Sherman's Food Adventures: 2017

Cafe du Monde (French Quarter)

Generally, when some things start off small and gain a following, it will inevitably become popular and go mainstream.  Sometimes it completely takes off due to social media, TV and the sort.  I'm not sure if Cafe du Monde fits into this category completely, but it certainly hasn't hurt that it has been in all forms of media including the movie Chef.  It is almost placed on a pedestal being the holy grail of beignets in New Orleans.  For myself, it has been on my bucket list since I can remember and it was quite exciting to finally visit the famed coffee shop that serves fried dough doused with enough powdered sugar to make Tony Montana proud.

Viv and I decided to work off our calories by walking from out hotel to the French Quarter (I'm sure that didn't burn off much).  Our first stop was Cafe du Monde for some breakfast (yes a real healthy one).  We went for 2 orders of the Beignets and waited in large outdoor seating area.  These arrived with mounds of powdered sugar that wasn't as sweet as it looked.  In fact, we had to mop up the sugar from the plate with the beignet as we ate.  About that beignet, it was a bit dense in some spots but also light with little airy pockets strewn here and there.  Was it amazing?  No, but it was good nonetheless and we finally fulfilled another bucket-list item.

For myself, the real draw was the Cafe au Lait as it was aromatic and went down smooth.  The half and half of hot milk and coffee was a nice balance where the strong coffee was present without being too bitter nor was the drink too milky.  It was the perfect compliment to the beignet as the sweetness of the sugar was counteracted by the slight bitterness.  The addition of roasted chicory added another layer of flavour that was subtle yet chocolatey.  Viv had the Iced Coffee since it was already hot in the morning and it was fine for what it was.  I felt that the hot coffee activated the aromatics while the cold coffee was just a beverage.  So did Cafe du Monde live up to the astronomical expectations?  Probably not, but was still fun to visit anyways.

The Good:
- Iconic
- Great coffee
- Open 24 hours

The Bad:
- Beignets were "okay"

Cochon

Prior to embarking on our New Orleans food adventure, I did plenty of internet research.  From that, I made a list of places to go and narrowed it down since we only had 5 days.  No, I'm not like Mijune, who can eat 10 meals a day, so it really had to be a condensed list!  However, I did ask her for some recommendations and her list did overlap with mine.  One of the spots is Cochon located a block away from our hotel.  Not only was that a convenient dinner location, it is one of the most recommended spots according to many top 10 lists of places to eat in Nola.  We ended up heading there for dinner on our first night.

Since Cochon isn't a fancy spot (still classy though), we were able to dress down a bit (yet looking respectable).  We went for 2 of the more popular small plates including the awesome Crawfish Pie.  Looking like an overstuffed Jamaican patty, this was flaky and crispy like one, but much more buttery.  Inside, the etouffee filling was chock full of briny and Earthy crawfish, rice and veggies.  It was noticeably spicy and smoky, but not overwhelming while hits of spices were in abundance.  This was super tasty and despite being sinfully rich, I couldn't stop eating it.  Next up was the Smoked Pork Ribs with watermelon pickle which was equally tasty.  These aggressively sauced ribs were tender and meaty while retaining a succulence. They were also smoky and well-seasoned.  The sauce was spicy, sweet and tangy with plenty of depth.  What really put this over the top was the pickled watermelon rind which was almost like candy being sweet and sticky.

For our mains, I had their signature dish being the Louisiana Cochon with cabbage, cracklings & pickled peaches.  In terms of flavour and overall impact, we enjoyed this dish as the meat was full of depth without relying on salt.  There was a definitely spiciness that continued to build and linger with each bite.  Also, there was a hint of clove and/or star anise that added more body.  This was lightened up by the Asian tasting tangy cabbage and daikon underneath.  On top, the pickled peaches were sweet and sticky.  But the meat itself was a little dry where it didn't create an appealing mouth-feel.  Viv went for one of their features which was the Deep Fried Soft Shell Crab atop tomatillo sauce with a corn salad.  This was one large cornmeal crusted soft shell crab.  It was crispy on the outside while moist and sweet on the inside.  The tomatillo sauce was bright with a slight kick that went well with the crab.  The sweet pops of corn were complimented by cilantro, basil and Italian parsley.

