Sherman's Food Adventures: June 2018

Richmond Night Market 2018

At one point, we had 2 thriving night markets both located in Richmond.  To many, this was plenty confusing since one would have to either say, "the one near the River Rock" or "the one behind Home Depot".  Well, that isn't a problem anymore since the one behind Home Depot has ceased operations.  So the busy Richmond Night Market (picture credit Tourism Richmond) has become even busier with lack of competition.  In fact, it doesn't even have any equal in North America as it is the biggest Asian night market on the continent.  I made several visits with the first on my coin and the subsequent ones hosted by Tourism Richmond.

My first visit was with family visiting from the Bay Area in California.  Although they sport the biggest Chinatown in San Francisco, they hadn't seen something like the night market before.  We started off strong with the large Deep Fried Squid Tentacles from Squid Feast for $14.00.  This was a substantial portion of perfectly fried squid.  It was crunchy on the outside while appealingly chewy.  It was well-seasoned with a peppery saltiness, but we thought it could've been even saltier.  While we were waiting for our order, I stepped over to the Dumpling Master for their Mixed Dumplings ($7.50) consisting of 2 each Kimchi Beef, Black Truffle Pork and Spinach Vegan.  There was a variety of toppings to choose from including nori, bonito flakes and sesame seeds.  My favourite of the bunch was the black truffle as it was strong enough to be noticed, but not overwhelming either.  The pork was tender and meaty while retaining some juiciness.  Predictably spicy and tangy, the kimchi beef was good as well with a meatier filling.  Surprisingly, the vegan dumpling was pretty tasty too.  I would've been happy with them as an order, seriously!

I'm sure most of you are familiar with Takoyaki ($7.00) which is why we did not try the stand that specialized in it.  Rather, we hit up Best Takoyaki where they featured not only the traditional version, but also veggie-yaki, hotateyaki (scallop), shrimp-yaki and BBQ duck-yaki.  We ended up with the regular and the BBQ Duck-Yaki ($8.00) We found the takoyaki to be on the softer side with a crumbly exterior.  However, it was fluffy and tasted quite good with hits of cabbage, caramelized batter and octopus.  For real impact, the BBQ duck-yaki was meatier and really did have a roast duck aroma.  Add to the fact there was still octopus, the little balls were filling.  Of course a visit to the night market isn't complete without Chef James' BBQ Skewers (5 for $13.50) at Xin Jiang Man BBQ.  We got lamb, shrimp, beef and chicken skewers and they were on point.  The meat was succulent and well-spiced while completely charred and caramelized on the outside.

Something not readily found anywhere else, we had the Dragon Beard Candy ($5.50) at Kam's.  It looked a lot like cotton candy, but the texture and sweetness was nothing like it.  Rather, it was like a hybrid of Chinese peanut candy and cotton candy.  Hence it was more dense and robust than the light and airy cotton candy.  As mentioned, it wasn't incredibly sweet.  Instead, it was pointedly nutty and aromatic.  If you ever drop by, make sure you watch them making it, very cool.  Okay, our next item was not really anything sexy nor inventive.  But it is a street food classic being the Curry Fish Balls from Po Wah Dim Sum House for $5.50 (7 pieces).  This was pretty typical with small fish balls soak in a watery curry broth.  I found the fish balls to be tender with a nice rebound.  They weren't as spicy as I would've liked, but the curry did penetrate into the fish ball.

Returning only a week later, I was hosted by Tourism Richmond.  We began with dessert.  Well why not?  This was especially true with the Daifuku (2 for $7.00) from Asomi Mochi.  We had all of their available flavours including Purple Yam, Chocolate, Matcha and Original.   These were really good!  The mochi was soft and tender, yet still retaining a light delicate chew.  Beyond that, the thin layer of sweet red bean ensured flavour without being overwhelming.  I know this could be the luck of the draw, but their strawberries were large and sweet.  My favourite of the bunch had to be the original as it just tasted like a classic daifuku.  The matcha was a close second as it was not bitter at all while being impactful.  Close by, we got the Seafood Okonomi Poutine ($8.50) from Okonomi Bites.  This was also very good with crunchy fries topped with real cheese curds and strips of fried okonomiyaki.  I found the strips airy and fluffy while not sporting enough seafood.  No matter, the tangy and sweet sauce really brought the whole thing together was was the best part.

