Sherman's Food Adventures: June 2019

Ubuntu Canteen

Typically, when I see a whole roast chicken on any restaurant menu, it inevitably elicits comparisons with Costco chicken.  Okay, put away the pitchforks.  I know Costco cannot be placed in the same stratosphere as the swanky Elisa Steakhouse.  From decor to service, they are completely 2 different animals.  Let's not even get into Homer Street Cafe as I've gone over this before in that post.  So here we go again with newly opened Ubuntu Canteen on Fraser as they offer up their version of whole roast chicken.  I recently went to check that out as well as most of their other offerings on the menu.

Since they don't take resos, we had to wait for a table in the small dining room (used to be Bows X Arrows).  After that, we were hangry and proceeded to order nearly the whole menu beginning with a dozen Oysters.  These were sweet and briny served with a mignonette, lemon and horseradish.  We also asked for Tabasco as well.  They were shucked well except for 2 of them that had shell fragments.  From there, we moved onto the fantastic Burrata with salsa macha, gem lettuce and toasted bread.  Although the burrata was a bit on the firmer side, the fabulous salsa macha added a nutty rich spiciness that brought the flavours alive.  When spread onto the crusty bread, there was a good combination of textures.

Onto 2 vegetable forward offerings the Roasted Turnips were really good.  Firm with a crunch while retaining aggressively roasted tops, the turnips were delicious on their own.  A bit earthy, the turnips went well with the nutty and peppery Romesco sauce.  The rest of the dish featured Walla Walla onions and arugula.  Next, we had the Young Asparagus with kohlrabi, orange segments, honey labneh and dukkah.  Normally, asparagus is all about the texture (when prepared properly and this one was good with an appealing crunch), so I really enjoyed the honey labneh underneath as it provided a creamy sweet tang.  The thinly sliced kohlrabi was crunchy and bright, but just a bit too salty.  An extra burst of fresh sweetness was provided by the perfectly segmented orange.  To literally top it all off, the dukka provided a nutty crunch.

From here, we moved onto some pasta including the Tagliatelle with lardo, pickled onions, lovage, bread crumbs and pecorino.  This was really good featuring firmly al dente tagliatelle that was lovingly caressed by the silky lardo.  As rich as this was, the pickled onions provided a nice acidity to cut through the literal fat.  The brightness of lovage all helped in this regard.  Adding a textural contrast the crunch from the bread crumbs helped deviate from soft-on-soft.  The only thing that could've been better was the temperature as the pasta was luke-warm.  The other pasta was the Cavatelli with leek, sugar snap peas and black pepper.  Simple, bright and tangy with a background sweetness and pepperiness, the lack of meat didn't take away from the dish.  We found the cavatelli to be perfectly chewy and a good match for the sauce.

Our first meat dish was the Pork Loin with rhubarb chutney and collard greens.  It featured 2 large slices which were fatty and tender.  One was thicker than the other which meant it was also more moist as well.  I felt the pork was seasoned well enough to stand on its own, but the tangy and sweet rhubarb did pair well with the loin.  Alas, we made it to the Whole Rotisserie Chicken with French lentils and Mizuna Caesar salad.  The thing was massive where one half of the breast was big enough to feed one person.  Skin was fairly well-rendered and the meat was moist (even the white meat).  I thought the chicken could be more seasoned (or even brined), but the flavourful lentils did make up for that.  However, for $1.00 more, the whole chicken at Elisa is better in my opinion and costing less is the one from Homer Street Cafe (different types of restaurant, I know).  I won't compare to Costco, because we can't group restaurants with a grocery store, but overall, I thought the chicken wasn't the star of the show here.  The rest of the eats were pretty solid and thoughtfully created.  Nice use of the small space as well.

