Sherman's Food Adventures: January 2015

Basil Pasta Bar

Fresh off a visit to one of the best value pasta joints in the GVRD, it was only fitting to visit the other well-known cheap pasta option.  So from Jimocoe in Coquitlam, it brought myself, Milhouse and Sweet Tooth to Basil Pasta Bar in Downtown Vancouver.  Honestly, it was more of convenience than anything since we had just finished a late hockey game (the place is open until 2:00am).  Considering the place is located in Downtown, $7.95 for a plate of pasta is very reasonable.  But what about the food quality?  Of course that is what I'm talking about next...

I decided to go for 2 pastas partly due to the price and more importantly, for more variety.  I gave the Pesto Shrimp Linguine a go first and it was pretty creamy, yet a touch watery.  The pesto wasn't particularly strong where it remained in the background.  However, the fresh basil really came through.  As for the pasta, it was past al dente where it was more tender than toothsome.  Hidden underneath all the pasta, there was a decent amount of cold-water shrimp.  For my second pasta, I tried the Carbonara which featured a good amount of peas and bacon.  I found the flavours to be quite mild, but the ample bacon helped with the salt department.  It was creamy and rich.

Milhouse also had a creamy pasta in the Smoked Salmon Fettuccine.  Much l like the other pastas, there was an ample amount of ingredients including big pieces of salmon (which were rather salty).  Again, the pasta was past al dente where it was rather slippery.  Flavourwise, it was mild and creamy, but the salty salmon ended any blandness with each bite.  Sweet Tooth had the Gnocchi Bolognese which featured store-bought potato pasta which was a touch dense.  It also had that packaged aftertaste.  As for the sauce, it had a touch of acidity while being mostly seasoned correctly.  There was lots of fresh Parm on top.  Okay, much like my last post, let me make this clear - you won't find hand-made pasta  at Basil Pasta Bar.  But what you will find is decent made-to-order eats for a low price.  That works for me and apparently a whole lot of other people too.

The Good:
- Cheap
- Decent fresh made-to-order eats
- Friendly people

The Bad:
- Pasta past al dente
- Another small place, you may not find a seat

Basil Pasta Bar on Urbanspoon

Jimoco Cafe & Pasta

Ever since my first visit to Jimoco Cafe & Pasta nearly 5 years ago, I have always wanted to go back for a re-visit.  Originally, I was tipped off to the place by a random person eating a torta beside me at Las Tortas (yah go figure).  This time around, it was at the suggestion of one of the readers of this blog.  Okay, I needed a kick in the rear-end to do this and besides, they were and still are one of the best values around (also Basil Pasta Bar) for pasta that doesn't involve massive mediocre quantities nor slop that you would find at places such as Boston Pizza.

I finally decided to try the one dish that was recommended to me for my original visit -  Penne alla Bombay (with chicken, broccoli, chili flakes and tomatoes in curry cream).  Turns out that I was missing out because it was pretty good.  Riding the fine line between tasting too much like an Indian curry and being too creamy, this had all the good elements of curry while still resembling a pasta sauce.  It was not spicy, but did have the flavour of spices with a thick consistency.  The penne was sufficiently toothsome while the chicken could've been less dry.  For Viv, she tried the Fusilli alla Salsciccia consisting of Italian sausage, onions, bell peppers and chili flakes in a rose sauce.  I found it a bit saucy, yet at the very least, it was not devoid of flavour.  There was a nice creaminess accented by some spice.  I wasn't a huge fan of the overwhelming green pepper taste though.

Since it was 2-for-1, the kids ended up with their own pastas.  My son went for the basic being the Spaghetti alla Polpettine (meatballs in tomato sauce).  I liked how there was just enough sauce to hug the al dente pasta.  The sauce was tart and slightly acidic emanating from the tomato sauce.  Although not completely dry, I found the meatballs not overly moist either.  They were meaty in taste with enough seasoning.  For my daughter, she went for creamy with the Spaghetti alla Carbonara with bacon, egg and Parm in a cream sauce.  This was indeed very creamy and rich with plenty of flavour from the bacon and seasoning.  The noodles were a touch soft due to all the moisture, but I thought this was the best tasting dish of the bunch.  Okay, let me get one thing straight first - this is not an authentic Italian pasta joint.  Hence, for all the haters and food snobs out there, please keep that in mind.  However, for the price and reasonable food quality, Jimoco does what it does well.

