Sherman's Food Adventures: April 2018

Tasting Plates Coquitlam (Presented by Vanfoodster)

As mentioned in many of my recent Coquitlam posts, I've remarked that the food scene has really taken off, much like the many developments in and around Coquitlam Centre.  For a place that once sported mainly chain restaurants, we now see a wide range of eats including many new Korean restaurants.  In fact, we could've had more if Henderson Centre was not an empty mall.  So it was by no surprise that we finally got a Tasting Plates event taking place in the heart of Coquitlam.   I was invited to attend the event mostly because I live nearby, but personally it was interesting as I spent 8 years of my life living in Coquitlam!

We started off things at the registration point which happened to be the new location of Papparoti on Pinetree and Glen.  I've been to the Vancouver spot a few times and this was very familiar to me.  We were treated to a sampling of one half each of a Signature Original Bun coated with coffee caramel and a Coconut Rollie filled with fresh young coconut.  As expected, the bun was light an airy while being flavoured by the mildly sweet topping.  On the other hand, the rollie was much sweeter due to the coconut filling.  Outside, the croissant pastry was crispy and shattered upon my first bite.  I ended up selecting the Signature Karak Tea to go with my treats and it was lightly sweet.  Viv went for the Ice Blended Signature Chocolate which was significantly sweeter.

From my previous visit to Kulinarya, I knew that we had to high-tail it there second.  You see, their dining room is really small and even smaller if there is a reservation for the long table.  This was the case and we were able to snag a table for 2 as we were there early.  We were served a selection of items including Lumping Shanghai, BBQ Pork Skewer and Pancit Bihon.  Hot and crunchy, the lumpia was filled with a well-spiced ground pork filling.  The bbq pork was nicely charred and sweet, but unfortunately, it was rather cold.  The best thing on the plate was the pancit which was neatly packaged in a mini-takeout container.  Chewy and well-seasoned, the noodles were moist enough, but not greasy.  There was a decent amount of meat and cabbage to balance out the dish.

Onto our 3rd stop, that happened to be the 2nd stop for most people, was the Seoul Food Truck stall in the Henderson Mall food court.  This was a bottleneck since they prepare all of the food to order.  It ended up taking quite awhile for our food, but it was well-worth it.  We were treated to a generous serving of a K-Town Sandwich filled with Korean fried chicken nuggets.  Viv opted for the red pepper sauce while I had garlic.  Crispy and succulent, the chicken was beautifully cooked.  Flavour-wise, I thought the garlic was super impactful with a sharp and sweet garlic hit.  The red pepper was sweet and moderately spicy.  We both also had a side of Rice Cakes which were in red pepper and cheese.  These were some of the best rice cakes I've had in awhile.  Texturally, they were crispy on the outside while being soft and chewy on the inside.  There was an appealing sweet crunch as well.

After being stuck at behind a train crossing for 15 minutes, we finally made it out to Politos Latin Cafe.  We were presented with 3 items including the mini-Pupusas made with a corn tortilla.  I've had this before and this was the right thickness in my opinion.  Unlike the ones I've had at other spots, this was not oil-soaked.  Underneath, there was a cabbage slaw and a savory tomato sauce.  Wrapped in a banana leaf, we had the Vigorón consisting of a cabbage salad made with curtido, yuca, and chicharrones.  Love the combination of textures.  Lastly, the  Patacones “Tostones” were  made with deep Fried plantain topped with assorted vegetables and seasoned meat.  Nicely crunchy, this was also not greasy while sporting a meaty savouriness.

