Sherman's Food Adventures: February 2015

Rain or Shine Homemade Ice Cream

Normally, Mijune and I are pretty much in an agreement about most food-related matters.  But there are times that we agree to disagree.  One would be the Mango Butternut Squash at East is East.  She reckons that it has the texture of baby food, while for me, I like it.  Another more recent example is the premium ice cream found in Vancouver.  I agree with her that what we have to choose from is not great, but on the other hand, we can only compare with what we got.  Up until recently, I thought Earnest was pretty decent, but after sampling the stuff at Rain or Shine during the Kits Brunch Crawl, I changed my mind.  Since I couldn't write a post on just a few items, I returned 2 more times just to make sure.

As for my first visit (on the aforementioned brunch crawl), I first sampled the London Fog.  I thought the ice cream base was rich and dense which meant it was creamy as well.  As much as the Earl Grey was present, it wasn't particularly overwhelming.  Overall, it was sweet, but not too much.  As much as the London Fog was good, it paled in comparison to the Blueberry Balsamic.  Normally, I find blueberry flavoured treats to be rather mild with only a touch of tartness from the skin.  But with the addition of balsamic, this flavour of ice cream sang the high notes.  It was purposefully sweet with the hit of balsamic which actually brought out the taste of the blueberries.  My favourite of the bunch.  On my next visit, I also had the Blueberry Balsamic, in addition to the Coffee Toffee.  There was a mild coffee aroma that was accented by crunchy and sweet bits. 

Finally, on my third visit, I smartened up thanks to Ned Flanders as he pointed out that 2 scoops in a small cup cost only 50 cents more than 1 scoop.  Yes, my inner Chinese was obviously off prior to this...  Anyways, we ended up with Nellie's Tiger Tail, Vanilla, Malted Milk Chocolate Honeycomb and Peanut Butter.  Okay, with so many to talk about, I'm only going to focus on the most memorable.  That would be the tiger tail and the malted milk chocolate.  The slight hint of citrus added a nice lightness to the tiger tail while the crunchy honeycomb provided texture and a pop of sweetness to the creamy malted milk.  From my 3 visits to the Rain or Shine, my opinion of the place has not changed.  Currently, it is my favourite in the city (sorry Mijune!).

The Good:
- Rich and creamy base
- Generally on point flavours
- Friendly people

The Bad:
- Very few seats

Rain or Shine Ice Cream on Urbanspoon

Swiss Bakery

Trends...  I'd like to think I keep up with the latest stuff, but alas, there are certain things I have fallen greatly behind.  Take the Frissant for instance, Swiss Bakery has been serving these up for nearly a year in Vancouver.  I was able to sample them on 2 occasions, but I felt a post on one item was pretty much useless.  Hence, I returned to Swiss Bakery and picked up more items.  Well, life got busy and I totally forgot to blog about it.  Fast forward to the present and I went back once again.  This time, I got right down to it.

Before we get to the new stuff, let me talk about the infamous Frissant first.  Both times I tried it, there were 2 flavours available including the Earl Grey and Double Chocolate.  For those unaware, these are filled "donuts" made from the same pastry that goes into croissants.  Hence, the texture is flaky, crispy and almost Napoleon-like.  I found these just sweet enough with a creamy interior that did emanate the named flavours.  But Swiss Bakery is much more than a bunch of frissants.  I've had their Croissants before and this time around, they were pretty much the same.  Not to be confused with something found at Beaucoup or Faubourg, the one found at SB was crispy on the outside, while dense and bread-like on the inside.  The Double Baked Almond Croissant was predictably and appreciably crunchier with a drier interior.  The conservative amount of sweet almond filling meant the whole thing was not overbearingly sugary.

Onto something different, I also picked up a Jelly Donut.  Yah, not sure why I chose it.  In the end, it was alright.  I found the dough to be a touch dense and dry.  However, the ample amount of jelly inside seemed to alleviate the problem.  It was sweet, but once again, it wasn't overboard with the sugar. For my daughter, I had to get a few of their Macarons.  I didn't have any high expectations since SB isn't known for these.  However, we were pleasantly surprised as they were decent.  No, they won't strike fear into Soirette, yet the texture of the shell was crisp which revealed a slightly chewy inside.  The cream in the middle was also just sweet enough.  For myself, I had to get the New York Cheesecake.  With only a modest crumb crust, the cheesecake was appealingly rich, creamy and only lightly dense.  It had a nice balance of sweetness offset by an equal amount of tang.  With the Tiramisu sitting right next to the cheesecake in the display, I decided to get it as well.  Another good decision as it was creamy and light with hits of espresso and rum.  I felt that that there was a purposeful amount of liquor that really brought impact.

