Sherman's Food Adventures: August 2015

Soup Plus

With all the available options for food in the GVRD, some spots are often overlooked (except for loyal and local clientele).  So when Big D suggested we eat near Lougheed Mall, I scrambled to find something that resembled a hole-in-the-wall.  I found that place in Soup Plus on Austin at Marmont.  Seemingly nothing more than a typical soup & sandwich joint hidden in the corner of a strip mall, we went in with no expectations.

We got things started with 2 of their homemade soups including the Tomato Soup.  Lightly tangy and silky smooth, the tomato soup was kicked up a notch with the addition of seared bits of ham.  Not only did this break up the monotony of texture and flavours, it added an extra layer of saltiness. With no shortage of mushrooms, the Mushroom Soup was unmistakably woodsy and full-bodied.  It wasn't creamy though, instead the broth was somewhat thin while at the same time well-seasoned.  Being that it wasn't overly thick, it left plenty of room for our sandwiches.

We ended up sharing 3 sammies including the regular portion of the BBQ Beef Po' Boy and Meatloaf Sub.  Served on house-baked bread, the BBQ beef was saucy and spicy.  There was definitely a good amount of Louisana-style hot sauce mixed in as there was a vinegary and sharp spice to the po' boy.  There was enough sweetness from the BBQ sauce for balance.  The beef was a bit dry for my tastes though.  Now the meatloaf was the complete opposite as it appeared dry but was ultimately moist.  I found it to be mildly spiced where I could still taste the meat. Although not particularly sexy, I'd take this sammie over the Subway across the street any day (for the same price really).

Lastly, we had the Clubhouse made with house-baked bread, turkey, lettuce, cheese, tomato, bacon and grilled chicken.  This was quite good as the toasted bread gave way to crispy bacon and moist chicken.  Although nothing mind-blowing, the sandwich was memorable due to the bread and the ample amount of ingredients.  This pretty much summed up our visit to Soup Plus where the food ain't that impressive to look at, but it ultimately did the job and more for a very reasonable price.

The Good:
- Inexpensive
- Good value
- Decent eats

The Bad:
- It's good, but don't expect anything sexy

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Deer Lake Wonton

The last time I dined at Deer Lake Wonton, my son was a newborn and this blog didn't exist.  Hence, the unmemorable meal was filed away deep in my subconscious much like Riley's memories in Inside Out (not sure if they were touched by sadness or disgust).  However, without a blog post about the place, I did have the slightest urge to return.  Now it was never high on my list of restaurants I needed to blog about, so it is no surprise that I finally took the plunge nearly 7 years after my first ever blog post.  So we gathered up the family including the grandparents and headed out to busy Canada Way.

We ended up going for one of their set menus and added a few more dishes for good measure.  Included in the dinner was the Fish Maw and Crab Meat Soup.  The starch-thickened broth was silky and fairly thick in viscosity.  It wasn't particularly flavourful except for the abundance of white pepper.  There was a decent amount of fish maw that was texturally on point being not too chewy nor soft.  The small amount of crab meat was rather dry and lifeless.  That would be the best way to describe the Live Crab with green onion and ginger as well.  Most pieces were overcooked where the meat was dried out and stuck to the shell.  Furthermore, there was far too much starch coating on the crab which resulted in a gummy exterior.  The sauce did taste okay though with hits of ginger, garlic and onion.

Onto the main dishes, the Gai Lan with Prawns arrived first.  It looked rather impressive, but ultimately was not very good.  With overcooked gai lan that was soft devoid of any crunch and prawns that were overly salty, the only good thing about the dish was the buttery cold-water crunch of the prawns.  Next, the Sweet & Sour Pork did not appear to be that appetizing.  Prepared with little nuggets of pork, the sauce was mildly sweet without any tang to speak of.  Furthermore, the amount of sauce and the lack of a crunchy exterior contributed to the the overly soft texture of the pork.  Despite being soft, the pork was not succulent, rather, the meat was mealy and dry.  

