Sherman's Food Adventures: January 2019

I Am Pho

I've always thought that Vietnamese restaurant names could fill a year's full of memes.  Think of it, we got the usual numbering system like Pho 99, Pho 37, Pho 101 and so on.  Waiting on the place that dares to call itself Pho 69...  Then we got the cleaver names such as Pho Real, What the Pho? and Pho Shizzle (in Seattle).  Let's not forget the long gone, but always hilarious Pho Bich Nga formerly of Victoria and Kingsway.  Now we have a new spot on Schoolhouse in Coquitlam that bears the name, "I Am Pho".  Does that mean you are what you eat or is it some nod to Groot?  Not sure, but we checked it out anyways.

We couldn't decide what to order as an appie, so we got a little of everything with the Roll Combo sporting both a pork and shrimp salad roll as well as a spring roll.  If you look closely, you can see that the tips of the romaine lettuce were not the most appealing.  Honestly, they should have never served us those leaves or at the very least, hide them inside.  Other than that, the rolls were pretty good with perfectly textured rice paper and well-prepared proteins.  On the other hand, the peanut-hoisin dip was far too watered down for our tastes.  We ended up getting a large Pho Dac Biet and it featured thicker rice noodles.  We enjoyed the chewy al dente texture.  The broth was clean and more on the lighter side with only hints of sweetness.  Meats were a bit chewy though and the portion size was sneakily small due to the shape of the bowl.

Onto some rice and vermicelli, we had the Lemongrass Chicken and Fried Eggs with Rice.  As much as we loved the chewy rice, it was actually too much and we couldn't finish it.  The eggs were perfectly fried up sunny side and the veggies on the side were fresh.  The well-charred chicken was tender and moist while marinated enough for impact and caramelization.  Lastly, the Pork Chop and Pork Patty Vermicelli Bowl was well-portioned with plenty of meat for the amount of noodles.  Also well-charred, the pork chop was fairly tender and moist.  The accompanying pork patty was its usual sweet self being lightly caramelized on the outside.  Overall, I Am Pho was decent and the leftover decor from Bin 100 gave a more modern feel.  An alternative to Pho 99 down the street.

The Good:
- Decent
- Modern decor
- Okay pricing

The Bad:
- Service was friendly, but was not attentive
- I know the lettuce was a small thing but it says something about quality control

Swaad/Heimat by Bauhaus & Mumbai Local

Typically, I blog about "regular" restaurant experiences I have with my family, friends and/or other foodies.  Hey, that is what I do in my "regular" life, so it translates directly onto this blog (and my IG account).  However, there are certain special events that are interesting and worth writing about (no, I'm not talking about grand openings...), rather, I'm referring to the recent collaboration dinner by Chefs Tim Schulte of Bauhaus and Tushar Tondvalkar of Mumbai Local (who incidentally have worked together in the past).

Before we got to the 6-course dinner, we were served German Bread accompanied by coconut curry butter and bacon butter.  Okay, the bread was well, bread.  However it was robust enough so we could spread the butter without it tearing apart.  The curry butter was aromatic due to the coconut and of course aromatic from the spices.  Now the bacon butter was even better being whipped, purposefully salty and rich.  Not sure why it was grey in colour though.  Alright, one more item before the actual dinner - the amuse bouche.  It consisted of Duck Liver Lego and Edible Charcoal.  Ingeniously set in a lego mold, the little "brick" was buttery, smooth and aromatic with a pronounced duck gaminess.  Beyond the crisp shell, the edible charcoal sported a spicy and ginger curry potato centre.  This was a flavour bomb for sure.

Onto the first course, we were served the Dahi Batata Puri consisting of a crispy potato shell with soft potato accented by yogurt, tamarind, date puree and mint.  This was both classic and modern at the same time.  The flavours were all there including the mint and the tanginess of the tamarind underneath the crispy potato.  The little drops of date puree were spicy as much as it was sweet.  The yogurt on the bottom of the plate added a creamy tang.  Layers of flavour and different textures were at play here.  My favourite dish of the meal was the Ochsenschwanz or oxtail ravioli served in beef consomme and with celeriac puree.  The pasta was al dente and appealingly chewy.  Inside, the oxtail was tender where the flavours popped with wine and sweetness.  Lots of meatiness and depth, but not salty.  Loved the clean taste of the broth that kept things from being heavy.