For some strange reason, the Eclair was calling out to me (and not in the way like in Van Wilder either...).  One bite and I figured out why - it was really good.  The choux pastry had a nice crispiness on the outside and since it was rather thin, the inside was not doughy. As for the filling, the pastry cream was light, purposefully sweet and creamy.  If I didn't have to share with Viv and my daughter, I would've happily finished it off. So really, Swiss Bakery is much more than Frissants.  In fact, I need to probably go back to try even more items.

The Good:
- Reasonably-priced
- Efficiently quick service
- Most things are either decent or good

The Bad:
- Lacks the refinement of such places like Faubourg and Beaucoup, but is less expensive too

Swiss Bakery on Urbanspoon

River's Reach Pub

Something out-of-the-ordinary happened after Friday night hockey this time around.  No, we didn't have beers in the dressing room...  Yah, what kinda hockey team is this anyways???  Rather, Ginseng was able to join us for eats AND we ate in New West.  Yes, something East of Boundary for once.  It still baffles me why we don't do this more often since 75% of the team lives in the burbs.  I digress...  We ended up at a local New West favourite in the River's Reach Pub.

It became quickly apparent that this place is popular as we bumped into several friends randomly (as well as being packed).  As for the food, Ginseng suggested we share the Meet You at the Reach Platter consisting of honey garlic wings, dry garlic ribs, chicken strips, phyllo prawns, veggie spring rolls, sesame pot stickers and yam fries. Starting with the positives, the chicken wings were plump and not overcooked with a crispy exterior.  They were a bit too sweet though.  With a crumbled phyllo breading, the prawns were firmly crunchy while exhibiting a meaty snap.  Equally crunchy, the chicken strips were meaty and moist.  As for the potstickers and spring rolls, we thought they were rather dense and lifeless.  In particular, the filling in the spring roll was slimy and bland.  Milhouse opted for the Court House comprised of grilled chicken breast, goat cheese, arugula, sliced apples and pesto spread on cranberry sourdough. This was attractively toasted up on the flattop being crunchy with pops of sweet tanginess from the cranberries.  It complimented the moist chicken and pesto nicely.

Since we were struggling to finish the appie platter, Gordo and I decided to split the Big Mouth Burger.  This concoction included 2 fresh Angus beef patties, cheddar, bacon, mushrooms, onions, pickle, lettuce, tomato, mayo and relish.  We found the meat to be well-seared while still juicy.  The amount of ingredients added both the moisture and flavour (saltiness from the crispy bacon and buttery mushrooms).  The toasted bun was not dense and held up to the last bite.  On the other hand, we were indifferent with the fries as they were pretty generic and not all that crispy either.  Ginseng decided to go for the Pot Roast with baked potato and veggies.  The roast itself was soft and didn't need a knife.  It was naturally meaty in flavour where the gravy didn't really add a whole lot other than moisture.  The veggies were prepared well being vibrant and crisp.  From this visit, we all agreed that the food at River's Reach was decent enough for a return visit.  The great service didn't hurt either.

The Good:
- Decent pub fare
- Lively atmosphere
- Well-priced

The Bad:
- Pretty busy almost all-of-the-time (good for them)
- Being a pub, of course it won't be health food

Rivers Reach Pub on Urbanspoon

Hook & Ladder Pub

"You wanna go where?!?!?", questioned Hot Mama with much concern and disbelief.  Yes, I wanted to go try the Hook & Ladder Pub, what was the big deal?  Well, apparently Hot Mama has been there before and let's just say it ain't a fancy gastropub.  In fact, it is the epitome of the traditional 1980's watering hole where some patrons may be listening to the Piano Man a la Billy Joel.  If you don't have a clue what I'm talking about, I apologize for going that far back in time...

