Sherman's Food Adventures: August 2017

Saemaul Cafe

I was having a chat with Mijune (yes, she still has time to chat...  sometimes...) and we agreed that there aren't many surprises or secrets when it comes to the food scene in the GVRD.  This can be mostly attributed to the plethora of foodies, bloggers and IGers located in the Lower Mainland.  If it exists, someone is going to find it and let everyone else know.  With a few social media events, a little known spot can essentially go viral within a day.   So when we were invited to check out the new Saemaul Cafe, I guess we were going to spread the word about this little known Korean rice dessert cafe in Coquitlam.

Perfect for those who have a gluten allergy or those who just love rice cake, Saemaul offers up a variety of desserts that I would've never guessed rice cake/flour would be a part of.  One of the most obvious and regular items was the Red Bean Mochi.  Oh yeah, these were lit as the glutinous rice exterior was pillowy soft with a nice mouth feel when chewed.  Inside, the red bean paste was a bit chunky and pretty sweet.  Next up was the Rice Cheesecake featuring a rice flour crust.  I found the cake portion slightly lumpy and not particularly smooth, but it wasn't a deal-breaker.  It was creamy though with the definite baked cream cheese essence.  It wasn't very sweet which suited me fine.

Although they have a selection of fruit bingsoo, we stayed with theme and had the Injeolmi Bingsoo.  Light and airy, the bingoo was mildly sweet and creamy.  I thought it was on-par with many of the other spots in town, but my favourite is still My Frosty.  The injeolmi was predictably nutty and toasty flavoured being aromatic.  The little nuggets of rice cake were softly chewy.  On the side was Rice Cake Churros (no joke!) where they were fried and then tossed in cinnamon sugar.  They definitely tasted like churros and had a firm crunch.  Of course they were chewy inside.  We then got 2 Rice Roll Cakes in Matcha and Strawberry flavours.  Appearance-wise, they looked like sponge cake, but one bite and yes, it was definitely rice cake as they were dense and a bit chewy.  Once I got over the texture, it was good being mildly sweet.

My absolute favourite item of the tasting had to be the Homemade Rice Flour Waffles with fruit and ice cream.  These were the crunchiest things I've ever eaten.  One bite and the rest of the room noticed due to the loud noise.  It was airy and light, but not like a regular waffle where there would be a chewy interior.  Think of them more like a crisp where it will shatter upon contact.  I wasn't expecting a Dipping Chocolate Fondue to arrive next because you don't see it very much at Korean dessert shops in Vancouver.  It was neatly plated with fruit, rice cake and rice flour cakes.  I was pleasantly surprised to see a dark chocolate dip that was silky with a mildly sweet and bitter aftertaste.  I found the rice flour cake to be on par with the rice roll cakes in terms of being dense.

Our last item was a beverage in the Jolly Pong Shake topped with, of course Jolly Pong rice puffs (think along the lines of Honey Smacks).  The shake itself was creamy and thick from the combination of milk and ice cream.  The nutty sweetness of the Jolly Pong added some body and aromatics.  It is a really popular drink in Korea and this was the first time I've tried it.  In fact, the shake was only one of the items I had for the first time at Saemaul.  It was generally a positive experience where I had to wrap my brain around some of the textures.  But great for those wanting to eat gluten-free desserts (most of them at least) and/or wanting to try something a bit different.

*Desserts were complimentary excluding gratuities*

The Good:
- Lots of gluten-free choices
- Something different
- That waffle...

The Bad:
- Textures might be odd for some

Kuma Izakaya

Yaletown. This is where you can find many higher-priced restaurants that are the place to see and to be seen.  In terms of the food, some are on point, while others rely on their location and glitz to get by.  However, there is nothing wrong with that since everyone has a different motivation when choosing a restaurant (including convenience, decor, atmosphere, the crowd and price point).  For 6 years, Yaletown was my home and I didn't necessarily eat at the "best food" restaurant all the time due the aforementioned criteria.  So when we decided to hit up Kuma Izakaya, it was about type of cuisine and price point.  For a Yaletown establishment, Kuma's menu seemed reasonably-priced.