From one dumpling to another, we were served the Duck Momos with coconut curry and burnt shallots.  Although the dumpling skin was a little thick and chewy, this was not really an issue as the sauce was fantastic.  The tender duck dumplings merely served as a vessel to sop up all of the delicious creamy aromatic curry.  Loved the spice level as it was definitely there without blowing my tongue to bits.  The charred shallot was not merely a garnish, it provided a sweet crunch.  Sporting a fish skin "chip", the Forelle or steelhead trout was served with whipped smoked potato, champagne kraut and brown butter.  At first, I thought the potato was a Hollandaise sauce, but in fact, it was just very airy and buttery smoked potato.  It was a nice "sauce" for the perfectly cooked trout which was flaky and moist.

Our last savoury item was the Entenbrust featuring seared aged duck breast, red cabbage puree, garlic panisse and charred onion with onion cream.  Despite looking rather pale, the duck skin was crispy and mostly rendered.  The aged duck was tender and deliciously gamy.  By itself, it tasted great, but with the the onion, panisse and red cabbage, there was a lot going on including aromatics, tang and sweetness.  I really enjoyed this dish.  Onto dessert, we had the Kulfi with sugar apple, white chocolate coating and pistachio.  As much as this looked really sweet, it was much milder in actuality.  The pistachio really came through while the kulfi was lightly sweet and moderately creamy.  Loved the pistachio cookie that provided a nutty crunch.  This was a nice finish to a really tasty and interesting meal.  Definitely some real skill exhibited with well-executed and attractive dishes.

*All food was complimentary*

The Good:
- Restrained creativity
- On point execution
- Flavours were impactful

The Bad:
- Although keeping dishes true to either Indian or German cuisine meant harmony, I would've liked to see some mash-ups (even if they didn't work)

"Kick the Blues" Menu @ The Rise Eatery

Ever since The Rise Eatery opened up shop on Granville near 15th in 2017, I had my eye on the place.  The heavily Asian-influenced menu is right up my alley.  However, for some reason or another, I totally forgot about the place.  Even through an entire softball season (where we play nearby), we ended up dining at Bin 4 several times and even a return visit to The Marquis.  Yes, these spots are literally down the street from The Rise Eatery and we didn't even think of going there for our post-game dinner.  Eventurally, it took a tasting of their "Kick the Blues" 3-course menu (available until Feb 3rd) to finally check out the place.  

Before we got to the food, we were served 2 of their signature cocktails including the Lolliwood North and Castaway.  With a melting cranberry popsicle, the combination of Joie Farm noble blend, lychee liquor and elderflower was strong enough to be noticed, but not enough to overwhelm.  So the balance of the sweetness and alcohol combined with the floral notes made for a refreshing cocktail.  Presented with a message in a bottle, the Castaway featured coconut rum, grapefruit aperitif, lime, olive brine and pickled pineapple.  As expected, this was tropical tasting and aromatic.  Again, the drink was balanced and smooth.  Essentially a beet carpaccio (or beet salad), A Different Beet sported orange cashew cream, mandarin oranges and pepitas.  This was a fairly simple and straightforward dish that was nicely plated.  The tender beets were lightly sweet and earthy where the orange definitely helped brighten up the flavours.  Loved the crunch from the sweet potato chips as they provided the necessary textural contrast.

My favourite of the 2 appies was the Larb Affair with ahi tuna, thai herbs, kefir lime oil and rice paper crisps.  This was a generous portion of buttery soft tuna that was dressed in classic larb seasoning.  Hence, we got the mild hits of fish sauce, mint and the impactful heat of the peppers.  With that being said, the spiciness was not over the top where we couldn't taste the tuna either.  Although it was a bit clumsy, the airy rice crisps were a nice eating vessel for the tuna.  By far, my favourite dish of the meal had to be the Uni-versal Pasta XO Edition.  Beyond its stunning appearance, all the components were expertly prepared and the flavours were well-thought out.  I found the squid ink pasta to be perfectly al dente while the briny sweet uni cream combined with the egg yolk bathed the entire dish in a silk richness. The XO sauteed prawns were meaty with a snap where the XO sauce provided a slight briny saltines spiciness, but was tempered so to not overtake the dish.

Onto the other 2 options for mains, we had the Belly-to-Belly 2.0 and Cheeky Business.  Served on a bed of kabocha rice and accented by buttered salted egg yolk, pickled apples and daikon, the bruleed kakuni smoked pork belly was a sight to behold.  For me, I loved the butteriness of pork belly, but if it is predominantly fat, I find it too heavy and lacking in substance.  This one here was more meaty with only streaks of rendered fat.  Therefore, it ate much leaner and was more robust.  There was just the right amount of smokiness and the crunchy skin was packed with caramelization and umaminess.  Presented as a fairly large portion, the star-anise braised beef cheek was fork tender and full-bodied.  The natural gelatinous texture of the cheek ensured a certain richness to the meat while the braise was flavourful, but not salty.  It was served atop a creamy cauliflower pomme puree and accompanied by charred root veggies.  The side of pinot gastrique helped add even more body to an already tasty protein.

