Sherman's Food Adventures: June 2015

Kongee Dinesty

During the recent June heatwave in Vancouver, we've gone for hot pot (twice!) and ramen despite the torturous sweat beading down our cheeks.  What else could we do to stare into the eyes of fear?  How about head over to Richmond for some congee?  Well, I'm not sure what was scarier, the hot congee in 27 degree temperatures or face the onslaught of poorly-driven luxury vehicles.  Well, after 2 people cutting me off (caught it on my dashcam so I have proof!), I guess my usual "welcome to Richmond" initiation was complete.

So with a place called Kongee Dinesty, we could ascertain one of two things - either they can't spell (like all Chinese menus) or we really should try their congee.  That we did with full customizable options including toppings, ingredients and broth base.  We didn't stray too far from the regular and opted for the Preserved Egg and Salted Pork Congee with cilantro, peanuts, mustard greens and ginger in a seasoned broth base.  As much as the bowl of congee was on the more expensive side, we felt it justified the cost since it was well-executed.  It was silky and thick while still sporting some textures including the ample amount of egg and truly salty pork.  We ended up getting 5 dishes to share including Milhouse's favourite, Sweet & Sour Pork.  Although a bit on the saucier side, the flavours were balanced.  With a crispy exterior, the big chunks of pork were juicy and meaty in an almost pork jowl manner.  The only thing I'd change with this dish was the thickness of the batter (could've been thinner).

Next up was another pork dish being the Honey Garlic Spareribs.  This was another well-executed offering where the pieces of rib were meaty and easy on the cartilage portions.  There was an appealing chew to go with the rebound texture of the meat.  Generally, this dish can be pretty sweet and over-sauced, but this wasn't the case here as there was just enough clinging onto each rib.  It wasn't overly sweet where the garlic really came through.  Boss Woman insisted on the Scrambled Eggs and Prawns which turned out to be a fantastic choice.  Blessed with large butterflied prawns, the dish featured silky eggs that were just barely cooked.  The dish was well-seasoned without being salty nor too sweet.  There must've been as many prawns as egg on the plate.  Moreover, the prawns were natural-tasting with a meaty snap.

My choice was the Satay Beef with Vermicelli Hot Pot because why not eat something sizzling in hot temperatures right?  Hey, what do you think people do in Vietnam?  They eat Pho all the time in the heat! I digress...  This was deceptively large in portion size as the pot was deep.  I found the vermicelli to be on point in texture where it had enough moisture to be soft without becoming mushy.  Furthermore, the addition of red chilis helped amp up the spiciness of the dish.  As for the beef slices, they were tenderized properly where there was still a meaty texture while being tender.  Our last dish was the Beef Tenderloin with Black Pepper Sauce.  Presented with large slices of beef, this dish was also deceptively filling.  I particularly liked the natural meat texture (as it wasn't over-tenderized) while at the same time being super soft.  I found the sauce to be peppery, but could've been more so. Overall, we enjoyed our meal at Kongee and felt the prices were in-line with the quality.

The Good:
- Decent service
- On-point eats
- Nice dining space

The Bad:
- Pricey

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For all the great food that is available in Vancouver, it is a bit surprising that we've not been blessed with Michelin-star chefs.  Sure, we have some pretty great chefs that have trained and worked in Michelin-star restaurants, but they can't boast the same credentials as chef Stefan Hartmann.  Pegged to be at the helm of the newly opened Bauhaus by director Uwe Boll, Chef Hartmann introduces modern German fine-dining cuisine to Downtown Vancouver.  As we were pulling into our parking spot in Gastown, "That Don't Impress Me Much" was playing on the radio.  Ironic?  I guess we were about to find out.

To get things going, we started with some appies including the Poached Arctic Char with torched carrot and puree.  Buttery and just barely cooked all-the-way-through, the char was lightly seasoned which accented its natural sweetness.  Underneath, the sweet carrot puree was pleasant, yet the charred carrot stood out most with a smoky caramelization.  Aromatic and well-seasoned, the Potato Soup with sauteed cod was not as heavy as it appeared.  There was a creamy-starchy consistency that was not too rich. The pieces of buttery cod were like little surprises hidden within the broth.  I found it to be purposefully sweet with a slight wine finish.

