Sherman's Food Adventures: January 2018

The Victor

Lately, I've been trying to catch up with all the new restaurant openings as it is pretty difficult to hit them all when there are other activities other than eating.  Yes, it is true, there is more to life than eating out!  So fresh off Atlas, Botanist and Oddfish, we actually made it out to The Victor in the brand-spanking new Parq hotel.  We brought the whole family out since it coincided with my birthday as well.  Might as well since the kids are developing quite the palate for fine dining (insert curse words by Viv since she blames me for this...).

To get a sense of the Japanese portion of the restaurant, we got the Aburi Salmon to start.  Although there wasn't some fancy mayo sauce on top, the natural sweetness of the salmon really came through.  The quality was unquestionable as the texture was on point and super appealing.  The fish was buttery soft while not mushy.  It tasted great on its own and there was no need for soy.  On the same theme, we had the Togarashi-Spiced Blue Fin Tuna accompanied by a super hot block of Himalayan salt.  Although it was already lightly seared on the outside, we could sear it some more on the salt block.  This was rather gimmicky since the tuna by itself was already the right doneness for our tastes.  It was also buttery soft while exhibiting the a fresh sweetness kissed by the sea.  If one wanted to use it, there was a ponzu daikon sauce on the side.

Continuing on with the appies, we tried the Dungeness Crab Cake with vadouvan-spiced curry aioli and a sea bean & fennel salad.  Nicely crisped up and golden brown on the outside, this crab cake was exquisite.  There was practically no filler here as the large chunks of dungeness crab were quite visible.  Texturally, they were on point being bouncy and airy exuding a natural sweetness and brininess.  The aioli on the side was creamy and just spiced enough without getting in the way of the natural crab flavour.  Lastly, and because my daughter wanted it, she had the Crab & Shrimp Bisque with a side of gruyere toast.  Poured table side on top of a crab salad, the bisque was full of aroma and creaminess while not being salty.  It was well-balanced and the chunks of fluffy crab were a nice surprise in each spoonful.

For our entrees, my daughter decided on the Farmcrest Chicken Breast with charred leeks and atop a saffron & mushroom risotto.  Prepared with the drummette bone in, the meat was fairly moist and tender.  It wasn't particularly flavourful though, but the skin was nicely seasoned.  Moreover, the skin was properly rendered, yet not particularly crispy.  The risotto was creamy and cheesy with a light saffron aroma.  We found the rice to be still chewy and not overdone.  For my son, he went with his standby being the Braised Short Rib with cauliflower aligot, bone marrow gremolata.  The short rib was a fairly large portion and did exhibited penetrated flavours from the braise.  There was depth from the red wine as well as the other seasonings.  However, some parts of the short rib were a bit dry and chewy.

My choice of main was the 10 oz USDA Prime Rib Cap prepared medium-rare.   Personally, the rib cap is the best part of prime rib and I'm glad more places are serving it by itself.  This was cooked perfectly being juicy and super tender.  It was well-seasoned and well-charred where the exterior exhibited caramelization of flavours as well as a nice smokiness.  Normally, a lower quality rib cap can be chewy despite the doneness.  Being USDA prime, this practically melted in-my-mouth.  I really enjoyed this.  My mom predictably went for the Alberta Peace Country Rack of Lamb prepared Provençal style with cheesy cauliflower and pepper jus.  She asked for it to be prepared medium-rare and it was done right.  The lamb was succulent and tender as a result.  We found the crust to be rather mushy though and not all that impactful.  However, the pepper jus was pretty full-bodied.

Yes, my dad's Hokkaido Scallops didn't look like much and for someone with a bigger appetite, it would not suffice.  However, the quality made up for the lack of quantity.  These were buttery and soft with an appealing amount of rebound.  They were naturally sweet, and beautifully seared. Completing the plate was potato purée, roasted brussels sprouts, medjool dates and minus 8 ice wine vinegar. Nothing was too strong that it detracted from the sweet scallops.  Viv decided on the Whole Branzino with caponata, shaved fennel, pine nut salad and it was done nicely with crispy skin while maintaining moist and flaky meat.  This was as simple of a dish as you will find and they nailed it.  The squeeze of charred lemon brightened up the dish considerably.

