Sherman's Food Adventures: May 2015

Pho Boi (Kingsway)

For the longest time in the 90's, Pho Hoa ruled the Vietnamese beef noodle world locally and internationally.  Hey, they had a formula that worked, despite being somewhat mediocre compared to the best places in town.  But the chain has fallen on hard times as they are disappearing one-by-one.  One surprising casualty is the Kingsway location in Burnaby.  It has been a fixture as a 24-hour pho joint for as long as I can remember.  Now in its place is Pho Boi, another chain seems to be expanding.  We checked out the place after Friday hockey.

We actually visited the place twice and on our first go around, I found the Pho broth to be clean while extremely light.  It was not heavy with the MSG nor salt.  Hence, it was only slightly aromatic without much impact.  The noodles were al dente while the meats were sliced thin and tender.  It was modest in portion size though.  As for my side Spring Roll, it was crispy with an obvious amount of grease.  The filling was packed fairly tight so that the roll was substantial and firm.  It was lightly seasoned with only a touch of sweetness.  Not a bad spring roll, but as you can see, the grease wasn't that appealing.

Milhouse had the Hot & Sour Seafood Soup which was really neither of those flavours.  Rather, it was mild with only slight hints of tang and practically no spiciness. Much like the pho, the broth was not impactful at all. On the other hand, the noodles were on point and so was the shrimp and squid (which were not overcooked).  We shared an order of the Fried Chicken Wings and they were extremely dry, yet really crispy.  It seems like they didn't take much care in preparing them.  They looked practically destroyed. On the side, the dipping sauce was kinda bland, but provided some moisture. 

On another visit, we tried the Beef Stew with noodles.  This was fairly decent with a good amount of beef hidden in the broth.  It wasn't particularly tender though as it was more dry and chewy.  A bit more flavourful than the 2 aforementioned broths, the beef stew had some meatiness and sweetness.  Noodles were again on point.  Lionel Hutz decent to go for something non-brothy in the Grilled Pork and Spring Roll with Vermicelli.  This was an okay dish with somewhat clumpy vermicelli (not overdone though) topped with sufficiently tender pork.  Unlike previous dishes, the flavours were there as the pork was sweet with a touch of caramelization.  As you can already ascertain, the food at Pho Boi is passable but hardly memorable.  Not sure it does any better than the restaurant it replaces.

The Good:
- Open 24 hours
- Serviceable

The Bad:
- Flavours are weak
- Portions are average

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McKim Wonton Mein Saga

Sometimes, I get so caught up in finding the newest and greatest restaurants, I forget to go back to the well.  Furthermore, when we meet up with Costanza and family for eats, we tend to think too much and end up eating far away.  Maybe we should just take a minute and stop ignoring all the great places to eat nearby.  That would be true for McKim Wonton Mein Saga out on Kingsway near Earles.  Every time we visit Costanza, we pass by the place, only to disregard its very existence.  Well, this time around we decided to eat there.  Not sure why Costanza drove to the place as it was only a block and half walk from his place...  Did it give the impression of going somewhere far away?

Anyways, we decided to do the "make your own meal" and selected a few dishes to share.  The first to arrive (other than the daily soup) was the complimentary BBQ Plate that included BBQ pork and BBQ duck.  A touch firm, the BBQ pork was well-marinated but could've benefited from some more sweetness.  Despite looking rather pale, the BBQ duck was succulent and tender.  It could've used more marinade though.  Next up was the Gai Lan with Beef which should've been called stir-fried beef with a bit of gai lan.  The ample amount of beef was properly tenderized where it was soft to the bite.  It was aggressively seasoned though being salty.  The cut-up pieces of gai lan were crunchy and manageable to eat.

Onto our next 2 items, we had the Duck and Taro Root Hot Pot as well as the Fish and Eggplant Hot Pot.  With melting chunks of taro root, the hot pot was thick and aromatic.  As a result, the taro root slices were extremely soft and practically required no chewing.  The pieces of duck were pretty fatty with only a minimal amount of meat.  With the right amount of soy and sugar, the dish was well-balanced.  Where the aforementioned dish lacked in protein, the latter was packed with crunchy fish filets.  In fact, they could've used less deep-frying as the texture of the fish was a bit too firm.  On the other hand, the oil-blanched eggplant was tender and well-seasoned.