For dessert, we shared the Pineapple Upside Down Cake served with coconut milk lime ice cream and caramel sauce.  This was aromatic and buttery where the caramelized pineapples were intensely sweet.  Loved the "ice cream" as it was tangy like yogurt but still had the aromatic richness of coconut milk.  The texture was more sorbet-like as a result.  We thought the sweet caramel sauce was not necessary as the cake was already pretty sweet with the pineapples.  Despite the dry pork, we thought Cochon lived up to our expectations at a very reasonable price.

The Good:
- Reasonably-priced
- Simply tasty food
- Friendly service

The Bad:
- Pork was dry

Emeril's

Originally, we didn't have any plans to visit Emeril's in New Orleans.  In fact, one could say we were doing our best to avoid something so typical and touristy.  However, before all of this food snobbery crept into our consciousness, Emeril's was a place I've always wanted to try.  Looking over the menu, some reviews and the prices, we changed our mind and it ended up back on our "to-eat" list and consequently was our first spot for lunch after an overnight flight from Vancouver connecting in Dallas/Fort-Worth.  It was actually pretty convenient since it was only a 5 block walk from our hotel.

I do not talk about House Bread very much because it sometimes is pretty plain and not very interesting.  However, the 3 types we were started off with did satisfy the "different" quotient.   They included Roasted Red Pepper and Honey, Cornbread Muffin and Honey Wheat Bread.  My favorite was the roasted red pepper as it had the texture of soft focaccia, but was cheesy and sweet. Seeing how we were going to visit Mr. B's Bistro the next day, Viv decided to do a comparison with the Emeril's New Orleans BBQ Shrimp.  The de-shelled shrimp tails were buttery with a snap while naturally bring and aromatic.  The sauce was extremely buttery and creamy with smokiness and umami flavours.  It was silky and rich with a concentrated saltiness.  This was surely tasty if not heavy and a bit too salty.

For myself, I had the Lobster "Tchoup" which was more like a slaw consisting of shaved brussels sprouts, apples, grilled bacon, lobster, spiced pecans, blue cheese and soft egg.  When mixed together including the silky runny egg yolk, the whole thing was dominated by the sharpness and pungency of the creamy blue cheese.  Texturally, the crunch from the brussels sprouts and apple was appealing, yet at the same time, hid the plentiful sweet lobster.  In addition to the blue cheese, the firm and salty bacon was a perfect compliment while somewhat offset by some pepperiness.  

For her entree, Viv had the Chicken & Waffles that featured two large pieces of perfectly fried chicken.  The batter was crunchy, yet not overly heavy while the chicken was moist and nicely seasoned.  Underneath lay a sweet corn Belgian waffle which was tasty, but ultimately soft and lacking in texture.  The side of watermelon slaw was crunchy and nicely acidic.  The whole dish was drizzled with a fairly sweet Crystal hot sauce syrup.  I decided to go for one of their signature items being the Andouille Crusted Gulf Drum.  As the name suggests, the fish was coated with an andouille "dust" of sorts which created a crispy exterior that was salty and smoky.  The fish itself was mild, flaky and buttery soft.  I found the Creole Meuniere sauce to be buttery and sweet.  Underneath, the crispy shoestring potatoes were on point texturally, holding up to the moisture.  The veggies consisting of squash, eggplant and red peppers were on point being cooked all the way through while retaining a bite.

For dessert we shared the Banana Cream Pie, which to be honest, has never been a favourite of mine.  However, this version was actually quite good.  It featured plenty of banana chunks (probably 70% of the pie) that wasn't overripe.  The cream portion was more like a semifreddo and was just sweet enough and aromatic.  The crust was light and buttery while the caramel on top was rather important as it added even more aroma and necessary sweetness.  Although it didn't wow us per se, our visit to Emeril's was pleasant enough and crossed off another bucket-list item.

