Sherman's Food Adventures: January 2016

Pho Triple 8

It was a cold and stormy night...  No, I'm not quoting the often used phrase by English-novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton.  But yes, it was indeed cold (snowing) and we were hungry.  Let me rephrase that, the kids were hungry and not afraid of letting us know about it.  We were on our way home from Cloverdale and driving through Surrey (specifically Guildford) and a hot bowl of Pho seemed like a good plan.  Rather than going to the usual places, we stopped by Pho Triple 8 to give it try.

Steaming hot, Viv's Pho Dac Biet was decent on the noodle content, but it was light on the meat.  In terms of execution, the noodles were appealingly chewy despite being clumpy to start.  The modest amount of sliced meats were not particularly tender nor moist.  As for the broth, it was fairly light and clean, but noticeably sweet with a star anise finish.  For my Bun Bo Hue, it almost seemed like they ran out of lai fun noodles as I needed to call for search and rescue because they were so hard to find.  The same could be said about the meats as well, but I did appreciate the pieces of pig feet.  I did enjoy the broth though as it was seafoody with a light spice while completely aromatic.

For the kiddies, they shared the Lemongrass Chicken with Rice where I added an extra fried egg for good measure.  Unfortunately, they completely obliterated the eggs where they were completely cooked including the yolks.  The 2 large pieces of lemongrass chicken were nicely marinated where the meat was succulent and flavourful from the brine.  The skin could've used more charring and rendering though. Although the food was pretty average overall, the fact we warmed up and the kids got their fill, it was a decent experience.  But for others, I can see the lack of substance as a major problem.

The Good:
- Food is okay in taste and appearance
- Friendly enough people

The Bad:
- Lacking in noodles and meat
- A minor detail, but the egg was cooked completely wrong

Tang Yun BBQ

Continuing the marathon aka as "trying to find the best signature dishes for the Chinese Restaurant Awards", we found ourselves at Red Star.  Taking this very seriously and going quite obscure, we sampled their Mango Sago and another go at their BBQ Duck.  After that, we went across the street for more BBQ Duck action at a little place called Tang Yun BBQ tucked in the corner.  Yes, we realized that Marpole or South Granville isn't the hotbed of Chinese BBQ, but hey, why not give it a try?

Digging into it right there, we took a few bites of the aesthetically-pleasing BBQ Duck.  I thought the skin was nicely rendered while lightly crispy.  The meat was somewhat chewy while being fairly salty.  This was a respectable effort, especially for the West side of Vancouver.  For myself, I had to try everything else, so I did. By virtue of picking a fattier piece of BBQ Pork, there were some succulent pieces (as you can see in the picture).  However, there was also an equal amount of fatty chunks that were inedible as the fat was pretty chewy.  Flavourwise, I found that there could've been more sweetness to balance the saltiness.

As for the Roast Pork, it was disappointing where the meat was dry and chewy.  Moreover, there wasn't a whole lot of flavour other than some porkiness.  As much as the crackling looked good in terms of colour and texture, it was far too hard where I could barely break it down.  Lastly, I went for a Soy Chicken Leg that sported a fairly attractive dark soy hue.  The skin was nicely gelatinized while the meat was a touch dry (especially for dark meat).  I found the soy braise to be impactful as it penetrated the meat.  In general, I thought that the BBQ items at Tang Yun were pretty average at best with the BBQ duck being the best of the bunch.

The Good:
- Cheery owner
- Decent BBQ duck

The Bad:
- Everything else is average at best 

Gastown Brunch Crawl (Presented by Vanfoodster & Dine Out Vancouver)

Despite the fact we weren't planning on participating in Dine Out Vancouver, we were (or specifically myself) slated to attend all 6 of the Brunch Crawls as part of the DOV festival.  Of course it didn't hurt that I was invited to all of them by Richard, but I find some of them (depends on the restaurant lineup and locations) a good reason to socialize and to satisfy my food ADD.  The Gastown Brunch Crawl led off the lineup this year with a rather rainy morning and wait at the registration point of Prado Cafe.