The Good:
- Cheap
- Decent for what it is
- Better than eating at some chain restaurants

The Bad:
- For those people who insist on authentic, then fine, it's not authentic
- Small place, gets busy and not great for parties bigger than 4

Jimoco Cafe & Pasta on Urbanspoon

Downtown Vancouver Brunch Crawl (presented by Vanfoodster)

Continuing on with the brunch crawl series as part of the Vancouver Dine Out Festival, I was invited to the Downtown Vancouver Brunch Crawl.  Miss Y and I were a bit nervous, as the previous day featured rain that would make ducks waddle for cover.  But once again, Vanfoodster must've made a deal with someone to give us a glorious Winter's day with the sun trying to peak out from the clouds.  Oh, and with temps reaching 15 Celsius, I'm not sure why people haven't heard of this thing called "Global Warming"...

We started at the Kingston Taphouse & Grill with a plate consisting of Corned Beef Hash, Gravlax with dill & chive Hollandaise atop a buttermilk biscuit and Banger with confit cherry tomato & mustard.  Initially, I was perplexed at the weird crostini underneath the gravlax, but once I found out it was a biscuit, it made sense.  I liked how the crunchy exterior and sweet butteriness worked with the equally buttery gravlax and crispy fried capers.  I wasn't particularly fond of the hash as the onions and peppers were a bit too crunchy and hence not completely caramelized and integrated into the mix.  The banger was meaty with a crispy snap exterior.  I thought the tangy sweet mustard was the perfect compliment.  We quickly made our way to Bella Yaletown next for a trio of treats including Italian Toast, Il Brunch Pizza and Chocolate G Cookie with Tahitian vanilla gelato.  Made up of freshly baked Italian brioche coated in organic free-range eggs, the toast had a quasi-bread pudding texture.  It was semi-sweet which allowed the kiwi puree to be noticed.  With a crispy crust that was appealingly chewy, the brunch pizza with spinach, cherry tomatoes, crispy pancetta and fior di latte was remarkably better than my first visit.  Lastly, the cookie was chewy and chocolaty with a small scoop of their fantastic gelato.

Taking the quick jaunt up to Homer, we found ourselves at Small Victory Bread & Coffee.  With a kitchen/prep area larger than the seating area, the place was busy with customers sipping on coffees and teas while snacking on sandwiches and pastries.  For our beverages, Miss Y had the Cappuccino and I had the Latte, both made with Quebradon Columbia by Bows & Arrows.  I enjoyed my latte as it was smooth, aromatic and at the right temp.  Furthermore, the designs were nicely done.  Onto the pastries, we were presented with a selection including Almond & Blueberry Brioche, Chocolate Hazelnut Croissant and Almond Kouign Amann.  I left these until I got home as the amount of food that was in the queue was quite daunting.  A touch dry, but still light, the brioche featured a buttery sweet centre with plenty of blueberries.  Aromatic and considerably more sugary, the croissant was crispy and buttery.  As for the kouign amann, it was crunchy, flaky and sweet. It ate very much like a heavier croissant, yet with a sticky sweetness.  Lastly, we were given a freshly baked Baguette to go (which was fantastic being crusty and appealingly chewy inside).

Seeing how there were 8 spots to visit, we decided on hitting the heaviest items first.  That brought us to Frankie's Italian Kitchen where we were presented with Chicken & Waffles (Rossdown farms chicken, vanilla butter, syrup and crisp waffle) and Monsieur Andre (griddle rye bread filled with brie, fontina cheese, soprasetta and prosciutto topped with egg and Hollandaise.  There is no other way to describe the dish other than "heavy".  On the other hand, that didn't mean it wasn't any good though.  The fried chicken thigh was succulent and juicy with a crispy exterior.  Personally, I would've taken the skin off as it wasn't crispy at all being fatty and chewy.  As for the waffle, it was indeed crispy as described.  Moving onto the Monsieur Andre, it featured a very buttery and rich Hollandaise which could've benefited from more acidity to cut the heaviness.  I found the combination of meats and cheese to be pleasant with a balanced amount of saltiness.  Fortunately, our next stop, Shuraku Sake Bar & Bistro, featured some veggies in the form of Broccoli & Green Bean marinated with sweet sesame puree.  The veggies were crunchy and sauced just enough with an aromatic sweetness.  They also treated us to their tasty Baby Back Rib with their signature teriyaki glaze. The last item was a California Roll coated with migas.  Nothing much to say other than it was a solid version with chewy rice and fresh avocado.

