Sherman's Food Adventures: 2019

Chi House Chi Pot & BBQ House

I'm sure most people have heard of Happy Tree House BBQ with locations on Kingsway and in Richmond.  For those who do not, it is a place where one can get skewered meat, large cast iron heated plates of whole fish and a side of really loud Asian pop music.  Well, they aren't the only show in town as with anything there are many similar outfits.  One of the newer ones is Chi House Chi Pot & BBQ House on Main.  For some reason or another, this particular location has changed hands many times from Rekados to Beefy Beef to some other Taiwanese spot that I do even remember!  Let's see how long this one will last...

Beyond the skewers, we tried their Cold Skinned Noodles which were essentially equivalent to cold noodles in spicy sesame sauce found at Old Xian.  I would say this version was pretty decent with slippery noodles dressed in an aromatic and mildly spicy sauce.  I would've liked the noodles to be chewier and more spice, but this was still good nonetheless.  Our first order of skewers was the Beef @ $1.95 each with a minimum order of 5.  These fairly tender and not overdone, but I would've liked to see more charring and caramelization.  Spices were impactful with unmistakable taste of cumin and chili.  I liked how they had a reasonable minimum of 5 unlike the stupid 10 at Happy Tree.

Onto some seafood, we chose the Scallop and Mini-Abalone @ $4.75 and $4.95 each respectively.  I thought these were "okay" but nothing special.  The scallops were golden brown but a bit overdone, so it was on the chewier side in spots.  The abalone were fairly chewy, but not so much that it wasn't pleasant to eat though.  I could see how the abalone were almost $5.00 each, but didn't understand why the scallops cost just as much.  Living up to its namesake, the South African Big Prawn came in at $2.95 each.  By virtue of being frozen, the head wasn't really great to eat but the actual meat was fairly meaty and sweet.  Again, these were a bit too overdone.

The best skewers of all were the Lamb @ $1.75 each (also minimum of 5) in original and special seasoning.  Honestly, we couldn't tell the difference between the two and had to ask for an explanation.  What we could gather, the special was cooked a bit longer to activate the spices.  Again, we couldn't tell.  The lamb was tender though with its classic gaminess accented by the aromatic and slightly spicy seasoning.  To get our one vegetable into the meal, we got the Eggplant with a tonne of garlic on top.  As such, the flavours were definitely impactful and appealing.   Texturally, the eggplant was soft without becoming mushy.  There was actually some bite left in each slice.

Lastly, we got the Tilapia Skillet in spicy with pepper.  For $41.00, we found the fish to be a bit small.  There just wasn't a whole lot of meat to it.  However, the fish was nicely prepared where it was soft and not overdone (but we did have to ask for the heat to be turned off so it didn't cook any further).  Although there was definitely spice to the dish, it wasn't too strong.  Good for those who like mild, but for us, we like it spicy.  For a total of $10.00, we added lotus root and fish tofu to the mix.  So compared to Happy Tree, Chi House does a better job in terms of a reasonable minimum for the skewers.  Also, if you like it quieter and better service, than Chi House does that well too.  However, flavours are a bit muted and your total can get pretty high if you order lots.

The Good:
- Reasonable minimum amounts for the skewers
- A quieter experience
- Attentive service

The Bad:
- Some of the flavours could be stronger
- Can get pricey if you order lots
- Don't bother with the parking lot

Earl's Happy Hour Brunch

Although I do not brunch very often, I do enjoy it whenever I have the chance.  However, up until recently, there weren't a whole lot of brunch places to chose from (there are some new and upcoming spots that will change that).  Another issue is that brunch can be pretty expensive.  Considering the ingredients involved, you'd think that the prices shouldn't be creeping up to $20.00 and sometimes beyond (at higher end spots).  Hence, it is a really pricey proposition when bringing the family.  Let's not even think about adding any beverages either (for the adults of course), since that can make brunch cost more than dinner.  However, Earl's offers all of their brunch items for $9.75 (was $8.00, the $9.00, so get it before it exceeds $10.00!) before noon on weekends.  I've tried it early last year and again more recently.  I guess it was time for a post...

