Sherman's Food Adventures: 2017

Bin 4 Burger Lounge

You'd think after a filling brunch at the infamous (yes, I meant to use that word) Jam Cafe and then a "not-so-light" meal at John's Place, we were yearning for salad or something...  Well you have clearly underestimated our eating prowess.  Originally, we were to go for brunch once again at the Blue Fox Cafe, but it was not to be as the lineup was worse than Jam.  Therefore, we had to go to Plan B, which did not include anything green and leafy (unless it was in a burger).  Hence, we walked a few blocks to Bin 4 Burger Lounge to get those leafy greens, along with meat and fries...

I had the Minted Lamb featuring eggplant & tomato relish, Ermite blue cheese, mint pistou, roasted garlic aioli, butter lettuce and red onion. I gotta say this was tasty.  The lamb patty was fully cooked, yet at the same time, juicy and tender.  It wasn't particularly gamy, yet it wasn't bland either.  There was a natural meat flavour enhanced by the mint on top as well as the cheese.  I found the fries to be lightly crispy, but with a few soggy ones.  They were still good though and the truffle dip was plenty impactful without being overwhelming.  From something creative to the regular, we had the Heritage served plain.  Not very exciting, but at the very least, we could get the natural beef flavour from the well-charred but still moist patty.  This sported BBQ sauce on the side for the fries.

Seeing how we missed out on brunch, it was still possible at Bin 4 with the Breakfast Club.  This consisted of 63 Acres premium BC pork & chorizo, fried egg, Hertel's bacon, house made roasted jalapeno guacamole, roasted garlic aioli, 5 yr cheddar, butter lettuce, tomato and red onion.  This was a hearty concoction where the pork & chorizo patty was juicy with a salty spiciness.  The sharp cheddar and condiments added layers of flavour and of course the runny egg made things messy.  From fatty to lean, the Bison Burner sported 5 year aged cheddar, crispy fried onions, house made lime and tomatillo hot sauce, jalapeno aioli, butter lettuce and tomato.  Although the bison was indeed lean, it was not dry.  Furthermore, the tomatillo and aioli added moisture as well as a tangy spice.

Lastly, the Bistro consisted of Rossdown Farms free run chicken breast, Hertel's bacon, brie cheese, balsamic onion jam, roasted garlic aioli, butter lettuce and tomato.  Once again, the meat was still tender despite being chicken breast.  As you can clearly see, they didn't skimp on the creamy brie so it was a hearty burger, especially with the bacon on top.  The brioche bun was light, yet stayed intact.  On the side was some spiced potato chips with curry aioli.  Despite being a side, the chips and fries along with the many dip options were just as good as the burgers.  It's not cheap, but considering the quality and execution, it was worth it.

The Good:
- Well-executed proteins
- Don't skimp on the toppings
- Love the dip options

The Bad:
- Won't come cheaply, but not expensive for what you get

John's Place

Since we already hit up a "You Gotta Eat Here!" spot in the morning at Jam Cafe, we figured that visiting John's Place would be in order.  Hey, one can never have enough comfort food in crazy ass portions right?  There were a few moans and groans since they were still digesting brunch.  However, John's place fit the bill as it was reasonably-priced with large plates of food and happened to be the first restaurant featured in the "You Gotta Eat Here!" series.  Now it is one thing to serve copious amounts of food, but how does it taste?  I guess we were about to find out on this food adventure.

We started off with some appies including the Calamari and Fried Dill Pickles.  Okay, this has to be one of my pet peeves when I order calamari - the addition of fillers.  There was more green pepper and onions than calamari itself.  With that being said, the squid was tender with a pleasant chewiness.  The batter was lightly crispy and stayed adhered to each piece.  I loved the tzatziki as it was thick and flavourful with a good kick of acidity.  Sporting a thick, yet crunchy breading, the pickles were juicy and appealingly tart.  On the side, the  ranch dip helped cool the piping hot pickle as well as added some creaminess.

We weren't huge fans of the Hummus & Pita since the dip itself was rather grainy and too mildly seasoned.  However, I did get a bit of garlic and lemon.  I'm not sure if this is what they were trying to achieve, but for us, it wasn't the creamy and tangy version that we prefer.  The grilled pita on the side was soft and fluffy with an exterior crispiness.  This was the only dish we didn't end up finishing.