On the other hand, the Pork Chop and Beef Tenderloin with black pepper sauce featured far more tender meat.  We found both meats to be marinated and tenderized enough while still retaining natural textures.  However, there was a mess of sauce that made things goopy and a tad too salty.  That also meant there was no absence of impact including a considerable pepperiness and garlic notes.  Our last dish, Cod & Tofu Hot Pot, was probably our least favourite.  Coated with too much starch which made the exterior gummy, the mystery frozen fish was hard and dry.  On the flip side, the fried silky tofu was really good.  The whole dish was dressed in quite a bit of sauce that was garlicky and salty.  As you can clearly ascertain, we were not that enthused with our meal at Deer Lake Wonton.  Yes, we are acutely aware that it can't compare to the big boys in town and we may not be their target customers.  With that being said, the food still needs to be at least average.  It wasn't in this case.

The Good:
- Friendly service
- Inexpensive

The Bad:
- Sub-par eats
- Awkward parking lot

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Regent Bakery

Deja Vu - it can refer to that feeling that something has happened before and/or a mediocre Denzel Washington movie.  Well, it was the former for us as we tried to get some pineapple buns from Lido in Richmond.  You see, they didn't have any ready, so we resorted in visiting the nearby Regent Bakery as a consolation.   Yes, that happened once before, hence the feeling of deja vu.  Yet unlike last time, I decided to actually blog about it.

With the limited selection available, I was only able to snag a few items to go.  Of course they had the usual BBQ Pork Bun.  Once I cut into it, the inside revealed a sufficient amount of centered filling for the entire bun.  I found it to be more sweet than savoury, but not overly so.  There was very little in the way of fatty pieces as well.  As for the bun itself, it was pretty soft and airy where it was only slightly dry.  As such, the Cocktail Bun exhibited the same qualities except for the filling of course.  It was pretty sweet and coconutty.  Similar to the BBQ pork bun, the filling was fairly centered and ran the length of the entire bun.

Okay, for the moment of truth, it was almost unfair to compare their Pineapple Bun to that of Lido.  Being located just a few doors down, unfair as it may be, there will be comparisons made.  With that in mind, the one at Regent was okay.  It was pretty large with a uniform and complete topping.  It wasn't crumbly as it stayed adhered to the bun.  I found it not as sweet as Lido since it was rather thin.  Of course the bun itself was not as buttery soft either. Now one item that was pretty good was the Egg Tarts.  With a thin and crispy shell, there was a plethora of silky egg custard that was semi-sweet and aromatic from coconut.

The last item was the Chicken Pie stuffed full of chicken and shiitake mushrooms. I liked the buttery and crumbly crust which held in the bevy of chicken thigh meat.  It was sufficiently tender, if not a touch stiff where the seasoning was a bit sweet.  Overall, the stuff at Regent was not outstanding, but it was decent.  I was most surprised with the egg tarts as they didn't look too promising.  Yet, they were the highlight.  As for the pineapple bun, yah, better wait for the ones at Lido.

The Good:
- Pretty good egg tart
- Uniform and centered filling
- Okay pricing

The Bad:
- Limited selection

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Yoko Sushi

Despite the mediocre reviews from several sources regarding the Minions movie, we still went to watch it with the kiddies.  Well, that and also the fact we had 2 free children's passes (from McD's)...  Yes, we just couldn't endure 2 McD's meals to obtain those passes without using them!  After the boring-for-adults movie, we thought of hitting up the nearby That Place for some pizza and pasta.  Once again, it was epic fail as the place was not open!  As a backup plan, we headed up the hill to Yoko Sushi on Austin Ave.

With my daughter raiding all the sockeye salmon from the Assorted Sashimi, we were left with toro, albacore tuna, tai and tako.  Although not prepared carefully in terms of knife skills not presentation, the slices of fish were mostly decent.  Despite not getting any sockeye salmon since my daughter ate it all, I was able to sample it on another dish and it was definitely the highlight of the assorted sashimi.  Next up was the Rainbow Roll consisting of a California roll topped with the aforementioned sockeye salmon, tuna and ebi.  The rice was actually pretty good texturally with an appealing chewiness and with just the right amount of moisture.  However, it tasted rather salty for some reason.  Inside, the imitation crab could've used a bit less mayo while the fish on top was decent like the sashimi.

For a filler dish of sorts, we ordered the Oyako Don which arrived looking more like  teriyaki chicken.  Typically, an Oyako Don is egg, chicken, onion on rice topped with dashi, mirin and soy.  In this case, everything was correct except the substantial drizzle of teriyaki sauce.  With that being said, the dish was alright since the chicken was tender and the egg was fluffy.  In fact, the rice was appealingly chewy as well.  It's just the teriyaki sauce that didn't taste right.  Lastly, we had the Chicken Karaage which arrived after everything else.  It appeared they took the same chicken they used for their teriyaki and deep fried it with a thin tempura batter.  Despite this, it was actually quite good with moist chicken and a lightly crispy exterior.

