Sherman's Food Adventures: February 2018

T-Go Tea

I've talked ad nauseam about how businesses have to set themselves apart when there is far too much competition in the marketplace.  If one just does the same and expects people to remember them, then that is really a stretch.  So let's talk bubble tea.  Merely dismissed as a fad earlier on, this seemingly simple drink is here to stay.  You'd think with all of the various options available, there wouldn't be anymore opening up.  But it seems like a new one, whether it be a chain or independent, throw their hats into the ring monthly.  Remember when I said one must stand out amongst the trees?  Well, T-Go Tea offers up quality individual bagged premium teas to create a consistent product.  They even have Teapresso machines to further refine the product.

I was recently invited to sample some of their new flavours including the Honey Aloe Green Tea.  As expected, the aloe added a floral quality that was pronounced but was balanced off by the sweetness of honey and the slight bitterness of the green tea.  All of the flavours seemed harmonious rather than one being stronger than the other.  On that note, the sugar content was just about right.  Right beside it in the picture was something completely different being the purple-coloured Diamond Purple Rice with cubes of milk (which are supposed to represent the diamonds).  This was lighter than it appeared with purple rice hence the slight nuttiness.  Of course it was also milky and lightly sweet.

One of the more surprising drinks was the Sea Salt Assam Black Tea (left drink in the picture).  The intensity of the sweetness was actually enhanced by the salt (in a salted caramel like manner).  Hence, there was caramel-like finish that was smooth, rich and full-of-depth.  The drink was creamy and silky. Since they use individual tea bags with a press at T-Go, I'm not sure if it was psychological or not, but the tea flavour in the Toasted Oolong Tea Latte was pronounced with a nice finish.  I guess the fact they toasted it added a certain nuttiness as well. There was an option to use fresh milk hence this one was mildly milky.  That let the tea stand on its own.

The next 2 included the Honey Plum Tea.     and Oreo Cookie Blizzard Smoothie. As for the honey plum tea, it wasn't overly sweet, so the light tang and bitterness was able to come to the forefront.  It was slightly aromatic and lightly floral.  The pearls in both drinks were appealingly chewy with a nice mouth-feel with a touch of sweetness.  Yes, the Oreo smoothie wasn't going to win any diet beverage awards, but it was good nonetheless.  It was creamy with the distinct taste of Oreo cookies.  Surprisingly, it wasn't crazy sweet nor too rich.  Hence, one could drink this with a little less guilt?

Onto the last 2 drinks, we had the Avocado Goodness Smoothie and Sweet Peaches Smoothie.  Naturally, they were presented rather attractively without their lids, but hey, it made a good picture right?  Well, truth be told, they drank as good as they photographed.  The avocado was actually made with almond milk, so those who have lactose-intolerances can rejoice.  It was pretty creamy like ice cream and not notably sweet.  There was a slight almond milk aftertaste though.  The sweet peach was refreshing as expected and lightly floral.  It tasted like peach and was blended smooth (as a smoothie should be).  Overall, I enjoyed the drinks at T-Go Tea where they have done a good job at being a bit more unique than the regular.

*All beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Individual tea bags ensure consistency and flavour
- Easy on the sugar
- Some unique flavours and many options

The Bad:
- Not much to critique about the product, but the parking situation can be difficult at peak hours
- Not much seating

Dundas Eat + Drink

Awhile back, I was invited to participate in the Six O Pho Challenge at Dundas Eat + Drink.  Prior to that, I had noticed they had re-branded from a fish & chip joint (still available) to a mainly Vietnamese eatery with a few twists.  Even though I was busy trying to scoff down all the pho I could handle, I did notice it was quite good with quality meats and a clean broth.  Well, we were invited back to try some of their other offerings (in particular, their new vegan dishes), where we didn't have to do any eating challenges.

