Sherman's Food Adventures: July 2015

Kefi Greek Kouzina

That's it.  No more chicken strips, mac n' cheese or grilled cheese!  Not only are these items completely a cop-out and default in terms of kiddie eats, there are practically not worth blogging about (assuming they are not the gourmet versions).  Hence, we were going for Greek food tonight and no, the kids were not allowed to choose the chicken strips off the kid's menu.  Well, that wasn't much of a stretch for my daughter (as she is a budding foodie), but for my son, it would be definitely a struggle.

So, imagine my surprise as my son agreed to try the Calamari.  Arriving as an adequate portion size, the small pieces of squid were fried masterfully.  Light and crisp while not greasy at all, the batter adhered to the squid consistently.  I liked how they seasoned the batter where it tasted good on its own.  The squid itself was tender, but maintained an appealing chewiness  Personally, I would've preferred that the tzatziki was thicker, yet it was completely garlicky with a good hit of acidity.  As part of our adult meals, we were started with a choice of Greek or Caeser Salad.  These were quite large and appeared to be fresh and vibrant.  They ate as good as they looked with all the right textures and flavours.  I particularly liked how the Greek salad was lightly dressed.

For my main, I went for the Roast Lamb with lemon potatoes and rice.  I felt this was a fair portion for the price.  Other than a few dry portions on the outside, the rest of the lamb was succulent, fatty and well-seasoned.  The lamb was marinated enough where the salt, Dijon mustard, spices and garlic penetrated the entire piece of meat.  For me, I love lemon and the potatoes had plenty of it as well as a firm, yet delicate texture.  I found the rice to be moist and chewy at the same time while lightly seasoned.  It was rather greasy though.  Viv decided on the Mediterranean Chicken with the same sides.  We thought that chicken was fairly moist considering it was the breast meat.  It was stuffed with feta, sun-dried tomatoes and spinach while finished with a retsina cream sauce.  The flavour profile was dominated by the tart and salty sundried tomatoes which was a good thing as the rest of the ingredients were quite mild.

My daughter went for the Chicken Souvlaki with lemon potatoes (kid's portion).  Taking after me, she loves lemon (so much so, she eats it plain sometimes), so she enjoyed the potatoes very much.  As for the souvlaki, it was nicely grilled with a golden exterior.  It was also well-marinated where the meat didn't need any condiments.  However, the meat was rather dry.  Taking one step at a time, we didn't force my son to order a Mousaka or anything.  Rather, he went for the safe Fettuccine Alfredo which was big enough to feed an adult.  The pasta was still toothsome while the sauce was definitely creamy with obvious hits of nutmeg.  It was on the peppery side though.  Overall, we enjoyed our experience at Kefi. The service we received was pretty good while the food was better than many reviews I've read.

The Good:
- Decent eats
- Extensive menu
- Kid-friendly and comfortable

The Bad:
- On the pricier side
- Modest portions

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Double One

"Oh I'll eventually get to that restaurant", I often say to myself.  Well, it has taken me over 7 years to visit Double One on Hastings in Burnaby.  Could it be that it just doesn't look all that sexy from the outside (well, it ain't much on the inside either)?  Not sure, but every time, I would just go somewhere else.  The day finally came when my parents wanted to go out for dinner, specifically Chinese food.  Not wanting to eat away further at my kid's college fund (like the pun?), I suggested we just eat at a mom n' pop place (which would be Double One).

We opted for the build-your-own-dinner for 4 that included a bonus dish, soup and dessert.  Strangely, if we wanted rice, it was an extra charge (we didn't get rice).  So the bonus dish was the half Free-Range Chicken.  Fairly succulent for such lean meat, the chicken was brined aggressively.  Hence, it was pretty salty on its own.  The skin was nicely gelatinized though.  Next, we had the Gai Lan with Assorted Seafood.  Although not plated neatly, the dish itself was decent.  The big gai lan stalks were vibrant and crunchy while laced with a good amount of garlic.  On top, the squid, basa, shrimp were all on point.  One thing I would've liked to see was better wok heat as there was a noticeable pool of water on the plate.

Onto 2 similar dishes except for the proteins, we ordered both the Peking Pork Chops and the Beef Tenderloin.  Laced with a considerable amount of goupy sweet sauce, the pork chops were tender with a rebound texture.  They may have been crispy at one point, but the ample sauce just made the exterior a bit mushy.  The dish was decent, but could've been even better with more acidity.  As for the Beef Tenderloin, we all know that it wasn't really that cut of meat.  Rather, it was properly tenderized cut of beef that retained a portion of its natural texture.  Again, there was too much sauce and it was pretty sweet.  More Worchestershire sauce would've balanced out the flavours.