For dessert, we had the Luv U So Matcha tart and the Pot of Gold.  Honestly, I wasn't expecting much out of dessert, but the matcha tart blew me away.  The tart shell was appealingly firm and crunchy, even better than some patisseries.  No joke.  Nestled inside was airy and light matcha cheese that was not overly sweet, but full of aromatics.  I thought the raspberry coulis was provided the "pick me up" tang that enhanced the rest of the dessert.  Lastly, the dark chocolate pot de creme was also good.  It was semi-sweet with a slight bitter finish while the blueberry compote on top provided a mild fruity sweetness.  Adding crunch, we found honeycomb on top as well as some lemon chantilly.  For $30.00, this set menu is a bargain.  Considering some other options for the official Dine Out cost more, you can't go wrong with the well-prepared and appealing eats at The Rise.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Well-priced
- Flat out tasty food
- Balanced cocktails

The Bad:
- Nothing really bad to say about the food or pricing, but parking in the area can be tough

Golden Restaurant

Randomly changing ownership and names when it comes to Chinese restaurants is nothing new in the Lower Mainland.  In fact, if a Chinese restaurant maintains the same ownership and/or name for more than 5 years, it is somewhat of an accomplishment.  Of course, there are many reasons for this, including tax implications and unofficial bankruptcies.  One particular spot has had some stability in long stretches, but has gone from Golden Phoenix, East Ocean, Phoenix Garden and now its current iteration, Golden Restaurant.  I checked out the place with the in-laws recently where I could hear the Mother-in-Law from the back door as I was entering the place...  (sigh...).

Interestingly, my MIL insisted on ordering the Flat Rice Noodles with sliced beef and yau choy.  Normally, we choose the dry wok-fried version, but this saucy version turned out to be pretty good.  Who knew?  MIL makes a good decision...  There was a substantial amount of soft, yet not melting, rice noodles topped with a mild-tasting starch-thickened sauce.  The beef was generally tender, except for a few that were sinewy.  Next, the Eggplant stuffed with shrimp mousse was also on point.  Naturally, the eggplant itself was soft.  On the other hand, it wasn't mush either.  The best part of the dish was the shrimp mousse as it was light, bouncy and almost juicy.  It was well-seasoned while still exhibiting natural shrimp aroma.  I found the sauce to be a bit weak though.

Probably the worst dish of the meal arrived pretty early in the Steamed Bible Tripe with ginger.  Portion-wise and taste-wise, there was actually nothing amiss.  In fact, the ginger really came through and they didn't overload it with sodium.  The biggest issue was the tripe itself as it was far too soft.  Therefore, the desired chewiness or bite of the tripe was completely missing.  Although a bit scrawny-looking, the Phoenix Talons (Chicken Feet) were actually good.  They may have been a touch overdone, yet the texture of the fried skin and the cartilage underneath were soft without completely falling apart.  With just enough sauce (not that goopy stuff), the garlickiness along with sweetness was balanced.

Onto the Rice Noodle Rolls, we got both the shrimp and the salty donut.  I thought the rice noodle itself was on the thicker side, hence it ate a bite heavier.  However, it wasn't as if it didn't have a nice texture either.  In fact, it was still delicate with some elasticity.  The shrimp were fairly large in size and were texturally on point with a meaty snap.  Much like the stuffed eggplant, the shrimp was flavourful including the natural aroma.  As for the donut rice noodle roll, the noodle was a touch thinner.  That could've been the result of less folds as well.  Inside, the donut was too dense for our liking.  Thus, the roll ate pretty heavy. It was lightly crispy and not greasy though.

For some odd reason, my MIL thought that the outside of the Shrimp Spring Rolls were salty.  Um...  They don't season the outside of spring rolls...  Anyways, we all didn't think it was salty at all.  In fact, it was just as good as the rest of the shrimp dishes we've had so far.  The filling was moist with a nice buttery rebound while the outside was crunchy and easy on the grease.  Of course, my son was pretty happy with the spring rolls, but he was equally satisfied with his over fav being the BBQ Pork Buns.  These were fluffy and light with a considerable amount of filling.  Loved the rich colour as well as the balanced salty sweetness.  To top it off, the BBQ pork was fairly lean and moist.

