Sherman's Food Adventures: September 2018

Royal Oak Restaurant

I'm sure you've noticed all the newer restaurants that I have blogged about recently.  Well, let's be honest here - people like reading about the latest spots to open because they want to know if they are worth going to.  But what about the long-standing joints that have been around for decades?  It goes without saying that people have either heard of them or have already eaten there.  So yah, not the sexiest places to blog about.  Yet, they always remain somewhere in the back of my mind and are an option when the situation presents itself.  Yep, that was the case when we needed a family-friendly spot to celebrate Girl Smiley's birthday as it was also close by to her house.

It's not like I haven't wanted to try the place out over the past decade and beyond, but recent reviews have indicated that it has gone downhill and things weren't the same as before.  I try to ignore those to find out myself.   As part of what the dishes ordered, we were served both Greek and Caesar Salads to start.  They featured fresh veggies where the Caesar was dressed just enough.  We found the Greek salad to be under dressed though.  To get a taste of the menu, we got a medium half and half Pizza consisting of the Royal Oak and the Meat Lovers.  Underneath the considerable amount of melted cheese was layers upon layers of meat.  It was more like a pizza sandwich or a quasi-deep dish.

For the kiddies, they wanted pasta so we got the Baked Spaghetti and Meatballs as well as the Baked Penne Carbonara.  These were both the large size, but the portions were rather modest in my opinion, especially for the price.  However, the spaghetti was acceptable though being just a touch soft while bathed in a balanced tomato sauce.  We added meatballs and they were meaty and moist (yet small).  When it came to the carbonara, the penne was pretty much cooked to death.  Think soft and then one more level past that.  Hence, it was our least favourite dish despite the ample bacon and flavourful creaminess (yes, not an authentic carbonara, but that is not what they serve here).  As with both pastas, there was a layer of ooey gooey melted cheese on top.

Okay, onto the main event, the Greek Dinner for 2 consisted of spanakopita, calamari, lamb chops, moussaka, chicken souvlaki, rice, lemon potatoes, tzatziki and pita bread.  Although it was $52.99, this was more than enough food for 4 people, let alone 2.  Beyond the portion size, the food was quite good.  I particularly enjoyed the moussaka as the meat was tender and well-seasoned while the bechamel was creamy and not too firm.  The souvlaki was charred and tender.  One thing that stood out was the thick and garlicky tzatziki - perfect for dunking the crispy and tender calamari into. For good measure, we also had the Roast Lamb which came in a generous portion.  It was fatty and succulent while well-seasoned.  On a side note, the lemon potato was really tangy which didn't bother me one bit.  Ultimately, this dish along with the platter and pizza won me over.  I thought they were all well-executed and a good value.  On the other hand, the pastas lagged behind.  But I would come back for the Greek food.

The Good:
- Greek food was on point and well-portioned
- Service was friendly for us (unlike the online reviews)
- Lots of toppings on the pizza

The Bad:
- Pastas were meh and overpriced

Zipang Provisions

Quite awhile back, I had visited Zipang Sushi on Main and came away impressed with the food.  It was a small little joint that dished up authentic Japanese eats that wasn't glitzy or over-complicated.  Well, the place eventually closed up shop and moved into larger digs further up Main in the former Bo Kong space.  I've been meaning to see what has changed ever since the move, but didn't really have the chance.  However, with Pom Pom declaring that she wanted Japanese eats after softball, that gave me the opportunity to suggest the place.  With no one objecting, we made our way over to the hipsterish decor of Zipang Provisions.

We decided to share a bunch of dishes including the Gyoza and the Chicken Karaage Poutine.  Lightly seared (at least 3 of them were), the bottom of the gyozas were uniformly crispy.  Aesthetically, I guess if they were all the same shade, it would've looked better.  However, they ate well with thin dumpling skin that has some elasticity and chew.  Inside, the pork filling was moist and tender.  Now the Chicken Karaage Poutine was a bit of a surprise as I don't remember that on the old menu.  It turned out to be pretty spot on with crunchy fries and legit cheese curds.  On top, the chicken karaage was juicy and lightly crispy.  I found the gravy to be mild-tasting which was fine since I don't like it too salty.

