Sherman's Food Adventures: April 2018

Genki Sushi

My experiences with conveyor-belt sushi has been mediocre at best.  I've tried the inexpensive Sushi Land and although one can eat there on budget, the food ain't something to write home about.  I found Blue C Sushi to be better, but at their pricing, very hard to justify going there over Sushi Land.  Finally, Sushi Maru in Bellevue was the best of the bunch, but once again, it wasn't super cheap.  So really, I had no reason to do this again, but alas, the kiddies love the novelty.  Therefore, we visited the popular chain Genki Sushi while we were staying in Renton.

For those unfamiliar, you help yourself to anything on the conveyor belts where you will be charged accordingly by the plate color (with each representing a different price point).   Upon sitting down, the kids started grabbing plates like no tomorrow.  We ended up with Salmon, Red Tuna and Tamago.  Unless I'm mistaken, the rice appeared to be shaped from a machine (since they were so uniform).  No matter really since the texture was actually not bad being chewy and not overly wet.  It was a bit bland, but sushi rice comes in all levels of seasoning.  On top, the salmon was sliced rather thin but was buttery soft.  The tuna was firm and not all-that-flavorful.  Surprisingly, the tamago was decent (of course it wasn't prepared the traditional way, but let's keep it real here...) being fluffy and slightly sweet albeit thin.  The Seared Salmon was buttery, but lacking in flavour, it needed more charring and some sauce.

The problem with conveyor-belt sushi is that one tends to grab everything that they see.  Call it the power of suggestion (visuals) and/or being very hungry.  So the next 3 Nigri consisted of Tuna, Spam (yes, really) and Mackerel.  Although haphazardly sliced, the tuna was quite good.  It was somewhat thick, but the texture was on point with a meatiness that was still soft and buttery.  Not much to say about the spam other than it was sauced with some teriyaki and did its best impression of a masubi.  Graced with the usual green onion and ginger condiment, the mackerel was pretty typical (which was a good thing).  My son really loved Unagi, so we had to get some for him.  However, it was a special order since if you can imagine how it would be sitting on the conveyor-belt for too long.  As you can see, the portion was generous and it was warm and buttery soft.

Onto some cooked items, we also special ordered the Fried Salmon Bits and Popcorn Shrimp.  These were actually available on the conveyor-belt, but our server told us to ignore those since they had been sitting out for awhile.  Crunchy and light, the fish skin were akin to the packaged version found in Asia except these were served warm.  They were lightly salty and with the squeeze of lemon, it was rather addictive.  The popcorn shrimp was more or less acceptable as the shrimp inside was buttery with a snap.  I found the breading to be a bit thick though, yet still crunchy.  We didn't special order the Deep Fried Potstickers, but they turned out to be still crunchy while okay on the grease.

Onto the maki rolls, we chose the Garlic Salmon Roll with kanikama salad, cucumber, seared salmon, garlic mayo, BBQ eel sauce, sweet chili sauce and green onions.  Once again, there wasn't really anything wrong with the roll as the rice was fine and the garlic really came through.  It was essentially a California roll with seared salmon on top. We also had the Spicy Tuna Roll consisting of tuna, cucumber and chili pepper.  As evidenced in the picture, the spiciness was pretty obvious.  Hence, it lived up to its namesake.  If you haven't noticed by now, the food was decent, but it didn't exactly light my foodie fire.  However, with that being said, it was reasonably-priced and was fun for the kids.  If you come in with clear expectations, Genki does the job for conveyor-belt sushi.

The Good:
- Decent
- Reasonably-priced
- Although service was sparse, it was actually quite friendly

The Bad:
- Don't expect too much
- Sparse service

Din Tai Fung (Southcenter)

Ever since my first ever visit to Din Tai Fung in 2011 at the Bellevue location, I've been back many times.  I never felt the need to do a repost since things were basically the same.  I had a chance to check out the Hong Kong location last year but wanted to go to other spots instead (but have heard the HK one is pretty good).  Finally, it is time that I did another blog post on DTF partly because of time and mostly since they opened a new location at Southcenter in Tukwila.  Since we were staying nearby, we dropped by on a Saturday morning to find that they weren't very busy.  Score!

To start things off, we had the small bowl of  Hot & Sour Soup that was loaded with green onions.  After mixing it with the chili oil on top, the soup was flavorful in a sweet, savory and slightly spicy manner, but there was not enough tang.  Hence, it wasn't balanced.  I did like the silky tofu though as it had a pleasing mouth-feel.  Seeing how we never seem to get enough veggies in our diet, we got an order of the Stir-Fried Broccoli with garlic.  Although this was fairly simple dish, it was executed properly.  The good-sized florets were crunchy while cooked all-the-way-through.  It was mildly seasoned while the garlic did come through.