The Good:
- Fresh tasting and well-executed
- Bright, airy and casual vibe
- Nice people

The Bad:
- A bit pricey for what you get
- Chicken is good, but for the same price, other places do it better

Sing Sing Beer Bar

So the late night food scene in Vancouver is not as dynamic as it should be given its population, but there are some decent choices out there.  Among them are the usual Chinese spots serving up wonton noodles, congee and da lang as well as the various Vietnamese Pho joints.  Let's not forget the many bar/pubs that serve up brews with the accompanying North American eats.  Some more unique choices are Seigel's Bagels and Lucy's Eastside Diner.  Joining the fray is something a bit different in Sing Sing Beer Bar that offers up a wide range of brews pairing with Vietnamese fare AND pizza.  Interesting combination in a place that is also very un-Vietnamese.

We ended up visiting the place after late night Friday hockey one night.  To say the place was bumping is a huge understatement.  After a short wait, we got a table and proceeded to get bevvies and eats.  In terms of the small plates, they were pretty solid including the Calamari with salsa verde, roasted garlic and sambal.  These were fried up light and crispy where the grease factor was low.  The squid itself was tender with an appealing bite where the inherent seasoning was enough for impact with a garlicky, salty spiciness.  Equally good were the Chicken Wings with garlic, sambal, lime and cilantro.  Sure, these weren't Phnom Penh quality, but appetizing in their own way.  They were crispy with fairly rendered skin while the meat was tender and juicy.  Again, there was enough seasoning to go with the spice, garlickiness and acidity.

The best appie of all was the BBQ Chicken Skewers with lemongrass, fish sauce and toasted sesame.  Perfectly charred with a smoky and caramelized exterior, the skewers were a full-flavoured with briny saltiness from the fish sauce and aromatics from the lemongrass.  Beyond that, the meat itself was super tender and juicy.  Now the small plates were pretty well-executed and went with our bevvies fine, but when we got to the Phở Gà and Phở Bò, they were truly disappointing.  When the menu states that, "Traditional family recipes passed down to proprietor Regan Truong", one would expect something amazing.  However, we found both to taste nothing like any other Pho we've had.  It looked and tasted like they put soy sauce into the broth.  Rather than aromatic meat flavours, what we got was something far too salty and muddled.  We really didn't enjoy these.

Onto the other dominant menu item, we tried the Pizza Margherita as well as the Carne Piccante.  These featured thin crusts that were more akin to a large cracker rather than the usual Neapolitan-style type.  I would say it is most like a thicker version of Me-n-Ed's.  So it crunchy, yet a bit dense.  We were rather indifferent with these as we didn't dislike them, but didn't love them either.  The toppings were fine though with enough tangy tomato sauce and cheese for impact.  Personally, I thought the carne pizza was better due to the meat.  However, other than the appies, we thought the food at Sing Sing missed the mark.  At the same time, many of the patrons were seemingly happy with the beer selection and the lively atmosphere.  If that is their calling card, then Sing Sing fits a late night niche.

The Good:
- Lively atmopshere
- Good appies
- Nice beers on tap

The Bad:
- Pho is lacking

Water Street Cafe

Believe it or not, for as long as I can remember, I've never dined at Water Street Cafe.  I know this might be extremely strange because it has been around for 30+ years and is a fixture in Gastown (right across from the famed steam clock).  Well, I'm not alone in this as Mijune hasn't been there either.  Maybe we get so caught up in trying the newest and most ritzy spots in town, we forget about the classics.  So our first real taste of the place happened because we were invited to try their Crabfest menu (until July 1st) as well as some other items from the regular menu.

Naturally, we started with everything crab including the BC Dungeness Crab Bisque with creme fraiche and chive oil.  From my initial observations, I could tell this was more tomatoey than creamy.  Personally, I prefer this as it ate more tangy and lighter.  There was plenty of crab aroma and sweetness.  Texturally, this was chunkier with plenty of fluffy crab which was also fine by me.  In terms of overall seasoning, the bisque was not salty which meant I could taste the crab.  Flanked by half of crab, the BC Dungeness Crab Club Salad was a meal in itself.  It consisted of a iceberg lettuce wedge topped with buttermilk dressing, avocado and bacon lardons.  Beyond the fluffy crab, the lettuce was fresh and crisp while the avocado was soft and ripe.  There was just enough creamy dressing for effect without drowning everything.  I enjoyed the aromatic lardons, but wished they were just a bit more cooked down.

