Sherman's Food Adventures: May 2019

Uchida Eatery

Sometimes, eating out becomes a chore.  Yes, #firstworldproblems I know.  Menus can become boring and worst of all, the food heavy and not very good for one's health.  That is partially why we dined at Gozen the night before.  Hey, it wasn't health food, yet at the very least, it was lighter and less fatty than other spots.  That is also the reason we chose to hit up Uchida Eatery on our lunch break.  Since we were at the nearby Victoria Conference Centre, it was a quick stroll over to the little lunch spot that specializes in Dons and little side dishes.

For my first dish of veggies so far for the trip to Victoria, I got Roasted Veggies that consisted of onions, sweet potato and squash.  This was not a complex dish and in fact, someone could make it easily at home.  But while away from home, this was familiar and frankly delicious.  The natural sweetness of the veggies came through while there was enough seasoning to create an appealing umaminess.  I liked how the veggies weren't overdone retaining some texture.  I also got the Chicken Chashu that was essentially rolled chicken cooked slowly so that it was still moist and tender.  Although it was white meat, it wasn't dry at all and the braising liquid penetrated the meat.  There was some grainy mustard served on the side.

For my bowl, I went for the Salmon Don featuring attractive slices of sockeye salmon.  There was a beautiful sheen to go with the buttery texture that retained a bite.  The fish was fresh-tasting and naturally sweet.  Combined with the lettuce, chewy rice, wasabi and ginger, this was a light-tasting, yet delicious mix of ingredients.  I didn't have to add anything else.  Keslo went for the Tuna Tataki Don and it was exactly the same except for the protein.  Perfectly seared on all sides, the tuna itself was rare (as it should be) and buttery.  Again, the fresh sheen was evident as well as the fresh taste of the sea.  It speaks for the simplicity of the dish when nothing much needed to be added for it to taste good.

She added the Grilled Mackerel on the side and it was fantastic.  Perfectly cooked, the meat was tender and moist.  The unmistakeable fishiness of the mackerel was there as the fats were activated.  As you can clearly see, the food at Uchida Eatery isn't complex or fancy.  What they are is a small little spot where one can pick up a healthy-ish lunch that doesn't break the bank.  This was the perfect place since we couldn't afford to go back to our conference full on burgers (wait, I did that the day before... LOL).

The Good:
- Fresh
- Simple and executed properly
- Inexpensive

The Bad:
- Small spot, fills up quickly
- Things can sell out before you get there

Gozen Sushi Bar Izakaya

Dining on multiple days without having something lighter can make for some heaviness and indifference towards meals.  That was beginning to set in with everyone including myself, despite the reprieve aka as Dim Sum a few days earlier.  However, we can't really include Dim Sum in the description of lighter eats.  So without the benefit of good wonton noodles and congee in Victoria, we chose between Pho and Japanese.  Well, Japanese won and we decided to try out Gozen (in lieu of Nubo since it was closer to where we were staying).

Attractively appointed, the Korean-run Gozen seemed to look the part.  When we got our first dish, Sockeye Salmon Sashimi, it did a good job confirming it.  Nicely presented, the fresh sashimi had a beautiful sheen.  It ate even better with a firm butteriness that had a good mouth feel.  The best part was the taste as each slice was sweet and bright.  We felt it was one of the better tasting sockeye salmon sashimi we've had of late that wasn't in a higher end Japanese restaurant.  For our specialty roll, we went for the Toy Story Roll (yes, that was the name) consisting of spicy tuna, prawn tempura, avocado and tobiko with smoked salmon and tuna on top.  This was rather substantial and featured nicely textured rice and plenty of ingredients.  The flavour was rather mild since they didn't overdo it with the sauces.

My son went for his usual Nigiri with 2 each of the tamago, unagi, tuna and chopped scallop.  As evidenced, they didn't skimp on the ingredients on top.  As much as there wasn't anything particularly interesting about the set (other than the red vinegar rice), it did the job with little fanfare. We also went for the Aburi Salmon Oshi which was topped with the usual slice of pepper and with this version, a dollop of sriracha.  I felt the rice and the amount of salmon made this quite good.  There wasn't enough sauce on top and more charring was necessary to build flavour and attractiveness.  Also, the pepper was sliced too thick.  The chewy rice and buttery salmon made this a decent version.