Staying in the same section, we had the Stuffed Crab Claws with shrimp paste for $13.98 at Mr. Crabzy.   These were topped with cheese, tobiko and wasabi mayo.   Compared to things I'd already tried, this was one of the tastiest.  I found the shrimp paste to be on point being moist and buttery with a perfect rebound texture.   It was well-seasoned being sweet and a bit savoury, but the topping of wasabi mayo added a creaminess with a minor hit of spice at the end.  Although the price might turn some people off, I thought it was worth it due to the ingredients and the execution.  Continuing on our streak of good eats, we had the Spicy Braised Pork Belly finished with apple wood smoke for $10.00 at The Phamily Table.  Like a fine dining establishment, they actually piped in smoke into the clam shell box.  So we were treated to the intoxicating smell of smoke upon opening the lid.  The belly was buttery and tender without being too fatty.  The smoke was there, but not strong, yet the spicy sauce on top was impactful.

Rounding the corner and up the busiest part of the food stalls, we made our way over to Tasty Oyster & Scallop BBQ.  As such, we got one order each of the BBQ Garlic Scallop with vermicelli ($12.00) and BBQ Garlic Oyster ($7.50).  Underneath the chewy vermicelli, the scallops were beautifully prepared being buttery and briny.  Despite the hot sauce on top, the scallops were actually bland.  A simple addition of salt and/or soy would've brought the dish to life.  The same could be said about the gigantic oyster.  It too was also perfectly prepared being soft and tender, but was lacking in seasoning.  With the hot sauce and red chili, there was a definite kick.  Yet, salt was definitely needed here.  As mentioned, the oyster was just massive as it was a meal in itself.  It was super-fresh where the sweet brininess was the highlight. 

Right across the way, we stopped at Sweets for well, you guessed it, sweets...  The better of the 2 items we ordered was the Deep Fried Yam Balls ($8.00).  These were crunchy and fairly airy while being appealingly chewy.  However, they were not served hot as we were expecting, so that decreased our enjoyment.  We didn't really care for the Matcha Croissant ($8.00) as it was very dense and not flaky at all.  In fact, the inside was doughy with no discernible layers.  With that being said, the matcha flavour was apparent and not overly bitter.  Continuing with dessert, we had the Tofu Cheesecake ($7.00 each) at Cupping 8 Cafe.  As pictured, we selected Mango and Matcha as our flavours.  I found the texture of the cheesecake to be similar to a very stiff panna cotta.  Therefore, we could eat it off the stick since it was so firm.  However, it was still smooth and almost silky when bitten into.  I'm more a traditionalist when it comes to cheesecake (I like the NY style), but this was different and healthier I'm sure.

Heading back to savoury, we decided to try one of the more popular items according to their top 10 board.  At the Banh Xeo, we ordered the Local Experience Vietnamese Savory Crepe ($8.50).  Hidden within the thin and crispy crepe, there was the usual bean sprouts, onions, pork and shrimp.  In terms of execution, the crepe was pretty good.  As mentioned, it was thin and had a mostly crispy texture except for some spots.  Inside, I found the amount of pork and shrimp to be insufficient as most bites were just mostly bean sprouts.  We already had fried squid the first time I visited the night market, so this time around, we sampled the BBQ Squid ($8.00) at Lao Er BBQ Squid.  Unlike the fried variety, the texture of the squid stayed more buttery while retaining a chewiness.  Also, the seasoning has a chance to penetrate the squid and of course coat the squid on the outside.  Hence, there was a lightly spicy and umaminess to the dish.

If you thought this wasn't enough food sampled at the night market, think again.  We came back a few weeks later with Mijune at the wheel.  In addition to much of the aforementioned items, we also had the following eats.  Yes, she went nuts (as she usually does when it comes to food), where we started off with some different items at Chef James.  Other than the usual awesome skewers, we also had the Crispy Buns, Buttered Corn ($3.50) and Roasted Yam ($3.50).  Seared and caramelized, the green onion buns were indeed crispy while fluffy on the inside.  Beyond the smokiness and savouriness, the addition of hoisin added a rich sweetness.  The corn on the cob was pretty textbook being cooked just enough where the niblets were crispy and sweet.  As for the yam, it was very good.  It was soft while still retaining its texture and shape.  Drizzled with a slightly spicy mayo and imitation bacon bits, there was variation in flavour and texture.

