Sherman's Food Adventures: 2018

Di Beppe

Costanza really loves Italian food.  He cooks it at home, eats it at restaurants and I swear, fantasizes about it when he's sleeping.  Yah, talk about #foodporn...  So when we needed a spot to grab a bite to eat before the Bryan Adams concert at Rogers Arena, I pointed to the relatively newly opened Di Beppe in nearby Gastown.  Located in the former location of Joe Pizza, the same ownership group decided to go in a different direction with a half-cafe and half-restaurant concept.  Featuring a simple menu of pizza and pastas, this was perfect of our purposes,.

We went for 2 pastas including the Spaghetti Carbonara.  Portion size was modest, but the execution was on point.  Firm with a slight rebound, the pasta was exactly to our liking.  Coated evenly, there was the saltiness of the guanciale and pecorino.  There wasn't any excess moisture, but the sauce was neither clumpy nor dried out.  It was accented nicely with just the right amount of black pepper.  Our second dish was the featured pasta being the Pappardelle with fava bean ragu, mushrooms and Parmesan.  For a vegetarian offering, this was equally tasty and impactful.  I found the freshly-made pappardelle to be perfectly al dente.  The fava bean ragu was hearty and properly seasoned.  Ample porcini mushrooms ensured that there was even more body and umaminess.

For our pizzas, we decided to go for the standard with the Margherita.   However, it was not the typical Neapolitan-style pizza found at most places in Vancouver these days.  Rather, we found a thicker Naples-style pizza from the Sorentine peninsula.  Despite its appearance, the crust was airy and fairly light while crunchy throughout.  The light tomato sauce was mild with some tang and spice.  What really made this pizza was the big chunks of buffalo mozzarella that did its best impression of burrata (of course not as creamy).  Our second pizza was the Rapini & Sausage.  This was actually pretty spicy complimented by the meatiness of the sausage.  We found the rapini to be a bit too cooked where it became a touch mushy.  I guess that is always the challenge with veg on pizza as the dough has to cook through.  But overall, we thought the food was on point at Di Beppe and we wouldn't be opposed to returning.

The Good:
- On point pastas
- Unique pizzas that were also good

The Bad:
- Portion-size (for the pastas) were a bit small
- Cozy dining space, not great if you need lots of room

Downlow Chicken Shack

Food from the South has never been a big thing in the GVRD.  As much as you try to find good ol' Southern cooking, you only come up with a few restaurants and with that, the results can be pretty mediocre.  Lost amongst the plethora of Asian eats, there has been an increasing interest in food from other parts of the world.  The newest to join the fray is the DownLow Chicken Shack from the same people at Merchant's Workshop, Doug Stephan and Lindsey Mann.  This is not a new creation by any means as they have been serving their Nashville Hot Chicken for several years now on select days.  Finally, they have set up shop where everyone can enjoy on a daily basis.

I originally attended a media preview and sampled the Hot Chicken Sandwich on a milk bun with DL sauce, sweet n sour slaw and house pickles.  As you can clearly see, they put the whole chicken breast in there.  It was super crispy on the outside while completely doused in their signature hot spices.  Inside, the chicken was juicy and moist.  The one I tried was "hot" on the heat level and yes it was spicy.  However, it wasn't burning hot where I couldn't taste anything else.  For this visit (with my friend Steve), I decided to try a few things including the 1/4 Dark in "mild" heat level.  Since there was just a touch of spice, the smoked paprika came through much more strongly.  Completely rendered and crunchy, the skin was perfect.  Much like the sandwich and even more so, the dark meat was juicy and delicious.

To get a sense of the Chicken Breast without the bun and other stuff, I got it in the "hot" heat level by itself.  This yielded a more distinct taste of the heat that gradually got hotter and hotter as I ate.  Again, with the considerable amount of succulent white meat, the spiciness wasn't unbearable.  In fact, it was well-balanced where I could taste layers of flavour rather than just heat.  However, the spice level was amped up a notch with the Chicken Wing in "extra-hot" heat level.  Again, the skin was well rendered being crunchy without any flabbiness.  Since there was less meat than the breast, the spice was more evident.  Again, it was a slow rumbling heat that got more pronounced as I chewed.  With that being said, it also didn't overwhelm. 

