Sherman's Food Adventures: March 2019

Golden Restaurant

Fresh off a fairly decent Dim Sum service at the newly opened Golden Restaurant on Nanaimo, we figured that a dinner visit would be in order.  Luckily we made a reservation as the place was packed for Chinese New Year.  Formerly Golden Phoenix, then East Ocean and Phoenix Garden, the place settled on just Golden for its namesake.  Not much has been done with the decor nor have they even changed the phone number.  Looks like they changed the awning (but it does look like new ownership though).

We decided to get their $138.00 set meal for six as it looked like a good value.  We began with the Fish Maw and Crab Meat Soup.  Okay, before we get to the positives, there was one huge negative with the soup.  This was thickened with starch (as it generally is), but they were too aggressive, making it very goopy and gummy.  Beyond that, the soup was actually good with plenty of fish maw (which wasn't completely melted) and fluffy crab.  It was mildly-seasoned though.  Onto our next dish, was had the Free Range Chicken with grated ginger and green onion condiment.  Before I talk about the chicken, I have to applaud them for serving a legit ginger condiment as it was mostly ginger and tasty (some places just give u a bunch of green onion).  As for the chicken, it was nicely gelatinized and tender (especially for free-range).

Originally, we asked if we could add Shanghainese rice cake to the Deep Fried Crab with Salted Egg Yolk Sauce (because it is freakin' delicious with it).  They said the sauce wasn't saucy enough to add rice cake to the dish.  Huh?  As you can see, this wouldn't have been a problem.  Whatever, the crab was fried beautifully where the meat was still fluffy.  As for the sauce, it was sweet, salty and full of umaminess.  We ended up mixing it with the fried rice.  Yum!  Our most favourite dish of the meal was the Dried Plum Sauce Pork Chops.  This plate was massive where the pork chops were tender with a rebound texture.  They were coated in an addictive sauce that was tangy and sweet with the unmistakeable zip of wah mui (dried plum).

Also large in portion size, the Truffle and Mixed Mushrooms with Seafood was curiously good.  We weren't sure if this was too much woodsiness for the delicate scallops and prawns, but hey, it worked.  I guess the black truffle paste wasn't overused, so it was subtle enough.  Furthermore, the mushrooms were not of the overly earthy variety either.  Therefore, the seafood was still very much at the forefront.  Strangely, the dish was too busy with far too many ingredients.  Our one true veggie dish was the Pea Tips with Puffed Fish Tofu.  Once again, they really loaded up the casserole dish with tender pea tips that were perfectly prepared.  They were cooked-all-the-way-through retaining a crunch.  Seasoning was a bit weak, but it wasn't greasy, so the dish ate healthier.

The least favourite dish was our last one in the Seafood Fried Rice.  Again, it was large in size, but the rice lacked caramelization as well as seasoning.  Hence the rice ate mealy and dry.  It definitely could've used more oil and salt.  On the positive, there was a decent amount of well-prepared bits of seafood strewn throughout.  I didn't get a chance to take a picture of the dessert (which was both sweetened red bean soup and baked tapioca pudding) as we offered up our table to the next party (the lineup was quite long).  For that, they gave us extra dessert to go.  Yes, the service was decent especially for a Chinese restaurant.  Food quality was above average and prices reasonable.  We will return.

The Good:
- Reasonable pricing for dinner
- Large portions
- Above average

The Bad:
- Some bigger tables are squished together
- Food is above average, but some refinement is still needed

Com Vietnamese

Trendy and Vietnamese was never used in the same sentence until recently.  With spots like Anh & Chi, Vietnamese cuisine has been elevated to a complete experience rather than solely for the food.  That means clean modern digs, cocktails and better service which in turn also leads to a higher price point.  For some, this is just too far of a departure from the traditional norm where we found Pho served in run-down restaurants at rock bottom prices.  Similar to the invasion of high-end Chinese restaurants, I do believe we need to readjust our expectations.  Recently, I visited the newly opened Com Vietnamese in Richmond where it embodies the "complete" restaurant experience.