For this tasting, they wanted to introduce some of their vegan offerings.  Naturally, I was skeptical at first, but after trying the first few dishes, I was impressed.  The usual issue is that vegan or even vegetarian food can sometimes be bland, but they really developed some good flavours here.  The garlic, ginger and fried shallot dressing for the Kale Salad was very impactful and in fact, with the copious amount of raw garlic, was very sharp and spicy.  The fried tofu was nicely crispy and added a "meatiness" to the salad.   They were also successful in creating a great tasting Vegan Curry where the spice level was medium while the aromatic coconut milk gave the sauce body the depth.  Yes, there was no meat, but the chunky, not overdone, veggies were robust and filling.

The next 2 offerings were the Vegan Pho and Vegan Bao.  Of course, it is always a challenge to develop umaminess when using just veggies for a broth.  I would say it was definitely clean and naturally sweet.  I detected some depth possibly from mushrooms.  However, it was definitely lighter due to the lack of meat, bones and marrow.  Regardless, I can see someone who is vegetarian or vegan being happy with this.  Stuffed with veggies, red onions and a seasoned tofu crumble, the bao were not devoid of ingredients.  Hence, it was a messy to eat, but that was a positive (you want things overflowing!).  The bao itself was warm and soft even though it sat a bit while we took photos.  The veggies were still vibrant while the tofu crumble was flavourful.

Our last vegan dish was the Vegan Pad Thai and we transitioned to meat with the Deep Fried Wontons.  The Pad Thai was appealing in colour and subjected to enough wok heat for caramelization.  The noodles were chewy while the veggies were still crisp including the raw sprouts.  With a squeeze of lime, there was a nice tangy and sweet balance while the savouriness was there too.  I wished there was some ground peanuts, since something seemed to be missing (and it wasn't the meat either), but most store-bought peanuts have been processed and may not be considered vegan.  I enjoyed the wontons as the skins were fried up beautifully being lightly crispy moist and tender filling, which mean it was rather soft.  The side of dipping sauce was tangy and spicy.

Onto a soupy item, we had the Pho Sate featuring a spicy broth that was nicely balanced in terms of saltiness and sweetness.  I thought the spice level was somewhere between mild and medium, but I can handle spice, so interpret this accordingly.  The noodles were still chewy despite sitting in the broth for quite some time as we took pictures.  There was a decent amount of sliced beef within the broth where it was more natural in texture indicating that it had not been subjected to tenderizers.  Served on a sizzling cast iron plate, the Shaken Beef (Luc Lac Beef) was meaty in texture, yet ultimately tender.  It was nicely seared and mildly seasoned.  The accompanying veggies were caramelized and sweet.

One of my favourite items was the veritable Lemongrass Chicken on Rice.  This was a good portion consisting of chewy rice that was on the drier side, however, that was perfect since we drizzled the nuoc cham on top.  Thick and well-portioned, the deboned chicken thigh was nicely charred and caramelized.  It was properly marinated where the aromatic lemongrass and savoury components had penetrated the meat.  Furthermore, that resulted in a succulent and tender texture.  One of the more unique items was the Asia Burger served with fries and sriracha aioli.  Well, the burger ate very much like most other versions, but it was a very good one though.  The patty was super moist and thick with the benefit of onions inside.  The brioche bun was soft, but held up to the wet ingredients including the sunny side egg.

Onto our last 2 items, we had the Dundas Platter consisting of spring roll, salad roll, chicken and beef satay, cassava fries and sauces.  Taking nothing away from the rest of the items, my favourite part of the platter was the crispy cassava fries.  These were crispy while soft and dense.  Loved it with the sriracha mayo.  The salad roll was solid too being tightly wrapped with on point textures.  The satays were well-seasoned and grilled where there was a smokiness in addition to caramelization.  The most creative dish was the Dungeness Dundas Nachos featuring fried wonton skins topped with crab, creamy Japanese mayo, chives and onions.  Light and crispy, the wonton skins were loaded with enough ingredients for impact including a decent amount of crab.  

