Sherman's Food Adventures: May 2016

The Sardine Can

Having a tasting at Soft Peaks during dinner hours was both good and bad.  The good was that we had the appetite to down several samples of their creations.  The bad was that we weren't really satisfied since we never really ate an actual "dinner".  Nora was pretty keen in grabbing a bite to eat in the neighbourhood and originally suggested Bao Down.  I was mildly okay with that idea but was looking for more of a "sit-down" meal.  Hence, we headed over to the nearby Sardine Can instead.

Seeing how we had 6 of us, we doubled up our orders starting with the Tostas de Sardinas or smoked sardines on toast.  This was an appetizing bite where the crostinis were crunchy, yet not dense.  On top, the generous portion of sardine was briny and nicely pickled.  With an aggressive drizzle of olive oil, it added a buttery richness. The extra hit of acidity from the pickled onions put in over the top.  One of my favourites was actually the second dish being the Gambas al Ajillo or spicy garlic prawns.  These meaty morsels were tender yet still holding a light snap texture.  Although I could taste the natural prawn sweetness, it was not the star of the show.  Rather, the spices and garlic really came through with a spicy aromaticness accented by smoked paprika.

I wasn't sure what to think about the Chorizo con Jerez or full-flavoured chorizo sausage cooked in sherry.  Sitting in enough grease to power a small vehicle, it didn't look particularly appetizing.  I know many dishes are prepared this way, but this is just my personal bias speaking...  Anyways, no complaints about the flavour as there was a pointed saltiness accented by a bit of tang.  However, I found the texture to be too firm for my liking.  What is tapas without Patatas Bravas? These roasted fingerling potatoes topped with garlic aioli and tomato could give the ones at Bodega a run for their money.  Meaty yet still potatoey in side, the small wedges were graced with a creamy and garlicky aioli.  The light tomato sauce was bright and lightly acidic and sweet.

Another solid offering was the Pollo alla Mora or spiced yogurt marinated chicken with pomegranate.  Nicely seared, the chicken breast meat remained moist and tender.  Although there was a definite impact from the spices, the real flavour came from the tart and sweet pomegranate juice.  A quick dip into the side of spiced yogurt brought balance to the dish.  Our last savoury item was the Bruselas (roasted brussels sprouts, mustard + jamon vinaigrette, garlic croutons).  A touch soft, but still retaining a bite, the brussels sprouts were mildly seasoned with a balance of sweet, salty and tartness.  

For dessert, we shared 2 dishes including the Terrina de Chocolate (Chocolate terrine with chili, olive oil, sea salt, toast).  This was rather thick where it was a bit hard to spread.  However, it paid off in the end because the smooth and rich texture was appealing.  Moreover, the spice from the chili was a nice finish at the end.  As much as this was good, I enjoyed the Flan de Dulce de Leche more.  Texturally, it was on point with a silky firmness that was smoky and purposefully sweet.  The only negative was the appearance of air bubbles. Overall, we enjoyed ourselves at The Sardine Can not only for the food, but also the attentive service.

The Good:
- Solid tapas
- Attentive service
- Reasonably-priced

The Bad:
- Not exclusive to The Sardine Can, but it was a bit greasy 
- Tight seating  
 

Soft Peaks

Okay, let me get this out of the way first - I love Soft Peaks.  So there, yes, I am biased and not afraid to admit it in this case.  Really, why do I love soft-serve ice cream that will set me back $5.00+ dollars?  Simple, they make it right, with organic Avalon milk and take it easy on the sugar.  Okay, enough of that.  The real reason for this post is about their new Ice Milk Bars that are somewhat akin to ones found at Popbar except with soft serve as opposed to gelato (also smaller and costing less).

Thanks to Jacqueline, we were invited to try these new creations including the Matcha and Mango Bars respectively.  Texturally, I found the bars to be somewhere between soft and mildly firm.  It greatly depended on the actual flavour (as the ingredients go a long way in determining the melting time).  Regardless of that, all of them were smooth and creamy.  I found the mango to taste naturally fresh while easy on the sugar.  As for the matcha, it was pretty textbook with only a mild aftertaste. The other 2 flavours consisted of Natural Milk and Blueberry.  Despite its ho-hum appearance and expected taste, I didn't mind the milk flavour.  It was light, creamy and of course marginally sweet.  It was like eating a soft peaks sundae (by itself) on a stick.  I guess that was pretty obvious.  Despite the dark purple colour, the blueberry was very mild-tasting. 

Now you didn't expect these bars to be served plain like that right?  Well, you could decide on a naked bar, but it can be further amped.  Similar to their sundaes, the bars could be enhanced with familiar toppings.  From left to right, we found mango atop the bar with the same name, blueberry with blueberries and toasted coconut, matcha with red bean and condensed milk, natural milk with yuzu marmalade, natural milk with tim tam and chocolate and I wasn't really sure of the last one.  These were visually appealing and after trying a few, they were just as good as their sundaes.  However, I find that it essentially cancels out their portability.  For me personally, I would eat them plain so I could walk down the street without using 2 hands.  Otherwise, if you really wanted toppings, you can go back to their original sundaes. 