The first visit, I ordered something really out-of-character in the Avocado Super Brunch with poached eggs, smashed avocado, olive oil and tomatoes, radish, spicy sriracha, toasted hemp seeds on toasted artisan bread.  Although there was sriracha (which I could taste), the whole thing was a bit too mild for me.  This would've been much better with a shot of acidity.  With that being said, it was still pleasant, felt healthy and was light.  Viv went for the heavier dish in the Chorizo & Mushroom Hash with avocado, crispy fried potatoes, topped with poached eggs and hollandaise.  Sure, there was plenty of potato which could be seen as filler, but there was also no shortage of chunky pieces of mushroom and fresh avocado.  The chorizo was meaty, yet mild while the eggs were perfectly runny.

My son went for the Eggs Benedict with ham, poached eggs, hollandaise, artisan bread and crispy potatoes.  Sure, ham and the choice of bread were not the classic components of an eggs benny, but they did the job.  Plating wasn't the best, but it ate okay with perfectly runny eggs and a fairly light hollandaise.  It was neither too thick nor buttery.  Due to the size of the potatoes, they weren't too crispy, but at the same time were still good.  Ordering the least expensive item (at regular price), my daughter had the Golden Waffles and Cream.  This was a fairly straightforward plate where the waffles were slightly crispy with a medium-dense centre.  Whipped cream and sliced strawberries completed the dish.  On the menu, it does state seasonal compote, so YMMV in terms of the fruit.

On my most recent visit, we ended up trying the Southern Fried Chicken & Waffles.  Okay, this didn't look like much as it was simply plated.  However, it ate a lot better than it appeared.  Naturally, the waffles were exactly like the previous dish being lightly crispy while a bit dense in the middle.  The real star of the show was the 2 fairly large pieces of fried chicken thigh.  They were tender and outright juicy with a crunchy coating that had a bit of spice.  If one was hungrier, the Country Breakfast sported 2 eggs, bacon, sausage, baked beans, crispy potatoes and toasted bread.  As evidenced in the picture, each items was prepared properly and yes, there was more than enough food for those with a bigger appetite.  So yes, the brunch at Earl's is well-priced during happy hour, however, it seems to be creeping up steadily over the past year.  

The Good:
- Inexpensive HH pricing
- Food is above-average
- Portions sizes are sufficient and then some

The Bad:
- Limited selections
- Pricing is creeping up there

Burgermania @ Glowbal

When one thinks of Glowbal at Telus Garden, the ritzy decor and prime location might immediately come to mind.  Furthermore, the seen or be seen game is strong as well as its bar situated prominently at the entrance.  Maybe Happy Hour comes to mind or possibly their satays and steaks.  But I'm sure burgers are probably the last thing you would associate with them.  But for a limited time, from March 11th through March 22nd, Burgermania has taken over the restaurant offering up unique gourmet creations with custom sides for each of them.  I recently sampled all of them with Jacqueline and Joyce, coming away both impressed and very full.

There are 5 different options on the menu including the massive Ultimate Burger featuring a large beef patty, fried mac and cheese, double smoked bacon, onion rings, fried egg, tomato, lettuce, pickle and truffle aioli on a brioche bun.  Yah, this was enormous with a well-charred patty that was moist and full-bodied with meat flavour.  The egg was runny and the bacon was lean and meaty.  This was actually hard to eat without making a mess, but then again, we wouldn't have wanted it any other way.  On the side, the sea salted fries were crispy while retaining potato texture inside.  My personal favourite was the Funky One with a beef patty, spicy duck confit, pickled cucumbers, chili lime aioli and cotton candy.  Predictably, the duck confit was what made this burger.  Each bite yielded the unmistakable delicious gaminess and richness of the duck.  The well-rendered skin helped in this regard.  Although I could detect some spice, it wasn't very strong.  This came with tater tot poutine which was rich from the gravy and legit cheese curds.  Only problem was that the tater tots were no longer crispy (yes, I know fries in poutine get soggy too, but tater tots are best eaten crispy).  Maybe gravy on the side?