Of course we have to talk about the Pho right?  Well, I went back and tried a normal-sized bowl rather than the enormous challenge portion.  This way, I could enjoy it for its clean broth that was mild-tasting with a touch of meatiness.  The conservative amount of sodium and lack of MSG made the healthy-tasting.  I found the noodles to be chewy and not clumpy while the meats were tender and well-portioned.  In addition to repeating the same dishes as above, I got a new one in the Dundas Spiced Wings (garlic butter flavour).  These were crispy with rendered skin with a seasoned batter.  The meat was succulent and juicy while the flavours were fairly mild.  So from sampling almost all of the menu from several visits, I can confidently say that Dundas Eat + Drink produces some pretty solid eats at reasonable prices.  This will probably be added to my regular rotation.

*Most food was complimentary*

The Good:
- All around good eats
- Reasonable pricing
- Nice people

The Bad:
- If busy, seating is at a premium
- Parking lot rather narrow (for those who are parking challenged... LOL)

Polito's Latin Café

Not to repeat myself once again (but I'll do it anyways), but when people claim that Vancouver has a diverse eats, I would like to disagree.  Yes, it is true we have a wealth of Asian cuisine (and very good I might add), however, we aren't very diverse beyond that.  In fact, we have a lack of everything else including Latin eats.  We do have some Mexican restaurants, where only some of them are even remotely authentic and/or good.  All the other Central/South American countries are either poorly or not even represented in the Vancouver food scene.

So when Hilda suggested that Diana and I meet up at the newly opened Polito's Latin Café on the Coquitlam/PoCo border, we were both intrigued and excited.  We started off with some Papusas including the Revuelta (with pork, beans, cheese and sweet pepper) and the Queso (with cheese & zucchini).  Unlike some versions I've had in the past, these were not heavy nor greasy.  They were fairly "light" for a papusa.  Naturally, I personally enjoyed the meat version more as there was more inherent robust flavour.  Loved the cheese in both as they were not the greasy North American type.  These were served with a side of spicy slaw and a mild tomato sauce.  There was no doubt that the crunchy and spiced slaw helped elevate the impact of the dish.

Next up, we moved onto some Tacos including Al Pastor, Carne Asada, Pollo and Veggie.  These were neatly constructed and appealing in appearance.  Sometimes, Tacos don't look so pretty, but these were good.  I thought the Pollo (pulled chicken, cilantro, cream & pico de gallo) was the best of the bunch as it was well-seasoned while being sufficiently tender.  Although it looked dry, it really wasn't.  I found the meats in both the carne asada and al pastor to be on the drier side, but that is pretty much par for the course with these 2 types of meats.  They were still good though with nice caramelization and meatiness.  The veggie was surprisingly good especially with the addition of caramelized plantain.

Onto the bigger plates, we tried the Bandeja Polito's with well-done chopped rib eye steak, beans, rice topped with a fried egg, maduro fried plantain, guacamole and pico de gallo.  With similar elements as a cheesesteak, the meat was crispy and well-seared.  Hence, there was a smoky caramelized flavour.  This would've went well with a hand-made tortilla (add $1.00).  We also had the Mar Y Tierra with a marinated skirt steak topped with grilled prawns.  On the side, there was rice, black beans and pico de gallo.  The steak itself was not super tender, but I found it sufficient and still tasty.

As for our desserts, we had the Tres Leche and Chocolate Flan.  They looked rather ordinary, but man, they were very good.  Light and fluffy, the tres leche cake was purposefully sweet (sometimes, this dessert is too sweet).  The flan was nicely smokey and caramelized where it sat atop a moist chocolately cake.  As you can tell, we enjoyed our meal at Polito's.  Sure, some things could've been a bit better, but overall, the food was appealing and definitely a nice break from all the Asian food we eat all the time (yes, #firstworldproblems).

The Good:
- Super friendly people
- Quality food
- Love those desserts

The Bad:
- Meats could be a bit more tender and moist
- Menu could be larger

Liuyishou Hot Pot

For the last 5 years or so, the hot pot scene in Vancouver has both expanded and changed significantly.  At one point, we found the usual Cantonese-style with mild-tasting broth and the typical meats.  However, we have seen an increasing number Szechuan-style hot pot restaurants.  Prices have gone up while the soup bases have become spicier.  We've also seen more deluxe ingredients such as wagyu beef and various forms of live seafood become the norm.  Moreover, when once upon a time where the only condiments available were soy sauce and satay sauce, we now have several options found at self-serve sauce bars.   An example of such an establishment is Liushiyou Hot Pot on Kingsway in Burnaby.

