Sherman's Food Adventures: September 2015

Left Bank

Every time we return from a cruise, I get the urge to walk out of a restaurant without paying.  I guess it is less prevalent now due to specialty dining and their extra cost.  But in the end, it takes time to adjust.  The funniest example was when my then 5-year old daughter chased after our server at Hart House demanding dessert (just a few days after we returned from our cruise in 2012).  I also believe she wished we had a soft serve machine in our kitchen as well.  This time around, it wasn't so much all about the ice cream, rather, we just wanted to have a good sit down meal with all 3 courses.  We ended up heading to Left Bank on Denman.

Seeing that my son lives on fresh bread, we got an order of the Bread and Butter where the spread was applied in between the slits prior to toasting.  Hence, each slice (other than the ends) was graced with cafe de Paris buttery goodness on both sides.  Texturally, the baguette was pillowy soft inside and crusty on the outside.  As my son was enjoying his bread, the rest of the table (including my daughter) were feasting on the buttery smooth Tuna Tartare which was accented by avocado and tomatoes while dressed in sesame oil.  The subtle flavours didn't overwhelm the tuna, but the slight acidity from the tomatoes helped liven things up.  The crunch from the toasted rice crackers was the ideal match for the soft mixture.

Another stellar appie was the Chicken Liver & Foie Gras Parfait served with grilled bread.  This was by far the star of the appetizer show.  Light but creamy and rich at the same time, the sweet parfait was balanced by the inherent liver essence.  As if there wasn't enough umami and aroma going on, the honeycomb gelee added a layer of sweet wine-like flavour as well.  Somewhat surprising, the Fried Chicken Bites were really good.  It was almost an after thought addition, but each "finger" was fried up firmly crispy while the chicken was succulent.  The maple chipotle dip provided a sweet and spicy kick.

For my main, I had the Steak Frites featuring a Newport steak and Szechaun peppercorn sauce.  As much as the sliced steak itself was rather small, there was enough crispy frites to make up for it.  They weren't overly crunchy though retaining a fluffy potato texture.  The steak itself was prepared medium-rare as requested, where it was sufficiently tender.  I found the sauce to be well-balanced and not as tongue-numbing as expected from Szechuan peppercorns.  Served in a large pot, Viv's Thai Coconut Curry Steamed Mussels were a sight to behold.  The plump honey mussels were bursting with meat that was barely cooked.  They were naturally sweet and further enhanced by the very mild coconut broth.  We would've liked to see more curry, yet the dish was still stellar.

My mom had probably the weakest item of our meal being the Scallops and Prawns with risotto, beurre blanc, herb salad and root veggies.  There was nothing inherently wrong with the seafood as the scallops were buttery while the meaty prawns exhibited a sweet snap.  It was the clumpy and dense risotto that killed the dish.  It was definitely cheesy and well-seasoned, but it didn't spread at all.  Both my dad and daughter went for the Cedar Plank Salmon.  We were surprised to see not one, but two pieces of expertly prepared salmon on the cedar plank.  Flaky and moist, the salmon was well-seasoned all-the-way through and further spiked with maple butter.

Ever since our Hawaii vacation, my son has decided to add Braised Short Ribs to his repertoire of eats.  And if you haven't already noticed, both kids ordered off the main menu (things just got more expensive from this point on).  Well, he practically mauled this one as it was fork tender where the braising liquid had penetrated all-the-way-through.  To further enhance the already rich flavour, the residual thickened jus was plenty salty and full of root veggie depth.  On that note, all the carrots, parsnips and turnips were on point being firm while tender to the bite.

Onto the sweets, we were initially apprehensive in getting the Blueberry Cheesecake since blueberry is often lost in the shuffle.  Not here by any stretch of the imagination.  It was impactful and an added acidity made them come alive.  Combined with the smooth and lightly sweet cheese cake, this completely worked.  Super rich, the Chocolate Torte ate very heavy while subtly sweet.  In fact, we thought the ganache was a bit too dense.  Whatever the case, it was chocolaty with a slight bitterness which was only intermittently accented by sugar.  Overall, we were quite pleased with our meal at Left Bank.  Portions were generous while the proteins were mainly on point.

The Good:
- Generous portions
- On point proteins
- Wonderful service

The Bad:
- Possibly a touch salty
- Risotto wasn't good

Left Bank Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Fat Mao Noodles

With the gradual gentrification of Chinatown, we've seen many non-Asian businesses set up shop where vendors once used to hawk Chinese medicine and fresh veggies.  However, we've also seen modern Asian eateries pop up as well including the likes of Bao Bei and Sai Woo.  The latest to join the fray is Fat Mao Noodles - the brainchild of Angus An of Maenam fame.  Located right next to the Ramen Butcher, Fat Mao offers up various noodles except for ramen (a good decision given its neighbour).