Walking into the warm confines of Prado Cafe, we were offered a choice of beverage.  I went for the prettiest one in a paper cup being the Holiday Spice Latte.  This was definitely Fall/Winter tasting with a muted sweetness to compliment the smooth and milky coffee.  From there, we sauntered next door to Zero Zero Pizzeria where we were presented with a choice of 2 pizzas.  We got one of each, with the one with hot dogs, bacon, olives, artichokes and rosemary potato being the Zero Zero. This was on a thicker crust being crispy on the bottom while chewy and soft throughout.  The thinner mini-pizza (with potato, bacon, spinach and red pepper scrambled eggs) was too crunchy and hard for my liking (and was probably the victim of the reheat in the oven).

When we moved down the block over to The Capilano, we almost missed the small little shop.  Well, it was rather obscure since its official grand opening is slated for February 1st.  We were given a selection of teas and my choice was the Seankw Village (False Creek) comprised of hibiscus, rosehips, black currant, cranberry, blueberry, elderberry, lemongrass and rooibos.  As expected, the tea was full-flavoured with plenty of berries and a noted tartness and aroma from the lemongrass.  We snacked on Baked Bannock with butter and jam as well as Ancient Phyllo stuffed with bison, sweet potato and herbs.  I personally have a bias towards fried bannock so I found this one a bit dense and dry.  However, the phyllo was on point with a flaky exterior giving way to a tasty filling that was meaty and hearty.

Heading East, we sampled a selection from Grain, hosted at the Bird's & The Beets, that consisted of Sprouted Curry French and Green Lentils, Kale, farro and toasted bread salad, Spicy Lentil Spread on seeded bread and a Wholegrain Stoneground Chocolate Chip Cookie.  Of all the items, my favourite was the kale salad as the ranch dressing was creamy and accented nicely by the savoury and crunchy toasted bread.  The cookie was also a highlight as it was crisp and chewy at the same time while mildly sweet.

A quick jay walk across the street, we lined up briefly at Rodney's Oyster House where we had one each of the Smoked Salmon Croque Madam and the Crab Cake Eggs Benedict.  Hands down, we all preferred the crab cakes over the croque.  In actuality, the only thing that prevented the croque from being spot on was the choice of bread (baguette).  It was thick and too chewy.  Otherwise, the egg was perfectly runny and complimented nicely by the buttery smoked salmon.  We enjoyed the crab cake as it was full of crab that wasn't exactly fluffy, but the exterior crust was appealingly crispy.  The egg was runny while the Hollandaise was super-buttery with a slight hint of lemon.

For some strange reason, Bao Down was not ready to go until 11:30am, which meant a lineup and a bottleneck for the crawl.  We were presented with 2 options and of course we went for one of each including the Morning Glory Bao with sausage, bacon, chive omelette, cheese, banana ketchup, mayo, hashbrowns and scallions.  Frankly, this was "meh" as the individual ingredients were cold and lifeless as well as the lukewarm bao.  I really didn't like the fried bao posing as "Beignets" as they were too hard, oil-soaked and too sweet.  They were more like overly sweet biscotti.

Our last stop was at the Smallflower Cafe & Bakeshop occupying the former Burgundy Restaurant space. As much as I loathed to sample gluten-free and vegan food, it turned out to be surprisingly good.  I loved the Tomato Basil Soup as it was bright, tart, sweet and natural-tasting.  Loved the consistency too.  Despite not looking so appetizing, the BBQ Tofu Slider featured a tasty biscuit that was crispy and sweet on the outside and fairly soft on the inside.  The tofu was tender but not too soft while the BBQ sauce was sweet and savoury.  Our last treat was the Mini-Waffle Cone with vegan ice cream, chocolate sauce and caramel.  Made with coconut milk, the ice cream was a touch icy, but still creamy enough while moderately sweet.  However, the chocolate and caramel raised the sugariness a few notches. In the end, this was a fairly decent kick-off to the 6 brunch crawls with enough variety and amount of food.

*All food and beverages excluding gratuities were complimentary*

The Good:
- Enough food in terms of variety and portion
- Walkable distances between establishments

The Bad:
- There was a bottleneck at Bao Down since they weren't ready until 11:30am

Greek Village

Sometimes we ignore things that are closest to us and/or easy to access.  Or in my case, I choose to ignore my Mother-in-Law on purpose.  However, it wasn't consciously that I haven't been back to Greek Village in quite some time.  It was never my favourite Greek restaurant, but it did what it did decently and at a reasonable price.  So when Zamboni Guy, Hot Mama and Jill wanted to grab some lunch, we went there rather than doing the "I give up, let's go to a chain restaurant" thing.