We actually got everything served on a large wooden board that would cost $110.00 for the whole thing (as each burger was priced at $22.00 individually).  As such, we also had the Veggie Nation, which was surprisingly good.   Consisting of tempura portobello mushroom patty, guacamole, chipotle aioli and roasted eggplant, the burger was robust and fulfilling.  Crispy and full of umami, the portobello successfully replaced the meat and the complimentary flavours were layered so that the lack of meat was not a detriment.  Accompanying this was truffle fries which were texturally the same as the sea salt fries except for the restrained Earthiness from the truffle oil.  Another favourite of mine was the Mediterranean with lamb patty, hummus, tzatziki, fried halloumi and bell peppers.  The flavours in this burger were both impactful and legit.  From the gaminess of the lamb to the saltiness of the hallomi, I found that there was waves of Mediterranean flavours from each bite.  This came with crispy sweet potato fries.

Lastly, if one couldn't decide, there was the Sider Trio featuring the Surf & Turf (caramelized onions, braised short rib patty, tempura lobster, truffle sauce and slaw), the Mediterranean and the Funky One served with tempura green beans and cotton candy.  The only unique slider (that was not a mini-version of the Mediterranean and Funky One) was the Surf & Turf.  It also happened to be the best of the 3 with a thick slice of tender braised short rib and a tempura fried lobster claw.  To top it all off, the sweetness of the onions and creaminess of the truffle sauce made this a decadent little bite.  I wished it was a full-blown burger, but I'm sure it would cost more than $22.00.  Loved the tempura green beans as they were crisp inside and out.  Yes, as you can tell, I was pretty happy with the selection of burgers and sides we tried at Glowbal.  They aren't known for this, but I hope they keep it on their regular menu.  Definitely something I'd have again.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Well-thought out flavour combinations that were impactful
- A varied selection of sides
- Cotton candy!

The Bad:
- Only available until March 22nd
- Wish the short-rib and lobster could be had as a full-sized burger
- Loved the poutine, but soggy tater tots 

Smoke and Bones BBQ

Ever since Smoke and Bones BBQ was only a food cart and catering company, I've always wanted to try it.  However, it just became another place on my list that I just never got to.  Could it be that my trip to Texas that has spoiled me for BBQ?  Not sure, but even with the opening of their actual B&M restaurant on Marine Drive (in the old Hurricane Grill location) didn't elicit a visit.  Finally, we made plans to visit the place after late-night hockey on Friday at North Shore Ice Sports.  Unfortunately, they ran out of ribs the first time and that just meant we had to make 2 consecutive visits!

On our first go around, we decided to try their BBQ Brisket Chili with a blend of smoked brisket and sausage, beans and spices.  This was super hearty and thick where the smokiness of the brisket really coming through.  We didn't think the chili was particularly spicy, but it did have layers of flavour which were balanced.  Not that it wasn't heavy enough already, but they dumped a considerable amount of melted cheese on top as well.  The most surprising item we had was the Smokehouse Pulled Pork Nachos layered with melted cheese, roasted corn, black beans, jalapenos and green onion.  The ample amount of tender pulled pork made this hearty and noticeably smoky.  They weren't kidding about the layering as each tortilla chip yielded a bite of something.  One of the best nachos I've had in town recently.

Onto the main event, we got the BBQ Platter featuring pulled pork, chicken, sausage, double order of beef brisket (ran out of ribs), coleslaw, fries, corn bread, pit beans, hot potato salad, pickles and white bread.  Being that we were practically there at last call, some of the brisket was on the drier side.  However, it was still good with a smoky bark that gave way to fatty meat.  The pulled pork was just as good as in the nachos while the sausage was tender and smoky with a beautiful snap casing.  Chicken wasn't as dry as it appeared and had well-rendered skin.  I thought the sides were excellent where the fries were crispy with a fluffy centre.  The hot potato salad was killer featuring fried potatoes tossed in sour cream, bacon, corn and green onion.

On our return visit, we had the nachos again (so good!) and also tried their BBQ Pit Wings with sauce on the side including buffalo hot sauce, sweet and spicy glaze and ranch dressing.  These were really large and executed flawlessly.  The skin was well-rendered while the meat was juicy and moist.  They ate well all by themselves, but the dips further enhanced them.  Loved the hot sauce mixed with the dressing.  Since we didn't get ribs the first time, we got a full rack of Pork Back Ribs with fries, cornbread, beans and colesalw.  Charred and smoky, the ribs also featured a beautiful bark.  The ribs themselves were fall-off-the-bone tender, but at the same time retaining enough meatiness.   There was a significant char on the outside creating an even smokier caramelization.  With a heavy BBQ sauce glaze, there was plenty of moisture and tangy sweetness.  From these 2 visits, we convinced that Smoke and Bones is one of the better BBQs in town.  We will be back from some nachos real soon!

