Sherman's Food Adventures: April 2015

Cindy's Palace

Viv and I are pretty practical when it comes to Valentine's Day.  Spending $$$ on outrageously priced flowers, gifts and special menus just doesn't do it for us.  Hence, we were content in staying at home, until my mom called asking if we'd like to go to Cindy's Palace for dinner.  Sure, why not, we weren't planning anything special anyways.  Apparently, this was the only place they could get a reservation as most of the other Chinese restaurants were booked solid.  So is this how Chinese families spend their Valentine's Day?

When it came down to ordering, our server (who was actually nice) tried to up sell us on everything to the point where it was becoming uncomfortable and awkward.  We had to refuse a 3.5 lb lobster 4 times and their 2-course fish special 3 times, to our annoyance.  We ended up starting with the Fish Maw and Crab Meat Soup.  Although there was plenty of fish maw, there was an absence of crab.  We found the soup base to be lacking depth where it just tasted salty without any defining flavours.  It did have a nice silky consistency though, but the fish maw was lower quality and therefore a bit on the crunchy side.  As always, we got the Peking Duck served in 2 courses.  We requested that they carve the duck with some meat left on the skin.  The layer of fat was moderate while the skin itself was not all that crispy.  On the other hand, the duck meat was succulent and well-seasoned.

Next, we were served the Lobster atop a blend of sticky and long-grain rice.  This dish was executed quite well with a plethora of chewy rice.  With sweet corn niblets nestled within and the lobster juices seeping in, the rice was a tasty treat.  As for the lobster itself, it was fried just enough where the meat was still buttery with a meaty rebound.  It was tossed in a starch-thickened consume sauce that was a touch salty (but okay since it was flavouring the rice anyways).  For the second course of the Peking Duck, we had the Duck Lettuce Wrap.  Hacked up into far-too-small lettuce cups that were still soaking wet, it was a bit difficult to eat where the filling fell out and got diluted by the excess water.  The filling itself wasn't bad where there was a good amount of moist duck meat with crunchy celery and carrots.

Onto some veggies, we had the Stir-Fried Fish Filets with celery and snow peas.  This was a fairly greasy dish where the reflection from the oil was blinding.  It ate quite greasy too as our lips were no longer chapped afterwards.  With that being said, the fish was nicely oil-blanched where it was flaky and moist.  The veggies were vibrant and crunchy, albeit pretty salty.  Lastly, we had the Broccoli with Egg Whites and Scallops.  Again, the dish was greasy and fairly salty. On the plus side, the egg white were fluffy and appealing while the scallops were plump and cooked just enough.  Although appearing like a garnish, the broccoli was actually good being crunchy and vibrant.  For a packed house, we found the food pretty acceptable albeit salty and greasy.  Not sure about the service though, it wasn't bad per se, but rather pushy and awkward.

The Good:
- Decent value
- Fairly comfortable seating

The Bad:
- On the salty and greasy side
- Awkward service

Cindys Palace 頭啖湯美食專家 on Urbanspoon

Joyce Jiaozi

Dives, you know, those places that don't look particularly enticing?  Also, it generally tests your bladder control since visiting the washroom is not an option, unless you want to go on a diet (as in lose your appetite).  Well, Joyce Jiaozi would fit that description to a T.  One thing they do have going for them are low prices and pretty good portions.  After reading up all the glowing comments about the place, I decided to try it out with the family.  Oh and about the washroom, better hold it or go visit the Tim's up the street...

We began with the Boiled Pork with Garlic Sauce which was plated in a home-style fashion.  The slices of pork belly were fatty while the meat itself was on the drier side.  Although there was a decent amount of diced garlic evident, the flavour wasn't overly strong.  In fact, the sauce itself could've been saltier.  Next, we had the Beef & Noodle in Soup (which was supposed to be hot).  We found the broth to be actually quite light with only a minor meatiness and a background spice.  The noodles were plentiful and toothsome while the meat was dry and far from succulent.