Right next to Chef James, the Original Oktoberfest-Style Roasted Pork Hocks were calling out to us.  Roasting on the rotisserie, these huge chunks of meat were $15.50, but oh-so-worth it.  Succulent and juicy, the pork was super tender and flavourful.  There was a choice of sauces including hot, wasabi mayo, BBQ and mustard. Be careful though, if you do end up getting this, it is far too much food for 2 people, let alone one.  So make sure you are sharing this.  Around on the other side, we decided to get 2 Pancake Wraps from Fusion Wraps.  We decided on Spicy Chicken and the classic Taiwanese Egg & Pork Fluff.  Despite looking rather thick and dense, the pancakes were pretty good.  They had a Malay roti quality to them where they were flaky on the outside with defined layers on the inside.  We much preferred the egg and pork fluff as it as not overly heavy and had the traditional taste we are familiar with.

Moving along, we decided to get one of the hottest items from last year's night market in the Spicy Garlic Bossam ($10.00 + $1.00 kimchi) from Teppan Bossam.  Unlike a traditional bossam, their version involves searing it on a blacktop with a sweet and savoury glaze finished with toppings and sauce.  It is eaten as is without blanched Napa cabbage and pickled turnip.  Unlike the previous times, this one was a little on the chewier side, but is was still tender enough and fatty.  The sear added caramelization while the sauce delivered as promised.  Over at Bao House, we went for both the Pork Belly and Beef Gua Bao (or Taiwanese "burger") for $11.99.  Dressed with pickled snow cabbage and cilantro, we noticed that the white sugar and ground peanuts were missing (maybe to avoid nut allergies?).  Despite this, the baos ate well with a firm fluffiness.  Inside, the beef was sliced thin and tender while the stewed pork belly was super moist and tender.

For awhile there, we lost Mijune only to discover that she had done back-to-back fried chicken stalls.  The first one was the Korean Sweet Chili Fried Chicken from Chicking for $7.00.  The chicken itself was succulent and tender with a think crispy batter on the outside.  As for the sauce, it was fairly mild and sweet.  Personally, I would've enjoyed a more aggressive gochujang-style of sauce, but I can see why they offered a milder version for the masses.  While this was decent, the Sweet & Spicy Wings ($7.00) from The Chicken Shop were outstanding.  There was a punch of flavour with each bite where the chicken itself was bursting with juices.  The batter was on point being the right thickness and super crispy.  They were able to render the skin despite the presence of an aggressive batter.  Yep, the thing you see at the back was indeed fried chicken skin.  That was thin and super crispy while lightly salted.

Of course we couldn't forget about the drinks since we were eating all this fried food!  So Mijune took it upon herself to hit up the Sippy Tea for their Roasted Milk Tea in a Ziplock-type bag.  Hey, it didn't look like much, but wow, it was delicious!  The drink was well-balanced with an impactful amount of roast tea flavour combined with conservative sugar content.  The milkiness was perfect, offering up some creamy notes to each sip without being heavy.  This was actually refreshing.  Okay, the stuff we had at Icy Bar was actually a lot later (hence the lack of light), but I decided to add it here since we were on drinks.   In addition to the Mango Icy ($7.00), we had the Mango Tapioca Icy ($6.00) and the Summer Special ($6.50).  The mango icy (shaved ice) was topped with a considerable amount of ripe mango, mango mochi and a big scoop of ice cream.  This was refreshing, but the ice could've been less gritty.  The "drinks" were the real stars of the show as they were just sweet enough while exhibiting the flavours of all the fruit that you see.  I highly recommend you get these as a palate cleanser.