For sides, we got the Cornbread with cheddar and jalapenos.  This was a sizable piece where the cheddar added a rich saltiness while the jalapenos were a touch spicy and tangy.  The cornbread itself was rather sweet while a bit dry and crumbly.  Doused in DL sauce, the Fries were served hot and crispy.  I didn't tell them how spicy I wanted it and the sauce came creamy and mild.  For the tasting, I had it spicy and I highly recommend that you ask for that.  Although the prices might offer up a bit of sticker shock at first, the fried chicken at DL Chicken Shack is legit.  Execution is spot on and the flavours are equally good.  With all things considered, I would come back again and again, gladly paying the price (which we did!).

The Good:
- On point chicken, crispy and juicy
- Delicious spice blend, from mild-to-super hot
- Nice people

The Bad:
- A bit pricey for some (but worth it IMO)
- Cornbread could be more moist

Green Leaf Cafe (Burnaby)

Essentially started by Miku, the aburi sushi craze has not stopped.  In fact, we have many places offering the infamous aburi salmon oshi to varying degrees of success.  For me, Miku/Minami is still the gold standard while a few produce very good replications such as Yui Bistro, Kishimoto, Victoria Sushi and Green Leaf.  The latter has now opened up a bigger location at the old Paros spot adjacent to Lougheed Mall.  We decided to check it out with some relatives who were visiting for the weekend.

Since we have been eating non-stop since they arrived, we needed some greens, so we ordered the Green Leaf Salad with a light ginger vinaigrette.  Yah, this wasn't anything sexy, but it was a nicely constructed and fresh salad.  Loved the bits of corn as it provided texture and pops of sweetness.  Okay, as much as the salad was a nice departure from the heavy foods we've been having lately, this was not the reason we were here.  So we made sure there was balance with the Crispy Chicken (15 piece) seasoned with garlic soy and served with garlic mayo.  This was on point with a thin layer of uniformly crispy batter.  The chicken remained moist and juicy while being lightly flavourful.  I would've liked to see more garlic soy for impact.  Even without the mayo, I thought the chicken stood on its own.

Okay, we were really here for the aburi, so we got the Green Leaf Signature Aburi Platter consisting of mackerel oshi, tuna yuuke oshi, tobiko roll, salmon oshi, basil prawn oshi and scallop oshi.  Compared to the first time I had these at their Kits location, I thought everything was more carefully made and less greasy.  My favourite was the tuna as it was buttery soft with aromatic hits of sesame oil.  The salmon was not far off with a creamy oshi sauce accented by a thin slice of jalapeno.  With the brightness of basil and the saltiness of parmesan, the ebi was possibly the most impactful of the bunch.  My son loved the scallop as it was buttery soft with equal parts of creaminess atop chewy sushi rice.  The only thing that could've been better would be the doneness of the fish as it was fully cooked.

One of the most interesting dishes we had was the Tornado Omelette Rice with sweet & savoury demi glace, garlic flakes, tomato and chili.  Yes, this is a mashup of a Korean tornado (or volcano egg) with a Japanese omerice.  The result was a silky and fluffy egg exterior encasing fried rice that was sweet, savoury and slightly spice.  The onion really came through while the sauce was a good compliment to the mildly-flavoured egg.  Neatly plated, the Mentaiko Creamy Linguine was surprisingly spicy.  So much so, it lingered even after several bites.  We found the pasta to be somewhere a bit past al dente, but not overly so.  Thick and creamy, the sauce didn't eat as heavy as it appeared.  The ample amount of cod roe added pops of brininess.  On top, the butterflied prawns were prepared perfectly being sweet with a snap. 

Rounding out our dishes, we had one each of the Sockeye Salmon and Hamachi Sashimi. Without even needing to say a word, it is pretty obvious from the pictures that the both were fresh and vibrant.  The sheen and colour were dead giveaways to what we were about to be treated to.  Although the salmon had a firm butteriness while being naturally sweet, the beautiful hamachi stole the show.  It was delicate and tender with the slightest bite.  There was a definite taste of the sea to go with the usual sweetness.  It goes without saying that our experience at the Lougheed Mall Geen Leaf was better than our visit at their Kits location.  Everything was carefully prepared and the food was generally quite good.  We thought the pricing was reasonable as well.

The Good:
- More spacious than their other location
- Reasonably-priced
- Food was above-average

The Bad:
- The cook on the aburi could be less aggressive

Honey Salt

Fresh off the all-you-can-eat $40.00 Dim Sum at 1886, we returned the day after for brunch at Honey Salt.  We decided to do a low-key brunch for Father's Day after the extravagance and pricey brunch at H2 in the Westin for Mother's Day.  Besides, my mom cares way more than my dad about where to eat in general.  For those unfamiliar with Honey Salt, the original location hails from Las Vegas (or more accurately Summerlin).  Their country-style theme meshes well with their farm-to-table concept.  Upon entering the dining space, I would say they have succeeded in executing their vision with an inviting and airy decor.