Onto some Indian fare, we traveled to the Copper Chimney in the quaint boutique Executive Hotel Le Soleil.  At this point we couldn't eat another dish of anything, so we ended up packing one of them to go.  As you can see in the picture, we shared Butter Chicken with basmati rice and garlic naan.  As mentioned by Miss Y, this version was more towards the tomato side rather than being creamy.  For us, this was fine since most of the food we'd been eating was rich already.  As a result, the dish was tangy with noticeable flavours from the spices.  The pieces of tandoori chicken were cooked enough in the sauce where it took on the flavours while the texture was soft.  From there, we headed over to Trees Organic on Granville for a sample cup of their Fair Trade Organic Coffee from the Penachi region of Peru.  I enjoyed the smoothness and relatively mild acidity and flavour.  Served on the side were 2 scones - Savory Spinach & Feta and Sweet Raspberry White Chocolate.  Predictably, the raspberry scone was sweet, however, the spinach & feta had sugary elements as well.  They were not overly dense while being actually quite moist.

Heading into the homestretch, I guess we saved the "healthiest" for last.  At Nourish Vancouver, we sampled 2 cold-pressed juices from The Juice Box including Carrot Orange Ginger and Deep Green with Lemon. We liked both juices as there was a balance of flavours with a purposeful amount of sweetness.  Even the addition of ginger didn't overwhelm as there was just enough of it for some pop without the sharpness.  As for food, the Breakfast Sandwich (frittata made with farm fresh eggs, roasted leeks, kale and shiitake mushrooms with kale hazelnut pesto on a whole wheat flatbread) was an almost refreshing break from all the other dishes.  The flavours were bright with a light frittata enhanced by veggies not obliterated by the cooking process.  Lastly, we had the Dark Chocolate Ganache crafted by Living Lotus.  Consisting of cocoa powder, coconut nectar, coconut oil, coconut butter, medjool dates, vanilla bean powder and Himalayan crystal salt, these could've fooled me for something much more sinful in construction.  These were rich with a fudge-like consistency while being semi-sweet with the nice finish of toasted coconut. That, my friends was the conclusion of pure gluttony.  So much food over a period of less than 3 hours, very satisfying indeed. Until the next one... on February 1st on Commercial Drive.

Maurya Indian Cuisine

Darn those Groupons...  I got sucked into buying a whackload of them a year ago only to see them expire before I had a chance to use them.  Call it the "need reservations" effect where you cannot merely show up with your Groupon.  Hence, last minute plans with the hockey or softball team don't work.  However, with the face value still valid, I enlisted the help of Whipping Girl to use the one I bought for Maurya a long time ago.  Yah, I could've used it earlier in the Summer, but who thinks of making a reservation while playing a softball game?  Well, it should've been me I guess...

After circling around trying to find parking since their lot was full, we finally settled in. To the surprise of our server, we went ahead and ordered enough food for 4 starting with the Fish Pakora featuring nuggets of halibut.  Lightly crisp on the outside while moist and flaky on the inside, these were prepared nicely.   There was enough flavour in the batter, but served on the side was a sweet and tart tamarind chutney that was balanced and appetizing.  Next up was the Garlic Mussels simmered in a creamy garlic sauce.  The sauce was thick and more clumpy than creamy.  It was mildly flavoured where I could taste garlic, cumin and green onions.  As for the mussels, they were unfortunately overcooked where they became somewhat rubbery.  We were not fond of this dish.

Onto the mains, we started with Whipping Girl's favourite being the Butter Chicken.  It was chock full of chicken tikka pieces that were sufficiently moist.  We asked for spicy and there was definitely a kick.  However, it wasn't overly spicy, hence we could taste the other flavours such as the mild sweet tomato and garam masala.  Since there was very little tang, it appeared they used fresh tomatoes.  For myself, I had to get the Lamb Vindaloo and it turned out to be a great choice.  The plethora of lamb was tender and moist.  The sauce had body where the spice was clearly evident.  I could get pronounced hits of ginger and tang.

