Sherman's Food Adventures: November 2017

Falconetti's

Wow, it's been awhile since I've visited Falconetti's.  I think the last time was 4 years ago for the Parallel 49 Cask Dinner.  That was with Miss Y and ironically, it was once again with her that we visited the place for my last stop for the Burger Challenge.  Generally, Falconetti's is famous for their house-made sausages paired with their beers on tap, but they threw their hat into the ring for the burger challenge.  However, we weren't there to eat one burger and call it a meal either.  Yes, we ordered a few more dishes to supplement the required dish.

We started with the Smokin' Wings with honey garlic sauce (served on the side as requested).  With the sauce not directly on the wings, we were able to see that the exterior was fried beautifully with fully rendered skin.  It was crispy while the meat was still juicy.  The wings didn't have a lot of inherent seasoning which was no problem since they were house-smoked.  We could really taste the depth-of-flavour.  Next up, we had the Maui Zaui consisting of short ribs marinated in spices and then grilled.  On the surface, they looked like grilled Korean short ribs, but they weren't.  Rather, they were much meatier (as in less tenderizers used) and the flavours were not as sweet.  They were on the chewier side, but for me at least, I didn't mind the natural texture.

Their entry into the Burger Challenge was the Smokehouse Steakburger sporting house sirloin beef with smoky gouda cheese, house cherry-wood smoked bacon, sweet pickled red onion and chopped romaine slathered with Tennessee whiskey tomato jam and grainy mustard on a Cabernet bun.  As simple as this burger seemed, it was really good.  The thick meat patty was moist and juicy while the ingredients created a smoky, sweet and tangy combination of flavours.  Of course we couldn't have a meal at Falconetti's without one of their house-made sausages in the Honey Bratwurst.  It was a sweet concoction as the name suggested with honey mustard and caramelized onions.  The brat itself had a nice exterior snap while bursting with juiciness.  Compared to my previous 2 visits here (spaced apart by years), this one was the strongest.  Food was on point and prices didn't hurt the wallet either.

*Burger and some items were complimentary*

The Good:
- Well-prepared eats, especially for a pub restaurant
- Reasonably-priced
- Music on the weekends

The Bad:
- Fairly small space and get packed easily on the weekends

The Ellis

Not since the days of chomping down on cheap wings at The King's Head and Malones have I really ventured out into Kits for eats.  Yes, those days have long passed and neither can I tackle 4 dozen wings at one sitting.  However, the recent Burger Challenge brought me back and to a gastropub no less in The Ellis.  Located on York, The Ellis is not far from the cluster of restaurants along Yew.  Spacious, but still pub-like, the interior was not too dark and there was a combination of a long table and smaller ones.

We came here for the burger, but we also ordered a bunch of other things including a pub favourite in the Togarashi Wings.  Just by the name itself, one would realize that they put an Asian spin on them.  I thought they did a really good job with the deep fry as the wings were crispy with rendered skin.  Underneath, the meat was moist and tender while a bit lacking in flavour.  However, the ample togarashi helped alleviate that with a spiciness.  Next up, we tried the Grilled Octopus with crispy potatoes, chorizo buttermilk sauce, confit onions and Swiss chard.  Beautifully plated, the veggies were nicely charred and tasty.  As for the octopus, it was tender, but too tender where it was lacking any resistance or chew.  It did taste good with enough seasoning as well as a background tanginess and spice from the sauce.

Surprisingly, one of the best small dishes was the Vegetables! which consisted of Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli and mushrooms with roasted garlic, chili and lemon.  These were on point with a vibrant crunch while still cooked all-the-way-through.  Masterful job on the Brussels sprouts as they can be tricky.  The saute was definitely subjected to enough heat as there was very little moisture at the bottom while the flavours were intense.  After this we moved onto the Pound O' Mussels in a broth sporting double smoked bacon, Talisman ale, butter & winter herbs.  I thought the mussels were fairly well-prepared being buttery and soft.  As much as I enjoyed the ample bacon and strong ale flavour, the broth could've been cooked down just a tad more.

