Sherman's Food Adventures: February 2018

Green & Oak

Goodbye Mr. Chili, you were decent for the area, but alas high-prices and inconsistent food didn't help your cause.  Kato Japanese used to occupy this space for what seemed like eternity.  The newest spot closed roughly a year into its operation.  Now we find yet another Asian cuisine in Green & Oak Malaysian.  There has been some minor buzz on IG about the place because there really isn't any Malaysian in the vicinity.  I ended up checking out the place with Diana, Emily, Karen, Jo, Irene and Steph on a Monday night.

We began the meal with a few standards being the Roti Canai and Satay (Chicken, Beef and Pork).  Looking rather flat and small in portion size, the roti ate better than expected.  It was lightly crispy on the outside while chewy on the inside.  Just like it appeared, the roti was a touch dense and needed more separation of layers (like fluff it up after being cooked).  The best part was the dip as it was creamy, spicy and coconutty.  I wasn't a huge fan of the satays especially the beef as it was not charred enough and the meat was chewy.  The pork was marginally better while the chicken was the best being moist.  I felt all 3 were lacking in flavour.  The accompanying peanut dip was too bland and creamy.  I much prefer the coarsely chopped peanut dip with palm sugar.

Also hitting the table shortly after was the Fried Chicken Wings which were crispy with well-rendered skin.  Normally, I don't prefer fried whole chicken wings, as they are bit awkward to eat, but these were juicy and natural-tasting.  Even the wing tips were appealingly crispy (which I normally do not eat). With that being said, I would've liked more seasoning in the form of salt or even MSG (a la Phnom Penh style).  The side of lemon pepper dip did help amp up the impact though.

Onto the mains, we ended up sharing the whole Hainanese Chicken with 4 bowls of chicken oil rice and soup.  I found the chicken to be large, meaty and as expected, de-boned.  The skin was nicely gelatinized while the meat was moist, including the breast.  However, it was pretty bland on its own, ice cold and resembled Chinese "bak cheet gai" rather than Hainanese chicken.  The side of grated ginger condiment was on point being completely made up of ginger and well-seasoned.  Although the rice was attractive in colour, nutty and chewy, there was just too much grease.  It ate heavy and was rather unappealing in that regard.  This was a good poached chicken that could be a great Hainanese chicken if prepared in a more authentic manner.

So far, the food was pretty average, but the stir-fried dishes really stood out, starting with the Belachan Fried Rice.  Although the picture doesn't show the actual portion size, it was enough.  The rice was nutty and chewy benefiting from the hot wok.  It was flavourful with caramelization and a touch of spice.  Thick, creamy and coconutty, the Beef Rendang was decent.  The sauce was impactful enough to flavour the accompanying white rice while not drowning it since it was the right viscosity.  The pieces of brisket were sufficiently tender, but not incredibly so.  This didn't really taste like an authentic rendang, as it was more like a coconut curry (lacking in aromatics).

Our last 2 dishes were also solid due to the fact they were stir-fried (seemed to be a trend).  The Mee Goreng featured caramelized and slightly smoky flavours.  The chewy noodles were on point while the grease level was low.   It had a nice balance between sweet and savoury (since some versions can be too sweet).  The same could be said about the Chow Kuay Teow as it was also slightly smoky and full-flavoured.  The noodles were not too clumpy nor oily.  Visually, much like the other stir-fried dishes, the caramelized colour was appealing.  If it wasn't apparent already, the stir-fried dishes at Green & Oak are pretty good.  However, the rest of the dishes are pretty mediocre or lacking in authenticity.  There is definitely promise here, if they can further refine their food.

The Good:
- Nicely executed stir-fried dishes
- Friendly people
- Cute spot

The Bad:
- Other than the stir-fries, the food is mediocre

Italian Kitchen

It's been awhile since I last visited Italian Kitchen.  I remember that the meal was actually pretty good, but that was 9 years ago.  Much has changed since then including more restaurants added to the Glowbal Group and a change in location. They aren't located on Alberni anymore as rent on that street has skyrocketed.   Hence, they moved into the old Don Francesco's spot across from the Sutton Place Hotel on Burrard.   Recently, I was given the opportunity to do a tasting at the new location with Tina.

