Sherman's Food Adventures: August 2016

Hidden Tasting Bar & Social Lounge

You've probably heard me yammering away about hotel restaurants every now and then.  For full-service hotels, it is a standard and really a necessity since people need to eat, either in the restaurant or with room-service.  For me, I generally like to explore what is around, but there are some instances I eat at the hotel I'm staying at due to convenience.  On the flip side, while I'm in town, I tend to avoid hotel restaurants unless the Executive Chef is given freedom to be creative.  But a Groupon was able to convince me to give Hidden Tasting Bar & Social Lounge (in the Westin Grand) a go even though it hasn't been on my to-eat list.

We brought the whole family out including the grandparents.  This way, we could try more dishes!  For our appies, we had the Calamari which was crispy and well-seasoned (being spicy with a hint of dill).  The squid itself was a tad on the chewier side and the whole dish was fairly cold.  I thought the tzatziki was on point being garlicky, tangy and thick.  Our next dish was the Smoked Chicken and Pear Flatbread with caramelized onions, blue cheese, grana padano and frisee & tomato salad.  Due to the enormous amount of wet toppings, the middle of the flatbread was doughy and soft.  The flavour profile was on the sweeter side due to the onions, pear and balsamic reduction.  The chicken was probably the best part being moist and flavourful.

Moving onto the mains, I went for the Crab Tortellini with Seared Scallops.  This looked and ate more like an appetizer than an entree.  I thought the whole dish was a fail since the pasta was cold, hard and undercooked.  Inside, the crab was not fluffy either.  Despite being buttery and well-salted, the scallops were not seared properly.  I loved the herb soil, but the vanilla carrot puree was underseasoned.  On the flip side, my mom's Steak Frites was executed quite well.  The 7 oz sirloin was a beautiful medium-rare and tender.  Silky, rich and full of depth, the red wine jus complimented the seasoned steak and the crispy frites.

My dad went for the Confit Halibut with creamy mushroom veloute and chorizo hash.  Crispy with a nicely seared exterior, the halibut was moist and flaky on the inside.  It was also well-seasoned without being salty.  We found the veloute a bit too thick while the hash looked rather pale.  It did taste okay though.  Viv didn't end up receiving her Pan Seared Arctic Char until we were half-way through our meal because they had accidentally given it to another table.  We knew this because we overheard it, yet no one explained it to Viv (who was left waiting).  It was beautifully executed though with crispy well-seasoned skin and moist inside.  Underneath, the yam puree was smooth and undersalted while the mash potatoes were chunky.  Both had a hint of lemon.

For the kiddies, my son had the Mac n' Cheese with thick sliced homemade maple bacon and granny smith apple relish.  This was on point with al dente noodles enveloped in a creamy and cheesy sauce spiked with smoky bacon.  We tried it with the apple relish and it really worked with a crunchy sweetness.  The thick and lean bacon was a real treat on its own.  Looking like it could feed 2 people, my daughter didn't stand a chance against the Turkey Club with maple bacon, garlic aioli and Guinness cheddar.  A little dry, the shaved turkey breast was full-flavoured and spicy.  Along with the cheddar and crispy bacon, there was no absence of flavour going on.  For a seemingly standard dish, this club sandwich was very good.

For dessert, we ended up sharing 4 of them including the Chocolate Flan Cake featuring cream cheese and condensed milk flan dark chocolate cake, salted caramel sauce fresh berries.  Due to the rich ingredients, the flan ate as such.  Very sweet due to the caramel sauce, the moist and rich chocolate cake was further sweetened by the custard on top.  Also very chocolaty was the Double Chocolate Brownie with strawberry ice cream.  Dense, but just right, and moist, the brownie was purposefully sweet.  The side of strawberry ice cream was okay, but wished it was salted caramel as indicated on the menu.

My mom doesn't stray far from her favourites when it comes to dessert, so she wanted the New York Cheesecake with strawberry rhubarb compote.  This was fairly light and creamy for a baked cheesecake.  We could taste the cream cheese and the sugar content was just right.  The compote was balanced as well.  My daughter attacked the Saint Horone all by herself, but I was still able to try it.  I found the choux pastry to be dry while the custard was not too sweet.  As much as she ate it, we thought this was the weakest of the desserts.  Overall, we felt that Hidden represents the hotel restaurant quite well.  Okay eats, but nothing really memorable.  Interestingly, the service we received was really friendly, but hardly professional.  Plates weren't cleared when new dishes arrived and the lack of explanation of the messed up Arctic Char wasn't acceptable.