For our sides, we had the Triple-Cooked Fries with truffle & chive aióli, Charred Broccolini (not pictured) and Mac & Cheese Waffle featuring a 5 cheese blend and cheese fondue on the side.  Staring with the fries, they were aggressively crunchy on the outside while being well-salted.  Inside, the potato was still there despite the triple fry.  I decided to not take a picture of the broccolini because it wasn't interesting to look at.  But it was prepared properly with a crunch and nicely seasoned with some spice.  The side that was most popular was the waffle as it was full of cheesy mac & cheese.  It was sharp, aromatic and flavourful while encased in a fluffy waffle.  The side of fondue put the cheese factor through the roof.

For dessert, we shared 3 of them including their take on an Eton Mess aptly named Eaten Mess.  This was made up of raspberries, banana, vanilla custard, sponge cake, chocolate, cream & meringue.  I thought it was more like a hybrid of an Eton Mess and a trifle.  Whatever the case, it was light and refreshing.  Sweetness was dialed down and the fruit really came through.  As for my daughter, she begrudgingly shared some of her Chocolate Mousse (since she has a separate stomach for desserts).  This was pretty good in my books featuring a creamy, yet rich mousse that was appealingly bitter and not super sweet.  Underneath, the dark chocolate cake crumble added even more tasty bitterness and a textural variation.

Lastly, the best dessert was the Crème Brûlée Donuts filled with vanilla custard and accented by strawberries and meringue.  This was missing the Maple cotton candy as seen on many IG posts.  I thought the hard sugar coating on the donuts was an appealing texture that gave way to the soft and chewy donut.  Inside, the custard was light and not overly sweet.  A pretty clever dessert in my opinion.  In general, the food at The Victor ranged from good to very good.  Service was generally top-notch except for gap in between the end of our meal and ordering dessert.  Prices are on the high-end for Vancouver, so there are also many other options as well.

The Good:
- Gorgeous dining space and location
- Generally top-notch service
- Food was good in general

The Bad:
- Prices are high, so there are plenty of other options as well
- Strange gap in service in between end of dinner and ordering dessert

Oddfish

Restaurants open, restaurants close.  It is the natural cycle that happens all the time in a very competitive industry.  To keep up with all the happenings is sometimes an exhaustive exercise since many do not even publicize.  However, those usually are Asian restaurants that do not understand the value of promotion and social media (LOL).  Lately, and I'm referring to the last quarter, there have been quite a few interesting spots open up and it has been difficult to keep up.  But slowly, I'm crossing them off the list one-by-one.  The latest was Oddfish, where I was fortunate enough to corral Mijune for dinner.

Our first dish was my favourite of the night.  Merely labeled as Spicy Squid on the menu, it wasn't very descriptive nor did it do the actual dish any justice.  Consisting of simple ingredients including garlic, chili, olive oil, parsley and chives, the flavours were layered and impactful from the high heat cookery.  Caramelized and texturally on point, the squid was intensely flavourful with an appealing chew while being tender at the same time.  Next up, we had the Dungeness Crab & Shrimp Cakes were large in size and full of actual seafood rather than filler.  The crab was fluffy and bouncy while the shrimp had a fresh snap.  We would've preferred larger chunks of crab, but that was not a huge issue.  Inside, it was rather wet, however, that was a whole lot better than dry.  The natural sweetness of the ingredient came through while being complimented by the creamy and tangy sauce underneath.

For our main entree, we shared the Whole Seabass with chermoula and cilantro & red onion salad.  When it hit the table, the large fish was rather impressive to look at.  With a squeeze of the charred lemon, the dish was light and easy to eat.  At first, we thought the amount of chermoula was rather meager, but after asking for more, it was established that the original drizzle was enough.  It would've been too bitter to have more than they put on the plate already.  As for the fish, it featured well-seasoned and crispy skin that was my favourite part.  The flesh was flaky and soft, but could've been done a bit less for my liking.  However, that did not make or break the dish.