Onto some dumplings, we tried the Xiao Long Bao.  Okay, I'll give them a pass on this one as they do not specialize in Shanghainese cuisine.  With that in mind, the XLBs were okay as a steamed dumpling.  While the skin was on the thicker side, it wasn't particularly chewy.  Inside, the filling was moist and meaty, yet without any soup nor any of the usual seasoning including hits of ginger nor shaoxing wine.  On the other hand, the Boiled Shrimp & Pork Dumplings were pretty good, especially for the price ($6.59).  Tender with a slight chew, the dumplings were juicy and well-seasoned.  I thought the mix of pork, shrimp and green onion was just right as the flavours were balanced.

We also got a couple of items for the kiddies including the Deep Fried Salt Pepper Chicken.  Different in appearance and texture to the Taiwanese version, these were still lightly crispy while dusted with white pepper.  Inside, the meat was moist and tender.  For $6.99, the Deep Fried Pork Chop with Rice was a pretty impressive portion.  It featured scrambled eggs & tomato atop of the rice as well.  This was actually pretty good with fluffy eggs and slightly tart tomatoes which gave life to the plain rice.  The pork chop was prepared nicely where it was moist and easy to chew.  Best of all, the exterior was lightly crisp while seasoned similarly as the chicken.

For my mom and myself, we had to try the Cumin Lamb.  This was a decent portion considering there was barely any filler (onions).  The lamb itself was sliced thin while really tender and slightly fatty.  There was no mistaking the cumin (lots of whole seeds) as well as a touch of lingering spice.  This was a fairly wet version which could've been subjected to better wok heat.  Lastly, we tried the Stir-Fried Eggplant that looked pretty appetizing.  In fact, it was the beneficiary of the aforementioned wok heat as well as a good amount of ground pork.  However, they were too heavy handed with the salt as that is all we could taste.  There was a substantial amount of grease on the bottom of the plate as well.  Overall, the food at Joyce Jiaozi was decent, especially for the price.  Since it is a family operation, the service was defaultish rather than actual service.

The Good:
- Inexpensive
- Serviceable eats especially for the price

The Bad:
- Service exists only because it has to
- Place needs a cleaning

Joyce Jiaozi 一室香餃子王 on Urbanspoon

Maji Restaurant

After my initial visit to Maji, it didn't seem like I was going to return anytime soon.  Well, famous last words, because I had to go back due to an SD card failure (lost all my pictures!).  So after my 2nd visit, I thought the food was solid, but again, wasn't planning on returning in the foreseeable future.  Again, I had to eat my own words as I met up with Joyce, Chloe and Jesse to try their 3-cup chicken for the CRA.  In addition to that, we decided to order as many weird dishes as possible just for the shock value.  Interestingly, we weren't phased by any of the food, so I guess we are weird?

To starting things off, we had the Crispy Chicken Skin with pepper, salt, garlic and chilis.  Sometimes, fried chicken skin can turn out to be a disaster as it does not "crunch-up" like pork cracklings.  Well, there was no problem here as they were crunchy throughout and well-seasoned.  I particularly liked how they didn't feel greasy nor fatty despite we were eating fried skin.  Next up, we had the Deep Fried Pork Intestines. As expected, there was a level of gaminess and pungency to this dish.  For myself, I enjoy that particular flavour and it was definitely evident here.  The pieces were slightly crisp on the outside while the inside was fatty and soft with a touch of chewiness.

Moving on, we had the Five Flavour Squid with Taiwanese 5 spice, shredded ginger and pickled cucumber.  Of all the dishes we had, this was rather surprising as we didn't peg it as a potential favourite.  Well, for me at least, it was the best dish of the meal.  Each piece of squid was chewy with a rebound texture that was easy to eat.  Doused in a fragrant and well-balanced sauce including the unmistakable hit of 5 spice, this was addictive.  Next, we tried the Pan-Fried Oyster that arrived bubbling in a cast iron pan.  Due to their similar texture, the tofu and oyster were hard to tell apart, especially drenched in a considerable amount of well-seasoned black bean sauce.  Not a bad dish, but a bit boring.