The Good:
- Legit BBQ
- Sides are also quite good
- Other items on the menu like the nachos and wings are well-executed

The Bad:
- Like any BBQ, better get the meats at the optimum time (not late like we did)

Sushi Ville

So we all know about the Aburi Salmon Oshi served at Miku - arguably the best in town and also the most expensive.  However, what if I told you about Sushi Ville on Commercial Drive that charges nearly the same price for their Sockeye Salmon Aburi Salmon Oshi (only $1.00 less than Miku)?  I'm sure most of you (me included) would expect it to be just as good or better for that price, considering that Miku also offers up a premium location, great service and higher-end decor.  I spotted the place after visiting Elephant Garden Creamery next door and went back the next week for dinner (and more ice cream afterwards!).

With dry ice bubbling and graced with a toy penguin, the Atlantic Salmon Sashimi was way more gimmicky than necessary.  I give them props for trying to be different though.  They didn't really need to do that as the salmon itself was quite good.  In medium-sized slices, the fish was buttery and lightly sweet.  It was fresh and bright (as much as flash-frozen then defrosted fish can get... Health regulations...).  My daughter wanted the Chicken Yakisoba and I begrudgingly ordered it.  You see, she usually takes a bite of something and never finishes it, but she did put a dent into this one.  However, I thought it was pretty average at best.  I found the noodles dry and lacking in flavour.  There needed to be a more aggressive stir-fry as well as more sauce for moisture and tang.

If you are familiar with the Seafood Salad at Sushi Town/Garden, you will know that it is much more salad than seafood.  The one at Sushi Ville is the complete opposite as there was much more in the way of ingredients than lettuce.  In fact, I thought there should've been more salad as some bites were devoid of greens.  Hence, the one here ate more robust and had more flavours than just the dressing (which was served on the side).  I liked how they put effort into neatly arranging the ingredients on top.  Okay, the Assorted Tempura looked like any other order of this dish I've had in the past.  The batter was light and crispy while the yam and sweet potato were large.  Ebi was buttery with a meaty snap.  So all good.  But the last piece I ate was a banana!  ???  I wasn't expecting that.  But it was good!

Not sure why the Pork Gyoza was served on a cast iron plate when it wasn't sizzling nor hot.  I guess it looked way better than a plate though.  If the cast iron plate was actually steaming hot (like Pepper Lunch), this would've been more impressive.  No matter, the gyoza were actually good featuring a thin dumpling skin and a slightly crispy bottom.  Inside, the pork filling was quite substantial and almost juicy.  Nice balance between pork and cabbage too.  By this time, we were wondering where our order of Nigiri was.  In big font on the wall, it did state that they make everything to order, so we'd have to be patient.  Again, this was plated with the chopped scallop, tuna, unagi and tamago arranged neatly.  As much as this was fine, this was one of the weaker items we had.  The rice was a little dry, tamago was subpar and the unagi was weird with all the stuff on top.

Finally, our specialty roll arrived shortly after this.  The Crunch Shrimp Roll is supposedly their best seller and I foolishly ordered it.  It was essentially a fried California roll with shrimp and seafood on top, then baked and finished with mayo.  I found this rather dry, hard and greasy.  I'm sure this may have something to do with my personal preferences, but I really should have stuck to a basic house roll or something like that.  Finally at the end, we got our order of Aburi Salmon Oshi.  You know what?  It was actually pretty good with a caramelized sauce and nicely charred thinly-sliced jalapeno on top.  Rather than salmon in middle, we found shiitake which added a different taste to the oshi.  Now is it better than Miku for the same price?  No it wasn't, so they might consider dropping it a few bucks.  In the end, the food was a bit hit and miss, but they do have the potential to be better.

The Good:
- They do try to be a bit different
- Service was friendly
- Pretty large menu

The Bad:
- Sushi took forever to arrive
- Pricing should be lower 
- Should put more effort into some of their dishes in terms of execution rather than appearance.