We got a couple of sides for our main dish that included the Fries with mayo and the Roasted Brussels Sprouts with dates, pepitas, capers and Parm.  Although not uniformly crunchy, the fries were pretty solid.  They were thick cut and aggresively fried.  Firmly crisp and not greasy, the fries were still full of potato goodness on the inside.  As for the brussels sprouts, they were also quite good being cooked just enough so they maintained they firmness.  At the same time, they were also cooked all-the-way-through as well.  They didn't skimp on the ingredients as there was a nice mix of sweetness, tang, saltiness and nuttiness.  From the dishes we tried, we agreed the food was pretty solid in a relaxed environment.  Definitely should be an option for someone looking for seafood in Kits.

The Good:
- Focused menu (on seafood)
- Well-prepared food
- Friendly, relaxed service

The Bad:
- As with anything seafood, pricing can get up there, but we thought it was reasonable

Botanist

To be honest, it has taken me this long to finally dine at The Botanist for an actual sit-down meal due to one reason - there was just too much hype going on from their initial launch.  I had attended the media event where nearly every single person was invited, but really didn't get a sense of the food due to massive crowds and not being able to try any whole dishes.  So after all the social media buzz began to die down, Viv and I went on a quiet weekday to check out their current menu.

For our appetizers, we had the Pan-Seared Scallops and Charred Octopus.  Neatly plated, the scallops sat atop a madeira jus that was silky and mild.  The buttery scallops were beautifully caramelized on the outside and adequately seasoned.  It was topped with a thin slice of guanciale that added a slight saltiness while the green apple contributed a tangy sweetness.  This was a balanced and composed dish.  As for the octopus, the char was on point as it was smoky and firmly crusty on the outside.  The depth-of-flavour was evident as well as salty spiciness of the chorizo.  We found the octopus on the chewier side although it was far from being too firm.  The rest of the ingredients including watermelon radish, cauliflower and kohlrabi were beautiful to look at, but were merely a garnish.  We would've liked to see them pickled for some acidity.

For our mains, we dove into the Herb-Crusted Lamb Saddle first (at least I did, because Viv doesn't really prefer lamb).  It was pretty clear that the meat was expertly prepared being medium-rare and tender.  I didn't notice the herb crust though.  The meat itself could've been seasoned more aggressively as it was a bit bland on its own.  Hands-down, the best item on the plate was the fluffy panisse as it tasted great with the garlic really came through as well as the taste of caraway.  Loved the tart mushrooms as they brightened up the dish while the burnt shallots added aroma and sweetness.  Uniquely plated with a side of fermented vegetables in a puffed tapioca cup, the Seared Sablefish was also on point.  Perfectly crispy and seasoned on top, the rest of the fish was flaky and buttery.  It rested on an onion nage which was an excellent compliment as it was bright, light and naturally sweet.  When eaten with the tangy veggies, the flavours were balanced.

Hands-down the best dish we had was the Duck Breast with winter squash, pomegranate, brussels sprouts and natural jus.  Crispy and completely rendered, the skin on the duck couldn't have been any better.  Furthermore, the duck was served medium-rare being succulent and tender.  The combination of pomegranate and jus was the perfect marriage of sweet and savoury.  Wrapped in a carrot cannelloni, the squash was nicely spiced with the usual nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves.

For dessert, we had the stunningly presented Croissant Perdue with graham cookie ice cream, apple, raisin compote and calvados mascarpone drizzle.  The combination of ingredients yielded familiar flavours that were complimentary and purposefully sweet.  Loved the light booziness and sweetness of the drizzle.  We also had the Meyer Lemon Polenta Cake which was pretty firm but understandable given the ingredients.  It was refreshing though with a nice tanginess to balance the sweetness. Loved the apples as they added a sweet tartness to go with the honey, angelica brulée and lemon buttermilk ice cream.  I especially enjoyed the angeica brulee as it added a hit of tanginess.  From this experience, we agreed that the Botanist is a great replacement for departed Oru.  Food and service were good, especially for a hotel restaurant.

