Sherman's Food Adventures: September 2017

Happy Day Cafe (Richmond)

After our visit to Happy Day Cafe on Kingsway at Joyce, we came away slightly disappointed.  It wasn't as if the food was bad per se, but it just wasn't as good as we envisioned and the pricing seemed high.  This was a surprise since the original location Happy Date in Richmond was inexpensive and consistently good.  Well, we decided to give it another go at Happy Date only to find out they had rebranded to Happy Day Cafe.  I guess there will no further confusion since they share the same name now.  But what about the food?

We arrived just as breakfast was ending and lunch was starting.  As such, we ordered both!  For the breaky, we got the Minced Beef Congee with a side of Donut Rice Noodle Roll.  The congee was certainly thick and remained that way until the last spoonful.  It was mildly seasoned where it wasn't too "restaurant" tasting.  There was just enough tender nuggets of beef for effect, but I would've liked a bit more.  As for the donut rice noodle roll, it was pretty good.  The salty donut was crispy and fairly airy while not overly greasy.  On the outside, the rice noodle roll was fairly thin and showed good elasticity while being soft.

We also got a few lunch items including the classic Spaghetti Bolognaise which was also quite good.  It featured noodles that were between soft and al dente (which is pretty good for HK-style restaurant standards).  On top, there was a rich meat sauce that wasn't too starchy and actually quite cheesy.  There was a decent amount of tender beef bathed in a savoury and sweet sauce.  I thought the Pork Chop Rice to be the better of the two as it featured a good amount of tender and lean pork chop.  I would've liked it to be crispier, but the amount of sauce probably had something to do with it.  It was tangy and slightly sweet where there was enough of it for the rice.

Much like our visit to the Kingsway location, we armed ourselves with a bevy of loaded Pineapple Buns.  Although these didn't challenge Lido nor AAA for the best in town, they were respectable nonetheless with a soft, but slightly dry bun.  Inside, the egg, meats and cheese helped moisten thing sup as well as providing a salty balance to the sweet topping.  The last dish at the table was the Creamy Ham Spaghetti which was pretty textbook.  It featured a mild-tasting starch-thickened milky sauce atop relatively chewy noodles.  Personally, I'm not a huge fan of Chinese starchy cream sauces, so I enjoyed the meat sauce more.  In the end, this visit to the Richmond location of Happy Day yielded better results than the Kingsway location.  Is it just luck or is the Richmond one better?

The Good:
- Inexpensive
- Good eats
- Diverse menu (including Cantonese dinner items)

The Bad:
- Needs a reno
- Service is a bit hurried
- Stupid parking lot

Phoenix Garden

There are some things that are best shared with friends.  If we are talking about food, that would include tapas, Izakaya eats and Dim Sum.  That is why I have never gone for Dim Sum by myself.  This may have something to do with my insecurity about eating alone as well. 😒 Therefore, if I do not find anyone to eat with, I'll skip the Dim Sum.  Fortunately, Grace was available this time for my food adventure and we went somewhere nearby in Phoenix Garden.

Despite her protests that I was ordering too much food, I went ahead with 12 dishes.  Hey, what's Dim Sum without variety?  First dish that hit the table was the XO Daikon Pudding Cake.  These were fried lightly crispy while being soft and fluffy inside.  I thought they were seasoned well on their own, but the toss in XO sauce added spice and brininess.  Another specialty dish we ordered was the Deep Fried Chicken Knees.  I enjoyed the balanced amount of saltiness and spice, but the actual texture was too crunchy.  This was a result of an aggressive deep-fry, but more due to the small size of the pieces.

Sporting a semi-thick and slightly doughy skin, the Haw Gow at first didn't seem that appealing.  In reality, the dumpling skin wasn't that great, but the filling made up for it.  First, it was large, being 1/2 size bigger than most and second, the texture was on point.  The mostly whole shrimp filling exhibited a buttery snap while being sweet and naturally-flavoured.  There was a good amount of sesame oil as well.  Equally large, if not bigger, the Siu Mai were a bit pale, but ultimately ate well.  I found the pork to be more like a mousse than having a meaty texture, but there was a good rebound to it.  There was an equal amount of sweet snap-textured shrimp which added some more sweetness.