We left the bevvies to the end with our visit at Mariner Brewing.  I didn't even know this place existed!  This cozy spot on Barnet Hwy (even though the actual address is Lansdowne Drive) offers up a selection of bites to go with their beers on tap.  My flight consisted of North East IPA (hoppy with a crisp bite), Main Sail Pale Ale (rich and nutty), Berry Cider (lightly sweet) and Night Sky (thick and sweet with hints of chocolate and coffee).  Loved them all, especially the dark night sky due to the noted flavours.  More complex than it appeared.   This was a relaxing finish to a nice overview of unique eats out in Coquitlam.  Personally, I enjoyed all of the stops (2 of which I've been to) and it is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg of the diverse dining in Coquitlam.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Variety of restaurants
- Sufficient amount of food (esp from the Seoul Truck)
- Distance between stops was reasonable

The Bad:
- Wait at Seoul Truck was excessive
- Limited tables at Kulinarya

Bánh Mì Très Bon

Once again, there is another restaurant that people question me: "you haven't been there yet???"...  Yes, I haven't been to Bánh Mì Très Bon and really, it was on a long list of places that I should try.  But as I've said over and over again, there is only that much time and so many places to eat at!  Actually I almost kinda forgot about the place.  However, when Nora suggested we meet up there with Lesley and Joyce, I figured it was as good as any other time to make it out to Richmond...  in rush hour...  Sigh...

Since we had to order food at the counter, we didn't get our dishes organized properly.  Hence, we ended up double-ordering the Tapioca Dumpings filled with pork and shrimp.  It wasn't a bad thing though as they were on point.  The delicate yet chewy exterior of the dumpling was just the right thickness.  Inside, the filling was a nice balance between tender ground pork and whole shrimp that still exhibited a snap.  We also got an order of their Garlic Chicken Wings that were beautifully fried.  They were lightly crisp on the outside with rendered skin while the meat was succulent and juicy.  There was enough seasoning for impact including a balanced garlickiness.

Onto their Pho Tai Bo Vien, the broth was clean and flavourful.  I actually found the broth rather interesting because it wasn't rich per se, but it was aromatic with a deep sweetness accented by the background licorice-flavour of the star anise.  There was also a certain meatiness that was fairly evident.  If there was ever an example of proper texture, the rice noodles here were perfect.  They were chewy but not hard and not clumpy at all.  In addition to the meatballs, the sliced beef was light and tender.  We also had the Pho Ga which was surprisingly impactful.  There was this natural chicken flavour that was sweet with only a modest amount of salt.  Once again, the noodles were perfectly al dente.  In addition to tender slices of chicken, the chicken meatballs were fluffy and really tasty.

Of course we had to order the Banh Mi Trio consisting of meatball, cold cut and chicken.  I found their bread to be a bit different than many of the other ones in the GVRD.  Rather than being crusty with bits shattering all-over-the-place, the bread was firmer and slightly chewier.  However, it worked since it wasn't too dense.  I found the pate to be generously applied, but it was a touch bland.  The meats were on point, especially the meatball since it was moist and nicely spiced.  Our last savoury dish was the Vietnamese Beef Stew served with a baguette.  This was chock full of tender carrots and even more tender beef.  The stewing liquid had a reduced viscosity which meant it wasn't watery.  Flavours were full-bodied with the star anise coming through.  There was also a nice spice level. 

For dessert, we were presented with some complimentary Macarons consisting of raspberry, blueberry, mango and earl grey.  These were no charge since they had lost our original order which meant our food too a bit longer to arrive.  Nice touch on their part to make it up to us!  The macarons were quite good with a crispy exterior giving way to a tender chew.  They were just sweet enough and really did taste like their descriptions.  Overall, I thought the food at Bánh Mì Très Bon was solid and reasonably-priced given the care put into the food.  Nice people too.

The Good:
- Carefully prepared food
- In general, the food tasted great
- Nice people

The Bad:
- When it is busy, tables are hard to come by
- Since it is counter service, this further compounds the problem when it is busy

Myst Asian Fusion

When Myst first opened, I had missed the ChineseBites tasting event due to a hockey tournament (yes some things take precedence over eating!).  Turns out it was a blessing in disguise as they had a few kinks to iron out.  I ended up visiting the place on my own several times with varying degrees of satisfaction.  In all, I've been to the place over a dozen times mostly due to the fact it is open late, which is great for us after hockey.  I can confidently say that the food has been consistent in the past half year and even my past disappointments with the drinks have subsided.  So I had no hesitation to attend the latest ChineseBites tasting that combined some new menu items with some classics as well.