The Good:
- Well-prepared proteins
- Complimentary and impactful flavours
- Excellent service

The Bad:
- On the pricier side (kind of expected due to its location and class of hotel)
- Some minor tweaks needed with certain items

Black Rice Izakaya

There are no shortage of Izakayas in Vancouver, specifically in Downtown.  They come in all forms from the relatively affordable to the downright expensive.  Mind you, with some of the premium ingredients involved (wagyu beef and seafood), it isn't surprising.  One of the more understated Izakayas is located on the edge of Downtown within the Blu Hotel complex.  I've been there in the past for some snacks after late-night hockey coming away satisfied.  I was recently invited to try their new menu items.

We started with the Dobin Mushi with hamaguri, water, yuzu peel and clams.  This was a great start to the meal as the hot broth was sweet and full of brininess.   As much as it was full of flavour, it was more than just the salt content.  In fact, the broth was not salty at all.  Rather, there was a light depth that exuded an umaminess.  I loved the buttery whole clams at the end as well.  Another light appie ws the Goma Tuna which consisted of large buttery chunks coated in just enough sesame dressing.  It was aromatic and lightly sweet with a touch of background saltiness.

Beautifully presented on the half shell, the Kimchi Scallop Motoyaki looked appealingly tasty.  Consisting of tender baby scallops, bell pepper, butter and cheese, there was a definite spice that was nicely balanced with the brininess and cheese.  Yes, it was in fact very tasty and almost seemed like it would go better with some rice or noodles.  Right on cue, we got the Napolitan Spaghetti with soba noodles, tomato sauce, ketchup, bacon, sausage and onions on top of silky egg.  This was a touch zesty and mostly sweet.  I found the noodles a touch soft, but at the same time, it was still a pleasant dish.  The barely cooked egg underneath was a nice treat.

Served in a boiling cast iron pot, the Kimchi Nabe was influenced by the chef's Korean roots.  It was served piping hot with tofu skin knots, sliced pork, seafood and of course kimchi.  It definitely captured the essence of kimchi without emulating a Korean stew.  I found it to be its own dish with a balanced sweet, salty and spiciness.  They left the best for last with the Teriyaki Wagyu Steak atop Monterey Jack and mozzarella cheeses with mashed potato.  The steak was super tender while going really well with the smooth and creamy cheeses.  Overall, the tasting provided a nice overview of their featured seasonal items.  The beef was totally the highlight while the scallop and kimchi nabe were surprisingly good.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Daring to be a bit different with Korean/Japanese fusion
- Apparent flavours

The Bad:
- Spaghetti was a bit overdone

Atlas Steak + Fish

Hidden within the Delta Hotel (adjacent to the Grand Villa Casinos) in Burnaby, there once was a restaurant called EBO.  Often confused with being a Japanese restaurant, EBO stood for East of Boundary or later one, Experiences Beyond Ordinary.  Whatever the case, this little gem produced great food in a classy environment.  Alas, after the purchase of the Starwood Hotel Group by Marriott, EBO was closed and now Atlas Steak + Fish has opened up shop.  We decided to check it out for my dad's birthday since EBO was one of his favourites as well.

I must say they did a good job revamping the place as it is now modern and dare I say glitzy?   We started off with their Seafood Tower for 2 that included clams, honey mussels, tiger prawns, king crab legs, Fanny Bay oysters and a lobster tail.  Accompaniments included tobasco sauce, classic mignonette and half lemons.  For $42.00pp, we thought this was a fair price considering the amount and types of seafood served.  Furthermore, all of it was prepared correctly where the lobster was springy while not chewy while the mussels and clams were buttery with a slight chew.  We thought the oysters were on point being sweet and briny with no shell fragments.