Beautifully plated, the Crab Napoleon featured handpicked BC dungeness crab and whipped avocado in between layers of puff pastry.  This was finished off with an Asian soy ginger vinegar dressing.  The concept of the dish was sound as crispy puffed pastry would be a good textural contrast to the fluffy crab.  However, we felt the pastry could've been crispier.  Loved the combination of creamy avocado and the plethora of crab.  As much as I enjoyed the dressing on its own, it was probably a bit too sweet for the crab.  From here, we moved onto a classic dish from their regular menu being the West Coast Crab Cakes made with pacific rock crab and baby shrimp atop a saffron aioli.  On the side, we found a fennel and arugula salad with preserved citrus.  These were really good crab cakes that contained no filler as it was full of fluffy crab.  It was fried up perfectly where the breading was crunchy and relatively thin.  It was tasty on its own even without the aioli.

When the Surf & Surf hit the table, we marveled at the portion size, it was massive!  Sporting the same 1/2 crab as the salad, we were treated to even more fluffy meat.  The other half of the dish consisted of a large piece of halibut that couldn't have been prepared any better.  Beyond the charred exterior, the fish was flaky and super moist.  It was nicely seasoned and ate well on its own.  We felt the limoncello gel was a bit too sweet for the dish and could've used some added acidity.  However, the dish as a whole was spectacular.  We also got the Surf & Turf featuring a crab thermidor served in a crab shell and a 16 oz. AAA ribeye steak with salsa verde.  Loved this dish as the thermidor was rustic and downright delicious.  Lots of crab in a creamy cheesy sauce combined with perfectly cooked root veggies and peppers.  The steak itself was a perfect medium rare and well-rested.

Moving onto the regular menu, we went for the Burrata Caprese Salad with heirloom and roma tomato, basil, salsa verde, white balsamic glaze, sun dried tomato pesto, chive oil and Himalayan pink salt.  At first, we thought this was a burrata dish and wondered why there was so much stuff in it.  Upon looking a the description, it was indeed a salad and the burrata was just taking the place of fresh mozzarella.  Nothing wrong with that as it added a creaminess to an already tart and sweet concoction.  The sundried tomato pesto was the dominant flavour in the dish being tangy and salty.  From here we went for their pasta staples with their most popular being the Rigatoni with Italian Sausage, roasted fennel, plum tomato and cracked chilis.  This was a pretty textbook version of this dish where the pasta was a softer al dente while the sauce was tangy and aromatic from the fennel.  I would've liked to see more sausage as it was meaty and tender.

My favourite pasta was the Linguine alle Vongole with Manila clams, garlic, white wine, cherry tomato and fresh herbs.  Yes, if you know me, this is my favourite pasta on any menu, but this was actually a very good version.  There was much more in the way of fresh clams than pasta (as evidenced by the picture).  Therefore, the brininess and sweetness of the clams really came through in the buttery and garlicky sauce.  The addition of canned baby clams further amped the brininess.  Pops of tang from the tomatoes really helped brighten up the dish as well.  Our last pasta was the House-made Gnocchi with mushrooms, truffle butter and chèvre.  To say this was rich and creamy would be an understatement.  Earthy and cheesy, this was decadent and full of umami.  I found the gnocchi to be pillowy soft with a nice sear on the outside.

For dessert, we went for 4 of them including the Baked Apple Crumble topped with vanilla gelato.  Yes, this dessert is a bit standard and relatively simple.  However, that is what makes it hard to be good too.  Well this version on point with cooked through apple slices that still retained a bite while being tangy.  This balanced off the sweetness quite well.  The crumble on top was crunchy and buttery.  Another classic dessert came next in the Tiramisu.  I would say this was pretty textbook with moist soaked lady-fingers layered within rich and creamy mascarpone.  This was actually not overly sweet which was nice.  I would've liked a bit more espresso, but at the same time, this was enjoyable nevertheless.

