Sherman's Food Adventures: June 2019

Sushi TonTon

There are so many Japanese restaurants in the Lower Mainland, we often do not even notice new openings.  Unless they are of the higher end variety, some come and go without even a blip on the radar.  However, we can look to Instagram for help as somebody would've at least tried the place out and posted a pic or two.  Fortunately for me, initial invites help me keep up with the new spots as well.  This was totally the case when I was invited to try out Sushi TonTon on Cambie near King Edward.  Without the invite, I wouldn't have even known about the place.  In fact, it had replaced a previous Japanese restaurant that I wasn't aware of either!  In addition to this invite, I actually returned on my own several weeks later, this post will be an amalgamation of both visits.

One of the most impressive items I tried was the Assorted Sashimi (which I paid with my own coin) as it was majestically plated as well as looking supremely fresh.  It consisted of tuna, sockeye salmon, Atlantic salmon, salmon toro, tai, hokkigai, ebi, mackerel, hotate, spot prawn (with fried heads) and tako wasabi.  I know it is a very general statement to say that the sashimi was fresh while the textures and flavours were good, but it was all true here.  I wouldn't say it was on the same level the high end Japanese spots in town, yet at the same time I wouldn't hesitate to say it is on the upper limit of the mid-range spots.  Hence, the Tonton Tower was every bit as good as well.  On a bed of imitation crab, avocado and kanpyo mixed with herb oil, we found large slices of tuna and salmon with a dollop of tobiko on top.  Surrounding it was more herb oil with capers and fried garlic.  Other than the fish, the flavours were salty (maybe a tad too salty) and tangy.

Onto their Aburi Oshi, we tried all of them including Spicy Tuna, Ebi, Unagi, Saba, Hamachi and Salmon.  So I know the burning question is, "are they as good as Miku?".  Well, I would say no, but at the same time, they were fine in their own way in a Green Leaf-like manner.  I mean, they even resemble Green Leaf in appearance, except for the tuna and salmon.  I would say it is their own interpretation where they were indeed spicy, but probably a bit too saucy for me.  I liked the rice as it was chewy and had the right moisture content.  The torching on top could've been more aggressive in my opinion.  I've had the opportunity to try their Nigiri several times, so I didn't order it specifically the last time I visited the place.  However, Bear did and his selection included tobiko, tuna tataki, sockeye salmon, tuna and aburi Atlantic salmon.  Once again, the visuals say it all as the fish had a nice sheen and colours were appealing.  It ate well too with the same chewy rice.

One of the more surprising items I've tried was their Spicy Chicken Wings.  No, this wasn't their attempt at chicken karaage because that is on the menu as well (being boneless).  Rather, these were straight-up fried chicken wings tossed in a spicy and sweet glaze. These were fantastic with a crispy exterior with moderately rendered skin (wasn't flabby though) giving way to juicy (literally leaking out) meat.  As much as the wings weren't aggressively seasoned, the glaze was impactful and there was just enough of it to cling onto each wing without creating a pool of liquid on the bottom of the plate.  Interestingly, the Assorted Tempura consisting of 4 prawns, 3 yam, asparagus, zucchini and red pepper looked rather sad in the picture on the menu.  Thankfully, the actual dish was much better.  As evidenced in my picture, the batter was thin and crispy while easy on the grease.  The items were not overdone, therefore the textures were on point including the buttery prawns.

Remember when I said they don't hide the fact it is Korean-run?  Well, they even have a small section called "Tasty K-Food".  We can't have tasty K-food without some BBQ Short Ribs right?  These were money as each slice was meaty with just the right amount of fat.  There was a caramelized char on the outside that was heightened by the sweet and salty marinade.  Of course the fattiness of the meat added plenty of aroma and umaminess.  Good portion size too with only a tiny scoop of rice.  In actuality, we could've used more of it.  The same could be said about the Cheese Spicy Pork as there was much more meat than rice.  Again, the meat was caramelized and charred where there was a spicy smokiness.  With melted cheese on top, this was pretty rich where the large portion is best shared.

Continuing on the same theme, I had ordered the Ton Toro assuming they would serve the same portion size.  Well, they came through with 2 large sliced pieces of pork jowl and a tiny scoop of rice.  It's like they don't care if meat costs more than rice!  Good for us!  Unlike the previous 2 dishes, the ton toro could've been seared a bit more aggressively, but at the same time, ti was still good.  The meat was tender with the classic bouncy chewiness.  Even though there was much more rice in the Dolset Unagi Don, they didn't skimp on the eel as there was more than enough to cover the rice.  That meat each spoonful of rice had a good bite of sweet and smoky unagi.  By virtue of being in a hot stone bowl, a rice crust formed on the sides which made for a nutty crunch.