It was even more reasonably-priced since we made it for happy hour.  Hence, we got the discounted Aburi Nigiri featuring Unagi, AAA Beef, Sockeye Salmon, Toro and Hamachi.  These were attractive too look at and in fact, the fish was pretty good being soft and buttery.  However, since they were merely seared without sauce, there was no real flavour to speak of.  Furthermore, the rice was a bit too chewy and took away from the delicate fish.  For our roll, we got the Aburi Beef Roll sporting AAA beef on top of  what was essentially a California roll.  It was finished off with a slice of jalapeno.  This was not very good due to the extremely chewy beef on top.  Moreover, the jalapeno was sliced too thick while the rice was pretty bland.

Next up, the Mango Ebi Mayo, as the name implies, is a take on the classic ebi mayo.  Rather than a chili mayo sauce, the fried prawns were doused in a sweet, creamy and tart mango mayo.  The prawn was sweet and natural-tasting while exhibiting a firm snap.  Despite the amount of mayo, the crispy batter remained as such.  Looking more like a sushi tower, the Salmon Tartare sat atop sushi rice and was topped with avocado and more sushi rice.  This was all finished with salmon sashimi and cucumbers.  We thought the rice was too hard and took away from the delicate textures.  The salmon was buttery but overdressed.  With that being said, there was a wealth of sweet and spiciness.  There was a good amount of acidity though.

Lastly, we tried the Seafood Tomato Cream Spaghetti sporting garlic-sautéed mussels, squid, baby scallops and shrimp. This was finished with chilli powder, Parmesan cheese and garlic chips.  We found the sauce to be creamy and tart while balanced.  The pasta was surprisingly al dente.  There was plenty of seafood flavour and brininess to go with the zestiness.  We didn't like the squid though as it was chewy and bland.  Overall, Kuma was serviceable and fairly reasonably-priced.  It is located in a quieter part of Yaletown, so the "scene" doesn't really exist here.

The Good:
- Reasonably-priced
- Attentive service
- Okay eats

The Bad:
- Quieter part of Yaletown, not good for those who want to be part of the "scene"
- Food okay, but needs refinement

Yui Japanese Bistro

When it first arrived on the scene in Vancouver, Miku's Aburi Salmon Oshi was a revelation.  Seared sushi with tasty sauces suddenly became a thing and soon after, many different establishments tried to copy the success.  There have been some pretty awful renditions, yet some have quenched the aburi thirst such as Kishimoto, Green Leaf and Victoria Sushi.  However, nothing seemed to completely match the complete formula produced by Miku and its sister restaurant Minami...  until now.  Take 2 former chefs from Miku and one small hidden restaurant in a Downtown high rise and you get Yui Japanese Bistro.

Grace and I decided to check out what all the fuss and hype was about regarding their version of aburi sushi.  But before we got to that, we ordered some other items including the Hawaiian Poke Bowl with sake, maguro, bincho, onion, akanori, ogonori, cherry tomato, sweet corn, aonori mayo and chef's special sauce (tasted like ponzu).  This was a modestly-size bowl that could've used a bit more rice as there was more than enough ingredients.  The rice itself was nicely chewy where the rest of the toppings and sauce didn't make it too soft.  I thought the flavours were pretty good with a balance of sweetness and saltiness.  Next, we tried the Traditional selection of nigiri that included chopped scallop, tamago, hokkigai, tako, ebi, tai and sockeye salmon.  Nothing particularly amiss with the fish as they tasted and ate like they were supposed too.  The rice was chewy and well-portioned for the amount of fish on top.