The first thing I noticed upon walking into Liuyishou was the enormous and impressive Sauce Bar.  In addition to the usual soy, sesame sauce, satay and hot sauces, there were some interesting ones such as preserved bean curd, mushroom paste and spiced vinegar.  Atop of the bar was a selection of small appies/snacks and also fruit for dessert.  For comparison, most other hot pot joints only offer up a few options that included soy, vinegar, hot sauce and satay sauce.

Starting February 26th to March 2nd, Liuyishou celebrates Hot Pot Week by offering up a Chinese New Year's special menu presented by Vancouver Gourmet Tours.  This deal includes specialty hotpot soup base, sauce bar with 20+ options, unlimited appetizer dishes and fresh fruit.  A selection of 20+ choices of hotpot ingredients including: premium meats & seafood, handmade meatballs, chongqing specialty food, vegetable platter, mixed mushroom platter, handmade noodles or golden mantou buns, Chongqing classic dessert and Red Truck Craft Beer (Greater Vancouver locations only) or non-alcoholic specialty beverage.  All this can be had for $68 for 2 people and $120 for 4 (plus Eventbrite fees).  The spicy butter cow and Wagyu beef (rectangle plate) are an extra charge.

I was invited along with others to sample this special meal and it didn't disappoint.  First off, the spicy half of the hot pot was nicely balanced with an aromatic heat.  It wasn't "burn-your-tongue" hot but I'm personally not a fan of that anyways.   As for the non-spicy broth, it was flavourful without being salty.  One of the best items was the Hand-Made Shrimp Paste.  Buttery, bouncy and sweet, this was head and shoulders above the frozen type and one of the best fresh meatballs I've had in awhile.  Another highlight was the House Special Green Bean Starch Noodles.  They didn't look like much on the plate, but once cooked through (took awhile), they were slippery and chewy with an appealing mouth-feel.  Not to be outdone, the Marbled Beef was tender, buttery and extra-tasty when cooked in the spicy broth.  With the aromatic fat coating each slice of beef, it was indeed a sinful treat.  All-in-all, a pretty good introduction to Liuyishou and with the special menu, you could get to try it for a reasonable price as well.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Big sauce bar
- Quality ingredients
- Flavourful broth

The Bad:
- Can be pricier than the AYCE options (but the quality is better too)

Bin 100 Tapas Parlour

I've said it over and over again, the burbs do not get any love when it comes to good eats.  Not don't get me wrong, there are some gems to be found and of course there are plenty of chain restaurants around, but in general, the most trendy destination restaurants reside in Vancouver (specifically Downtown).  However, things are slowly changing as we see many of the same clientele who once called Vancouver their home moving out to the burbs.  Count me as one of them since I used to live in Yaletown and now I'm nowhere near the action as I once was.  So when I found out that Bin 941 opened up a location in Coquitlam called Bin 100, I had to check it out.

We actually came for lunch prior to watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi with the kiddies.  We began with the Chacuterie sporting grilled pork chorizo, duck terrine with grand marnier, Argentinian salami, marinated bocconcini, olives, mustard, pickles and grilled focaccia.   This was pretty straightforward, yet tasty nonetheless.  The bread was fantastic being soft with a nice drizzle of chorizo and basil oil.  The duck terrine was meaty and aromatic while the fatty chorizo was slightly spicy and smoky.  Next up was their signature mountain of shoe-string Pomme Frites drizzled with balsamic glaze and served with a side of truffle tyme aioli.  Akin to Hickory Sticks but of course way better, these were crispy, well-seasoned and the beneficiary of the sweet sticky and slightly tart balsamic.