Onto some specialty rolls, we had the classic Dragon Roll with the usual California roll base consisting of crab meat, Japanese mayo and avocado, unagi and unagi sauce on top.  I would say this was pretty textbook as the base roll was constructed properly where it didn't fall apart nor was it too tight as well.  The rice was chewy and mildly seasoned.  There was a generous amount of buttery unagi on top with ripe avocado.  With a dynamite roll base consisting of real snow crab meat, avocado and double ebi tempura, the Queen Elizabeth Roll added tuna tataki, kanpyo, tobiko, green onion and ponzu sauce on top.  Normally, I find using any kind of real crab meat a waste since it gets lost in these types of specialty rolls.  However, I did get the natural texture which can never be imitated.  Since there was less sauce, it was more apparent as well.  This was a relatively light-tasting roll.

Seemingly simple and moving in a completely different direction, we had both the Beef Sukiyaki and Tara Nabe Hot Pot (only black cod pictured here).  These were full of ingredients including enough of both proteins.  At first, I couldn't find any fish, but after some digging, there was a plethora of tender black cod.  The broth was light and sweet.  As for the beef, it was sliced thin where it was tender.  The broth was more robust and more savoury.   It is fitting that the last dish was the Kimchi Mentaiko Udon as it embodies Sushi TonTon where both Korean and Japanese flavours meet.  This exhibited the classic fishiness of the cod roe as well as the bonito flakes with chewy udon.  However, with the addition of bacon and kimchi, we got tangy spice and smoky saltiness.  Lots of flavours going on here, but it worked.  That pretty much sums up Sushi TonTon where the Japanese food is well-portioned and solid while the same could be said about the Korean dishes.  Then when they are "fused", the results are just as good.  A solid option for mid-range Japanese restaurant with Korean influences.

*Some dishes were complimentary, where I made a return visit on my own coin*

The Good:
- Solid eats
- Large portions
- Well-priced

The Bad:
- Most fusion items worked for me, except for the crab dip

El Santo

It isn't often I do repeat visits to restaurants so close together, but that is what I did with El Santo in New West.  After a delicious lunch, I went back shortly after from an equally yummy brunch.  I thought it was all fine and dandy for awhile until Mijune suggested I join her for a dinner tasting.  Well, of course a tasting would be enticing since I wouldn't need to dole out any of my own coin, so that was an easy decision for me to make (especially since I enjoyed my previous 2 visits).  Also to be fair, I do agree that more than one visit to a restaurant is only fair since so many variables are at play.  Only problem is...  I'm not made of money.  LOL.

Anyways, getting down to the food, we started with something I've had before in the Trio of Guacamoles featuring tomatillo & citrus, mango and chicharrón served with house made tortilla chips.  I actually thought this was better than the first time as the guacamole had more impact.  They were smooth and fresh where the spice was most evident with the chicharrón.  My favourite continued to be the mango as it was sweet and tropical.  The best part of this dish was the outstandingly crispy and light chips.  Although it was topped with brunch items, I had tried the Pan de Elote (skillet cornbread with jalapeño jelly) before and this was just as good.  It featured crispy firm edges that gave way to a soft and fluffy interior.  There was a muted amount of sweetness that was nicely complimented by the mildly spicy jelly.  If you have a chance, try this at brunch topped with braised short rib, egg and chipotle Hollandaise.

Sporting the same crispy tortilla chips, the Ceviche de Camaron featured white prawn, roasted tomato, red wine vinegar, avocado, ancho and arbol.  The flavours here were balanced and mildly impactful.  That was not a bad thing since white prawn is delicate where overwhelming strong flavours would negate its existence in the dish.  There was enough acidity to keep things bright and the good amount of avocado made things more robust. The one dish that I had to have was the El Santo Huevo or their version of a Scotch egg.  It consisted of a masa-battered soft boiled egg, house made chorizo and habanero apple jam.  Unfortunately, this time around, it wasn't fried long enough (or the batter was too thick).  Therefore, the outside was not crispy nor aromatic.  Inside, the egg was still money while the chorizo was meaty and delicious.