For the second time in a day, I had the Fish & Tofu Hot Pot.  Despite appearing to be pretty legit, the fish was sadly super salty.  It was flaky and moist though.  Another issue was the firm tofu.  When fried, it just ate too heavy.  Lastly, it didn't seem like the clay pot was really all that hot as there was no sizzle (as evidenced by the barely cooked sui choy underneath).  Also for the second time, I had the House Special Noodles.  This one was not crispy enough as the bottom portion of the noodles was soft and greasy.  Hence, when kissed by the ample sauce, the noodles just became dense and wet.  Flavours were balanced though and the seafood on top was equal to the previous gai lan dish.  Overall, the food was serviceable, if not just barely above average.  However, given the lack of choices in the area and the reasonable prices, Double One is an option.

The Good:
- Large portions
- Reasonably-priced
- Serviceable eats

The Bad:
- Hurried service
- Don't expect ambiance

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Memory Corner

I'm apologizing in advance for my impending rant...  You see, I really do not understand people who take recreational sports so darn seriously...  I was having probably my worst softball game in quite some time and I knew it.  I took ownership of my mistakes but some new guy on our team decided to add his opinion in between every inning.  In fact, he felt the need to let me know out loud during the game (for everyone to hear) that I was doing something wrong.  Suffice to say, that didn't help matters.  Afterwards, we headed to Memory Corner in Richmond to hopefully make better memories...

Since I was feeling quite low, I didn't notice we had ordered 2 types of chicken nuggets.  The first one was the classic Deep Fried Crispy Chicken with plenty of basil and interestingly green onions and whole garlic cloves.  In big chunks, the meat was succulent and super juicy.  The exterior was lightly crispy and well-seasoned with salt and white pepper.  We were quite surprised at the portion size as we struggled to finish it.  The other version was the Deep Fried Spicy Fermented Bean Curd Chicken that featured a much crunchier coating.  Furthermore, in addition to the sharp aroma of the fermented tofu, there was significantly more spiciness.  Due to the smaller size of the nuggets, the chicken was a touch more firm, yet at the same time being moist.

From these 2 dishes, we moved onto to the Sesame Sauce Noodles.  Although not looking very interesting, this was our favourite dish of the night.  With a bevy of firm noodles, there was a proper amount of sesame paste for flavour.  There was enough saltiness and equal sweetness to provide balance which resulted in an aromatic bowl of noodles.  From dry noodles to soup noodles, we tried the Tomato & Beef Tendon Noodle Soup.  The best part of this was the broth.  Even visually, it was obvious that they had put some time into it as there was depth and meatiness.  The tomato was not very strong, but it did show up in the finish and aftertaste.  Again, the noodles were toothsome and held up well even until the last strand.  We were indifferent with the meat as it was on the chewier side.

Predictably, Boss Woman insisted we have the Shrimp and Egg Fried Rice.  I swear she subsists on those 2 ingredients alone...  Well, this was the least interesting item in my opinion.  I thought the shrimp were nice being big and cold-water crunchy, however, the rice itself was a bit too wet for my liking.  Moreover, there was a general lack of impact and flavour.  Fortunately, we ordered the 3-Spice Chicken, which naturally went well with the rice (although it came with a bowl of plain rice too).  Following in the footsteps of the other chicken dishes, this one was well-portioned as well with tender pieces of dark meat (with no filler).  I found the taste to be more sweet than anything else with only a touch of tartness.  There was a bit too much sauce which somewhat diluted the flavours.

Lastly, we tried the Stir-Fried Lamb with Satay Sauce, partly because there was 2 whole pages dedicated to lamb.  We thought this dish was okay, but not particularly memorable.  There seemed to be more vegetable than lamb itself, which only helped lessen the impact of the lamb as well as making the dish watery.  We were expecting rich impactful flavours and were ultimately left with a fairly bland vegetable dish.  But even with that, the dish wasn't bad and in fact, most of the food was good and well-portioned.  We'd consider returning again.

The Good:
- Fairly large portions especially for Taiwanese
- Decent eats
- Reasonable pricing

The Bad:
- More wok-heat would've improved 2 of the dishes
- Service was friendly but fairly inattentive

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Banh Mi Saigon

Despite the love of Banh Mi in Vancouver, it is surprising to see very little in the way of new contenders in town.  We have the usual in Ba Le, Tung Hing and Kim Chau, but nothing exciting in the last couple of years.  Of course, this leads into the newest place in town - Banh Mi Saigon.  Dedicated to serving up sandwiches with freshly baked in-house bread, the place has been super busy since opening.  I decided to finally check it out on hot summer day (the place is smoking hot due to the oven) to grab some Banh Mi.  In addition, they serve up iced coffee and che.