Continuing on sweets, we got Crunchy Ice Cream at 196 Degrees.  These liquid nitrogen created ice cream nuggets were akin to dipping dots and mini-melts.  However, their size and shape were bigger and much more random.  They weren't crunchy per se, but the firmness was appealing.  After the initial bite, it melted into a creaminess that was sweet, but not overly so.  From the 2 flavours we ordered, I enjoyed the Matcha ($8.00) more as it was slightly bitter with plenty of natural tea aroma.  I found the Strawberry ($8.00) to have a "Pocky-like" taste.  Staying with matcha, we tried the Cold Fried Ice Cream at Sawadika Thailand ($8.50).  Essentially, they take the ice cream in its liquid form and freeze it on a large steel cooling plate.  Using spatulas, they form it into rolls as you see in the cup.  This was topped with chocolate sauce and coconut.  This was also quite good with a firm, but creamy texture that was purposefully sweet.  The matcha was more mild here, but still definitely there.

Yet another dessert (blame Mijune), we had the Ube and Black Sesame ice cream sandwiches from Cookies N Cream (2 for $14.00).  Although none of the ingredients are made by the vendors, the end product was good nonetheless.  I found the ice cream to be rich and balanced in flavour while the cookies to be the right texture.  What I mean by that is that the cookies were soft enough to not shatter when bitten into (held its shape).  Lastly, we grabbed another market favourite in the Seafood Cracker ($6.50) from Japanese Seafood Cracker.  I had this last year and it is akin to a really large sheet of shrimp chips but a little more dry and styrofoam-like.  Yah, that doesn't sound that appetizing, but I could see this going with beer at home.  Not sure walking around the market eating it though.  So there you have it - the stuff I have tried at the Richmond Night Market for 2018.  If I go again, I might add some more items to this article.  For those who are visiting Vancouver, this is definitely an experience not to be missed.

*2 of my 3 visits were hosted by Tourism Richmond*

The Good:
- Large selection of food representing many different cuisines
- "Yeet Lau" which means lively atmosphere
- Free parking

The Bad:
- If you go nuts, prepare to bring lots of cash
- Can get rather crowded, but that is part of the experience 

Tandoori Flame

Although buffets aren't really that popular in Greater Vancouver, there are some to choose from.  The most readily available ones include Sunday brunch buffets at hotels, Japanese AYCE and small Indian buffets offered by sit-down restaurants.  Chinese buffets and Uncle Willy-type offerings had their time, but don't have a market at this point-in-time.  From all of the buffets listed, it has always been a curiosity to me there has never been a purpose-built Indian buffet.  Well, that has been answered with the first BC location of Tandoori Flame (hailing from Ontario).  Recently, I was invited to check the place out.

Upon entering the place, I was greeted to a modern and well-appointed dining room.  The buffet itself was separated into stations.  The curries was by far the biggest one with Halal, vegetarian and typical options (with some repeated flavours).  For my first plate, I decided to try the Butter Chicken, Nihari Gosht, Chicken Biryani and freshly-made Naan.  What struck me right away was the level of heat.  It certainly wasn't mild, which meant there was plenty of impact.  Consisting of tandoori chicken, the butter chicken was legit having a good combination of creaminess and tang.  The nihari gosht was also spicy, but the spices still came through especially the cardamom.  Continuing the theme, the biryani had a kick while the rice was nicely dry and chewy.  The freshly-made naan (in a tandoor) was nicely blistered and fluffy with an elasticity. 

There was a random array of items next to the Tandoor which included Veggie Pudina Paneer, Tandoori Fruit Chaat, Chicken Pakora, Fish Fry, Malai Murgh Tikka, Achari Murgh Tikka, Lakhnavi Seekh Kebab and Bhuna Murgh.  Of these, I thought the achari murgh tikka to be the tastiest.  I was a bit confused why they were served bone-in, but ultimately, it was succulent and tender.  I enjoyed how the rub penetrated the meat.  As expected, the freshly prepared fish fry was crispy and flaky.  However, the pieces that had been sitting around were overdone.  Like many of their other fried items, the pakora was crispy.  Not shown in any of the pictures a kid's section with fries and onion rings.  Interestingly, they were quite good, but we didn't load up on that since there was also pizza and a salad bar.