Next up we had the Chicken Yakisoba which was inundated with a good amount of veggies.  In fact, there was more veggies and chicken than actual soba.  There are 2 schools of thought here - in terms of material costs, meat and veggies are more expensive, yet if this is a noodle dish, then there wasn't enough of it.  For me, I wanted more noodles as there was a big mess of ingredients on the plate leftover since there wasn't enough noodles to accompany them.  Whatever the case, textures were on point and there was enough tang to balance the sweetness.  One of the best dishes of the night was the Veggie Okonomiyaki.  This was super crispy on the outside while airy and light on the inside.  There was just enough veggies to have an impact while not making everything wet.

Featuring thin layers of pork formed into a cutlet and fried, the Mille-Feuille Pork Cutlet Don was pretty good as well.  Served atop chewy, yet not dry rice, the crunchy cutlet was topped with egg, sauce and onion.  Although the pork was not exactly juicy, it wasn't overly dry either.  We found it tender while retaining a definite meatiness.  One thing that we would've liked to see was more sauce as the rice was pretty bland.  Boss Woman didn't feel like sharing with the rest of us since she doesn't do raw fish.  So she got the Pineapple Fried Rice for herself.  Served in a hollowed-out half pineapple, the rice was on the softer side, but not mushy.  It was sweet with little nuggets of meat strewn throughout.  She enjoyed her rice but thought there could've been more a nuttiness from the stir-fry.

On that note, onto the raw stuff, we had the Chef's Assorted Sashimi consisting of sockeye salmon, red tuna, hamachi, toro, ebi, ika and hotate.  As evidenced in the picture, the sheen on the each piece was apparent.  As such, textures were what they were expected to be and the natural sweetness was there.  I personally enjoyed the buttery hamachi the most as well as the ever-so-lightly torched hotate.  Toro was fatty and tender as well.  As much as we know that Miku serves possibly the best Salmon Oshi in town, we decided to give the one here a try as well.  This one featured chewy sushi rice that was on the softer side, but again, not mushy.  There was significantly more sockeye salmon than the one found at Miku/Minami.  Hence, the oshi ate rather robust and the salmon was noticeable.  It wasn't as delicate though and the charred caramelized flavours were less pronounced.

Arriving on one plate, we got an assortment of rolls including Toro, Negihama, Spicy Cactus and Unagi.  Interestingly, we didn't remember ordering a toro roll and really, there wasn't one on the menu (maybe it was negitoro missing the green onion?).  Anyways, it was fine, but the negihama was better since it did have the green onion and the hamachi was on buttery and sweet.  The spicy cactus was coated with toasted sesame seeds (topped with tobiko) and inside, there was imitation crab, tempura bits, avocado, mayo and spicy sauce.  The dominant flavour was the spice as well as the nutty sesame seeds.  With enough eel and sauce for impact, the unagi roll was flavourful on its own.  Pom Pom ordered a Rainbow Roll all for herself and it was pretty much a repeat of the sashimi on top of a California Roll.  So nothing much to comment other than it was solid.

The grilled Beef Short Ribs arrived much later than expected because it was left off the bill.  When it did arrive, it wasn't really worth the wait because the meat was overly chewy.  Furthermore, there really wasn't any char or caramelization to speak of.  The glaze was definitely there, but it lacked depth.  Hence, there was noted sweetness, but it wasn't complex nor was the saltiness. No matter, we were looking forward to dessert anyways and we went all in with 5 of them including the Souffle Cheesecake (yes, a la Uncle Tetsu-style).  This was crumbly and light, yet still retained a cream cheesiness to the texture and taste.  There was a surprise inside in the form of raisins which provided a burst of sweetness to the otherwise light-tasting cake.  This version was reminiscent of the one found at Cake-Ya.

