Sherman's Food Adventures: 2019

Musashi's

Here we go again, another Summer vacay and plenty of eating...  However, this time, it would be different as we were planning on doing a long road trip rather than flying.  Our 3 week journey would take us down the Oregon coast to Los Angeles, then to Vegas, Zion, Antelope and Byrce Canyon, Salt Lake City, Yellowstone, Kelowna and back.  To start things off, we made a visit to Goose's place so I could pick up some items I ordered.  After that, we made our way to the nearby Musashi's for a quick and relatively healthy lunch.  This was in anticipation of all the other not-so-healthy eats that were on the itinerary!

Much like Fremont Bowl, Musashi's is famous for their Chirashi Don.  My son didn't waste anytime looking at the menu as he made up his mind once he walked into the place.  Although not quite as epic as the one found at Fremont Bowl, the one here was good nonetheless.  It featured tuna, salmon, yellow tail, unagi, red tuna, scallop, shrimp and flying fish roe.  Things were fresh and textures were on point.  This was especially true for the salmon and yellow tail exhibiting buttery textures and sweet flavour.  The rice underneath was chewy and not overly wet not dry.  Very satisfying and well-priced.  For my daughter, she went for the Lunch Assorted Sushi Plate consisting of 1 piece each of tuna, yellow tail, prawn and salmon nigiri as well as 8 pieces of assorted maki.  We found the nigiri to be good where the fish was just as fresh as the chirashi don.  However, the maki was rolled too tightly where the rice was hard and dense.  

Viv ended up with the Special Bento with chicken & beef skewers, sashimi, tamago and grilled veggies.  Once again, the sashimi was solid with ...  The skewers were fairly large with charred marinated meat.  They could've been possibly cooked a little less, but they were not dry either.  Also charred, the veggies were smoky and not overdone.  Impressively constructed, the tamago was buttery soft with just the right amount of sweetness.  For myself, I had the Salmon Kama with rice.  It was cooked perfectly where the meat was buttery and moist.  With a squeeze of lemon, there was enough natural flavours to make a subtle impact.  There was so much rice on the plate, I couldn't finish it.  Overall, we thought Musashi's was decent.  The chirashi don as well as the nigiri were pretty spot on but the maki was actually terrible.  It may have been a one-off, but I'd steer away from the maki sushi personally.

The Good:
- Fish looked and tasted good
- Simple focused menu
- Nice people

The Bad:
- Maki was terrible
- Small place, fills up easily

Mr. Tonkatsu (Surrey)

I'm sure most of you have eaten at, seen or heard of the Japanese tonkatsu spot called Saku.  For me, it was quite the wonderment that we didn't have a place like that sooner (even though Saboten, which is a quick-service stall in Aberdeen Mall, set up shop much earlier).  I mean, we already saw the influx of ramen shops open around the Lower Mainland for the past decade.  Why couldn't we have Japanese restaurants solely serving tonkatsu?  Well, as mentioned, we have Saku (now with more than one location) and we also have the chain Mr. Tonkatsu occupying the strip mall across from Guildford Town Centre on 152nd.  Similarly to Saku, the place is Korean-run, which is not a negative by any means, it just means we got to order some KFC!

This has actually been around for a bit and I originally saw Joyce post it first.  After a failed attempt on a Monday during the Summer (they are closed that day), we made an effort to drive out there on Saturday.  It was fairly busy, but we didn't have to wait long.  Before we got to the tonkatsu, we had the Crispy Shrimp which was good and bad.  The good was the light bouncy sweet shrimp.  On the other hand, the bad was the batter as it was crisp in some spots but soggy in others.  Next, we had a large plate of Soy Garlic Korean Fried Chicken.  Made with large strips of tender juicy chicken, the flavours really did pop.  Plenty of garlic and sweetness while the level of spice was a surprise.  We found the batter mostly crunchy except for a few softer spots.