One of their signature appetizers is the Caesar Salad prepared fresh table side.  We got a couple of orders for $13.00pp.  Our server was attentive and wonderful where she also made a mean Caesar.   Consisting of the classic ingredients including egg yolk, anchovies, minced garlic, lemon juice, Worcestershire, pepper, Parmegiano-Reggiano, Romaine and house croutons, there was also Tabasco which added a vinegary bite.  Sure, the table side service was a gimmick, but a welcomed one as you could see what exactly went into the salad and of course it was fresh-tasting.  With all things considered, it wasn't expensive as most jarred Caesar salads cost around $10.00 everywhere else.

Onto our mains, I went for the Brome Lake Duck Breast prepared medium.  As evidenced in the picture, the duck was executed properly with decently rendered skin.  I would've liked it more crispy, but it wasn't overly fatty either.  The duck itself was tender and fairly moist with some dry edges.  The five spice was a natural compliment and wasn't overwhelming.  On the side, there was pan-roasted sweet potato and apple slaw.  Viv decided on the Spicy Lobster Spaghettini with roasted tomato, fresno chilies and salt spring mussels.  We found the pasta a touch soft, yet still good.  The sauce was nicely tart, flavour and full-of-depth.  It wasn't very spicy though and could've used more seafoodiness.  The small piece of lobster was perfectly prepared as well as the mussels.

My son is a meat and potatoes kinda guy, so it wasn't surprising he had the 10oz New York USDA Prime Striploin.  It was prepared a perfect medium-rare where it was juicy and flavourful.  There was a crusty and peppery char on the outside which created a nice smokiness and slight crispiness.  The meat did live up to its billing as it required very little effort to chew while still being meaty at the same time.  Following the same theme, my mom selected the 6oz Alberta Angus Reserve Beef Tenderloin prepared rare.  She asked for medium-rare, but in reality, it didn't matter as the meat quality was so high, it ate super tender.  As with the striploin, the exterior char was good.  She added a side of red wine demi-glace that was silky, rich and deeply flavourful.

As usual, my dad had fish in the Josper Grilled Salmon Steak.  Unfortunately, this was probably the first dud we had for the meal.  It was overdone where the salmon was a bit dry and lacking any flakiness.  It did taste okay though as it wasn't overseasoned.  Rather, the chimichurri added the necessary brightness.  On the side, there was a warm potato salad.  My daughter also had fish in the Seared Ahi Tuna & Shiitake Mushroom Vinagrette.  The tuna was nicely rare in the middle, but the exterior could've been cooked a bit less.  As for the vinaigrette, it was nearly inedible as it was super salty where the acidity couldn't even bring it down a notch.  Suffice to say, the fish dishes were a bit disappointing compared to the previous dishes.

As for dessert, we shared 3 including the complimentary Vanilla Cheesecake (Dad's birthday).  Beautifully presented, the cheesecake was definitely cheesy while only mildly sweet.  It had a hybrid texture of a panna cotta and cheesecake.  Nothing wrong with that, but just different.  Inside, dulce de leche was sweet and smoky providing the rich sugariness the the mild cheesecake needed.  My daughter hijacked the Frozen Trio consisting of raspberry gelato, pomegranate lemon ice cream and tangerine sorbet.  After sampling it, I could understand why as it was refreshing, impactful and nicely textured.  The tangerine was my favourite was it tasted just like the fruit.

Lastly, we had the Apple Galette with rosemary ice cream, bourbon maple caramel sauce and candied pecans.  Reminiscent of the one found at Joey (this is a compliment), the galette was flaky, buttery and full of tangy and sweet apples.  This was not as heavy as it appeared and the flavours were balanced.  Although the rosemary ice cream was aromatic and went well wit the galette, we found it too icy. Overall, our meal at Atlas was decent for a newly opened restaurant.  However, with the price point involved, we would've liked to see more consistent execution.  Maybe this will happen in time.