I decided to go for the Special Dac Biet consisting of ham, headcheese, meat ball, meat loaf, pate, mayo, soy sauce, pickled daikon & carrot, cucumber, cilantro and jalapeno pepper.  This one ate much like it sounded with plenty of ingredients.  I found that the amount of pate combined with the meatball and meatloaf added enough moisture and meaty gaminess.  Hence the sandwich was flavourful and fulfilling.  The Cold Cut was very similar to the special except for the meatball.  Hence, it ate pretty much the same with a little less soft meatiness.  Again, the smear of pate was quite noticeable as well as the fish sauce.

I returned 2 more times to sample as many banh mi as I could take.  Continuing on the theme of the first 2 subs, I tried the Meatball.  As expected, it was like the special dac biet, but without the cold cuts.  Hence, it was still meaty, but in a softer manner.  The meatball rode the fine line between being soft and meaty.  It was mildly seasoned where the onions didn't overwhelm.  Lacking a bit of impact was the VN Bacon banh mi.  Unlike the other subs so far, this one didn't seem all that fulfilling.  I guess the fattiness of the bacon didn't register as "meaty" and the light texture of the Vietnamese ham couldn't make up for it.  Moreover, flavours were pretty mild where an extra splash of fish sauce would've helped.

The same could've been said about the Lemongrass Pork where I could clearly see the meat, but the sub didn't eat like the first 3.  To be fair, the special cost $4.50 while most of the other subs are less.  The biggest issue was the lack of flavour, in particular, the lemongrass.  Somehow, the partially dry pork was lost in the sandwich.  On the other hand, the Marinated Pork (at $4.50 as well) was impactful both in terms of filling and taste.  There was more than enough sliced sweet pork patty for each bite. On my first visit, I ended up waiting 30 minutes for the sandwiches because they were baking bread and waiting for them to cool down.  Hence, it was crusty and obviously very fresh.  I personally would've loved to see it a bit less dense, but that didn't make or break the sandwich. In total, I've visited the place 5 times in 2 weeks and everything has been consistent. Ultimately, Banh Mi Saigon has the right combination of fresh bread and ample ingredients representing a good value with all things considered.

The Good:
- Freshly baked bread
- They don't skimp on the ingredients (on most subs)
- Impactful pate

The Bad:
- Bread could be less dense
- Generally busy, can take awhile to fulfill your order

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To be frank, I've never been much of a brunch person.  Something about it just doesn't interest me.  Possibly it could be the lack of imagination with the menu options.  Even before setting foot into many of the restaurants that serve brunch, I could probably name off the available options.  Let's see, there will be an eggs benny, a 2-egg breaky with choice of protein, a veggie omelet of some sort and let's not forget about a good ol' hash.  But when I got an invite to try out L'Abattoir's brunch service, I was intrigued.  Seeing how their dinner service is generally on point, I was interested in what they offered on a weekend morning.

Even before we got down to ordering, we were offered a choice of pastry.  I went for the Pain au Chocolat while Viv had the Raspberry Jelly Donut.  Both were made in-house and the freshness was quite evident.  I found the pain au chocolate crispy on the outside whereas the inside was a little dense.  There was just enough chocolate to taste without making the whole thing too sweet.  As for Viv's donut, it was fantastic. Fluffy and light, the donut was filled with a raspberry compote that was devoid of seeds while full of natural flavour.  It was mildly sweet which was fine by us. My choice of drink was their featured cocktail, the Honey Basil Dubonnet with lemon.  This was refreshing and light which was the right compliment for a Summer morning and brunch.

To get a sense of the menu, we went for 4 dishes including the Poached Eggs with Smoked Pork Belly.  This featured a homemade English muffin which was toasted until it was crunchy.  As evidenced in the picture, the poached free-range egg was perfectly runny while sporting completely cooked egg whites.  On top, the cheddar sabayon was fluffy and light while mild in taste.  As for the pork belly, it was thick-cut and meaty.  Since it was aggressively seared, the exterior was crispy and aromatic.  As a result, the meat was a little dry.  Our next dish was also the best of the meal being the Shrimp Frittata.  On top of a thin and silky egg base, there was buttery shrimp, lightly crisp potatoes, hollandaise, smoked pepper puree and arugula salad.  Often a frittata can be heavy, but this one was so easy to eat.  I would gladly eat this dish again.