My son had the Pork Tenderloin Katsu with refillable rice, cabbage and miso soup.  On the side, we found sesame with a mortar and pestle to go with the sweet tonkatsu sauce.  Generous in portion size, the tenderloin was soft, moist and almost airy.  It was still meaty enough though with a light crunch on the outside.  With copious amount of ground sesame and the sweet tonkatsu sauce (a bit too sweet though), this ate really well.  Just like last time at Saku, my daughter had the Chicken with Cheese Katsu (well, she had pork last time, but you get the idea).  This was so full of stringy mild-tasting cheese, it was leaking out profusely.  Chicken was juicy while the crispy coating was just the right contrast to the soft insides.  I would say this was just a bit less well-constructed than the one at Saku, but it still ate just as good.

Viv and I ended up sharing the Pork Loin Katsu Curry because the KFC was so filling.  This was also a large portion where the loin was not dry at all despite being lean.  Naturally, it was meatier and denser than the tenderloin, which was fine.  Although the panko held up well on the top, the part on top of the rice got really soggy.  We found the curry to be well-balanced where it wasn't too sweet.  There was a background spice and the plethora of onions added an extra layer of flavour.  This was pretty good as well as the other dishes.  However, I would say that Saku is better in overall execution.  Naturally, there is no Saku in Surrey, so Mr. Tonkatsu is a more-than-acceptable choice for the area.

The Good:
- Large portions
- Execution of proteins are on point

The Bad:
- Inconsistent texture when it comes to the breading

Heritage Asian Eatery (Broadway)

Long ago, I visited the very hot Heritage Asian Eatery located in Downtown Vancouver.  At the time, they were one of the first places to offer up Asian-inspired eats that didn't suck.  Let me rephrase that more eloquently...  Heritage actually tried to keep closer to their Asian roots and provided people with food that was not only appealing to look at, but also consisting of traditional Chinese flavours and techniques melded into a more modern presentation and construction.  I came away moderately impressed where some items were really good while others could've used a few tweaks.  They had opened up a Broadway location awhile back, but I finally got around to trying it as they rolled out their new Chinese BBQ meats.

As such, I got their 4 Treasures Plate consisting of BBQ duck, BBQ pork, soya chicken and Heritage egg.  If we look at this at an initial attempt by a place that isn't known for Chinese BBQ, I would say this was not bad.  I found the duck to be moist and natural-tasting where it could've been seasoned more aggressively and the skin could've been crispier and rendered.  The pork was fine, yet a bit stiff.  Best of all was the chicken was it was flavourful and moist.  Chewy and nutty, the rice was perfect for the sauce, however, there wasn't enough of it.  Furthermore, this was missing the classic ginger and green onion condiment and plum sauce.  I also got a classic item in the Wonton Soup.  If you look closely, they were more like Sui Gau where the filling consisted of shrimp and veggies.  I found the shrimp to be a bit lacking in snap, but the dumpling was pleasant enough.  The soup was also fine, but could've used stronger seasoning.

At first, the Xiao Long Bao didn't look very promising as the wrapper looked rather generic and not particularly thin.  People must understand that not all XLBs feature thin wrappers nor classic twirl nubs on the top.  There are a few styles in China that are all legit.  This would be the case here as they ate much better than they looked.  The skin was surprisingly delicate and not dense at all.  The filling was tender and moist while the amount of soup was adequate.  I found that it was mostly sweet and one note though.  From there, we moved onto 2 versions of their Bao.  I tried the Pork Belly Bao first and the bun itself was fairly thin and soft.  Inside, the large piece of belly was fatty and tender.  The braising liquid did come through as well as the kimchi daikon with a fermented spice and tang.  Adding crunch was crispy onion.  Trying to emulate Peking duck, the Duck Bao accomplished that with hoisin, crunchy cucumber and crispy onions.

We finished off with 2 of their bowls that consisted of the same ingredients as the bao.  Sporting plenty of fatty Pork Belly, lime cabbage slaw, crispy onions, daikon kimchi and Heritage egg, the flavours were very similar to the bao.  However, with the addition of the egg, there was an added silkiness.  Furthermore, the kimchi daikon was even more apparent here due to the increased amount.  As for the Duck Rice Bowl, in addition to the hoisin glazed duck breast, we found shredded leg meat, lime cabbage slaw, crispy onions and Heritage egg.  Once again, the flavours didn't deviate much from the bao and was the tastier of the 2.  For the items we tried here, this visit to the Broadway location of Heritage was good.  With that being said, some tweaks are needed to make it great.