As you can tell, there is some fusion going on with the menu at El Santo, so it was no surprise to find Croquetas de Jabali with wild boar, braised red cabbage, pickled blueberries, fermented basil crisps and corn jus.  Beyond the crispy fried exterior, I found the wild boar inside to be very tender, yet almost mushy.  I thought the red cabbage was impactful while the blueberries weren't as pickled as I would've liked as the acidity would've livened up the meaty croquettes.  Going with an Italian/Mexican mix, we were presented with the Noquis con Epazote with gnocchi, white bean puree, epazote pesto and black bean sprouts.  Texturally, the gnocchi was on the firmer side but the aggressive sear on the outside added a nice crispiness as well as nuttiness.   Due to the addition of epazote, the flavour profile was definitely herbal with an aftertaste, but it also acted like a balancing agent to the effects of the white bean.

My favourite part of the meal was when we hit the tacos.  We tried them all including the one I've tried before in the Pescado with beer-battered BC ling cod, avocado lime crema, shredded cabbage, tomato, scallion and salsa verde.  Like last time, the fish was flaky, fresh and moist with a crispy thin batter on the outside.  The rest of the ingredients were fresh and vibrant providing both moisture and crunch.  The bright salsa verde on the side was a good compliment to the taco as well as the lime wedges.  For our one vegetarian taco, we had the Verduras (fried cauliflower) with sikil pak and mango salsa.  Even though there wasn't any meat, the meaty cauliflower was quite good with a crispy batter.  Although there was a wealth of flavour to the dish, it was too sweet for me (and the addition of the mango salsa didn't help)

One of the more interesting tacos was the Tuetano or bone marrow with poblano, caramelized onion, confit garlic and salsa verde.  My first thought was that the bone marrow would simply melt away on the hot cast iron plate.  Well part of it did indeed melt, but the pieces of buttery marrow that did remain were sinfully delicious.  The whole garlic cloves really added a beautiful aromatic flavour as well the sweet onions.  I thought the bright salsa verde helped cut through the heaviness of the bone marrow, but only a bit.  Since I've had their Barbacoa de Cachete before, I knew the braised beef cheek would be good.  That it was being tender and moist while accompanied by onion, cilantro and marinated chilis.  Although there was some background spice, it was mostly savoury with some sweet notes from the onion.

Our last taco was the Pollo al Carbon with adobo marinated Farmcrest chicken, onion, cilantro and habanero salsa.  On the surface, it looked like any other grilled chicken breast, but there was the hint of tang from the adobo.  It was nicely charred with noted smokiness.  Since chicken isn't the most exciting protein, it was nice to see the addition of habanero salsa for just a touch of heat.  From here, we moved on the larger dishes with the Pescaito Frito consisting of fried BC ocean perch, mezcal chipotle glaze, green rice and tortillas.  In terms of aesthetics, the whole fish looked grand.  It was fried up crispy where the meat was tender and moist except for the edges where it was drier.  I thought the sauce was too sweet, where it emulated a sweet n' sour rather than something that should've had spice.  As much as I appreciated the amount of rice on the plate, there was too much of it.

One of the more interesting dishes was the Salmon con Mole al Sarten with BC Sockeye salmon, carrot and garlic mole, pickled carrot salsa, radish, refried beets, sauteed greens and rice.  Okay, nothing out-of-the-ordinary with the salmon, it featured crispy well-seasoned skin with a moist centre and more dry edges.  Rather, the refried beets was the curveball of the dish.  Yes, I've never had something like that before and it was actually quite good with a soft texture and caramelized sweet flavour.  There was some background spice as well.  I thought the mole was decent with a smokiness accented by sweetness.  Rounding out the meats, we had the Lomo de Cerdo Asado or roast Berkshire pork loin with brown butter & jicama puree, grilled scallion, roast carrot, paprika cured egg yolk, arbol and mint salsa.  The pork itself was fairly tender and moist only in the middle as the edges were a bit dry.  Wasn't really feeling the puree as it was aromatic and nutty, but lacking some punch.  

Moving onto dessert, we had them all (of course we did) including the Capirotada (house made bread pudding, cascabel hot chocolate and candied walnuts).  This was pretty good with soft chunks of bread that was nicely spiced and not overly sweet.  Although there was a large pool of hot chocolate on the plate, it wasn't too sweet either, so the entire dish looked heavy, but didn't eat like it.  Nicely plated in a paper cone, the Churros were crunchy and hot.  However, they were a bit underdone in the middle and the amount of cinnamon sugar was excessive.  If these 2 things were corrected, the churros would've been some of the best I've had (sounds strange how I said that, but it is true).