That I did with a few flavours of their soft-serve I have yet to try including the North Pole Breakfast and Rocky Mountain.  Consisting of caramel and cereal, the simplicity of the North Pole Breakfast was rather appetizing.  It didn't interfere with the creamy milkiness of the soft serve.  Instead, it added just a touch more sweetness and a light crunch.  As for the Rocky Mountain, he addition of chocolate syrup also sweetened things up while the toasted coconut was aromatic and offered up a light crunch.  These 2 reminded me of how much I love the ice cream at Soft PeaksI like the bars too, but my personal preference is to pony up a bit more money for their signature items.

*All samples were complimentary*

The Good:
- Bars are portable and can be eaten with one hand
- Bars are not too soft nor too stiff
- Similar to the soft serve, the bars are not too sweet, but still have enough flavour

The Bad:
- I personally prefer the sundaes if toppings are involved
- Bars could be a bit large IMO     
 

Bubble Waffle Cafe (Iron Kitchen)

If you haven't noticed, one of the fastest growing Asian chain restaurants has been Bubble Waffle Cafe.  Starting as a humble little food stall in Aberdeen Centre specializing in bubble waffles as well as DIY soup noodles, they have expanded to several locations.  One of the newer spots happens to also be in the former Iron Kitchen (think of it as Pepper Lunch lite).  But instead of completely transforming into a full-blown Bubble Waffle, the place operates as half-BWC and half Iron Kitchen.  Judes, Boss Woman and I decided to check the place out after softball one night.

I started with a side order of their Chicken Nuggets and boy were they oil-soaked.  So much so, that the plate was greasy.  In turn, the exterior was only crispy on the top as the bottom was oily and soft.  The meat was tender and well-seasoned though with a mild saltiness.  I also got an order of Takoyaki since they ran out of squid.  Turned out to be a good decision as they were pretty good.  Now, they were not prepared the traditional way, but that didn't matter as the exterior was lightly crispy that gave way to a fluffy soft interior that consisted of 2 pieces of tako (that wasn't too chewy).

For my main, I had the Angus Beef Teppan with rice, corn and tater tots.  Okay, I know they are not exactly the same, but I would like to state that Pepper Lunch has nothing to worry about.  This version here was serviceable but hardly memorable.  The Korean sauce was just sweet while the dish was uninspiring.  The tatar tots were oil-logged and overfried.  I did like the tender slices of beef though. Boss Woman ended up with the Lamb Teppan which was similar to mine but only with a meat change.  Hence, it wasn't that different other than the fact there was the classic lamb gaminess and slightly drier meat,

Judes went for something that shouldn't be in a hot teppan IMO with the Hainanese Chicken.  Since the rice was not flavoured, the dish was not really representative of the authentic version.  Furthermore, the chicken continued to overcook in the hot teppan.  As a chicken dish, it was fine, but hardly a Hainanese chicken.  We ended things off with a classic Bubble Waffle.  Sure, it wasn't as fancy as some of the newer spots in town, but really, it sometimes just comes down to the basics.  This one was crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside with a light sweetness.  Good in my books.  As for the teppan, I was on the fence.  Sure, it did the job, but really, Pepper Lunch is remarkably better for the same price.

The Good:
- Solid bubble waffles
- Interesting mix of 2 restaurants

The Bad:
- Teppan ok, but nowhere as good as Pepper Lunch
- More care could be put into the preparation   

Ajuker Fried Chicken

We all know of the usual late night spots in town as well as the "if there are not other choices" options (ie. Denny's and *gasp* Knight & Day).  However, when it comes to meals after midnight, most do not head out to Coquitlam.  In fact, it is generally the reverse.  However, Sharon mentioned that I should try out Ajuker Fried Chicken out on North Road after Friday night hockey since they are open until 2:00am.  Hey late night (or early morning) fried chicken that doesn't involve Church's?  We were game!

So Milhouse and Lionel Hutz braved the journey East (where some people think there is an imaginary border at Boundary Road) to Ajuker Fried Chicken, which was not the easiest place to spot. "Ajuker" was written in small letters on the window...  We decided to go for all 3 versions of their fried chicken beginning with the Original.  Sporting a crunchy batter that was properly seasoned, the chicken itself was succulent and juicy.  It was also seasoned enough that we it tasted good on its own.  Now with that being said, the Soy version was even better with a good balance of salty and sweetness.  The flavouring didn't soften the crunchy batter while still offering up a flavour similar to soy butter in Japanese pasta.