Onto the main event, we got all 3 types of aburi sushi including Salmon, Ebi and Saba Oshi.  Each was a half order and the total for the plate was $16.00 (much more reasonably-priced than Miku).  We ended up trying the saba first where it was buttery and tart.  I'm not usually a fan of saba, but this one was done beautifully with a salty and briny-tasting sauce.  The ebi was meaty and sweet with equal parts tanginess, creaminess and smokiness atop the same chewy sushi rice.  For me, the original salmon oshi was my favourite where the fish was buttery and sweet.  The signature buttery and caramelized sauce was rich and effectively spiced by the thin slice of jalapeno.  Our last items consisted one each of Chopped Scallop and California Roll.  These were pretty much standard where the amount of scallop was too meager while the Cali roll was there to satisfy the less adventurous.  But really, it is all about the aburi sushi here and you won't be disappointed with any of them.

The Good:
- On point aburi oshi
- Reasonably-priced
- Limited menu

The Bad:
- The place is super small, expect a wait or to be crammed in
- Other items are only average compared to the aburi oshi
- Smallish portions

Thai Basil (Commercial Drive)

I've said it again and again, how hard is it to find somewhere to eat?  Well, that was a real challenge on a Sunday of all nights.  Originally, Viv and I wanted to visit Captain's Boil on Kingsway due to a coupon we had.  However, there was a lineup out the door (really???).  Across the street, the lineups at Happy Day and Honolulu were just as bad.  Again, really???  Therefore, we hopped back into our car and drove...  all the way down to Commercial Drive.  Yes, go figure.  We ended up at the newly opened location of Thai Basil partly due to the fact we were near the Northern end of the Drive and also it was cheap.

I ended up doing what I usually do when the food is reasonably-priced - I order more!  We started with the Grilled Beef Salad with onions, cucumbers and tomatoes tossed in spicy chili garlic dressing.  They didn't skimp on the tender and well-seared beef, but for me personally, I prefer the beef to be medium (which would imply a steak sliced after-the-fact).  But for $7.50, the beef was fine for the price.  Although the textures were on point, I found there was a general lack of acidity (except for the tomatoes) from the lime juice and spice.  Included in our combo, we also got one Spring Roll which was served hot and crunchy.  Inside, the cabbage and carrot still retained a crunch, but the roll in general was a bit too mild-tasting.

We went for with the classic Chicken Green Curry served as a combo (including rice, salad and spring roll).  This was a touch thin, but not a problem since we don't prefer goopy curries.  It was still creamy with the sweetness of palm sugar and aromatics of Thai basil with a slightly spicy finish.  I was pretty impressed with the tender cubes of breast meat as well as the tender, but not overly soft chunks of eggplant.  As I was ordering up at the counter, I noticed their daily special - Hor Mok (Red curry with coconut meat, pork, egg, cabbage and basil).  This was definitely something I've never had before.  I enjoyed the plentiful and tender pieces of coconut meat and the aromatic red curry.  I personally wasn't a fan of the egginess but that wasn't their fault.  There was also a tonne of tender sliced pork as well.

Lastly, we had the Pad Thai topped with prawns and garnished with crushed peanuts and lime.  I thought the noodles were on point being chewy and not clumpy while subjected to enough wok heat.  Hence, there was a caramelization of flavours including the sweet palm sugar.  There was an equal amount of tang, especially from the squeeze of lime.  I did notice the absence of pressed tofu (it was regular fried tofu puffs) and pickled turnip though.  Overall, Thai Basil delivered us serviceable eats for a low price.  Not my first choice of Thai restaurants in town, but if I wanted to save some money...

The Good:
- Cheap
- Decent portions
- Quick

The Bad:
- Decent eats, but there is plenty better (but not for that price)

Queen's Cafe

The corner of Kingsway and Salisbury in Burnaby has to be one of those cursed locations.  There have been too many restaurants opening and closing to count.  Could it be the actual location or could it be that the restaurants just didn't attract enough customers?  Well, I tried nearly all of them and they weren't bad, but I guess they weren't great either.  The newest to give it a go is Queen's Cafe offering up what they call fusion cuisine.  I'm not really sure it is fusion in the true sense.  Rather, it is a mish-mash of Chinese food all in one menu.