The Good:
- Fairly solid eats
- Portion sizes are fair
- Increased selection with the introduction of BBQ meats

The Bad:
- Some tweaks required to make the BBQ competitive with the best in town
- There isn't anything particularly wrong with the food, yet it is just a step down from being even better

Sweet Honey Dessert

Since we didn't have dessert at the Jade Seafood Restaurant, Mijune and I made the short hop over to Sweet Honey Dessert.  Even though it was literally a few blocks away, classic Richmond traffic made it an adventure.  Once we got into the parking lot, part 2 of the adventure involved fighting for a parking spot.  Ah yes, the joys of dining in Richmond!  The reason we decided on Sweet Honey Dessert was their puppy ice cream that has been all over IG in the past half-year.  Yep, we finally bought into the hype...

So yes, we got the Puppy Ice Cream that only had one choice of flavour - Mango.  I got to say that the puppy was cute and even the fur was emulated perfectly.  Looks aside, Mijune quickly cut the puppy in half and started digging in.  #savage  Anyways, I felt the flavour was not that apparent as it tasted more like imitation mango that you would've find at some Dim Sum spots.  Furthermore, the texture was off-putting with a gelatin-like start and a sticky ending mouth-feel.  There was far too many stabilizers in there where they thing didn't even melt after an hour.  

That was not good, but the Mango Sago with premium tofu was refreshing and tasty. Normally, I find tofu desserts suffer from an overwhelming "soy milk-like" flavour that cannot be masked by anything (even copious amounts of sugar).  I know some people love the taste, but for me, it isn't appealing.  This was not the case here as the tofu was silky and smooth without much of an aftertaste.  Furthermore, the subtle mango hits were enough for impact while the sweetness was restrained.  Considering that fact, it was impressive that the tofu did not dominate the flavour profile.

Lastly, and probably the best dessert we had was the Cheese Souffle Pancakes accompanied by an array of fresh fruit.  Okay, my experience with these types of pancakes have been limited, but this has been the best so far.  They were fully cooked while fluffy and airy.  We got a good taste of the cheese and the sweetness was muted.  I would come back for this rather than the puppy ice cream.  That pretty much sums it up as the 2 non-puppy desserts were on point.  I guess the ol' adage is true - things that look great on IG may and generally are not as good as they appear.

The Good:
- Souffle pancakes are texturally on point
- Spacious and clean
- Fairly friendly servers

The Bad:
- Desserts could be bland for some (I didn't mind personally)
- Parking really sucks
- The puppy ice cream sucks even more

Jade Seafood Restaurant

With the influx of new high-end Chinese restaurants in town, we often forget one of the pioneers of this genre.  The Jade was one of the first Chinese restaurants to use higher quality ingredients and pay attention to the finer details.  The chefs were also not afraid to add some subtle fusion into the cuisine as well.  It has been a long time since I've dined at The Jade and in fact, it has been so long that they have actually moved locations over to #3 Road near the Richmond Night Market.  We ended up going for Dim Sum at the new spot and Mijune tagged along with my family and parents.

We are usually pretty aggressive in ordering dishes, but with Mijune at the table, we needed to up our game and ordered even more!  We began with a very strange sounding item in the Smoked Salmon on Crispy Thin.  Huh?  Well, it turned out to be a shrimp chip topped with a cocktail fruit salad and corn dressed in an obscene amount of mayo.  Then on top of that, there was a slice of smoked salmon with wasabi mayo drizzled on top.  Honestly, this was not appealing and in fact gross.  It would've been fine with just the chip and salmon alone.  Thankfully, the next dish was more conventional being the Pan Fried Radish Cake in Hot Sauce.  So this was actually the classic fried daikon radish cake tossed in XO sauce.  This was good with crispy chunks where inside it was delicate and well-seasoned.  We found it was more aromatic and briny than spicy.  Loved the addition of fried edamame.

The quality of the ingredients really shone with the 2 standards in the Ha Gau (Steamed Shrimp Dumpling) and Siu Mai (Steamed Sakura Pork Dumpling).  Featuring a relatively thin dumpling wrapper, the texture of the ha gau exhibited appealing elasticity and delicateness at the same time.  Inside, the shrimp filling consisted of whole pieces which had a sweet, well-seasoned snap bonded together with a small amount of airy shrimp mousse.  I would've liked to see a bit more sesame oil, but the dumpling was still plenty good.  Normally, siu mai are pretty fatty, but the one here was generally lean, yet at the same time super tender with the classic bounce texture.  There really wasn't anything else but whole chunks of pork and normally that would mean boring without shrimp nor shiitake.  However, I didn't even notice it due to the high quality meat and on point seasoning.