Johnny Rockets (Oak Street)

My first taste of Johnny Rockets was at their Laguna Beach location.  It was a novelty of sorts because of the retro decor and their selection of burgers and shakes.  I went away satisfied, yet with no concrete memory that would make me want to rush back.  Strangely, the next time I encountered a Johnny Rocket's was on my cruise aboard the Allure of the Seas (I'm not counting this as an actual visit).  Back when it first opened, I visited Vancouver's first Johnny Rocket's in Downtown.  Again, I went away satisfied while not exactly planning my return.  With 2 hungry kids, it was by necessity that I visited their newly opened Oak Street location.

My daughter had her eyes on the Route 66 sporting a Certified Angus Beef patty covered with Swiss cheese, grilled mushrooms, caramelized onions and mayonnaise on a brioche bun.  This was actually very tasty and well-prepared.  Lots of buttery mushrooms as well as caramelized onions complimented the moist and flavourful beef patty.  I personally would've liked to see a softer bun, but it was far from dense.  For her side, she skipped the fries and went for the Chili instead.  This was pretty textbook chili that was very mild.  It was thick and full of beef and beans complete with cheddar cheese on top.  One could have raw onions as well, but my daughter omitted those.

For myself, I had the Ultimate Cheeseburger with leaf lettuce, tomato, pickles, sweet heat sauce and 2 slices of cheese.  As you can see in the picture, the burger was neatly constructed with extreme care.  I've rarely seen a burger come out looking so uniform with everything in its proper place.  Despite my previous experiences, this burger was fantastic.  Meat was nicely charred and moist while all of the ingredients were fresh.  Fries were even on point being crispy while light and potatoey on the inside.  For my son, he went for the Smokehouse sporting breaded onion rings, smoked bacon, cheddar and smokehouse BBQ sauce.  Lots of crunch in this burger as well as the advertised smokiness.  The bacon was done right being crispy and yes smoky.  To be honest, I didn't have high hopes on this visit to the new location of Johnny Rockets, but they seem to be a well-oiled machine here and the results are good.

The Good:
- For this location, well-crafted burgers
- Fries were also good
- Staff were friendly

The Bad:
- A little pricey, but competitive
- Bun could be a bit softer

The Victor (Brunch)

It's safe to say that the hotel restaurant has come a long way in the past decade.  Their existence in the past was predicated on predictable and safe eats for the traveller and at times, their family.  They wanted to be everything to everyone without the need to actually be good.  The Victor in the Parq Hotel tries to tackle this head on with a mix of cuisines daring to be good in all aspects.  Not only are they a steakhouse, they also serve up Japanese cuisine as well as Dim Sum.  Normally, that would be a recipe for mediocrity, but based on my initial visit for dinner last year, it may actually be able to achieve the unachievable - a multi-ethnic menu that actually works.  I recently went for brunch with Jacqueline to see if indeed they could be everything to everyone.

Before we got to the actual dishes, we were treated to the classic brunch compliment - a Caesar!  But wait, not some ordinary one...  We got to experience the Build-Your-Own Caesar Bar.  We were served a shot glass of either a single or double that we brought up to the bar.  We chose our tomato base (either Clamato or Spicy), rimmed our glass and piled up the accompaniments.  These included cucumber, asparagus, celery, pepperoni chorizo, gherkins, tomato, boconccini, sushi and so on.  This was fun and interactive, which put us in the mood for some brunching.

In terms of the eats, we started off with some Japanese with a plate of Sashimi consisting of bluefin tuna, scallop and cho toro.  Neatly presented and prepared, the sashimi was as good as one would find at an authentic higher-end Japanese restaurant.  No joke.  Each slice of bluefin was buttery and meaty with the natural sweetness really coming through.  The scallop was delicate and even more buttery with a sweet taste-of-the-sea.  Slightly fatty, the cho toro (also from bluefin tuna) was deliciously tender with a noticeable brininess.  Continuing on the same theme, we ordered both the Karashi-Su-Miso Salmon and Unagi Aburi Oshi.  Also carefully presented, the oshi was solid.  I found the sushi rice to be the right texture with enough chewiness and vinegariness.  The salmon was super buttery with a light creamy miso and a touch of spice from the Japanese mustard.  Delicate, the unagi was only lightly sweet with a smoky char.