Arriving in curled up portions, the Peking Pork Chops were both good and bad on a plate.  Some of the thinner parts were crispy while a bit chewy. The bunched up parts were moist, yet not completely fried.  Therefore, the textures were inconsistent.  In terms of the sauce, there was just enough of it.  More sweet than tangy, it could've used more balance. Our last dish was the Steamed Scallops on Silken Tofu.  This was a fairly simple and straightforward dish that featured slices of silky tofu topped with super thin pieces of scallop.  As a result, the scallop was a touch overdone where it lacked impact.  Not a bad dish in general, but not particularly memorable either.

Dinner plates aside, the real draw of McKim (in my opinion) are the more casual items including the Wonton Noodles.  Viv and I returned for a much simpler meal and although the wontons would not be considered the best in town, they certainly held their own.  Consisting of shrimp, the wontons were fair-sized exhibiting a nice sweet snap with a noticeable sesame oil hit.  The toothsome noodles were bathed in a mildly-sweet broth that could've used a bit more salt.  Completing the ying with the yang, we had the Minced Beef Congee as well.  Lightly thick with an inadequate amount of minced beef, the congee wasn't nearly as good as the wonton noodles.  With that being said, it was still decent being not overly reliant on MSG.

To go with the congee, we got a side of the Salty Donut.  Unfortunately, it was of the re-fried variety which rendered it overly crunchy and greasy.  The small form factor didn't help matters either.  Lastly, we got the Salted Fish & Chicken Fried Rice.  This was a pretty large portion of rice that was slightly on the softer side.  It did benefit from good wok heat, but the moisture content of the rice was too high.  Although there was plenty of firm salted fish pieces, the entire dish itself was not salty enough.  After these 2 re-visits, we feel that McKim still dishes up serviceable food for a decent price.  However, portion size can be inconsistent as well as the service.

The Good:
- Serviceable eats
- Good wonton noodles
- Reasonably-priced

The Bad:
- Some seasoning issues
- Service is hit and miss

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Amorosa Santali House

Sometimes location and convenience supersedes any other reason when it comes to restaurant selection.  With Apu and Gordo joining us for eats after Friday night hockey, we needed to find a place near them.  Furthermore, Gordo wanted to go for Italian which narrowed our choices even more.  We ended up meeting at Amorosa Pasta House, which now shares the same dining space as Santali Souvlaki House.  We've been here before and my best description of the place would be "Anton's lite".

For me, I visited the place recently with Costanza and ended up with a pasta.  This time around, I went Greek and had the Kleftiko. This was a healthy portion which was mostly tender and moist.  Like with any piece of lamb shoulder, there are some leaner sections.  Despite being garlicky and well-seasoned, the thickened sauce was more akin to gravy.  The side of veggies were on point while the rice was appealingly chewy.  Seeing how I wanted a bit more variety, I also got the large Linguine & Clams in white wine cream sauce.  As evidenced in the picture, there was enough sauce for another plate of pasta.  Hence, the entire plate was very creamy where the pasta was on the softer side.  Flavours were mild even with the plethora of baby clams.

Milhouse went big with the Vitello alla Parmigiana with ravoili in meat sauce.  The large piece of veal was a little dry, but not overly so.  It was hidden by the huge amount of melted cheese.  As for the ravioli, it wasn't exactly al dente, but hardly mushy either since the texture was rather firm.  Meaty, slightly tart and a touch sweet, there was enough tomato sauce to coat each piece and more.  Gordo wasn't very hungry and ended up with a Hot Chicken Caeser.  Um, wasn't he the one who wanted to eat Italian???  Next time, we're ignoring his requests!  Whatever the case, the salad was pretty good being dressed just enough while sported a good amount of tender chicken and veggies.

Apu ended up with the Lasagna with meat sauce... and wow, that was a lot of meat sauce!  Well, I guess that was where all the meat resided because the actual lasagna contained very few ingredients other than a bit of cheese.  With that being said, the dish was not bad for what it was.  The layers of pasta were not too soft while the meat sauce was exactly like the one in Milhouse's dish.  Manjula decided on the Rotini Pescatore with clams, shrimp, scallops & mushrooms in tomato sauce.  I've had this dish on another recent visit and this time it was exactly the same.  That meant there was hardly any seafood, but lots of mushrooms.  Flavours were mild with only the slightest hint of tang.