The Good:
- Okay pricing for a Downtown hotel restaurant
- Calm, quiet and comfortable space
- Serviceable

The Bad:
- A little rough around the edges, needs refinement
- Service was friendly, but for those who expect more, it wasn't professional   

M Cafe

As mentioned in my post on Chef Corner in Burnaby, I lamented the lack of Hong Kong-style cafes outside of Richmond and to a lesser extent VancouverIt's like there is a black hole of sorts once we cross Boundary Road into Burnaby and beyond.  I'm pretty sure there are people in the burbs who enjoy a baked pork chop rice with a cold Horlicks on the side.  So why are we inundated with chain restaurants and sushi joints but nary a place that serves ox-tongue spaghetti???  Well, I guess we have to start somewhere and M Cafe in Coquitlam exists for that purpose.  I gathered up the family including my parents to see if this place is legit or not. 

We decided to get some of the classics including the Baked Pork Chop Rice.  This was a pretty decent version with a chewy fried rice base.  On top, there was enough sauce to moisten things up as well as providing the usual sweet and mildly tart hits.  The pork chop was decent in size and still a touch crispy on the outside.  It wasn't super moist, but hardly dry either.  It was fairly tender.  Interestingly, this was the small size and we felt it was plenty big already.  The same could be said about the Baked Seafood Linguine with cream sauce.  We wondered what a large size would entail.  Despite sporting overcooked noodles, there was a generous amount of fish, imitation crab, baby scallops, shrimp and mussel on top.  Although the sauce was more milky than creamy, it had a nice consistency and was well-seasoned.

My son was all about the Dual Set Combo because he loves the sole fillet cutlet.  Something about the crunchy panko coating...  Well, it was definitely on point texturally as well as the flaky and moist fish inside.  The other item was the chicken steak and it was succulent and well-seared.  It had a kick to it thanks to the ample chili flakes.  He got linguine noodles as a side and with the influence of grandma, selected the lobster sauce.  With just a mild hint of lobster, the sauce was thick and not overly salty.  This also included a choice of soup and beverage.  We ended up choosing the soup since he was didn't like the other choice.  But he did like the $1.50 we added for the puff pastry topping on the Cream of Mushroom.  Again, the soup wasn't creamy, yet rather milky.  With that being said, it was decent being well-seasoned and full of mushrooms.

Viv and I wanted to try their build your own noodle soup with the vermicelli in Laksa Soup topped by tender beef and fish tofu.  Although this was far from an actual laksa (being thin and watery with only a bit of spice and lacking coconut milk), it was fine for what it was.  There was a tonne of chewy noodles in the broth and they didn't skimp with the ingredients either.  In addition to the filler of Napa cabbage, we never seemed to run out of tender slices of well-marinated beef.  On the other hand, there wasn't much of the fish tofu.  My mom spotted the Baked Salted Chicken special for $14.88 on the table and it really was a fantastic value.  This was a whole chicken that was pretty tender and moist, especially for free-range.  There was no lack of flavour from the wok-tossed salt either.

Something that was completely devoid of impact was the Braised Beef Brisket and Daikon Hot Pot.  Yes, we realized it was in a clear broth, but the whole thing really needed some salt.  Also, the beef brisket was really thinly sliced short rib, which was dry and slightly chewy.  The daikon was quite good though as it rode the fine line between being too soft and too firm.  So after trying a good array of dishes, M Cafe offered up good value and decent eats out in Coquitlam.  Sure, there is better in Richmond and Vancouver, but if you weren't willing to travel, M Cafe does the job.

The Good:
- Decent for its location
- Large portions
- Spacious restaurant

The Bad:
- The place itself needs repairs and a thorough cleaning
- Again, only decent, but if you didn't want to drive far...

Busan Daeji Gukbap

I really hate when a restaurant closes and/or changes name before I get a chance to post about my visit.  What a waste!  That was the case with Chom Chom Korean Fusion out on North Road on the Coquitlam side.  Too bad on another note as the owner was super-friendly and the prices were fair.  Well, I hope Busan Daeji Gukbap (the replacement) will last longer because I'm getting this post as fast as I can!  Viv and I stopped by for lunch one day and the reasonable prices appeared to carry over.

Prior to our order, we were serve the obligatory Banchan consisting of kimchi, pickled daikon and spicy daikon.  These were pretty standard, especially the pickled daikon due to the simple ingredients involved.  However, I did enjoy the spicy daikon as it was crunchy and appealingly flavourful.  The kimchi was okay, but more sour than spicy.  Our first dish was the Cold Buckwheat Noodles which were ice cold as it should be.  They were nicely chewy and nicely flavoured by the vinegary broth.  Loved the plethora of pickled daikon, Asian pear and cucumber.  The few slices of beef were a touch dry, but still fairly tender.

From cold, we went to boiling hot with the Spicy Pork Bone Soup.  It sported 4 large bones with tender and flavourful meat.  As much as the broth didn't look promising in colour nor viscosity, it was ultimately tasty with only a purposeful amount of spice accented by a real meatiness.  We could really taste the perilla seeds despite not seeing any.  Lastly, we got a small order of Fried Chicken, which was rather generous in portion size.  With completely rendered and crunchy skin, this was prepared expertly.  Also, the chicken was succulent and juicy.  We only wished there was more seasoning involved.  Overall, we felt the food at BDG was more than acceptable especially for the price.  We only hope that it lasts longer than Chom Chom.