Moving onto a more traditional form of baked cheesecake (texture-wise), we got the Matcha Cheesecake.  This was smooth and creamy while having a touch of density.  It wasn't like a NY-style cheesecake as the overall texture wasn't heavy at all.  With a light dusting of matcha, the cake did exhibit a balanced flavour that wasn't bitter nor overwhelming.  It was lightly sweet and had the aroma of cheesecake in the aftertaste.  Continuing with our desserts, the Taiyaki served with Yuzu Ice Cream was better than it appeared.  Crispy, giving way to chewy mochi and subsequently red bean paste, there was a nice variation in textures.  The filling wasn't crazy sweet, so the taiyaki was pretty good.  On the side, we found the ice cream to be more of a sorbet as it was pretty icy.  It was refreshing and full-flavoured.

Exhibiting the same icy texture, the Black Sesame Ice Cream was actually a bit crunchy.  Bigger sheets of ice ensured this wasn't going to be creamy.  Whatever it gave up in texture, it completely made up with flavour.  The unmistakable black sesame aroma was evident from the first spoonful.  Sweet and nutty, this was Bear's favourite.  Lastly, we had the Matcha Brulee that featured a hard sugar topping.  It was beautifully caramelized so there was a strong smokiness and deep sweetness.  This was necessary as the custard itself was not very sweet.  There was a light matcha taste, but it wasn't very strong.  Overall, we thought the food at Zipang to be solid and well-priced.  Nothing wowed us, but that wasn't a negative.  Zipang is a definite option if one was in the area.

The Good:
- Well-priced
- Solid eats
- Good service

The Bad:
- Portion size was modest
- Ice cream too icy

I Love Sushi

Generally, convenience and good food are mutually-exclusive.  However, there are certain outliers such as a local gem like Victoria Sushi.  Located amongst residential high rises in New West, it serves as not only a neighbourhood sushi joint, but it is good enough to elicit customers from afar.  So when we were off to watch a movie at Silvercity Coquitlam, we were on the lookout for such a gem.  It brought us to I Love Sushi attached to the Zone Bowling across the street from the movie theatres.    Yah, with a restaurant name like that, it did worry us a tad.  Whatever the case, we went in with open minds and an eye on the time to get to our movie!

Doused in an obscene amount of sauce, the Volcano Roll looked very much like it erupted.  I'm not against sauces on sushi, but this was probably just a touch too much.  Hence, it ate a bit heavy in terms of sweetness and creaminess.  We did like the spiciness though, from the sauce and spicy salmon.  Inside, there was tuna and cucumber.  The sushi rice was decent being moist with a light chewiness.  I prefer my rice to be even chewier, but this was hardly mushy.  We also got the House Roll consisting of avocado, cucumber, salmon, tuna and tamago.  This was pretty solid with fresh ingredients that were roll up not too tight.  Hence, the roll wasn't dense, yet at the same time didn't fall apart either.  We liked how the sushi rice-to-ingredient ratio was just right. 

Since both kiddies love raw fish, we had to get both the Assorted Sashimi and a Salmon Don so we had enough for the table.  Consisting of sockeye salmon, Atlantic salmon, toro, albacore tuna and amaebi, the assorted sashimi was simple, yet ultimately good.  Of course it wasn't the best I've ever had, however, everything looked the way it should have looked and the textures were spot on.  The tuna was a bit mild-tasting (and roughly cut), but it was fine for the price and venue.  Interestingly, the Salmon Don (we got the small size) could be had in either Atlantic salmon or sockeye salmon for the same price.  In that case, we definitely ordered the sockeye.  They ended up serving us Atlantic...  I guess we could've complained, but we had a movie to get to.  Whatever the case, it was fine with buttery salmon and chewy sushi rice.

As per usual, my son went for his selection of Nigiri including tamago, chopped scallop with tobiko and unagi. As evidenced in the accompanying picture, the ingredient-to-rice ratio was in favour of the topping.  However, it wasn't to the point like Samurai Sushi where the ratio is completely out-of-whack.  Hence, each piece ate very well and not heavy.  Unlike the volcano roll, the unagi was only lightly sauced which meant it wasn't syrupy sweet like it can be at some places.  He loved the chopped scallop not only because of the buttery scallops, but the amount was just right so each bite was even.  For some reason or another, I decided to order the Salmon Kama (or cheek in the menu).  It was a huge portion that was nicely grilled where it was smoky and not overdone.  However, I could've done without the sauce as it was too sweet and got in the way of the natural salmon taste.