Of course we eventually had the Burger Challenge entry in the Mediterranean Burger consisting of one pork and one beef patty, roasted peppers and onions, ricotta and provolone cheeses, pickled chillies and dried tomatoes.  This was a nice-looking creation which had great mouth-feel mostly due to the soft poppy seed bun.  It was still able to hold everything in without disintegrating.  The peppers and pickled chilies along with the dried tomatoes added an appealing tang and spice.  We actually preferred the beef patty alone without the pork patty as it was a bit dry.  However, the combination of ingredients provided enough moisture to help alleviate that.

Our last item, the Hickory Smoked Side Ribs, was our absolute favourite.  We didn't expect such a great dish from a gastropub.  The long whole side rib (not cut in half) was house-smoked, grilled and finished off with a spicy BBQ sauce.  The smokiness was strong, yet not overpowering while the rib was meaty and tender.  I loved the slight chewiness of the meat where it wasn't too soft.  What brought the whole thing together was the awesome BBQ sauce as it had depth and was notably spicy while not overly sweet.  The side of fries were money too being house-cut, crispy and potatoey.  For dessert, we had 4 Mini-Beignets atop lemon curd, chocolate, raspberry and peanut butter.  These were more like soft and light egg puffs (similar to the Chinese ones) rather than the chewy and denser New Orleans-style.  We liked these more since they were so airy and lightly crispy.  The sauces were quite good too.  Overall, the Ellis offered up some pretty good eats and really lived up to the gastropub moniker.

*Burger and dessert were complimentary*

The Good:
- Generally solid food
- Relaxed open space

The Bad:
- Some minor execution issues
- Parking in the area is a challenge 

H2 Rotisserie & Bar

From what I can remember about the Westin Bayshore when I was really young, it was one of the nicer hotels in town that sported one of the hottest restaurants in town.  Yes, for those who are old enough to know, Trader Vics was one of the places to be and be seen.  I was too young to ever experience a meal there though.  Fast forward to the present and the place is completely new and Trader Vics is nothing but a memory (I'm sure my parents have a picture of it somewhere...).  For the Burger Challenge, it brought me to the Westin where I got to experience their hot new restaurant - H2 Rotisserie & Bar.

Upon entering, we were welcomed to a modern and inviting space that was lively and hip (impressive for a Tuesday night).  We started things off with the Shout a Little Chowda Seafood Chowder.  This was creamy, but not in a heavy way while loaded with local west coast clams and mussels, prawns, salmon and baby scallop.  It was definitely hearty and quite filling.  Exhibiting only a minor hint of brininess, there was no denying the seafood flavour.  I liked how they added whole pieces of shellfish on top for both aesthetics and eating enjoyment.  Next up, the Beef Carpaccio consisted of hand sliced paper thin certified Angus Beef tenderloin, Barnston Island micro arugula, truffle oil, maldon salt and parmesan.  First off, the meat quality was top-notch being buttery melt-in-my-mouth tender.  I loved how the truffle oil was kept to a minimum where it added a complimentary earthiness without being overwhelming.  However, there really needed to be an aioli of some sort to add more moisture to the dish.

Onto the mains, we went straight for their signature Quarter Rotisserie Chicken with herb-roasted fingerling potatoes and grilled asparagus.  Sporting beautifully rendered skin, the chicken ate moist and was aromatic from the herbs and roasting.  Some of the exterior parts were a touch dry but it didn't take away from the overall tenderness of the meat.  The accompanying gravy was nicely seasoned and added that extra moisture and flavour.  Onto their burger challenge creation, we had the Hot Jill Meats Huckleberry B.C. Bison Burger.  It consisted of a 6 oz. grass fed pasture raised BC bison, huckleberry relish, Little Qualicum hot jill monterey cheddar, crisp barnston island red frill lettuce and garlic aioli served on an artisan challah bun.  This was prepared a beautiful medium-rare where it was juicy and tender.  There was a nice outside char and the gaminess of the meat was not overwhelming.  Lightly sweet, the huckleberry relish was the perfect compliment to the game while the cheese brought everything together.  This was my favourite entry into the burger challenge.

Our last item was the 9 oz Angus Beef Striploin with mashed potatoes and veggies.  From the first bite, we knew the beef was top quality.  It was prepared somewhere in between rare and medium-rare which meant it was still juicy.  However, the outside could've been charred more aggressively for aesthetics and flavour.  The steak was intentionally underseasoned so we could customize the seasoning with the accompanying chimichurri, merlot reduction, smoked sea salt, sea salt, mustard, balsamic mustard and honey mustard.  I found the smoked salt the perfect compliment as it intensified the meat flavour while adding a robust taste. 