For my main, I decided on Cloudy with a Chance of Meatloaf which was doused with a notably rich and creamy gravy.  The meat itself was tender and not overly dense.  It was bordering on loose, but ultimately stayed intact. Flavours were mild, but the Marsala in the gravy was impactful enough.  The mashed potato was on point being starchy while still smooth.  Loved the veggies too as they were caramelized and sightly smoky.  The crispy onions were a good textural contrast.  Cee Cee went for their signature dish in the Chicken Oopa stuffed with feta and almonds.  This was a fairly "light" dish where the flavours were mild with some tang and Earthiness. The chicken itself was tender and succulent despite being the breast meat.

One of the most appealingly-plated dishes was surprisingly the Perogies and Ukrainian Sausage.  It ate as good as it appeared where the perogies sported a relatively thin dumpling skin that was not doughy nor too dense.  Loved the caramelization on the outside (with Cajun seasoning) while the filling was soft and well-seasoned.  Nicely seared, the sausage was meaty where it provided the necessary saltiness to the dish.  Looking rather rich and creamy, the Tortellini with chicken was good.  The pasta wasn't too thick and was just a bit past al dente.  As mentioned, the sauce was creamy as well as being well-seasoned.

As much as Halibut n' Chips didn't seem like an exciting dish to order, it turned out to be one the best of the meal.  It featured a large piece of halibut which was flaky and moist.  Although the batter on the outside seemed a bit aggressive, it turned out to be crunchy and not dense.  The tartar sauce was a real star as it was creamy and purposefully tart.  Looking very brown, the house cut fries were crunchy, yet a bit oil-logged.  Another solid dish was the Cheeseburger in Paradise featuring a thick hand-formed patty.  It was pretty moist and natural-tasting.   As seen in the picture, there was plenty of melted cheddar and crispy fried onions.  So from the dishes we tried, you can probably tell the place is a honest diner without any bells & whistles.  In that regard, it does it well at a reasonable price.

The Good:
- Generally solid diner eats
- Well-priced
- Nice people

The Bad:
- A little rough around the edges, but it is honest food
- Gotta work on that hummus

Jam Cafe (Victoria)

You'd think that since we have our very own location of Jam Cafe in Vancouver, I would stay away from the original store in Victoria right?  Well, no because it is always nice to visit the first Jam Cafe where they built up a reputation for creative brunch items served in enormous portion sizes.  Also, a visit to Victoria wouldn't be complete either.  Luckily for us, we seemed to have hit the sweet spot with our arrival as the lineup lasted only 15 minutes or so.  Once inside, the decor was familiar as well as the menu.

As such, I ordered one of their most popular items (which I didn't have a chance to try in Vancouver) in the Pulled Pork Pancakes.  This lived up to Jam Cafe's reputation arriving as an intimidating portion size.  Not only was there a huge pile of moist pulled pork on top, there was even more sandwiched in between the pancakes (which were fluffy and moist).  A touch sweet and nicely balanced by the pickled slaw, the pulled pork was meaty yet not dry.  I did find the pancakes to be getting a bit soggy due to the amount of pork though.  Cee Cee went for the Chicken and Waffles which were similar to the one in Vancouver, but better.  The chicken was juicy with well-seasoned and crispy batter.  Soft and slightly chewy, the waffles were a good canvas for the creamy and lightly peppery sausage gravy.

Featuring the same meaty and tender pulled pork, The Union was both messy and tasty.  Suffice to say, the sweet and tart flavours melded well the amount of moisture meant the sandwich ate well.  Despite this, the bun stood up to the wet ingredients while not being dense either.  The generous side of matchstick fries were cripsy and light.  Onto another lunch item, the Mac n' Cheese Sandwich was good due to the addition of thick sliced bacon.  It added both crunch and saltiness to an otherwise ho-hum version of mac n' cheese.  It was decently flavourful, but unfortunately dry.  Being that was sandwiched in between bread, that made the sandwich even more dry.