Possibly their signature dim sum item, the Steamed Mushroom Dumpling has been loved by many since the very beginning.  Since it has been copied by many other restaurants, some of the lustre has definitely worn off, but that doesn't mean it isn't good.  In fact, this sported a relatively thin chewy (in a good way) wrapper than had an appealing elasticity.  Inside, the mixture of mushrooms had a good bite while spiked with truffle.  Looking similar but completely different, the Steamed Crab Meat Dumplings had a slightly thicker skin that was firmer.  Inside, there was a mixture of crab, veggies and curiously, ground pork.  I thought this was not the right meat to compliment the delicate crab.  It completely overwhelmed it.  Maybe something like fish or the dark meat of chicken would've been better.

Mijune insisted that we order 2 dishes based on her past experiences at The Jade.  The first one was the Dried Scallop & Vermicelli in clay pot.  This was much more than its description as it also featured egg, sprouts, celery, dried shrimp, shiitake and cured sausage.  As a result, the aromatics from the dried seafood as well as the sausage made this dish plenty flavourful.  The textures were also varied with the al dente vermicelli, crunchy celery and meaty sausage.  The second dish was Chiu Chow Style Squid & Chinese Chives which also sported fried anchovies, peanuts and peppers.  When all of the ingredients were eaten in one bite, there was plenty going on.  Textures galore with the crunchy chives, chewy squid (in a good way) and equally chewy anchovies.  If you can imagine, all this flavour would go real well with some congee...

Of course, we also ordered the Fish & Egg White Congee to compliment the Chiu Chow dish.  Normally, a bowl of plain congee would've been best, but we were looking for something more fulfilling.  Besides, this was probably the most mild-tasting congee on the menu.  That it was and as such, the subtle aroma from the egg whites really came through.  This really made the congee as it complimented the tender fish perfectly.  This would've been good on its own even without the anchovies and squid from the previous dish.  Also really good was the Chan's Village Noodle with Beef Tendon and Brisket Hot Pot.  Beyond the chewy noodles underneath, the brisket was absolutely perfect.  With just a touch of fat, the meat was buttery soft and practically melted-in-our-mouths.  The braising liquid was balanced with enough impact to not only penetrate the meat, it flavoured the noodles as well.

Now if 2 noodle dishes and a congee wasn't enough carbs, we also got 2 orders of the rice noodle rolls.  We didn't stray far from what we usually order and went with the Steamed Rice Roll with Prawn & Flowering Chives.  We found this to be pretty textbook with semi-thin rice noodles that was soft with just a touch of elasticity and rebound.  Tucked inside, the prawns were large with a moist snap.  There was enough seasoning to get by, but of course, the dousing of sweetened soy didn't hurt.  With the same qualities, the rice noodle for the Chinese Donut Rice Roll wasn't as successful.  Yes, the noodle was fine, but they really overused the green onion.  Too dominant in this dish.  Furthermore, the donut itself was dense and chewy which made the dish cumbersome to eat.

Not over with carbs, we got the Steamed Wild Rice & Sticky Rice wrapped in lotus leaves.  Due to the addition of wild rice, the texture of the glutinous rice was intermittently interrupted by a firm chewiness.  I personally enjoyed that and wished more places did this.  Unlike other versions, this featured relatively lean ground pork in the filling.  Therefore, I didn't find myself picking out chunks of fat.  Decently large and plump, the Steamed Phoenix Talons (Chicken Feet) were solid.  I found the deep fried skin to be tender with a bite.  Underneath, the cartilage and fat were tender and not melted away.  In terms of seasoning, this was plenty garlicky with a noted spiciness.