The order of Assorted Tempura was good with a just thick enough layer of batter on the outside.  Some pieces were a bit greasy, but not overly so.  It consisted of 3 ebi, 2 yam, broccoli, golden squash, green bean and asparagus.  To round things out, we had the Chicken Yakisoba which was rather saucy, but tasted balanced.  I wished it was more caramelized and dry though.  However, the excess amount of veggies may have contributed to it.  The deep fried chicken on top was still relatively moist with a crispy exterior.  The skin was mostly rendered.  I really don't want to use the phrase, "it is good for Victoria", because it doesn't say a whole lot.  However, Gozen is indeed good for what it is with all things considered.  It did the job for us meeting expectations.

The Good:
- Again, service was good (must be a Victoria thing)
- Decent
- Lots of choice

The Bad:
- A little pricey, but okay for its location
- May offend those looking for super authentic Japanese

The Pink Bicycle

Only a few stores down from our previous nights dinner at Menbow, we ended up having lunch at The Pink Bicycle the next day.  Featured on "You Gotta Eat Here!", this was not the reason we picked the place.  Rather, we just wanted some good burgers that didn't belong to a chain restaurant or fast food joint.  With that in mind, the prices at The Pink Bicycle do reflect its "gourmet" burger persona (mind you, the proteins are top notch).  The place ain't fancy, but we don't care about that.  The food does the talking.

My son went for the basic Pink Bike Cheeseburger with naturally raised, grass-fed premium BC Beef topped with smoked cheddar & Pink Bike sauce.  This was fully loaded burger with fresh lettuce, tomatoes and onions.  The nicely charred meat patty was large and thick easily filling up all the way to the edge of the bun.  It was on the leaner side, so it wasn't juicy per se, but it wasn't dry either.  He decided to sub his fries for Fried Mac n' Cheese Sticks which were humongous - really crispy and full of sharp cheddar flavour.  For my daughter, she had the Seared Ahi Tuna Burger featuring toasted sesame seed crusted Ahi tuna seared rare, topped with a ginger sesame slaw & wasabi mayo.  Again, there was more than enough tuna to fill every bite and it was indeed rare being tender.  The wasabi mayo was mild while the slaw provided crunch with a strong sesame oil hit.

For myself, I had the Blue Cheese Lamb Burger with local organic lamb infused with savory rosemary apricot pesto and topped with blue cheese & zesty lime mayo.  This was a flavour bomb as the flavourful lamb was further enhanced with the tangy sharpness of the ample blue cheese.  I didn't get too much of the pesto, but it was definitely there.  The side of truffle fries were really crunchy (almost like crisps) with a balanced hint of truffle oil.  Viv decided on the BBQ Bison Burger with free-range bison topped with smoked cheddar cheese & homemade pink bike barbeque sauce.  This was lean as expected with a smoky char.  The BBQ sauce was lightly smoky, tangy and sweet.  Adding to the smokiness was the cheddar cheese.  In the end, we enjoyed the burgers at Pink Bicycle, but weren't sure if they were necessarily awesome.  Maybe unrealistic expectations?  Whatever the case, still a solid place nonetheless.

The Good:
- Quality meat prepared properly
- Impactful flavours
- Friendly service

The Bad:
- Pricey
- Bun was a bit generic

Menbow Ramen Bar

Originally, we were planning to dine at Nubo Japanese Tapas on Pandora which was conveniently located 2 blocks from where we were hanging out.  Literally, we were hanging out at Interactivity Board Game Cafe playing various games and enjoying milkshakes.  However, for some reason or another, there was an hour wait at Nubo (and this was at 5:30pm).  As much as we were in the mood for some Japanese eats, we were not prepared to wait for that long.  Therefore, we walked down Blanshard looking for random food.  Yes, that is not necessarily the best strategy, but we were hungry.  We eventually settled on Menbow Ramen Bar.

After a quick search on google, it was determined that the place was decent enough to eat at.  To begin, we shared the Chicken Karaage which was served with chili mayo and lemon.  As much as the karaage was in a dark hue, the exterior was only lightly crispy.  The dark meat was certainly tender, but not juicy being a bit stiff in texture.  Although not bland, there could've been more salt.  Not a bad attempt, but not particularly awesome either.  As part of my combo, I also got a Chashu Don which was only $2.99 extra (a fair price considering the portion size).  It was pretty solid too with chewy rice topped with a considerable amount of fatty chashu and green onions.  There was definitely enough sauce and meat for all of the rice.

