Sherman's Food Adventures: August 2017

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

Imperial Court Beijing Cuisine

For some reason or another, I thought I had hit most of the Dim Sum spots in Richmond.  Wrong.  I guess I wasn't paying attention or maybe I was in denial as there are still a few that I need to visit including some newer pricier spots.  But for now, I wanted to go on the cheap since I tend to over-order.  Furthermore, it was only going to be myself and Grace, so we were limited in how much we could eat too (then again, we could've gone to the very expensive Fortune Terrace...).  Well, we ended up at the affordable Imperial Court Beijing Cuisine tucked away in the back in the same complex as New Town and Bob's Subs (photo cred: Emily).

After a short wait, we were seated at a table for 2 which was going to be a gong show since we were going to order in excess of 14 dishes (albeit some doubles for takeout purposes only).  Since many of the items all came at once, we decided to go for the Ha Gau and Siu Mai first.  The ha gau sported chewy skin which was too firm.  The filling was excellent though featuring large whole shrimp that were buttery and bouncy.  They were sweet with a slight sesame oil finish.  As for the siu mai, the chunks of pork were on the chewier side, but still had a rebound.  There was a nice balance between sweet and savoury elements, yet the missing shiitake was noticeable.  I had to pick out a few chunks of fat since they were inedible.

I moved onto the Shrimp Spring Rolls next since it was good to eat them hot.  They were indeed hot and crunchy where the grease was minimal.  We found the filling to be very good, much like the ha gau.  It consisted of whole pieces of shrimp that did the buttery snap thing while being well-seasoned.  Another time-sensitive dish was the Shrimp Rice Noodle Roll since it is not as good when eaten cold.  We got to it in time to enjoy the chewy and elastic rice noodle which was on the firmer side, but still soft enough.  Inside, the shrimp continued the theme from the ha gau and spring rolls where it was buttery moist with a sweet snap.

From there, we tried the Beef Meatballs that were a bit darker than usual.  Texturally, I found them a bit more dense that I would've liked, but they were far from being bad.  They were chewy with a firmer rebound.  I liked the amount of diced water chestnuts as it somewhat alleviated the firmness of the process beef.  The meat was also well-seasoned, however, the amount of green onions was excessive.  By now, I was getting full, but I couldn't ignore the Tripe and Tendon.  The texture of the tripe was on point being soft with a chew.  The tendon was just soft enough without being mushy.  There was no gaminess while the seasoning was mostly sweet with some background spice.

Garlicky and well-seasoned, the Steamed Pork Spareribs were topped with diced peppers.  These actually made it into the flavour profile, which was a good thing.  There was plenty of meaty pieces in the mix with only a few with cartilage.  The meat was tender with a nice rebound.  Resting on top of some frozen French fries (would've liked taro here instead), the Phoenix Talons (Chicken Feet) were equally garlicky and somewhat sweet.  The fried skin exhibited a dark hue which was appealing.  Texturally, it was tender while not melty.  Underneath, the cartilage and tendons were soft without disintegrating.  These were quite plump and well-executed.

I left the Lo Mei Gai to the end since it could stand up to being left alone while not getting too cold.  Once unwrapped, I found the rice to be moist with a pleasant glutinous chewiness.  There was a good ratio of rice to ground pork filling.  The filling was tender and had a good amount of shiitake.  It was well-seasoned without being too salty either. Often, Bean Curd Skin Rolls are swimming in sauce that makes it either too wet or too salty.  This one was right on the mark with minimal sauce while not drying out.  Inside, the meat was tender and mildly-seasoned. The pork was tender while not being too fatty.

Also conservatively sauced, the Stuffed Eggplant with shrimp mousse was not devoid of flavour.  They were fried up just right being tender while retaining a bite.  The mousse was bouncy and sweet.  We ended off with the Egg Tarts that sported a flaky crust.  It was a bit too thick though where it partly intruded on the silky egg filling.  It wasn't too sweet which was just right. Naturally, we ordered too much food as usual, so we had plenty to go.  Even with all the leftovers, the final bill was very reasonable.  Considering the decent food quality and price point, it is no wonder why there are lineups at here.

The Good:
- Decent eats
- Large portions
- Inexpensive

The Bad:
- Very busy (but there is a reason)
- A little hard to flag down a server