For dessert, we went for 2 including the No One Does it Better Layered Carrot Cake and the Drop it Like it's Popped, Salted Caramel Popcorn Cheesecake.  At first glance, the ginger carrot cake (with the orange cream cheese icing) looked to be sweet, but alas it was balanced with plenty of spice.  I enjoyed the layers of flavour.  The cheesecake was surprisingly light for a baked version where it was smooth and creamy.  It was purposefully sweet and cheesy while accented by a caramel sauce and a salted caramel popcorn ball.   These were a nice end to a relatively good meal.  H2 is a great addition to the Westin in terms of style where it has become a trendy place to hang out.

*All food excluding gratuities was complimentary*

The Good:
- Beautiful space
- Whimsical menu
- Nice plating

The Bad:
- Minor tweaks for some dishes

Bistro @ Hopcott Meats

My second stop on the Burger Challenge took me to Hopcott Premium Meats.  It was a bit further out than the rest of the competition in Pitt Meadows.  If you know me, going out to Pitt Meadows is not considered "far".  In fact, it is a personal goal of mine to find tasty eats in the burbs and beyond.   Now the Bistro at Hopcott Premium Meats isn't your typical restaurant since it is an extension of the market where it really is farm to table cooking.  I brought the family out to try the burger as well as some of their other offerings.

Getting right to it, we had Farmer Bob's Burger made with a Hopcott prime rib patty, panko crusted jalapeno peppers, lettuce, tomato, cheddar & Monterey Jack cheeses, honey chipotle sauce and pickle on a pretzel bun.  From the first bite, the tang and spice from the crispy jalapenos announced themselves as well as the impactful cheeses.  The bun was firm enough to hold everything in without being dense.  I thought the well-charred patty was meaty, flavourful and lean.  Hence, it wasn't juicy per se, but hardly dry either.  Featuring the same pretzel bun, the Pulled Beef Sandwich was pretty solid as well.  The beef itself was more like in chunks rather than being pulled, which was actually a good thing.  The meaty pieces were tender and well-seasoned while not over-sauced.  Combined with the crunchy coleslaw, this was a hearty sandwich.  On the side, the Poutine featured double-cooked fresh cut fries that were bathed in a silky gravy accompanied by legit cheese curds.

I'm pretty sure the au jus for the Beef Dip was either a variation of that gravy or the same as it tasted pretty similar (again, it was a good thing that it was).  It was silky, meaty and not overly salty.  Loved how it clung onto the toasted and crispy ciabatta bread rather than merely soaking in.  Inside, the rotisserie beef (that was cooking right in front of our eyes) was tender, meaty and well-seasoned.  On the side, I upgraded to Chili Fries topped with cheddar, green onion and sour cream (served on the side).  Again, the fries were fresh cut and fairly crispy.  I found the chili to be meaty and mild.  With another great transition, my daughter had the soup and sammie combo with a bowl of the same Chili.  It was chock full of tender ground beef with only a smattering of beans and veggies.  It was nicely mild which suited her fine.  On the side, she had a half Turkey Cranberry Panini.  She enjoyed the bread as well as the tender turkey, but there could've more more turkey.  But really, that is nitpicking because the rest of the eats were quite good and of course, freshly made.  Can't get any better than that.

*All food was complimentary*

The Good:
- Farm-to-table fresh
- Solid eats
- Love the setting

The Bad:
- Not really a bad, but is far for people who are not in the Tri-Cities area.  I decided to shop there, so I guess that could be a good reason to go.

The Fresh Window @ Drew's Catering & Events

Here we are with another challenge from Vanfoodster.  This time around, it is the Burger Challenge and I did a fist pump when I found out that I was selected as a judge.  Yes, I love burgers and this was going to be fun unlike say... a salad challenge (ew...).   For my first stop, I decided to hit up The Fresh Window @ Drew's Catering & Events (picture from their Facebook site) down at the foot of Granville Street in Vancouver.  Located almost underneath the Arthur Laing Bridge, Drew's Catering offers up a take-out window in addition to their usual catering services.  This is purely a take out operation, but for the purposes of this challenge, we got to sit down and eat.