Although the popular Charlie Bowl is something that I avoided in Vancouver, it was ordered by 3 people at our table.  This massive serving consisted of hash browns, biscuit pieces, smoked ham, cheese, country gravy and green onion with 2 eggs on top.  Yes, this was carb-heavy, but was rather tasty at the same time.  This was due to the creamy gravy and impactful ham.  Otherwise, it was quite the filler with all those carbs. Overall, this visit to the Victoria location was as expected (since I've been to the Vancouver one).  It yielded large portions of generally tasty food.

The Good:
- Large portions
- I found it tastier than the Vancouver location
- Great service

The Bad:
- A bit carb heavy on some items
- Lineup

Neptune Chinese Kitchen (Hard Rock Casino Coquitlam)

Remember my previous post about the new location of Neptune at Station Square in Burnaby?  I mentioned that it was expanding at a very fast pace and moving into strategic locations.  Well, before I could even finish that thought, they took over the old location of Stake at the Hard Rock Casino in Coquitlam.  I would say they are very astute in doing do since there aren't many great Chinese restaurants in the area and hey, the bulk of the clientele at the casino are Asian.  This time around, I was invited to sample some of their signature dishes at the new spot.

We began with the Chilled Spicy Shrimp that didn't look like much from its appearance.  However, I was very wrong with this assessment as one bite (after deshelling), and each shrimp was bursting with flavour that was a little of everything including spice, sweetness and savouriness.  My only wish was that the shrimp were bigger as it was a lot of work to yield so little tail meat.  Next up was the dessert...  That's right, we got the Creamy Egg Yolk Custard Bun.  No matter since they were fantastic.  Featuring a thin and airy bun, the centre was overflowing with creamy and buttery aromatically sweet custard.  I thought it was balanced in flavour and the texture was on point.

Continuing on with Dim Sum items, we had the Ha Gau (Shrimp Dumpling) and Siu Mai (Pork & Shrimp Dumpling).  Although the dumpling skin was a touch thick and possibly over-steamed, the ha gau were still good.  The skin still displayed a nice elasticity and rebound.  Inside, the filling featured a buttery snap that was sweet and aromatic from the shrimp and sesame oil.  There wasn't much filler here.  As for the Siu Mai, they were also quite large and featured plenty of shrimp.  The chunks of pork were on the softer side while still retaining a meatiness.  There was enough shrimp and shiitake for varied flavours including a sweeter slant to the seasoning.  Loved the amount of tobiko on top as it looked appealing.

It seems all the rage now is to prepared Dungeness Crab with Salty Egg Yolk Sauce.  Well, there is a good reason for that - it can be darn tasty.  Well, this was no exception as there was just enough sauce clinging to the pieces of crab.  It was not too salty since there was an equal amount of sweetness for balance.  It was aromatic and not gritty where it complimented the fluffy sweet pieces of crab beautifully.  From crab, we moved onto the Lobster on Sticky Rice steamed in a bamboo steamer.  This was also very good where the lobster was fried just enough that it was still buttery with a sweet rebound.  The rice underneath was the beneficiary of the sauce that the lobster was stir-fried in, so that it was full-flavoured while not wet.

The best dish of the meal was the Sticky Rice on Crispy Chicken.  Visually, it was stunning with a caramelized hue from the chicken skin.  It had been rendered down where the skin was crispy throughout with minimal fat underneath.  The chicken meat was kept moist and was well-seasoned.  Underneath, the sticky rice was chewy and moist while not being too wet.  It was aromatic from the deep fry on the bottom side.  Before we dug into the Neptune Signature Ribs, we could smell the black vinegar.  Hence, there was intense and deeply sweet and tangy flavours from the sauce.  The ribs were tender and succulent while still retaining a noted meatiness.  However, I would've liked the ribs to be crispier and/or firmer on the outside.

Adding to the mish mash of dishes, we had the Fish and Pumpkin Congee.  This was served piping hot and full of ingredients.  I found the broth to be silky and only lightly thick.  It didn't water down at the end though.  It was not overly seasoned and allowed the fish and pumpkin to stand out.  The basa fillets were tender and completely moist while the pumpkin was fully cooked while not dissolved into the broth.  Interestingly, the Curry Seafood Chow Mein was red despite appearing to be yellow on the outside.  No matter, it was flavourful with a slight spiciness and sweetness.  The seafood was on point while the noodles were crunchy.  We only wished there was more sauce as the noodles stayed crunchy with only the middle softening up.