We stopped by for a quick dinner before the Whitecaps match at BC Place with the kiddies.  On that note, I encourage anyone who hasn't watched a football match (soccer that is), to give it a chance.  Pretty good stuff.  So back to the food, we started things off with the House-Made Pickles which included garlic stems, cucumber, onion and green mango.  These were good with an appealing crunch that gave way to balanced flavours that weren't too salty nor sweet.  Next up, the Tripe Salad was disturbingly small for the price ($8.00). The fact that we had to hunt for the slices of tripe didn't help matters either.  Whatever it lacked in portion size, it made it up in execution.  Dressed in a salty and sweet glaze with crushed peanuts, cilantro, fried shallots and onion, the sliced tripe was appealingly gelatinous.

For our first main, we had the Dan Dan Noodles dressed in a spicy peanut broth with ground pork and peanuts.  The first thing that struck me was the misuse of egg noodles in this dish.  Texturally, it was too chewy and flat while not being able to take on any of the broth (everything just slid off).  The broth itself was decently impactful with a balanced spice where the aroma of the peanuts were able to come through.  However, the Koh Soi, Changmai Curry Noodles with a whole chicken leg was not impactful at all.  We could definitely get the aromatics of the coconut milk and the sharpness of the mustard greens, but other than that, the flavours fell flat.  Even the tender chicken meat was completely flavourless. 

Lastly, we had the Braised Duck Noodles which featured a whole duck leg, flat mung bean noodles, sprouts and cilantro.  This was by far the "best" noodle of the bunch (although that is not saying a lot).  Aromatic with a silky duck essence, the broth was flavourful in a non-salty manner.  Falling off the bone, the duck meat was tender and mildly seasoned with five spice.  The flat noodles were a good match for the broth as it took on all the properties.  We added a Soft Boiled Soy Egg for good measure and it was good.  The creamy yolk was appealing while the egg white was completely flavoured by soy without being overwhelming.  So as you can clearly see, the 2 best items were the aforementioned items.  Otherwise, the overall experience at Fat Mao was incredibly underwhelming.  It has potential, hopefully they can refine their product in the near future.

The Good:
- Aromatics are there (but not sure about the impact)
- Interesting noodles on paper
- Attentive service

The Bad:
- Generally lack of impact in terms of flavour
- Trending towards the pricier side for what you get

Espana

There was a time when Costanza and I would hit up La Bodega (when it was still located on Howe) after work for some tapas and sangria.  Sadly, our lives became more complex with the arrival of the kiddies and other things that we stopped doing that altogether.  So when Elaine mentioned that she wanted to head to Espana for dinner, Costanza and I looked at each other and muttered "Patatas Bravas" in unison.  Yes, we were ready.  Ready to relive some good times.  Too bad we were delayed by almost an hour since we could've even find a pay spot near the place.  If there was only a Skytrain station nearby!

Being a small spot, we had to wait for a table to open up.  Boy, that was one small table, but the pace of the plates was just right so it didn't overwhelm us.  Looking more like fried zucchini or pickle chips, the Crispy Eggplant was rather surprising in texture.  Each slice was tempura-like crispy while the eggplant itself was not very eggplant-like (not mushy nor spongy).  It was spiced with raz-el-hanout where I could definitely taste the cumin, nutmeg and cinnamon.  We were then presented with the first of our 2 toasts being the Chicken Liver Pate with pickled grapes and Pedro Ximenez.  Rich and creamy, the pate was dominated by the tart grapes, but evenly balanced by the sweet wine.  The toast itself was crunchy and firm which held up to the pate.

Our second toast was the Catalan Tomato, Serrano ham and fried quail egg.  This one was almost a contrast to the liver pate toast.  Although there was bright and tart notes from the tomatoes, there wasn't much impact from the Serrano ham nor quail egg.  Rather, the flavours were subtle, allowing the fresh tomatoes to shine.  With that being said, we loved the in-our-face impact of the liver pate toast over this one.  Constructed of similar ingredients, the Heirloom Tomato Salad consisted of mojama, fried quail's eggs, basil and smoked olive oil.  Swapping out the ham with mojama meant the meat was more buttery and actually more salty.  This went well with the runny quail eggs as well as the fresh tomatoes.

Moving onto the Patatas Bravas with spicy tomato sauce and aioli, we thought the fried potatoes were a bit soft and could've been slightly crispier.  However, they were still good with a firm, yet almost fluffy interior.  The accompanying sauce was zesty and appealingly spicy (albeit probably a bit too much).  This was nicely balanced by the creamy aioli.  The patatas also made an appearance with the Grilled Hanger Steak with Pedro Ximenez and valdeon butter.  Prepared rare, the thinly sliced steak was naturally flavourful in gamy-like manner.  This was further amped by the sharp and impactful butter as well as the sweet wine.

