Sherman's Food Adventures: February 2017

Elements Diner

More often than not, there is too much of the same going on.  Take for instance the amount of ramen joints that open up.  Sure, they are different styles, but in the end, it is still rather similar.  When you look at Downtown, it is pretty much lacking in unique choices for food.  So when Heritage Asian Eatery recently opened up shop, it was a refreshing option considering the other places nearby.  So I wasn't sure what to make of Elements Diner settling into its home at the corner of Smythe and Beatty on the edge of Yaletown.  Okay, so it serves bubble tea and Taiwanese cuisine, what is so different about that?  First of all, it's in Yaletown which makes it unique right off the bat.  Second, I was about to find out that the food isn't really all that typical.

I was invited, along with a few more people, to sample their take on Asian-Western diner food.  To start, we were presented with a platter consisting of Golden Fries, Smoked Salmon Avocado Rice Pizza, Pork Gyoza, Roasted Beet Salad and Warm Salmon Avocado.  Hands down, the best item of the bunch was the golden fries.  With a passing glance, they appeared to be plain steak fries.  Yet, they were coated with salted duck egg yolk which added a rich and robust aroma and taste.  It wasn't exactly salty, but it definitely added impact.  My next favourite was actually the beet salad (yes really) since it featured tender Earthy beets aggressively dressed in a tart and sweet vinaigrette.  Loved the citrus too.  The avocado wedge with cheesy salmon on top was good, but I would've liked the fish more moist.  The fried sushi rice topped with smoked salmon was a lot less heavy than it appeared, however, it could've been thinner.  There was enough salmon and avocado on top to be noticed.  The addition of bonito flakes added another layer of brininess.  As for the gyoza, it was decent with a thin tender skin while the filling was a nice balance between veggies and moist pork.

Next up was a definitely Chinese take on an American classic being the Asian Honey Sesame Pulled Duck Mac n' Cheese.  At first, I was a bit concerned with the combination of duck, hoisin sauce and melted cheese.  I guess the cheese was mild enough that it didn't clash with the rest of the ingredients.  Sure, it was missing some sharpness, but the texture was ooey and gooey while the duck, cucumber and hoisin created a Peking Duck effect.  As for the macaroni itself, it was al dente which bucked the trend of Asian restaurants cooking the heck out of their pasta.  I would've liked to see more of a cheese sauce though as the dish ate dry. Next up was probably my favourite item of the entire meal.  By looks alone, the Spicy Crab Ciabatta Sandwich looked like any other ordinary sandwich.  That was completely deceiving as beyond the crunchy bread lay tender crab patties that were juicy, spicy and super-flavourful (bordering on salty).  What I liked most was the intermittent chunks of fluffy crab that was surprisingly not overwhelmed by the strong spicy flavours.

Continuing with duck, we also had something similar to the mac n' cheese with the Roasted Duck Quesadilla filled with cheese, green pepper and hoisin.  So essentially, this was Peking Duck wrap that was grilled on the flat top.  It surely tasted like a Peking Duck wrap, but with the addition of cheese, it ate more robust.  I'm not sure that the green peppers really went with this wrap as it was strong in flavour and there was a certain raw aftertaste.  I did like how the exterior was crunchy though as it was a nice balance to the soft ingredients. Something a bit more typical was the Baked Seafood Rice.  I would say it was more or less pretty standard with the usual array of seafood on top with a nutty and creamy sauce.  The rice was dry and chewy, which was good for accepting the sauce and not being mushy.

For dessert, we were treated to 4 Ice Cream Baos including Coconut Gelato with black glutinous rice sauce, Mango Gelato with mango sauce, Matcha Gelato with red bean paste and Triple Chocolate.  The fried bao were robust enough to stand up to the moisture of the fillings.  As such, they were definitely chewier.  I though the flavours of the gelato and other ingredients came through, but eating the bao was messy as everything squirted out.  My favourite was th mango as it tasted natural and refreshing.  Overall, I felt the food at Elements was good albeit some tweaks are needed.  I'm glad they are taking some chances though as food should be creative.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Something different
- Minimalist, yet spacious dining space
- Loved that crab sandwich

The Bad:
- There were some really good dishes, however, some tweaks are needed on others
- Dessert Baos were good, but hard to eat  

Happiness Seafood Restaurant

With a name like "Kung Fu Chef", no one would ever expect to be served authentic Cantonese food.  Au contraire, there was actually decent Chinese food and even Dim Sum found there.  However, without a familiar Chinese-restaurant sounding name, I'm not sure if it attracted enough patrons.  So when it was replaced by the generic-sounding Happiness Seafood Restaurant, I was intrigued to see if there was any tangible changes.  Well, I'm happy (almost a pun right?) to report that they got rid of the booth seating (terrible for Dim Sum) seemed to be serving authentic Cantonese cuisine.