Lastly, we shared the Aloo Gobi which was pretty decent.  There was also a good level of spice combined with a good balance of sweet and savoury.  The cauliflower and potatoes were nicely textured being soft while maintaining a certain firmness.  Naturally, to go with our meal, we had rice and Naan.  In fact, we got an order of regular Naan and another of the Garlic Naan. We felt these were charred nicely in the tandoori where there was a crispiness on the outside.  However, being quite thin, the inside was not as chewy and fluffy as we would've liked.  The whole thing was pretty crispy.  Overall, we though the meal was acceptable considering we were pretty far from Surrey and Main Street.  There is definitely better though.

The Good:
- Acceptable considering the area
- Fairly good service
- Big and spacious

The Bad:
- A little pricey
- Modest portions

Maurya Indian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Bistro Wagon Rouge

Generally, good planning can yield positive results since not much is left to chance.  Well, sometimes plans change and at times, they never come to fruition.  This, my friends, is the story of how we nearly ate at Bistro Wagon Rouge.  It was first mentioned way back when we were dining at Ask for Luigi... in April 2014.  Yah, after several setbacks, we were determined to eat there once and for all.  Even a last minute cancellation from Miss Y (she was sick... at least we wouldn't be ordering the least desirable dish on the menu...) didn't deter us from finally climbing our Everest.  Ned Flanders, Whipping Girl and I did the impossible - plan to eat at BWR and get a table (albeit right at 5:00pm).

After perusing both the regular menu and the daily features, we decided to share some appies including the Tartines (from left-to-right: Duck Fat, Charred Eggplant, Tomato & Goat Cheese and Pork Rillette).  Rich, salty and ultimately "ducky" the first tartine benefited from the crunch of the pickles underneath.  There was a notable smokiness to the tender charred eggplant that lingered.  I thought the tomato and goat cheese was okay, but was probably the least impactful of the 4.  As for the pork rillette, it was meaty, creamy and just salty enough.  Next, we tried the Squid Ragout.  This reminded us of a antipasto with tender squid mixed in.  Hence, the flavours were familiar with the tang of tomato, sweetness of the onions and the sharp saltiness of the olives.  As with the tartines, the crostinis were expertly grilled until crunchy and a touch smoky.

Since Whipping Girl wanted it all, she thought it would be a good idea to split the Moules et Frites as another appie (so she could order another dish as her main).  This version was bathed in a broth consisting of white wine, fresh tomatoes, lemongrass, shallots and chili.  We found the wine essence to be quite strong and with the help of the tangy tomatoes obscured some of the lemongrass flavour.  However, when we dipped some bread into the broth, it was all there including the very slight amount of chilis.  As for the mussels, they were plump and buttery. Now that she had her mussel fix, Whipping Girl proceeded onto her main being the Steak Frites with herb butter and peppercorn sauce on the side.  The hanger steak was beautifully medium rare and tender.  As much as we liked the butter, it was a tad salty while the peppercorn sauce had just enough bite.  We enjoyed the frites as they were lightly crispy while retaining a potato texture.

Ned Flanders had the Beef Cheek Bourguignon with gnocchi that arrived as a pretty large portion.  So much so, he didn't finish it!  Gasp!  Where is Mijune when you need her?  Despite not finishing, it was still very good.  The rich gelatinous beef cheek was melt-in-our-mouths tender while the gnocchi was a bit too soft.  We found the sauce to be silky and full of depth in terms of meat flavour and proper seasoning (as the sweetness from the veggies).  For myself, I went for the Cassoulet with pork belly, sausage and duck leg confit atop haricot beans.  I found the duck leg to be excellent with properly render skin which was appealingly crisp.  Underneath, most of the meat was soft and plenty salty.  Reminiscent of Red Wagon, the pork belly was crisp on the outside while being soft and fatty.  Although topped with texturally contrasting toasted crumbs, the beans themselves were a bit too soft.