Moving onto some seafood, we tried the Grilled Octopus with new potatoes, padron peppers, caperberries and Romesco sauce.  This was my favourite dish of the meal as the tentacles were expertly prepared.  Exhibiting a tender chewiness with a grilled exterior, the octopus alone was money.  Add in the complex flavours of the Romesco (tart, nutty, sweet, salty and aromatic), the dish hit all the tastebuds and textural components.  Something that really woke our palates up was the Fried Salt Cod with tomato salmorejo.  As expected, the cod was stingingly salty while moist and flaky.  It was lightly battered which let the salt cod do its thing.  Mild, creamy and soothing, the salmorejo was necessary in bringing the saltiness down a notch.

The piece de resistance was the Daily Paella with walnuts, calamari and chorizo.  It arrived bubbling hot in the pan it was prepared in.  There was a significant sear on the bottom of the pan which elicited a noticeable smokiness to go with the saffron and tomato.  There was a certain zestiness due to the combination of tomato and chorizo.  I found the rice to be toothsome albeit overly wet from the sauce.  To end the meal, we had the Churros with rich chocolate sauce and house made yorgurt & dulce de leche.  As for the churros themselves, I thought they were more like a sugar-coated bread stick.  However, the dips made up for this as the chocolate was decadent and only purposefully sweet.  The dulce de leche was thick, sweet and caramelized.  After it was all said and done, the one word that best described our meal was "pleasant".  Nothing totally blew our socks off, yet still an enjoyable experience nonetheless.

The Good:
- Generally appealing eats
- Decent service
- Not overly expensive

The Bad:
- Super tight seating
- No pitcher of sangria?

Espana Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

TK Sub Cafe

Remember when a Banh Mi could be had for as little as $2.00?  Yah, those were the days...  Well, it has been increasingly hard to find one for under $4.00, but there are a few places that still charge roughly $3.75.  Now when we talk about Mexican Tortas, the pricing becomes heftier despite its street food roots.  However, what if I told you about a place that serves both (in many different varieties) for only $3.75?  Sure, it may not be super authentic, but if one wanted a cheap lunch, they might just find it at TK Sub Cafe.

This little non-descript joint on Knight at Kingsway serves up really cheap eats that doesn't necessarily skimp on quality either.  With fresh-baked bread and earnest service, there is not much more one can expect for the price.  I finally dropped by after successive drive-bys without stopping.  I ended up getting 2 tortas including the BBQ Pork and Machada. Although there was only a modest amount of pork, it was effective in taste and texture.  The slight chewiness and ample seasoning made it feel heard amongst the sweet caramelized onions, banana peppers, avocado and veggies.  The shredded and spicy beef was even more evident as it was zesty and salty.  It contrasted the nicely toasted bun with its soft texture and moisture.

I also got a Lemongrass Chicken Banh Mi and although it essentially used the same bread, the sandwich worked.  Again, there wasn't a whole lot of meat, but the amount that was there did its job.  It was on the drier side, but the ample wet ingredients including the acidic daikon and carrots helped the cause.  Once again, I will remind everyone that the banh mi here have nothing on Banh Mi Saigon, but for the price, the sandwiches (in any form) at TK Sub Cafe can be classified as solid cheap eats.

The Good:
- Cheap
- Decent
- Super nice people

The Bad:
- Don't expect authenticity

TK Sub Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wang's Shanghai Cuisine

If the name of Wang's Shanghai Cuisine rings a bell, you are not imagining things.  Yes, it is indeed the same people who brought you some of the GVRD's best Xiao Long Bao from a little stall in Crystal Mall.  They sadly left us almost 5 years ago and was replaced by Xu's which incidentally produced some decent XLBs themselves.  However, the beloved Wang's was only a memory...  until now.  Situated right next to London Drugs and in the same plaza as Honolulu Cafe, Wang's is back as a full-fledged restaurant no less.

Tipped off by Whipping Girl, I couldn't wait and had to visit the place at the first chance. The first thing to hit the table was what we were here for - the Xiao Long Bao.  Graced with a relatively thin and toothsome dumpling skin (while a bit thick at the twist), the filling was moist and tender.  There was a decent amount of soup which was sweet and slightly gingery.  A very respectable XLB.  Next, we had the Potstickers which could've used a longer sear as it wasn't exactly crispy on the bottom.  Despite this, the dumpling skin was appealingly chewy.  As for the pork filling, there was a balanced amount of cabbage mixed in.  In turn, there was a cabbage finish to the initial natural meat flavour.