We did go in with an open mind though because good food can be found in the most unlikeliest of places. In addition to our beverages, we started with the ever standard pub appie in the Chicken Wings (in teriyaki flavour).  These were fried until rather dry, but then again, the skin was nicely rendered and crisp.  The sauce was predictably sweet with a bit of tang.  Of all things available on the menu, Hot Mama decided on Breakfast with 2 poached eggs, bacon, hash browns and toast.  Well, the eggs were decently runny while the bacon was fried until almost crisp.  We didn't think the hash browns were very good though, in terms of quantity and texture (not crispy enough).  

It was up to me to order a more typical pub dish being the Works Burger with bacon, cheese, mushrooms, tomato, lettuce and pickle.  As much as the burger ate pretty well with all the right textures, there was this strange aftertaste.  I couldn't pinpoint it, but it was extremely off putting.  I don't want to speculate what it was, yet, I didn't like it.  As for the side of fries, I appreciated them being fresh cut, but they needed to be double-fried because they weren't crispy enough.  Bookie had the Rueben and it was decent. Bread was nicely toasted and they didn't skimp on the corned beef.  With a good amount of sauerkraut and mustard, this was pretty textbook.  Overall, the food was "okay" but hardly a good reason to make a beeline to the place.  Service was really good, which probably made up for the out-dated decor.

The Good:
- Cheap
- Pretty good service

The Bad:
- Meh food
- Place needs updating

Hook & Ladder Neighbourhood Pub on Urbanspoon

Dundarave Sushi

Finding fairly affordable eats in Vancouver is not necessarily a tough thing to do, especially with the large selection of Asian restaurants.  However, find cheap eats in West Vancouver is akin to finding cheap parking in Downtown Vancouver.  But if one looks hard enough, like a commercial zone, you might find something that doesn't empty your wallet.  Mijune taught me that as she cannot stand to pay for parking...  Anyways, we figured that Dundarave Sushi could be that "inexpensive meal" we were looking for while out in West Van one night. 

We started with a simple Wakame Salad which my daughter practically devoured herself.  My son looked at it and gave a face of disdain...  There is no doubt who has my genes...  Nothing much to say about it other than it was crunchy and nicely acidic.  Next up was the House Roll and Smoked Salmon Box Sushi.  Relatively tightly constructed, the house roll was okay with fresh avocado and equally fresh salmon.  We found the rice quite mild and a touch sticky, yet fine nonetheless.  As for the pressed sushi, it wasn't too dense while the amount of smoked salmon on top could've been more substantial.

Next, we had the Assorted Sashimi consisting of baby scallops, tai, salmon, tako, tuna and hokkigai.  Let me rephrase that, everyone but my son had the sashimi...  Anyways, I liked how the pieces were not too thick while not too thin either.  Nothing was amiss and even the octopus tentacles were texturally on point.  Something that my son did eat was the Tempura Udon.  For me, the soup was a complete fail as it tasted predominantly of soy sauce.  No dashi here.  Noodles were okay though.  As for the tempura, it was pretty greasy where some pieces still dripped with oil.  Hence, the yam and sweet potato was slimy.  On the positive side, the batter was not too heavy.

Adding more carbs, we got the Chicken Katsu Don as well.  The large piece of katsu was okay with moist and well-seasoned meat.  However, the exterior was drenched in an overabundance of sauce which made everything too sweet.  Even when combined with the chewy rice, it was still too powerful.  Lastly, we had the Chicken Karaage which was not very good.  It was either fried too long or re-fried as the texture was more like jerky than chicken meat.  It was well-seasoned though with a slight pepperiness.  Overall, we found the food a bit hit and miss at Dundarave Sushi.  Definitely not the most authentic experience, but okay if one wanted a bite to eat that didn't cost an arm and a leg.

The Good:
- Inexpensive
- Decent portions
- Despite what others have said, we got good service

The Bad:
- Hit and miss food
- Not a whole lot of seating

Dundarave Sushi on Urbanspoon

Ramen Butcher

Doing my best frugal Chinese impression, I originally wanted to hit up the Ramen Butcher when they were doing their $5.00 soft-opening special.  However, there was a line out the door stretching to Main Street.  Grace and I were in no mood to wait an hour for a bowl of noodles, so we went to Kintaro instead.  This time around, not only was the line significantly shorter, I actually found free parking in Chinatown.  So I ultimately saved some money somehow.  Oh and free noodle refills?  Hey, I was all over that...