Onto the most important dish, the Pork Xiao Long Bao, these were made-to-order (similar to many other restaurants).  These featured their signature thin dumpling skin where the twirl on the top was only slightly more chewy than the rest of it.  Gotta eat these hot because the skin becomes progressively chewier as they cool.  Inside, the soup was substantial where the natural sweet pork flavor was complimented by a discernible amount of ginger and xiaoshing wine.  To change it up a bit, we also got the Shrimp Siu Mai which were essentially an XLB with a shrimp on the open top (albeit with slightly thicker skin).  This ate more robust and with the addition of the snap texture of the shrimp, there was more variation.

The kiddies really love Stir-Fried Shanghai Rice Cakes, so to prevent any whining, we got it despite the plethora of food already.  This was executed properly with chewy slices of rice cake that were also tender enough.  There was enough wok heat for caramelization of flavors and color.  Mixed in was a good amount of crunchy napa cabbage and tender spinach as well as julienned pork.   Shockingly small in size, the Minced Pork Noodles was also texturally appealing.  The ample meat sauce was sweet with a noticeable brininess from the dried shrimp.  This in itself added enough umaminess to make the dish rather tasty.  I just wished there was more of it.

Lastly, we had their Potstickers served with the crispy side on top.  It featured the appealing and desired crunchy edges/bottom from the starch.  I liked how they were not greasy despite the aggressive texture.  Inside, the filling was moist and juicy while being well-seasoned.  After it was all said and done, the amount we paid wasn't exactly cheap, so the good food came at a cost.  However, we've never had a bad experience at DTF, hence, I believe it is worth the price.  I particularly enjoyed that this location was large and not crazy busy.

The Good:
- XLBs are good with thin dumpling skin and flavourful soup
- Other dishes are generally good too
- Attentive service

The Bad:
- On the pricier side
- Smallish portions

Jamjar (Granville)

My first ever experience with Jamjar was with their original location on Commercial Drive during a Brunch Crawl event.  I vaguely remember that we had hummus and some other small things.  Suffice to say, this did not fully represent what Jamjar has to offer.  I never made it back despite my curiosity since Lebanese/Middle Eastern fare isn't exactly in abundance in Vancouver.  Well, it wasn't until Nora suggested we all meet up for dinner one night at their new shop located at the old Rangoli spot.  

We ended up sharing a few things to start including the Hummus Trio consisting of original, lemon and red pepper.  I thought all of them were pretty good except the original could've used more acidity.  It was a bit strange as the other 2 had much more tang and hence had more pop.  We also could've used more pita bread since the amount of hummus was generous.  Naturally, we also had to get some of their fabulous Falafels and they did not disappoint.  We got 4 large perfectly fried balls that were firmly crunchy on the outside.  Inside, they were not fluffy per se, but neither were they dense.  They were nicely spiced where they ate well even without the yogurt dip.

Of course we also had to get the Makali (aka deep fried cauliflower) tossed in pomegranate molasses dressing. This was a rather large serving that featured a mixture of large and small florets of smoky cauliflower.  I enjoyed the firm, yet cooked through texture, but it could've been more crispy on the edges.  I loved the sweet and tanginess of dressing.  Next, we tried the Riyah (lamb popsicles rubbed with cinnamon, turmeric and Greek yogurt) which was a little pricey at $17.00.  It was good though featuring a smoky and crispy char.  The meat was cooked a bit more than I would've liked, so it wasn't as succulent as it could've been.

To get a good sense of the menu, we decided to order "A Taste of Lebanon" shared meal.  It started with Olives, Makdous, Feta, Hummus, Muttabel, Mohamara, Spinach Dip, Mujadra, Eggplant Stew, Cauliflower, Falafel and Batata Harra.  Now if this looks strangely like the dishes we'd already ordered, you are partly right.  We kinda goofed here, but the server didn't really tip us off either.  No matter, one of my favourites was the muttabel (roasted eggplant dip with tahini, lemon and garlic) as it was smooth, tart and aromatic.  I also liked the creamy sesame spinach dip since it had some texture even though it was pretty creamy. The second plate was more of the same, so not much to comment on that.

