Sherman's Food Adventures: June 2017

Dim Sum @ Grand River

Fresh off a relatively decent dinner at Grand River in Coquitlam, we decided to make a rez for Dim Sum right on the spot.  So we returned a few days later to see if there was decent "Yum Cha" in a location not known for such.  Ah yes, this was the old Asia Restaurant and before that, the New China Kitchen.  Ew...  But now we have a legit Chinese restaurant serving up the usual dishes.  We were hoping it would be better than Asia Restaurant, which started off as a buffet, then transitioned into a regular a la carte restaurant.

To begin, it was the standards in the Ha Gau (Shrimp Dumplings) and Siu Mai (Pork & Shrimp Dumplings).  I found the skin on the ha gau to be rather thick and doughy with a noted chewiness.  Inside, the filling was loose with bits of shrimp that were flavourful and sweet.  There was a light buttery snap to go with a considerable amount of salt.  This dominated the flavour profile unfortunately.  I thought the siu mai were also pretty salty, but not as much.  The dumpling was buttery and meaty with tender chunks of pork, shrimp and shiitake.  There was a mild rebound texture to the pork along with intermittent pieces of fat.  Overall, this was a pretty good siu mai except, the person preparing it was rather lazy sprinkling tobiko on a sideways dumpling...

Going into it, we already knew that ordering the Xiao Long Bao would be a mistake since this was Cantonese Dim Sum, not Shanghainese.  But the kiddies wanted it...  Immediately, they somewhat regretted it because there was no soup to be found whatsoever.  Furthermore, the skin was hard, thick and chewy.  Although the meat filling was rather fatty, it ensured that everything was moist and tender.  Therefore, the best part was the filling as it was juicy and flavourful (just no soup).  Okay, the XLBs were sub par, but the Beef Meatballs were horrendous.  They were dense as hell with no meat texture.  It felt like we were eating cooked hard paste.  Moreover, they were bland and in short supply of green onions and/or cilantro.

When we took a bite into the Bean Curd Skin Rolls, it seemed like there was a sale on salt because like some of the previous items, that is all we could taste.  Beyond that, the filling was loose with a meaty bounce.  Outside, the bean curd skin was nicely textured being chewy yet tender.  Mercifully, the Pork Spareribs were significantly better than the beef meatballs and not as salty as the other dishes.  We ended up getting them with rice where the rice was soft and fluffy.  I would've preferred chewy and nutty, but it wasn't prepared in a clay pot.  The spareribs themselves were chewy with a meaty bounce.   They were purposefully seasoned where there was enough residual flavour to seep into the rice.  There was a background spice as well.  

Of course we had to order the obligatory Shrimp Spring Rolls (Japanese-style here with wasabi) for my son.   These were hot, crunchy and not greasy on the outside.  However, it was a different story on the inside as one bite revealed a burst of oil.  The filling was full-flavoured being on the sweeter side.  Unfortunately, the shrimp were overdone being rubbery.  On the other hand, the filling in the Shrimp Rice Noodle Roll was much better being buttery with a sweet snap.  Unlike many other versions, they were aggressive with the white pepper which added a background spice.  The noodle itself was tender and buttery with some elasticity.  We also got the Donut Rice Noodle Roll and it was crunchy, but a bit oily.

Another mediocre dish was the Phoenix Talons (Chicken Feet).  These didn't look that appealing and in reality were chewy and hard.  The skin was tight up against the bone, so it was hard to eat and really, not much to eat either.  There was no plumpness nor fluffiness to the skin.  Overall, the dish was rather bland except for some garlic and pepperiness.  Funny how this lacked salt unlike the other items.  Although a bit dense, the BBQ Pork Buns were not bad.  The filling featured lean slices of pork that were mixed with a sweet and savoury glaze.  I thought the colour of the glaze was quite appealing as it was in a dark rich hue.

Somehow, the Bean Curd Skin Roll Wrap were pretty unappealing.  This is generally a simple dish consisting usually of fish maw, ham, a vegetable and chicken.  This one had taro which was dry and weird-tasting.  We felt this was not fresh-tasting and hence was not something we enjoyed.  As a filler (not that we needed anymore food), we got the House Special Chow Mein as well.  This was a good dish featuring crispy noodles that was doused in enough mild starch-thickened sauce to soften them up.  The fairly generous amount of ingredients were prepared properly with meaty shrimp and tender squid.

For dessert, we had both the Pineapple Buns and Egg Tarts.  Served warm, the pineapple bun featured a crispy top and bottom.  The sugar topping was not overly sweet, but the filling was rather salty (not sure why since the filling in the BBQ pork bun was not).  The texture of the bun was a little dense though.  As for the egg tarts, the filling was silky and sweet sporting a nice hue.  The tart shell was buttery and flaky emitting an aromaticness and nuttiness.  This was a nice finish to a hit and miss Dim Sum service.  We felt it was serviceable enough for the area, but things were just too salty for our tastes.  At the very least, there is real Dim Sum to be found here.