Onto some offal, we had the Steamed Bible Tripe with ginger and green onion.  I found the starch-thickened sauce to be somewhat goopy, but tasty nonetheless.  It was not overly salty and did exhibit a gingery brightness.  As for the texture of the tripe, it was a bit spongy but it didn't kill the dish.  I would've liked it to be a touch more chewy.  Topped with colourful bits of red and green pepper, the Phoenix Talons (Chicken Feet) were pretty good.  Grace thought the peppers didn't add anything positive to the dish (other than colour) because there was a raw flavour.  Texturally, the chicken feet were plump with soft cartilage.  The skin remained intact and was not overly soft nor chewy.

Topped with the same undercooked peppers, the Steamed Black Bean Spareribs didn't suffer as much raw flavour as the chicken feet.  Suffering the same fate as the tripe, the sauce was goopy adhering to each piece in clumps.  However, it didn't taste bad though as it was garlicky and not over-salted.  We found the spareribs to be mainly meat and rib pieces.  They were tender with a nice rebound.  Something that caught us off-guard was the Bean Curd Skin Rolls as they were really pale.  It appeared to us that they were either not deep fried or not deep fried enough.  Hence, the texture was rather soft and lacking the usual robust quality.  Inside, the filling was bouncy with a good mix of pork and shrimp as well as bamboo shoots. 

Onto some carbs, we had the larger version of the Lo Mei Gai (Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaves).  Personally, I prefer this version as the rice seems to always be more moist than the mini ones.  This was evident here as well as the equal amount of ground pork filling.  The flavours were on the milder side though.  Normally, we wouldn't even consider ordering Xiao Long Bao at a Cantonese Dim Sum service, but it was on special (always looking for a deal).  They were slightly better than the typical thick-skinned no soup versions, yet at the same time, it would not give any real XLBs much of a challenge.  At least it was cheap.

For our Rice Noodle Roll, we chose the usual shrimp version.  In actuality, I liked the BBQ pork the best, but something in my head keeps telling me the shrimp is worth more...  LOL...  Well, this one was pretty good with a medium-thick noodle that had good elasticity while being soft.  Inside, the whole shrimp were meaty with a light snap.  It was mildly seasoned, but then again, there was sweetened soy sauce to deal with that.  Crunchy while easy on the grease, the Deep Fried Taro Dumplings could've used a bit more mashed taro in spots since it created air pockets (as evidenced in the picture).  No matter, the filling was moist with tender pork which balanced well with the crunchy exterior.  After this visit, we returned shortly after and tried most of the same dishes with a few extra.  Although some items could use improvement, it was pretty consistent overall.

The Good:
- If you take into account the specials, pricing is fair
- Fairly diverse menu
- Decent eats

The Bad:
- Some items could use further refinement
- Service is hit and miss

Fat Cow Oyster Bar

Every time we visit Simon Sushi with Bluebeard and Nikita, we always make a promise that we will go next door to the Fat Cow Oyster Bar for dinner one day.  Okay, seeing how we first ate at Simon Sushi in 2009, that meant we've been aiming to try the Fat Cow for 9 years (well, the fat cow opened after that, but you get the point).  It's not like Bluebeard and Nikita haven't hit up the place before, so it was only Viv and I who have been gun shy.  So finally, after all these years, we met up for an early dinner before heading over to Colossus for a movie.

Since the place is an oyster bar, we started with a few Oysters on the half-shell (4 kushi and 4 fanny bay). These were served with a classic mignonette and a lime horseradish condiment.  All of the oysters were shucked expertly where no shell fragments were visible nor found during eating.  We found the kushis to be buttery and briny while the Fanny Bays were even better with a noted sweetness and intense brininess.  Some complimentary mini Corn Muffins hit the table along with honey butter and a spicy relish.  I found the muffins to be rather sweet while fairly moist.  With the butter and relish, these were pretty tasty.