Onto our veggie dish of the meal (although the pomme frites could've been considered that too...), we had the golden fried Cauliflower with zatar, pomegranate molasses and pine nuts.  Naturally with the zatar, the dish had a Middle-Eastern flavour to it where there was a touch of spice to go with an equal amount of acidity and sweetness.  Loved how the cauliflower was fully-cooked without losing its crunch and bite.  Neatly plated with spiced chicharones, we had the Scallops and Pork Belly with apple glaze atop scallion sour cream.  Both proteins were on point where the scallops were buttery with a nice sear while the fatty pork belly was soft and required very little effort to break down.  With the apple glaze, there was definitely some sweetness to go with the tang from the sour cream.

One of my favourites was the Beef Wellington featuring AAA tenderloin in a mushroom and red pepper crust wrapped in phyllo.  Underneath, there was a confit garlic mash surrounded by a marsala jus.  Tender and well-seasoned, the tenderloin was a beautiful medium-rare.  On the outside, the phyllo was crispy and stayed so despite the moisture.  Not merely a side, the mash was smooth and garlicky.  Bringing it all together was the jus that was meaty and full-of-depth.  Our last dish was the Honey Glazed Duck with potato goat cheese hash and marsala cherry jus.  This was our least favourite as the duck was a bit dry and overdone.  Furthermore, the skin was not crispy nor rendered enough.  The jus was fantastic though having a rich sweetness and a background tang.  As you can see, the food at Bin 100 was not far from the original Bin 941.  This is fantastic news to people who want some legit tapas, but didn't want to travel into Downtown.

The Good:
- Downtown eats in a strip mall in Coquitlam
- Solid eats
- Spacious seating

The Bad:
- Can get pricey if you order alot
- Doesn't have that Downtown vibe (possibly due to be in the old Bread Garden location)

77K Freeze

The liquid nitrogen ice cream game in Vancity is limited to only a few establishments.  I've been to most of them and I would say that all do a pretty decent job with each putting their own spin on it (sorry for the pun).  However, to not be dismissed as merely a fad, things need to evolve and again, one must stand out to succeed.  So when I was invited for a tasting at 77K Freeze, I was intrigued by their liqueur-infused creations as well as the option to pick a base, custom ingredients and most ground-breaking of all, the ability to control the sweetness. 

We were treated to 3 of their signature flavours including the Uji Matcha and PnP (Passion Fruit & Pineapple).  Sporting its usual attractive green hue, the matcha was balanced being completely discernible without excessive bitterness.  Furthermore, the sweetness level was rather conservative (default for all the flavours) while the texture was smooth and creamy.  As for the PnP, it was a bit sweeter due to the nature of the fruity ingredients.  It almost tasted like a pina colada with aromatics and tang.  Our last non-alcoholic treat was the Blue Lavender made with a yogurt base.  It was firm, sweet, tangy and floral.  I'm usually not a huge fan of lavender, but they exercised restraint here and it was not overly strong.

Moving onto the adult desserts, my favourite was the Evil Orange Cacao which emulated a Terry's chocolate orange except with the addition of liqueur.  There was a good amount of chocolate that wasn't overly sweet.  Possibly due to the orange, there was a background floral quality which was also quite appealing.  I also liked the fact they added just the right amount of liqueur to give it some oomph without being too strong.  Remarkably lighter, the Kiss Champagne, with moonshine, blue curacao & tequila, was rather refreshing.  Again, the liqueur essence was balanced where the mild sweetness made it a dangerous dessert (if it were an alcoholic drink). 

Our final Dark Matters treat was Captain Jack featuring spiced rum, mango, raspberry & liqueur.  I found this one to be creamy, yet firm with the liqueur announcing itself mildly but finishing off strongly.  There was a sweet and fruity slant while the pop rocks on top added both texture and some pizazz. In general, I thought 77K Freeze does a good job in incorporating liqueur into their frozen desserts to make them appealing rather than for shock value.  In fact, I enjoyed all of the items we were served mostly due to the mild sugar content.  I'm not a huge fan of sweets and these were in my wheelhouse.