Miss Y joined me this time around and we got right down to it with their entry into the challenge being the Burger Noir all neatly contained in a custom box.  It featured a striking black brioche bun with 24-hour braised beef short rib, savoy cabbage coleslaw, horseradish aioli and shoestring potato.  Having the benefit of a solid piece of beef, the burger ate more meaty (as in chewier in a good way).  The short rib was super tender though, but not mushy.  It exhibited depth-of-flavour while the crunchy coleslaw added texture and creaminess.  The same could be said about the crispy shoestring potato as the crunch was of a different type, but very welcomed.  All of this was well-contained by the soft bun that barely held everything in.

We also tried the Smoked Brisket Rueben featuring Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, smoked Russian dressing and grilled kale on rye.  This wasn't much to look at, but ate very well.  The rye was robust, yet not dense and lightly crunchy.  Inside, the smoked brisket was flavourful and super succulent.  The sauerkraut provided enough tang and crunchiness where I thought the kale was pickled.  The nicely melted Swiss cheese helped bind everything together while there was just enough dressing that things stayed moist but not mushy.

Our last item was the DC Poke Salad sporting blackened Albacore tuna, organic greens, avocado, tomato, marinated artichokes, roasted corn, pea shoots, edamame, boiled egg and sesame miso dressing.  So by virtue of being a salad, this ate very light and was refreshing.  The dressing was nicely tangy and bright while the ingredients were fresh and on point.  For instance, the boiled egg was perfect, being fully cooked through without any off-putting dark rings.  We wished the tuna served rare though.  Overall, we thought the food was pretty solid and definitely freshly made, just like their name implies.

*All food was complimentary*

The Good:
- Solid eats
- Decently-priced
- Fresh

The Bad:
- Purely takeout, so not really any seating

Draw Winner!

Just a quick note that Julia L has been randomly chosen as the winner of the 9th Anniversary Draw!  Julia, please email me directly at admin@shermansfoodadventures and congrats!

Eastern Pearl Chinese

When I first spotted posts on Eastern Pearl, I actually thought it was referring to the restaurant located in Redmond, WA.  At that time, I had just visited the place after our flight back from San Diego during Christmas time.  Alas, the Eastern Pearl that was on IG referred to the newly opened spot in PoCo on the corner of Lougheed and Shaughnessy.  More than half-a-year later, we finally had a chance to make it for their Dim Sum service.  We wanted to make a reservation since we heard how busy they can be, but to no avail.  Either they had their phone off the hook or something was amiss as we couldn't get through the day before or the day of.  No matter, we went later and snagged a seat within 10 minutes.

Once seated, we noticed that the renovations had removed the booth seating in favour of a open dining space (good for banquets I suppose).  We got down to ordering and were served the BBQ Pork Pastry first.  From the outside, it looked like any other version with a flaky and super buttery (or lardy) pastry.  Inside, we were surprised to find a considerable amount of Japanese pickled ginger mixed in with the lean BBQ pork.  As a result, the flavour profile was completely that of the ginger being sweet with a sharp tanginess.  Next, the Beef Meatballs looked a bit too pale for our liking.  The reason for this was the considerable amount of baking soda which made the texture too light and fluffy.  There was no meat texture left.  It wasn't mushy though, which saved the dish from being a bust.  In terms of taste, the ample dried tangerine peel and seasoning kept the baking soda flavour from being at the forefront.

By appearances alone, the Siu Mai (Shrimp and Pork Dumplings) seemed to be on point.  In fact, it was really good featuring a buttery and bouncy texture where the meat was light and loose.  The flavours were sweet and briny with the full woodsiness of the shiitake mushrooms.  There was enough moisture where the dumpling had a nice mouth feel.  I also enjoyed that the intermittent bits of chewy, natural textured bits of pork mixed with the binding mousse.  As for the Ha Gau (Shrimp Dumplings), they were not as successful.  The thick and dense dumpling skin ensured that it was a fail even before we got to the filling.  It's not as if the filling was anything to write home about either.  I found it dense and lacking in moisture.  Despite the presence of a light snap texture, it was completely overshadowed by the lack of airiness.