The Good:
- Inexpensive
- Generous portions
- Okay service

The Bad:
- Place is a bit dingy, could use renos
- Fairly small menu



Food @ The Fair at PNE 2016

If you haven't noticed, there was no post about PNE eats last year (2015).  Yep, for the first time in many years, I wasn't able to visit The Fair during its annual 15-day run since I was in Hawaii having a good time!  This year, I made it back from my Summer trip to attend the PNE food tour for local media.  We started off strong with the Deep Fried Pickle Corn Dog at Chicky's Chicken.  I liked this concoction as the juicy pickle added an impactful tart and saltiness to what was essentially a corn dog.  Loved the crispy corn meal batter as it was crunchy and appealingly sweet.

Now the food at the PNE is generally on the heavier side and traditionally sinful.  They make no apologies for it and really that is the draw!  That was exemplified by the Mac & Cheese Stuffed Burger at Handmade Burgers. I found the meat to be decently moist while the mac n' cheese maintained its consistency (ie. not dried out and not contaminated by the cooking of the meat).  Hence it was cheesy and creamy.  The brioche bun was nicely toasted and soft.  I did have to use a bit of ketchup to liven up the mild flavours though.

Walking up a few spots up, we visited Reel Mac and Cheese.  I've had their stuff before and I was pretty confident that the Slumdog Millionaire Mac & Cheese would deliver.  The picture was only a sample size, as the regular portion would be even bigger (if that is believable).  I found the noodles to be fairly al dente and dressed in a creamy (with just enough of it) sauce that had a proper amount of curry.  It was aromatic and savoury benefiting from the pop of the sweet peas and the crunch from the fried onions.
 
Moving directly across, we ended up at International Perogy's.  Okay, I know what you are thinking...  Hunky Bill's...  We'll get to that later, but this one here was Chicken Teriyaki Perogies.  Say what?  Yah, this was a fusion of mini-perogies topped with fried chicken strips, sautéed onions, sriracha mayonnaise, sweet ginger teriyaki sauce, green onions and nori.  I thought the mini-perogies were easy to eat featuring a soft and thin skin.  The flavours were definitely Asian with some spicy creaminess as well as the sweet gingery saltiness of the teriyaki sauce.

Okay, it was bound to happen...  The combination of my son's 2 most favourite desserts - Oreo cookies and a churro.  Yes, the Oreo Churro at Steve-O's, complete with its classic creme filling.  I liked this as the churro itself was firmly crunchy (like the cookie) and tasted like an Oreo.  It was amazingly not as sweet as I would've imagined.  They offered up a second item as well with the Deep Fried Tequila.  This was essentially a donut ball of sorts crossed with a fritter.  Hence, it was lightly crispy while giving way to a soft cake interior.  I found it pretty sweet, which was probably done intentionally to balance out the tequila.  Personally, I would've loved to have more tequila and less sugar.

If we were going to do deep-fried tequila donut/fritters, then why not keep on the same theme with Deep Fried Coffee at Ogopogo Concessions?   I got to try the espresso and it was unmistakable in flavour while the texture was akin to a freshly made donut hole that was airy and light.  I found it balanced in flavour so that the sweetness kept the coffee in check.  In addition, there were several options for toppings including mocha chip, salted caramel, espresso flake, French vanilla and cream & sugar.

Right next door at Gourmet Burgers, they have been serving up interesting and unique items for many years.  This year, they decided to go big, literally.  How about a 10lb monstrosity named the Hercules Burger?   This thing must be ordered an hour ahead of time since it takes that long to cook.  Sure, it costs $70.00, but it is enough for 15 people!  I got a small piece to try and I was surprised that the well-seared patty was fairly moist and lean.  This was actually a solid burger, however, the bun could've been toasted though.

Remember when I mentioned Hunky Bill's?  He's been around for 50 years serving up his homemade Ukrainian-style Perogies at the PNE.  Unlike the fusion style ones we had earlier, these were classic being fried with onion and served with sour cream.  Nothing fancy here, but solid crispy perogies sporting a tasty cheese and potato filling. Our food tour ended at the Craft Beer Festival on the West side of the PNE grounds.  We sampled brews from Dead Frog, Parallel 49, Phillips Brewing and Moody Ales.  Loved the little plastic mugs and of course the beer as well.  This was served with a side of Bacon Floss (not pictured), think bacon flavoured cotton candy...  So there you have it, some new and some old favourites at the PNE.  I may be dropping by again next week, so stay tuned for more eats at the fair.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*