Let's get right to it - the place is spacious, inviting and somewhat upscale.  Not typical Vietnamese and to top it off, the menu sports a selection of cocktails.  As for the food, we had the Papaya Salad with carrot, lemon, onion, mixed herbs, prawn, pork loin, peanuts and house-made dressing.  This was not devoid of ingredients where the pork was tender and nicely seared while the prawns showed a meaty snap.  Good crunch from the green papaya and veggies, all tossed in a tangy, slightly spicy dressing. However, for $16.50, it was pretty expensive.  A bit greasy, the Pork Spring Roll was texturally on point with a thin ricew paper wrapper crunch.  These were filled with pork, carrot, taro, wood ear and glass noodles.  Hence, there was a good amount of umami.  We ate it by wrapping them in the lettuce and dipping into the nước chấm.

Also pricey at $14.50, the Chicken Wings were tossed in a caramelized chili fish sauce, chilis and garlic.  I actually quite liked these as the skin was crispy and fairly rendered.  The meat itself was juicy and tender.  As for the flavouring, it was impactful enough that I could get the deep sweetness that went along with the savoury and umaminess of the fish sauce.  Of course, there was some spice to it too, but only mildly.  Sporting a beautiful sear, the 
Bánh Xèo was both good and bad at the same time.  Clearly, the good was the crispy thin crepe that was smoky and downright delicious.  However, the filling was mostly bean sprouts, which meant the crunch factor was high, yet it didn't feel fulfilling.  There was only a smattering of pork and prawns on the inside.  Considering this was $19.00... 

One of the more polarizing dishes was the Canh Chả Cá (Fish Cake Soup).  I personally didn't mind the intense sweetness of the soup because there was an accompanying tamarind tang to go with it.  However, everyone else thought it was far too sweet.  As for the rest of the flavours, there was a considerable amount of dill, fried garlic, chilis and green onion on top which added plenty of herbal essence (isn't that a shampoo?).  Rounding things out, there was tomato and plenty of squishy bouncy fish cake.  This was $22.50, I'll leave it at that.  Of course we had to try the Phở consisting of rare steak and beef brisket.  I found the broth to be clean with medium-depth.  There was a balanced amount of sweetness and saltiness.  It was mildly aromatic.  The noodles were al dente while the meats were tender and well-portioned.  At $14.00, this was actually the best deal of the dishes we had.  So this brings us to the biggest issue - the price.  Sure, the place is nice, service is top-notch and the variety of beverages all add to the cost.  The sticker shock might scare away potential diners.

The Good:
- Nicely prepared food
- Attentive service
- Nice decor

The Bad:
- Is this too upscale?
- Even with all the perks of a higher-end Vietnamese restaurant, the prices are too high

Cantina Pana

Sometimes, it is so easy to just go with the standard choices when it comes to a quick lunch.  Yes, that includes fast food joints, salad bars and of course, food courts.  However, there are plenty of places to grab a quick and fairly inexpensive meal.  One just has to look "beyond what they can see" (Lion King reference...).  That brought Viv and I to Cantina Pana located on the strip of restaurants and businesses along Cornwall between Chestnut and Maple.  This small lil' joint serves up tacos and bowls for the price you would pay eating at Subway.

Before we got to the aforementioned items, we just had to try their Chili Cheese Pana Tots.  If you haven't noticed these days, tater tots are a thing.  Hey, we weren't complaining with these ones since they were fried up golden brown and crunchy.  What made it special was the ample topping of spiced beef chili, Monterey jack cheese and green onions.  Yes, they ate like a meal with the robust meatiness and rich cheese.  For $11.00, the Barbacoa Beef Brisket Bowl was pretty substantial on a bed of Mexican rice topped with cheese, lettuce, tomato, tarragon cabbage slaw, salsa, pickled onion and lime creme fraiche.  The large serving of beef was tender with a meaty chew.  Combined with the rest of the ingredients, especially the tangy tomatoes, there was a good mix of flavours.  It felt sort of "healthyish".

Off to the tacos, we had the Orange Chili Pork and Crispy Coconut Cauliflower on the first plate.  We found the pork to be tender and of course on the sweeter side.  There was some spice too from the braise as well as the chipotle salsa.  To cool it down, there was some creamy guacamole while the diced white onions and corn added crunch.  The lime on the side helped add the necessary acidity as well.  Interestingly, the only veggie option we chose was actually one of my favourites.  I found the cauliflower to be the right texture in between firm and soft while the crunch of the deep fried was uniform.  Underneath, there was a substantial amount of guacamole, crunchy and creamy tarragon cabbage slaw and tangy honey-dijon dressing.  The key here was the wealth of flavours that made this meatless taco interesting.