My choice of ramen was the Shoyu with chashu, half soft-boiled egg, nori, green onion, spinach, bean sprouts, fish cake, mushrooms and bamboo shoots.  Silky and rich, the broth was full-flavoured and I could definitely taste the saltiness of the soy sauce.  I made the mistake of drinking a large portion of the soup which made me thirsty (salt content) and feeling heavy.  The noodles were perfectly al dente while the pork was semi-fatty and tender.  I liked how they didn't overload the bowl with too much of the other ingredients because that usually muddles up the experience.  I thought the egg could've been cooked much less, but it did taste good.  For my son, he had the Shio with the same ingredients.  Somehow, he seemed to have more noodles than I did.  The soup base was more porky since the salt did not add any other complimentary flavours.

For my daughter, she chose the Miso with chicken broth, chashu, half soft-boiled egg, nori, green onion, fish cake, bean sprouts, spinach and corn.  Naturally, the addition of miso meant the broth had more body in the sense that the fermented bean paste afforded depth and a rich nutty saltiness.  Even though this was chicken broth, it was still silky and full-bodied.  For me, I love corn in my ramen so this provided nice little pops of sweetness.  Viv went for the Spicy Shio with chicken broth and the same ingredients as the regular shio.  This was pretty spicy and due to that, it didn't really even matter if the broth was chicken or pork as we wouldn't be able to tell.  Overall, we thought the ramen was decent enough at Menbow albeit on the pricier side.  Yet at the same time, pretty respectable even if it wasn't in Victoria.

The Good:
- Decent
- Friendly enough service
- A good kind of basic (menu fairly simple)

The Bad:
- A bit salty
- Pricey 


Don Mee

Okay, before you bring out the pitchforks, let me explain why we attempted to do Dim Sum in Victoria (even though we hail from Vancouver where some of the best Dim Sum in the world can be found).  Despite the access to great Dim Sum in the GVRD, we miss having it while on vacation.  Furthermore, call it curiosity or the inexplicable need to validate how good we have it by trying Dim Sum everywhere else.  Whatever the case, we do what we do and I really don't give a rat's ass what others think.  It is Sherman's Food Adventures, not Everyone's Opinion Adventures.  

So we made our way to Don Mee Restaurant, which has been around for 80 years in Victoria.  Hence, when we spotted ol' skool push carts, it was no surprise.  We began with the BBQ Pork Pastries which were very sticky due to the aggressive honey glaze on the outside.  The pastry itself was a touch dense, but still buttery and acceptable.  There was a plethora of lean BBQ pork in the middle that sported a sweet and savoury glaze.  For some reason, we ended up with the Salted Egg Yolk Custard Buns early on in the meal.  Oh why not have something sweet right?  Who's to judge anyways?  Well, if you were expecting the modern runny "golden sand" centre, then you'd be disappointed.  Rather, this was the traditional firmer filling.  It was good though with bits of salted egg yolk and a semi-sweet and aromatic custard centre.

One dish that was pretty terrible was the Spring Rolls.  The exterior was crunchy, but directly underneath, the rest of the layers were dense and chewy.  Naturally, this made the spring roll rather tough to eat and it really didn't have a good mouth feel to it.  To top it off, there wasn't much of a filling other than a bit of cabbage and maybe a touch of pork.  We needed quite a bit of Worcestershire sauce as it was not seasoned enough either.  A really ol' skool Dim Sum offering came next in the form of Shrimp Toast.  This wasn't a typical version though as the darn thing had a massive ball of shrimp mousse on top of the usual oil-soaked white bread.  I thought this was pretty good since the shrimp was bouncy and well-seasoned.  The toast was crispy, but yes, it was essentially soaked in grease (like it should be).