The Good:
- Excellent service
- Food is actually quite good
- Not that expensive with all things considered

The Bad:
- Heavy food, but not uncommon for New Orleans


Fortune Terrace

When I was younger, I vividly remember going for Dim Sum every weekend with my parents.  There weren't many choices back then and I was well-aware what a luxury it was to go every week, sometimes twice a week.  Then in the 90's, an explosion of Chinese restaurants helped keep the cost reasonable and at times, it seemed to be less expensive than before.  However, as we moved into the 2000's, we witnessed an increase in higher-class Chinese establishments that pushed the prices upward.  Then more recently in the past decade, we've seen the ultra-expensive Dim Sum spots open up where a steamer of Ha Gau is pushing close and sometimes exceeding $10.00.  So when Fortune Terrace opened up across from the Olympic Oval, I wasn't super interested as it was another fancy and expensive Chinese restaurant.

However, my curiosity can never be denied, so we finally ended up trying the place out with my parents.  We began with the Pea Tips with dried scallops & shrimp in soup.  This was prepared properly with tender pea tips that were still crunchy and vibrant.  They were mildly seasoned but with the generous amount of briny & salty dried shrimp and scallops, there was enough impact.  When I marked off the Baked Egg Yolk Paste Bun down on the checklist, I knew it would arrive before it was time for dessert.  I didn't mind as I knew they were in the shape of cute little piggies.  Appearance aside, these were good being fluffy and soft.  Inside, the runny  but not thin, yolk custard was purposefully sweet while creamy.

Looking over the menu, it was strange that I could not find the usual rice noodle rolls.  Rather, we took a chance and ordered the Supreme Three Treasure Rice Roll and it arrived as a large square.  Inside, there was eggplant, silky tofu and scallops.  This was overstuffed as there was more ingredients than rice noodle.  The noodle itself was actually quite thin while exhibiting a great deal of elasticity.  Hence, it was on the chewier side, but I didn't mind it.  Naturally, Dim Sum wouldn't be Dim Sum if we didn't order Shrimp & Chive Spring Rolls for my son.  This was also good with a firmly crunchy exterior that was easy on the grease.  Inside, the whole shrimp filling was moist while having a sweet snap.  It was seasoned enough without being salty.

Off to some more typical items, we had the Steamed Chicken Feet in Supreme Sauce.  If you look closely at the picture, you will noticed that these were some pretty large feet.  As such, they were also plump and on point texturally.  The skin was tender while not mushy where the cartilage and fat underneath was buttery, yet not melted.  I wasn't sure what they meant by supreme sauce, but it did taste good with the usual sweet and salty thing going on aided by garlic.  Consisting of mostly meat portions, the Steamed Pork Rib & Taro in Garlic Sauce was executed nicely too.  Each piece of rib was tender with a perfect bounce texture.  There was more than enough seasoning including a good hit of garlic and the saltiness of black bean.  The taro, on the other hand, was not so good being dry and powdery.

Arriving as one large Lo Mei Gai rather than the more common 3 mini-versions, it was a pleasant surprise.  For me, I like the ol' skool large type due to the overall texture and moisture.  This one featured plenty of ground pork, chicken, salted egg yolk and mushroom for both texture and flavour.  The intermittent wild rice added a chewier texture to the soft and glutinous rice.  Looking like a dish of fried shallots rather than Deep Fried Chicken Knees, it was rather deceiving.  There was actually a bevy of well-sized chicken knees hidden underneath.  They were crispy while succulent inside.  Despite the amount of shallots and chili flakes, the flavours were muted and more aromatic than anything else.  It could've used a bit more salt and pepper.