Since they didn't have the regular pan-fried version, we got the Deep Fried Gyoza instead.  Personally, I prefer the regular pan-fried version as there is more variation in texture and generally not as greasy.  However, this was not bad with a crunchy dumpling skin that was only lightly oily.  Inside, the pork and cabbage filling was balanced while retaining a meaty texture.  Staying with the fried theme, the Assorted Tempura was also decent.  It featured a relatively thin layer of batter that was fried up crispy and also not overly greasy.  This was pretty much textbook where the veggies were still firm, yet cooked all-the-way-through.  Although the food at I Love Sushi will never be confused for upper tier eats, it is more-than-acceptable considering its location and pricing.  Good for a quick bite before or after a movie/bowling.

The Good:
- Decent
- Okay pricing
- Nice people

The Bad:
- The specialty roll we had an obscene amount of sauce
- Seating isn't spacious

To Hot Hot Pot

Ominously, the forecast called for rain - 100% chance of rain.  Well, that is nothing new for Vancouver and in fact, a daily occurrence from October to March.  But we were scheduled to visit the Richmond Night Market...  Yes, that complicates things, especially when one wants to eat while standing and let's not even get into taking pictures.  The horror!  Well Nora arrived early she was there to hear that they had actually closed the market for the evening!  So the backup plan was to visit To Hot Hot Pot instead.  Sounded like a perfect alternative for a rainy night.

At one point they offered AYCE hot pot, but now it is all a la carte and on the pricier side.  This would qualify as higher-end hot pot considering the decor, quality of food and number of VIP rooms.  Before we got down to business, we helped ourselves to the Sauce Bar.  There was a larger one in the main dining room, but at the back, this is all we got.  They had the basics, but nothing more.  As for our soup base(s), we got a split Hot Pot with Spicy and Mushroom.  There was nothing particularly amiss with the 2 soup bases but they weren't truly memorable either.  I guess I'm still spoiled by the rich and impactful broth from Lamb Hot Pot and Liuyishou.  Otherwise, they did the job and didn't take away from the experience.  Some of the dishes surrounding the hot pot included bean curd skin, lotus root, fresh noodles, corn, beef tongue, marinated cucumbers and enoki.

Onto some of the meats, we got a bunch of them that we easily figured out what they were (but one was a bit confusing which I will touch upon later).  First off, the Sliced Lamb was high quality and cooked up real well.  Even though it wasn't super fatty, it was still tender and just the right thickness.  I lobbied for Ox Tongue and we ended up getting a plate.  However, it was cooked too much where it broke apart once placed in the boiling broth.  Alright, onto the confusing part of the meats...  To the right, you will see a picture of what looks like Pork.  I can see how it might look like beef, but when we cooked it up, it was definitely pork.  However, the servers kept insisting it was beef.  So we never did get our 2 orders of beef, instead we got 2 orders of pork.  Bizarre...

Whatever really since our attention was focused on the next 2 items - Spot Prawns and a whole Geoduck.  Okay, this is going to sound rather disturbing and cruel, but the prawns were still alive.  They were still wriggling despite being jabbed up the ass with a bamboo skewer.  Suffice to say, these were super fresh, sweet and delicate.  Now if you look at the picture of the sliced whole geoduck, just be aware that it cost $178.00!  Was it good?  Hell ya it was and we had plenty of it to eat.  This was super fresh and sweet with a crunch (you only need to cook it for a like a few seconds).  Of course, with these 2 premium items, our hot pot experience was elevated to another level.  However, if we just look at the other ingredients, broth, service and pricing into account, To Hot Pot isn't any better than other spots in the area.  With that being said, it isn't a bad choice either.