It was also no surprise to find that the Lo Mei Gai (Sticky Rice with chicken and cured sausage in lotus leaves) to be the classic large version.  I personally prefer this over 3 mini-ones as it seems that the rice is more uniformly textured.  This was the case here where it was sticky and moist with plenty of ingredients.  There was half a cured sausage and a large piece of chicken thigh mixed in with sliced pork.  Therefore, the the whole thing was pretty robust and filling.  Surprisingly, their Shrimp Rice Noodle Roll was on point with a thin elasticity.  Inside, the medium-sized shrimp were well-seasoned with a meaty snap.  As mentioned, the rice noodle was nicely textured being soft with a bite.

Onto some steamed items, we got the Steamed Pork Spareribs with garlic black bean sauce.  This was also well-executed with meaty pieces of pork that were mostly rib portions with little fat and cartilage.  The rib pieces were tender enough that it wasn't tough to chew while retaining the natural meat texture.  In terms of seasoning, they were pretty heavy handed with the garlic (and garlic powder) where it was the dominant flavour.  We didn't mind as it was impactful.  The table beside us didn't want to try the Phoenix Talons (Chicken Feet), but we were more than up for the task.  However, they didn't fry/steam them enough as the cartilage underneath was still crunchy.  The skin was fine though being tender and completely seasoned with garlic and plenty of spice.

We didn't end up with the 2 most important items until the end (because of push carts).  The Ha Gau (Shrimp Dumplings) featured a fairly thick dumpling skin which was a bit doughy and chewy.  This should've been much thinner.  Inside, the shrimp filling was good though with a delicate bounciness accented by bits of whole meaty shrimp.  It was also well-seasoned being balanced between salty and sweet.  As for the Siu Mai (Pork Dumplings), they were not very good.  They were not visually appealing being too dark and texturally, they were far too meaty without the classic rebound.  Moreover, there was no shiitake nor shrimp to be found inside.  I found that they tasted too porky as well.  Okay, let me have it, I know what you are going to say, "told you so, you shouldn't have even tried!".  Yes, that is true, but some dishes were actually good.  But overall, yah, not comparable to Vancity.

The Good:
- Surprisingly some dishes were good
- Fairly good service
- Decent variety

The Bad:
- When there was a miss, it really missed
- Not that cheap
- Hard to get what you want since they use push carts

The Tapa Bar Restaurant

There was a time when taking the kids out for tapas was not really a practical thing to do.  With their limited preferences and also equally limited appetites, it was a better option to do White Spot.  However, since they are older now with more mature palates, going for tapas or really anything else is not much of a stretch these days.  So after a really cool experience at Cherry Bomb Toys on Broad Street, we sauntered down 2 blocks over to Trounce Alley.  There, we found The Tapa Bar, where it was already hopping at 5:00pm due the tail end of happy hour.  We were lucky to grab a table on a busy Saturday night.

We started off with the Chorizo Fondue with garlic and fresh tortilla chips on the side.  Although the amount of cheese and chorizo was pretty modest, it was enough for all of the chips on the plate.  This was a kid favourite as the cheese was stringy with enough diced chorizo on top for impact.  It wasn't spicy, but there was definitely a meatiness.  I would've liked to see the cheese kept heated as it was hard to dip the chips.  Rather, we had to spread it on with a knife.  We were recommended the Coconut Lime Salt Spring Mussels and the broth did not disappoint.  Combined with the aromatics of the coconut milk, we found the acidity of the lime as well as the brininess of the mussels.  In fact, the brininess was a touch overwhelming, but then again, better than not.  The mussels themselves were cooked beautifully being buttery and tender.

Particularly for my daughter, we got the Portuguese Sardines grilled with rock salt and served with lemon.  These were some pretty large sardines which were fairly fishy from the remnants of the innards.  Well, this wasn't necessarily a bad thing as we love brininess and sardines are usually not bland by no means.  Texturally, they were on point with a moist delicateness.  We had to ask for more lemon though as the acidity helped cut through the intense fishiness.  For our choice of thin crust pizza, we ended up with the House Smoked Chicken Breast with fresh basil and mozzarella.  The pizza lived up to the thin crust billing being crispy all the way through.  On top, the chicken was definitely smoky while still tender and not dried out.  Combined with a tangy tomato sauce and a wealth of fresh basil on top, there was no lack of impact.