Our last 2 desserts consisted of the Raspberry Lavender Creme Brulee and Flourless Double Chocolate Espresso Cake.  Normally, most creme brulee desserts I've had feature a weak torched sugar topping.  Not this one as it was thick and smoky.  There needed to be effort to crack into it.  Once past the topping, the custard was creamy and not too heavy while mildy sweet.  I found that the raspberry was more evident than the lavender which was fine by me.  Onto the cake, it was rich and plenty chocolaty with a bitter finish.  Hence it wasn't overly sweet while the espresso did come through, yet not too strong.  These were some solid desserts to end a generally well-executed dinner.  We noticed that the dishes we had were pretty classic except for a few Crabfest items.  Considering the awesome location right in the heart of Gastown across from the steam clock, the menu offers up a little of everything that most people will be familiar with.  With that in mind, Water Street Cafe does a great job in providing good value with more-than-adequate portions of well-prepared food.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Well executed dishes
- Reasonable pricing especially for its location
- Well-portioned

The Bad:
- Some dishes were a bit too sweet

Dogs N Roses Food Truck

Before the expansion of street food (ie. food trucks and food carts) in the Lower Mainland, all we were allowed to experience was the good ol' hot dog.  Yep, my memories of Mr. Tube Steak are still fresh in my mind (albeit not overly excited about it).  That is also why we got Japadog since the owner wanted to do something different and all they were allowed at the time was a hot dog cart.  From there, we now have everything from Neapolitan Pizza to Spanish Tapas.  However, sometimes things come full circle as we can see with one of the newer trucks in Dog N Roses.  Yes, they do serve up hot dogs, but they feature house made sausages and truly interesting ingredients.  I was recently invited to try their wares while they were parked in front of Moody Ales in Port Moody.

We ended up trying all of their dogs including the Pork Smokie with kimchi mayo, green onions, black sesame spread, furikake sprinkles, fried onions and green apple pearls on an organic brioche bun.  I actually got to sample the smokie separate from the hot dog and it was meaty, juicy and not overly fatty.  There was a nice snap to the casing while the meat was well-seasoned.  When combined with the rest of the ingredients, there was naturally an Asian flavour to it with the slight spice from the kimchi mayo and nuttiness from the black sesame.  The pops of sweet tang from the pearls was actually a nice compliment.  Next, the Pork Kebab "burger" was served with artichoke sumac cheese, green onions, asian sesame coleslaw and yogurt pearls.  This being more of a meat patty rather than a sausage meant that the texture was more robust and less moist.  It wasn't dry though and I enjoyed the spices mixed in with the meat.  Lots of crunch and freshness from the coleslaw and once again, the "je ne sais quoi" from the yogurt pearls was welcomed.

My favourite was the Spicy Bolgogi Chorizo with sesame coleslaw, green onions, gochujang mayo, pineapple pearls and cilantro.  Once again, I got to try the sausage on its own and wow was it ever fantastic!  Beyond the firm snap of the casing, I got large chunks of tender and meat that was definitely spicy, but balanced.  There was enough fat for the sausage to be moist and juicy without being greasy.  The coleslaw brought the heat down with a tangy crunch as well as the sweet pearls.  Moving onto the Beef Weiner, we found it nestled in the same organic brioche bun with organic sauerkraut, dijon mustard and fried onions.  As simple as this one appeared, I thought the tender savoury beef weiner was accented nicely by the tangy sauerkraut.  Of course the mustard added another layer of tang and a bit of bite.  I wasn't sure if there was actually a whole lot of fried onions as most of it was raw on top which was good, but a bit overpowering.

Lastly, we sampled the Poutine with 5-spice gravy, cheese curds, fresh house made kimchi, furikake sprinkles, greens, friend onions and cilantro.  Once again, the Asian influence was front and centre here as the gravy had that unmistakable essence of 5 spice, in particular from the star anise.  There was a lot going on here and in some sense, a little less moisture would've been ideal.  However, the flavours were strong and the fries were crispy.  Well, for a "hot dog" food truck, there was more to it than a tube steak.  Rather, we found delicious house made sausages combined with interesting ingredients.  Good accompaniment with your beer.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Well made and textured house made sausages
- Not your typical toppings
- Focused menu