Things arrived fast and furious staring with their House Special Stir-Fried Sliced Noodle with Beef.  This is similar to the one made with flat rice noodle, except they used the same noodles found in TBN (Taiwanese Beef Noodle).  I've had this a few times in the past and this was nicely caramelized with good wok heat like before.  It was full-flavoured and sported chewy noodles with lots of tender sliced beef.  Onto the Dan Dan Noodles, I've also had this before and it was spicier than it appeared.  This version was more peanutty and slightly sweeter.  Loved the pickled mustard greens as it added a tangy pop.  I would've preferred thinner noodles, but ultimately, these were chewy and stood up to the thick sauce.

We ended up ordering the usual Myst Assorted Fried Basket (Option B) with chicken nuggets, squid tentacles, black rice cake, green string beans and shrimp chips underneath.  Again, I've also had this in the past and this was solid as expected.  The well-seasoned salty peppery chicken was crispy while juicy inside.  Crunchy with a touch of five spice, the tentacles were appealingly chewy.  Not sure about the black rice cakes though as they were rather dense and chewy.  In with the new, we tried the Myst Deluxe Feast Platter sporting tiger prawns, pineapple and mini bacon-wrapped sausage, deep fried prawns and yam fries atop shrimp chips.  I really enjoyed the yam fries as they were crunchy.  The shrimp skewers with king mushroom were solid, but I found the fried prawns a bit doughy.

One of more popular dishes that I've never tried before was the Golden Sands Prawns with Salted Egg Yolk.  The prawns were cooked just right where the meat retained a snap.  Outside, the salted egg yolk coating was aromatic, nutty and only mildly salty.  As much as the prawns were fried so that the shell was edible, it could've been a bit more so as some parts were hard to chew.  Other than that, I can see why people love this dish.  One of my favourite items of the meal was the Myst Deluxe Egg Fried Rice.  This featured chewy and nutty rice that was subjected to enough wok heat.  It was well-seasoned without being salty.  The cured sausage added a certain depth and meatiness.  Adding to the flavours and textures was the runny egg yolk and pork fluff on top.

Onto something rather impactful was the Assorted Seafood Spicy Hot Pot that was overflowing (literally as it spilled onto the table) with broth, fish, squid, imitation crab, fish tofu and napa cabbage.  The seafood remain relatively on point texturally despite the constant boil from the hot pot.  However, the most obvious feature of this dish was the spice level.  They did not whimp out with the chili peppers and Szechuan peppercorns.  There was a lingering heat even after the last bite.  Compare to this, the Steamed Sliced Fish with Diced Red Peppers was relatively mild.  With that being said, it wasn't as if the dish was bland.  It was far from it where there was a tasty level of heat accented by a touch of sweetness and tang.  The sliced fish (basa) was cooked just enough where it was still soft and flaky.

Another classic item was the Three Spice Chicken with Basil.  This quintessential dish is something that a Taiwanese restaurant must nail.  I felt that this was a solid version that sported medium-sized pieces of bone-in chicken.  With rendered skin, the meat was tender and generally succulent.  Unlike many versions, this was surprisingly not overly greasy.  I found there was a nice balance between sweet and savoury while the aromatics from the sesame oil and basil were in the background.  I would've liked to see a bit more tang though.  One of my favourite things to order here is the Marinated Combo with beef tripe, pork intestine and beef tendon.  Chewy, while still tender, the beef tripe was also not too gamy and flavourful from the braising liquid.  The tendon was gelatinous and tender, yet not too soft.  This time around, the intestine was more gamy, but that is partly the appeal.