Lionel Hutz went a little off the board and had the Seafood and Sausage Rice.  This was a pretty straightforward dish with lots of meaty sausage and a modest amount of seafood.  He liked the overall flavour of the rice as there was a slight spice and brininess to it, but the rice itself was a bit undercooked.  But as you can clearly see the portion size for his rice and really, the rest of the food we ate, was fairly large.  As much as there were issues with some dishes, the overriding factor is value.  Much like Anton's and Stepho's, Amorosa offers up good portions for the money, however, the food quality is probably a bit better.

The Good:
- Large portions
- Decent service

The Bad:
- A bit sparse on the ingredients at times
- Hit and miss

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How hard is it to find a place to eat anyways?  With all the available options, Viv and I were completely stumped.  Trying to decided where to go was as difficult as saving a down payment for a house in Vancouver.  Wait, maybe not...  We needed to eat within the next 10 years...  Anyways, we briefly considered returning to the Wild Fig in the Executive Hotel via a Travelzoo coupon, but in the end, we headed next door to the hidden Hanamori Sushi.

When the Assorted Tempura was placed on our table, I was confused (and not more than usual).  Okay, the 4 ebi tempura looked a bit off as the batter could pass for Chinese-buffet style fried shrimp, but the veggies didn't look right.  In fact, they reminded me of veggie pakoras.  The mass of julienned onions, carrots and green onion was actually rather wet and unappealing.  Next, the Chef's Choice Sashimi looked both plentiful and attractive upon first inspection. It consisted of hamachi, sockeye salmon, ika, hokkigai, fried shrimp head, tako, tuna, ebi and Atlantic salmon.  We particularly enjoyed the buttery hamachi, but the Altlantic salmon was a little on the soft side while the tuna was a bit too cold.

For my son, he agreed to have Chicken Katsu Don rather than his usual chicken udon.  Turns out it was a good decision as he dusted a good portion of it off in record time.  Although the rice was a touch soft, it was evenly sauced.  The ample amount of white onion was a bit off-putting as it overwhelmed the dish.  On the other hand, the chicken katsu was tender and topped with barely done egg.  Our specialty roll choice of the meal was the Double Red Dragon consisting of a dynamite roll with 2 ebi tempura topped with seared salmon.  We found the sushi rice to be far too soft and wet, hence, the roll ate a bit heavy and was missing that classic sushi rice chewiness.

Served with Breton crackers sprinkled with togarashi, the Encore Tower was a concoction of chopped scallop, ripe avocado, salsa, tobiko and mayo.  This was a mild and creamy sweet dish that was balanced by the slightly spicy and crisp crackers.  Lastly, we had 2 each of the Scallop and Salmon Aburi Sushi.  Afflicted by the same crappy sushi rice, these ate too soft with no textural contrast.  We did like the acidity of the sauce on the scallop, but the salmon was just soft on soft.  As much as there were some good points to this meal, the wet sushi rice was a real turn-off.  We realize the place gets pretty good reviews in general, but for us, the overall experience was too hit and miss.

The Good:
- Friendly people
- Some interesting menu items

The Bad:
- Hit and miss dishes
- Sushi rice too wet

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Gosh, I haven't seen Hypno in years...  Funny thing, we used to live within blocks of each other and we still didn't see each other much.  Wait, was this a hint or something?  Whatever the case, he was back in town and wanted to meet up for eats.  After throwing out some ideas, we established the fact that we had to go somewhere that did not feature too much seafood (he doesn't eat seafood).  Hence, my suggestion of Wildebeest was welcomed with open arms.

We started with a few small appies including the Spiced Pork Rinds.  These were served majestically in a metal cup where they ate as good as they looked.  Light, crispy and airy, each bite melted in my mouth after the initial crunch.  There was no absence of seasoning where there was some sweet and salty smokiness going on.  The only thing I would've liked to see was less grease as it could've been drained a bit better.  Next, we tried the Poutine which was the beneficiary of a good amount of cheese curds.  I couldn't tell if they were squeaky or not since they had all melted.  With a sprinkle of black pepper, the gravy was both salty and peppery.  As much as the fries were fresh-cut, I would've preferred them to be crispier (the parts not doused in gravy that is).