We ended up ordering a few dishes for the table including the Honey Salt Market that was mostly a glorified crudites.  It was whimsically plated with charcoaled beets, asparagus, heirloom tomatoes & carrots, crispy kale, pickled veggies, sweet potato chips, charcoal salt, cauliflower hummus and goddess dip.  Although it wasn't a very complex concoction, the appealingly plated veggies were fresh and crunchy.  I wanted to like the dips, but they were not impactful.  Firm and almost crunchy, the outer layers of the citrus brioche Monkey Bread were caramelized and smoky.  Yes, it was pretty sweet, but it worked in this case as the interior of the bread was spiked with cinnamon and little sugar.  For those who wanted to up the sweetness, there was a side of honey bourbon sauce.  As much as I enjoyed the flavours, I would've preferred a softer bread (on the inside).

For my main, I went for the Fish & Chips with smashed peas, tartar sauce, malt aioli and fries.  In terms of execution, the fish (I believe it was cod) was perfectly flaky and almost buttery.  As for the batter, it was crunchy on the edges, but not-so-much near the centre.  This is illustrated by the lighter colour too.  I found the tartar to be thick, creamy and tangy while the malt aioli was a nice compliment to the crunchy, yet airy fries.  Viv had the Biloxi Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich with creamy slaw, durkee's dressing and pickles on brioche.  We liked how they included 2 thick pieces of fried chicken since it made the sandwich hearty and filling.  Tangy and acidic, the slaw and crunchy pickles brought the heaviness down a notch.  The little salad on the side was not an afterthought as it was bright, sweet and tart.

My dad ended up with the Dungeness Crab Roll which was served as a trio of mini-rolls.  It was supposed to come with salt & vinegar chips, but he opted for a salad instead.  Although the description on the menu stated celery salad, there was little in the way of filler.  Rather, there seemed to be only fluffy crab throughout with a light mayo dressing.  It was a nice little bite with the buttery toasted roll.  Our only complaint was the bits of shell we found with the crab.  As per usual, my mom went for the Steak & Eggs consisting of RR Ranch strip loin, 2 eggs, latkes and house-made tomato jam.  This was a nicely composed dish with a beautifully charred medium-rare steak and equally well-executed sunny side eggs.  Nutty and crunchy, the latkes were nicely textured inside and out.

The kiddies decided to share 2 dishes in the BC Smoked Salmon Board and Eggs Benedict.  Again, the smoked salmon board wasn't particularly complex, but the plating was appetizing.  They didn't skimp on the big slices of buttery salmon and there was a side of potted salmon as well.  Completing the spread was onions, capers (he omitted these), tomatoes and soft yolk egg.  The benny featured peameal back bacon, soft poached eggs, spinach and Hollandaise.  Runny, but with completely cooked whites, the poached egg was perfect.  Silky and buttery, the Hollandaise was good, but could've used a touch more lemon.  In terms of atmosphere and service, Honey Salted nailed it.  As for the food, it was mostly good with some issues here and there.  But it wasn't enough to prevent us from going back.

The Good:
- Comfortable dining space with appealing decor
- Attentive service
- Brunch was above-average

The Bad:
- Some minor issues with a few dishes
- No validated parking

1886 Chinese Fine Dining (AYCE Dim Sum)

We've seen this story before.  All-you-can-eat Dim Sum was a thing back in the 90's at a restaurant on Broadway upstairs (Top Gun?).  It didn't last long though and we haven't really seen it again since.  Well, not until now...  The upscale 1886 in the Parq Vancouver next to BC Place surprisingly is offering AYCE Dim Sum for $38.88.  Factor in that most of the dishes there are around $10.00, the price tag for the AYCE doesn't seem all that outrageous.  With that in mind, JuJu declared we should try it out, so we rounded up the gang including Milhouse, Kaiser Soze, Dre and Ro.

We got right down to business and ordered all of the steamed items first starting with the Shanghai Pork Soup Dumpling with Lobster Bisque.  Although the dumpling skin was a touch thicker and doughy than I would've preferred, the strong lobster aroma made up for it.  It was very tasty and impactful with an umaminess that was complimented by the sweet and tender pork.  There was plenty of soup that really did taste like a bisque. Of note, the second time around, the dumpling skin was thinner.  Next, the Scallop Dumpling with Black Garlic featured a medium-thick skin that had nice elasticity.  It was full of scallop that was buttery, sweet and lightly briny.  There was a certain aromatic umaminess from the black garlic that was not overpowering.  Mixed in with the scallops were bits of crunchy veggies.