For our other 2 tacos, we had the Crispy Fried Cod and the Buttermilk Fried Chicken.  Both featured large pieces of protein and could easily be enough for person with smaller appetite.  If one ate both, it would be enough for lunch.  I found the cod to be moist and flaky with a crunchy tempura coating.  It was dressed in mango-mint mojo and lime crema while accompanied by romaine lettuce and toasted coconut.  This was light-tasting and certainly aromatic to a point, but the flavours could've been more impactful.  Mind you, a few drops of hot sauce solved that problem.  As for the chicken, it was super crunchy with moist juicy meat on the inside.  The grape tomato salad was the key here as it added moisture and a burst of sweet tang that made the taco.  A spicy Caesar dressing added creaminess and some heat, lots of flavours going on.  Overall, we enjoyed the eats at Cantina Pana where the portions were large and the prices were fair.

The Good:
- Reasonable pricing
- Large portions
- Overall well-executed

The Bad:
- Yes, it is more along the lines of California-style, but they don't pretend to be something they are not
- Small place, not a place to linger

Hundy

When I first visited Their There, I was perplexed why a big empty space was hidden behind a wall across from the front counter.  I figured it was storage or something.  Alas, it was a secret room of sorts.  This was part of the master plan by the people from AnnaLena!  Bakery and cafe by day and pop-up burger shop by night.  Walking into the "secret" room, it revealed booth seating, a flat screen TV, a Street Fighter arcade game and in bright white neon, "Hundy".  This is the name of the spot that takes over Their There from 5:30pm onwards on Thursday thru Sunday.  After the opening month's rush, I decided it was time to include it in a food adventure.

To get a taste of the simple menu, we got both the Bacon Cheeseburger and Fried Chicken Sandwich.  Yes, they weren't cheap at $12.00 and $11.00 each, but believe me, they were plenty large and filling.  For the cheeseburger, the meaty and lean patty was moist and the same diameter as the brioche bun.  Unlike some other versions, this bun was robust enough to hold everything together without being too dense or dry.  The bacon was perfectly prepared being lean and crispy.  The best part for me was the taste of the meat as it was pronounced and full of umami.  As for the chicken sandwich, it was better than the last time I had it during their lunch hour menu (at Their There).  The large chicken breast was moist and tender with a crunchy coating that was well-spiced.  The crisp lettuce and spice from the aioli were really nice compliments to the chicken and bun.

For sides, we went with an order of Fries as well as the Kimchi Poutine.  A little dark in colour, the fries were quite good.  Lots of nuttiness from the aggressive fry job, the fries themselves were crispy with a soft potato centre.  Even after our incessant picture taking, the fries were still good.  As for the kimchi poutine, I was rather indifferent.  It consisted of the same excellent fries with a tasty gravy that was thick enough, but the kimchi wasn't really a good match for some reason.  Maybe if it was spicier, it would've been more impactful.  Other than that, the cheese curds were legit and squeaky.  Poutine withstanding, everything else was enjoyable and prepared properly.  Some good stuff at Hundy.

The Good:
- On point burgers
- Equally good fries
- It's got that secret, not-so-secret thing going on

The Bad:
- Priced on the higher end
- Kimchi could use some work

Poquitos Comida & Cantina

Back in November, I had walked by a little small restaurant a few steps away from Crowbar.  I didn't pay much attention to it.  A few days later, I walked past it again and people were enjoying brunch and instagramming.  Poquito's eh?  I looked it up and apparently, they serve up various Latin American and Mexican treats along with a selection of cocktails.  So before going to watch Aquaman, Viv and I decided this would be a great place for some pre-movie drinks and eats.

Since we arrived just a bit past opening at 5:00pm, I was able to take advantage of their Wings and a Beer.   Although the portion was on the smaller side, the Alitas de Pollo  were quite good.  We got them dressed in sriracha revolver beet and tequila.  The wings themselves were moist and not overdone while the skin was slightly crispy and well-rendered.  I found the beet flavour to be muted, but there was a balanced spiciness. We were also served a complimentary bowl of Tortilla Chips and other root veggie chips.  We enjoyed them being house-made, but they were on the greasier-side and some were not actually crispy.  Whatever, they were a bonus anyways.