We were treated to 2 appies to start including the Bruschetta alla Toscana with cannellini beans, cauliflower and spiced walnuts atop garlic crosta.  Beautifully plated, the crostini was light, crunchy throughout and aromatic from the garlic.  The mixture on top was creamy with intermittent firm beans throughout as well as the crunch from the walnuts.  It was seasoned ever-so-lightly, hence we could taste the beans and cauliflower individually.  A touch more salt and/or acidity would've put this dish over the top.  Uniquely arranged, the Vitello Tonnato featured tuna mayo on the bottom rather than the top.  The roasted veal was lean and tender while the sauce was mild with the natural taste of ahi tuna at the forefront.  We found that each bite needed the capers and castelvetrano olives for a salty impact.

Onto the pasta course, we were presented with both the Torchio alle Verdure and Fennel Pollen Casoncelli.  Being a vegetarian pasta, the torchio with roasted squash, sunchokes, kale and bell pepper succo blew me away.  I didn't have much expectation for this, but layers of flavour were developed that created plenty of umaminess.  There was an earthiness accented by enough natural sweetness from the veggies and savouriness from the spot-on seasoning.  Moreover, the pasta was just right being al dente with a firm chewiness.  Now this was good, but the casoncelli was even better.  The thin pasta was tender with a bite and the fennel pollen added a mild sweetness as well as a faint anise finish.  It was filled and topped with plenty of duck confit for full-impact.  Finished with roasted duck stock and a bit of foie, there was a luxurious silkiness that was "ducky" and full-bodied.

Moving along, we were served Salt Crusted Bass for 2 with peperonata, leeks, lemon and caponata. This was roasted for half-an-hour in the salt crust which helped keep the moisture and natural flavours locked in.  That it did as the fish was moist and flaky while not being over-seasoned (salty skin was removed).  The squeeze of charred lemon brightened up the fish and added the necessary acidity.  Our red meat dish of the meal was the 7 oz Beef Tenderloin with ricotta & egg yolk ravioli, roasted vegetables and extra virgin olive oil.  The filet was perfectly medium-rare and properly rested.  Therefore, the meat was super tender and moist.  It was well-seasoned so it tasted great on its own.  On top the ravioli featured chewy al dente pasta while the egg yolk was no longer runny since we were too busy taking pictures.

For dessert, we had their signature Zeppole with vanilla creme anglaise.  This was good sporting airy and soft doughnuts with a crispy exterior.  It was dusted with powdered sugar and filled with chocolate ganache, yet wasn't overly sweet.  Our favourite dessert was the Lemon Crostata with a tangy fresh lemon cream filling that was accented well by an equally tangy and sweet raspberry sauce.  The flaky pie shell was appealingly firm and crispy.  This including the rest of the meal was surprisingly quite good.  Glowbal restaurants often get a bad rap (including from myself), but I was pretty happy with the dishes we tried.  I was especially impressed with the pasta as the textures were spot on.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Well-executed proteins
- Texturally on point pasta
- Comfortable dining space

The Bad:
- On the pricier side, but it located in a prime space
- Some items could've used more salt

Vietnamese Tea House

I'll be pretty frank here...  When I first drove by Vietnamese Tea House on Hastings, it didn't even register in my subconscious  "I have to eat here" voice.  Similar to bubble tea joints and coffee shops, there seems to be a new or re branded Vietnamese restaurant opening up every now and then.  However, looking over the online reviews, the place seemed to be getting plenty of love.  Then ironically, I was contacted by the owner to try the place out.  So I did, along with Amy, Diana, Elaine, Emily and Karen.

A barrage of appies hit the table including the Bò Tái Chanh (Beef Sashimi on the menu).  This consisted of thinly-sliced rare beef topped with a combination of onions, garlic, fried shallots, cilantro, sugar and lime juice.  The buttery and tender beef was still meaty while the aromatics on top were complimentary.  It was pretty sweet where the amount of lime juice could've been just a tad more aggressive.  Next up the Chả Giò (Pork Spring Rolls) were pretty solid with a crunchy exterior that wasn't oily.  Inside, the somewhat firmly packed filling was tender and well-seasoned.  I would've liked to see rice paper used here, but it wasn't a deal-breaker.

We were also served one each of the Garlic Butter Chicken Wings and Honey Garlic Chicken Wings.  Despite being doused with a bit too much sauce, the wings were still crispy with rendered skin.  Underneath, the meat was fairly succulent.  I personally enjoyed the butter garlic more as it was impactful with aromatics and a touch of spice.  The side of lemon pepper dip was very peppery and added even more flavour.  Piled high, the Green Papaya Salad with beef jerky was texturally on point.  The crunch of the papaya and carrots was appealing while the beef jerky added a robustness.  There was plenty of dressing underneath which was mostly sweet with some saltiness from the fish sauce.  In the background, there was a slow rumble of spice.