The Good:
- Okay for the area
- Reasonable pricing
- Decent service

The Bad:
- Hit and miss
- Salty

Grand River Seafood Restaurant

At one point in time, the New China Kitchen buffet thrived at its location near Silvercity in Coquitlam.  In fact, it was there long before Silvercity even existed.  The food there was hardly "Chinese", but it served a purpose and in reality did fine for Coquitlam.  However, as time passed, the place transitioned into Asia Restaurant where it was part-buffet and part-Vietnamese/Chinese.  Then it became more authentic where they got rid of the buffet and just focused on Cantonese cuisine including Dim Sum service.  Now we have Grand River Seafood Restaurant where the metamorphosis from crappy Asian buffet to legit Chinese restaurant is complete.

Upon the urging of my parents, we headed out there to check out their dinner service.  We ended up going for their dinner special which included soup, rice, dessert, choice of 3 dishes and Dungeness Crab.  We added the noodle option which helped soak up the copious amount of starchy cream sauce.  The crab itself was large and meaty, yet was a touch overdone.  It didn't make or break the dish as it was decent where they didn't skimp on the noodles.  For our choice of soup, we had the Fish Maw and Crab Meat which was silky and just thick enough.  I found it rather mild-tasting with only a modest amount of fish maw and crab.  The fish maw itself was fairly soft with a minor chewiness.  I found the limited amount of crab to be decent where it wasn't dry.

We actually added an extra dish in the Tofu and Fish Hot Pot as we were hungry.  Well, it was actually me that was hangry...  This came out sizzling and in an appealingly dark hue.  Both the fish and tofu were buttery and soft while retaining their shape and integrity when picked up with chopsticks.  There could've been a bit more fish though as most of the dish was propped up with napa cabbage.  I found the dish on the saltier side, but it did go well with rice.  The same could be said about the Broccoli and Beef where the salt content was high.  Again, it went well with rice, especially the generous amount of tender bouncy beef.  There was enough wok heat where the broccoli was still crunchy with very little residual moisture.

Normally, I tend to stay away from anything made with mayo in Chinese cuisine, but my mom wanted to try the Salad Dressing Pork Chops.  It turned out a lot better than my expectations where the pork was tender while still completely meaty.   Although there was a considerable amount of salad dressing (more like Miracle Whip), the dish didn't eat too googy nor slimy.  There was a mild sweetness accented by some tang.  Lastly, we had the Scrambled Eggs and Shrimp which at first looked a bit small in portion size.  In reality, it was just piled high on a big plate.  The eggs were silky and runny while being well-seasoned.  The shrimp were fairly large and had a nice snap texture.  Overall, we thought this was a decent meal except it was rather salty.  Of course there is better, but not around here.

The Good:
- Decent for the area
- Okay pricing
- Spacious dining room

The Bad:
- Salty
- Modest portion size

Pacific Poke

With all of the Poke shops popping up all over the place in Vancouver, it might come as a surprise that my recent visit to Pacific Poke was only the second one I've tried.  There are several reasons for this.  First, I've had Poke several times in Hawaii and nothing I've seen so far in Vancouver resembles Poke (I know this goes against what I usually say, but it's true!).  Second, most opened when it was Fall/Winter and I wasn't in the mood.  Third, it just seemed like an overload of sorts that I just never go into.  An invite by vancitytastes to Pacific Poke finally got me off the couch and back into the Poke craze.

We were presented with 3 of their most popular bowls to sample including The Cali consisting of spicy salmon, crab and shrimp, pickled red onion, avocado nori, green onion and sprouts and spicy mayo.  This was the spiciest of the 3 due to the spicy salmon and mayo.  The whole thing was creamy with tang from the pickled onions.  With the addition of crab & shrimp, there was a certain brininess as well.  The second bowl was The Keefer sporting ahi and albacore tuna negitoro, avocado, nori, fresh wasabi peas, mixed herbs, classic sesame shoyu and lime juice.  Loved how the creamy avocado contrasted the chewy seasoned rice.  Again, there was a certain creamy butteriness to the combo as well as plenty of crunch from the wasabi peas.  There was also plenty of tang from the lime juice and aromatics from the sesame shoyu and sesame oil from the wakame.