Off to the main dishes, Viv had the Steelhead which was sous-vide, so it was incredibly moist and barely cooked-through.  It was mild-tasting though while sauced with a lemon beurre blanc.  The fava bean risotto on the bottom was rather clumpy, yet cheesy and not overdone.  Bluebeard had the FCOB Burger with a 6oz Cache Creek patty, horseradish aioli, onion jam and Butter Lettuce.  It was prepared a beautiful medium.  Hence it was juicy and succulent while still nicely charred.  The soft bun held everything together.  The fries on the side were house-cut and lightly crispy with plenty of potatoness.

Nikita and I ended up sharing the Louisiana Seafood Boil consisting of lobster, dungeness crab, clams, mussels, wild prawns, potatoes, chorizo, corn and spices. I thought the clams and plump mussels were on point while the limited amount of prawns were a touch overdone.  The same could be said about the lobster, but the fluffy crab was just right.  The potatoes were a little firm, but the corn was sweet and prepared perfectly.  I found the broth to be sweet and briny with the taste of herbs and spiciness from the seasoning.  I thought this was reasonably-priced at $42.00pp.  In fact, I was pleasantly surprised at the food quality and overall experience at the Fat Cow, especially out in Walnut Grove.

The Good:
- Above average eats
- Okay pricing for what you get
- Friendly service

The Bad:
- Some minor issues with the doneness of the seafood

Simon Sushi

Way back in 2009, Bluebeard and I went to the local sushi joint near Colossus called Simon Sushi.  I remember it was rather lonely being the sole tenant of a new commercial complex.  It was decent, albeit being takeout, it wasn't the true restaurant experience.  We have made a few subsequent visits for takeout since (even after the ownership change).  Finally, we decided to actually eat at the place partly because all of the kiddies were old enough to enjoy the experience.  Even though it is no longer on its own little island with Fat Cow being located next door, the proposed multistory building is still not built (since 2009).

We ended up starting with the Assorted Tempura featuring a few rarer items such as asparagus and green bean, to go with the usual sweet potato and golden squash.  Although the batter was rather aggressive and somewhat thick, the tempura ate well with a crunchy exterior.  It was not too greasy and didn't soften as it sat on the plate.  The veggies were cooked nicely while the ebi was cold-water buttery.  I wasn't intending on ordering the Sweet and Spicy Chicken, but Bluebeard wanted to try it out (usually he can't have it since Nikita has a gluten-allergy).  It was so-so in my books as the chicken was a bit small in size and a bit dry.  The sauce was more sweet than spicy.  Moreover, there was too much of it.

As a filler of sorts, I got the Chicken Yakisoba which arrived in a sizzling teppan.  It was pretty saucy and greasy though which was both positive and negative.  I liked how it wasn't clumpy and that there was plenty of sweet tanginess.  However, it ate very wet and negated some of the caramelization as a result.  The noodles were al dente though and the chicken was somewhere between dry and moist.  My son is all about the Nigiri these days and decided on tomago, unagi, smoked salmon, Atlantic salmon and tuna.  They were a bit on the smaller side but at least the ratio of rice was spot on.  The rice itself was nicely chewy if not a touch too moist.  The fish on top was decent, yet the tuna was a touch too soft.  We would've liked to see a bigger piece of unagi as well.

We decided on the Deluxe Assorted Sashimi and it was a little disappointing in size for the price.  If you look closely at the picture, compare the sauce plate to the plate of sushi.  So it wasn't as big as it appeared.  I get it that quantity is often a poor judge of quality when it comes to sashimi (see Samurai Sushi).  However, even with the decent quality of the fish, it just didn't seem to be enough.  In fact, I left pretty hungry as a result.  Whatever the case, the sashimi was still good though.  Overall, Simon Sushi did what it has always done for us - provide predictable eats with a friendly touch.  Definitely more of a neighbourhood joint rather than something one needs to make a special trip out to.

The Good:
- Friendly people
- Respectable sushi and sashimi

The Bad:
- Portion sizes are on the smaller side
- Prices are a little high for this type of restaurant

Ban Dao Pearl Seafood Restaurant

When they original Pennisula opened up at Oakridge mall, people were up in arms over the pricing.  How dare they charge nearly $7.00 for Ha Gau!  I've been there for Dim Sum and although it was expensive, I thought the food was not bad and all the backlash was a little bit exaggerated.  Besides, we've seen more and more restaurants open up at an even higher price point.  So when their sister restaurant Ban Dao Pearl (it's really still Pennisula, in Chinese) opened up at Marine Gateway, I wanted to do a quasi-revisit, albeit not at the original location.