The best appie of all was the Stir-Fried Corn and Shrimp.  Apparently, this is served exclusively as a street food in Vietnam (specifically in Saigon).  Well, we are in Vancouver, so served in a restaurant it is!  Beyond the sweet pop of the niblets, there was a buttery garlickiness that was addictive.  Add in the meaty and briny shrimp and there was a certain amount of umaminess that kept us wanting more.  Such a simple item, yet at the same time, appetizing.

Onto the mains, I sampled the Bun Bo Hue first and it featured slippery, yet chewy lai fun noodles.  There was a decent amount of meat that was sliced thin and tender.  I would've liked to see the traditional pork knuckle and pork's blood, but that didn't make or break the dish.  As for the broth, it was mildly spicy with a noted sweetness.  There could've been a touch more lemongrass though.  Of course we couldn't do with the baseline or standard in the Pho Dac Biet.  The broth was clean and clear having an almost healthy quality to it.  It was mild with a balanced amount of sweetness and saltiness.  There was a background meatiness as well.  Even after all of our picture-taking, the noodles were still on point being chewy and not clumpy.  A fantastic value at $8.50 including tax!

Now those 2 bowls of noodles were fine, but the real deal was the Crab Pho with crab protein.  This was intoxicatingly aromatic and briny.  The soup was flavourful without being salty.  Rather, it really tasted like crab and hence seafoody.  The noodles were on point again while the shrimp was meaty.  Loved the clumps of crab protein which was flavourful and fluffy.  Served as a large portion, the Beef and Chicken Vermicelli Bowl was solid.  It featured chewy noodles topped with a considerable amount of meat.  I found the chicken to be nicely charred with rendered skin.  It wasn't juicy, but was tender.  The beef was also caramelized and decently tender.

One of the weaker dishes was the Chicken Curry.  Although the thin curry was to be expected (Vietnamese Style), the flavour was also lacking in impact.  There was not much in the way of discernible flavours or spice.  The chicken was moist though and the potatoes were soft yet not melted.  The Banh Mi with Grilled Beef was decent with crunchy and chewy bread.  Inside, the beef was similar to vermicelli bowl being caramelized and fully seasoned.  It was sweet with a slight saltiness.  As you can see, the food at VTH is pretty solid.  We also tried some of their slushes and they were smooth and tasty.  Prices are currently very reasonable where they include tax.  The place might be rather unassuming, but it is definitely a hidden gem.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Overall solid eats
- Reasonable, bordering on cheap prices
- Super nice people

The Bad:
- A few items could use a bit more refinement, but really, for those prices, complaints are far and few in between

Beijiang Restaurant

When I first tried Beijiang Restaurant out on Kingsway near Joyce, I initially thought it was located in Richmond.  Apparently, they had moved from Richmond into Vancouver.  I came away from that tasting impressed with the quality and execution of the food.  Fast forward a year later and I was once again invited to a tasting.  After a quick google search, I was confused (not hard to do) since it now showed it was in Richmond again, albeit at at different spot.  Well, no wonder, as they moved again right into the old Good Eat location.

For this meal, we started off with the Dragon Salad consisting of green, yellow and red peppers, onions and tomato.  It was dressed with a tangy vinagrette that was more vinegary than anything else.  Hence, the salad was bright and appetizing.  Personally, I'm not a huge fan of raw peppers, so it wasn't my thing.  I'm sure it was totally fine as the veggies were crisp and vibrant.  Next, we had the Dapanji Chicken. This was a large serving of Xinjiang style braised chicken and potatoes served with house-made noodles.  Nicely balanced, the sauce was mildly spicy with plenty of savoury flavours.  We thought there was bit a less cumin than last time.  The sweetness and succulence of the chicken made the dish as well as the oil-blanched potatoes as they soaked up the sauce.  The same could be said about the chewy noodles as they were pretty tasty as well.

Moving on, we had the Stir-Fried Lamb Shoulder with fried buns.  I found the lamb tender and well-prepared.  It was immersed in a considerable amount of sauce that was on the greasier side.  There was some good flavours going on with sweet onions and peppers.  The golden brown fried mantou were soft on the inside while crispy on the outside.  Once again, they could've let the buns sit on a paper towel for a bit to soak up the residual oil.  The most interesting and tastiest dish was the Cumin Lamb Skewers grilled on actual twigs.  Hence, there was a natural and appealing smoky woodiness to the meat.  It was tender and succulent with a nice crispy exterior.  Loved the ample cumin, but we could've used even more!