*All food was complimentary*

The Good:
- Big and spacious
- Fairly good service
- Fresh ingredients

The Bad:
- Pricey
- Soup base was average

Robba da Matti

Yaletown is one of the more ritzier spots in Vancouver sporting expensive boutiques, trendy restaurants and of course, expensive condos.  Prior to the kiddies arriving, we lived down there and yes, it was quite the life.  Despite the plethora of places to eat, Yaletown can often be hit and miss where sometimes style trumps good food (for those in the know, I don't have to tell you which restaurants fit into that category).  However, hidden amongst all the people-watching and chic facades, we can find some gems.  One of them was Yaletown L'Antipasto, which has recently been rebranded as Robba da Matti (after the owner's names).

We decided to check the place out since we were planning on grabbing some ice cream from Mister anyways.  Turns out there was an hour wait, so we had dessert first!  When we got down dinner, the first plate was the Beef Tenderloin Carpaccio with honey mustard truffle aioli, mesclun greens and shaved parm.  Sliced thin and buttery, the AAA beef was the exact texture one would expect from this dish.  The aioli was only lightly earthy with a background sweetness.  Our other appie was the Bruschetta al Pomodoro.  This was super simple with crunchy bread and fresh tomatoes.  I thought the garlic & oregano olive oil was aromatic and impactful, but it needed more saltiness.

For our pastas, I lobbied for the Spaghetti alla Vongle (as it is my fav) with aglio, olio, pereroncino and vino bianco.  Sporting al dente pasta that was properly seasoned and coated with enough aromatic and slightly spicy olive oil, the dish was everything that I wanted it to be.  There was enough fresh clams to add a certain brininess.  Next, we had the Papardelle "Rosche Rosche" featuring braised beef short ribs, free-range chicken and Italian fennel Sausage.  As you can imagine, this was hearty and robust due to the ample amount of meats.  The short ribs were tender while the sausage was aromatic and meaty.  I found the chicken to be a touch dry but par for the course with free-range chicken.  The sauce wasn't heavy though as it was lightly tomatoey and plenty meaty due to the ingredients.

We went for the Osso Buco & Risotto alla Milanese as our final dish.  They were very generous with the portion of veal shank as it filled the plate.  It was mostly tender with a few drier portions.  Of course there was some buttery and fatty bone marrow lurking underneath the sauce.  As for the risotto, it was surprisingly chewy even though we had taken some pictures before digging in.  There was plenty of parm which added a salty nuttiness that complimented the sweetness of the onion.  So this revisit to Robba da Matti (well it did change names since I last ate here) was a good one.  Prices are fair and the food is above average.

The Good:
- Fair prices, fair portions
- Above-average eats
- Good for people watching

The Bad:
- No A/C, so the inside is downright hot during warmer months
- Without the outside seating, there is very limited seating inside

Dublin Crossing (Marine Gateway)

Since we play the majority of our softball games on the Southside of Vancouver, it is pretty convenient to make the hop into Richmond for eats afterwards.  However, it seems as if this season is looking more like a weekly pub-crawl, keeping us away from Asian eats.  I'd been lobbyingto give Dublin Crossing at Marine Gateway a shot due to its proximity to our games.  It wasn't until a staff function at the pub to win me over as the food was pretty tasty as well as the cool decor.  After our less-than-stellar experience at another Irish pub (the one with the AYCE wing special), we wanted to see what Dublin Crossing could do better.  

As mentioned, I was able to sample some appies as part of a staff function.  We had the impressively large Ploughman's Board consisting of turkey, roast beef, prosciutto, goat cheese, Stilton blue cheese, aged cheddar and double cream brie.  The house-made roast beef was beautifully medium-rare (closer to rare) which meant it was moist and tender.  On the other hand, the turkey was on the drier side.  This also came with the accompaniments you see on the board as well as bread. Crunchy and fried perfectly, the Crispy Cauliflower was delicious.  They were cooked all-the-way-through but still retained the classic firm robust texture.  Although they were well-seasoned on their own, the side of raita chili lime mayo was the proverbial icing on the cake as it added a cooling tangy spice.