Tapas is not tapas for us without an order of Patatas Bravas or deep fried potatoes with roasted garlic aioli.  This was good and bad on the same plate.  We appreciated the large chunks of potatoes that maintained an appealing potato texture.  However, they were not crispy at all on the outside.  Rather, they were merely greasy and soft.  On the other hand, the creamy and aromatic aioli was flavourful and really helped save this dish.  To get some meat into the meal, we ordered the 8 oz New York Striploin prepared a beautiful medium-rare (closer to the rare side, which is our preference).  Other than a piece of sinew running down the middle of the steak, the meat was super tender with a desirable meatiness.  It was flavourful from the char and really didn't need much to accent it.

Lastly, we got the Seafood Fettuccine with mussels, prawns, halibut and tomatoes in a saffron cream sauce.  The fresh pasta was nicely al dente with a good rebound chewiness.  It was enveloped in a very creamy sauce that was aromatic and brininess (again from the mussels).  The seafood was perfectly prepared with flaky halibut and meaty snap prawns.  As much as we enjoyed the pasta, there was just a bit too much sauce where it drowned everything in the dish.  This epitomized other items such as the potatoes and the fondue where it was hit and miss within the same dish.  Yet, as a whole, the meal was decent and service was good.

The Good:
- Decent portions
- Expeditious service
- Reasonably-priced

The Bad:
- A bit hit and miss

Agrius (Brunch Menu)

"What???  You don't have Agrius on your list of eats for Victoria???", Mijune scolded in disbelief.  Fine, she had me there.  How on earth did I not have En Route's 4th rated restaurant in the country?   I guess I was so focused on family friendly joints that I totally forgot that my kids do enjoy fine or near-fine dining (it's just that my pocket book takes a big hit!).  So not only did I planned to eat there for brunch once we got off the ferry (well, after we drove there of course), we also made resos for dinner later in the week (post will be up in a few days).  Maybe now Mijune would get off my back now...  

So we decided to get some of the more interesting dishes including the Baked Eggs with Swiss chard, tomato jam, braised lamb, nostrala, potatoes and French country bread.  At first, Viv was concerned that it would be too gamy (I personally enjoy that btw), but it turned out to be quite mild and balanced.  The eggs were perfectly silky and runny while the lamb was tender.  I enjoyed the tang as well as the cheesiness of the dish where all was sopped up with the hearty toasted bread.  For the other dish we shared, Viv was not too keen on ordering the Sauerkraut Pancakes because she doesn't really care for fermented cabbage.  However, we were pleasantly surprised that the house-made sauerkraut was not overpowering.  In fact, it was actually quite mild where it added the flavour of sauerkraut without overpowering the dish.  The pancakes themselves were fluffy and light with minor crunch from the cabbage.  On top, the sweet dijon was quite powerful adding a noticeable mustard finish.

For my son, he went for something more conventional with the Classic Benny with thick back bacon, poached eggs and Hollandaise atop French country bread.  As rich as the Hollandaise appeared, it was silky and completely brightened up by the ample amount of acidity.  The perfectly poached eggs were delicate and runny.  He found the bacon to be fantastically buttery and flavourful, but with the unappealing fattiness, it was pretty heavy.  Crunchy and firm, the French bread held up well to the wet ingredients.  My daughter decided on the Fried Egg Sandwich with cheddar, back bacon, tomato jam, lettuce and aioli on a brioche bun.  Soft and completely encasing the ingredients, the bun was airy and light.  Inside, the thinly sliced back bacon provided the necessary punch to go with the runny egg and tangy house-made tomato jam.  In general, the brunch was pleasant with a few surprises.  We enjoyed it, however, we were more looking forward to dinner in a few days.

The Good:
- Some unique dishes
- Impactful flavours
- Good service

The Bad:
- Bacon could've been rendered a bit more


Ampersand Bistro & Bar

Expectations and institutionalized perceptions about certain things can often be hard to charge, especially when they are considered the norm and/or widely accepted.  For instance, trying to get people to pay more money for things that have been traditionally inexpensive can be a severely uphill battle.  For the longest time, Dim Sum has been reasonably-priced in the Lower Mainland, but it has been trending up in terms of pricing where in the past 5 years, we've seen the introduction of some serious high-end spots (such as Mott 32).  Now we have Ampersand Bistro & Bar has recently opened up in Gastown offering "designer Dim Sum" in the old location of Mosquito.  It may not be as expensive as Mott 32, but prices are on the higher end while the decor doesn't scream out "Chinese restaurant".