Another new offering was the Preserved Cabbage, Bamboo Shoots and Edamame with Sliced Fish.  If this dish looks simple and mild-tasting, then you are right.  I found that there was only the slightest tang from the preserved cabbage to go with a bit of saltiness.  Otherwise, the edamame (as expected) didn't add much other than texture.  The bamboo shoots were rinsed so well, there was no funkiness at all.  Underneath, the sliced fish was tender and buttery.  Living up to its namesake, the Chinese-Style Heavy Smoking Duck was really, really smoky.  So much so, I can see how some might be overwhelmed.  Personally, I like smoky food, so it didn't bother me much.  I found the dark meat more tender than the breast meat.  The skin was mostly rendered being a little bit dry.

Ending off on a dramatic note, we had the Mango Shaved Ice complete with flavoured ice and mango ice cream.  To create the theatrics, there was activated dry ice underneath.  Now it looked cool, but was it any good?  In fact yes, it was fairly smooth and not overly sweet.  Plenty of mango (even though not in season) and a big scoop of creamy mango ice cream on top.  Once again, the meal was pretty solid considering the amount of dishes ordered.  From my past experiences, food is generally good with only a few hiccups along the way.  I liked how their drinks are more consistent now as they were not before.  Personally, I just like that they are open until 2:00am as I am always in need of late night eats.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Diverse menu
- Open late
- Majority of the items are solid

The Bad:
- As with any large menu, some items will be better than others
- Avoid peak times as the wait can be long

The Big Flat Pancake Co.

Sometimes it is easy to lampoon the lack of good eats in the 'burbs.  After all, many chain restaurants set up shop in the boonies in hopes of targeting a specific audience and/or for market research.  I'm pretty well-versed in suburban dining as I lived out in the Tri-Cities area for nearly 7 years.  However, as mentioned in my post on Oz Korean Cuisine, the restaurant scene has really improved in the past 10 years.  One of the newer spots to set up shop is The Big Flat Pancake in the old Wilbur & Sebastian's location.   As much as there have been more choice out in the Tri-Cities area, the breakfast scene has been rather lacking except for the aforementioned chain restaurants.  We headed out there to check it out.

We ended up sharing 4 dishes amongst us including the 3 Cheese Omelet with multigrain toast, fresh fruit and house fire-roasted salsa.  This was a modest-sized omelet that was neatly folded and filled with just enough melted gouda, cheddar and jack cheeses.  I thought the egg was still fluffy and not overdone.  It was really thin, which made it rather light to eat.  The fire-roasted salsa was bright with only the slightest amount of spice to go with the tang.  We also decided on the Farmhouse Waffle topped with thick-cut country ham and 2 sunny-side eggs.  Frankly, there wasn't anything special about the waffle, but it was still good.  I found it a touch dense while not crispy enough on the outside.  We asked for sunny-side eggs and they were perfectly prepared with cooked-through whites while retaining a completely runny yolk.  On the side, the side of tatar tots were on point being extra crispy.  It came with a side of pesto that tasted eerily like the one found at Costco.

Onto their signature items, we had the Hipster Hash Pancake featuring a thin-Pannekoek like crepe pancake topped with a dish of hash.  It consisted of hashbrowns, country ham, back bacon, turkey bacon, peppers, onions, corn and tomato topped with a sunny-side egg (extra +$1.50) Hollandaise and avocado.  For a hash, it lacked carmelization and searing.  Therefore, the flavours were not developed and visually, it looked more like it was tossed together.  Once again, the egg was perfect while the Hollandaise was creamy and well-balanced.   As for the pancake, it was similar to de Dutch but a touch thicker and spongier.  We ended things off with the Four Berry Cheesecake Pancake with cream cheese whip, graham crumble and a compote of blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and raspberries.  This was my favourite as the flavour was exactly as described.  Overall, I felt that the BFPC has loads of potential, especially for its location.  Prices are fair when compared to de Dutch and ingredients were fresh.  Just a bit more consistency would put it over the top.