Moving on, we dug into the massive Full Breakfast consisting of 2 eggs, duck sausage, pork & beans, sauteed mushrooms, boudin noir, rösti and buttered toast.  The best part of the plate was the boudin as it was rich, yet not heavy.  The little nuggets of pork blood were light and buttery.  Finished with an aggressive sear, there was a nice caramelization which was accented by fresh cracked pepper and salt.  We thought the duck sausage was meaty and appealingly gamy.  It was moist and meaty.  Although not prominent on the dish, nicely firm beans were fantastic with bursts of acidity and sweetness. If that wasn't enough food, we saved the Breakfast Burger for last.  It was constructed of a quarter pound patty, hashbrown, aged white cheddar and fried egg.  Thick and juicy, the patty was full of flavour with bits of red onion complimenting the abundance of natural meatiness.  This was complimented by the sharp cheddar and mayo (with bits of onion and pickle).  At the conclusion of our meal, we were pretty stuffed (mostly because we ate 4 dishes) and satisfied.  L'Abattoir did brunch justice with their expected carefully crafted eats which were tasty and interesting.

*All food and beverages excluding gratuities were complimentary*

The Good:
- Well-prepared eats
- Familiar dishes done differently
- Balanced cocktails

The Bad:
- On the pricier side
- Generally not a light meal (but good for those who want it rich)

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SY Farm Market

After a hiatus in my goal to try all the Chinese BBQ joints in the Lower Mainland, I made an impromptu stop at SY Farm Market on Hastings.  When I say impromptu, I really mean it as in "make a last minute lane change and turn onto a side street".  No, I didn't cause an accident nor cut-off anyone in the process.  Now on the other hand, next time I'm in Richmond, I will do the opposite because when in Rome...  Now back to the Chinese BBQ, the random stop was because I didn't have anything to cook for dinner and this was the best way to make it simple.

I picked up some BBQ Pork which was mostly lean with some fatty portions.  I found the meat to be slightly dry due to the cut of meat.  It was still sufficiently tender though.  Unlike the one found at HK BBQ Master (which I always use as a baseline comparison), this one was not charred enough nor was balanced in flavour.  It was more salty than sweet.  Overall, a serviceable portion of BBQ Pork, but not memorable.  I also got half a Soy Sauce Chicken and it was fantastic.  The skin was in a beautiful dark soy hue while the meat was moist and juicy (even the white meat).  I found that the soy cooking liquid had penetrated the meat, hence, it was flavourful on its own.  The size of the chicken was rather substantial as well.

Since I was going to use a portion of the BBQ Duck for stir-fried noodles, I decided to get a whole one.  The skin was nicely rendered and crispy while sporting a decent roasted hue.  Both the breast and thigh meat were succulent and well-seasoned.  Furthermore, I found that the duck was quite meaty since there was a substantial amount of meat after deboning.  On another visit, I picked up the soy chicken again and also the Roast Pork.  The meat was a tad on the drier side while being pretty salty.  The crackling was decent being a firm crunch.  So after trying out the main proteins, I will definitely come back for the soy sauce chicken and BBQ duck.  Not so sure with the BBQ pork or roast pork though.

The Good:
- Reasonably priced
- Really good soy sauce chicken

The Bad:
- Pork products are average

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Driving along Clarke Street in Port Moody can mean one of 2 things.  Either you are avoiding traffic on St. John's during rush hour or you have the intention of visiting some of the business that line the street.  Unless you were in the mood for Rosa's (not sure why the place is so popular), the other obvious choice would be Cake-Ya.  Coincidentally, I was on Clarke Street heading towards Barnet Hwy when I made a last second decision for some purin.  That jolted my son, who was in the backseat.

So what exactly is Purin?  Well, if you try real hard, you'll get "pudding" after many attempts at mispronunciation.   Yes, it is the Japanese version of a creme caramel, except the preparation is not exactly the same.  After years of without Cake-Ya, I felt the time had come.  Going for the Original and Coffee flavours, the purin itself was smooth, rich and devoid of air bubbles.  The aromatic and sweet caramel underneath added a certain smokiness and sugariness to an otherwise mild-tasting purin.

Another item that I can't get enough of is their version of Cheesecake.   No, and there is no lineup here like Uncle Tetsu (not available locally yet).  It isn't exactly the same, but this one is just fine for me.  The texture was light, fluffy and rode the fine line between rich and airy.  It wasn't very sweet, but the cream cheese flavour and texture truly came through.  I also got the Chocolate Cake which was on the drier and denser side.  It wasn't too sweet either while adequately chocolaty.  The kids were a bit indifferent towards it partly due to the dry texture.

One thing my daughter did enjoy was the Strawberry Roll.  This light sponge cake was filled with a good amount of whipped cream and fresh strawberries.  The sweetness factor was on low where I could taste the delicate egginess of the cake and the natural sweetness of the strawberries.  I didn't end up getting any cookies nor the daifuku this time around, but I really should visit Cake-Ya more often.

The Good:
- Delicately crafted treats
- Friendly people
- Something different

The Bad:
- Not particularly cheap
- Hidden location

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