Sherman's Food Adventures: 2017

Mikan Cafe

For all of the available types of Japanese cuisine in the Lower Mainland, Yoshoku gets no love.  It's all about the sushi and ramen here sprinkled with some Izakaya action.  For those who are unfamiliar with Yoshoku, it refers to Japanese-style Western dishes such as their take on Salisbury steak, spaghetti, curry, pork cutlets, sandwiches, desserts and the sort.  One of the few that exist is Cafe L'Orangerie in Marpole (which was only average in my opinion).  It seems like they have branched out have taken over (or more like merged) with the old Poutinerie Jean Talon out on Broadway at Fraser.

We decided to check it out after on a beautiful Sunday after ice hockey.  To start, we went with the ol' favourite of Jean Talon with the medium-sized Poutine with home style meat sauce and cheese curds.  Exactly how I remembered, the fries were super crispy and light with a starch coating not unlike the one found at Costco.  The meat gravy was flavourful, yet not salty with a background beefiness and sweetness from the veggies.  With a bounce and light squeak, the legit cheese curds were generous.  For myself, I went with 2 dishes starting with the Ebi Sandwich served on ciabatta with shredded cabbage, tonkatsu sauce and sweet mayo.  The crispy breading on the ebi held up to the sauces while the shrimp itself had a sweet snap.  There was an obscene amount of sauce which meant it was tangy and messy to eat.  I would've preferred a softer bun though as everything spilled out with every bite.

For my second item, I went for their daily special being the Baked Japanese Curry Doria consisting of rich and creamy rice, mushrooms, onions, Japanese curry, chicken broth and eggplant topped with mozzarella cheese.   This was a modest portion where the layer of melted cheese was substantial and stringy.  Underneath, the tender eggplant was far from mushy while the rice was on the softer side.  It was decently flavourful in a subtle manner despite the presence of curry.  I would've liked to see a bit more of it as the dish could've used more impact.  Milhouse ended up with an actual curry in the Pork Cutlet Curry with rice.  I've had this before and it was not different featuring sweet and thick curry with lots of tender bits of veggie.  There was more than enough for the rice and lean pork cutlet which was tender despite the lack of fat.

Kaiser Soze went for the Masago Spaghetti with squid and fish roe.  This arrived emanating an seafoody aroma which was quite intoxicating.  One bite and it was pretty evident that the briny seafoodiness of the masago was the dominating flavour.  It was in a good way though with a certain sweetness accented by a light cream sauce.  The spaghetti itself was nicely al dente and properly seasoned.  JuJu decided on the Hayashi Beef Spaghetti with hamburger steak.  Similar to the meat gravy on top of our poutine, this ate hearty with a mild meatiness and slight sweetness.  The steak itself was fairly tender and loose with the sweetness of onions (maybe too many onions). 

For dessert, I ordered a slice of their Blueberry Cheese Tart which was in a beautiful shade of milky purple.  One bite and the essence of cream cheese was very strong (in an almost yogurt-like manner), but the blueberry came through as well.  It was not overly sweet and the texture was in between light and heavy.  This visit to Mikan was a bit strange for me.  They are affiliated with Cafe L'Orangerie and my visit there wasn't exactly that impressive nor memorable.  Now I'm not saying Mikan blew my mind either, but I thought it was better for some odd reason.  But really, considering the lack of Yoshoku cuisine in Vancouver, there is really no competition for Mikan and Cafe L'Orangerie.

The Good:
- Friendly service
- Inexpensive
- Decent

The Bad:
- Food comes out a bit slow
- Pretty small place, not good for big groups
- Limited menu

R&B Ale & Pizza House

With the whole Neapolitan pizza craze leveling off in the last few years, there have been fewer joints entering the fray.  There are the occasional new players in town such as Firecrust and the newly opened Assembli, but for intents and purposes, the current "it" item is shaved ice. R&B Ale & Pizza House opened up shop rather quietly last year and honestly, it wasn't even on my radar.  How good can the pizza be at a brewery anyways?  Well, we decided to finally check it out after Monday night softball at nearby Strathcona Park.

With an understated store frontage and an equally utilitarian interior, we weren't high on our expectations.  What immediately caught our eye was the extremely reasonable pricing where the veggie pizzas were $10.50 and the meat ones were $12.50.  We began with the standard being the classic Margherita.  The lightly charred crust was uniformly crunchy throughout while the inside was chewy and mildly seasoned.  We found the tomato sauce to be balanced and quite flavourful while the mozzarella was adequate.  I personally would've liked to see the basil put on top after baking.  Of course we didn't only eat pizza, so I got their Shake Yo Fruity IPA.  Normally, I hate fruity beer, but this one was actually quite good with an almost floral quality with only mild hits of tropical fruit.  It went down smooth and was lightly hoppy.