Our last actual dessert (before the complimentary marshmallows) was the Horchata Gelato.  I really give it to them that they are making things in-house because it is a lot more work.  Flavourwise, this wasn't too sweet and plenty aromatic from the cinnamon but the texture was inconsistent with plenty of ice crystals strewn throughout.  Much like every other time I've been to El Santo, we were presented with house-made Marshmallows which were pillowy soft and a real treat to end the meal (even if you didn't order dessert).  So from my 3 visits to El Santo, it appears to me that the strength of their menu lies within the more traditional Mexican fair.  These include the appies, tacos and tortas.  I also enjoyed their brunch items as well.  Once again, El Santo proves to be a little slice of Downtown Vancouver in the heart of New West.  Come for beverages and order the aforementioned dishes and you'll have a good time.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Downtown vibe in New West
- Solid traditional Mexican dishes
- Extensive bar

The Bad:
- Some of the more fusion items are hit and miss
- Inconsistent deep fry on the eggs

Yuwa Japanese Cuisine

Long ago, I had a wonderful higher-end Japanese meal at Zest tucked in near the corner of 16th and MacDonald.  I never got to do a revisit because they closed and reopened as Stem in Burnaby.  As much as I enjoyed our visit to Stem, it couldn't replicate what we experienced at Zest.  Well, now we have Yuwa Japanese Cuisine occupying the old location of Zest offering up a similar experience with premium prices and high-quality food.  Authentic and featuring only the best ingredients, Yuwa isn't the same as the many other run-of-the-mill Japanese spots in town (nothing wrong with those BTW).

Of course to get a sense of any Japanese restaurant (that serves sushi that is), one must try their sashimi and that we did with the Chef's Sashimi consisting of chu-toro, bluefin tuna, hamachi, sea bream, jackfish, madai and saba.  This was masterfully presented on a multi-tiered plate complete with foliage and ice.  I really enjoyed the chu-toro as it was buttery and literally melted in my mouth.  It was sweet and fresh.  The same could be said about the non-fatty belly of the bluefin as it was meaty, yet delicate.  The rest of the fish was also good, but not on the same level as the bluefin tuna.   Just to cover all of the bases, we also got the Chef's Omakase Nigiri featuring chu-toro, hotate, cured sea bream, seared hamachi and ika.  Featuring many of the same ingredients as the sashimi, the nigiri were good with a good fish-to-rice ratio.  I thought the rice was nicely chewy, albeit a touch on the dry side.

So one of the more simple dishes we ordered was the Asparagus Komeko-age that was asparagus deep fried with a rice cracker crust and served with sansho pepper salt.  This was all about the textures where the rice cracker was firmly crunchy and brittle.  It was a complete textural contrast to the soft, yet still not overcooked, asparagus.  I would've liked to more flavour with the asparagus on its own, but then again, that is what the dip and sansho pepper salt was for.  This was a deceptively delicious creation.  Staying somewhat on the same theme, we had the Seasonal Assorted Tempura with purple yam, zucchini, okra, sweet potato and tiger prawn.  The care put into the preparation of the tempura was obvious as the batter was light and crispy while not greasy at all.  The tiger prawn were buttery with a light snap.  

Continuing on, we got the seemingly simple Jidori Dashimaki Tamago made with Maple Hills Farms free-range eggs.  Although there was a bit of moisture leaking onto the plate, the omelette itself was well-prepared.  I found the rolls to be even and delicate while the texture to be fluffy and airy.  It was mildly seasoned and served wtih a side of grated daikon.  This was actually served as a whole, but we cut it up for the picture (it looked better...).  For our one maki roll, we had the Canadian Lobster Roll with mango, mayo, sliced cucumber, tobiko and lobster bisque sauce.  This was attractive and fresh, but we felt the amount of lobster was either lacking and/or got lost compared to the other ingredients.  There wasn't anything inherently wrong with the roll, it just wasn't that interesting nor impactful.  Even the lobster bisque wasn't as aromatic as we would've expected.

Some more robust items came in the form of the Beef Suji Nikomi and Duck Udon.  Consisting of beef tendon and daikon, the beef suji nikomi was slow-stewed for 48 hours in a shoyu stock.  The result was something very Chinese-tasting, but good nonetheless.  Unlike the Chinese version, this was much more subtle and delicate.  It wasn't salty, rather we could taste the sweetness of the daikon and the gelatinous texture of the soft tendon.  As for the duck udon, the shoyu dashi mirin broth was lightly sweet with subtle umaminess.  The noodles were slippery and perfectly textured (chewy, not soft).  I thought the duck was excellent being tender and meaty.  Overall, I thought the meal at Yuwa was good with carefully prepared food.  Flavours were delicate and well-thought out.  However, due to the pricing, our expectations were justifiably high and we felt Yuwa could and should be even better.  

The Good:
- Quality ingredients
- Carefully prepared food
- Excellent service

The Bad:
- Good, but not great considering the price point

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