For dessert, we weren't that impressed with the Lemon Tart as the shell was both not aesthetically-pleasing nor texturally on point.  It was firm on the top edge, yet the rest of it was soft and almost soggy, especially on the bottom.  As for the curd, it was definitely sweet with some tang from the lemon.  On the other hand, it was missing the necessary essence from the natural oils.  We surmised that it may have been sitting around too long in the cooler.  However, the Brown Butter Almond Financier Cake made up for it as it featured a wonderfully light crunchy shell which encased a buttery interior.  The cranberry compote added the necessary brightness and tart hit to break up the butteriness.  So after nearly a year-long quest to eat here, was it worth the wait?  Well, we didn't regret eating at Bistro Wagon Rouge as most of the dishes were good and well-portioned.  If we had to compare to a similar meal we all had together, we thought that Absinthe on Commercial would give BWR a real run for its money.

The Good:
- Hearty portions
- Overall, the food is above-average
- Attentive service

The Bad:
- It is a bistro, so we shouldn't have been surprised it was a rather small and intimate dining space (but if you don't like that...)
- Good, but there are quite a few worthy competitors not too far away

Bistro Wagon Rouge on Urbanspoon

Burnaby Mountain Clubhouse

Normally, I try my very best to stay away from Dine Out.  No, it is not because the food isn't any good.  Yes, that was true 5 years ago, when all I found was mediocre dishes made from substandard ingredients.  Fast forward to the present and the options are more substantial while the food quality has improved.  I just find it too busy to fairly judge a restaurant during this time. But I have to make an exception this time around because I was pleasantly surprised at a random dinner at a nearby place - the Burnaby Mountain Clubhouse.  It was so unexpected, I only brought along my backup camera (no not from the car), hence, the strangely lit photos.

As part of their $18.00 Dine Out menu, there were 3 choices each of appetizer, entree and dessert. Viv decided on the Onsen Egg Carbonara (Guinness cheddar, bacon, edamame and linguine) featuring a slow-cooked egg (in its shell) that resembled the texture of soft custard.  When mixed with the barely toothsome (on the softer side of al dente) noodles, it caressed each strand with a silky touch.  Although there was plenty of rendered bacon in the dish, a touch more salt would've heightened the flavours.  For myself, I had the Louisiana Fried Chicken and a freshly made waffle, tomato & jalapeno chutney and sour cream.  The large chicken breast was moist while the breading was golden and crunchy.  I thought it was seasoned enough to stand on its own.  As for the waffle, it was a bit more dense than I would've liked.  The chutney was a bit strange being really sweet, yet looking like a salsa.

Onto the mains, I decided on the vegetarian dish, not...  Actually, I had the 8 oz. Certified Angus New York Steak with Yukon gold roasted garlic mash, market vegetables and green peppercorn sauce.  It was prepared medium-rare as I requested.  I liked how it was rested properly and the noticeable char on the outside.  Hence, each piece of steak was succulent, smoky and tender.  On the thicker side, the peppercorn sauce was flavourful without being salty.  It added an almost sweet peppery finish to each bite.  The garlic mash was buttery and smooth with the veggies on top being crunchy and vibrant.  One thing I didn't like was the toss of dry Italian herb mix as it was a bit bitter.  For Viv, she tried the Char Broiled Mahi Mahi with Southern rice pilaf, market vegetables and fresh pineapple salsa.  The fish was definitely the beneficiary of a good broil, however, it was a touch dry in spots.  It wasn't particularly seasoned much, but the salsa did add the necessary sweetness and acidity.  We found the rice a touch wet while being quite firm in texture at the same time.  It wasn't particularly Southern tasting though as we expected more spice.

For dessert, I chose the Strawberry Sundae consisting of vanilla ice-cream, strawberry coulis and chocolate & coconut brownie.  This was a simple dessert done right.  The ice cream was thick and creamy while the coulis wasn't overly sweet.  As much as the brownie was gooey and chocolaty, I personally don't like coconut in it (interrupts the gooey texture).  Viv went for the Dark Chocolate Mousse with Oreo cookie bits and shaved chocolate.  We thought the mousse was on the heavier side, but still smooth and rich.  It wasn't too sweet while exhibiting a slight bitterness. With a pleasing crunch, the Oreo bits were a welcomed surprise.  In fact, the whole meat was pleasant surprise, especially at the $18.00 price point.  Sure, the menu didn't really make much sense (as most of the appetizers could've been main dishes) while the refinement was debatable.  BUT, considering what used to be available before the relaunch, this is a major improvement.  If you aren't overly picky and just want a decent meal out in a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere, go check out the $18.00 dine out menu.

