thing going on.  However, we didn't get much five spice.  As much as the exterior was well-seasoned, the chicken itself was bland.  It was juicy and succulent though.  Appearance-wise, the pork cutlet looked legit with an appealing red hue.  Unfortunately, it was completely devoid of any of the classic fermented pungency.  Furthermore, the batter was greasy and slid off.  Inside, the pork itself was rather dry and chewy.

For his main, Milhouse had the Dried Noodles with Minced Meat Sauce and stewed egg.  For $6.50, this was a substantial dish with slippery and chewy noodles.  The meat sauce was sweet and flavourful where it completely seasoned every strand of noodle.  I would've liked to see more viscosity as the sauce was pretty watery and didn't actually adhere to the noodles.  As a result, the meat sat on the bottom of the bowl.  Lionel Hutz went for the Satay Shredded Pork Pan Fried Noodles which the server misheard as seafood noodles.  We give them credit for correcting the problem no questions asked.  As for the the satay noodles, they were al dente and fully spiced with satay.  There was minimal moisture which meant there was decent wok heat.

For myself, I went for the standard being the Taiwanese Beef Noodle.  It was too bad that the broth itself was rather weak and lacking in depth.  In fact, the pickled mustard greens was the dominant flavour.  However, the noodles were toothsome and the sliced beef shank was melt-in-my-mouth tender.  So due to our low expectations, the stuff here at Tea Wok did the job, especially for late night.  However, for Taiwanese cuisine aficionados, you better best move on because there are too many deficiencies to overlook.

The Good:
- Cheap
- Decent portions

The Bad:
- Average food at best
- Lack of service

Tea Wok Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Mezbaan Fine Indian Fusion

Variety. That's something my son didn't have in his vocabulary even a few years ago as he subsisted on mac n' cheese, grilled cheese and cheeseburgers.  Now, if this was a cheese-eating contest, I guess he'd do okay.  However, a piece of me died inside every time he'd choose one of the aforementioned items over tastier options.  He's expanded his eating repertoire and we felt it was time to go eat some Indian food at Mezbaan Fine Indian Fusion (thanks to another Groupon) before he forgot he had tried it in the past.

We tried the kiddies out with both the Paneer Pakora and Fish Pakora.  We all found the fish pakora to be superior partly due to the benefit of an actual protein.  The fish was soft and flaky while retaining its shape and integrity.  The batter was super light and nicely spiced by caraway and cumin.  It was further enhanced by the spicy cilantro chutney.  From there, we moved onto the Tandoori Chicken served on a sizzling cast iron plate.  By virtue of using only the leg, the meat was fairly tender and succulent.  It was marinated enough to have some penetration of flavours, but in the end, it was rather mild tasting.

Due to their low spice tolerance, we got the Butter Chicken in its mildest form.  Hence, the dominant flavour was the tangy tomato paste accented by only a slight amount of creaminess.  As mentioned, there was little to no spiciness as requested.  But that didn't mean there was no flavour at all.  The small chunks of chicken ranged from tender to dry.  For myself, I had the Lamb Rogen Josh in a spicy version.  I found the pieces of lamb to be succulent and moist.  However, the sauce was lacking in depth and richness.  It wasn't even that spicy.  There seemed to be a lack of toasted spices in the mix.

As a side, we got a couple orders of the Garlic Naan which was more crispy than bread like.  It was well charred which afforded a smoky flavour.  However, we didn't notice much garlic. My son devoured it along with the butter chicken.  In that sense, mission accomplished as there wasn't any grilled cheese to be found anywhere.  In terms of overall food quality, it was decent and definitely serviceable.  Obviously, I've had better (especially since I have access to the great Indian food in Surrey on a daily basis), but Mezbaan is alright for the neighbourhood.

The Good:
- Decent for the area
- The service we got was alright for a family run operation
 - Reasonably-priced

The Bad:
- Flavours could be bolder (and I'm not talking about the spice level)
- Place is a bit run down  

Mezbaan Fine Indian Fusion Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lin Chinese Cuisine (ChineseBites)

Trepidation.  That would be the best way to describe my feelings about the most recent ChineseBites meetup at Lin Chinese Cuisine.  Should I go?  You see, my very first visit ever to Lin was a very good one with their tasty XLBs and various other house specialties.  But with every subsequent meal, it seemed to slide further and further downhill.  What would this experience be like this time?  Well, of course my curiosity got the better of me and yes, I did end up going.