I recently checked out the place trying as many items as my appetite could handle.  We went right for the standards including the Ha Gau and Siu Mai.  Attractively plated, each dumpling was served in their own little vessel complete with accompanying sauce.  Topped with an "Asian pesto" of sorts (cilanto, parsley, leek oil and vinegar), the ha gau featured a thick dumpling skin that was doughy with little elasticity.  As for the filling, it was fully of whole shrimp that had a nice meaty snap.  The dumpling itself was rather mediocre, but the green sauce added lots of umami and brightness that complimented the combination of nuoc cham and dashi underneath.  As for the siu mai, it was far too meaty where there was little variation in terms of texture and flavour.  The lean pork didn't exhibit the classic rebound and the lack of shrimp contributed to the one note texture.  There also wasn't enough shiitake.  These were set on a soy vinegar sauce with a dollop of srirracha on top.

Probably the prettiest dumpling was the Seafood with 4 little treasures on top.  These also sat on a soy vinegar sauce that was subtle enough not to overwhelm the dumpling.  That was necessary as the filling wasn't particularly flavourful.  I guess it wasn't a surprise as seafood (I think it was a mix of shrimp, scallop and fish?) isn't usually that robust.  As with the ha gau, the dumpling wrapper was fairly thick and doughy.  Topped with the same green sauce, the Chicken Dumplings also were complimented by some black sesame on the side.  Again, the dumpling wrapper was no different that the rest, so it was already behind the 8-ball in that regard.  However, the chicken filling was moist and tender with mild-seasoning.  The sauce helped make the chicken dumpling flavourful enough whereas the black sesame didn't seem to go (was delicious on its own, but not particularly complimentary with the green sauce).

Similar to the ha gau, the Shrimp & Chive Dumpling featured an even more doughy dumpling skin due to its shape and subsequent folds.  That made it a bit clunky to eat, but it wasn't horrible either.  The filling was roughly the same as the ha gau except with the addition of chives.  This made it more bright and varied the flavours of the dumpling.  Without the aid of the green sauce, this was a little bland even with the sweet soy underneath.  I had high hopes for the Crab Xiao Long Bao, but ultimately, it had too many flaws for it to be good.  First of all, the dumpling skin was thick and lacking in elasticity.  Second, the way they arranged it in the overly small steamer ensured they would stick together (hence destroying them when picked up with juices leaking out).  There actually wasn't enough soup to quality as a legit XLB, but the filling was juicy and delicious (being impactfully sweet and savoury).

They didn't have any of their king dumplings available, so we went for the Sassy Wontons instead.  These boiled dumplings were served with spicy oyster sauce, parsley, scallions and crispy noodle sprinkles.  I thought the wontons themselves were decent with a meaty filling encased in tender, yet chewy dumpling wrapper.  As much as the sauce was spicy and impactful enough, I wasn't sure the oyster sauce paired well with wontons (too salty and thick).  Rather, it would've been better served with a more traditional spicy chili oil dressing.  Moving away from dumplings we tried their Salmon Soba Bowl consisting of Oceanwise salmon, free run egg ribbons, roasted eggplant, edamame, peashoots, japanese pickles, spiced cashews and sesame soy infused soba noodle.  I thought the individual ingredients were good including the surprisingly moist salmon (it didn't look it), but the thing as a whole was only okay.  I think the main issue was the bland and somewhat soft noodles.

Lastly, we had their version of Charcuterie sporting Chinese cured sausage, Taiwanese sausage, cured pork belly, pickled veggies, brioche bun and hoisin chili sauce.  For me, this was nothing special because I eat these meats all the time, including making cured meat rice at home.  However, the way they prepared it was good as they fried them up creating a crispy exterior texture as well as caramelization.  So I gave myself a few days to think about what I just ate at Ampersand to give a balanced opinion.  To be completely blunt, I think Ampersand is too much style and too little in substance.  With all of the great high-end Dim Sum spots in town, there is no reason to spend so much on mediocre food.

The Good:
- Attentive service
- Nice little space
- Some good ideas

The Bad:
- Dim Sum just doesn't measure up to all we have in town and at that price point