My favourite of the bunch was The Main with salmon, spicy tuna, crab and shrimp jicama, cucumber, avocado nori, sesame miso sauce, lime and yuzu juice, green onion and fresh herbs.  This was spicy but balanced with hits of sesame from the miso as well as a rich mild saltiness.  The creamy avocado added body while the jicama provided a refreshing crunch.  Yuzu and lime juices provided brightness and tang.  While eating this bowl, it completely embodied what they are doing at Pacific Poke.  Their creations are crafted by trained chefs where flavour profiles and textures are taken into account.  Hence, this is not supposed to be just a plain ol' Poke.

Upon finishing, we were also able to create a Custom Bowl to go and I went ahead and loaded it up with negitoro, spicy salmon and spicy tuna.  I chose half sushi rice and half quinoa with beets and basil, wakame, fresh pineapple and wasabi peas.  This was finished off with lime, citrus dressing and wasabi mayo.  As you can imagine, this was hearty and actually satisfying in portion size.  It was pretty spicy due to the ingredients chosen, but there was a good amount of tang too.  The quinoa lightened things up a bit instead of all rice.  Now, if you read my last visit to a poke joint, I lamented that it just wasn't "Poke".  The stuff at Pacific Poke is a variation of Poke, but unlike last time, I enjoyed it since they put some thought into it.  The flavours worked and the textures as well.  I liked how they didn't put everything but the kitchen sink into it either.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Generous with the proteins
- Restrained amount of topping choices
- Unique flavours that worked

The Bad:
- For poke purists, yes, there is creative liberties here (but I liked it)

S+L Kitchen & Bar (South Surrey)

It was a matter of time that S+L Kitchen & Bar started expanding and opening up new locations.  With the backing of the Joseph Richard Group as well as employing Masterchef winner David Jorge (Corporate Chef) and Top Chef Canada winner Matt Stowe (Director of Culinary Operations), S+L doesn't lack star power.  Now name recognition is one thing, but what about the food?  I visited the original Langley location one year ago and I came away impressed with several of their signature dishes (especially the ones from David Jorge).  Recently, I was invited along with Mijune and Nora to visit their brand-spanking new location in South Surrey.

So when eating with Mijune... it can only mean one thing...  eat everything.  That we did including some Kusshi Oysters with Thai basil and traditional mignonette, lemon and horseradish. These were shucked properly with visually-appealing shells and no fragments.  The oysters were buttery and sweet with the usual brininess.  Next up was the Crispy Sushi Rice topped with albacore tuna, soy sesame dressing, pickled ginger, wasabi lime aioli and cilantro.  As heavy as the block of sushi rice appeared, it was crispy as advertised and not too dense.  With that being said, it could be 1/3rd smaller in size.  The tuna on top was buttery soft while aggressively seasoned with hits of sesame oil, the zing from the ginger and tartness from the lime.  I loved the contrast of cold tuna atop the hot rice.

Onto something more familiar but with a twist, we were presented with the Hero Wings.  This one pound portion sported big drumettes and mid-wing portions. They were crispy on the outside (with rendered skin) and juicy on the inside.  The light brine meant that the wings weren't inherently too salty.  That was a good thing as it allowed the spicy ginger soy caramel glaze do the heavy lifting.  There was a balanced combination of salty, sweet, vinegary and spicy elements.  When we first laid eyes on the Fried Cauliflower, it wasn't visually-pleasing.  However, looks can be deceiving as this was pretty tasty.  The cauliflower was firm (yet cooked all-the-way-through) and lightly crispy on the outside.  They were brined in buttermilk and seasoned with hot sauce.  Hence, it went well with the sharp and sweet blue cheese dressing.

Something more appealing to look at was the Lamb Popsicles (normally served with 3 pieces) spiced with zataar, sumac, lemon and garlic served atop house-made hummus.  These were prepared medium-rare which ensured their succulence and tender texture.  The spices really came through, yet at the same time, the lamb was not over-seasoned.  Loved the garlicky hit from the egg white and garlic sauce.  The next dish was actually a hybrid of 2 including the Seared Scallop atop Ricotta & Basil Ravioli.  I enjoyed the mouth-feel of the buttery scallop where it was almost juicy.  It was nicely-seared and seasoned just enough.  Underneath, the house-made ravioli was tender with a bite.  There was an impactful spice from the calabrian chili which was balanced off with enough acidity.  There was also an even amount of sweetness from the ricotta filling and saltiness from the seasoning and olives. 

Continuing on with larger plates, we had another pasta in the Lobster & Prawn Linguine in a San Marzano tomato sauce with fennel, calabrian chili and basil.  I thought this was well-executed in terms of pasta and ingredients.  The shellfish was buttery, moist and lightly bouncy while the linguine was al dente.  The crunch from the fennel was a great textural contrast as well as the classic essence.  The chilis added a noted spiciness, but it wasn't overwhelming either.  Hands-down, the best dish of the night was the famous Master Chicken (normally served with 3 pieces) featuring crispy fried chicken coated in a rice flour batter.  Unlike the one at Juke, this one could've passed for a flour coating.  It stayed adhered until the last bite with rendered skin.  The chicken was succulent and extremely juicy.  It wasn't over-brined hence it wasn't too salty either.  The creamed corn with bacon was also stellar with a nice consistency and sweet salty pops of flavour.