The Bad:
- A little on the pricier side (but sausages are house-made)

Urban Gate

Finding Persian food in Vancouver isn't necessarily a difficult thing to do, especially on the North Shore.  When we look at other areas in town, it can be a real challenge and when you do find a restaurant, it can also be hit and miss.  So imagine the surprise when we stumbled upon Urban Gate Bar & Grill in Coquitlam.   First of all, it didn't look like a Persian restaurant and certainly the name didn't elicit anything Persian either.  Second, we weren't planning to eat there anyways because we were trying to go to the Japanese restaurant next door.  So once again, we ended up with a random backup plan.

So after perusing the menu, it was clear they mixed in Persian food with bar favourites to appeal to a wider audience.  We asked our server what was good and that is why we stuck with the Persian food only starting with 2 appies.  Both served with lavash, we were completely in love with the Kashk Bademjan (Fried eggplant mixed with kashk, spiced and garnished with walnuts, mint oil, onion and garlic).  Wow, the texture on this was just right for the lavash being soft and delicate while not mushy at the same time.  The flavours were downright impactful with layered spices and of course the creaminess of the kashk.   We also got the Mast Moosir (shallot yogurt), which was also great with the lavash, but even better with the kebabs we ordered.  

On that note, the Persian Sampler consisting of 1/2 Jujeh, 1/2 Barg and 1 Koobideh was really good.  Of course my exposure to Persian food has been limited mostly to what I've had here, but this has been probably my favourite so far.  The meats were moist, tender and juicy while charred on the outside.  They were adequately spiced and as mentioned, went really well with the mast moosir.  The cone of saffron rice was also executed well being fluffy and aromatic.  We also ordered the Lamb Shank with baghali polo, accompanied with hot lamb broth & house salad.  Texturally, the lamb couldn't have been any better.  It was fork tender, moist and gelatinous.  Usually, there would be some drier parts, but there was none of that in our dish.  Once again, the lamb was flavourful enough without being over-seasoned (ie. salty).

One dish we weren't that fond of was the Gheimeh Bademjan Stew featuring eggplant, split peas, tomato paste & seasoned beef.  To be fair, I've never had this before and maybe it could've been just a subjective thing, but it was pretty greasy with a huge oil slick at the top.  Furthermore, the flavours were just too muted and flat for our liking.  It was if they forgot to add the tomato paste because we didn't get any hint of it in the taste nor the appearance.  I would've also liked to see more beef as we had to dig around to find it.  However, everything else was delicious and well-executed.  I would not hesitate to come back for the Persian dishes.

The Good:
- Meats were really good
- Loved the flavours
- Service was good for us

The Bad:
- A touch pricey
- Didn't like the stew

Los Cuervos

Saying that our Mexican food game in Vancouver is weak can be somewhat of an understatement.  I say somewhat due to the fact there are decent places to grab some tacos, tortas and the sort in the Lower Mainland. However, when one can do the quick drive across the border to Bellingham for significantly cheaper and better Mexican food, the decent places suddenly become meh considering the high prices we pay here.  With that being said, my blog is mainly about dining out in Vancouver, so let's focus on the good rather than trying to compare with other cities.

Recently, I finally met up with SexiMexi (who I haven't seen for awhile) for some, you guessed it, Mexican food at Los Cuervos.  Yah, it seems like all I eat with her is Mexican, but who else can give me an honest assessment other than she can?  We decided to get the Shrimp Ceviche served on a tostada to start.  Despite the wet ceviche on top, the tostada stayed crunchy for most of the meal, it started to get soggy at the end.  I enjoyed the buttery shrimp, but there was too much onion and pepper in my opinion where there was more it than shrimp.  There was good acidity to balance out the natural sweetness though.  I ended up getting the Atun Tostada with seared tuna, crispy leeks, avocado and chipotle crema which was my favourite item of the night.  The soft tuna was nicely accented by the plethora of crispy leeks (that had a nutty vegetable taste).  Although there wasn't a lot of spice going on, a few drops of hot sauce did the trick.