Starting things off, we had the Calamari which looked paler than a Vancouverite during December.  Despite its appearance, the batter was lightly crispy and very easy on the grease (while adequately seasoned).  Although the squid wasn't exactly super chewy, it wasn't tender either.  We prefer calamari that retains a bite, but this could've been tenderized a bit more.  I thought the side of tzatziki was nicely thick, yet it could've used more acidity.  For my main, I went for the Mousaka sporting a thick layer of bechamel on top.  I liked how it wasn't too stiff nor runny.  It was appealingly creamy and mildly seasoned. The ground beef underneath was soft and moist, albeit rather greasy.  Below that, the eggplant and potato were tender while not being mushy.  In terms of taste, I liked how there wasn't too much salt.

To my utter horror, everyone else has the Chicken Souvlaki (what? no variety?).  On the plus side, it was nicely prepared with moist chicken that was attractively charred.  It was mildly seasoned with the natural sweetness of the chicken coming though.  The side of rice was firm and also lightly salted.  We found the roast potato appealing in texture with a nice hit of lemon.  On another visit, everyone had the souvlaki again!  For myself, I had the Kleftiko (Lamb) with the usual sides.  Although the portion size was fairly large with chunks of lamb bathed in a tart and sweet tomato sauce, I was indifferent about the dish.  I found the lamb a bit stringy and dry despite the evidence of fat.

For some odd reason, Jill had the Fried Zucchini served with tzatziki.  Well, they were actually decent with a crunchy batter that was a touch greasy.  Inside, the zucchini wasn't mushy while the batter didn't slide off.  On that note, I much prefer breading over batter.  Overall, both visits to Greek Village yielded good service with serviceable food.  I liked my mousaka, but wasn't overly impressed with the lamb.  So depending on what you order, the experience could be very different.

The Good:
- Friendly service
- Serviceable food
- Okay pricing 

The Bad:
- Food can be a bit hit and miss

Bodega on Main

A long time ago in...  Vancouver (not a galaxy if that is what you were thinking), we would hit up La Bodega on Howe every now and then for some Spanish tapas.  A staple in Downtown Vancouver since 1971, the doors closed for the last time in July 2014.  Well, there went a dependable spot for us to sip on sangria.  But wait, Paul Rivas, son of original partner Francisco Rivas revived the concept with Bodega on Main located right next door to Campagnolo. Since Emily, Jesse and I have been dining on endless Chinese food for the CRA, we felt it was time to eat something very non-Asian at Bodega.

We started things off with the Albondigas (meatballs, tomato sauce and Manchego).  Although we enjoyed the zesty sauce that had a nice balance of tang, sweetness and saltiness, the meatballs themselves were a bit crumbly and loose.  It lacked a certain meaty texture.  The melted Manchego on top provided a nice pungency.  Up next, we tried the Pollo Frito (fried free-range chicken drummettes with garlic and sherry).  These were lightly crispy on the outside while decently juicy inside due to the brine.  Flavourwise, they were mildly seasoned and only marginally aromatic.

Large in portion size, the Costillas de Res or braised beef short ribs were meaty and fairly tender.  Of the 2 ribs, one was less fatty, hence being a touch stringy.  The other was significantly more moist where it melted-in-my-mouth.  There wasn't a punch of flavour, rather the meat was natural-tasting with only a mild amount of seasoning involved.  As simple as it may sound, one of my favourite dishes back at La Bodega was the Patatas Bravas or twice-fried potatoes smothered in a zesty dressing.  This was just like I remembered with crispy chunks of potato (even with the moisture) sauced with a creaminess spiked with a touch of tang and spice.

The most impactful dish in terms of flavour was definitely the Chorizo a la Pirrilla.  The sausage was sliced and then aggressively grilled.  Hence, there was a noted smokiness and slightly crunchy exterior (where it was charred).  This helped heighten the already potent saltiness and spice of the sausage.  I found the smear of mustard necessary to cut through the salt and fattiness of the meat.  The flavour train continued with the Gambas al Ajillo (sauteed prawns in garlic, butter, chili and sherry).  These were done nicely with a nice snap and completely seasoned by the butter.  There was enough salt, spiciness and garlic to go around (including the side of bread we added for dipping).