Onto another appie, we had the Honduran Ceviche featuring coconut ginger lime snapper served with poquitos chips.  This also had a noticeable heat to it, which was to our liking.  The fish was tender and fresh with the tropical taste of coconut and the brightness of lime as well as the sharp hit of ginger.  We felt the flavours were truly balanced which made the whole dish an enjoyable eat.

To get a taste of the menu, we ended up with the El Carne Way Platter for 2.  This is a steal at $30.00 IMO.  Since it included Alitas de Pollo once again, we chose a different flavour in Gigi's hot sauce and yes they were indeed spicy.  Just barely not over-the-top, but definitely a good compliment to the beer.  Yucca Fries were crispy while the smoked pear salad was mild and a nice cool-down from the spice.  My favourite item on the plate was the Street Corn tossed in queso fresca, diablo sauce and cilantro.  It was creamy, sweet and slightly smoky with spice.  The meaty and tender chorizo was nice, but needed much more char and warming as it was cold.  Finally, the sliced flank steak was nicely prepared being meaty and tender.  The side of chimichurri was almost creamy and aromatic.  Could've used more garlic punch though.  Overall, Poquitos was a pleasant experience from the food to the cozy dining space.

The Good:
- We felt the service was friendly and genuine
- Cozy space
- Carne platter is a good deal

The Bad:
- Not good for bigger groups
- Chorizo was cold and not grilled enough

Swiss Chalet (Burnaby)

Oh wow, have we reached the very end or are we scraping the bottom of the proverbial barrel?  Can you believe this, I've never eaten at Swiss Chalet.  No joke!  Now that isn't that much of a oddity as I've never seen the need to dine at this blast from the past.  In fact, I think the bulk of the clientele are from a certain vintage.  Viv has been there a few times and has actively urged me not to visit the place.  Hence, this is probably the main reason it has taken that long to blog about it.  I literally had to drag her and the kids out there for dinner!

So to start things off, we ordered the 4-Cheese Spinach Dip with tortilla chips.  I've often wondered why restaurants never give enough chips for the amount of dips (maybe they fear wastage?).  Well, this was the case here too.  Positive note, there was plenty of dip...  It was pretty standard being creamy and cheese with soft bits of spinach strewn throughout.  Nothing special, but at the same time, totally fine as well.  For Viv, she didn't go for the chicken nor ribs, rather, she had the Chicken Pot Pie with a side of green salad.  Not trying to sound completely indifferent, this was a standard chicken pot pie.  There were chunks of tender chicken in a thick chicken gravy with the usual veggies.  This was topped off with a piece of puffed pastry.  Once again, it did the job with very little fanfare.

For myself, I decided to go for the classic Half-Chicken Dinner with fries, roll and Chalet sauce.  In terms of roast chicken go, this was decent.  The skin was attractively hued and well-rendered.  I thought the meat was past the point of being juicy though.  Costco chicken has a better texture in my opinion.  With that being said the Chalet chicken was far from being dry.  As much as Viv doesn't like the Chalet sauce, I thought it was fine and helped provide moisture and flavour.  The best part of the dish was actually the fries, nicely crispy and potatoey.  My son went big and had the 1/3 Ribs and 1/4 Chicken with fries.  Once again, the ribs weren't necessary something super memorable, but for a standard chain restaurant par-boiled then flame-grilled version, this was fine.  The meat was fall-off-the-bone tender and well-sauced.

For dessert, we got the Mini Cinnamon Sugar Donuts to share.  I wasn't a huge fan of these as they were completely oil-soaked.  It was like eating an oily sponge that tasted of old oil.  Not even the sugar or chocolate sauce could do anything to mask it.  Donuts withstanding, the rest of the food was fine, but nothing particularly special.  I must admit it was better than I expected and the fries were on point.  Yet, as I soaked in the 90's decor and atmosphere, I couldn't help but think that Swiss Chalet needs a complete overhaul in order to attract a younger demographic.

The Good:
- Fries are on point
- Kid-friendly
- Predictable

The Bad:
- Nothing special to set it apart
- Decor is woefully in need of a refresh
- Not as inexpensive as they advertise to be

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