We couldn't forget about the Deep Fried Spring Rolls with Shrimp & Garlic for the kiddies.  Unfortunately, this was a fail as the outside wrapper was far too thick and as such fried up too dense.  The roll wasn't crunchy, rather, it was hard with a bit of undercooked portions on the inside.  As for the filling, it was slightly uneven where some parts were crunchy shrimp while others was mushy shrimp mousse.  On the other hand, the Baked BBQ Pork Pastry hit the right notes.  The pastry itself was flaky and buttery (more like lardy) where the BBQ pork filling was lean and balanced flavourwise.  This version had pickled ginger mixed in and I personally like it but I can see how some might think it is too overwhelming.  In general, the quality of the dim sum at Jade is top notch.  However, the highs were real high while the lows were really low.  This type of hit and miss is not really acceptable at this price point.  Despite it all, I would come back and order only the good items.

The Good:
- Quality ingredients
- Fairly good service
- The really good dishes were excellent

The Bad:
- The really awful dishes were inexcusable for the price point
- Parking could be a challenge at times

Caffe La Tana

Attached in more ways than one, Caffe La Tana is not only right beside Pepino's on Commercial Drive, it belongs to the same restaurant group that includes Savio Volpe.  Whereas Pepino's dishes up the classic American-Italian red sauce, Caffe La Tana serves traditional Italian.  For me, I enjoy both, so there are no preferences.  With that in mind, I finally got a chance to try the place out on a rainy morning with intention of ordering their freshly made in-house pastas as well as some of their baked goods at the end.  Now, I mentioned I visited in the morning because the place fills up quickly for lunch as there are literally on 4 tables of 4 and a few counter seats in the front.

Being a caffe, I did decided to order a Cappuccino.  This was prepared quite well with noted espresso flavour.  At the same time, the ratio of milk was spot on as it complimented rather than watering it down.  This all went down smooth and easy.  A good drink for a cloudy and rainy day.  Now that was good, but we were really here for the pasta!  The first one to arrive was the Agnolotti filled with veal, chicken and pork while sauced with roasting jus, butter and black pepper.  We universally thought this was excellent with thin al dente pasta enveloping flavourful, albeit a touch dry, shredded meat.  There was plenty of impact from the jus as it embodied all of the umaminess  of the meats.  The dusting of cheese on top provided a salty nuttiness.

We had the Ricotta Ravioli with pomodoro and fresh basil next and the thinness of the pasta was more evident than the agnolotti due to the increased surface area.  It was delicate but still completely al dente.  I thought the pomodoro was bright, tangy and balanced.  There was enough ricotta inside the ravioli to balance off the acidity of the sauce.  Tied with the agnolotti as our favourite pasta was the Fettuccine Bolognese.  The thin ribbons of pasta were texturally appealing with good mouth feel.  Once again, they were able to achieve al dente with such a thin and delicate pasta.  Blessed with a good amount of tender meat morsels, there was an earthy umaminess to the dish.  Furthermore, the cheese on top added an extra punch of nuttiness.

Moving away from pasta, we also shared the Pepino's Meatball Michetta Panino with lots of melted cheese and pickled peppers.  Featuring sliced portions of the large meatball served at Pepino's (which I've had and enjoyed), the sandwich was plenty hearty.  Exhibiting layers of tang, saltiness, meatiness and a touch of spice, this was a complete sandwich.  My only wish was that the crusty bread was not so dense.  Ending things off, we couldn't decide on what to choose, so we ended up with the Pasticcini Tray consisting of Cannoli, Sfogliatella, Lemon Meringue Tart, Bombolini, and Jam Crostatina.  Our favourite was the
sfogliatella or "lobster tail".  Unlike the huge unrefined monstrosity found at Mike's Pastry in Boston, this one was delicate, crispy and filled with ricotta spiked with candied fruit.  The lemon tart was also good where the custard was tangy and sweet while the shell was firm and buttery.  This platter was a good value at $15.00.  Overall, the best part of the meal was still the pastas.  Sure, they weren't exactly cheap, but the quality was definitely there.  Certainly worth trying.