Onto some bigger starters, I tried the Roasted Veal Sweetbreads with charred heirloom onions, mission fig purée and spiced walnuts.  I have to say this dish was on point (or should I say on fleek?) as the sweetbreads were expertly prepared.  With a nice seared caramelized exterior which gave way to a tender bite with a rebound, this was as good as sweetbreads can get.  The side of fig puree added an understated sweetness that complimented the onions and walnuts.  Hypno decided on the Spring Beet Salad with shaved cucumber, compressed apple, ricotta salata, beetroot sorbet and miner’s lettuce.  Beautifully plated with equally eye-catching colours, the salad was also good.  The sweet Earthiness of the sorbet stayed within the theme of the dish where the beets themselves echoed the same flavours.

Onto our mains, I went for the Seared Venison with roasted cauliflower purée, grainy mustard spätzle, belgian endive and natural jus.  Prepared a proper medium-rare, this ensured that the lean venison would be succulent and sufficiently tender.  On the outside, there was a flavourful bark from the ample sear which added a smokiness to the meat.  I thought the cauliflower puree was impactful with a natural sweetness.  With a fluffy rebound and a crisp crust, the spätzle was well-executed.  Hypno had the Angus Striploin with roasted fingerling potatoes & cipollini onions, onion purée, smoked salt and hay jus.  As requested, the meat was just past medium-rare where it still maintained a succulence that resulted in a moist and tender chew.  Again, the meat was obviously seasoned where the sweetness of onion emanated from the puree and cipollini onions.

For dessert, we shared the Wildebeest Cheesecake with strawberry sorbet and crumble.  This was a super light and mildly sweet version where the "cheesecake" was akin to whipped cream.  I personally would've preferred something more dense.  on the other hand, the star of the plate was the natural-tasting smooth strawberry sorbet which added a sweet tang.  The light crumble on top added more texture and sweetness.  From the dishes we tried at Wildebeest, we were pretty content.  Portion sizes weren't exactly large, but they were adequate.  Unlike some others have stated, we received really good, unpretentious service.

The Good:

- Well-prepared proteins
- Not deficient in seasoning
- Attentive service

The Bad:
- Portion sizes were modest

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One Under

When it comes to late night eats, we often go to the default options such as Asian joints, pubs and fast food restaurants.  Sure, there are a few unique places, but there is no escaping the regular on a consistent basis.  After a few weeks of exploration, we always end up with a bowl of congee.  However, Lionel Hutz had a novel idea for something after our Friday night hockey game - One Under.  In addition to some eats, we could play mini-games and whole golf courses on a simulator (charged by the hour).  Awesome, we could look just as pathetic with a simulator as we are on a real golf course.  Yes, that is me in the picture.  Please be gentle and do not criticize my stance.

From golf to eats, we were presented with the Charcuterie Plate first. There were 4 options for both meats and cheeses on the menu.  Our choices consisted of Taleggio and Grana Padano, 18-month San Danielle prosciutto and bresaola.  Also on the board were warm marinated olives, gherkins, grainy mustard, confit garlic and flat bread.  Not much to comment other than this was a pleasant dish to share. Next up were the baked Rosemary Parmesan Bread Twists basted in garlic thyme confit oil with fresh rosemary and grated Parmesan cheese.  Being served right from the oven, these were warm, soft and well-seasoned.  We liked the char on the outside as it added both texture and nuttiness.

Simple and focused, the menu offers up mainly pizzas in addition to some basic appies.  Therefore, we got 3 pizzas starting with the Roasted Mushroom + Kale with confit garlic, taleggio and parmesan.  Being a pizza bianca, it was almost like a thin flat bread with a smattering of toppings as there was no sauce.  Hence, it ate a bit dry especially with the dry ingredients.  I do like kale personally, so it was quite nice to have some crispy bits on top.  With mild hits of fresh basil and a mild San Marzano tomato sauce, the Magherita was okay with a thin and crispy crust.  There wasn't a whole lot of leoparding which meant there was a lack of smokiness.

The best pizza of the bunch was the Spicy Sausage + Soppressata with tomato, provolone, arugula and fresh oregano.  It was spicy as described.  Furthermore, the addition of more substantial ingredients made the pizza more hearty and flavourful. Although these pizzas wouldn't strike fear into the top Neapolitan-style joints in town, they were respectable and held their own.  Not bad for eats to go with a game of virtual golf and some beverages.

The Good:
- Decent pizzas given the venue
- Friendly service
- Something different

The Bad:
- Factoring in the golf, a visit can be pretty pricey
- Limited menu
- A bit difficult to eat finger food and golf too

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