Even by visuals alone, we  were concerned with the thickness of the dumpling skin on the Spinach Seafood Dumpling.  After one bite, it was confirmed as it was doughy.  However, it still exhibited elasticity and rebound, so it wasn't all a loss.  Inside, the spinach was tender and didn't become mushy.  The seafood (mostly shrimp) was on point having a moist snap.  The flavour profile trended towards sweet rather than savoury, but was still balanced.  We ended up ordering the Vegetable Dumpling just because we could say we ordered everything from the menu.  Turns out it wasn't just a throw in.  Sporting a relatively thin glutinous wrapper, the dumpling ate well with tender, but not overcooked veggies.  I wasn't a fan of the peas though as they were chalky.  The dumpling ate mildly sweet with a background pepperiness.

We found the Ha Gau (Shrimp Dumplings) to be pretty textbook.  They were on the smaller side, but since it was AYCE, who cares?  We thought the dumpling skin was just the right thickness and texturally, it wasn't too soft while retaining a chewiness.  Inside, the shrimp filling was sweet and buttery.  It was a touch on the saltier side, but it didn't cross the threshold where one would actually say it is salty.  As for the Siu Mai (Pork & Shrimp Dumplings), they were on point.   Buttery and bouncy, the pork was perfectly textured while the amount of shiitake ensured variance in flavour and umaminess.  I thought the seasoning was bang on where it was impactful without being oversalted.

Okay, here we go with the dud of the meal.  The Bean Curd Skin Roll with sea cucumber, enoki mushroom and shrimp could've been good.  However, the goopy sauce killed the dish.  There was far too much of it where the rolls literally drowned in it.  Furthermore, there was so much starch, the sauce could be picked up with chopsticks.  As for the roll itself, the bean curd skin had a bite while being tender.  Having quality ingredients as the filling was a plus too.  One of the more standard items was the Lotus Leaf Wrapped Chicken, Pork and Glutinous Rice (Lo Mai Gai).  By no means was it bad, in fact, it was very good.  The rice was nicely textured while not being too mushy while the meat was plentiful and tender.

Onto the Rice Noodle Rolls, we tried them all including the BBQ Pork, Prawn and Mushroom Trio (not pictured).   Texturally, the rice noodle was quite good.  It was soft and buttery.  I would've liked to see more elasticity, but it didn't make or break the dish.  I wanted to like the BBQ pork rice noodle roll, but there was  just too much cilantro for my tastes.  This was purely subjective as many at the table loved it.  Surprisingly good, the mushroom trio consisted of enoki, shiitake and straw mushrooms.  It was woodsy and was chock full of filling.  However, the best of the bunch was the prawn since they were large and beautifully textured.  Meaty with a sweet and aromatic snap, the prawns were the right textural contrast to the soft rice noodle.

We also got the trio of steamed buns including the BBQ Pork Bun, Chicken & Ginger Bun (not pictured) and the Egg Yolk Bun.  Consistent throughout, the buns were fluffy and airy.  There was just enough moisture where the bun came cleanly off the parchment paper on the bottom.  Meaty and lean, the BBQ pork was sauced with a sweet and savoury glaze.  However, I much preferred the chicken bun as the meat was super moist and tender with the bright and sharp taste of fresh ginger.  If you look at the picture of the egg yolk bun, Dre couldn't split the bun successfully since it was super hot and pretty runny.   It did taste good though with just enough sweetness and the unmistakable salted egg yolk finish.

It was interesting how the menu didn't have beef meatballs nor phoenix talons, but at least they had Black Bean Spareribs.  This was one of my favourite dishes as the texture was on point.  There was a butteriness to the meat, yet it still had a bite with plenty of rebound.  I found the pieces to be mostly meat and rib portions.  There was plenty of seasoning that was a nice balance between garlickiness and saltiness from the black bean.  Mijune, who was sitting nearby, remarked that the dish they had was pretty fatty.  One bonus item was the Potstickers as we were served them despite it not being on the menu.  These were also good with thin delicate dumpling skin.  It was uniformly seared where the filling was succulent and peppery.