Of course we had to get to the Ha Gau (Shrimp Dumpling) and Siu Mai (Pork & Shrimp Dumpling) eventually.  Although the dumpling skin on the ha gau was pretty wet and soft, allowing it to tighten up by waiting a minute or so, it was pretty good.  They were fairly large in size and the shrimp filling was on point.  It consisted of large pieces along with a bouncy well-seasoned mousse.  I thought the flavours were balanced and aromatic.  As for the siu mai, they were even better.  As evidenced in the picture, they were quite large.  Consisting of bouncy pork that was airy and juicy, the dumpling ate very well.  There was enough seasoning without being salty where I could taste the natural pork flavour.

Nearing the end, we were served the Beef Meatballs which were also large.  Sure, please feel free to insert your big ball joke here.  Anyways, they were texturally appealing with a moist rebound coupled with a tender meatiness.  Unlike many other places, they were very conservative with the green onion, which meant the natural meat flavour came through as well as the baking soda.  Also unlike other dim sum spots, the Bean Curd Skin Roll was served in consomme rather than the starch-thickened oyster-based sauce.  Hence, the flavours were far more subtle.  Moreover, the texture of the bean curd skin was less robust where it was delicate with a soft chewiness.  Inside, the pork filling was tender and bouncy while the addition of large strips of bamboo shoots added crunch.

One dish that could've been better was the Sparerib Rice.  I thought that the amount of spareribs was meager for rice.  Hence, not everyone got enough rib for their bowl of rice.  Furthermore, the rice was far too dry and chewy.  Normally, that would be a good thing, but is was not even moist after the dousing of sweetened soy.  Ending things off, we got the Egg Tarts.  These were pretty good with a silky egg custard that was only semi-sweet.  Although the tart shell was a bit pale to look it, it was still aromatic from the shortening.  Also, it was flaky.  "Not bad", is what we thought about the Dim Sum service at Golden Restaurant.  Price point wasn't exactly cheap, but still okay.  We found the service to be decent as well.

The Good:
- Decent eats
- Decent service
- Fairly comfortable seating

The Bad:
- Not expensive, but prices creep up there
- Decent, but room for improvement

Elisa Steakhouse

For some, it might come as a surprise there is yet another high-end steakhouse setting up shop in Vancouver.  For others, it is about time we had more competition.  In reality, we can either say we have too many or too few steakhouses.  They essentially consist of Gotham, Black & Blue, Hy's, The Victor, Atlas, Chop, Joe Fortes, Glowbal, Carvers and CPrime.  I've been to them all and I would say only a handful are truly good.  Now the Top Table Group has thrown their hat into the ring with Elisa across from Blue Water in the former Milestone's location. We ended up going there for my birthday dinner.

We ended up sharing 6 appies including the Classic Beef Tartare with caramelized shallot aioli, crunchy onions, watercress and grilled bread.  This didn't look very interesting, but it couldn't be further from the truth.  The beef was buttery tender and well-seasoned.  There was plenty of aromatics going on where the shallot aioli was the proverbial icing on the cake as it provided a creamy sweetness.  This went well with the beef and the nutty grilled bread.  Something along the same lines was the Hand-Cut Beef Carpaccio with Harry’s bar sauce, arugula, pecorino al tartufo and burgundy truffle.  Thin and soft, the beef carpaccio retained a natural meatiness to go with the ample creamy sauce.  The classic earthiness from the truffle combined with the salty cheese created familiar flavours.

The best appie we had hands down was the Alaskan King Crab ‘robata style’ grilled over burning coals with rayu (chick pea, coriander and olive oil sauce).  Sure, it wasn't very big and yes it was pretty pricey at $30.00, but for us, it was well-worth it.  The crab was fluffy with a springy rebound.  It was naturally sweet with its classic brininess as well as a noted smokiness.  This was further amped by the Japanese chili sauce on top which was just spicy enough. The creamy chick pea puree underneath was surprisingly complimentary with an appealing earthiness.  Nipping at the crab's heels (do they have heels?), the Wood-Grilled New Bedford Scallops were equally good.   They were beautifully charred where the doneness was perfect.  They were buttery soft and sweet while accented excellently by the bright Thai-Style Salsa (tomatoes, lime, chili and cilantro).

Not to be outdone, the Cured Hamachi was beautifully plated and equally delicious.  It consisted of preserved lemon, coriander and soba, celery leaves and micro cilantro and thyme olive oil.  The buttery hamachi was so good on its own - very high quality and fresh.  But add in the acidity, smooth aromatic olive oil and the pronounced cilantro/coriander kick, there was a wealth of flavour to go with the natural sweetness.  We ended up getting a salad to fulfill our vegetable quota in the Dinosaur Kale Salad sporting quinoa, radish, fennel, marcona almonds, crispy garlic bread crumbs, florence fennel and toscano pecorino.  Nicely plated, the kale was tender while still retaining a bite.  Beyond the initial tanginess of the dressing, the fennel came through in the background.  Texturally, the crunchy bread crumbs and almonds added a robustness to the salad.

