Sherman's Food Adventures: February 2016

Freebird Chicken Shack

The last time I visited Westminster Quay, I took a look see at the newly opened Free Bird (Chef Angus An's latest venture).  Unfortunately, I had just got my fill of breaky from nearby Angelina's.  The thought of another meal briefly entered my mind, but hey, who am I kidding, I'm no Mijune!  So the next time I visited the Quay, I was unable to convince anyone to eat chicken with me.  Hence, I decided to do the only thing possible - eat it all by myself!  Take that Mijune!  Wait, she'd probably have second lunch and dessert too...

As explained, I had both the Khao Man Gai and Rotisserie Chicken. Accompanied by the usual chicken rice, soup and ginger/scallion condiment, there seemed to be something missing.  No, everything was there including a good amount of aromatic and crispy fried shallots and pungent cilantro.  However, the chicken itself was rather lifeless and not succulent.  Even the skin wasn't doing it for me.  Maybe it had something to do with the fact I made a similar dish at home the night before.  I'm not suggesting that my cooking skills are remotely close to that of Chef An, but I liked my version more.  As much as the rice was nutty and nicely seasoned, it was too dry in my opinion. I know this is not a good comparison (as it is not the same city), but the one in Portland is way better.

I actually thought the Rotisserie Chicken was more on point as the meat was indeed succulent and fairly flavourful (in a non-salty, but natural-tasting manner).  This was probably due to the marinade that included fish sauce, palm sugar and coconut milk.The accompanying Nam Jim Jaew (fish sauce, tamarind, chili) was tasty though with a savoury sweetness, spice and zing that would probably be better than the ginger scallion condiment with the Khao Man Gai.  If I had only tried this chicken and not the other, I would've gone home happy.  But well, one must try both right? 

I also got the Green Papaya Salad featuring a mix of julienned papaya, carrot, green beans, tomatoes, peanuts and chilis. I found the crunch to be good while there was a balance between the sweetness and spice while not being too weak on the heat.  This was also a fairly large portion, so it would best to share thisI guess it is pretty obvious I liked only the Rotisserie Chicken as well as the salad.  This is significant because the menu only consists of 2 real main dishes.  Still worth checking out if you are in the market though.

The Good:
- Nam Jim Jaew dipping sauce can make everything taste better
- Rotisserie chicken on point

The Bad:
- Khao Man Gai not memorable   

Pizza King

Nostalgia.  Sometimes it can remind us of great things in the past (and subsequently the present) or it can just be a memory best left in the past.  So when Costanza raved about the great take-away deal at Pizza King, we thought to give it a shot.  Yes, the place has existed on East Broadway since we can remember, it never really was a priority to blog about.  But with no dinner plans and a hungry family, Viv picked up the 2 pizza and pasta special on her way home.

Other than the pizza and pasta, the family meal included Garlic Bread and 4 cans of Coke.  Other than the fact it wasn't grease-soaked, there was not much to say about the garlic bread.  It was somewhat toasted and somewhat tasted like garlic, but it was more buttery than garlicky.  As for the Lasagna, it was mostly like the typical versions you would find at take-out pizza joints.  So yes, there were overcooked noodles drowning in lots of sauce and only a spattering of melted cheese on top.  Although we didn't mind the chili flakes in the sauce, some might find it too spicy.  I didn't particularly like the use of starch to thicken up the sweet and spicy sauce.

As for the Pizza, we had the choice of 3-toppings on each. They weren't shy with the meat as the pizza was completely covered as well as a good amount of cheese.  However, the crust was a bit dry and stiff for my liking.  I found the tomato sauce to be appealingly tangy, however, I would've liked just a bit more of it (especially near the centre).  Otherwise, the pizza was definitely serviceable, if not pretty pedestrian.  I guess I really shouldn't complain because it wasn't expensive.  But maybe I should not do any more nostalgic visits because I guess things taste better when you're a kid.

The Good:
- Fairly cheap
- Lots of toppings

The Bad:
- Tastes exactly how much it costs
- Not a fan of the starch-thickened sauce 

Main Street Brunch Crawl (Presented by Vanfoodster & Dine Out Vancouver)

Here we are, the last Brunch Crawl for the Dine Out Vancouver Festival.  I made it!  Yes, poor me...  Anyways, liquid sunshine greeted us for the crawl along Main Street, but I brought alone my golf umbrella, so all was good.  Well, not until I tried to squeeze in between poles... So this time around, Emily joined me since no one would be crazy enough to do all 6...  er...  We also met up with Joyce (who was smart enough to not do all 6).