Another solid item was the Stuffed Yorkshire Pudding with house-made roast beef, horseradish sour cream and beef gravy.  Normally, you only get 2 in an order (served with mashed potatoes and veggies), but we shared a platter of these as you can see in the picture.  Large with a purposeful concave design, the fluffy Yorkshire pudding was also lightly crispy on the outside.  The roast beef was tender while the gravy kept things moist.  Loved the subtle horseradish flavour in the sour cream.  Revisiting the place with my team, we had the Irish Nachos featuring thin cut fried chips topped with layered cheese, bacon, tomato, green onion and red pepper.  I had this the first time as well and they delivered once again.  This was a huge portion that we barely finished.  The chips were crunchy and not overly greasy while the amount of toppings was generous and evenly distributed.  Almost resembling a tomato sauce rather than what was described as salsa, it went rather well with the chips.

Sens Fan was traumatized by the AYCE wing fiasco at Ceili's, so he wanted to get an order of their Hot Wings to wash away the nightmare.  He was a happy man as the wings were fried until crispy with rendered skin.  As much as the meat was not juicy per se, it was hardly dry either.  There was enough hot sauce to coat each wing without drowning them.  There was plenty of flavour to go around where the wing was seasoned properly.  R2D2, Milhouse, Boss Woman and I decided to share some dishes including the Fish & Chips sporting 2 large pieces of cod.  They were beautifully fried where the batter was thin and crunchy.  The cod itself remained moist and flaky.  Once again, there was enough inherent seasoning to eat the fish plain, but the creamy tartar sauce was nicely balanced albeit a bit thin.  A touch generic, the fries were prepared well though being hot and crispy.

Moving onto some Irish offerings, we also shared the Bangers & Mash with traditional style sausages, caramelized onions, braised cabbage, beef gravy, garlic mashed potatoes and veggies.  I found the bangers to be very meaty and lean.  They weren't dry though as the meat was still moist.  Most of the flavour came from the rich beef gravy, but it was on the saltier side.  As much as mashed potatoes are usually an afterthought, this version was really good being creamy, light and flavourful.  Veggies were not overcooked and still vibrant.  Staying with the yummy mashed potatoes, we had the Cottage Pie made with shredded beef, mixed veggies, panko crumbs and aged cheddar.  This was hearty and filling despite not looking like much.  The beef was tender while the mashed potatoes were a bit firmer since they were baked.  Despite being rich and flavourful, the gravy was again pretty salty.

Just to say that we sampled the more popular items, we also got the Belfast Bacon Burger with a 6 oz patty, aged cheddar, smoked bacon, tomato, red onion, lettuce & roasted garlic aioli on a toasted brioche bun.  Again, the fries were average, but prepared properly.  On the other hand, the burger was pretty good.  The patty was moist and natural tasting.  There was an appealing smokiness from the 2 large strips of bacon.  Judes went off the board (as in the regular menu) and had the Meatloaf with garlic mashed potatoes and veggies.  Now if the carrots and zucchini looked a bit burnt, well the reason for this might've been the fact that they forgot her order and probably rushed it.  Despite that, the mash was as good as before while the meatloaf was also well-executed.  It didn't look very moist but in fact it was.  The meat was tender and well-seasoned while not greasy.  There could've been more of the tangy glaze on top though.

Bear ended up with the St. Patrick's Irish Stew with lamb, potatoes, carrots, leeks and peas in a rich tomato broth.  This was a pretty substantial portion that he struggled to finish.  It was indeed hearty and full-flavoured, if not a bit salty.  The chunks of lamb and potatoes were tender.  There was definitely a mild beer essence to go with the meatiness.  We found it a bit strange they would use tomatoes, but the stew was ultimately tasty.   Also on the table was the Chicken Pub Pie sporting chicken, carrots, peas and potatoes in a flaky pastry crust. Served with garlic mashed potatoes, seasonal vegetables and chicken gravy.  Unlike the other dishes with gravy, this one was not as salty, yet still flavourful.  As for the chicken, there was enough of it and generally tender.  After trying what was essentially a large chunk of the menu, we were pretty satisfied with the results.  Food was more than acceptable, room was nice and best of all, service was quick and friendly.

The Good:
- Solid food for a pub
- Quick and friendly service
- Loved the decor

The Bad:
- A little on the pricier side
- Gravy was too salty