On my way back to the curries, I had the Bombay Shrimp, Dum Ka Murgh, Saag Gosht, Murgh Patiala and Chili Potato.  I really loved the coconutty creaminess of the Bombay shrimp, but since it had been sitting in the chaffing tray, the shrimp had become rubbery.  Naturally, the chicken stood up much better than the shrimp, which meant it was tender and moist.  I much preferred the patiala since it was more impactful with its classic cinnamon and cardamom flavours.  Interestingly, the french fries coated with chili sauce was rather tasty.  For dessert, there was the usual gulab jamum as well as really good soft-serve ice cream.  There was also an array of Cakes that were more of the North American variety.  This was a good alternative to the various Indian desserts.  Overall, I thought the food at Tandoori Flame to be above average (considering it was a buffet).  Considering that the place offers food stations that continuously pumps out dishes, the food is pretty fresh.  It's worth a try.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- A purpose-built Indian buffet that offers continuously prepared food at designated stations
- Good spice level
- Modern and trendy dining space

The Bad:
- Some repeated flavours with the curries
- Southern Indian dishes were a bit weak

Gatlin's BBQ

After our visit to the Houston Space Center, we had time to squeeze in one more BBQ joint before we had to head to George Bush International.  We made our way North over to Gatlin's BBQ which was somewhat along the way to the airport (for food, everything is along the way...  LOL...).  Loved that we didn't actually run into any traffic this time!  In actuality, we weren't really that hungry because we had a "snack" at the space center.  Therefore, we only got a taste of what they offered.

The best way to do this was to go for their 3-Meat Combo with pork ribs, sausage and brisket.  I gotta say that my Texas trip ended off strong.  The brisket was fairly lean, but still exhibited a succulence.  It was mildly smoky with a nice flavorful bark.  The ribs were meaty and pretty lean as well.  Yet once again, they weren't dry at all.  Loved the smoky bark on the outside.  With a snap, the sausage was meaty and juicy.  This was a fair amount of meat for the price.  As for the sides, we got Beans and Mac n' Cheese.  As expected, the beans were sweet with a bit of smoke.  Cheesy and creamy, the mac was pretty solid with firm noodles.

Lastly, we added a Pulled Pork Sandwich to get a 4th meat into the mix.  Although the pork didn't look particularly moist, it wasn't dry at all.  Seems to be a theme here...  It was also nicely smoked that was balanced and not overwhelming.  When doused with some of their BBQ sauce, its was tangy and smoky with a mild kick.  As mentioned, this was a fitting end to our Texas food adventures, but it only whetted out appetite for more.  I want to go back.  Maybe I can get some people to join me...  LOL...

The Good:
- Surprisingly moist despite being lean
- Balanced smokiness
- Good value

The Bad:
- I liked it lean, but I can see how some want it fattier

Sun King Steakhouse (Carnival Freedom)

Similar to other cruise lines, Carnival has a free app that has all of the necessary info such as the day's schedule (where you can bookmark activities and a reminder will sound on your phone).  Another great feature is the available food when you check the app including menus for the main dining rooms.  Therefore, you have a good sense of where to eat for dinner without waiting for that day's menu to come out.  That was a good thing as we had originally booked Sun King Steakhouse online several months prior on the last night at sea.  One check of the Posh menu for that night and yes, it looked like we made a good decision.

Since it was an extra $35.00 per person surcharge (including 15% gratuity), we were treated to a more intimate dining room complete with a dedicated kitchen.  Furthermore, the bread and butter was more deluxe featuring brioche and focaccia accompanied by butter, tapenade and tomato confit.  I really enjoyed the latter as it was lightly tomatoey with a slight tang.  Beyond that, we were started off with an Amuse Bouche which was a chili chicken atop a thin slice of fingerling potato and topped with cheese.  It was nice savory bite that wasn't as spicy as it sounded.

For our appies, I had 2 including the Trio of Escargots which included brioche baked, garlic & parsley butter braised and vermouth & escargots veloute.  As like the main dining room, the snails were beautifully prepared being buttery and tender.  I especially enjoyed the veloute as it was silky and aromatic.  The brioche was nice, but rather heavy, so I ended up picking the snails out individually.  My next appie was the Lobster Bisque with vintage cognac, fleuron and fresh cream.  The bisque itself was silky, thick and chock full of aromatics from the lobster shells.  As much as the chunks of lobster meat was tender with a sweet bounce, it was too cold for the soup and brought the temperature down.