The third type was the Spicy fried chicken and it was a bit too saucy for our tastes.  It was definitely sweet, spicy and full-flavoured, but it degraded the crunchiness of the outside and it was all that we tasted.  However, this was purely subjective and we suspect many people would still like this.  I do think their fried chicken is better than Dasarang at a lower price.  We didn't just eat fried chicken and called it a meal.  Rather, we also had the Spicy Cheese Rice Cake.  Texturally, these were good being chewy and soft enough without being gummy.  They were mildly spicy while being hearty with the abundance of melted cheese on top.

Our last item was the Fried Pork Cutlet that was absolutely a huge portion.  However, we weren't really big fans of it since the meat was super thin and dry.  The breading was good though being crispy, light and not overly greasy.  Despite the appearance of too much mayo, it didn't eat as such. Judging from the last 2 dishes we ate, we agreed that the fried chicken was the star.  Well-prepared and well-priced, this is the spot to hit up when one has the late night Korean fried chicken cravings.

The Good:
- Well-prepared fried chicken
- Reasonably-priced

The Bad:
- The other 2 dishes we tried were so-so
- Place is a bit run-down 

John 3:16 Malaysian Delights

My initial visit to the North Vancouver location of John 3:16 occurred a little over a month ago.  We had caught them on their opening week and it showed with an inconsistent meal.  From all the good things I've heard about the place, it was rather perplexing for me.  Fast forward to May and I was invited to a tasting organized by Sharon which would act as a fairly quick revisit to see if anything had changed.  So I joined a group of other foodies to sample a large selection of dishes (after already eating Indian food for lunch... *burp*).

Well, to do a complete comparison, it wasn't difficult as most of the same dishes I had in the first meal were present.  This included the Chicken Satay which was mildly charred.  They were well-marinated being sweet, aromatic and smoky.  I found the meat to be tender while not overly "wet".  The accompanying dip was also pretty sweet laced with peanuts.  Equally on point was the Roti Canai.  I found these to be even better than the last time.  Flaky and crunchy on the outside, these were soft and almost pillowy on the inside.  They were not greasy and the side of curry dip was flavourful with a rich coconut milk silkiness.

Continuing on the theme of improvement, I found the Pulot Panggang to be head and shoulders above the previous version.  These featured rice that was chewy and soft, yet not incredibly dry.  Inside, the filling was unchanged except it was also not as dried out, which meant the sweet coconut was moist and sweet.  Next we had the Ipoh Char Hor Fun topped with seafood.  I found the noodles to be on the firmer side, which was fine by me.  They were also not overly greasy.  On top, the seafood was on point while the starch-thickened sauce was rather mild-tasting.

We also had the Char Koay Teow with Chinese sausage and shrimp.  There was more caramelization and smokiness due to the lack of sauce on top.  The noodles were also firm, retaining their shape and chewiness.  There was obviously enough wok heat since the amount of grease was kept to a minimum.  By virtue of the wok-fried Chinese cured sausage, there was a certain saltiness and bite to the dish.  Our veggie dish consisted of the Sambal Okra, Green Beans and Eggplant that featured somewhat crunchy beans (some of them were a bit overdone) and on point eggplant.  This was tasty and savoury with a slight spice.

At first, we did not know what to make of the Curry Seafood sitting on the table.  It looked spicy, but in fact, it wasn't.  Rather, there was a bit of tang to go with the coconut milk and slight brininess.  It was pretty comforting where Jacqueline described it as a "warm hug".  There was no shortage of ingredients which made it quite hearty too.  For me, the best plate was the Kam Hiong Prawns.  These large suckers were de-shelled except for the end tip.  With a light batter, there was a consistent crunch that held in the moisture where the shrimp was meaty with a snap.  Flavourwise, there was a nice balance of caramelized sweetness combined with a touch of spice.

Now when I said the shrimp was the best, their Hainanese Chicken wasn't far behind.  Exactly as last time, the chicken was tender, moist and nicely seasoned.  The fried garlic on top added a nice essence and crunch.  I realize that there are many different versions of this dish (especially considering the different nationalities), but I would've liked a minced ginger condiment rather than the slivered version found here.  Our one rice dish was the Nasi Goreng and it featured chewy rice that was properly wok-fried.  I would've liked to see more impact from the seasoning as it wasn't particular memorable.

Okay, onto the dish I really didn't like last time, the Beef Rendang.  I realize that the meat is normally supposed to be dry, but not to the point where it was difficult to chew and swallow.  Thankfully, they improved upon that and the meat was dry, yet tender with more moisture.  Flavours were still good with the richness of coconut milk.  Last dish was the Kari Laksa which was solid.  It was mildly thick with the richness of coconut milk.  There was a light spice, but once again, I would've like to see more seafoodiness.  Overall, this visit was a marked improvement over the first one.  The food was appealing and well-prepared.  Definitely gives Tamarind Hill a worth competitor along Lonsdale.

*All food, drinks and gratuities were complimentary*

The Good:
- Solid eats
- Reasonably-priced

The Bad:
- Flavours could be amped up a bit more