We decided to try the Minced Beef and Egg on Rice served in a hot stone bowl.  When it arrived, the stone bowl was smoking hot.  The rice was sizzling away and once mixed, the egg was pretty much cooked.  There was no problem forming a rice crust where the bowl stayed hot for well over 20 minutes.  We found the rice to fluffy and the amount of sauce adequate.  It was on the bland-tasting side though and could've used more salt.  Next, the Seafood Tofu Hot Pot also arrived sizzling.  This sported nicely fried silken tofu with shrimp, squid, baby scallops and fish cake atop Napa cabbage.  This was an average dish with too much starch-thicken sauce that was a bit salty.  This could've used some fish and more depth.

The kiddies shared the Brisket Rice Noodle Soup which was a bit much for them.  Hence, we ended up eating most of it.  The noodles were plentiful and didn't become mushy from the soup.  About that soup, it wasn't very impactful though.  It tasted didn't taste any different than a salty MSG mix.  The plentiful brisket on top was fatty and generally tender while bathed in a meaty sauce.  I enjoyed the Curry Brisket with rice more so as the flavours were pretty impactful.  Without being salty nor too sweet, the rich curry had depth and was the right consistency.  The brisket was again fatty where most pieces were tender.

Our last dish was the Scrambled Shrimp and Eggs which featured fluffy and not-overdone eggs.  However, there was far too much corn starch as the texture of the eggs became a bit slimy and too thick.  It did taste okay though with mild-seasoning.  I found the shrimp to be cold-water crunchy but a bit bland.  Here we go again I guess, another average restaurant occupying the cursed corner.  It is still new, so let's see if they are able to refine their dishes.  But for now, I'm not aching to go back.

The Good:
- Okay pricing
- Fairly comfortable seating

The Bad:
- Hit and miss food
- Hard to flag down someone

Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium

For some reason or another, I haven't been to a Vancouver Canadians game in quite some time.  It's not like I don't like baseball because I do play on a softball team.  So when I got an invite to sample the food at Nat Bailey Stadium during a game, it was truly intriguing.  I had already gotten a heads up from past posts about the food there, so I knew it wasn't just about hot dogs and beer.  They do have that there, but there is much more as they smoke their own meats and prepare everything fresh.  We arrived a bit early to get the rundown from Executive Sous Chef Patrick Smith (who is also responsible for Rogers Place Arena in Edmonton during the hockey season).

We got started at the BBQ Picnic in the Park that featured an all-you-can-eat style buffet.  In addition to salads, there was Nathan's hot dogs, burgers, fried chicken and charred corn.  I was able to sample all of these items and I thought the burger was pretty typical except for the addition of sauteed green peppers and onions (and also bacon).  The hot dogs were solid due to the snap of the casing and of course the juiciness of the Nathan's dog.  The chicken was lightly crispy while generally tender and moist inside (the dark meat was more so).  As for the corn it was cooked just right where it still had crunchy bursts of sweetness.  From there, we moved down the 3rd base line and tried the Smoked Turkey Leg (as well as the braised version too).  I personally enjoyed the regular smoked leg more as it was juicy, well-brined and smoky.  It wasn't as if the braised one didn't impress either.  The meat fell off the bone and was flavourful, but less smoky.

Then we tried the Tottine featuring tatar tot fries topped with real cheese curds, pulled pork and gravy.  This was sinful concoction where the tot fries were soften by the gravy, but for the ones that were not, they were still slightly crispy.  The gravy was plenty impactful with certain saltiness that was nicely balanced off by the sweet and smoky pulled pork.  The cheese curds were not completely melted which meant we could get the classic squeakiness.  The best thing we ate was their Smoked Beef Brisket and Pulled Pork Sandwich.  This featured house-smoked meats dressed in 2 types of BBQ sauces including a vinegary version and a smokier one.  Combined with the tang of the pickles, this was a flavour explosion.  Moreover, the brisket was on point being tender and moist while smoky.