The Good:
- Something interesting for breaky in the Tri-Cities area
- Nice people
- Things were fresh

The Bad:
- Execution could've been more consistent

The Poor Italian

Other than a small tasting roughly 5 years ago, I haven't had a sit-down meal at The Poor Italian since 2011.  To see it still there is somewhat of a surprise because the location hasn't fared well in the past.  My original visit yielded respectable eats at a premium considering the Downtown-pricing for an Eastside eatery.  Hence, I never did make any plans to return since there are many less pricey choices for Italian fare in town.  However, Costanza chose the place for his birthday dinner since he has been curious about the place for quite some time.

We decided to change things up a bit going for 2 appies, 3 pastas and 3 entrees staring with the really large portion of Calamari Fritti.  Even though it was $16.00, the wooden board of calamari still seemed like a good value.  It consisted of largely cut rings and tentacles that were battered lightly.  Although a touch greasy, the exterior was crispy while the squid was tender with a nice snap.  The side of lemon was necessary as the batter was not seasoned aggressively.  For our next appie, we had the Misto di Cozze e Vongole (Mussels & Clams) prepared in a light tomato sauce with Mediterranean herbs and dry white wine.  This was on point as well where both mollusks were buttery, meaty and tender.  The broth was superb being aromatic and impactful.  The wine was properly cooked down and the tomato was only lightly tart. 

For our pasta course, my favourite of the bunch was the Tagliatelle con Funghi with wild mushrooms, white wine, truffle oil and shaved parmigiano.  Although a touch softer than I would've preferred, the pasta was still appealingly textured being tender and slippery.  This was due to the liberal use of olive/truffle oil in the dish.  That didn't bother me though as the amount of truffle oil was used with restraint.  Layers of woodsy flavours came through as well as the saltiness from the cheese.  My second favourite was the Spaghetti Carbonara with eggs, smoked pancetta, parmigiano reggiano and cracked black pepper.  This exhibited a classic flavour profile with the creaminess from the eggs and the saltiness from the pancetta and cheese.  There was a touch of spice from the pepper and the pasta was perfect being chewy while cooked through.

Costanza and I were pretty excited to try the Linguine alla Vongole featuring local baby clams, garlic, white wine and EVOO.  Although it looked promising and technically good, it was our least favourite.  The pasta itself was a little overdone where it lacked any chewiness.  Although there was a good amount of fresh clams, there was a surprising lack of brininess and salt.  Hence, the dish was a bit bland.  Furthermore, it was unnecessarily greasy from the liberal use of EVOO.  Moving onto the bigger dishes, the Grigliata di Carne Mista (Trio of Meats with Calvados Demi-Glace) was a complete disappointment.  The chicken was stiff and dry while the medium sirloin tasted funky.  Only the chorizo was somewhat appetizing.

Fortunately, the Vitello al Marsala (Veal Scaloppine sauteed with butter, mushrooms and marsala wine reduction) was much better.  Featuring tender and thin slices of veal, the dish benefited from a beautifully prepared sauce that was woodsy, aromatic and full of depth.  I thought it was well-balanced and not overly heavy either.  The sides of veggies were vibrant with a firm texture while the roast potato was soft and well-seasoned.  For our last dish, we had the daily feature being the Osso Bucco di Agnello (Lamb Shank) with a tomato sauce, garlic, white wine and herbs. The lamb itself was generally tender and moist with a few drier parts on the exterior.  Underneath, the spaghetti was on point and went well with the tangy and garlicky sauce (which was a bit too salty).  Overall, we found the appies and pastas to be much more superior to the entrees.  Considering the pricing, we expected better execution.

The Good:
- Appealing appetizers
- Nice dining space

The Bad:
- Only one good entree
- Need more consistent execution considering the price point

The Smoking Pig

Strange location - that is always a mystical draw for many when it comes to restaurants.  Something about the antithesis of good business practice lends itself to the opposite effect.  Take The Smoking Pig in Coquitlam for instance.  Situated on a dark stretch of Brunette seemingly in some random one-story building, this Korean restaurant actually has a following.  I guess it doesn't hurt that they are affiliated with the now closed Ramengers.  They started out with a eclectic fusion Korean menu that has now simplified into a ramen joint with a few unique dishes. 