We were started off with a couple of appies including the Marinated Gluten and Shanghainese Vegetables with Pressed Tofu.  Appealingly chewy with little bursts of flavour, the gluten would've been great except for one thing - it was far too sweet. Normally, the dish is sweet, but this was too much so.  There was a need to balance it off with soy or just add less sugar (probably Chinese brown sugar in this case).  We were glad the Shanghainese Vegetable with Pressed Tofu was not that sweet.  In fact, it was rather subtle in taste where there was only a mild savoury-sweetness. Texturally, I thought the greens were tender while retaining a bite.  The brightness of the veggies was apparent as it kept things light despite the dense pressed tofu bits.

As if the previous dish was an interlude of sorts, we continued down the sugary theme with the Smoked Fish.  The whole thing was so sweet, it masked the balanced amount of smokiness.  With the firm texture and sugary glaze, the dish ate more like candied fish than a smoked fish.  Too bad really, since the textures and smoke were on point.  Something that was much more mild was the Chef’s Special Supreme Hotpot Soup.  Despite being somewhat of a home-cooking style of dish, it was something that was perfect for a cold Winter's night.  It featured a subtly-seasoned broth with Napa cabbage, mung bean vermicelli, meatballs, pork belly, dumplings and tofu. I've made something like this at home before and yes, it isn't hard to make, but this one was solid nonetheless.

Okay, enough of these other things, we had to get to what Lin is known for - their Xiao Long Bao.  Made-to-order (much like the other legit XLB joints in town), these were served steaming hot.  The dumpling skin was thin with only a touch of resistance to the chew.  Inside, the meat was a tad gritty but not too much so.  There was a good amount of soup that was on the sweeter side with some savoury elements and ginger notes.  As if they were playing with our tastebuds, the Green Onion Halibut was stingingly sweet.  So much so, I didn't even realize it was halibut, despite being well-prepared (soft and flaky).  Even the apple amount of caramelized green onion stalks could not break through the overwhelming sugary taste (that added even more sweetness, but I couldn't taste much of the onion).

We then moved onto a dish that was expected to be sweet in the Honey Prawns. This is one of their signature items and it didn't disappoint.  I've had this dish several times before and it was more or less the same.  It featured large prawns that were meaty with a firm snap.  The exterior was crunchy and held up to the ample amount of mayo-honey sauce.  Was this dish sweet? Yes, but it worked in this case.  It goes without even saying that the Braised Pork Ribs were...  sweet.  Yes, the glaze was syrupy and in need of some balancing flavours.  I must clarify that it was beyond even the acceptable level of sweetness found in say, BBQ pork (like the one found at HK BBQ Master).  On the flip side, the meat was very good though being super tender.

Next, we were served a dish I knew that would be good - the Tea Smoked Duck. Similar to other times I've had it, the duck was fairly large and smoky (but not too much).  The meat was tender and fatty while being quite salty.  As much as the skin was not well-rendered in some parts, the part around the drumstick was crispy and tasty. From sweet to salty and onto spicy, we had the Shanghainese Spicy Tofu & Seafood Hotpot.  With peppers strewn throughout, this was spicy as advertised.  I found the tofu to be silky soft while not completely falling apart.  The seafood was on point with flaky fish and crunchy cold-water shrimp.

Ending off our savoury dishes, we had the Shanghainese Vegetable with Rice Cake. This was generally quite mildly seasoned which was welcomed after a barrage of sweet, salty and spicy dishes.  I particularly enjoyed the thick-sliced rice cake which were chewy and soft at the same time.  The ample amount of greens helped brighten up things a bit while offering up some bits of crunchiness.  For dessert, we had the 8 Treasures Sweet Sticky Rice. Now this is typically really sweet due to the honey glaze on top, but due to the many sweet dishes we'd already eaten, this was over-the-top.  Again, too bad really since the sticky rice was done right.  So it goes without saying that the theme of the meal (over 50% of it) was sweet.  Too bad really since their XLBs are still good while the duck, prawns and rice cake were decent as well.  They really need to scale back the sugar though as it ruined what may have been good dishes otherwise.