Moving away from dumplings, we tried the Dan Dan Noodles which were dressed in a watery both.  This was definitely peanutty with only the slightest hint of spice.  In fact, the aromatics were fine, but there was a complete lack of savouriness.  As much as the noodles were al dente and appealing, there was an overall lack of flavour and impact. Going for another classic, we had the Szechuan Braised Beef Noodles as well.  Sporting toothsome noodles as well, the broth was definitely spicy.  However, there was a general lack of depth which made the soup one-note with only the slightest background licorice notes from the star anise.  The braised beef shank was flavourful and super tender, but possibly too much so as it began to break apart.

Back to the dumplings, we had the Spicy Wontons next.  Although there was a considerable amount of chili oil present, the dish itself was not that spicy.  Rather, there was this toasted nutty aroma with only a touch of chili (also missing savouriness as well).  However, the wontons themselves were excellent.  They were plump, juicy and impactfully seasoned.  We couldn't get out of there without ordering the Shanghai Stir-Fried Rice Cake because it is a kid favourite.  The kiddies seemed to like it, but I felt there could've been a touch more caramelization.  It consisted of chewy, yet soft sliced rice cake with crunchy Napa cabbage and not-tenderized pork.  Not bad, but could've used some tweaks.

Lastly, we had the Deep Fried Mini-Buns (Mantou) served with condensed milk.  We thought the buns were a bit dense and dry.  Furthermore, they could've used half-a-minute more in the deep-fryer as the outside wasn't crispy enough.  But the kids ate them happily anyways.  Now really, we didn't come here for the fried buns nor anything else.  It was for the XLBs and Wang's more or less delivered.

The Good:
- Solid XLBs
- Friendly enough people
- Inexpensive

The Bad:
- The rest of the food could use a few tweaks
- Super small place

Wang's Shanghai Cuisine
#110 - 3328 Kingsway
Vancouver, B.C.
604-428-6818

Open 11:00am - 10:00pm
Closed on Wed

Wang's Shanghai Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Luxury and Supercar Weekend at VanDusen Botanical Garden

Okay, what do luxury and supercars have to do with a food blog?  Well, it would most certainly speed up the time required to travel to a restaurant and would really impress at the drive-thru.  Actually, one would probably be pulling up to the valet at a nice restaurant with one of these machines.  However, I would only be so lucky to actually own one, let alone take it through a McD's drive-thru.  Well, I will admit that I love cars, especially expensive ones.  I'm not sure if it trumps food though.  Hence, I hit up the VIP area first where yes, there was food (the reason I was there).

Greeting us were 2 extremely long lineups for Via Tevere Pizzeria and Save-On-Meats.  In the end, it was worth the wait for one slice each of the Margherita and Vesuvio.  In a strange twist, I enjoyed the Neapolitan pizza from the food truck more than the restaurant out on Victoria Dr.  Consistently crispy throughout with just the right amount of leoparding, the pizza was texturally and taste wise on point.  I particularly liked the Vesuvio as the salame piccante and capicollo added a nice punch of spiciness.  On the other hand, the crazy wait at Save-on-Meats was a waste of time.  The Mini-Sliders featured dry meat and a cold dense bun.   However, the meat did taste good with a natural beef flavour while being nicely BBQ'd. In the end, it didn't seem like they could keep up with all the orders.

Onto some smaller appies, we tried the offering from Boulevard being the Chilled Cucumber Veloute with smoked Northern Divine Sturgeon, crème fraîche, dill and pumpernickel.  This was refreshing and bright while aided by the buttery smokiness of the sturgeon.  The other ingredients were present, but were definitely in the background due to the small amount.  Resembling finger tuna fish sandwiches, the Sturgeon Pastry from Peninsula featured oregano and mayo.  I found it flaky while dense.  The flavours were extremely subtle with only a hint of sturgeon and oregano. This was a practical item for the event, yet hardly memorable either.

Nearby, we picked a few beverages at Caffe Umbria including an Americano and Cappuccino.  I'm no coffee aficionado, but these were pretty good with a noticeable smoothness with no bitterness.  It could've been stronger in my opinion, but again, I'm not expert.  Right next door, we had to get some dessert at D'oro Gelato.  We were given a choice of either a cup or mini-cone consisting of 2 scoops.  For myself, I had the Berry Sorbetto and Raspberry Cheesecake while Miss Y opted for Mission Fig and Dolce Latte. The gelato was definitely creamy, but pretty sweet.  As for the sorbetto, it was melting pretty quick (due to the display being open all the time).  It was smooth though while very sugary.  These were good, but I personally like Bella more.

We did end up try a few bites over at the CKNW stall, but there were no descriptions.  From what we could gather, it consisted of a tuna salad atop cucumber (one with ikura and another with caviar) and a croquette. However, if you can already ascertain, it really wasn't about the food.  Otherwise it wouldn't have been called Luxury and Supercar Weekend!  But for those wondering if the $100.00 was worth it for the VIP experience, let's just say you could easily recoup that in alcohol alone as they were pretty generous with their pours.