Sherman's Food Adventures: August 2019

Black Market Supper Club

Okay, we've seen this all before...  Swallow's Tail and NFA (No Fixed Address) were some of the earliest supper clubs in the Lower Mainland where diners would meet at a location (could be a residential address) for a meal prepared by a chef.  Usually, a reasonable price would be paid and often, it was BYOB.  The premise also afforded the opportunity for strangers to socialize over good food and drink.  Well, I haven't been to one recently, but an invite to the French Laundry-inspired menu from Black Market Supper Club got me intrigued.  Viv and I made our way out to the location (which would be in South Surrey) and met up with old friends (Joyce and David) and also some new ones.

At first glance, the Charcoal & Dutch Cheese Gougères looked like hot rocks that were ready to cook something.  Nice deception, yet at the same time, utterly delicious.  They were cheesy and light while amped further by the 3 butter options served on tongue depressors.  From top to bottom, we had matre'd, burnt onion brown butter and everything bagel.  My favourite was the brown butter as it was nutty, aromatic and sweet from the onion.  Next up, we were served the Truffle Custard presented in an egg with black truffle ragout.  This was luxuriously silky and truffly with on point seasoning.  The only thing that could've been better was the viscosity as it was on the thinner side.

The absolute best dish of the meal in my opinion was the Lobster Pancake stuffed with marscapone, lobster, shrimp and chives.  The delicate crepe had a great mouth feel and was beautifully aromatic from the chives.  Lobster was perfectly tender with an appealing rebound.  The brown butter and carrot puree added a sweet nuttiness that didn't overwhelm the rest of the dish.  Onto our last dish before dessert, we had the Yabba Dabba Do consisting of braised shortrib, Wagyu beef, roasted potato with bone marrow and chanterelles.  Nice take on Thomas Keller's dish as the Wagyu literally melted-in-my-mouth.  Loved how the bone marrow provided the fattiness needed for the firm potato.  Bordelaise sauce was on point being meaty and full of umaminess.

For dessert, we were served the classic Chocolate Velouté sitting atop cinnamon ice cream and chocolate sauce.  In terms of impact, the chocolate really came through and was tempered by the cold ice cream with a hint of cinnamon.  I would've liked to see the "cookie" itself to be softer, but it was fine nonetheless.  In general, the experience as a whole was a fun and tasty adventure where we got to meet new friends over delicious food.  A good value at $65.00 IMO.

*All food was complimentary, wine was BYOB*

The Good:
- Generally solid execution and impressive considering the kitchen limitations
- Enough food to be full
- Fun social event

The Bad:
- Random locations not known until a few days before, so be prepared to drive or taxi

Black Market Supper Club

Glowbal's Secret Chef's Table

Generally, food quality and execution are pretty much the most important parts of a meal.  it is true that ambiance and service contribute greatly to the experience as well.  Now if we can get all those in one package, that would be an ideal situation.  However, it is not really all that hard to attain as one could merely plop a fortune on a destination restaurant for instance.  Now if you aren't up to spending that kind of cash in addition to traveling to the destination, there is something unique in our own city.  I was recently invited to Glowbal's Secret Chef's Table which is essentially a chef's private table in the downstairs kitchen at Glowbal.

Before we descended the stairs to the secret private table, we met in the lounge area where we sipped on martinis and were presented with some appies in the form of Beef Tartare as well as Oysters on the half shell.  Presented as a canapé, the beef tartare was a nice little bite featuring buttery beef dressed with enough silky egg and tangy whole grain mustard for effect.  The little dollop of horseradish aioli provided some creamy bite.  As for the oysters, they were classically accompanied by a cucumber tomato mignonette.  This was simple and appetizing that left us ready for the main event.  This was a nice way to socialize in the beautiful room at Glowbal (which is what they are known for).

Once seated, we served our first dish consisting of Scallop & Smoked Sablefish Crudo with lime caviar, ginger emulsion and watercress foam.  Both the scallop and sablefish were buttery soft and sweet (the scallop more so).  Only lightly smoky, the sablefish a bit meatier than the tender scallop.  The pops of acidity from the lime caviar kept things bright while the ginger emulsion added another layer of bite.  Providing the necessary texture, we found baby cauliflower strewn throughout.  Next, we had the Cured Arctic Char with mandarin pudding, shiso bavarois and cucumber gelée.  Also buttery, yet firmer than the crudo, the arctic char was flavourful on its own.  However, the shiso bavarois was intensely herbal and added a unique accent.  Loved the pops of brininess from the roe on top.

Featuring delicious components, the Lobster Ravioli sat atop a salsify and lobster puree.  This paired beautifully with the al dente pasta where the creaminess of the sauce was aromatic.  Meaty lobster tail meat sat the left of the pasta where it rested on peas and fava beans.  I would've liked to see more plump peas here as the firmness detracted from the lobster.  On the right, we found a perfectly prepared and seared piece of foie gras.  It propped up a fried zucchini blossom stuff with lobster and chives.  This was delicately crispy with a filling that was sweet and had an appealing rebound texture.  From here, we witnessed first-hand the preparation of the Plum & Champagne Granita with lemon balm.  Plenty of dry ice action lead to a tangy and refreshing palate-cleanser.

After our palate-cleanser, we moved onto something meatier in the Seared Japanese Wagyu (yes it was A5!).  To say this was sinfully delicious would be an understatement.  Seared just enough to activate the fats (so it wouldn't be chewy), the beef was tender and literally melted-in-my-mouth.  It was properly seasoned, but the side of black truffle croquette amped up the umaminess.  Completing the dish was smoked purple potato and compressed honeydew.  More meat lay ahead with the Smoked Pancetta-wrapped Lamb Loin.  Spot-on execution once again being medium-rare with crispy pancetta on the outside (and it remarkably stayed adhered to the meat).  We also found a fall-apart tender lamb cheek and a crispy lamb rack on the plate.  I found the bell pepper succo flavourful enough to provide both moisture and sweetness.

Trying to hit all of the red meats, we had the Venison Loin with beet & blueberry crumbs, fennel purée, roasted date and red currant foam.  Beyond the perfectly cooked venison which was moist and tender, the roasted date was the second best thing on the plate.  It was so intensely sweet and sticky, the level of impact was substantial.  Lightly sweet and earthy, the crumbs were a nice compliment to the venison and the sticky date.  Onto dessert, we were presented with the Jivara Chocolate Mousse with feuilletine, caramel and gold.  Stunningly plated, the chocolate mousse was contained within the chocolate sphere.  It was creamy and purposefully sweet while the feuilletine provided textural crispiness.  This was a fine way to end an amazing meal, but we weren't really done.

To officially end things off, 2 plates of Petit Fours were set onto the table.  As if we needed any more food!  My favourite was the chocolate truffles as they were rich with an appealing bitterness.  Now this was all fine and dandy, but the food was only a portion of the experience.  Sitting in the kitchen having a private 8-course tasting menu can only be experienced first-hand and words don't do it justice.  It is very nice to see that Glowbal is capable of such a refined and well-executed menu.  There was no pricing available at the time of this blog post, but I am curious how much this one-of-a-kind experience will set one back.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Unique experience
- On point execution
- Delicious

The Bad:
- How come these dishes can't be offered on the regular menu?  They are truly good!
- Not sure how much this will cost?




Havana

I remember the first time I blogged about Havana out on Commercial Drive.  I remarked that, although their Cubano was tasty, it was not actually a Cubano.  Rather, it was a sandwich that resembled a burger which contained some of the ingredients of a Cubano.  As you can ascertain, authenticity was not a thing at old Havana.  I returned many years later and they had changed things up.  They added a theatre and their food was remarkably different.  Now, they have been taken over by the group that runs Postmark Brewing, Belgard Kitchen, and Vancouver Urban Winery.  We recently visited the place to see whether the change was a good one or not.

They now sport a more Latin tapas-themed menu and as such, we had to get the Patatas Bravas with garlic aioli and bravas sauce.  In terms of taste, this dish was on point with the smoky paprika really coming though while tempered by the creamy and aromatic aioli.  However, the cubes of fried potatoes were far too dense and firm.  They were underdone and not very crispy.  Fortunately, the next dish was remarkably better in the Avocado Tostones featuring twice-fried plantains, cotija cheese and pico de gallo. Although a touch soft from the wet ingredients on top, the plantains were mostly crispy and a bit nutty.  Ingredients were super fresh and light which meant this was a pleasant little bite.

Onto the possibly the best dish of the bunch was the Mussels Espana sporting 1lb of Salt Spring Island mussels, Two Rivers chorizo, cohiba sauce, white wine, tomato and grilled sourdough.  Beyond the buttery and extremely briny mussels, the broth was robust and zesty.  There was a nice spice that was balanced by an appealing tanginess.  Loved the chorizo as it not only added a meatiness, it was also aromatic.  We also got one of their flatbreads with the Porchetta.  There wasn't anything necessarily wrong with this dish as it featured a crispy crust with fairly nice leoparding.  It was nutty and chewy.  However, the combination of white cheddar, banana, mojo onions and cracklin was fairly flat.  There was no pop.  This could've used some form of spice or tang to bring it to life.

Okay, let's get the Cubano with porchetta, honey ham, swiss cheese, dill pickles and yellow mustard on a house Cuban bun.  Was it better than the original they had here?  Definitely.  This was pressed with a crunchy buttery exterior giving way to melty cheese and the saltiness of the ham and pickles.  Was it better than the ones I've had in Miami?  No, but this was pretty good for Vancity.  Couldn't say the same for the fries as they were just as dense as the patatas bravas.  Lastly, we got the Paella Negra with squid ink, prawns, mussels, chorizo, peas and sofrito.  Although lacking a rice crust, the paella was okay.  The texture of the rice was good being chewy.  It was fairly well-seasoned with some brininess.  Seafood was well-executed.  Overall, we thought the food at Havana was hit and miss.  A little more refinement is needed to bring the food up to the location and ambiance of the place.

The Good:
- Great patio
- Great location
- Good vibe

The Bad:
- Food is hit and miss

Hong Kong Flavor

For all the Chinese restaurants we have in the Lower Mainland, it is really surprising that there aren't that many Hong Kong-style cafes.  Yes, we have a decent selection, but if you really think about it, they are poorly represented when looking at the ratio compared to say, Dim Sum joints.  So whenever we find a new one opening up, it usually gets slammed in terms of people wanting to check it out.  One of the newest is Hong Kong Flavor out in an area of Richmond not known for these types of spots.  I checked it out recently with Mijune and came back again with my family.

Since eating with Mijune is a sport, we ended up ordering 4 items with 3 of them including choice of soup and beverage.  We tried the Cream of Mushroom, Chinese Carrot Soup and Borscht.  These were pretty typical with the cream soup being thickened rather than using much cream.  It was still tasty though being balanced.  The Chinese soup was a bit sweet from the root veggies and mildly seasoned.  I found the borscht to be tangy and sweet.  The most impressive dish visually was the 3-Item Combo consisting of ox tongue, chicken steak and baked half lobster with cheese.  Both the ox tongue and lobster carried a surcharge that bumped the price up quite a bit.  I thought the chicken was juicy and the tongue was tender.  The lobster was a bit overdone, but still bouncy with plenty of cheese.

We ended up with 2 classics in the Baked Spaghetti Bolognese and Baked Pork Chop Rice.  Although a bit on the sweeter side, the spaghetti was pretty good.  I found the pasta to be not mushy (like many other HK-style cafes) and in fact almost al dente.  There was more than enough meat sauce for the amount of noodles as well as melted cheese.  Even though the sauce was sweet, there was enough savoury elements and a light tang to create layers of flavour.  As for the pork chop rice, the sauce was also sweet, but at the same time, the fresh tomatoes provided tang.  Underneath the sauce, there was a large pork chop that was lean and tender.  It was coated with just enough panko for a bit of crunch.  Once again, there was plenty of sauce for both the pork chop and the fried rice.

It was suggested we give the Hand-Shredded Chicken Salad a try and it was indeed an impressive dish visually.  All of the usual elements were there including crisp cucumber, crunchy pickled greens, wonton crisps and shredded free range gelatinized chicken.  So in terms of texture, it was on point and the sesame oil really came through.  However, there was far too much chicken skin for us to enjoy this dish.  Yes, the gelatinzed texture was good, but there wasn't enough meat.  On my second visit, we ordered the half Hainanese Chicken which basically made up for the lack of meat in the previous dish.  As such, I was able to enjoy the tender and lean free-range chicken meat.  It was beautifully gelatinized where the meat and skin was seasoned enough to stand on its own.  But of course, the ginger and green onion condiment is a must with the chicken.

Although we enjoyed the Ox-Tongue Spaghetti as it sported almost al dente noodles coated with a sweet and tangy sauce, the amount of ox tongue was meager.  Instead of serving it as full slices, they had small slivers of tongue mixed in the sauce with tomato and onion.  Therefore, it didn't feel like we were eating a ox tongue dish.  Furthermore, the portion size on this was not very large.  Normally, when we get Seafood Fried Noodles at any other Chinese restaurant, one would not find fresh clams, New Zealand mussels, imitation crab stick and enoki mushrooms.  Yes, this was very different, yet good at the same time.  The noodles were crunchy and nutty while not being greasy.  The combination of ingredients on top made for a different flavour profile and eating experience.

Lastly, the Curry Beef Brisket was pretty darn good.  The ample amount of thickened curry was flavourful without being too spicy.  It had the right viscosity and was perfect with white rice.  The best part of the dish was the super tender beef brisket.  It practically didn't need any effort to chew where it melted in our mouths.  One thing that could've been better was the potatoes as they were fried too much and had a weird texture.  From these 2 visits, it is clear that Hong Kong Flavor is a serious competitor amongst the selection of HK-style cafes in town.  Their lobster offerings are pretty impressive and their overall execution is spot on.

The Good:
- Generally tastes like it should with proper textures
- Decent service
- Proteins on point

The Bad:
- Portion sizes vary
- A bit sweet
- Some dishes could use more meat

VCC Chef's Table

A few years back, I had attended my first ever Chef's Table at VCC (Vancouver Community College) in Downtown Vancouver.  They offer a 5-course tasting menu (actually more like 8 with amuse, bread and mignardiese included) for a reasonable price of $55.00 (add $20.00 for wine pairings).  Under the guidance of Chef Hamid Salimian (who also designs the menu), culinary students prepare and serve the meal at JJ's Restaurant within VCC.  If you can imagine, this is a fabulous deal where one can experience fine dining without the fine dining prices.  Recently, I was invited to try the current menu and they didn't have to ask twice.

Beginning with a "Snack" as described on the menu, this amuse consisting of tomatoes, olive, croutons and liquid nitrogen parmesan, this small bite was full of acidity, tanginess and saltiness to whet our appetites.  Loved the brightness of the ingredients that certainly woke up our tastebuds.  Served table side, the orange and dill vinaigrette enveloped a thin blanket of rare Sturgeon, scallop, side stripe prawns and mussels.  This was another bright and refreshing dish where the essence of dill really came through as well as the citrus of the orange.  The thin piece of sturgeon soaked it all up and was super flavourful as a result.  Buttery and delicate, the sweet prawns and scallops were a real treat.

From there, we moved onto one of my favourite dishes of all time in Vancouver, Chef Hamid's famous Puffed Foie Gras with apricot puree, thyme crumble, almonds and honey sphere.  Airy, light and oh so creamy, the puffed foie can only be enjoyed through personal experience and cannot be justifiably described.  The crunch of the almonds provided textural contrast while the combination of honey (which was super aromatic) and tangy apricot puree added the necessary acidity and sweetness.  Coated with kalamata olive tapenade, the beautifully rare confit albacore Tuna was full-flavoured. Tempering the saltiness, the nutty romesco and basil puree added balance.  Loved the addition of the well-seasoned and runny quail's egg as well as the crispy potato skin.  Topping it all off was grilled artichoke.

As an interlude of sorts, we had a Bread course consisting of mini-baguette, charcoal brioche and crunchy flatbread served with yogurt butter.  As simple as this was, the breads were fantastic.  The exterior of the baguette was appealingly chewy and nutty.  Brioche was soft and airy while the flatbread was nicely toasted being nutty and crunchy.  Butter was slightly tangy and nicely whipped.  Our favourite course of the night had to the Beef Tenderloin wrapped with a veal sweetbread farce and served with crispy potato cylinder filled with porcini foam.  The beef was perfectly medium-rare (closer to rare, which is what I prefer), buttery tender and well-seasoned by the farce. The red wine demi was silky with depth, nicely soaked up by the pieces of tenderloin.

Onto dessert, we were served a plate consisting of nitrogen milk Chocolate ice cream, chocolate "rocks" filled with mousse, dark chocolate bark, coffee crumble and vanilla pudding.  This was a pleasant end to a great meal with the creaminess of the ice cream complimented by the bitterness of the dark chocolate.  I loved how the rocks were not very sweet at all.  To officially end things off, we were presented with Mignardises consisting of a sparkle cookie, raspberry marshmallow and kalamansi jelly.  The warm cookie was so soft inside while firm on the outside.  We were surprised that the marshmallow was so tangy and natural-tasting, but we enjoyed it.  Finally, the kalamansi jelly packed a punch of tang and citrus with a bitter rind finish (which was good).  As you can imagine, this was a considerable amount of well-prepared and delicious food.  For $55.00, it is a steal.  I suggest you book your reservations before it is over.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Well-prepared
- Nicely designed progressive tasting menu
- Affordable

The Bad:
- As expected, the servers are students, they are bound to make mistakes.  Forgivable and who cares, especially for the price

Arike Restaurant & Cocktail Bar

We are pretty lucky living in Vancouver with the temperate climate (especially in Canada) and quality of life (some more than others, but that is another story altogether).  Sure, that has some impact on our house prices, which makes us less lucky (unless you are selling and leaving...).  Another huge plus about living in Vancity is the bounty of ethnic food which is generally reasonably-priced.  Sure, some are creeping up there, but compared to other parts of the world, it still isn't expensive.  One thing that is sorely missing is non-Asian ethnic eats.  So when I found out that Arike out on Davie Street was dishing out Western African-inspired cuisine, I rounded up Grace to help me try out their wares.

We began with the Fried Habanero Corn Fritters stuffed with confit garlic and salted tomato.  These fluffy little bites were pleasantly crispy (and not greasy).  Inside, the sweetness of the corn came through as well as a touch of spice.  Little bursts of tang were afforded by the tomato.  As much as the Cassava Fries looked plenty pale, they were actually uniformly crunchy on the outside.  They were lightly salted and were tasty on their own.  However, the hot and sweet tomato dip was in-your-face tasty.  It combined tang, sweetness and saltiness into one bite.  Not to be outdone, the creamy cashew garlic mayo brought balance.

Since it was super thin, we were initially afraid that the Grilled Suya Beef Strip Loin would be dry and chewy.  This was completely not the case as it was moist, buttery and tender.  The meat itself was seasoned enough that it was nutty and aromatic.  However, the caramelized yogurt didn't hurt either as it was sweet and creamy.  The hits kept coming with the Spiced Goat Dumplings with sweet chili oil, aerated herb yogurt and fried onion.  I thought the dumpling wrapper was excellent being both delicate and al dente at the same time.  Wonderful mouthfeel and chew that gave way to a smooth and spiced goat filling.  Yes, the sweet chili oil was not only the focal point of the dish, it added complexity.

The Pulled Oxtail and Cured Pork Belly Flat Bread took awhile to come out, but it was certainly worth the wait.  Crunchy and with even leoparding, the crust was nutty and aromatic.  On top, the combination of meats provided a robustness while the cured tomato added bursts of tanginess.  This was complimented by the intense sweetness of the caramelized onions and the heat from the pickled habaneros.  For dessert, we really enjoyed the fluffy Pof Pofs.  They resembled Chinese egg puffs in texture with a delicately crispy exterior.  These were dressed with ginger honey and cinnamon sugar.  Yes, they were sweet, but that was the point.  I'm pretty sure you can feel my enthusiasm about the place.  I thought the food was tasty and unique.  Not sure why it isn't any busier.  Probably the location isn't that obvious from street level.  I encourage you to try it though!

The Good:
- Unique dishes
- Defined layers of flavours (not muddled)
- Reasonable-pricing

The Bad:
- Location is hidden and dark
- Could go more hardcore with the African dishes