On the same note, the Shrimp Rice Noodle Roll was too thick as well.  Strangely, the thick rice noodle roll was not doughy.  Rather it had a good amount of elasticity and the texture wasn't all that bad.  The problem was that it was double the thickness of most other rice noodle rolls.  Therefore, the noodle was fine, but the execution (when they were applying the noodle batter to the tray) was sloppy.  Inside, the shrimp filling was on point though with a flavourful snap and being well-seasoned.  That was evident in the Shrimp Spring Roll as well where the filling was moist with a buttery snap.  It was also the beneficiary of a boatload of garlic that tasted great.  These were served hot with a light and crunchy exterior that was easy on the grease.

Off to some offal, we ordered the Steamed Tripe and Tendon.  This was far too saucy where the flavours came on strong.  There was an overload of sweet and saltiness that surprisingly didn't hide the gaminess of the tripe very much.  There was some appealing spiciness though.  In terms of texture, the tripe was a bit too soft and only had a light chew.  The tendon was pretty soft, but still maintained its shape.  One of the larger dishes was the Steamed Spareribs atop crystal noodles.  We enjoyed the chewiness of mung bean noodles where they soaked up the tasty black bean and rib juices.  Although lacking bounciness, the pork ribs were tender with a meatier texture.

Once again, we got the Xiao Long Bao despite our recognition they were not going to be very good.  That they weren't where the dumpling skin was thick and doughy.  Furthermore, there was no soup to be found.  Inside, the pork filling was good though being moist, meaty and tender.  To be fair, there should be no expectation that XLBs would be good at a Cantonese restaurant.  On the other hand, the Eggplant stuffed with Shrimp Mousse was pretty much on point.  The mousse was airy and bouncy with enough seasoning to hold its own.  I found the eggplant to be soft but not completely melted.  Lastly, the black bean sauce was on the milder side, but there was enough inherent flavour.

We also got the Phoenix Talons (Chicken Feet) as per usual. For me at least, I find them just as important as the ha gau.  These ones passed the test being fairly plump with tender, yet not mushy skin.  Underneath, the cartilage and fat were soft without melting away.  Flavourwise, it was well-seasoned with garlic and black bean as well as a bit of spice.  If you look at the picture of the Custard Bun, it is a closeup and not particularly well-styled.  The reason for that was once I split the bun open, the custard ran out like water.  It was far too thin and we lost most of it right away.  It was sweet and aromatic though while the bun itself was soft and airy.

Lastly, we had the Baked Egg Tarts which ate better than they appeared.  The buttery and flaky shell was cooked just right while the silky egg filling was just sweet enough.  This ended a relatively uneven meal where some dishes were really good while some where pretty average-to-below-average.  However, considering that the Dim Sum game out in the Tri-Cities area is pretty weak, Eastern Pearl does a decent job in a nicely renovated space.  However, service can be rather poor depending on which server you get.  Furthermore, I'm not sure why they refuse to answer the phone to take reservations.

The Good:
- Is competitive in the Tri-Cities area where the Dim Sum game is weak
- Pricing is okay for the portion size

The Bad:
- Service can be poor depending on who you get
- Food is hit and miss

Dolpan Seoul BBQ

Korean BBQ has pretty much been mainstream for awhile now.  Many associate this with the traditional cast iron pan that sits above a built-in gas or portable burner.  However, there are many other types of grills used for Korean BBQ, including non-stick pans, solid cast iron pan with oil drainage and the suddenly fashionable all-in-one with the side troughs for egg and cheese.  For this meal, we visited Dolpan in Richmond which employs the solid cast iron pan as well as featuring non-marinated meats.  I met up with Nora, Joyce and Lesley to check it out.

To start, the usual Banchan arrived consisting of pickled daikon, sprouts, stewed potatoes and spicy turnip. Pretty standard stuff and even though the potatoes looked mushy, they were actually quite good being nicely sweet and appealingly soft. For the BBQ, we decided to try the Pork Sampler with pork belly, mok sal, pork jowl and kaburisal for $39.00 at exactly 500 grams.  They ended up cooking this for us as we already had a full table and an upcoming hot pot as well.  The meats arrived well-seared and fully cooked (maybe a tad over done).  We dipped the meats into the 3 condiments provided which included fermented bean paste, sweet bbq sauce and salt.  I thought the pork belly was the best as it was meaty with only a modest amount of fat. 