Now onto the dish we were actually here for - the San-Pei Chicken (or 3 cup chicken).  This was a pretty good version with succulent pieces of chicken that were bathed in just enough sauce.  The flavours were pretty balanced where it could've used a bit more zing.  With that, we headed off to another "normal" item being the Taiwanese Stir-Fried Noodle.  Having ordered this dish twice in the past, I knew this was more of a filler dish than anything else.  Hey, not saying it wasn't good, but compared to the rest, this was ho-hum.  Similar to the other visits, the noodles were soft with some chew while the flavours were pretty mild.

Back to the strange, we shared the Pork Kidney which looked almost like a soup.  It really wasn't a soup, but ate like one (sounds like a Chunky Soup ad...).  I found the pieces of kidney to be cooked just enough where the texture didn't tighten up.  It was still moist with a subtle snap.  As for the broth, it was sweet and naturally gamy from the kidney.  Lastly, we had the Deep Fried Century Egg tossed with minced garlic, chili and green onion.  Since I personally love century egg (darn, why wasn't I on Fear Factor?), this was a good dish in my books.  It was aromatic and flavourful from the toasted garlic and chilis.  Based on the dishes ordered on this 3rd visit, I've gained an appreciation for Maji as they seem to nail almost everything at a reasonable price.

The Good:
- Extensive menu
- Generally consistently good across the board
- Open late

The Bad:
- Service a bit indifferent
- Ah the parking...

Maji Restaurant 麻吉台式熱炒 on Urbanspoon


Lin Chinese Cuisine and Teahouse

Oh wow...  Here we are again at Lin Chinese Cuisine...  For me, this is a fairly big deal because I didn't expect to return so soon after my last visit.  As the years went by, we have felt that Lin has continued a downward spiral from really good food to slightly below average.  However, due to the Chinese Restaurant Awards, I had to come back in hopes of comparing their beef roll and smoked tea duck against the others.  Hence, I rounded up the family including the grandparents for lunch.

We began with the Hot & Sour Soup which consisted of a decent amount of ingredients including a healthy amount of crunchy wood-ear mushrooms. Since we requested it to be light on the spice, it was mild with a conservative hit of vinegar.  With the help of the ample ingredients and just the right amount of starch, the soup had a silky and thick consistency.  Next up was the Stir-Fried Pea Shoots with Garlic.  This was like a carbon-copy of the last time we were here.  Good consistency I suppose, but really, it was as greasy as we remembered.  Despite this, it was cooked properly with tender leaves that still had a light crunch.  There was definitely a nice garlic hit to go along with the ample seasoning.

We then moved onto their "best in town" Xiao Long Bao as seen on the Food Network (Bob Blumer's show to be exact). Since many of the heavy hitters in town did not participate in the "best XLB" show, the results were flawed.  In reality, we find the XLBs here to be "okay", but hardly the best in town.  The skin could've been more thin while there could've been more soup as well.  It was sweet with a mild shaoxing wine finish.  The meat was moist and juicy though.  Onto a dish that my son actually enjoys, we had the Shanghai Stir-Fried Rice Cake.  Heavy on the dark soy, the dish exhibited a rich stir-fried and caramelized hue.  Hence, there was a certain smokiness in addition to the inherent salty kick from the soy.  The slices of rice cake were appealingly chewy.

Up next, we had one of the dishes we were specifically here for - the Beef Pancake Roll.  Constructed with a green onion pancake, there was a nice aroma from the lightly browned exterior.  However, the pancake itself was a bit chewy and doughy.  Inside, the beef was lightly seasoned with a mild five-spice finish.  There wasn't too much hoisin which meant that the roll stayed more on the savoury side.  Presented in a relatively large bowl, the Dan Dan Noodles was an equally large portion.  We found this version to be much more savoury than aromatic and nutty.  With a considerable amount of meat, this was a hearty concoction that could've benefited from more toothsome noodles.  With all that being said, we still enjoyed it for what it was.