Starting off, we decided to try the Spicy Gyoza first.  Grace had already had the original and okonomi on a previous visit (which were so-so).  This version featured made in-house dumplings topped with a spicy garlic paste.  These featured a thin and crispy skin while the meat inside was moist and meaty.  There was a noticeable spice as well as a toasted garlic finish.  As a baseline, I had to get the Classic Ramen with woodear mushroom, pickled ginger, green onions and the choice of fatty or medium aburi pork chashu.  The intensely rich and creamy tonkotsu broth had its fair share of pork fat and gelatin.  It goes without saying that the broth was porky exhibiting considerable depth (yet not too salty).  I enjoyed it, but finishing all of it would have been a chore.  As for the noodles, they were thin and toothsomely chewy.  I got the fatty pork belly for this bowl and it was lightly torched.  It could've been softer as it didn't melt-in-my-mouth as expected.  And yes, since noodle refills were free, I had my 3rd helping...

Since one bowl isn't enough for me (despite the noodle refill), I decided to try a 2nd one being the "Black Ramen" featuring tonkotsu broth with roasted garlic oil, fresh noodles, medium aburi pork chashu and medium boiled marinated egg.  Exhibiting the same qualities as the classic, but with the addition of an impactful amount of roasted garlic.  It was fragrant in smell and in taste.  The medium chashu was surprisingly softer than the belly in my opinion.  With a soft yolk, the egg was a touch salty though.  One thing that didn't work for me was the ginger as it was too strong compared to the other ingredients.  Grace went for something lighter in the Tori Ramen made of chicken broth with bamboo shots, green onion, nori, medium egg, medium chashu and thicker ramen noodles.  Personally, I actually liked the chicken broth as it was concentrated with a natural sweetness in addition to the salt.  It was lightly silky and just rich enough.  The thicker noodles were chewy and went well with the lighter broth.  Suffice to say, I was pretty stuffed from my 3 servings of ramen.  For some people, the complimentary refill is a must since the initial portion size is modest.  As much as I liked the rich broth, it can be rather heavy after awhile.  Much like most food, your enjoyment will be purely subjective.

The Good:
- Extremely rich and creamy broth (for those who like that)
- Complimentary noodle refill (a necessity IMO)
- Decent chashu, especially the medium

The Bad:
- Small portions (but there is a complimentary refill)
- Broth can be too greasy/heavy for some

Ramen Butcher on Urbanspoon

Chong Lee Market BBQ

If there's something strange in your neighborhood, who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters!  Yes, that is pretty much a given, who else would you call? Animal control?  But what if you needed some protein for your meal and being lazy didn't necessarily want to cook?  Who ya gonna call? Meatbusters!  No not really, but once surefire solution is to hit up a Chinese BBQ and get some takeout.  That was the case as I was driving back home.  For some crazy reason, I stopped at the busy Chong Lee Market for the aforementioned BBQ meats.  I stayed away from that parking lot though...

For those who often wonder if the integrity of the BBQ items are retained after I get home to try them, don't worry.  I actually sample them in my car before heading home (plus the fact I can't wait to eat it!). With a firm crunch, the Roast Pork was actually quite good.  I found the meat to be moist and fatty with only a mild amount of brine. This was even the case with some of the pieces not being the belly section. The BBQ Pork was also good with an attractive colour and bark.  It was full-flavoured and balanced with a good amount of sweetness to go with the savoury elements.  Even though it was rather lean, the meat was still succulent and moist.  One thing I would've liked to see was more of a char on the outside for a smokier flavour.

As much as the BBQ Duck was pale, it was meaty and moist.  It was also well-brined where the salt and star anise really came through.  Now as for the skin, it was not crispy at all and the colour was far too light.  They could've rubbed it with more malt syrup or use a higher flame for a deeper hue.  However, that was probably the only real issue with the BBQ meats.  All-in-all, Chong Lee Market is not a bad option if one needed to "ga liew" (add another dish) to their evening meal.  Just don't park in their lot, your car will thank you for it.