The Good:
- On point hand-made pastas
- Friendly service
- Focused menu

The Bad:
- Place is super small, prepare to wait
- A little pricey overall

The Deck Kitchen & Bar (Pacific Gateway Hotel)

"Hey, did you want to join me for a tasting at The Deck?", asked Nancy recently.  The Deck?  What and where is that I thought to myself...  After a quick Google search, it dawned on me that The Deck Kitchen & Bar was formerly Pier 73 at the Pacific Gateway Hotel.  I vividly remember my visit there a few years ago.  The place was located in an awesome waterfront location with plenty of space and parking.  However, it also sported decor that would give a 70's steakhouse a-run-for-its-money.  To top it off, the menu wasn't very interesting.  But with extensive renos and boasting the same stunning water views, the place can be now called trendy.  

We were seated right on the "deck" where one could literally just hang out and soak up the sun.  That we did and also sampled an array of dishes including the Ginger Beef.  Okay, before you start laughing, note that this wasn't any ordinary version.  Rather, it was the original 1975 recipe from the Silver Inn in Calgary.  Yes, the birthplace of the dish!  Apparently, the owner of The Deck is related to the proprietors of the Silver Inn!  I have to say this was very good.  First off, the sauce was thin and not too sweet.  There was a nice tang and bite from the ginger.  Second, the meat quality was superb being striploin.  As a result, it was meaty, moist and tender.  Lastly, the batter was light and crispy.  After that dish, I guess the Tuna Stack had a hard time following it up.  It consisted of furikakae albacore, yam, cucumber, avocado, ssamjang, eel sauce, sticky rice, sesame, tempura crisps and nori.  All of the above ingredients were on point including the chewy rice and combination of sauces.  However, I thought that the tuna should've been completely raw instead of tataki-style as it was too firm in texture. 

Majestically presented, the Deep Fried Whole Sea Bass was topped with cilantro, scallions and bean sprouts.  It was finished off with a sweet soy sauce that was employed in the right amount.  Therefore, the fish itself was allowed to be the star.  It was perfectly crispy outside while still retaining a flaky moist interior.  Seemingly a simple dish, yet at the same time, enjoyable to eat.  Staying on the same theme, we tried the line-caught Ling Cod & Chips with slaw and tartar sauce.  For some reason, when a restaurant is located near water, we have high expectations for the fish & chips (as it is usually offered on the menu).  Well, this one passed the test with flaky fish enveloped by a thin and crispy tempura batter.  The side of fries were plenty golden and crunchy.  A bit watery, the tartar sauce was still creamy and had enough flavour for impact.

Sticking with seafood, the Moules Frites looked plenty appetizing even before we dug in.  It didn't disappoint as all of the mussels were open, large and plump.  They were perfectly prepared where the broth was genuinely impactful.  The combination of butter, garlic, white wine, tomato and herbs were not only for our eyes (which happens often with this dish), I could taste all of it.  The side of fries were golden and crispy just like the previous dish.  Sporting clams, prawns, garlic cream, shoestring fried potatoes, mozzarella, bacon, fennel and mirepoix, the Steveston Flatbread had a lot going on.  The bacon and cold-water prawns stood out with the first bite while the cream and cheese announced themselves at the end.  I found the flatbread itself to be thin and crunchy.  It held up well to the ingredients.  I wasn't so sure about the mirepoix, especially the carrots, as it added a texture that didn't seem to go with the rest of the ingredients.

Similar to the flatbread, the Calamari Frito boasted plenty of complimentary items including jalapeno's, preserved lemon, yam, crispy onion and cilantro while dressed with a lime aioli.  I didn't see any issue with all of the ingredients since they were fine, but the drizzle of aioli did soften up the crunchy potato starch batter.  If it were served on the side, the crispiness would've been longer lasting.  The squid itself was tender with a firm chewiness.  We ended off with the Double Deck Burger with 8 ounces of meat, cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato, pickle and burger sauce.  This was a very solid burger where the 2 meat patties were still moist while the bacon was thick-cut and crispy.  Loved the fresh tomatoes as it added brightness and moisture.  With all of the dishes we tried on the revamped menu along with the renovations, The Deck has successfully rebranded itself.  Finally, the killer location has been put to good use where it will appeal to more than just the hotel guests.

*All food excluding gratuities was complimentary*

The Good:
- Stunning views
- The decor to match the view
- Improved menu and presentation

The Bad:
- Not really something they can control, but since the deck is open to the outside, you must contend with the bees and flies (maybe sit on the inner portion to avoid that)
- Food is generally solid, a few dishes could use some tweaks though