I met up with Chill and few friends for lunch and he proceeded to order 3 Rice Noodle Rolls including shrimp, beef and BBQ pork.  It was not a bad decision as the rice noodle itself had an appealing elasticity while being fairly soft (with a slight chewiness).  Inside, the shrimp was buttery with a sweet snap while the beef was tender and bouncy.  Despite being pretty pale and grey, the BBQ pork was tender and moist.  Exhibiting a firm crunchiness, the Fried Squid Tentacles were tender with an easy chew.  They were wok-tossed in salt, garlic and peppers that were impactful providing aroma and enough saltiness with a slight kick.  The dish was easy on the grease despite the deep-fry and subsequent wok toss.

Onto the 2 dishes that all Dim Sum joints are judged upon, we had the Ha Gau and Siu Mai (Shrimp Dumplings and Pork & Shrimp Dumplings).  If I had to compare, the Siu Mai was better where it was packed with moist and tender chunks of pork.  There was just the right amount of fat to create a buttery rebound texture.  Seasoning was pretty mild though and the dumpling could've used more shiitake.  As for the ha gau, the filling was a combination of shrimp bits and mousse.  It was buttery and moist with a firm rebound.  Flavours were on the sweeter side with a faint hint of sesame oil.  I found the dumpling skin to be acceptable being medium-thick and a little floury.

One of the best dishes was the Fried Eggplant with Shrimp Mousse.  Stuffed within the large pieces of eggplant was a generous amount of shrimp.  The texture was on point being almost juicy with an appealing bounciness.  I thought the exterior of both the shrimp and eggplant to be just right with a light crispiness that was a bit greasy though.  The eggplant was not overly soft while the black bean sauce was a tad bland despite the rich colour.  Interestingly, we also got the BBQ Duck (not something I usually order for Dim Sum) which was surprisingly good.  I'm not sure if they made this in-house or not, but the skin was nicely rendered.  Underneath, the meat was moist and flavourful from the brine.

We also got 2 classics in the Beef Meatballs and Steamed Pork Spareribs as well.  Both dishes were large in portion size with the meatballs barely fitting on the small plate.  Texturally, the meatball had the classic bounciness being tender and moist.  In terms of taste, there was a noticeable amount of green onion, but it was not overwhelming.  I would've liked to see some dried tangerine peel for some varying flavours.  Consisting of rib pieces and some cartilage, the pork spareribs were on the chewier side.  With that being said, this was better than being over-tenderized.  There was a nice garlickiness to the dish as well as some of the green and red peppers from the top.

Lastly, we had the Bean Curd Skin Roll which was filled with pork, celery and carrots.  I found the meat to be tender and not packed too densely.  It was somewhat sweet with the brightness of the veggies coming through.  Outside, the bean curd skin was either not fried or fried lightly, hence it was buttery and soft.  On another visit with Zamboni Guy, we did the North American Chinese food thing starting with the classic Sweet & Sour Pork.  For a half-sized order (Dim Sum service only), this was a generous offering.  The medium-sized chunks were tender and moist with a slightly crispy exterior.  With just enough sauce to coat each piece, it was trending towards sweet more than sour.

Zamboni Guy's go to dish is the veritable Broccoli & Beef, so despite having to order off the dinner menu, we got the large portion anyways.  This was double the price of the sweet & sour pork, but wasn't exactly double the size.  It wasn't offered as a half-portion on the Dim Sum menu.  In terms of execution, the broccoli was on point being crunchy, yet still tender throughout.  The slices of beef were well-seasoned and tenderized where it had a nice rebound.  To complete the trifecta of the classic North American Chinese "dinner for 2", we had the Yeung Chow Fried Rice.  This was also well-prepared with chewy and nutty grains of rice.  Strewn generously throughout was lean BBQ pork and cold-water shrimp.  I would've liked to see a bit more salt though as the dish was pretty mild.

For myself, I still had to get some Dim Sum items that I didn't get to try the first time (because Chill doesn't like offal...).  So I went for the Phoenix Talons (Chicken Feet) and Beef Tripe & Tendons (which totally turned Zamboni Guy off...  Therefore, I essentially ate both dishes myself.  As evidenced in the picture, the chicken feet were large and plump.  The skin was lightly fried while the cartilage and fat underneath were soft, yet not melted.  Flavours were on point being garlicky, sweet and savoury.  As for the tripe, I found it to be a touch gamy where a bit more rinsing was needed.  Texturally, it was just right having a chewy while being tender.  The tendon was also on point by not being too soft.  With similar flavours with the previous dish, there was a bit more in the way of chili flakes.

I also got the Deep Fried Dumplings which featured an appealingly thin layer of glutinous rice.  It was fried until crunchy without being overly greasy (as this dish can be).  Inside, the filling was as bit different where it featured a mousse-like texture with shrimp, pork, shiitake and cilantro.  We ended off the meal with the Baked Egg Tarts.  Although a touch under-baked, these were still buttery and flaky.  The egg custard itself was soft and silky while being just the right sweetness.  As you can pretty much guess, the eats at Happiness Seafood was more than acceptable, especially given its location.  Other than the nearby Chongqing, there may not be anything better in terms of authentic Cantonese cuisine.

The Good:
- Decent service
- Above-average eats
- Better layout than before

The Bad:
- On the pricier side
- Both times, food took awhile to arrive