Viv's 2 appies included the Ahi Tuna Tartare consisting of sashimi-grade yellow fin tuna belly.  The tuna was lightly dressed where the natural sweetness was highlighted.  There was bits of orange and avocado mixed in for some acidity and creaminess.  I thought there could've been touch more tang, but it was fine nonetheless.  The fish itself was buttery and tender.  Her next appie was the Grilled Portobello Mushroom marinated in EVOO and aged balsamic vinegar.  As much as the tender slices of mushroom were impactful and flavorful, it was a bit too sour for Viv's liking.  A less aggressive approach to the marinade process would've been more successful.

My daughter continued the trend with 2 appies for herself starting with the Baked Onion Soup.  This came out scorching hot (which was a good thing) topped with the usual crouton and melted cheese.  Often, French onion soup can be rather salty due to the over-aggressive seasoning or reduction of the liquid.  This version was none of that.  Rather, it was sweet and rich from the caramelized onions.  On top, there was plenty of cheese to make it hearty.  Her next dish was the good ol' Caesar Salad featuring whole leaves and fresh-made dressing with anchovies.  This was good as the romaine hearts were crisp and fresh while the dressing exuded a noted anchovy flavor.

As for my son, he had the Beef Carpaccio topped with shaved parmesan and cheese marinated mache lettuce.  Thinly-sliced, the beef was fresh and melted-in-his-mouth.  There was barely any chewing required.  Although the capers and cheese provided some salt and tang, there needed to be even more seasoning as the dish was rather bland.  For his next appie, he had the Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail marinated in a garlic and green onion oil.  With this, the cocktail sauce was not even really necessary.  I personally thought that the marinade combined with the cocktail sauce didn't really go.  I would've preferred it just plain with the sauce on the side.  With that being said, the prawns were fantastic having a meaty snap.

For my main, I went for the 18 oz. Grilled Prime Cowboy Ribeye prepared medium-rare.  This was indeed cooked to my specifications and well-rested.  As a result, the meat was juicy and tender.  I got the 3 peppercorn sauce on the side and it was creamy with a light spice.  For my side, I went for the Yukon Gold Mash with wasabi.  It was buttery and really creamy with a notable hint of wasabi.  My daughter decided on the 9 oz. Broiled Filet Mignon also prepared medium-rare.  Since it was such a thick cut, the center was more rare than medium-rare.  That was fine as the meat was moist, well-charred and super tender.  Also well-rested, there was no blood on the plate.  The side of wild mushroom red-wine demi was silky and rich.  For her side, she had the creamed spinach that was not overcooked.

My son opted for the 14 oz. Broiled Prime NY Strip Loin prepared medium-rare (as a family, we do not eat steak cooked more than this).  Again, this was charred nicely and well-rested.  Most of the steak was super-tender, flavorful and buttery.  Some portions had some sinew which was not edible.  For his side, he went for the baked potato complete with butter, sour cream, chives and bacon.  Viv went for some Surf & Turf with half Maine lobster tail and a petite filet mignon.  Both items were perfectly prepared.  The lobster was moist exhibiting a buttery snap while the filet mignon was much like the other steak being charred and medium-rare.  She got the Bearnaise sauce on the side which was creamy, buttery and lightly acidic.

For dessert, I had barely any room in my stomach for the Cheesecake with hazelnut biscuit.  This classic baked New York style cheesecake was rich, creamy and actually somewhat light.  Hence, it didn't eat completely like a NY-style cheesecake, but had the attributes.   I found the sweetness to be restrained while the cheesiness to be ample.  For Viv, she had the Caramelized Washington Apples baked in a puff pastry dome.  This was a visually beautiful tart-like dessert to look at.  It was packed full of tender and sweet apple slices on top of a flaky shell except for the bottom where it was compacted.  It was a little on the sweet side though.

For the kids, they shared the Chocolate Sampler consisting of bittersweet chocolate cake topped with chocolate ice cream, banana panna cotta topped with date and yogurt sherbert and tiramisu & chocolate marquise topped with banana ice cream.  These were rich and not as sweet as they appeared, especially the bittersweet cake.  The tiramisu was creamy and full of boozy essence.  Overall, the meal at Sun King was good and naturally the service was top notch.  Of course the selection of steaks was better than the main dining room and better quality.  However, as mentioned in my other posts, I thought the steaks in the main dining room were just as good.  Therefore, one could probably be content with that the whole cruise.  But if you want to indulge and be pampered even more so, go ahead and make a reservation at Sun King.

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