As much as we normally do not tend to order congee during Dim Sum service, we were dedicated to trying the whole menu.  Hence, we got both the Preserved Egg & Salted Pork Congee as well as the Seafood Congee.  The reason why we tend to shy away from congee is that it is viewed as a filler.  So for this case, we only got one bowl each.  Turns out it was a nice departure from everything else as we were getting pretty full.  The broth was semi-thick and had a "home-style" quality to it.  It wasn't inundated with MSG nor salt.  Therefore, it ate very light.  With that being said, they didn't skimp on the ingredients as you can see in the picture.  We liked how they diced up the egg into small pieces since we got an equal bite in each spoonful.  The seafood congee was mostly fish with some shrimp and scallop.  It was cooked just enough so that the seafood was the right texture.

For our next round, we got more of the aforementioned dishes, but also added the baked and fried items (which we ordered by the piece).  I absolutely loved the deep fried Minced Pork Dumplings (Ham Sui Gock) as they were super crunchy with only a thin layer of glutinous rice.  Inside, the pork filling was plentiful, lean and well-seasoned.  Moreover, the dumpling was not greasy as it can usually be.  On the other hand, the Duck & Mashed Taro Puff (Wu Gock) was a little oily on the bottom.  That is pretty normal as taro can soak up oil like a sponge.  I found it a little dense due to the amount of filling, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing because the duck was quite tasty.

The aforementioned 2 items are generally pretty standard offerings for Dim Sum, but the next 2 were more unique.  I really enjoyed the Signature Crispy Chicken & Mushroom Pastry as it was aromatic and crispy.  Inside, the chicken was super tender and moist.  The addition of mushrooms added another layer of flavour.   The whole thing was served hot, so all the flavours were activated.  Next up, the Black Pepper & Angus Beef Cake was also served hot out of the oven.  The pastry was flaky and buttery while combined with the filling, it was a touch dense.  The ample amount of beef was tender and moist while the pepperiness was actually rather mild.

Back to the regular, the Crispy Shrimp Spring Rolls lived up to its namesake.  Wrapped tightly, the rolls were firmly crunchy while not greasy.   I personally like them a bit more loose, but that wasn't a huge problem.  The shrimp filling was once again buttery with a sweet snap.  It was well-seasoned, yet I could still taste the natural essence.  Cute as button and small as one, the Pineapple Buns were a table-favourite.  Although a touch dense, due to their small size, the buns were aromatic and nutty from the lard (yes, lard).  On top, the sugar flour crust was sweet, but restrained.  It was also aromatic and caramelized.

We also ordered all the desserts including the refreshing Chilled Mango Sago Cream with pomelo.  This was classic in its preparation with a semi-sweet creamy mango "soup" mixed with mini-tapioca pearls, fresh mango bits and of course pomelo.  The result was a tangy and sweet concoction that was a nice break from the savoury items.  On the same theme, the Mango Pudding absolutely killed it.  Unlike cheaper versions, this mango pudding was creamy, rich and tasted like fresh mangoes, there was an aromatic tang from the bits of mango that made this refreshing.

When it arrived, I was a little concerned with the Egg Tart's appearance.  They looked a bit shriveled and dry.  Well, that was somewhat true as the edges of the custard were gummy and not silky.  However, the middle was good while being sweet with a coconut finish.  As for the puff pastry tart shell, it was buttery and nutty.  Texturally, it was flaky and light.  Trying to be a bit different, they mixed the usual Coconut Pudding with a layer of red bean pudding.  The result was a contrast in both textures and flavour.  I found the coconut pudding to be mild and smooth while the red bean pudding to be somewhat gritty with more body.

Our last 2 desserts and dishes in general was the Deep Fried Durian Pastry and the Crispy Sweet Potato Puff.  With the unmistakable smell of durian, the pastry was crispy with a strong hit of creamy durian.  Dre really enjoyed it, but Kaiser Soze thought it was too strong.  Lastly, the potato puff was really a fried sesame glutinous ball with potato and salted egg yolk filling.  In a reversal of ingredients, the glutinous exterior was spiked with red bean (normally, the filling is red bean paste).  This was aromatic and lightly crispy on the outside while the filling was starchy and semi-sweet with an salted egg finish.  As you can ascertain, we were quite impressed with the overall quality of the Dim Sum at 1886.  Sure, their a la carte pricing is overpriced, but the AYCE deal is actually reasonable in our books.

The Good:
- Decent variety with quality ingredients
- Overall, the majority of dishes were good
- Service was attentive and friendly

The Bad:
- Some might shy away from the $38.88 price tag, but considering the a la carte pricing, this was reasonable 
- No validated parking