Our last savoury dish was the Scorpion Lamb Bone Hot Pot which was overflowing with large neck bones.  Depending on the piece, some had a good amount of tender meat while others were a bit dry due to having less meat.  Lots of flavour going on with a noted spiciness as well as cumin again and numbing Szechuan peppercorns.  Reminded me a little of the nearby Lamb Hot Pot and their fabulous lamb bones.  To finish off, they prepared fresh-made noodles in the residual broth.  This was delicious texturally and of course it soaked up the wealth of flavours.  For dessert, we had the Sugar-Filled Sesame Pastries.  These were flaky and light with a mildly sweet filling.  Overall, this was pretty similar to meal we had at the Vancouver location where the food was tasty and unique.  They could ease up on the oil though.

*All food was complimentary*

The Good:
- Unique dishes and flavours
- Well-portioned

The Bad:
- Fairly greasy

Starbucks (River Rock Casino)

Alright, if you are confused as to why I'm writing about a random Starbucks location, don't be.  No, I haven't suddenly committed this blog into covering the best chain restaurants and fast food outlets in town (although that could be quite useful in its own right).  Rather, similar to the Starbucks Reserve on Main Street in Vancouver, the River Rock Starbucks serves beer and wine as well as made-in-house food (by the hotel kitchen).  Yes, this Starbucks is remarkably different than any other location in B.C. and in Canada for all that matters.  I was recently invited to check it out along with some other foodies.

As mentioned, one can sip on coffee, lattes and fraps at this Starbucks much like any other.  However, there is an array of Wine and Beer options as well.  On the bar menu, one can choose from 3 reds and 3 whites as well as a sparkling wine (all 6 oz. servings and from BC).  There are 6 beer options at $7.00 each with all of them hailing from BC as well.   You can see all of the selections on the online menu.

Onto the other unique feature of this Starbucks, we sampled some of the food choices including Shrimp Gyoza.  Yes, you read right, they have gyozas...  But unlike many restaurants (even Japanese ones), these were not frozen.  Instead, they were made in-house.  This was evident with the chewy and thin dumpling skin that was fried up nicely.  Inside, the shrimp filling with veggies and chives was a bit loose, yet still buttery tender and mildly-seasoned.  The side of tangy and sweet soy sake dip added the necessary flavours.  I've tried the Baked Artichoke Dip before at the Curve Lounge, so it was familiar to me.  That was a good thing as it was light, fluffy and cheesy with sweet pops from the corn.  As evidenced in the picture, the portion size was downright huge.

My favourite items were the flatbreads, in particular, the Veronese Flatbread topped with prosciutto crudo, sundried tomato, artichoke hearts and goat cheese.  With a firm crunch consistent throughout, the flatbread was a nice compliment to the wine.  The combination of the nutty saltiness of the prosciutto coupled with the tang of the sundried tomato created a wealth and layers of flavour.  The cheese added some creaminess and moisture to the deal.  As for the second flatbread (Pugliese), it consisted of pickled red onions, roasted mixed mushrooms, sundried tomato pesto and basil.  This was more mild since there wasn't large pieces of sundried tomato.  However, it still tasted great with the woodsiness of the mushrooms and aromatics from the pesto and basil.

If one wanted something heartier, the last item available on the menu was Mac & Cheese with double-smoked bacon, gruyere, mozzarella and cream sauce.  Again, this was a fairly large portion that was saucy and cheesy.  Even with that, the noodles were still firm and al dente.  I thought the bacon was necessary as it added a smoky saltiness since the cheeses were definitely on the milder side.  As a bonus, we got to try Starbuck's popular Sous-Vide Egg Bites in both flavours (Roasted Red Pepper and Bacon & Gruyere).  These were fluffy and airy while lightly seasoned.  With that being said, the bacon and gruyere version had more pop in terms of aromatics and saltiness.  So there you have it, a very different Starbucks that offers up the usuals along with booze and some snacks to go with it.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Beer & wine options
- Reasonably-priced snacks

The Bad:
- Size of the Starbucks doesn't really allow for lingering, which may be an issue if you have beer, wine and snacks

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

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