Probably our most favourite pizza, the Crispy Prosciutto with arugula and shaved Parm had a great balance of flavours.  There was enough prosciutto for saltiness and body while the arugula did its bright and bitter thing while the shaved parm added another layer of nutty saltiness.  Normally, this type of pizza can be on the drier side and overly salty, but this one had enough moisture and was flavourful without being overwhelming.  Combined with the same uniformly crunchy crust, this pizza ate quite well.  Another surprisingly good pizza was the Pesto, Artichoke and Black Olive.  Again, with both artichoke and black olive, these type of pizzas are often salty.  Similarly with the prosciutto, this pizza was balanced with impactful and noticeable flavours without going overboard.  The ample amount of cheese seemed to help things too.

Our last pizza was the Bacon & Mushroom sprinkled with green onion.  Tasting exactly like its description, there was the saltiness of the bacon meshed with the Earthiness of the mushrooms.  I would've liked to see the bacon more crispy, but it wasn't chewy nor fatty either.  Again, there was enough cheese to bind everything together, but we would've liked to see a bit more sauce.  As much as the pizzas weren't too dry, the crunchy crust could've benefited from some more moisture.  Generally, I do not order Charcuterie Boards since they are not exactly super-exciting.  However, Bear decided to go for the $15.00 board consisting of salami, prosciutto, blue cheese, gruyere and brie accompanied by pickles, grainy mustard and sourdough crostinis.  Not bad and decently priced.

Milhouse and I weren't satisfied with pizza alone, so we added both the Pulled Pork and Meatball Sandwiches with kettle chips on the side.  Both were baked in what looked like a Portuguese bun and topped with melted cheese.  Although priced at only $10.00 each, these ate better than many versions costing a half more.  The pulled pork was tender and aggressively sauced being sweet and really cheesy.  Tucked in a soft crusty roll, this ate very pleasingly and was delicious.  The meatball was crumbly and soft while aggressively seasoned with Italian spices including plenty of oregano.  There was also a noted spiciness as well.  The side of kettle chips were fantastic being crunchy and lightly salted.  Surprising.  That is probably the only way to describe our visit to R&B.  The place doesn't look like much, but the food is actually decent and best-of-all, inexpensive.

The Good:
- Cheap
- Decent eats, loved those sammies!
- Oh yeah, they have some good beers too

The Bad:
- Not the most comfy place to sit for a long time
- Limited menu, but that's okay, as they do not stray too far from what they are good at

Mr. Chili

For the longest time, there was this decrepit-looking sushi restaurant on Hastings near Boundary.  I never did visit the place, even though there was an Entertainment coupon year after year.  Then all of a sudden, it closed and a Szechuan restaurant took its place.  However, it wasn't any ordinary traditional-style Chinese restaurant.  Rather, they did extensive renovations to make the place chic, clean and inviting.  Despite some mixed reviews, I took a chance with a Groupon and invited Emily, Diana and Amy to join me.

Although the menu is fairly limited, we were able to find some items that interested us.  We were pleasantly surprised with our first dish in the Mouth-Watering Chicken.  Despite being a relatively small portion, the flavours were very good.  The tender and juicy dark meat was full-flavoured and captured the natural essence of chicken.  There was an impactful amount of spice that was not overwhelming.  With a similar chili oil kick, the Spicy Pig Ears were also decent.  A touch on the softer side, the pig ears were also rather flavourful with a lingering spiciness. 

Continuing on the same theme, the Hot & Sour Potato Vermicelli was bathed in a broth that included a considerable amount of chili oil and roasted peanuts.  I found the noodles to be slippery and still slightly chewy.  The spice level was just right much like the previous 2 dishes.  It was potent and lingered while not crazy spicy.  The peanuts added a nice crunch and robust texture to the dish.  At first, the Spicy Beef Noodle Soup didn't look that interesting, but once again, it was decently flavourful.  The broth had a soy slant, but there was some meatiness as well as spice.  The noodles were slippery and al dente while the beef shank was sufficiently tender and flavourful, but more on the chewier side. 

Probably our favourite dish of the meal, the Curry Beef Brisket was bathed in a creamy coconut curry that was thick and rich.  It was on the fattier side, but that was probably what made it aromatic and full-bodied.  The chunks of beef brisket were fairly tender and not that fatty.  I found that chunks of potato too big and also underdone while the carrots suffered the same fate.  We had to get some rice to go with this as the sauce was just that tasty.  The Numbing Fish with Tofu arrived with a layer of Szechuan peppercorns.  This version wasn't inundated with chili oil, so the natural sweetness of the buttery fish came through.  The flavours were more clean and only a bit of numbing from the peppercorns. 