Onto our mains, my parents shared the Whole Roasted 3.5 Pound Chicken.  Before you literally get out the knives and carve up their decision, hear me out.  This was actually one of our favourite dishes of the night.  No joke.  I normally stay far away from chicken at restaurants, however, you won't be disappointed in this one.  First of all, it was absolutely huge, more than enough for 2 people.  Secondly, the whole thing was downright juicy including the breast meat.  Most of the skin was well-rendered with some crispy portions.  When dipped into the lemon, garlic, thyme, tarragon and burgundy truffle roasting jus, the chicken was absolutely #foodgasm worthy.  Subtle flavours, but impactful with aromatics and depth.  Yes, come for the steak and also order the chicken.  Trust me.

If there was one dish we were indifferent about, it would've been the Potato Gnocchi.  There was nothing inherently wrong with the gnocchi since they were fluffy with a light rebound.  The problem was with the black Tuscan Kale sauce.  It was far too dominant and frankly, too much of it.  It muddled up the flavours and overwhelmed the delicate gnocchi.  We did enjoy the ultra crunchy sourdough croutons as it added a needed textural contrast to the soft and softer.  My son went for Jacob's Ladder which was a large piece of red-wine braised Certified Angus Reserve beef short rib.  Some parts of the exterior were a bit chewy, but the rest of it was super tender and moist.  The braising liquid penetrated the meat completely creating a wealth of rich flavour and meatiness. 

For myself, I originally ordered the Holstein Dairy Cow bone-in rib eye, but they served me a Holstein Dairy Cow 10 oz Striploin instead.  Well, they comped it, so no harm, no foul.  This was prepared a perfect medium-rare and was evenly cooked on both sides.  The was a caramelized char and enough seasoning (including a red wine reduction) for impact without being salty.  What I noticed first was how beef the steak tasted.  There was a background funkiness that was appealing and rich.  Wonderful steak.  Viv decided on the Brant Lake Farm 6 oz. Wagyu Flat Iron which was more rare than medium-rare.  However, that wasn't a big deal it was buttery and tender.  Of course by virtue of being a flat iron steak, it was certainly meatier in texture.  There was obviously a rich meatiness and fatiness to the meat which was delicious.

We decided to add 5 sides including 3x Cooked Fries, Brussels Sprouts, Mushroom Risotto with black truffle, Onion Rings and Wood-Grilled Broccolini.  By far, the best of the bunch was the risotto.  The portion size was big enough as a main.  Best of all, the Acquerello Carnaroli rice was perfectly chewy, cheesy and seasoned.  The ample amount of mushrooms added texture and earthiness while the truffle did its thing (extra cost).  Fries were good being crispy as well as the onion rings.  They weren't greasy and the buttermilk dressing went well with not only the onion rings, the fries were good in them too.  Loved the balsamic vinegar and the chili flakes with the broccolini as it really made something usually bland into something that was a flavour bomb.  Brussels sprouts were good where they weren't overdone and of course tasty due to the brown butter and parm.

Onto to dessert (which was also comped), we had the Cinnamon Sugar Doughnuts with chocolate whisky toffee sauce.  Yes, these didn't look like much, but texturally, they were a lot softer than they appeared.  One bite and the fluffiness and almost custard-like middle meant these were like little clouds of joy.  The smoky and carmelized toffee sauce was not as sweet as it sounded, which was a plus in our books.  Also on the table, the Warm Valrhona Chocolate Cake was also on point.  It was soft and fluffy with a liquid centre of semi-sweet and slightly bitter chocolate.  It was accompanied by passion fruit, hazelnut crunch, cocoa nib tuile and salted caramel ice cream.  The necessary ingredient was the passionfruit as it added a refreshing tanginess.  Crunch was provided by the rest.

The prettiest dessert was the Baked Alaska with caramelized banana rum ice cream, browned butter cake, peanut butter cremeux, banana puree and candied peanuts.  At first, we thought the ice cream was too sweet, but it was really the torched meringue.  The hard and really cold ice cream was aromatic and purposefully sweet.  Loved the crunchy candied peanuts as well as the bruleed bananas.  Although pretty, I would say the other desserts were better.  But overall, the food at Elisa was well-prepared and tasty.  Sure, it isn't cheap, but completely in-line with direct competitors.  I would put Elisa far up the list amongst the steakhouses in Vancouver.

The Good:
- Gorgeous room
- Attentive service
- Food is generally on point

The Bad:
- Expensive, but par for the course
- Messed up my order, but made up for it

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