The registration point was at The Honey Shoppe, but we decided to come back at the end since they were serving something sweet.  So we hopped in my car and drove all-the-way down to Rosemary Rocksalt.
Since I went to the North Van crawl, the basket we were served looked familiar.  It included Lox & Cream Cheese, Vegan Cashew Spread and Montreal Smoked Meat on a sesame bagel.  As much as I enjoyed the smoked meat sammie and the lox, I found the cashew spread intriguing with its creamy nuttiness.  After, we walked over to Nirvana. There, we were served a plate consisting of Mozza Naan, Malai Kofta on rice and a Mango Lassi.  I wasn't a huge fan of the naan as it was rather flat and lacked charring.  However, I did enjoy the kofta as it was soft while maintaining some texture.  The flavours were slightly mild but I could definitely taste the cumin, coriander and cashews.

From there, we headed over to Radicle Juice and probably the highlight of the crawl.  After a 1 oz. Heat Shot of ginger apple and lemon, I dug into the Pitaya Bowl blended with banana and coconut water topped with granola and blueberries.  On the side, I went for something similar in the Dragonfly made with fresh OJ, coconut milk, strawberry, pineapple, dragonfruit and ginger. Normally dragonfuit does not have much in the way of impactful flavours.  But when blended with the rest of the ingredients, there was a muted sweetness to go with a whole lot of brightness.  Over at The August Market, we were able to sample some Granola by Good Habit Foods.  To be frank, the portion size was far to small for us to get any beat on the product. It was light sweet and crunchy from the bits I did get. Right next it was the good ol' Lemon Square which was good as always.

We ended things off where we began at The Honey Shoppe.  We were served Warm Chocolate Almond Crepes with raspberry honey butter along with Spiced Honey Glazed Almonds with frozen yogurt.  As much as the crepe was thin and fluffy, the filling was super sweet.  It was hard to finish due to that fact.  On the other hand, the plain frozen yogurt was a nice counterbalance to the drizzle of honey and sweet almonds.  Thank goodness we didn't start with this as these 2 items were more of a dessert than brunch items.  Overall, this crawl was okay, but a little lacking with the granola.

The Good:
- All on one street
- Radicle Juice was surprisingly good

The Bad:
- What was the point about the granola, if the serving size was that small?

Fresh Legend

As if we hadn't tried enough Taiwanese dessert joints enough for the Chinese Restaurant Awards, we made our way to Fresh Legend on Kingsway after a night of Szechuan Water-Boiled Fish.  I guess, at the very least, our stomachs would get some soothing action from the hot and cold sweets.  The main reason for the visit was actually for their Mango Sago.  Yup, if we were to find the best one, we had to try them all...  There wasn't much complaining from Emily as it seems like she lives on desserts.

Before we hit the sago, we started with the House Tofu Pudding with red bean, peanut and taro balls.  As much as the tofu was relatively smooth, it wasn't really all that silky.  Furthermore, the whole thing seemed a bit watery and bland.  The red beans were too firm for my tastes while the taro balls seemed too chewy.  We also had the Double-Layered Steamed Milk with green beans.  This looked rather cute as it was served in a small little container.  The milk custard was also smooth while being sweetened by the green beans.  Much like the red bean, I though they were too firm.

Onto the Taro Balls with red bean and tapioca pearls, I found this to be lackluster and uninteresting to eat.  The soup was rather sweet.  As with the first dessert, the taro balls were too firm for me, but the red and green beans were softer in this application.  Transitioning to something fruity and consisting of mango, we had the Mango Pancake.  This was both good and bad at the same time.  I liked the relatively thin crepe as it was soft with only a minor chew.  Inside, the whipped cream was good being only purposefully sweet.  The bad was due to the overripe mangoes.  It was too pungent with very little tang.

Okay, the Mango Sago with Pomelo was really much ado about nothing.  Sure, it was cheap at $5.95, but it also tasted cheap.  The mango essence was not appealing as it was overripe (like the previous items).  Furthermore, the soup itself was watery and icy.  I really didn't like this version as it didn't exhibit the qualities of a good mango sago.  Overall, the desserts were sub-par here and they most certainly did not have the best mango sago. Contrary to what others have said, the service we received was pretty solid.  Maybe they saw my camera?