One dish that was total dud happened to be our one veggie option being the Stir-Fried Green Beans.  Even though it was subjected to a proper oil-blanching, the beans themselves were old and past their prime.  Hence, they were chewy and dry.  On the positive side, there was plenty of wok heat and enough seasoning.  The little nuggets of ground pork were not dry and had some spice.  Although rather greasy, the Kung Pao Shrimp were tasty.  In addition to the usual sweet and tangy notes, the chilis and peppercorns added the right kick needed to balance off the dish.  After dining on a good variety of the menu, we all agreed that Mr. Chili was better than anticipated.  Naturally, some dishes were better than others and the prices were not cheap, but the place does the job where there is little competition nearby.

The Good:
- Decent service
- Some good dishes
- Clean and nicely renovated

The Bad:
- On the pricier side
- A bit hit and miss
- The tables do not offer much leg room

Dim Sum @ Lucky Plus Restaurant

I swear the original plan for Lucky Plus Restaurant was for it to be a Hong Kong-style cafe.  Judging by the modern decor and booth seating, it was never supposed to be a full-blown Chinese restaurant, let alone one also serving up Dim Sum.  However, from our first visit, it was clear it was not a Hong Kong-style cafe.  Maybe chalk it up to the immediate competition across the street at Oscar?  Not sure, because we think Oscar is not very good.  Whatever the case, Lucky Plus started Dim Sum service quietly about 6 months ago.  We decided to make this our latest food adventure.  

Interestingly, we got our order of Rice Noodle Rolls first.  Usually, this dish comes midway or sometime at the end of the meal since it takes time to make.  I'm not sure if it was pre-made or something like that because it was thick and rather doughy.  I found the shrimp to be large and fairly on point texturally with a meaty snap.  It was on the saltier side though with a tinge of seafoodiness (maybe more rinsing required?).  As for the donut rice noodle roll, the donut itself was pretty dense and not crispy.  Combined with the thick rice noodle, this was cumbersome to eat.  I was also not that impressed with the hoisin sauce as it was thin and too sweet.

Off to the Ha Gau (Shrimp Dumplings) and Siu Mai (Shrimp & Pork Dumplings), I definitely enjoyed the latter more.  It wasn't as if the ha gau were not good.  In fact, they were large and filled with whole pieces of shrimp.  However, the texture was akin to either overcooked shrimp or shrimp that was not rinsed enough.  Hence, there was no snap.  Instead, it was meaty and dense.  Furthermore, the dumpling skin was rather thick and tore easily when I tried to pick one up with my chopsticks.  On the other hand, the siu mai were on point with buttery bouncy chunks of pork with bits of shrimp and shiitake.  The dumpling itself was moist and juicy with natural flavours of pork with only mild seasoning.

The Phoenix Talons were pretty average as well as you can see with one claw missing some skin.  Now do not confuse this with overcooking as the textures indicated undercooking.  Underneath the skin, the cartilage and tendons were a bit too firm.  With that being said, the ample garlic did ensure there was plenty of impact.  With that being said, they didn't over-salt the dish though.  Where the chicken feet were average, the Pork Spareribs were pretty much on point.  There was no absence of flavour as there was a slight spice to the garlickiness.  The pieces of meaty rib were tender, yet still retained a bouncy chew.  Loved how there wasn't any fatty nor cartilage portions.

Looking rather pale, the Beef Meatballs could've used some dark soy just for aesthetics.  One bite and it needed more than that.  The meatballs were far too soft and loose, hence, it lacked a certain robustness.  Even the ample amount of water chestnuts couldn't replace the lack of texture.  Furthermore, the seasoning was insufficient to flavour the meat on its own (thank goodness for the generous amount of Worchestershire sauce).  I wasn't really a fan of the BBQ Pork Buns either as the filling was predominantly fat.  We had to pick it out since it wasn't particularly pleasing to chew.  Furthermore, the flavours were mainly sweet without an equal amount of savouriness.  At the very least, the bun portion was fairly fluffy and light.

When it hit the table, the plate of Shrimp Spring Rolls seemed to be completely over-fried where the ends were pretty dark.  One bite and yah, the ends were inedible being hard and greasy (including the filling).  As for the middle portions, the shrimp was okay being well-seasoned and meaty.  The exterior was firmly crunchy but also oily from the extended deep-fry.  Following the same theme, the XO Daikon Radish Cakes were aggressively fried where the exterior was crunchy.  Usually, there is a mild crispiness, but we could hear the crunch as we ate these.  Texturally, it was still pleasing and the cake itself was soft and flavourful with daikon.  However, the wok-fry added too much saltiness where it overpowered the spice and brininess oft he XO sauce.