*All food and gratuities were complimentary*

The Good:
- Solid XLBs
- Decent portion size

The Bad:
- Overuse of brown sugar
- Naturally, the service was good since it was an invited event, but the times it wasn't, the service can be pretty sketch  

Lin Chinese Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Man Ri Sung (ChineseBites)

As much as being part of ChineseBites entails a plethora of Chinese eats, we occasionally cross-over into other cuisines.  This time around, we went Korean with a visit to the new Man Ri Sung in Aberdeen (was in a smaller location before).  Occupying a large and nicely appointed space, Man Ri Sung does offer up something that was distinctly Chinese - Peking Duck.  Yes, this is not a typo, one of their signature items is indeed a very non-Korean dish that is probably not found anywhere else.

So no need for suspense as we started with the aforementioned Peking Duck.  Served Beijing-style with most of the meat attached, the duck was masterfully carved table side by Chef Xiang Ming Li.  Crispy and well-rendered, the skin clung onto succulent slices of meat.  Personally, I would've liked to see a richer hue on the skin though.  Although they didn't appear to be, the thin crepes were soft and fluffy without being dry at all.  From that, we moved onto the Blood & Rice Sausage.  Although blood sausage isn't for everyone, I personally enjoy it and this one was pretty good.  Plump, soft and not dried out, the sausage was on the sweeter side while still being fairly balanced.

Now Peking Duck may not be typical in a Korean restaurant, but BBQ Beef Shortribs (Kalbi) are a given.  Arriving on a sizzling hot cast iron plate, the ribs were insulated from burning by the layer of mushrooms and onions.  As for the ribs themselves, the were chewy, but sufficiently tender.  There was a nice smoky sear that caramelized the noticeable sugary marinade.  Another Chinese-inspired dish was the Stir-Fried Chicken Cutting Noodles.  These were the right thickness where they remained chewy while being soft at the same time.  The dish was slightly greasy while mildly seasoned.  All of the veggies remained crunchy except for the onions.

Prepared table side, the Spicy Stir Fried Chicken was dressed in a spicy paste and accompanied by yam, carrot, onion, rice cake and cabbage. This was a fairly straightforward where the chicken was tender and properly seared.  The spiciness from the paste really came through as it was enough to flavour the bounty of veggies and rice cake.  We the moved onto a pretty classic item in Korean cuisine with the  Chicken Hot Pot with Ginseng.  This version featured a whole chicken with sweet rice, pine nuts and scallions.  The rich and silky broth was naturally sweet with only faintest hint of ginseng.  With that being said, there was an herbal aftertaste.

Moving onto another dish with Chinese influences was the Dakgangjeong (Lemon Chicken on their menu).  I'm a big fan of this particular dish and love all the different variations.  However, this one suffered from a gummy and not-very-crispy batter.  With that being said, it did taste okay though with a balanced amount of sweetness and spice.  This may have been the weakest item of the meal.  On the other hand, the Seafood Pancake was on point.  It sported a lightly crunchy exterior that was easy on the grease.  Inside, there was a bevy of seafood that was not overcooked.  I particularly enjoyed the fact they were conservative with the green onion as some versions can be inundated.

We were then presented with the Sour Cabbage and Pork Belly Hot Pot (that also featured a healthy dose of Spam). Much like the other items, the broth was well-balanced and relatively light despite the amount of ingredients (including the sour cabbage).  The pork belly was meaty while the Spam was predictably salty.  A good dose of the aforementioned sour cabbage, blood sausage and potato starch noodles helped even things out.  One of my favourite dishes of the meal was the Pan Fried Squid with zucchini, peppers, onion, carrot and mushrooms.  I found the squid to be appealingly chewy while dressed in a spicy sauce that was not over-the-top.  Again, the dish wasn't overly sweet nor salty.

Our last item, the Duck Hot Pot, consisted with the carcass and residual meat from the Peking Duck.  This was one flavourful concoction that didn't necessarily rely on salt (and there was no added MSG in any of the dishes).  Instead, there was a certain savoury sweetness as a result of the duck bones and the addition of perilla seeds.  Also, the noodles were plentiful and tasty from the broth.  So after this feast of many dishes, we were pretty much done (although Sean and I went to Mango Mama for dessert...).  Most items were on point which put the thought into my mind for a revisit one day.

*All food and gratuities were complimentary*

The Good:
- Well-executed proteins
- Balanced flavours
- Spacious restaurant

The Bad:
- As with many Korean restaurants, it ain't cheap     

Man Ri Sung Korean Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato