Sherman's Food Adventures: July 2019

West Coast Grill (Prestige Oceanview Resort)

As a rule, I normally do not dine at hotel restaurants while I'm on vacation.  Sure, there are the occasional gems to be found (therefore, I do eat at those places), but more interesting eats could be found elsewhere.  However, there aren't that many dining options in Sooke, so we felt that convenience and predictability were the name of the game for lunch.  Furthermore, we could get a $10.00 discount since we were staying at the hotel and if we decided not to get daily housekeeping.  Yes, we took the $10.00 discount...  

So we arrived as they were changing over to their lunch menu, but 2 of the kids wanted breakfast.  My son had his go-to dish being the Traditional Eggs Benny with 2 poached eggs, layered Canadian back bacon, housemade Hollandaise sauce and country-style hashbrowns.  As evidenced in the picture, the free-range eggs were beautiful and runny.  The hollandaise was more buttery than tangy being rich and silky.  He liked how they used real back bacon rather than ham.  For Elaine's son, he had the Classic Breakfast with 2 eggs, andouille sausage, toast and country-style hashbrowns.  This was pretty large in portion size as the split sausage was meaty and well-seared.  Nothing amiss here and reasonably-priced at $13.00 (especially at a hotel restaurant).

My daughter didn't want breakfast and had the Pacific Fish & Chips with 1 pc snapper coated in pakora batter, handcut fries, sumac raita, slaw and a cup of chowder.  For me, this was a rather interesting twist on a classic dish.  Since they employed pakora batter, it was a bit thicker, yet ultimately crunchy and spiced while the fresh snapper was flaky and moist.  Replacing the usual tartar sauce with a sumac raita, it really changed the flavour profile.  Beyond the tang of the yogurt, the cumin really came through with a pronounced earthiness.  The cup of chowder was very creamy and was chock full of veggie and clams.  Elaine and myself ordered the Mountain Burger with a hand pressed patty, caramelized onions, smoked cheddar, applewood bacon, devil’s relish, lettuce and garlic aioli.  This was surprisingly awesome with a well-charred lean patty enveloped by a tangy tomato relish and sweet onions.  A bit firmer than usual, the brioche bun held everything together with what was a tasty burger (a la Samuel L. Jackson).

Viv and ended sharing the burger which meant we ordered a few more items including the Spiced Calamari with broken nori, togarashi, fried jalapeƱos, wasabi and yuzu crema.  Okay, we loved the creativity here, but the dish was a miss for us.  Beyond the tender strips of squid, the batter was wet and not crispy at all.  Furthermore, the greasiness of the whole dish was exemplified by the nori as it was not appealing at all.  This could've been good, but it needs to be tweaked.  On the other hand, the Steamer Pot consisting of 1/2 clams and 1/2 mussels was good.  The shellfish was buttery and prepared properly.  They weren't as plump as the ones from Wild Mountain though.  We chose the chorizo and lemongrass cream sauce which was rich and fragrant with a touch of spice.  Loved the seared bread on the side, it was so crispy and soft.  It was perfect for soaking up the broth.  As you can see, the food at the West Coast Grill was more than acceptable and surprisingly reasonable in price.  Loved the water view as well.

The Good:
- Beautiful decor and located right on the water
- Above average eats
- Reasonably-priced

The Bad:
- The calamari was not prepared properly
- Strangely, not enough parking for all the guests of the hotel and restaurant


Wild Mountain Food & Drink

While looking over the candidates and winners of the annual Vanmag's best restaurants, I noticed that Wild Mountain Food & Drink won for Victoria.  Although located in Sooke, I guess it still qualifies as being in "Victoria".  Low and behold, guess where I was schedule to be during the May long weekend?  Yep, we would be staying at the Prestige Oceanview Resort that happens to be just steps away from Wild Mountain!  Of course I went ahead and booked resos for the highly coveted tables there as the restaurant isn't very big.  That also meant we had to eat at 5:00pm since that was the only reservation left for the May long weekend.

So we made the really long drive of 30 seconds from the nearby Prestige Oceanview Resort (we should've walked) were seated next to the window with a view of the water.  We started out with a few snacks including the Albacore Tuna Tartare with preserved lemon and borage atop a slice of Hakurei turnip.  This was super simple, but really fresh and delicious at the same time.  At first, I thought the softened turnip would mean a lack of texture when combined with the buttery tuna.  It definitely was the case, but the little bite still worked as the tuna was the star especially hit by a balanced amount of acidity.  We also had the Halibut & Spot Prawn Ceviche served on a prawn tapioca cracker.  Now this had an airy and super crunchy textural contrast to go with the sweet delicate prawn and meaty halibut.  Again, the acidity was "spot" on (bad pun I know) by allowing the ingredients to shine.

Another snack that caught our fancy was the Crispy Polenta Fritters with dill pickle dip.  More like polenta "fries", these were served piping hot.  As such, the exterior was not greasy at all while being crispy.  On the inside, the polenta was on point with its classic soft creaminess that was also dense enough to remain intact as a "fry".  Trying to achieve that balance isn't as easy as it sounds because I've had one too many polenta fries that was either too mushy or too firm.  Tangy, creamy and briny, the dill pickle dip was a nice compliment to the polenta.  Originally, we weren't going to get the Red Fife Wheat Bread, but my son seemed a bit disappointed (he loves bread), so we added it just for him.  Good decision as the crusty bread was soft and airy on the inside.  It came with a creamy bee pollen and honey butter that had only a hint of sweetness.

The kids weren't super hungry so they ended up with half-orders of the 2 available pastas.  My daughter had the Risotto of Grains with mushroom cream, fresh oyster mushroom, asparagus, arugula and smoked pork hock (extra $3.00 for half order).  There was a lot going on with the "risotto" where the grains were firm and chewy.  As much as it was a cream sauce, it wasn't as heavy as it sounded or appeared.  Naturally, there was the classic mushroom earthiness at play as well as the mild smokiness of the tender pork hock.  It was surprisingly not salty, which allowed everything else to be noticed.  For my son, he chose the Handmade Ricotta Cavatelli Pasta with smoked Sooke chicken breast, asparagus, spinach, green olives and Grana Padano.  Also with a lot going on, the pasta was firmly al dente while the sauce was pretty cheesy.  The ample amount of chicken was tender and lightly smoky.  I felt that they put just enough green olive in for effect that didn't overwhelm the dish.

Viv decided on the Quadra Island Clams as here main dish ($17.00 as an appie, $31.00 as a main).   Buttery and super plump, the clams were steamed in an XO-humpback shrimp broth with housemade salami, komatsuna & winged kelp and Wild Mountain bread.  This was an outstanding dish as the flavours were so impactful while balanced at the same time.  The briny broth had some spice and plenty of natural sweetness (as well as umaminess).  The clams couldn't have been prepared any better, so good.  For my main, I went for the Pemberton Flat Iron Steak with smashed root veggies, broccoli shoots and red wine jus.  I added a pat of Washington black truffle butter ($3.00) for good measure.  Oh man, the steak was fantastic being nicely seared and prepared a perfect medium-rare.  It was rested properly where the juices remained within the meat.  Super buttery tender, the properly seasoned steak was further amped by the truffle butter.

As for dessert, Viv and I shared the Poached Rhubarb & Citrus Curd Tart with mint.  Rustic-looking, the tart shell was firm, buttery and texturally consistent throughout.  I found the citrus curd to be creamy and on point in terms of viscosity.  There was a good balance between tang and sweetness.  Interestingly, I thought the bits of crunchy rhubarb to be a distraction from the excellent tart itself.  It did provide a different texture as well as a brightness to the tart, but it was unnecessary in my opinion.  For the dishes we tried, it definitely confirms, in my opinion, the win for Wild Mountain as "best of Victoria".  Mind you, out of the contenders, I haven't tried OLO, so that will be up next.

The Good:
- Quaint house, nice setting by the water
- Carefully prepared simple menu
- Genuine and kind service

The Bad:
- On the pricier side
- Small place, getting a table is difficult

Fol Epi

Having visited Victoria during Spring Break, we were able to sample some pretty good eats while we were there.  We actually visited Agrius twice, once for brunch and once for dinner.  Something that I normally do not do on vacation - do a revisit.  Well, is 3rd time the charm?  It wasn't really a trifecta as we didn't dine at Agrius, but we did pay the adjacent Fol Epi (same company) for some pastries and treats.  We had already sampled their wonderful in-house bread when we were at Agrius, so our expectations were pretty high.

One of the most basic, if not important items on any bakery's menu is the classic Butter Croissant.  As evidenced in the picture, the croissant was on the smaller side being rather narrow.  Beyond the initial crispiness, the rest of it didn't shatter as much as I would've liked.  It was definitely buttery and soft inside, but I just would've preferred more spun layers (laminating).  That would've made it crunchier and nutty.  We also got the Ham & Cheese Croissant as well and it was similar to the classic croissant except it was crispier in some spots while softer in others.  This was totally acceptable due to the wet ingredients.  Again, I would've liked to see more layers and shattering, but it was good in terms of the smokiness of the ham and of course the gooey cheese.

One of my favourite items was the Apple Strudel where the filling was really tasty.  It was full of tender chunks of apple that were appealingly tangy.  It was enveloped with just enough sweetness for balance.  ON the outside, the pastry was light and crispy.  Despite the wet filling, the rest of the strudel did not get soggy.  Off to another savoury item, the Caramelized Onion, Bacon and Cheese Scone was robust and filling.  Naturally, scones are usually rather dense, and this one was that for sure.  At the same time, it wasn't in a bad way.  Beyond the firm, almost crunchy exterior, the inside was moist and fluffy in the aforementioned dense manner.  It was aromatic and full of flavour due to the ingredients involved.

Onto some other pastries, Costanza got the Lemon Tart, Almond Slice and Hazelnut Cake.  I didn't get to try any of these, but he thought they were all quite good, but not great.  I would concur with that as the items I did try were exactly that.  Probably the best of Victoria according to many and until I try others places, I will go on that.  Compared to pastries I've had in Vancouver, I would say Thomas Haas and Chez Christophe are better, but that is in Vancouver.  So not really fair to compare.  All-in-all, still totally enjoyable, including the wonderful bread and charcuterie.

The Good:
- Good variety including pastries, breads and charcuterie
- Generally good products
- Nice space 

The Bad:
- Not a very big space though

Rooftop at the Sticky Wicket

A long time ago, when we were "sans enfants", we made a trip to Victoria with Costanza and Elaine.  We stayed at the Chateau Victoria and dined on oysters at Ferris' Oyster Bar.  Interestingly, we had walked past the Sticky Wicket Pub where one of their windows had been smashed (police were on the scene). I believe we were to eat there that night, but due to the window issue, we went somewhere else.  Fast forward to the present, we are much older and have 2 kids each.  We returned to the Sticky Wicket and headed up to the Rooftop since we couldn't get a big enough table in the family friendly section of the pub downstairs.

Complete with a beach volleyball court, the rooftop is a great place to hang out on a sunny day.  That we did and yes, of course we ordered food.  My son went big with the Classic Steak Sandwich with sauteed button mushrooms, garlic bread and chips.  Prepared a perfect medium-rare, the steak was charred and evenly cooked.  Not only was it tasty, it was super tender and well-rested.  It was topped with a tonne of buttery tender mushrooms.  For my daughter, she had the Cajun Chicken Quesadilla with cheddar & Monterey jack cheese, scallions and tomatoes.  She added the guacamole (for $2.00 more) to go with the sour cream.  Again, this was nothing complex, but done relatively well.  Inside the grilled flour tortillas, there was lightly spiced chicken with a good amount of melted cheddar.

For myself, I had the BBQ Sampler with fire grilled Certified Angus beef top sirloin steak, beer braised chicken drumsticks, baby back pork ribs, grilled chorizo link, BBQ sauce, cheddar jalapeƱo cornbread, baked beans and spicy Italian pickled vegetables.  This was a decent amount of meat where the steak was medium rare and tender despite its small size.  The ribs were fall-off-the bone but a little bland.  I thought the drumsticks were cooked just right where the meat wasn't dry.  Rounding out the meats, the chorizo was nicely grilled and slightly spicy.  For Viv, she went for something light in the Pesto Chicken Baguette with basil infused pesto aioli, grilled chicken, crisp double smoked bacon, fresh apple, smoked gouda cheese and baby spinach leaves.  Featuring as soft buttered baguette, the sandwich didn't eat heavy.  I found the chicken to be tender and moist while the rest of the ingredients created even more moisture.  Loved the smokiness of the cheese and bacon.

One thing that wasn't all that interesting was the Rooftop Burger made with Certified Angus Beef.  To be fair, this was for Costanza's youngest son and he didn't want the tomato or lettuce which probably made the burger a bit dry to eat.  However, the burger patty itself was not all that juicy either.  It was seasoned with salt and pepper, so it wasn't bland and the addition of cheese helped as well.  For Elaine, she decided on the Sirloin Steak and Watermelon Salad with balsamic, fresh basil & mint infused watermelon, red onion, feta cheese and iceberg lettuce dressed in lemon olive oil. As you can see, the steak was medium (as requested) being tender.  The salad itself was refreshing and light while sporting plenty of acidity.  So as you can see, the food wasn't complex, but it did the job for a reasonable price.  Loved the rooftop setting where there was beach volleyball and also the kid friendly space.

The Good:
- More than acceptable eats
- Decent portions
- Nice rooftop setting

The Bad:
- Not inventive food by any means (but that is not what they are trying to do either)
- Rooftop can get windy (but that is to be expected)

Joyful Seafood Restaurant

So here we go again playing musical chairs with Chinese restaurants at 5665 Kingsway in Burnaby.  It was famous for the dragon lady owner when it was known as Po King where customers and staff alike were at her mercy.  It closed and became New Starlet, which was a decent spot, but pricing was a little too high for its location.  That lasted for many years until recently.  Now, in its latest iteration, we find Joyful Seafood Restaurant.  Not much was done with the interior decor and really, the only change I noticed was the new purple signage on the outside.

For some odd reason, we ordered 2 Rice Noodle Rolls which were somewhat similar in the Donut Rice Noodle Roll and the Crispy Fish Mousse Rice Noodle Roll.  Beyond the medium-thick noodle, the donut was a bit dense and not really all that crispy.  On the other hand, it wasn't bad and not overly greasy.  As for the fish mousse, I thought that it was fluffy enough that there was a light bounce texture while the exterior was a bit crisp.  I wasn't so sure why there was so much green onion in the rice noodle while there was plenty in the fish mousse already.  We really enjoyed the Stir-Fried XO Daikon Pudding Cake as the cubes were fried up crispy with very little oiliness.  Texturally, they were soft and almost airy with tender slivers of daikon and cured sausage.  I would've liked to see more brininess and spice from the XO sauce, but it was still evident.

As if there wasn't enough rice noodle rolls already, we also ordered the Brisket & Tendon Rice Noodle Roll Hot Pot.  This was a fairly large portion of rolled noodles underneath stewed brisket and tendon.  I thought the sauce was a tad goopy due to the addition of starch, but at the same time, I guess it would be better than watery.  The medium-sized chunks of brisket were tender with only a bit of fat.  I found the tendon pieces were rather small and melted though.  Staying on the same theme, we ordered the Sparerib and Chicken Feet Hot Pot Rice as well.  I thought this was pretty expensive considering the portion size ($13.95).  The spareribs were good though being mainly meaty pieces which were tender with a bit of chew remaining.  They were well-seasoned with plenty of garlickiness.  Chicken feet were solid too with tender deep fried skin with soft cartilage and fat underneath.  Only issue was the rice as it was a bit too wet.

Onto the staples of Dim Sum, the Ha Gau (Shrimp Dumplings) and Siu Mai (Pork & Shrimp Dumplings) were both well-executed.  I found the wrapper on the ha gau to be medium thick while not being too doughy.  It had a nice elasticity which in turn lead to a good mouth feel.  Inside, the shrimp filling was on point with big pieces of whole shrimp that were moist with a meaty snap.  They could've eased up on the seasoning though.  The siu mai were equally good except for the many large chunks of pork fat.  I know that is one of the keys to keep the meat moist and bouncy, but it could've been in smaller pieces so that it would not be as apparent (like in the ha gau).  Despite this, the overall texture of the pork and shrimp had a good rebound and the seasoning was nicely balanced.

From steamed, we moved over to fried in the form of Shrimp Spring Rolls and Deep Fried Taro Dumplings.  Strangely, the whole shrimp filling (that was in the ha gau) didn't work as well in the spring roll.  Due to the lack of shrimp mousse as a binding agent (and for moisture), the filling was loose and trending towards dry.  Besides that, the spring roll was crunchy and mild on the grease.  As for the taro dumplings, they were really good.  The medium-thick layer of mashed taro was super airy and light.  Unlike many other versions, these were properly drained and the even the bottoms were not overly oily.  The ground pork filling was mixed with a Portuguese sauce that was aromatic and lightly seasoned.  I would've liked to see less fatty bits though.

Back to the steamed, we had my favourite dish (in general, not specifically this one) in the Honeycomb Beef Tripe.  This was on point with large pieces of tender beef tripe.  It was soft enough that chewing was the easy part while not completely melted either.  I found the sauce to be pretty potent bordering on salty, but not.  There was some spice and sweetness to round the flavours out.  With very little gaminess, the tripe was obviously cleaned properly.  Large and overflowing off the plate, the Beef Meatballs were textbook.  Texturally, they were meaty and firm enough that there was some robustness.  At the same time, the meat was processed enough to be tender and light.  They were very easy on the seasoning where we could taste the green onion and cilantro.  This definitely needed the Worcestershire sauce on the side.

Normally, it isn't advised to order Xiao Long Bao in a Cantonese restaurant, but we did it for the kiddies.  Surprisingly, these were actually quite good featuring thin tender dumpling skin (lacking elasticity though) and a decent amount of sweet soup inside.  It was really too bad they were squished together since they essentially burst open when we picked them up.  Even the meat was tender and nicely textured.  They just need to use a bigger steamer.  We got the requisite BBQ Pork Buns for my son and they were good as well.  Featuring a fluffy and airy steamed bun, these ate well without any dense gumminess.  Inside, the lean pork filling was sauced with a sweet glaze.  A textbook version of this dish.

We ended off with the Baked Egg Tarts which were pretty decent too.  The tart puff pastry tart shell was flaky and buttery (more like lard, but yum!) while the filling was silky albeit on the firmer side.  It was just sweet enough.  Other than a few issues here and there, the Dim Sum service at Joyful was generally good.  Compared to my recent visit to another new spot (New Mandarin), I would say Joyful was more consistent across the board for a little less money.  Definitely worth a try if you are in Burnaby Metrotown area.

The Good:
- Solid Dim Sum
- Decent service
- Lots of parking

The Bad:
- XLBs were stuck together
- Not sure why the hot pot rice was so expensive

OEB Breakfast Co.

If you have been paying attention, I've been lamenting the mediocre brunch scene in Vancity for the past decade on this blog.  However, we've seen some improvement on that front with the additions of the Red Wagon, Yolks, Jam Cafe, BLVD, Wooden Spoon, Grey Olive and many others that have stepped up their brunch game.  So the Lower Mainland isn't the brunch wasteland it once was and hopefully will never be again (it can't go backwards right???).  Now we can add popular OEB Breakfast Co out of Calgary to the mix.  They took over the former Hurricane Grill location in Yaletown and are offering farm-to-table brunch that cannot be classified as typical.  

Their menu is diverse and large appealing to many different tastes.  I was originally invited to their opening where I was able to try the Threesome and their crowd favourite, Soul in a Bowl.  We made it a foursome by adding a side of Canadian bacon in addition to the chicken blueberry banger, sunny side free-range eggs and brioche French toast.  Also included was a variety of fresh fruit and a side of duck fat potatoes.  As much as this wasn't complex, the items were executed well.  In particular, the French toast was crispy on the outside with just enough egg while the brioche was soft.  Loved the crispy aromatic potatoes on the side.  Consisting of poached eggs, herb potatoes, Saint Cyrille curds, slow-cooked bacon lardons and brown butter Hollandaise, the Soul in a Bowl could only be described as rich and filling.  The same crispy potatoes held up to the creamy Hollandaise as well as the perfectly poached eggs.  Caramelized and meaty, the bacon added saltiness and yes, the curds were legit and not all melted.

Now 2 dishes doesn't even come close to putting dent into the menu, so we came back with the family for a wider range of items.  One of their more iconic offerings is the Hog & Scallops.  By visuals alone, it wasn't hard to see why either.  Just look at the 2 gigantic Digby scallops!  Beautifully seared and served medium-rare, they were buttery and sweet where the proper respect was given to the delicate ingredient.  Other than the scallops, the rest of the dish was a mirror image of the Soul in a Bowl.  Yep, it wasn't light eating.  On the other hand, Viv had something that appeared to be less heavy in the Tuna Crudo with avocado, sesame, pommes gaufrette, cilantro crema and poached hen eggs.  In reality, once she got past the fresh chunks of soft tuna and fresh buttery avocado, the potatoes were just as filling.  At least there was no Hollandaise where it was replaced by a herbaceous creama.

For myself, I had the Confit Duck and Egg sporting hand pinched pierogies, hardwood smoked bacon, duck confit, green onions, raspberry vinaigrette and a free-run organic duck egg.  This didn't look very big compared to some of the other dishes we've had so far, but it was still plenty filling due to the pierogies.  However, it wasn't due to being dense.  In fact, the outer wrapper was fairly thin and delicate where it reveal a soft and creamy potato filling.  Toss in tender duck confit and meaty bacon as well as a runny duck egg, then things got plenty rich.  One dish we were indifferent about was the GMO Free Canadian Lobster & Shrimp Crepe.  Nothing wrong with the crepe itself as it was thin and delicate, but the filling was rather indistinguishable.  I couldn't tell what was what even though the filling was supposed to be butter poached lobster & shrimp scramble, green onions and French caviar with brown butter Hollandaise on top, I never got the sense any of that was in there.  The whole thing tasted fine though.

For the kids, my daughter had the Upstream Benny while my son had the Canadian Eh!  The upstream featured organic spinach, dill & vermouth cured lox, brown butter Hollandaise and herb potatoes. Pretty straightforward here except for the vermouth, but it wasn't that noticeable. SO far, I haven't commented on the brown butter Hollandaise (which is used in many of the dishes).  Other than being texturally on point, the flavour was a bit nutty, yet not overly strong.  As for the more basic benny, the Canadian Eh! was better in my opinion since it sported a heartier piece of pea meal bacon.  I felt the salmon in the Upstream was rather meager in comparison.  Overall, we enjoyed the brunch at OEB and the large menu appeals to many tastes.  Prices are definitely on the higher side, but if you choose the right dishes, it isn't as outrageous as you might think (considering the waterfront location too).  It is definitely worth checking out, just make sure you get enough intel so you can order the right things.

*First 2 dishes were complimentary, the rest were on my coin*

The Good:
- Interesting and unique offerings
- Awesome location
- Things were generally prepared properly with quality ingredients

The Bad:
- Some dishes are on the smaller side and could use something to occupy the empty space
- Limited reservations, you'll have to lineup