For the kiddies, we got an order of the Pulled Roti with curry sauce.  Yah, Lin won't pass for a Malaysian restaurant, yet they don't try to be either, so it wasn't much of a surprise the roti was their own style.  Hence, the exterior was more akin to fry bread and the inside was doughy with an undercooked texture.  But that didn't stop the kiddies from devouring it.  The accompanying curry sauce was not very good as it was starch-thickened powder and water.  Our other CRA dish was the Tea-Smoked Duck (which I've had in our last visit).  We have to hand it to them as it was almost exactly the same.  That meant the duck itself was moist and just smoky enough.  However, the skin was pretty fatty while the not crispy enough. It probably has to do with the type of duck they use rather than the cooking process.

Lastly, we had the Meat-Stuffed Pastry at the insistence of my mom.  Well, she must've had a premonition because this was the best dish of the meal.  With a light and soft bun on the outside that was nicely crisped up, it only served to hold in the super juicy meat filling.  Normally, the meat can be really greasy, but not in this case.  So...  Did this revisit to Lin change my mind about the place?  Yes and No.  I would say that the food isn't as nearly as good as I remembered 5 years ago, but not as bad as my last visit.  So I guess a visit to Lin is truly dependent on what you order.

The Good:
- Depending on what you order, some dishes can be good
- Fairly large menu

The Bad:
- Service can be hit and miss
- Food can be hit and miss

Lin Chinese Cuisine and Tea House 林餐館 on Urbanspoon

Long's Noodle House

Wow, it seems like a "long" time ago since I last time we had a meal at Long's (sorry for the bad attempt at humour...).  In all honestly, I'm not even sure why I haven't been back in 5+ years.  Well, the fact that I was in search of the best Beef Pancake Roll forced the issue.  Greeting us upon arrival was a lineup out the door into the pouring rain...  Oh yeah, that might be one of the reasons for not rushing back.  Then once seated, we had to share a table in the small dining space.  Right, another reason...  Maybe the food could override these negatives?

One cannot and I stress, cannot make a visit to Long's without ordering their Wine Chicken.  So we decided to order pizza instead.  Not.  Miss Y was nowhere to be found, so we wouldn't make such a mistake. Served in a small urn of sorts, the chicken benefited from being immersed an impactful  sauce with plenty of Shaoxing wine balanced with the right amount of sugar and salt.  As for the chicken, it was moist with nicely gelatinized skin.  Next, we had the Xiao Long Bao, which completely caught me off guard.  We've had them before, but for some reason or another, it was never on my radar for being one of the best in town.  Well, they were exactly that with thin and tender skin which held in the considerable amount of soup.  The soup itself was sweet and gingery with a background hit of Shaoxing wine.  We found the meat to be moist and not overly gritty.

Off to some noodles (since it is in the name of the restaurant...), we got the Chicken Soup Noodles for the kiddies.  Mild and sweet with a moderate impact, the soup offered enough flavour for the noodles.  The noodles were toothsome while the ample amount of tender chicken and vibrant greens made this a decent bowl despite being ordinary on paper.  For the adults, we chose sometime that had more oomph in the Dan Dan Mein.  Although it was rather saucy, the noodles were not too soft (still not toothsome).  A bit smoky and bordering on a burnt flavour, the meat sauce exhibited minor elements of spiciness (from the bean paste) and the aromatic from the sesame paste/oil.

To complete our dumpling quota, we had the Potstickers as well.  These were pan-fried until golden brown on the bottom.  Not particularly ground-breaking, except the dumplings were not greasy.  Normally, we find restaurant potstickers to be almost fried since they use so much oil.  These featured a medium thick dumpling skin which was tender with a bit of chew.  Inside, the meat was juicy, tender and full-flavoured.  As part of my mission to find the best Beef Pancake Roll for the CRA, we were obliged to get an order.  Unlike the past winning entry from Peaceful, the pancake was less greasy and definitely more naan-like in texture.  Different, but good in its own right. Inside, the sliced beef shank was nicely gelatinized and seasoned.  There was just enough sweet hoisin.