Normally, with Ha Gau, we would order the ying to the yang with the Siu Mai.  However, they left it off the original ticket and even after a reminder, they still didn't put it in.  Oh well...  As for the ha gau, they were good.  Enveloped by a chewy, yet tender dumpling skin, the whole shrimp filling was meaty with a sweet snap.  There was only a mild amount of seasoning (including noticeable sesame oil), so that it didn't overwhelm the shrimp.  Once again, we got the Xiao Long Bao despite it probably being so-so in a Cantonese restaurant.  That it was with a thick skin that was doughy.  However, on the inside, the pork filling was succulent and tender.  It was more sweet than savoury with only a small amount of soup.

Our obligatory offal dish was the Steamed Beef Tendon in Curry Sauce.  I found most of the pieces to be on the softer side where some parts were melting.  My mom liked it, but I personally like some texture left rather than a mush.  Flavourwise, I found the curry to be present in a mild manner.  For our actual dessert, we went for the visually-impressive Souffle with Almond Flakes.  This featured a sweet and chewy exterior that gave way to a soft and airy centre.  It was only purposefully sweet and easy to eat.  In general, the Dim Sum at Fortune Terrace was above average with some highlights.  Yes, the pricing is definitely on the higher end and for many, it just isn't worth it.  I wouldn't mind coming back, but just not very often.

The Good:
- Above average Dim Sum
- Some interesting items

The Bad:
- Of course pricey
- Service was not bad, but they insisted that our siu mai was not missing, but they didn't even put in the order... twice...

Ma Now Thai Kitchen

There was a time that I ate almost exclusively in Coquitlam...  Yes really.  I used to live there during my university days and it was the most convenient thing to do.  Naturally, this was pre-blog and my tastes have changed (generally for the better).  Since moving away from Coquitlam, I have only ventured back when it was convenient to or if there was something worth traveling for.  Otherwise, I've focused my energy on Burnaby and Vancouver.  However, Diana and I did travel out to Coquitlam (actually just into PoCo) because Hilda was raving about it.  As such, we met her for dinner to see for ourselves.

Located in the same strip mall as the Michael's, Ma Now sports a modern, clean and tasteful decor.  We felt comfortable there due to this as well as the friendly service.  We began our meal with the large order of the Chicken Satay.  The skewers boasted a good amount of marinated breast meat that was succulent and tender.  It was mildly seasoned where the heavy lifting was done by the accompanying peanut sauce.  For our obligatory curry, we chose the classic Green Curry with chicken.  This was a bit thinner than I would've liked, but it was not devoid of flavour though.  There was the mild aromatics of coconut milk along with some brininess and a surprising level of heat.  As suggested by Hilda, we chose mild and it was actually decently spicy.

We also ordered the Craving Cashew (Pad Med Ma Muang) with prawns as our stir-fried dish.  This was subjected to enough wok heat that the sugars caramelized and provided a good balance to the savouriness.  I found the veggies to be crisp and vibrant while completely seasoned.  The prawns were also flavourful while having a meaty snap.  This went well with the side of coconut rice.  Our last dish was the Pad Thai with chicken which was my personal favourite.  We asked for medium and it was probably more close to spicy at most other places.  That was good as that went well with the tang from the tamarind and sweetness of the palm sugar.  Once again, there was good caramelization going on. I gotta give it to Hilda as Ma Now Thai was a good suggestion.  Solid food with friendly service.

The Good:
- Clean and modern
- Friendly people
- Solid eats

The Bad:
- Maybe just into the pricier category (but not by much)

Old Xian's Food

Noodles.  Such a humble food, but oh-so-tasty when done right.  There is no shortage of places in Vancity to get them including Pho, TBN, Japchae, Udon, Ramen, Soba, Rice Noodles, Wonton Noodles, Pasta, Chow Mein, Laksa, Pad Thai, Mee Goreng and so on.  I could go on and on about it, but you get the idea.  One particular style of noodle that is gaining traction in the Lower Mainland has been Northern Chinese due to the influx of immigrants from China.  That was in the mind of Kaiser Soze as he suggested we meet up at Old Xian's Food on Kingsway for the aforementioned Northern Chinese cuisine.