Another David Jorge specialty is the Pan-Fried Sablefish surrounded by a warm bacon fingerling potato salad.  Unfortunately, while being delivered to our table, one part of the delicate sablefish fell apart (for a better picture, see my Langley location post).  Visuals aside, the execution was a bit different than the last time.  It was definitely more aggressively seared.  That meant the exterior was crispy and well-seasoned.  Inside, the fish was buttery and flaky where the miso and citrus mayo were great compliments.  The firm, yet cooked-through potatoes were nicely dressed with a crunchy bacon and smoked egg yolk dressing.  Also arriving at the same time was the Wagyu Flat Iron Steak with lobster mash and roasted mushrooms.  Prepared medium-rare (but not too rare), the fats were activated so that the meat was juicy and tender.  It was nicely crusted and seasoned as well.  Prepared with lobster stock, the mash was buttery and exhibited the classic lobster essence.

This was supposed to be the end of our savoury dishes, but Mijune was still hungry (yah right?).  So we soldiered on with the Crispy Local Brussels Sprouts.  I had these before and although they were pretty sweet due to the maple gastrique and candied pumpkin seeds.  With that being said, the smoked bacon and panko Parmesan helped balance the dish out a bit (still on the sweeter side though). The spouts were still firm while fried just enough.  Some places do it too aggressively and it becomes oily.  It wasn't too bad here.  Although it didn't look like much and in reality, was a pretty light sandwich, the Lobster & Prawn Burger was tasty.  Naturally, it wasn't as heavy nor fulfilling as a beef burger, but that isn't the point.  The patty was delicate with a buttery bounce.  It was complimented by avocado, bacon, lettuce, red onion and secret sauce on brioche.

I was too full to eat at this point, but I had to keep going (first world problems) with the Fried Mac & Cheese Sticks.  Again, I've had these before and this was consistent.  It featured crispy breaded mac n' cheese made with both American and aged cheddar.  Hence, they were creamy, cheesy, salty and sharp.  There was a hint of spice too.  I liked how they weren't greasy, but in the end, this was still a heavy appie best to be shared.  The side of San Marzano tomato sauce was tangy and sweet which was a nice way to break up the richness.  Plated with much more house-made tzatziki, the Crispy Calamari wasn't as crispy as the last time I tried it.  With that being said, the squid was quite tender (a bit soft for my liking).  The tangy and creamy tzatziki added the necessary flavour.  Completing the dish was crispy chickpeas, red bell peppers, mint, pickled onions and a dusting of Mediterranean seasoning.

We were actually served the East Coast Lobster Rolls earlier in the meal, but I decided to write about it here (my blog, my choice...  LOL).  These were warm and crispy on the outside while soft and fluffy on the inside.  They were stuffed with a Nova Scotian lobster and shrimp salad with lemon aioli and red onion.  Having returned from the East Coast last Summer, I've become rather picky about my lobster rolls.  These were passable, but the filling was not robust enough.  Seeing they are priced at only $5.00 each, we couldn't have expected anymore lobster due to cost.  On a return visit for lunch, I decided to get the S+L Double Cheeseburger with bacon (added cost), lettuce, tomato, JRG sauce and red onion on brioche.  This thing was super messy and delicious.  The hand-pressed patty was moist and juicy while the cheese, bacon and sauce created enough flavour to make things impactful.  The bun didn't stand up very well to the mess though.

For dessert, we were served both the Chocolate Dome and Individual Baked Cookie with vanilla ice cream.  As evidenced in the picture, a chocolate brownie, ice cream and fruit were hidden underneath the  chocolate dome until doused with creme Anglaise.  An IG story darling, this dessert was fine with a not-too-sweet brownie.  I would've liked to see the candied walnuts to be more crunchy though.  Warm, crunchy and pretty sweet, the fresh-baked cookie was pretty addictive.  The ice cream was not as rich as I would've liked.  So there you have it, we ate nearly the whole menu and most of it ranged from decent to very good.  For a chain restaurant, that is a pretty good achievement.  Prices are fair in my opinion as it is not more than other similar restaurants out there.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Most dishes were good and the signature dishes were even better
- Okay pricing since it is not any pricier than other restaurant chains
- Good service (based on my paid revisit)

The Bad:
- Portion sizes can vary
- Lobster roll was more of a shrimp roll

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

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