For my requisite offal dish, we had the Beef Tripe and Tendon.  There was a good ratio of tripe to tendon which is a bigger issue than you may think.  The tripe was pretty good being a bit on the softer side while not retaining too much gaminess.  As for the tendon, it was far too soft where it fell apart when I picked it up with my chopsticks.  Flavours were a bit mild, but there was still that garlicky sweet and salty thing going on.  Our last savoury item was the Pig's Feet and Egg in Black Vinegar and Ginger.  Not surprisingly, the flavours were rather thin where the vinegar and ginger had very little impact.  The egg wasn't very good either as it was hard and seemed to be more overcooked (it is generally overdone since it sits in the liquid so flavours can penetrate) than it usually is.

Onto dessert, we had the usual Egg Tarts that were served lukewarm.  I emphasize this because the egg tarts could've been stellar if they were hot.  Even without the optimum temperature, these were still flaky and buttery as a result of proper baking time and temp.  The egg custard was purposefully sweet and silky.  We also shared the Steamed Sponge Cake which was fluffy and sinfully buttery (or more like lardy).  However, it was far too sweet for our tastes though.  Overall, we thought the Dim Sum at Lucky Plus was serviceable but unremarkable.  Okay in a pinch, but certainly better elsewhere.

The Good:
- Fairly comfortable dining arrangements
- The service we got was decent
- Serviceable

The Bad:
- Serviceable but hit and miss
- Booths not great for Dim Sum service 

Z&Y Shanghai Cuisine

Sounding more like a Pokemon game, Z&Y Shanghai Cuisine is yet another new restaurant within the Central at Graden City.  We decided to give it a try after Monday night softball since we were playing in nearby Oakridge.  Located behind the Nando's and adjacent to the Walmart Supercentre, we were impressed with the upscale decor and fairly attentive service.  However, with all things considered, the food is the most important part of any restaurant experience.  So, let's get right to it!

Okay, the Xiao Long Bao was not the first dish to arrive, but to us, it was the most important.  Any Shanghainese restaurant needs to nail this to be legit.  In some respects, they did with a thin and tender dumpling skin except the top twirl was thick and chewy.  Inside, the meat was moist with a slight rebound.  There was more than enough soup, but it was not exactly flavourful where there was only a small hint of sweetness to go with a natural meatiness.  We felt the Pan-Fried Pork & Meat Dumplings (Potstickers) were far superior featuring a medium-thick skin which was appealingly chewy.  It was fried up nicely with a crispy bottom while the meat filling was similar in texture to the XLB.  What really made this dumpling was the amount of juices inside.

The first dish to hit the table was actually the Julienned Pork sauteed in spicy bean sauce.  This is a item I generally like to order with a deep-fried bun, but we already had enough carbs.  So eating it by itself wasn't ideal, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  It featured large julienned pieces of pork that were buttery and had the desired bounce texture.  To add crunch, there was the usual wood ear mushroom and bamboo shoots.  The dish was mostly sweet with a mild kick at the end.  Since we ordered the Tea-Smoked Duck that came with steamed buns, it worked out as we used the buns for the pork.  This was partially due to the fact the duck was far too dry and chewy.  The skin was nicely rendered and crispy though while the smokiness was balanced.

Adding to the classic lineup, we had the Shanghai Stir-Fried Rice Cake as well.  This was a decent portion of chewy sliced rice cake that featured the proper texture.  The shredded pork was tender and the Napa cabbage was still crunchy.  Although the flavours were acceptable, I found the lack of caramelization made the dish rather plain tasting.  There needed to be more dark soy and a more aggressive stir-fry.  Normally, a bowl of Szechuan Beef Noodles is mildly spicy (in Vancouver at least).  But they didn't wimp out on the spice level with their version.  It featured a broth that was spicy from the first sip.  There was a numbing spice that came through with a vengeance as I decided to drink all of the soup from my bowl in one gulp.  Beyond the broth, the noodles were thick and chewy while the beef was plentiful and tender with a bite.

We also ordered the Ham and Vegetable Claypot Rice which ate and appeared more like a stir-fried rice merely plopped into a claypot.  Hence, there wasn't enough impact and rice crusting.  The nuttiness and aromatics were just not there.  With that being said, if we treated it as a fried rice, it was actually quite good.  Each grain was chewy and discernible while the flavours were impactful from the salty and fatty ham.  The vegetable remained crisp where it added a pleasing bright texture.  We ended off with yet another classic being the Slow-Braised Pork Hock with spinach.  This was visually-pleasing and actually ate rather well.  The skin and fat was gelatinous and on point while the meat was tender and moist.  However, the flavours were far too sweet and one note.  We all agreed that the food at Z&Y is passable with some highlights, but in the end, there are far better options for Shanghainese in Richmond.

The Good:
- Lovely decor
- The service we received was very good
- Reasonably-priced with all things considered

The Bad:
- Food is merely average