Naturally, we started off with the Cold Noodles in Sesame Sauce which were actually not that cold (more like lukewarm).  Despite that, the quality of the noodles was top notch where the elasticity was on point.  They were on the thicker side, but the texture and mouth-feel was exactly spot on being chewy with a rebound while not doughy.  The spicy sesame dressing was flavourful, lightly spicy and aromatic.  Next up, we had their award-winning specialty being the Pita Bread Soaked in Lamb Soup.  With the smell of gamy lamb wafting from the broth, it tasted as good as it smelled.  There was a meatiness accented by just enough salt and sweetness.  The pieces of bread were semi-firm with an appealing bounce.  The large chunks of lamb were gelatinous and super tender where it practically melted in our mouths.

For our fried noodle dish, we went for the Cumin Beef with biang biang noodles.  If we rated the dish on the large sheets of noodle alone, it would be a 10 out of 10 due to the chewy and slippery texture.  However, the cumin beef mixture was a bit wet and clumpy.  Furthermore, the beef itself was a bit chewy and cut up into thin strips which meant they were on the drier side.  On the other hand, the ample cumin and caramelization from the wok heat did provide appealing hits of flavour.  To change it up, we go the Pork & Chive Dumplings in hot & sour broth.  I thought the vinegariness was on point where it accented the dumplings perfectly.  The dumplings themselves featured a tender and thin skin while the filling was tender and flavourful from the chives.

Lastly, we had the Spicy Cumin Lamb Burger which was pretty greasy from the stir-fry.  It was similar to the cumin beef except with gamy lamb that was appreciably more succulent.  The best part was the expertly grilled bread which was crispy, yet soft and chewy inside.  Although there were some minor things we'd like to see different with the food, the overall experience at Old Xian was good.  Loved the noodles and the accompanying flavours.  We will go back.

The Good:
- On point noodles
- Not lacking flavours
- Well-priced

The Bad:
- Service was responsive, but things like sharing utensils and refills of water were not automatic
- That parking lot...

Belgard Kitchen

Normally after Sunday hockey, we would hit up something like Dim Sum or noodles of some sort.  That is all fine and dandy, but the Asian food thing gets a bit repetitive (not hard to do in Vancity).  So I piped up and suggested we go for brunch at nearby Belgard Kitchen instead.  Hey, it is a Sunday and by the time we get out of the rink, the brunch rush is nearly over.  To ensure that we didn't have to wait (if there was a wait), I did an online reservation just in case.  On a side note, I'm not a huge fan of standing in line at a place that doesn't take resos...

I went for the Meatballs in aribbiata sauce that was definitely zesty with a background kick.  There was plenty of tang to go with it as well as being seasoned just enough while not interfering with the natural flavours.  I especially liked the chunks of cooked down tomato as it added texture and more zip.  As for the meatballs, they were tender and meaty.  They weren't aggressively seasoned which was fine as the sauce was the real star.  On top, the 2 poached free-range eggs were perfectly runny while sauced with a buttery Hollandaise. Served on the side was smashed potatoes topped with cheese.  These were fairly firm and slightly dry, but when dipped into the sauce, it worked.  Kaiser Soze went for the Breakfast Burger featuring a runny free-range egg.  The meat was meaty and tender while the egg yolk helped make things messy.  The bun was airy and light, but held up to the ingredients.

Juju ended up with the Sausage which was meaty and lean.  They were nicely grilled with char marks that also made things a bit smoky.  Again, the poached eggs were delicate and just right with runny yolks.  The light Hollandaise did not overwhelm anything, rather it provided a silky butteriness.  Underneath, we found the same potatoes that helped soak up the yolk and Hollandaise. Although the grilled bread on the side was appealing to look at, it was too hard.  Maybe it would've went better with the meatballs so to soak up the tasty sauce. Milhouse went for something light in the Gravlax on greens and potato.  This was light and rich at the same time due to the eggs and Hollandaise with the potato.  But the greens and buttery gravlax helped balance it out.  For a brunch service, Belgard Kitchen did a relatively decent job all boxed up in a wonderful dining space.  Some of the sides could've been better though.