We began with their signature item being the Smoked Pork with pickled spicy radish and salad.  At first, it didn't look like much and in fact, resembled bossam.  However, one bite and the smokiness really hit us hard.  The texture of the pork was tender and buttery soft.  I liked the fact it wasn't too fatty, so there was actually a meatiness to it.  The radish on the side was on point and provided a nice counterpoint to the smoky pork.  We tried the Sweet & Spicy Wings next and they were arrived scorching hot.  The light tempura-like batter on the outside was appealingly airy and crispy.  However, the skin wasn't able to render much due to the batter.  Hence it ate greasy.  On the other hand, the meat was juicy and succulent.  I thought the sauce was more sweet than spicy, but it was delicious nonetheless.

Onto the main event, we had the Gamjutang Ramen for 2.  Reminiscent of Ramengers on Kingsway, it was a really a large portion.  There was much more ramen than broth though which was generous of them, but in reality, we would've preferred more soup.  It was lightly spicy and did exhibit some depth.  Perilla seeds would've been a welcomed addition though.  As for the noodles, they were fairly al dente, but had soaked up much of the broth (but partly due to our fault as we took pictures first).  The ample pork bones were on point being meaty, tender and full-flavoured.  Although we didn't get to try the "regular" bowls of ramen, the items we did sample did provide a good enough representation of the place.  The smoked pork and wings were pretty on point, however, the ramen could've used more soup.  Worth a try if you can find the place.

The Good:
- Smoked pork on point
- Fairly large portions
- Friendly people

The Bad:
- Hard-to-find location and equally strange parking lot
- More soup needed for the pork bone ramen for 2

Pho Saigon (Tsawwassen)

Shopping during Christmas time (yes, this was awhile ago) can often be an exercise in torture and self-punishment.  Hence, going to places such as Metrotown and Guildford Town Centre is the equivalent of navigating Richmond during rush hour.  Even the smaller malls aren't immune as finding a parking spot requires either overly aggressive behaviour or stalking 101.  However, there is one mall that is generally not busy and finding parking near the entrances a breeze.  Yes, you guessed it, the place is Tsawwessen Mills.  We went all the way out there to shop and enjoy the relative tranquility.  After that, we hopped on over to nearby Pho Saigon for some eats.

Just like the location in Ladner, the place is pretty humble, but decorated with customer-made scribbles on the walls.  We started things off with the Banh Ba Lot that was quite good.  It had the requisite chewy, sticky and bouncy tapioca texture while stuffed with pork, mushroom and shrimp.  Loved the dipping it into the tangy chili fish sauce.  For myself, I had the Pho Dac Biet and it was a fair portion.  I thought the soup was a little light and a touch muddled.  However, it was still relatively flavourful and pleasant.  I found the noodles to be al dente while the meats were tender.  

For Viv, she had Combo A consisting of salad roll, spring roll (made with rice paper) and chicken brochette with rice.  As mentioned, the spring roll was legit being crispy while a touch greasy.  The salad roll was haphazardly constructed, but was solid nonetheless.  A little dry, the chicken skewer could've used a bit more seasoning.  My son went for his usual Lemongrass Chicken with rice.  We added an egg to the dish and it came out fully cooked.  Totally disappointing because the whole point is to have a runny egg with the rice.  The chicken was a bit similar to the skewer being a touch dry and lacking enough impact.

My daughter didn't go overboard this time and went small with a Kid's Pho Ga.  This was quite a large portion of chewy noodles and mild-tasting chicken broth.  The pieces of chicken were on the drier side, but were still okay.  In the end, that is all we were looking for anyways - decent eats.  Pho Saigon was more or less that, but nothing amazing.  I guess with the lack of competition in Tsawwassen, they won't need to be anything more than decent.

The Good:
- Decent (LOL)
- Okay pricing

The Bad:
- Better elsewhere, but not in Tsawwassen
- Service was really lacking