We also used the bread with the Mejillones a la Marinara (mussels) as the sauce was creamy, briny and slightly spicy.  As much as it wasn't a super impactful broth, there was something appealing about the taste (which I kept going back to eat as a soup).  As for the mussels themselves, they were fairly plump and large while being buttery and sweet.  It was awesome that everyone said yes to the Lengua Estofada (beef tongue) since I love offal!  It was braised in a tomato sauce spiked with onions and capers.  Hence, there was a natural sweetness accented by the salt of the capers and slight acidity from the tomatoes.  The tongue itself was a touch too soft where it was falling apart.  However, it was super tender and almost buttery.

The last item to arrive was the Paella Mixta as it required a minimum of 30 minutes to prepare.  It was a fairly large portion for $26.00.  As much as the rice was firm and still appealingly chewy, there was a bit too much moisture and grease which made the entire paella soupy in parts.  There wasn't any rice crust, which hindered the aromatics (the missing chorizo didn't help matters either).  With that being said, the saffron really came through as well as the chicken fat and slight brininess of the seafood.  As illustrated by the paella, the meal was not without faults, but in the end, it was okay and brought back memories of La Bodega.

The Good:
- Generally impactful flavours
- Service was on point
- Lively atmosphere and nostalgic decor

The Bad:
- As with any tapas joint, it can add up quickly
- Paella was a disappointment

New Year's Day Brunch @ EBO Restaurant

Change.  That is something that is constant in the restaurant world.  From the menu to the decor and more importantly the chef and staff, a restaurant goes through many phases in its lifetime.  Generally, I welcome change and try to revisit restaurants due to it.  However, for some strange reason, I've been avoiding revisiting EBO restaurant ever since Executive Chef Dan Craig (no, not James Bond or Stormtrooper) left for Toronto.  Finally, we decided to check out their New Year's Day brunch which probably doesn't represent their actual cuisine very much, but at least it's a start.

Another reason we picked EBO was the fact the brunch was only $50.00 as opposed to many of the Downtown hotels charging anywhere from $75.00 - $100.00.  Also the free parking and spacious dining room didn't hurt either.  Of course, we couldn't forget about Chef John Chang's famous freshly-made Malay Roti either.  I have to say his roti has to be some of the best, if not the best, in the GVRD. Nicely browned and slightly crispy on the outside while chewy, flaky and soft on the inside, the whole package was on point.  The accompanying thick coconut curry on the side only served to enhance the final product.  We were also served something special in the Paper-Thin Roti filled with curry beef.  Somewhat like a Dosa but without the lentil flour (wheat flour in this case), the roll was crispy and airy while filled with a meaty and coconutty beef curry.

Onto the actual brunch buffet, I hit the cold seafood first that featured Snow Crab, Mussels, Prawns, Shrimp Ceviche and Smoked Salmon.  Nothing particularly amiss here with proper textures.  We liked the shrimp ceviche as it was appealingly acidic.  Although cold snow crab can often be spongy and salty, this one was actually okay.  Onto the hot food, there was a selection that included Chicken & Waffles, Tilapia, Beef Stew, Polenta and Veggies.  There was no real standout here, but most items were well-made and withstood sitting in a chaffing tray except for the beef stew as the meat was rather dry and lifeless.  I did enjoy the fried chicken though as it was juicy, well-seasoned and crunchy on the outside.

The Carving Station was impressively stocked with Roast Leg of Lamb, Roast Prime Rib of Beef, Glazed Ham and Bone Marrow.  I also added a Chicken Satay Skewer and Smoked Salmon Eggs Benny to round out my 3rd plate of food.  I didn't try the ham, but the both the lamb and beef were prepared medium to medium-rare being tender and moist.  Again, for something that sat in a chaffing tray, the eggs benny was nicely runny while the Hollandaise was buttery.  Much like the roti, the chicken satay was pretty legit with a nice char that helped caramelize the peanutty curry marinade.  The meat itself was tender and not dried out.

Located across from the restaurant entrance, there was a Dessert spread that included liquid nitrogen Ice Cream, Chocolate Fountain, assorted Pastries and a Cookie decoration station for the kiddies.  We liked how there were different options and definitely engaging for the kids.  However, EBO has always been a kid-friendly restaurant despite being higher-end and located next to a casino.  That is partially one of the reasons we chose EBO for our New Year's brunch since it was both comfortable for the family and served up more-than-acceptable eats at a relatively reasonable price.

The Good:
- Spacious dining space
- Above-average eats
- Relatively well-priced

The Bad:
- Possibly a little lacking in the seafood department