The Good:
- Attentive and friendly service
- Nice revamp of the dining space
- Good meat quality

The Bad:
- Inconsistent execution 
- High price point (okay for the things made right, but not for those that weren't)


Ocean Wise Pop-up Cafe at the Vancouver Aquarium (Dine Out Vancouver)

Dine Out Vancouver can be be a great experience when a menu is composed of appealing dishes for a fair price.  As I've mentioned before, some restaurants miss the boat where one is left with less-than-desirable food that are small in portion size.  However, the Ocean Wise Pop-up Cafe at the Vancouver Aquarium can be classified as a special experience.  Not only does the menu consist of quality ingredients, the portion sizes offered up by Executive Chef Ned Bell are downright generous.  Coupled with an all-inclusive price of $62.35 with taxes, gratuities and admission to the Aquarium, this has to be one of the best values during Dine Out Fest.  I was invited along with other media to experience this event on the first night of Dine Out.

To get a feel for the menu, Rich and I ordered different dishes.  For myself, I started with the Torched Albacore Tuna Tataki Salad that featured thick slices of lightly seared albacore tuna that was still perfectly rare in the middle.  It was dressed with an aromatic (due to the sesame seeds) and tart honey lemon vinaigrette that kept things light and refreshing.  There was enough seasoning, but at the same time, the tuna was still able to shine.  Loved the shaved radish which added a nice crunch.  Rich had the Fanny Bay Clam Chowder which was super rich being creamy while not overly thick.  It was well-seasoned and had a background brininess.  The bits of clam were fantastic as they were buttery with a nice rebound texture.  The niblets of Chilliwack corn added bursts of sweetness as well as the nutty Maple brown butter.

As an add-on, we tried Ned’s Famous Dungeness Crab Tacos that were bursting with chunks of fluffy crab.  I emphasize "chunks" as the crab was not little pieces.  They were so on point in terms of being prepared where the cook on them was perfect.  Loved the natural sweet and saltiness of the crab simply stuffed in a crispy shell.  As if there wasn't enough crab, the plate was strewn with it as well.  The fresh guacamole underneath was both a stand for the tacos and a great condiment.

For my main, I had the Icy Waters Arctic Char which was also prepared flawlessly.  The fish was flaky, super moist and just barely cooked through.  All the flavour was concentrated on the crispy skin where hits of salt sweetness as well as a noted acidity were present.  Underneath, the firm laird lentils had a nice mouth-feel and were pretty filling.  Aromatic and just evident enough, the vanilla added a je ne sais quoi quality.  One of the best parts of the dish was the chunks of firm parsnip hidden within the lentils.  There was also a puree on the plate too.  Rich ended up with the other fish option in the Organic Ocean Northern Coho Wild BC Salmon that was curiously accompanied by cranberries.  It actually worked in my opinion as it added a tangy sweetness that balanced the black pepper vinaigrette.  The fish itself was more done than the char, but was far from dry.  Completing the plate was charred cauliflower and puree.  For both dishes, we had the $10.00 selva shrimp supplement.

For dessert, the Sea 'Weed' Brownies with kelp and almond praline was enormous (as with the other dishes).  It was super rich, yet still moist with a creamy frosting.  The seaweed added a bit of impact, but we would've liked to see even more of it.  Adding both a firm candy crunch and even more sweetness, the almond praline was necessary for a textural contrast.  Add the caramel on the dish and the whole thing was pretty decadent and sweet.  Considerably lighter, but not smaller in size was the Roasted Apple Tart with whipped cream and caramel.  This thing was piled high with tender and tart apples atop a hard shell.  These were both texturally appealing and the sweetness was muted.  As you can clearly see, the meal was full of well-portioned quality dishes.  Combined with the Aquarium experience, it is worth every penny.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Unique experience that includes Aquarium admission
- Large portions
- Well-prepared dishes

The Bad:
- Parking is expensive, but hey, it is Downtown Vancouver (not much free parking anywhere)