Finishing off with another carb dish (as always in a Chinese multi-course meal), we had the Yang Chow Fried Rice.  I've had this dish at the Surrey location before and let's just say this was plated more nicely.  But no matter, it ate pretty much the same with chewy wok fried rice where the shrimp was cold-water crunchy.  Overall, the meal we had at the Hard Rock location mirrors what I've had in the past.  It was above-average and predictable.  Definitely a welcomed addition to the are as there are not many options for authentic Chinese food.

*All food was complimentary*

The Good:
- Above-average eats
- Wide array of dishes on the menu
- Spacious dining room

The Bad:
- Like the other locations, there are things that can be refined

Epic Grill Silogs

To say we have a shortage of Filipino restaurants in Vancouver is a huge understatement.  Considering the Filipino population, it is perplexing why there aren't more Filipino restaurants.  Yes, I've heard that cooking it at home is more cost efficient and could very well be better.  But really, isn't Filipino food supposed to be the next big thing???  So when Epic Grill Silogs opened nearly a year ago, I was not only surprised at it's Queensborough location, rather, it was a Filipino restaurant specializing in Silogs (or Filipino breakfast featuring garlic rice, eggs and a meat of some sort).

Diana, Steph and I ventured out to Epic Grill Silogs and proceeded to wait an hour for a table and almost an hour more for our food.  We each got a combo silog where we got to choose 3 meats each.  I went for Biya (dried sole), Tapislog (beef) and Lumpia (spring roll) combo.  I found the biya to be light, crispy and chip-like.  This was actually quite good and easy to eat.  The tapsilog was tender, well-seared and sweet with a balancing amount of saltiness.  The best part was the lumpia as it was firmly crunchy with a very tasty filling which was meaty and lean.

Diana had Bangus (milk fish), Longanisa (sausage) and Corned Beef.  This was a substantial amount of food where the charred sausage was the highlight.  It was meaty and smoky but curiously not red in colour (like it usually is).  The fish was a touch dry, but crispy while meaty.  More like a corned beef hash, the corned beef itself was moist and tender with its classic saltiness.  We wished the cubes of potato were smaller and more cooked through.  The garlic rice underneath was in need of more salt and garlic flavour.

Steph had the Lechon (pork belly), Tocilog (pork) and Pusit (dried squid) combo.  I thought the tocilog was pretty good being flavourful with a balanced sweetness and saltiness.  The lechon was fatty while a touch dry in spots.  However, it was still aromatic and fatty.  The sauce on the side was vinegary, meaty and thick.  We weren't super enthused with the pusit as it was really chewy and hard.  It took us forever to get through one of them.  On the flip side (sorry for the pun), it tasted like dried squid with a sweet brininess.

For good measure, we added the Crispy Pata which was served with its usual vinegary dipping sauce.  It was more or less good with tender meat and crunchy skin.  Some parts were a bit hard, but overall, it was a decent offering.  In general, the food at Epic Silogs was decent, but not the best I've ever had.  However, there aren't many places to compare to, so at the moment, this is your place to go if you have a craving for silogs.

The Good:
- Large portions
- Something not readily available
- Okay pricing

The Bad:
- Long wait for food
- Decent, but could be better
- No A/C

Neptune Seafood Restaurant (Richmond)

For those who pay attention to these things, it is hard to miss the quick expansion of the Neptune restaurant chain.  From it's original location in Richmond (complete with a formal restaurant and a smaller wonton noodle joint next door), it expanded into Surrey Central with the same setup.  Then we found in rapid succession locations at the Hard Rock Casino, McArthurGlen and Station Square.  I've been to the Surrey restaurant and the one at Station Square, but have never had Dim Sum at the original spot.  In my long and seemingly endless quest to try every Dim Sum joint in Richmond, it brought me to the first Neptune.