The Good:
- Inexpensive
- Service we got was friendly

The Bad:
- Sub-par desserts
- Ingredients were not the best  

Grotto

Call it the curse of the Groupon.  Yah, I am a sucker for discounts, even when it means I end up spending money to save money.  I guess it is within my DNA.  Hence, when I spotted a coupon for Grotto, I bought it without even giving it a few seconds of thought.  Credit card companies must love me...  Alas, I had $100.00 to spend at Grotto, but without any confirmed dining companions!  Not to fear, Sean, Joyce and Emily were willing participants.

Meeting up on a Monday night meant the head chef wasn't present, so keep that in mind regarding this blog post.  We began with the Bruschetta featuring house-made focaccia topped with sun dried tomato, basil, olive tapenade and white balsamic gastrique.  In reference to the taste, this was a veritable flavour explosion.  The hit of the balsamic as well as the bright tartness of the tomatoes were not only impactful, it encouraged me to take another bite right away.  However, the bread was too dense and wet.  It needed to be toasted much more aggressively.  Next, we tried the Arancini Balls stuffed with provolone and served with arrabiata and preserved lemon.  These were huge and fried up until crunchy.  I enjoyed the firm exterior, but it could've been a thinner layer.  Inside, the risotto was fairly firm and really cheesy.  However, the whole dish needed more richer flavours and including more sauce.  The lemon was a nice addition though.

Sporting large pieces of Humboldt Squid and house-made sausage, the next appie also featured roasted eggplant, olives, tomatoes, lemon and parsley.  At first, I was not into the chewy texture of the squid, but it did progressively become softer.  There was a noticeable smokiness which could've been overwhelming, but the saltiness and tang from the rest of the ingredients kept it in check.  As for the sausage, it was juicy and flavourful with a tender rebound texture.  As a mid course of sorts, we had one of our 3 pizzas being the Funghi consisting of white sauce, mushrooms, arugula and roasted garlic.  Unfortunately, a few slices slid off onto the table and Emily's plate (by our server).  We were a bit surprised nothing was done about that (ie. comp or a new pizza or even comp Emily's $1.00 charge for hot water).  The pizza itself was quite good where the thin crust was crunchy with a slight chewiness.  It was properly seasoned while the toppings were effective including the umaminess of the ample mushrooms.

Arriving all at once, I decided to try the Gnocchi on a bed of smoked chicken and mushroom ragout accompanied by pork belly and crispy celery root.  Beautifully seared until golden brown with a crunch, the gnocchi were soft, but retained a certain bite at the same time.  What made the dish was the delicious ragout of tender chicken which exhibited a light smokiness combined with the Earthiness of the mushrooms.  We had actually tried this dish during Noodlemania and it was pretty much bang on.  On the other hand, the Ravioli of butternut squash dressed with brown butter, sage and walnuts was slightly different.  Rather than the tender pieces of ravioli we were had last time, these were somewhat over fried being too firm and almost crunchy in spots.  Furthermore, there was an overwhelming amount of acidity for some reason.  It partially masked the sweetness of the squash and the aromatics of the sage.

The Spaghetti Marinara with meatballs and grana padano was largely forgettable.   Although I love a sear on my meatballs, these were burnt in some spots.  The smokiness really didn't bother me (in fact, it was fine), but the mealy and crumbly texture of the meatballs was off-putting.  They were seasoned and there wasn't a lot of filler, but I couldn't eat one without it completely falling apart.  As for the spaghetti itself, it was al dente, yet the marinara was barely there, which meant the flavours were not particularly impactful.  I did get hints of fresh tomato with a touch of tang, but little else. 

After this, we waited for nearly 45 minutes for our 2 remaining pizzas.  Not sure what happened there.  Anyways, we go the Prosciutto and the Muffuletta, which both stayed on the plate this time.  Initially, I found the prosciutto rather salty (due to the large amount of it), but it tasted more balanced as I continued to eat it.  I guess the figs and pesto kicked in, yet at the same time, they were largely in the background.  Equally, if not saltier, the muffuletta was also blessed with plenty of meat (soppresata).  With the addition of olives, there was nice finish to go with the slight spice.  Overall, we liked the pizzas and a few of the other dishes.  Some items could definitely use more refinement such as the spaghetti and meatballs.  Interestingly, the pizza toppings that were dropped onto the table remained on the table throughout our meal.

The Good:
- Pizza crust is thin, crispy and nicely seasoned
- Reasonable pricing for Downtown

The Bad:
- Service was good, but the pizza incident was not handled correctly
- Hit and miss