The Good:
- Decent BBQ
- Fair pricing
- They didn't give me more than I wanted

The Bad:
- Items could use more colour and charring
- One of the worst parking lots around
- Don't go on a Tuesday

Chong Lee Market 昌利市場 on Urbanspoon

Dinner @ Sun Sui Wah

There was a time when Sun Sui Wah was one of the go-to places for Chinese food, in particular, their renowned Roasted Squab (young pigeon for those who don't know, and no, it's not the ones you find in Downtown...).  However, that was in the 90's and since then many other worthy restaurants have burst onto the scene.  Some would even argue that a good number of these places serve better versions of SSW's signature dish in addition to regular menu items.  With this in mind, we decided to check out their dinner service for an update of sorts.

To start things off, there was no doubt we'd have to get an order of Roasted Squab.  These were deep-fried to an appealing rich golden hue.  Lightly crispy with well-rendered skin, there was a sweet and smoky flavour.  The meat itself was well-brined, yet surprisingly dry.  However, it wasn't too salty where the natural squab gamy taste came through.  It begs the question - is this still the best squab in town?  Probably not, but that doesn't mean it wasn't good.  Next we continued with crispy fowl in the 2 courses of Peking Duck.  Sadly, the skin was not crispy at all despite its attractive appearance.  On the positive side, the fat was of a manageable quantity while the meat was moist and nicely seasoned.  We thought the accompanying crepes were a bit dry.

Continuing on the 2 course theme, we had the 2 courses of fish beginning with the Fish Soup with tofu and mustard greens.  It was well-seasoned with plenty of fish essence but not in a fishy manner (if that makes sense), due to the nice deep-fry.  The addition of ginger and white pepper helped in that sense as well as providing great depth-of-flavour. The other part of the fish course was Stir-Fried Fish with Yau Choy which featured buttery, flaky and moist fillets.  The exterior was a touch gummy though (from the starch-coating for the quick oil-blanching).  Vibrant in colour and crunchy in texture, the yau choy was a nice textural contrast to the soft fish.  With a distinctive rice wine flavour and just enough seasoning, the dish was far from bland.

For our second course of Peking Duck, we had the Duck Lettuce Wrap which was the beneficiary of good wok heat where the flavours were caramelized.  On the other hand, the result of this was the overcooking of the duck meat where it was ultimately dry and chewy.  We did like the crunchy pickled turnip though as it added a certain liveliness to the dish.  One minor complaint would be the really small lettuce cups as we could barely eat the wraps without something falling out. Moving onto other dishes, we had Beef with Oyster Sauce.  One bite and yes, they were not shy with the salt (and/or oyster sauce).  Tender with a some rebound, the beef was a tad greasy form the wok-fry.  As a result, the flavours were caramelized though with a noticeable gingery hit.

From beef to pork, we ended up with the Peking Pork Chops.  This was partly because Costanza's oldest son loves this dish and probably could eat it all if he was allowed to.  Sigh...  I can only dream that my son could do the same.  He'd rather have Kraft dinner over this...  Anyways, we found the pork chops too thin which in turn led to them being dry (despite being properly marinated).  As for the sauce, it was the right silky consistency and balanced in flavour (equal tart and sweet).  To change it up a bit, we tried the Szechuan Shrimp & Chicken Vermicelli Hot Pot. With an abundance of liquid, the vermicelli was far too soft where it dissolved pretty much on contact.  However, the flavours were impactful with a noticeable lingering spice.  We thought the proteins were on point with succulent chicken and shrimp with snap.

Our last 2 dishes satisfied the obligatory vegetable intake for the meal.  First, we had the Sauteed Scallops with Broccoli.  Buttery and soft while still retaining a mild chew, the scallops were wok-fried expertly.  They were naturally sweet while being well-seasoned (yet not salty).  As for the broccoli, it was crunchy and vibrant with only a mild amount of seasoning.  Second, we had the Braised Tofu with Shanghai Bak Choy.  Although shriveled in appearance, the tofu was still silky inside.  Combined with the plump shiitake mushrooms and crunchy bak choy, this was texturally on point.  The watered-down and starch-thickened oyster-based sauce was salty enough to counteract the moisture from the bak choy.  So with our meal over, we discussed whether SSW has still got it or not.  We agreed that the dinner was solid, yet not any better than many of the other Chinese restaurants in town.  Considering the price point, SSW should no longer be at the top of the list.

The Good:
- Solid eats
- Okay service
- Fairly spacious when there isn't a wedding going on

The Bad:
- Expensive
- Good, but not great

Sun Sui Wah 新瑞華海鮮酒家 on Urbanspoon