We started off the meal with dessert...  Yes, I did the stupid thing and marked it down on the checklist and the Egg Tarts showed up first.  These featured a silky egg custard that had a pleasant consistency and was only mildly sweet.  The flaky tart shell was powdery and somewhat mealy.  It was baked long enough, so that wasn't the issue, rather, there needed to be more butter or lard.  Hence, the entire tart ate dry.  Onto something savoury, we had the Beef Meatballs which arrived in a darker shade than we were used to.  They were tender with the desirable bounce texture.  There was a good mix of water chestnuts and green onion where the meat was moist and well-seasoned.  However, I did run into a few chewy bits.

Onto the most important items, the Ha Gau (Shrimp Dumpling) and Siu Mai (Pork & Shrimp Dumpling) arrived next.  Medium in size with a thin dumpling skin, the shrimp filling was a tad overcooked where it was more meaty than buttery.  There was still a firm snap though while it could've benefited from more seasoning.  I also found the skin to be overdone as well (predictably since the filling was too).  On the other hand, the siu mai was on point with large chunks of shrimp that had a sweet snap mixed in with bouncy pieces of whole pork.  I found these to be well-seasoned with a balanced amount of sweet and savouriness.  The ample amount of fish roe on top added a briny pop.

Something that we were mildly disappointed with was the Bean Curd Skin Roll.  Although the presentation was nice, the actual bean curd skin was too soft where it was practically melting and disintegrated on contact.  The filling was okay being a combination of bouncy pork, veggies and shrimp.  But the noticeable chunks of fat (that were not pleasant texturally) detracted from the overall roll.  Looking pale and in need of something colourful on top, the Pork Spareribs turned out to be quite good.  There was a soft tender bounce texture to the predominantly meaty rib pieces.  Although there was some garlickiness at the end, the seasoning was too mild where the pork flavour was dominant.

Served in a set of 4, the BBQ Pork Buns were both good and bad.  The actual bun itself was fluffy and light (almost airy) which was very appealing.  On the other hand, the bottom of the bun was rather wet and fell apart easily.  Inside, the filling consisted of lean pork which was a bit dry, but heavily sauced.  We found the glaze to be pretty sweet where we felt like we were eating dessert.  Something that didn't look good visually was the Phoenix Talons (Chicken Feet).  They looked scrawny and overly pale.  In fact, they ate exactly how they appeared where there seemed to be very little of anything clinging to the bones (as if there is much to begin with).  It did taste okay though with a sweet garlicky hit.

Another below-average dish was the Lo Mei Gai (Sticky Rice wrapped in banana leaves).  Before I even opened up one of them, I noticed that it was really soft and malleable.  Inside, the reason for that was pretty evident where the rice was pretty wet.  Therefore, I felt like I was eating a sticky paste rather than rice.  Moreover, the pork filling was dry and bland.  On the plus side, there was lots of it (or was that a negative?).  Served hot and crunchy, the Shrimp Spring Rolls sported a thick hard exterior that was not greasy.  Inside, the shrimp was overdone as it was a bit rubbery in spots.  It was well-seasoned though.

We had to wait until 10:00am to order any larger dishes as that chef started at that time.  We decided on the Fried XO Daikon Cake and Deep Fried Chicken Knees.  Fried until golden brown and crispy, the daikon cake was a little on the denser side.  It tasted fine though with the brininess of the dried shrimp coming through.  The XO sauce added more dried shrimp flavour, but little in the way of spiciness.  I liked how this dish wasn't overly greasy as it can be.  Served in large nuggets, the chicken knees were crispy and tasted pretty sweet (almost like fresh mini-donuts...).  Inside, the meat was juicy, tender and well-salted.

Our last item was the Stir-Fried Flat Rice Noodle with beef, sprouts and chives.  This was a fairly large portion with tender slices of beef, crunchy sprouts and chewy noodles.  It was lightly seasoned and could've used more dark soy.  In terms of the glossiness, it is common for this dish to be greasy since rice noodles stick to woks.  However, I found the mouth feel to be unpleasant with the amount of grease.  Overall, this was surprisingly the weakest of all the Neptune locations in terms of Dim Sum that I've personally encountered.  With that being said, it was still more than serviceable.

The Good:
- Attentive service (for Richmond standards)
- Well-appointed dining space
- Parking lot is pretty big for this location

The Bad:
- Hit and miss
- Pricey