Onto a couple of meat starters, we tried the Marinated Tafelspitz with spinach puree, egg chive salad and horseradish.  Pink throughout, the piece of boiled (appeared to be sous vide in this case) beef was succulent and sufficiently tender (considering the cut).  With only a light dusting of salt, the side of horseradish was necessary.  I found the spinach and egg salad to be very mildly seasoned.  Our last appie was the Meat Balls with caper sauce, crushed potatoes and a salad of microgreens, Romaine, sliced radish and frisee.  I quite liked this dish as the meatballs were fairly loose and moist while dressed in a creamy sauce that was a bit salty and tart from the capers.  Underneath, the potatoes were both creamy and chunky, soaking up the rest of the sauce.

Onto the mains, it was only natural that we had the Wiener Schnitzel with mashed potatoes and a chanterelle sauce.  This was probably the largest dish of the bunch with a generous serving of schnitzel.  Thin and lightly breaded, the veal was sufficiently moist considering its thickness.  I enjoyed how the breading was easy on the grease while still generally crispy throughout.  However, the dish was all about the chanterelle sauce as it was buttery and full of depth.  It was salty enough to season both the starchy potatoes and schnitzel.  Up next was the Pork Striploin with mashed potatoes apricots and chanterelles.  The thick piece of pork was just cooked through with only the slightest amount of pink.  The result was a moist piece of pork that still had some chew.  It appeared to be sous vide then seared.  Despite being underseasoned, the pork was accented nicely by the chanterelles and sweet & tangy apricots.

Beautifully seared, the Halibut was flaky and moist.  It rested on a bed of seared sliced potatoes and mustard sauce.  Although mildly seasoned much like the other dishes, I didn't mind this as the halibut sported a slightly crispy exterior and was aided by the relatively salty potatoes and sharpness of the mustard.  This was probably my second favourite dish after the schnitzel.  Now the next dish left me longing for salt as it was pretty bland where the problem was magnified as it went with plain rice.  The Chicken Fricassee with peas and carrots rested in a creamy sauce that only had the slightest hint of sweetness and possibly some white wine finish.  But really, I couldn't tell as it was that mild.  On the other hand, the chicken breast was expertly prepared as it was tender while the veggies were vibrant.

Another dish that was a bit underwhelming was the Brioche Dumplings with mushroom puree chanterelles and salad hearts. To be fair, I'm no vegetarian, so my thoughts on this dish are somewhat biased.  For me, I felt the brioche dumplings were a bit dense and underseasoned.  At the very least, the mushroom puree was quite nice as it was purposefully Earthy with a nice kick of acidity at the end.  Lastly, I dug into the Braised Beef Roulade featuring a pickle inside and accompanied by spatzel and leeks.  Okay, the best part of the dish was the fantastic spatzel as it was chewy while pan-fried with enough butter for a nice brown sear and nuttiness.  As for the roulade itself, I found the meat to be too dry.  Thankfully, the sauteed leeks on top added some creamy moisture while offering up an herby brightness.  Overall, we found the food to be quite good at Bauhaus, but a little underseasoned and quite pricey.  Service was top-notch while the ambiance could be described as casual elegance.

The Good:
- Mostly on point proteins
- Heavy food made unheavy
- Unpretentious

The Bad:
- A bit underseasoned for our tastes
- Expensive

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Van Van Izakaya

Sometimes our ChineseBites dinners become more like RandomBites (ask Alex Burrows).  Let me explain...  As much as the overall theme of ChineseBites is to try some of the best Chinese food that Vancouver has to offer, we sometimes stray into other types of cuisines.  Call it affirmative action when it comes to our tastings.  So off we headed to Van Van Izakaya located in the old Maruko Ramen.  In addition to a host of other bloggers, I was seated at a table with Eating with Kirby, Amy and Diana.  Since we were pretty hungry, we kinda went nuts with the menu.

We started slow with the Raw Octopus with wasabi accompanied by nori.  Modest in portion, but appropriately priced at $3.80, the chopped octopus was predictably chewy.  However, it wasn't too chewy where there was a slight rebound texture.  It was dressed in a good amount of wasabi that led to an immediate hit.  There was some natural sweetness to go with the crunchy and tangy pickles.  Next up was the Chicken Gristle Karaage (which was actually deep-fried chicken knees).  These were fairly small where the overall texture was dry and crunchy.  They were tossed in a good amount of salt where some pieces were overly-dressed. Although I've had much better versions of fried chicken knees, I kept eating them for some odd reason.