*All desserts and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Fully custom from sugar-level to base
- Liqueur-infused desserts work
- Not over-the-top

The Bad:
- Since liqueur doesn't freeze well, the desserts melt fast (so eat it fast instead of taking a gazillion pictures of it! LOL)

Kung Fu Fish

Yes, I chuckled a bit when I first heard about Kung Fu Fish.  The name can easily be mistaken for something found at a mall food court serving up North American Chinese fare.  However, that couldn't be further from the truth.  In fact, with over 51 locations worldwide, they served up grilled deep-water fish that comes with a kick (get it?  kick???).  They already have 2 stores in the Toronto area and the first one to venture in the British Columbia is of course located in Richmond, specifically Aberdeen Centre.  I was invited along with Diana for a small ChineseBites dinner to give the place a try where we had all of the available fish options.

Prior to that, we started with some appies including the Kungfu Peanuts.  Initially, I wasn't super excited to order this but in reality, they were pretty tasty.  Freshly fried and then wok-tossed with red chilis, green onion, salt and Szechuan peppercorns, the peanuts exhibited a progressive heat.  There was a roasted aroma that gave way to some spice and finally a touch of numbing from the peppercorns.  Loved the warm crunch of the nuts as the temperature activated the flavours.  Next, the Bobo Chicken turned out to be a familiar dish in the mouth-watering chicken.  Despite the visuals, it was not that spicy.  Rather, there was an aromatic nuttiness accented by a small amount of heat.  The free-range chicken was tender and gelatinized including the skin.

Then we had a trio of dishes including the Garlic Grilled Scallops, Garlic Grilled Prawns and Garlic Grilled Eggplant.  Yes, there was a theme here and when they put garlic into the menu description, they weren't messing around.  Let's just say one should bring mouthwash.  In terms of texture, the scallops were buttery with a nice rebound while the prawns were unexpectedly tender and buttery.  I was expecting more chew, but I enjoyed the sweet delicate prawns.  The eggplant was also tender and very soft.  It was completely covered in garlic.  Our last small dish was the Kung Fu Sausage which was sliced razor thin.  These were meaty and fairly lean with a caramelized sweetness and considerable spiciness.

Onto the main event, I tackled the Madam Halibut in Szechuan peppercorn soup base with  lobster ball, glass noodles, sprouts and squid rings.  For $59.90, we got 5 slices of halibut that was slightly over 2lbs in total.  Personally, that is a reasonable price for the amount of fish.  Of course, the additional ingredients were a surcharge of $3.99 for non-meat items and $4.99 for meat items.  The fish was soft and flaky with slightly crispy skin.  It wasn't as spicy as it appeared, but there was definitely a kick from the peppercorns.  This portion could easily feed 3-4 people dependent on how many appies are ordered.

Next, I sampled some of the Professor Swai (Basa) in pickled cabbage soup base with fish balls, quail eggs, imitation crab stick, rice cake and lotus root.  This was the least costly being only $39.90 for 3 large fillets.  Say what you want about Basa, but this was prepared expertly being soft, flaky and almost buttery.  Since Basa can be lacking in flavour, the pickled cabbage was a good match since it added a salty sourness.  I was pretty impressed with the infusion of flavours where it penetrated not only the fish, but the other ingredients as well including the rice cake.

The last option was our absolute favourite being the Top Secret Sea Cod in Chopped Chili soup base with bean curd skin, konjak, luncheon meat and fish tofu.  There was 6 slices of fish that equated to over 2lbs.  This was the priciest at $89.90, but seeing how it was black cod and being the tastiest, it was worth it.  The butteriness of the fish really came through with a robust flavour that stood up well to the soup base.  It wasn't spicy though.  Instead it was well-balanced with a certain umaminess. Overall, I enjoyed the offerings from Kung Fu Fish and although the pricing is on the higher side, it can feed many people.  Starting tomorrow on Feb 7th to the 12th, they are offering a Free Signature Fish Pot (up to $70.00 and with a group of 4) at both lunch and dinner to the first 8 tables.  Otherwise, everyone else can enjoy 10% off.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- On point execution
- Large portions
- Impactful and balanced flavours

The Bad:
- Even though the portion size does justify the price, some might be scared off at the initial sticker shock
- Personally, I thought the prices were fair, but maybe one free ingredient would've been nice