If you think we forgot about their other signature dish, don't worry, we got the Crispy Rice with Salted Egg Yolk Sauce.  These little clusters of airy and crispy rice would've been a good snack on their own.  However, the chef had the creativity to toss them in salted duck egg yolk.  The result?  A crispy base coated with the unique aromatic salty oiliness of salted duck egg yolk.  A bit gritty, the small clumps of egg yolk nestled in the nooks and crannies of the crispy rice end up being little explosions of flavour with every bite.  They should really package this and sell it at T&T.  For dessert, we tried the Sweet Pastries which featured a light and flaky exterior while sporting a semi-sweet centre.  These were similar to "Lo Poh Beng" or old wives cake (no, I didn't make a joke about it to Viv...).  Alright, I'll admit it.  I was wrong to avoid Long's for so long (sorry for the sad joke again).  The food does outweigh the negatives.

The Good:
- Food is solid
- Best wine chicken in town
- Rushed, but still okay service

The Bad:
- Uncomfortable dining space
- Long waits with nowhere to wait

Long's Noodle House 小龍記麵家 on Urbanspoon

Peaceful Restaurant (Broadway)

On our search to find the best Beef Pancake Roll in Vancity, it brought us to a past winner - Peaceful Restaurant.  Also known for their hand-pulled noodles, the original location is endlessly busy despite 2 other ones opening up in the past couple of years.  I met up with Joyce, Chloe and Jesse to sample some dishes including the aforementioned beef roll.  As expected, the place was indeed busy, even for a weeknight.  Being a small restaurant, we got quite cozy at a tight table for 4.  The neighbouring table, being right next to us, got a front-row seat to our incessant picture-taking...

We began the meal with what we were here for - the Beef Pancake Roll.  Glistening with oil (some shiny lard there...), the exterior was crisp while the layers underneath were just a touch doughy.  I'm sure the grease helped make the pancake as flaky as it was, but really, it was not that pleasing after awhile.  Inside, the beef was thinly sliced and moist, but the ample amount of sweet hoisin was overwhelming.  Is it still the best in town?  Probably not, but still good in the grand scheme of things.  Next up was the Szechuan String Beans which were equally greasy.  Although flash-fried and then stir-fried, these were not as crunchy as I would've liked.  They were a touch soft, but not mushy.  Flavourwise, it was okay with a barely detectible spice.

Unlike the last time, the Moo Shu Cutting Noodles were overly greasy.  I'm not sure why this was necessary as the wok heat would've sufficed in keeping the noodles from sticking.  That was most unfortunate as the noodles themselves were chewy and appealing to eat.  There was enough seasoning as well without being salty nor too sweet.  But the grease...  it just made the dish hard to eat.  Fortunately, the Peaceful Fried Rice was not the beneficiary of too much oil.  On the other hand, it wasn't dry enough nor did it exhibit any nuttiness.  The wok heat was there, but somehow, it wasn't really fried rice.  Even the promised spiciness wasn't really that apparent.

Lastly, the Szechuan Thousand Chili Chicken looked legit with chilis and peppercorns.  But the flavours were flat without much spice at all.  It looked and tasted like fried chicken knees.   Spiciness withstanding, the dish itself wasn't bad since the chicken was slightly crisp while being completely moist and generally enjoyable to eat.  However, other than the noodles, the rest of the food was pretty average at best.  Since the place is mostly famous for its hand-pulled noodles, at the very least it does do that right.

The Good:
- Solid hand-pulled noodles
- Good beef pancake roll

The Bad:
- On the greasier side
- Other than then noodles and beef roll, everything else is quite pedestrian

Peaceful Restaurant on Urbanspoon