The crown jewel of the bunch had to be the 3 Foot-long Hot Dog.  This thing was massive!  I felt intimidated being next to it...  LOL...  Size is one thing, but the sausage was actually very good being juicy and nicely spiced.  It had enough girth (sorry, I had to use that word...) that it was able to be balanced with the bun.  It is equivalent of 6 hot dogs, so beware, it is best to share this with a few people...  For $23.00, I thought it was a fair deal.  Even the Nachos were not plain Jane here as it featured healthy dose of melted and shredded cheeses, tomatoes, olives, green onions, sour cream and pulled pork.  Due to the addition of the pork, this was hearty with the sweetness of the BBQ sauce accented by a noticeable smokiness.  This ate like a meal.  Right next it was a fully dressed dog with more pulled pork.

While watching the ballgame, the kids got quite into it as the score was close until the closing innings.  That didn't stop them from wanting dessert, so I went down and bought them some Mini-Donuts and Ice Cream.  We found the donuts to be crispier than the ones found at the PNE (Those Little Donuts) and a touch denser.  But due to the exterior texture, they weren't heavy to eat.  As for the ice cream, it was Nestle and they were generous with the scoops all served in a mini baseball helmet.  We got chocolate chip mint and chocolate.  Both were creamy and pretty sweet.  The chocolate was the better of the 2.  Overall, we thought that the pricing was reasonable for a sports venue.  The fact they prepare most items in-house is impressive and it shows in the final product.  Combine this with a fun atmosphere (with affordable tickets) and a beautiful setting, I think we are coming back as a family for more games (and food)!

*Some food and beverages were complimentary (tix were comped)*

The Good:
- Meats smoked in-house
- Not your typical sports venue food
- Reasonable pricing
- Quaint setting and stadium

The Bad:
- Hamburger lags behind the other more creative food

My Frosty

I know I am repeating myself every now and then when I say that we are a society of crazes and copy-cats.  Other than the explosion of poke joints and mille crepe cafes in town, the other hot ticket item has been Korean bingsoo.  It all started with Snowy Village (now with several locations) and their fluffy snow and delicious tayakis.  Then the others jumped on board including Sulmida and Passion8.  The newest to join the fray is My Frosty, which to me at least, should be called Mr. Frosty due to their signage.  But whatever...

I paid them a visit one day and decided to try out the Matcha and also the Mango Bingsoo in small.  Prices were around $10.00 which is pretty much par for the course.  Portion size was also pretty standard, but at the very least, it was a fair for the price.  Most of the time, matcha bingsoo looks the part but hardly tastes the part.  Not here though as the airy and snowy flakes were flavourful without being too sweet and not overly bitter either.  The red bean was sweet of course, but not overwhelming.  I liked the mango as well where it was ripe, but not overripe.  The snow was milky and flavourful while being airy and light.  Loved how it was refreshing and purposefully sweet.

I returned a few days later and tried the Chocolate as well as the Strawberry Bingsoo.  Dressed impressively with cubes of chocolate cake, Beuno, ice cream and a brownie, the chocolate bingsoo looked good.  However, I found the snow to be not chocolately enough to match its appearance.  Texturally, it was still fine and the cubes of cake were fluffy while the brownie wasn't too sweet.  I guess it was par for the course with anything Asian and chocolate.  Essentially the same as the mango bingsoo, the strawberry was just a bit more tart and less sweet.  I liked how there was ice cream and corn flakes embedded in the snow.  If we were to compare with the others, I would say My Frosty gives Snowy Village a run for its money.

The Good:
- Delicate and not-to-sweet milky snow
- Good fruit/topping-to-snow ratio
- Friendly service

The Bad:
- Where's the water?
- Limited seating

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