The main event (in my opinion) of A Taste of Lebanon was the plate consisting of Shish Tawouk, Makanik, Beef Kibbeh and Prawns.  I thought the beef kibbeh was the best of the bunch sporting a smoky sear and being well-seasoned with sweetness from the onions.   The shish tawouk (chicken) was also seared nicely, but dry and lacking impact.  It could've used more lemon juice.  I didn't enjoy the prawns as they were rubbery and overdone.  Lean and meaty, the makanik (sausages) were nicely spiced with layers of flavour.  For dessert, we got the Chocolate Rice Pudding featuring coconut milk and aborio rice. This vegan, gluten-free dessert was actually pretty good where it was creamy while thick and rich.  It wasn't overly sweet (even with the rose water) which was fine in my opinion.  Overall, our visit to the new location of Jamjar was decent and reasonably-priced (except for the lamb).  With that being said, some more refinement is still needed, especially with their proteins.

The Good:
- Something different, especially for the neighbourhood
- Generally okay pricing considering the area, but some are strangely overpriced

The Bad:
- Some proteins were overdone

Grand Chinese Restaurant

I've said it before and I'll keep saying it: Burnaby North and the Brentwood area is sorely lacking good choices for Chinese food.  It is amazing we don't have some form of HK-Style cafe around.  Well, things are slowly changing and we now find the first hand-pulled noodle/made-to-order xiao long bao restaurant in the area.  Replacing the lackluster Miki Japanese, we now find Grand Chinese Restaurant that attempts to bring authentic Northern Chinese food to Brentwood.  Therefore, we took the whole family plus grandparents for a taste.

We ended up getting the obligatory Beef Pancake Roll that happened to be the deep-fried version.  Normally, I'm not overly enthused with this type since it can be rather greasy and more-often-than-not, be chewy rather than crispy.  This one was actually not bad with a crunchy shell giving way to a soft chewier centre.  Inside, the sliced beef shank was a little tough, but still okay.  There was a good amount of green onion and hoisin as well.  Also on the table was the Spicy Wontons.  They were mildly spicy yet one-note in flavour.  I would've liked to see more than just chili oil in the mix.  There was something else at the bottom of the bowl, but there was so little of it, there was no impact.  As for the wontons themselves, they were tender with a bouncy pork filling.

To get a sense of their hand-pulled (and cut) noodles, we got 3 different types starting with the Minced Beef Sauce Noodles.  I have to say this had to be one of the largest servings of this dish ever.  The large bowl was filled nearly to the top with noodles and sauce.  We didn't end up finishing it.  Although the hand-pulled noodles were good, they totally overcooked it where they were too soft.  It was really too bad since the ample amount of sauce was good being rich and meaty without sorely relying on sodium.  For the kiddies, we got them the Beef Noodle Soup which also featured overdone noodles.  The sliced shank was the same as the beef roll being on the chewier side.  As for the soup, it was mild and not overly salty.

We also got the Stir-Fried Hand Cut Noodles with Seafood.  Yet another enormous portion, the noodles were also sadly overdone.  They didn't have the classic chewiness we expected from hand-cut thick noodles.  Despite this, the dish did taste good with plenty of seasoning from the wok-fry.  There was a decent amount of well-prepared seafood as well.  Saving the best for last, we had the made-to-order Xiao Long Bao.  These were packed with sweet soup.  It could've had a touch more xiaoshing wine, but whatever the case, the soup was still good.  We found the meat a touch gritty while the dumpling skin was elastic and fairly thin.

On another visit for dinner, we ordered the Szechuan Beef Noodle.  We asked for it to be less spicy so the kiddies could eat it.  This time around, the hand-pulled noodles were on point being slippery and chewy with a slight rebound.  I found the soup to be very mild, yet that is what we requested.  The large chunks of beef were meaty and fairly tender.  I thought the Mouth-Watering Chicken to be fairly disappointing as it wasn't very flavourful.  I could detect some spice (despite the visuals) and vinegariness, but everything seemed muted.  More spice, salt and even sugar was needed in this case.  The chicken itself was neither dry nor succulent.  

One of the better items was the Twice-Cooked Pork Belly with Garlic Stems.  Interestingly, there was more of everything else then garlic stems.  The pieces I could pick out were appealingly bright and crunchy.  As for the pork, it was sliced thin and the beneficiary of a great wok fry.  I wouldn't say the pork was tender, yet it was appealingly meaty with just the right amount fat.  Unlike the previous dish, there was plenty of seasoning that was a good combination of spice and savouriness.  The Spicy Fish was impressive in size, especially for only $16.95.  Loaded with tender basa filets, they were blessed with plenty of spice and seasoning.  It wasn't burning hot, but it definitely had a kick.  Overall, the food at Grand Chinese Restaurant is fine for the area due to lack of choice.  Portions are large and prices are reasonable.  However, moving forward, they need to further refine their dishes for the long term.

The Good:
- Large portions
- Decent XLBs
- Freshly made dumplings and noodles

The Bad:
- A touch inconsistent as the noodles were too soft the first time
- Food is decent for the area, but compared to others in the GVRD, it needs refinement

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