Moving onto one of my favourites at any Izakaya joint was the Ebi Mayo, but in this case, they were called Battered Prawns with garlic chili mayo.  As such, I wasn't surprised that they didn't resemble any other version I've had before.  These were lightly battered, yet extremely crunchy and firm.  Interestingly, there was a drizzle of chili oil which made the flavours a touch more spicy than usual.  Also, there was a smear of sweet balsamic underneath which was didn't really go in my opinion.  Hidden underneath some greens, the Beef Carpaccio with balsamic reduction, mayo and parm was pretty good.  The thin slices of beef were moist and tender while the amount of seasoning was just a tad short.  A sprinkle of salt would've gone a long way in making this dish better.

We then decided it was time to gamble with our food. No, we didn't order raw chicken or something like that, rather, we had the Russian Roulette Octopus Balls (Takoyaki).  Yup, one of the 5 balls was super spicy while the rest were regular takoyaki.  I found them to be pretty soft and loose.  They weren't bad per se, but they didn't stay intact either, including the spicy one (which gave away the surprise).  Flavourwise, they were okay with just enough dressing for a sweet savouriness.  Arriving in a cast iron plate, but not sizzling, the Beef Shortribs were attractive in colour with some charring.  When dipped into the accompanying sauce, there was a good balance of sweet and savoury with a touch of spice.  However, the meat itself was a bit chewier than usual.

Served on a cast iron plate as well, the Pork Jowl was quite good.  Presented in fairly large strips, the pork cheek retained its moisture where the meat was succulent and had that classic rebound texture.  Most pieces sported a nice sear as well. It was mildly flavoured, but benefited from the squeeze of lemon.  We moved onto the plate of Sashimi next consisting of tuna, scallop and salmon.  Although not sliced particularly well, the sashimi was decent enough.  I thought the salmon was the best item on the plate being buttery with a some chew.  The tuna was fine, but cut poorly as some parts were rather jagged.  Scallops were okay being soft and naturally sweet.

With what was universally agreed as the worst dish of the night, the Korean Pancake was unappetizing.  Sure, it wasn't the classic version served in a cast iron plate, but whatever this was, we didn't like it.  Despite lacking the grease we normally find in this dish, it was probably one of the main issues.  You see, the pancake was doughy, heavy and quite dry.  Also, the lack of meat made for uninteresting flavours and texture. On the other hand, I didn't mind the Japanese Pancake as the egg was fluffy and light.  Obviously, it was a completely different style than the Korean pancake, but nevertheless, it was remarkably better.  There was quite a bit of mayo on top that I personally didn't mind, but some thought it was too much.

Continuing on with the gluttony, we had a relatively small item in the Jellyfish.  Texturally, it was on point being crunchy with only a touch of chew.  However, I didn't prefer the consistency of the sauce as it was thick and the whole dish ended up to be clumpy.  Moreover, there was too much tang which completely took over the flavour profile.  Completely different than the chicken knee version, the Chicken Karaage was quite good.  Prepared with large pieces of leg meat, the chicken was succulent and juicy.  It was well-seasoned where the mayo on the side wasn't even necessary.  Although it looked pretty, the lemon rind bits emitted a rather bitter taste.  Despite this, the dish was probably one of the better ones of the meal.

For curiousity's sake, we got an order of the Poutine featuring Japanese Curry and melted mozzarella cheese on generic fries.  I didn't have a problem with the frozen fries per se (since it would be too much to ask for fresh cut fries at an Izakaya), but they were not crispy enough.  As for the sauce, it was sweet and somewhat spicy with a curry kick.  It was okay, but missing something.  Another solid item was the Grilled Whole Squid with teriyaki sauce.  It was attractive and appetizing in appearance.  In fact, it ate just like it looked with tender pieces of squid that still had an appealing chew.  There was just enough sweet saltiness from the sauce underneath while there was a dollop of mayo on the side.

We ended off with 2 of the bigger items including the Chopped Raw Tuna Rice Bowl.  I found the rice chewy but somewhat dry.  However, mixed in with a splash of soy and tuna, it was fine.  This was fairly decent where the tuna was soft and somewhat naturally sweet. Unexpectedly, the Tonkotsu Ramen was acceptable given the venue.  It would have never be confused with the best in town, but the broth did exhibit a creaminess and natural pork flavours.  On the other hand, it was strangely clumpy (which lessened the appeal).  I found the noodles to be fairly al dente while the large slices of roast pork to be sufficiently tender, if not quite lean.