The Good:
- Decent eats considering the price and what there was before the renos
- Excellent "casual" service
- Relaxed atmosphere

The Bad:
- Needs further refinement
- Regular menu is not exactly cheap

Burnaby Mountain Clubhouse on Urbanspoon


*Restaurant is now closed* 

There I was on Broadway, on my way to meet some friends for dinner when I walked past a new spot called "Sliders".  I stopped right there in my tracks and was conflicted...  Should I go in and try a few things as an appetizer before dinner or should I just continue on to my destination?  The dilemma!  But, but I was going to be late and possibly too full to eat my actual dinner.  I gathered up all of my willpower and passed on by.  But the thought of something new kept bugging me, so when I got the chance, I gathered up Viv and my daughter for a random food adventure.  With over 16 different sliders at $4.00 each to choose from, we took our time ordering.

To start things off, we tried the Pulled Duck made from roasted 5-spice duck leg, pickled green onion and hoisin creme fraiche on soft brioche.  I found the duck to be well-seasoned while being a bit stringy and dry.  I did like the crunchy skin portions though.  I didn't notice the green onion too much, but the creme fraiche did exhibit the sweetness of hoisin.  Off to the sea, we had the Oyster Po' Boy next consisting of a fried cornmeal crusted BC oyster, pickled red onion, leaf lettuce and horseradish aioli.  The lightly crisp oyster was buttery and properly cooked.  We got the creaminess of the aioli with only the slightest hint of spicy sharpness from the horseradish.  The pickled red onion was a nice acidic addition.  

I was able to wrestle the Beef Dip (slow roasted prime rib, gouda, roasted garlic aioli and jus) from my daughter to give it a try.  After a bite, I could see why she didn't want to share as the meat was really moist and required very little effort to chew.  The gouda was nicely melted and creamy while the aioli added a nice garlic hit.  A bit sweet, the jus wasn't even necessary as the slider ate well on its own.  One of the more flavourful sliders was the Korean BBQ with marinated beef, red onion, spicy cabbage and garlic aioli.  There was this sweet, spicy and sharp taste to the concoction.  We didn't think the raw onion was necessary though as the cabbage provided the necessary crunch and tang already.

Next up, I bit into the Pork Belly consisting of beer & brown sugar glaze, leaf lettuce, tomato and cider sauce.  Meaty and only a bit fatty, the pork belly was more firm than melt-in-my-mouth soft.  I thought the sweetness of the glaze went well with the pork and the slight acidity from the cider was welcomed. We decided to combo it up by adding $2.00 for a drink and a side.  The first side was House Cut Kennebec Fries which were not as crispy as we would've liked.  It appeared that they were clumped together, hence, certain sides of the fries were not fried at all.  We liked the Tater Tots though as they were lightly crisp.

Since we were not exactly full from the small sliders, I added 2 more with the Original Beef (short-rib-chuck-brisket blend, aged cheddar, pickles, hickory sticks and slider sauce) and the Cod Nugget (crispy cod, tatar sauce and coleslaw).  With a nice crunch and saltiness from the hickory sticks, the beef slider was possibly too salty with the addition of the pickles.  The thin burger patty wasn't exactly dry, but not particularly juicy either.  It did taste meaty though.  We really liked the cod as it was really crunchy while moist inside.  The tartar sauce had a nice acidity which was further amped by the crunchy coleslaw.  For what it's worth, the food at Sliders was generally good and definitely more interesting than a regular burger joint.  The small size allows for mixing & matching to get a variety of tastes with premium ingredients.  Yet at the same time, it doesn't really offer up a stomach-filling experience.

The Good:
- Interesting and generally well-prepared eats
- Lots of choice
- Combo for $2.00 more is a good value

The Bad:
- Small sliders are not very filling, hence you may need 3 of them (3 x $4.00), but keep in mind that some of the ingredients aren't exactly cheap
- They might need a numbering system as it wasn't an issue with us, but when it gets busy, keeping track of the orders might be tough

Sliders on Urbanspoon

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