One of my favourite items were the Flautas with camote, shredded duck, lettuce, crema and pico de gallo.  Beyond the crispy and non-greasy shell, there was a good amount of tender duck that was tender and flavourful.  This was perfectly accented by the soft sweet potato and fresh pico de gallo.  Onto the Tacos, I went for Alambre, Pescado and Barria de Res.  I thought all 3 were solid, but I really enjoyed the bison skirt steak the best due to the pronounce smoky saltiness of the bacon.  The sweet onions and peppers also helped the cause.  Crispy and light, the rockfish was solid combined with the crunchy cabbage and creamy aioli.  As much as I enjoyed the tender beef brisket, the moisture did make the taco a touch soggy.  Loved the crispy chickpeas as they added texture.  So what was SexiMexi's thought on the place?  Well, she's been here before and considers it pretty solid, for Vancouver that is.

The Good:
- Solid eats
- Friendly service
- Nice vibe

The Bad:
- Limited menu
- Flavours could be more stronger, but hot sauces helped

The Rumpus Room

Formerly located in the old Juicy Fried Chicken spot, The Rumpus Room lived a short life before it closed in favour of another condo development.  Just when it seemed liked it had disappeared into restaurant oblivion, it has suddenly returned in what was the former location of the closed Foundation.  Yes, the location went from straight-up vegan to greasy comfort food.  TBH, I have no problem with that!  LOL.  So after our Monday night softball game, we made our way over to the new Rumpus Room for some eat and drink.

We ended up sharing some items including the Deep Fried Pickles.  On my previous visit at their old location, I wasn't overly impressed at the doughy batter.  This time around, the batter was appreciably better being thin, crunchy and well-seasoned with dill.  With a tangy crunch of the pickle and the accompanying dip, it was quite good for the non-breaded type.  However, there was one serious issue as the whole thing was soaked in grease where the bottom of the container was completely filled with oil.  Also deep-fried, but not as greasy, the Lil Cornies were money.  Featuring 3 Nathan's Famous 100% mini beef corn dogs, these were a nice little bite.   The batter was crunchy and nicely browned while the hot dogs were moist and juicy.  With a bit of mustard, this was simple, yet delicious.

Onto some burgers, we tried both the Peanut Butter Burger and the Wrong Burger.  Personally, I enjoy some PB in my burgers as it adds a certain richness and body.  This was evident here as the layer of PB was just enough that it didn't overwhelm.  Add in crispy bacon, cheddar and raspberry aioli, and there was more than just a PB kick.  I would've liked to see more raspberry flavour as this would've been truly a PB & J flavour profile.  As for the burger patty, it tasted and ate like a homemade one as the meat was lean and tender.  It wasn't juicy per se, but wasn't overly dry either.   The Wrong Burger featured the usual produce in addition to BBQ sauce, ketchup chips, hot dog, house pickled onion relish and caramelized onion aioli.  I really enjoyed this as there was plenty going on in here without anything clashing with another.  Lots of savouriness to go with sweet, tangy and some smokiness.  Crunch from the chips was welcomed.

We also shared one more dish in the Chicken & Waffles served with Maple syrup and gravy.  I've had my fair share of this dish throughout North America and TBH, many are no more than chicken strips and waffles that aren't any better than frozen.  So I'm not as crazy for this dish as other choices.  With that being said, this was different enough to be considered good.  I found the pieces of fried chicken to be similar to the one found at AnnaLena.  They were light, crispy and juicy.  Firm and crispy on the outside, the waffles were more than decent.  Sens Fan went for the BLT with a side of vegetarian chili.  Nothing particularly amiss with the BLT other than the bread could've used a more aggressive toasting.  What was more interesting was the chili as it was impactful and spicy.  It was good, but we felt that for that spice level, it had to be a meat chili so it could stand up to the heat.  In the end, we weren't expecting gourmet food here at the Rumpus Room.  What we got was comfort food that was prepared properly and was well-priced.

The Good:
- Solid comfort food
- Interesting decor and vibe
- Reasonable pricing

The Bad:
- A little greasy, but c'mon, it is what it is
- Not the easiest location to find parking