For dessert, we ended us sharing all 4 offerings including Green Tea Soy Milk Pudding, Strawberry Daifuku, Black Sesame Ice Cream and Green Tea Ice Cream.  The one I liked most was the pudding as it was light and mildly sweet with the essence of green tea.  It was a bit on the thinner side though.  Soft and sweet from the red bean, the daikfuku was also quite good.  The other 2 were pretty standard versions of ice cream.  Since we virtually ate almost everything off the menu, it was pretty clear that it was a hit and miss.  However, with very reasonable prices, VanVan appeals to the value-driven customer.

*All food and gratuities were complimentary*

The Good:
- Inexpensive
- Decent variety

The Bad:
- Hit and miss

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The Rolling Dough

Other than Hot Oven Pizza, the take-out/delivery pizza joints in my area are rather uninspired.  In fact, they consist of Domino's, Panago, Pizza Hut and Fresh Slice.  Yup, the usual stuff when we think of ordering pizza.  So when I spotted the new Rolling Dough on Bainbridge at Lougheed Highway, I was intrigued if it could provide another option.  Walking into the place, there were a few tables and bar seating if one wanted to eat in.  For me, I was all about the take out.

I decided to get 2 medium pizzas to including my standard being the Meat Lover made with ham, pepperoni and spicy Italian sausage.  Being a thin and stone-fired pizza, the crust was super crispy and well-browned on the bottom.  Hence, it was pretty easy to eat 3 or 4 slices by myself.  There was no shortage of ingredients where the spicy sausage really came through.  In fact, that is all we tasted.  With a modest amount of mildly-tangy tomato sauce, the pizza ate quite dry.  Our second pizza was the Ham & Pineapple which also sported a good amount of toppings.  With the ample pineapple, it was rather sweet.

On another visit, I decided to try their Dim Sum Pizza which was presented as a calzone.  With ingredients such as cheese, pineapple, chicken and onion, I failed to see what dim sum had to do with this thing.  I found the flavours lacking as it was merely sweet and cheesy.  The thin crust was nice though as it didn't eat heavy.  I also got a personal-sized Pesto Chicken with roasted chicken breast, roasted artichoke hearts, black olives and feta cheese.  Again, there was no absence of toppings, but the pesto got completely overwhelmed by the salty olives and tart artichoke hearts.  After these 2 visits, the pizzas at the Rolling Dough were okay with an appealingly crisp thin crust.  However, the flavours were a bit out-of-balance.

The Good:
- Crispy thin-crust
- Ample toppings
- Nice owner

The Bad:
- Unbalanced flavours
- Expensive

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Windjammer Fish and Chips

There we were, standing in the Britannia parking lot looking confused.  Yes, that is not a stretch with myself, Milhouse and Kaiser Soze...  But the reason for this was the indecisiveness as to where to eat after Sunday morning hockey.  It was too hot for ramen or pho (although I personally didn't mind) and no one wanted brunch.  Fine.  Then I suggested we just take a stroll up to The Drive and stop at the first place that caught our eye.  That wasn't very hard as it was literally around the corner in the form of the Windjammer.

Operated by the former employees of the old Windjammer located on Main, the place did offer up some familiarity.  I remember visiting that place a few times when they were right beside Bellagio Gelato (bleck!).  For myself, before any fish n' chips arrived at the table, I had the Clam Chowder.  I was warned by our server that it may be on the milder side and so it was.  I had to dump some ol' salt n' pepper to bring it up to my liking.  Even with that, I found the broth itself to be lacking in any brininess and richness.  As for my main, I went for the 2 Piece Halibut n' Chips.  For $12.00, I was pretty pleased at the portion size.  The pieces of halibut were fried just enough that the meat retained its moisture and flakiness.  On the outside, the thin layer of batter was crunchy albeit a touch greasy.  The side of fries were firmly crunchy with very little potato texture left.  I personally didn't mind it though.

Milhouse decided on the 2 Piece Sockeye Salmon n' Chips which he could barely finish.  Luckily I persuaded him to stay away from the 3 piece since salmon can be rather dense.  It was exactly as we expected being firm and filling.  However, it wasn't overdone as it was flaky and still moist.  The batter did lack flavour though and the tartar sauce didn't help matters.  It was a bit watery and devoid of acidity.  Kaiser Soze opted for the $7.50 special being the 3 Piece Cod n' Chips.  Sure, the pieces weren't exactly big, but for the price, it was a fair amount of food.  Just like our orders, the cod was flaky and moist with a super thin layer of batter. Overall, we were pleasantly surprised with our random food adventure.  The food was above-average and at a fair price.

The Good:
- Reasonable prices
- Decent eats

The Bad:
- Tartar sauce is weak
- Clam chowder is so-so

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