Onto the most visually-striking dish, the Army Base Hot Pot was a mish-mash of everything one could find lying around.  This included wiener, sausage, spam, tofu, instant ramen, rice cake, cabbage and processed cheese.  Although the ingredients were modest (everything found on a army base...), it all went together nicely including the cheese.  The salty, spicy and comforting quality of the hot pot really came through.  On the side, we added the equally-striking Egg Volcano.  Although it looked perfectly cooked on the outside, the inside was actually well-done.  So any fluffiness was reserved for the outside. In the end, we thought the meal was pretty good.  I liked the quality of the BBQ meats, but the prices in general are on the higher side.

The Good:
- Meats are good quality
- Pretty impressive hot pots
- Things seem to be carefully made

The Bad:
- Pricey
- Those overhead exhaust vents are dangerous for taller people

Happy Tree House BBQ

Once again, the power of Instagram has prevailed.  As much as I am aware of the fairly new location of Happy Tree House BBQ on Kingsway, I wasn't completely convinced that a visit was all that necessary.  Located in the former Star Anise and before that, Samosa Garden, Happy Tree serves up BBQ skewers and whole fish presented on a heated cast iron plate.  This I know because it has been plastered on IG for the last half year.  So when it came time to pick a place to eat with Miss Y (she of the Paleo diet), it seemed like a good spot to check out for both eats and to get our meat on...

One thing that irked us was there is no "per skewer" option on the menu.  Rather, you must order a minimum amount (usually 5 of one type) of skewers.  Therefore, unless you come in a group of 6 or more, it is tough to get a variety.  So we ended up with only a few with 5 each of the Premium Beef and Special Lamb.  Both were seasoned with enough spices to create a nutty and spicy flavour to compliment the natural meat taste.  I thought the lamb was the better of the two being fatty and succulent.  However, the beef was caramelized a bit more which meant a noted smokiness and nutty sweetness.  I'm not sure why they would set this to minimum of 5 as they were constantly pumping these out and they could easily serve up less than that if requested.

On the other hand, there was no such ridiculous limit on the Prawn as we only had to get 2 as a minimum.   These looked less grilled than we would've expected.  Rather, they appeared to have been deep-fried (even though they were not).  After we removed the shells, the meaty prawn was natural-tasting and sweet.  Texturally, it was firm and slightly overdone being dense.  It wasn't dry though, where the meat was still tasty.  We were able to order one Oyster (I guess if they had a 5 minimum limit on the seafood, no one would order it?) and it was good.  It was more or less a plain oyster with some seasoning on top.  Hence it was naturally briny and only slightly salty.  I found it was cooked just right being buttery inside with only a touch of chewiness on the edges.

Seeing how magnificent the whole fish looked in the IG photos, we got the Spicy Grilled Cod with peppers served on a a large pan that was heated underneath.  Sure this was $39.00 but the portion size was pretty large as we didn't put much of a dent into the fish.  As flaky and moist as the fish was, the texture and appearance resembled sole more than cod.  The dish looked crazy spicy, but similar to Szechuan water-boiled fish, there was enough heat to make an impact without burning our tongues.   To cool things down, we got the Hand Made Noodle in bone broth as well as a bowl of rice.  The noodles were pretty good being chewy with elasticity.  They were a touch overdone though.  As for the soup, it was plenty tasty with the essence of sesame oil.  However, we felt there was too much seasoning and it took away from the natural flavours of the bone broth.

Lastly, for our veggie, we got the Eggplant topped with a considerable amount of minced garlic.  Hence, the flavours were intense and made sure we weren't going to kiss anyone later one (the spicy fish was also very garlicky).  Although rather oil-soaked, the eggplant was texturally appealing being meaty while tender.  It was barely cooked through which ensured that it wasn't mushy.  Of course we didn't finish all the food we ordered and it didn't help we had to get 5 earch of our meat skewer order.  Whatever the case, the food was tasty and the service was a whole lot better than we have read about.

The Good:
- Tasty and well-seasoned food
- On point execution of proteins

The Bad:
- Stupid minimum limit on most of the skewers
- Must they play the music that loud?  I've been to concerts that were quieter