For the kiddies, we got them the Tempura Udon with carrots, onions and tempura bits.  Despite the addition of the veggies, I found that there was such a minimal amount, it didn't interfere with the udon (much like other non-Japanese versions that contain everything but the kitchen sink).  The soup base was sweet and tasted similar to chicken soup rather than a dashi, but it was okay nonetheless.  As for the noodles, they were still chewy and decently portioned.  The tempura served on the side was nicely prepared being crispy and not greasy.  I found the batter to be thin and not doughy inside.  Okay, if it wasn't obvious as you were reading this post that the food was far from authentic, then pay attention!  Although everything was completely edible and decent food-wise, there was very little to associate with actual Japanese cuisine.

The Good:
- Okay pricing
- Okay service
- Edible

The Bad:
- Plenty of liberties taken with Japanese cuisine
- Strange preparation of some dishes

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Saigon Ivy

We all know that there are many Vietnamese restaurants strewn throughout the Lower Mainland, particularly in East Van.  On the other hand, places like New West only have a handful. Big D, who happens to reside in New West, tipped me off about a new place called Saigon Ivy which offers up a fairly diverse menu.  Well, we met up on a warm Summer day for some Vietnamese fare (because it's generally hot all the time in Vietnam, so we were getting in the spirit of things).

By the power of suggestion (as in the picture on the menu), we started with the Deep Fried Chicken Wings.  These were fried golden brown and then tossed in peppers, garlic and chilis.  Although not as memorable, these appeared to be a cross between the ones from Phnom Penh and Pok Pok.  The wings were juicy and  flavourful from the fish sauce marinade while lightly crispy from the deep fry.  Although missing the lemon pepper dip, the wings were plenty tasty due to the wok toss.  For my main, I went for the Hu Tieu Dac Biet in soup.  Fairly light on the sodium, the soup was sweet with a mildly salty finish.  The noodles were toothsome while the modest amount of meats were sliced thin and tender.

Big D ended up with the Pho Ga Vien which featured a decent amount of sliced chicken meatballs.  I sampled the broth and it was clean and light while a touch sweet.  The noodles were toothsome, but not particularly plentiful.  Seeing how the portions were quite modest, we added a Grilled Pork Banh Mi for good measure. Although not exactly soft and airy, the bread was crusty.  Inside, there was the usual ingredients highlighted by the sweet and somewhat smoky pork.  It was a touch dry though. Ultimately, it was a decent attempt for a restaurant that doesn't specialize in banh mi.

On another visit, I went for the Pho Dac Biet which was not small, while not a large portion either.  I found the broth to have an initial intense sweetness that gave way to rather mild flavours.  It wasn't a clean broth, but then again, some of the murkiness added some depth. The meats were sliced thin and were okay if not a bit dry.  Noodles were a bit clumpy and sparse, but were not overcooked.  I also got a Lemongrass Beef with Vermicelli to go and it was a decent-sized dish.  Although the beef was nicely caramelized with a strong sweet taste, it was rather dry.  The noodles were a bit clumpy and soft, however, this was partially due to being in the Styrofoam box.  After these 2 visits, Saigon Ivy presents itself decently as an option for Vietnamese eats in New West.  Portions are generally modest while the service is quite good.

The Good:
- Decent eats
- Nice people
- Extensive menu

The Bad:
- Modest portions
- Mild flavours

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Asia Kitchen

After my initial visit to Asia Kitchen last year, I came away indifferent with their buffet and didn't have the urge to return anytime soon.  Strangely, I noticed that they offered Dim Sum earlier this year.  How were they going to serve Dim Sum independently from the buffet?  Well, I discovered the answer to that question when I walked through the doors recently.  They ended up turfing the buffet and Vietnamese menu in favour of Cantonese fare including Dim Sum service.