From the moment we walked in, the high level of service was apparent (probably better than the Oakridge location).  Remember the $7.00 Ha Gau?  Well, if we really look at it, you are getting 6 dumplings for that price, so despite the small size, it suddenly doesn't seem so outrageous.  These were heavily seasoned with sesame oil, hence it was aromatic and impactful.  The shrimp were buttery and moist with a snap encased in a elastic thin wrapper.  Although there was a significant amount of bamboo shoots, they weren't too pungent.  We found the Siu Mai to be meaty with big chunks of pork that were naturally textured.  We would've liked to see more rebound.  The dumpling was well-seasoned and an emitted aromatic shrimp flavour.

One item we thought was subpar was the Phoenix Talons (Chicken Feet).  They were gummy and chewy where the skin didn't seem like it was fried long enough.  Furthermore, despite the appearance of being plump, the cartilage underneath was a bit underdone.  There was plenty of garlic, but the dish was not seasoned aggressively enough in general.  On the other hand, the pieces were pretty large though.  Sporting a similar flavour profile, the Beef Tendon were appealingly soft while retaining a bite.  The dish was garlicky and sweet with only a purposeful amount of salt.  The peppers on top were for aesthetics only as we couldn't taste any.

Large in portion size, the Steamed Pork Spareribs were on point.  Almost every piece was a meaty rib portion with only one that was cartilage.  The ribs had a natural meat texture while exhibiting some rebound (and even some butteriness).  The dish was plenty tasty with hits of garlic and pepper yet bordering on salty.  One dish that was smaller than the rest was the Bean Curd Skin Roll served with a dollop of dried scallop on top.  The skin was beautifully chewy while still soft.  The dish visually-attractive (which is not usually the case).  The filling was meaty and tender while blessed with lots of greens.  Hence, it wasn't dense and there were varied flavours.

Another dish that featured more pieces than the usual, yet smaller in size, was the Beef Meatballs.  They were buttery soft with bits of hand chopped meat.  Therefore, there was a contrast in the soft processed beef texture with the meaty bits.  I liked the crunch of the water chestnuts but at the same time, there was far too much green onion.  We went off the board a tad and ordered the Scallop & Pea Shoot Rice Noodle Roll.  It was pricey at $13.00, but well-worth it.  There were large scallops inside that were buttery and briny sweet.  The pea shoots were not overdone retaining a crunch and nice colour.  Outside, the rice noodle was on the thicker side, but was still tender with elasticity.  

Our one fried item was the Scallop and Taro Dumpling.  It was hot and crispy with a soft layer of mashed taro.  The pork filling was kicked up a notch with curry, so it was lightly spicy and aromatic.  The large scallop on top was a bit overdone, but a nice touch nonetheless.  We finished off the meal with the Glutinous Rice Balls with red bean filling.  These were pretty pedestrian with a thin glutinous layer coated with coconut.  Inside, the red bean was dense and not very interesting.   Now I can see this place being rather polarizing since not everyone wants to spend so much money on Dim Sum.  This is especially true when there are so many worthy spots that are less pricey.  However, we still thought it was pretty good, albeit as mentioned, on the pricier side.

The Good:
- Generally quality food
- Attentive service
- Nice dining space

The Bad:
- Expensive
- For the price, there shouldn't be any bad dishes

Myst Asian Fusion

Earlier in the year, a new Taiwanese joint opened up in the former location of Lester's (for those old enough to remember...).  I wasn't able to attend the ChineseBites tasting which yielded mixed reviews, yet I was still intrigued.  Due to the fact, it is open late, it automatically became a late night destination after hockey.  To get a sense of the large menu, this post is an amalgamation of 3 visits.  In fact, I've been here 5 times and I've gotten a clear sense of the place.  One thing is for sure, it gets pretty busy at times since there is a general lack of competition nearby other than The One.