The Good:
- Beautiful space
- Generally good eats
- Good service

The Bad:
- The sides were a bit weak

Brix & Mortar

Awhile back, Miss Y and I tried out George Restaurant in Yaletown, which was an extension of Brix located above it on Homer.  Well, they did away with George and renamed the whole thing Brix & Mortar (nice play on words).  So instead of 2 separate restaurants, we now have one with the top level often being rented out for private events such as weddings.  We decided to check out the "new" arrangement with Costanza and Elaine (for her birthday).

Starting us off was a couple of salads including the Orange & Fennel with smoked yogurt, house cured duck prosciutto, Banyuls vinaigrette and walnuts.  This was a refreshing and lightly dressed concoction that was brightly crunchy.  The sweet and acidic notes were balanced off by the salty prosciutto.  The earthy beets added another level of tang while the yogurt was also tangy with a light smokiness.  Next up was the Spinach & Rocket Salad with warmed truffle & bacon vinaigrette, focaccia crumble, frisée and poached free range egg.  This was completely different in texture than the previous salad due to the wilted greens from the warm ingredients.  The truffle was pretty strong while the bacon was meaty and salty.  There was a hit of pepperiness to go with the very mild acidity.  Loved the creamy egg as it caressed each leaf with a nice silkiness.

Onto my favourite appy, the Humboldt Squid was tossed in grilled & tossed with gai lan in a ginger soy glaze.   Fairly large in size, the pieces of squid were tender with an appealing chewiness.  There was a wonderful mouth-feel as I ate it.  The glaze was savoury with a certain acidity and Earthiness.  Lastly, it was accented by some spiciness.  It was very complimentary without overwhelming the squid.  Taking up much of the plate, the gai lan was crunchy and vibrant.  I wasn't a huge fan of the Fresh Steamed Mussels as they were pretty ordinary.  They were very briny with a huge hit of the sea though.  As for the broth, it consisted of white wine, house bacon, crushed chilies and cherry tomato.  This sounded great, but in the end, all I tasted was pepper and tanginess.

Onto our mains, I ended up with the best of the bunch with a sous-vide and subsequently grilled Gelderman Farms Pork Chop with Korean barbeque marinade, kimchi fried rice and grilled scallions.  Due to its preparation, the pork was super moist and succulent.  Usually, anything sous-vide can have a "boiled" quality, but this was not as the balanced sear on the outside helped build flavour and caramelization.  The spicy gochujang was a nice compliment while the kimchi fried rice was a little soggy.  It wasn't devoid of flavour though as it was loaded with tangy and richly spiced kimchi.  Elaine had our least favourite dish with the Vancouver Island Ling Cod with fresh torn herb rice, carrot & ginger purée and coarse chimmichurri.  There wasn't anything inherently wrong with the preparation as the fish was flaky and soft, but there was a lack of impact, even from the list of ingredients.

Costanza went for the Brome Lake Duck Breast brushed with Sorghum and accompanied by chorizo sausage & cornbread sauté and juniper pickled peaches.  This was my second favourite item partly due to my love for duck.  It was prepared properly though being medium.  It was tender and mildly seasoned with the benefit from the savoury sausage and tart peaches.  Having something a bit different than the rest of us, Viv had the Pork Cheek Tagliatelle with Gelderman Farms confit pork cheek and garlic with poached egg & pickled shimeji.  This was fairly creamy pasta with a definite garlic hit as well as the light tartness of the mushrooms.  I found the pasta to be fairly al dente while the modest amount of pork cheek was a touch dry.  Considering its location in Yaletown combined with fairly well-executed eats, the prices at Brix & Mortar are quite reasonable.  I would come back.

The Good:
- Reasonably-priced for Yaletown
- Generally good eats
- Attentive service

The Bad:
- We enjoyed the food, but some dishes could've used further refinement
- Not specific to this restaurant, but parking is both expensive and scare in the area