With as many Dim Sum options in Coquitlam as there is cheap housing, we were intrigued to see if at the very least the food would be serviceable.  Arriving first was the Stir-Fried Pea Shoots with garlic.  This featured tender pea leaves that still retained a crunch.  There was decent wok heat where the moisture was kept to a minimum while the grease was moderate.  In terms of seasoning, it was a bit weak where more salt and garlic was needed.  For a reasonable $8.50, the Seafood Fried Noodles featured a bevy of shrimp, squid, fish, zucchini and baby bak choy atop crunchy noodles.  Although there was a considerable amount of starch-thickened sauce on top, the firm noodles held their own.  Again, the seasoning was a bit weak while the shrimp needed more cold-water rinsing.

Onto the steamed items, we had the Haw Gow (Shrimp Dumpling) and Sui Mai (Pork & Shrimp Dumpling).  Slightly thick and doughy while too wet, the haw gow skin was also oversteamed.  Inside, the shrimp filling was a combination of whole shrimp and mousse.  There was a firm meatiness and only the slightest snap.  It did taste okay with a balanced sweetness accented by sesame oil.  As for the sui mai, they were on point.  By appearance alone, they looked appetizing and in fact, they were really good.  Sporting an even mix of whole crunchy shrimp and properly tenderized chunks of pork, the dumpling was juicy and buttery (due to the processed pork acting as a binding agent).  Flavours were good too with a balance between savoury and sweet elements.

For the kiddies, we got them the Lo Mei Gai (Sticky Rice) which were portioned into 3 mini wraps.  Inside, the rice was definitely glutinous while being a touch dry.  However, the ample ground pork filling did help moisten things when mixed together with the rice.  Moreover, the well-seasoned pork also helped season the rice.  Of course, we had to get my son's favourite being the Shrimp Spring Rolls that were cut on an angle (similarly to many places these days).  We enjoyed these as the exterior was hot and crunchy without much grease.  Inside, there was a bounty of buttery shrimp (and shrimp mousse) that was bordering on salty.

Another kid favourite was the Donut Rice Noodle Roll.  They enjoyed the super crunchy donut in the middle of the overly chewy rice noodle.  For me personally, the re-fried donut was far too crunchy and greasy.  In fact, I could taste the grease which was not particularly appealing.  Combined with the hard exterior noodle, I thought this was the weakest dish.  The same rice noodle was found on the Shrimp Rice Noodle Roll.  In turn, that affected the overall success of the dish.  Too bad really because it was packed with crunchy shrimp and shrimp mousse.  Similarly to the spring rolls, the shrimp was well-salted.

We went off the board and decided to try the Fish Dumplings with Cabbage since it was something different.  These turned out to be large fish mousse meatballs with green onion and bits of cuttlefish.  Although a touch fishy, the ample amount of salt and sugar helped masked it.  Texturally, the large fish balls exhibited the classic bounce texture akin to fish mousse.  As expected, we had our token offal item which was the Steamed Tripe and Tendon.  In a deep shade of reddish-brown, the whole dish was aggressively spiced with a noted sweetness.  We found the tripe to be tender, but rather dense lacking the typical butteriness.  As for the tendon, it was a bit too soft where some portions had melted.

The next 2 dishes were pretty good, but suffered from seasoning issues.  With the overpowering pungency of bamboo shoots, the Bean Curd Skin Rolls were also over-salted.  Hence, I needed to dunk them into Worcestershire sauce to mask it.  On the flip side, the textures were good though with chewy and moist fried bean curd skin as well as the same properly tenderized and bouncy chunks of pork (as the sui mai).  The saltiest dish of all was the Black Bean Spareribs sporting a really dark hue.  Texturally, it was just right with a chewy rebound that was still tender.  Furthermore, the pieces were easy on the fat and cartilage.  Yet in the end, the salt content made it difficult to eat.

Also for the kiddies, we got the BBQ Pork Buns that were bursting with filling.  We found the bun itself to be somewhat dry and dense.  However, the ample filling helped alleviate the this.  Sticky and sweet, the BBQ pork was lean and completely enveloped in sauce.  For dessert, we waited for the fresh made-to-order Egg Tarts.  Our patience paid off as these were fantastic.  Flaky and super buttery, these were served smoking hot from the oven.  We enjoyed the light tart shell that held in the silky semi-sweet egg custard.  These were definitely the highlight of the meal.  This was a good end to a relatively serviceable if unremarkable Dim Sum meal.  But if we take into account the price point and its location, Asia Kitchen serves as an option for Burquitlam.

The Good:
- Pretty attentive service
- Reasonably-priced
- Spacious dining room

The Bad:
- Dining room could use more light
- Food is relatively average with some hightlights

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