Onto some more appies, we had a fusion dish in the Uni Tacos featuring local sea urchin guacamole, cucumber and yuzu kosho on a crunchy nori taco shell.  Now for those who are a bit squeamish about eating uni, this would be a very accessible due to the combination of ingredients.   The ample amount of smooth and mild guacamole really helped bring down the brininess of the uni.  So we still got the creamy texture of the uni without the huge hit of the sea.  For those uni connoisseurs, it might be too mild, but for me, it was a real treat as the crunch of the nori shell was the perfect textural counterbalance.  Probably the most surprising appie was the Dungeness Crab Cake.  The darn thing was large and packed (and I mean PACKED) with chunks of fluffy crab meat.  We could not see any filler at all other than the 2 sides of crunchy breading.  This was accompanied by a bright sea bean and fennel salad as well as a Vadouvan-spiced curry aioli.

By the time we arrived at The Victor, it was too late to take advantage of the Dim Sum as much items were already sold out (since they are freshly made).  Hence, we could only wrangle the Ha Gau (or Shrimp Dumplings).  Now one wouldn't expect quality Dim Sum at a place like The Victor, but alas, this was legit shrimp dumplings.  I'm assuming that the chefs from 1886 (only available for special functions now) were behind the Dim Sum.  As such, the shrimp filling was on point with large chunks of moist shrimp that had a sweet snap.  The dumpling wrapper was thin with a pleasant elasticity and stayed as such even after sitting around while we were snapping photos.

We got a selection of their bigger dishes and the one that I had to attack first was the Wagyu Breakfast Burger with a runny fried egg, thick crispy bacon, tomato jam and triple cooked fries.  This was absolutely awesome as the thick meat patty was fatty, moist and barely cooked.  Hence, it ate like butter, but still had the meatiness of beef.  Moreover, it was full of umami and nutty due to the fat content.  This was somewhat balanced off by the sweet and tangy tomato jam.  I found the brioche bun to be soft, but it still held everything together by virtue of the aggressive char on the inside.  Not to be outdone, the thick fries were outstanding being crunchy and nutty with super soft potato inside.  Since I've had a good steak here before, the Steak & Eggs was bound to be good right?  Indeed it was featuring 2 large filet mignon medallions topped with chimichurri and accompanied by 2 sunny side eggs, broccolini and crunchy onion rings.   The steak was a perfect medium-rare where we could cut it with our forks.  For $28.00, I thought this was a good value considering the quality and execution.

Off to some other brunch items, we tried the Lobster Frittata with roasted zucchini and squash.  This was pretty large sporting large chunks of fresh lobster within the fluffy frittata that was nicely crisp on the outside.  There was a significant amount of brininess from the lobster which emanated throughout the frittata.  Some might find it too seafoody, but for me, it was purposeful and not lacking in the main ingredient.  With that being said, a few drops of hot sauce would really help liven the dish significantly.   On the outside of the plate, there was a good amount of earthy and herbaceous-tasting salsa verde.  Our last savoury dish was the Chicken and Waffle featuring their signature mac n' cheese waffle, crispy chicken and cheesy sauce.  I've had their waffle before and yes, it was just as good.  Lots of tender cheesy noodles that were encased in a crunchy waffle.  The chicken on top was tender white meat within a crunchy batter.

Hey after all this food, we were going to have dessert too right?  So we ended up with the Cheesecake Donuts with strawberry jam and the Black Mountain Gateau with kirsch mousse, cherry compote, dark chocolate and pistachio cake.  Oh boy, look at those donuts, how could someone not like them???  Pillowy soft with a semi-sweet cream cheese filling, these tasted like they were supposed to (including the strawberry jam on the side).  Resembling a volcano, the airy gateau revealed a delicious creamy mousse on the inside as well as rich dark chocolate ganache.  The cherry compote provided the sweet tang to compliment.  As you can ascertain, we really enjoyed the brunch at The Victor.  They have accomplished nearly the impossible whereby the combination of Japanese, Steakhouse & Westcoast and Chinese Dim Sum actually works (and is well-prepared).  Prices are on the higher end, but completely fair given the food quality, service and overall ambiance.

*All food and beverages excluding gratuities were complimentary*

The Good:
- Beautiful space
- Quality food from all types of cuisine
- Stellar service (as observed the last time I visited on my own)

The Bad:
- Prices are definitely on the higher end (but fair in my opinion)
- Parking is surprisingly limited downstairs