On my first visit with Milhouse and Lionale Hutz, we shared the Fried Basket consisting of chicken nuggets, fish cake and Taiwanese sausage accompanied by fried green beans and shrimp chips.  Surprisingly, the best part of the basket was the green beans.  They were oil blanched just a touch where they retained their firm texture.  Futhermore, they were well-seasoned.  Next best thing was the chicken nuggets as they featured rendered and crispy skin while only lightly seasoned and not overdone with the 5-Spice.  The sausage was pretty typical while the fish cake was not nearly crispy enough.  For my drink, I tried the Lychee Slush 1/3rd sweet.  This was far too icy and chunky for my liking as it was hard to "drink".  It was lightly flavourful due to the sugar level.

For my main, I had the Mini-Lamb Hot Pot which included a bowl of rice, cucumbers and marinated gluten.  I found the broth for the hot pot pretty flavourful, yet salty at the same time.  It had a hint of lamb gaminess while plenty of sweetness as well.  The lamb was fairly tender with gelatinzed skin.  There was also tofu and Napa cabbage in the mix.  Milhouse went for the Stir-Fried Noodles with Beef that did its best impersonation of a "gon chow ngau ho".  Rather than flat rice noodles, we found hand pulled noodles normally used in beef noodle soup.  They were chewy and well-seasoned with dark soy.  The dish was rather wet though and the ample slices of beef were too chewy.

Lionel Hutz had the Stir-Fried Rice Cake with pickled snow cabbage and pork.  This was pretty decent with chewy slices of rice cake and tender slivers of pork.  Although there appeared to be enough flavouring agents, the dish was rather mild-tasting.  He had to resort to soy sauce for impact.  On another visit, I decided to give their Beef, Tendon and Tripe Noodles a shot.  I found the thick and wide noodles to be on point being firmly al dente while cooked through.  Although the broth was flavourful, it was pretty gamy from the tripe.  I personally didn't mind it, but Viv thought it was overpowering.  The tripe itself was tender with a bite while the beef was super tender and melted in my mouth.  The tendon was also on point being soft with some texture.

We also had an other of the Potstickers which were fried up nicely golden brown on the bottom.  It was lightly crispy while the dumpling skin was a chewy medium thickness.  Inside, the meat filling was juicy and flavourful.  It was succulent and tender with just enough greens to compliment the meat.  After hockey once again, Bear, Milhouse, Lionel Hutz and myself hit up Myst for late night eats.  Bear wasn't particularly hungry and went for the Beef Green Onion Pancake Roll.  By looks alone, it looked thick and doughy.  It ate exactly how it appeared with a decent amount of thinly sliced 5-spiced beef in the middle.  It could've used more hoisin though as it was pretty bland.

I had 2 items starting with the Xiao Long Bao.  Okay, before you start throwing fruit and knives at me, I realize that Myst is a Taiwanese restaurant and XLBs would probably not be their specialty (but some Taiwanese spots do a good job).  Well, this was not one of them as the dumpling skin was thick albeit tender.  Inside, there was barely any soup which wasn't a surprise.  The meat filling was good though being tender and plump.  Next was a plate consisting of Beef Tendon, Pork Intestine and Beef Tripe.  This was the second time having this dish and it was more than acceptable.  I found the tendon a bit firm, but not hard to eat.  The intestine was fatty and not too gamy while the tripe was also on the firmer side, but not hard to chew.

For my beverage, I went for the Mango Slush which was missing the usual "eyes".  This type of inconsistency was actually normal since I've had this drink 3 times and it has been different every time.  Smooth and slushy, this was good however, the last 2 times, it was icy and and frankly terrible.  Lastly, Milhouse had the Kimchi Fried Rice that was quite good.  Although the rice was on the softer side, it was subjected to enough wok heat to create caramelization.  There was a noted spiciness balanced with enough sweet and savoury elements.  Overall, after so many visits to Myst, it is clear that there are some decent eats to be found.  However, the consistency is just not there.  My slush drinks have come out differently every time while even the chicken nuggets have ranged from crispy to completely oil-logged.  They really need to work things out.

The Good:
- Lots of choice
- Open late
- If you are lucky, some good eats

The Bad:
- Super inconsistent
- Service can range from good to terrible

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