Sherman's Food Adventures: August 2019

Liuyishou Hotpot (Richmond)

Once upon a time, I would regularly enjoy hot pot with a variety of meats and veggies with only one type of broth...  at home.  However, as the 2000's rounded the corner, people started to head out to hot pot joints for more variety and different broth options.  There were some AYCE spots as well as a few a al carte restaurants.  Fast forward to the present and the high-end hot pot experience is all the rage.  This has a lot to do with the invasion of chains from China as well as the tastes of many of the newer immigrants.  These places boast quality meats as well as sauce bars that could pass for a buffet station.  Mijune and I were recently invited to the Richmond location of Liuyishou to see how it stacks up to the likes of Haidilao and Dolar Shop.  I've been to the Kingsway location before and if that was any indication, this was going to be a real treat.

That is was, but we began by making some of their Sauces from the prominent bar at the front.  In addition to some little bites including marinated tripe, edamame, pickled daikon/carrots, roasted peanuts and fruit, we found a dessert soup.  Not shown in the picture, there was instructions as to what ingredients were needed to create specific sauces.  We were served 4 different Broths including their signature "beef butter" shaped as a cow (that melted as the pot began to boil).  This silky (fatty) broth was rich with flavour that was nutty, aromatic and spicy.  Next to it was a meaty house special pork bone soup that was cloudy from the bone marrow.  In another pot (not pictured), we had garden-fresh tomato as well as a wild mixed mushroom broth.

Onto the food, it was a real feast including Liu's Beef & Lamb Platter (presented as a wood ring around the hot pot) that included freshly sliced-to-order meat.  These were super tender with a balanced amount of fat.  This was a fantastic value in my opinion for $19.95, not to mention the majestic visual presentation.  That was good, but the Deluxe Meat Platter was all about quality, not quantity as it featured supreme marbled Wagyu beef, Wagyu beef cubes, Angus beef and beef tongue.  Naturally, there is only one way to describe lightly cooked thin slices of Wagyu beef - heavenly and buttery.  No chewing required (okay, maybe a bit).  The cubes needed a bit more chewing, but only slightly where it gave a meatier texture.  Even though we had Wagyu on the platter, the Angus beef was still super tender.  The same couldn't be said about the tongue, but that was to be expected when it wasn't braised first (it was cooked from raw).

Featuring a good amount of spot prawns, the Seafood Platter also sported sea cucumber innards, oysters, scallops, baby cuttlefish and imitation crab stick.  Normally, there would be sole filet rather than the crab stick, but I'm guessing they were either out of sole or it wasn't fresh enough to serve.  No matter, the rest of the items were fresh and cooked up nicely, especially the gwei fa bong (sea cucumber innards) where there was a sweet snap.  Made-to-order, the Hand Made Meatball Platter included cuttlefish, pork, beef and shrimp.  These were airy and light with a rebound texture.  They were not overseasoned, so that the natural flavours really came through.  Presented as a flower, the Duck Gizzards were chewy in a good way.  It exhibited the classic firm rebound texture.

Also on the table, we found Fish Tofu, 3-Second Bean Curd Skin, Veggie Platter and Braised Tripe.  Not sure if they made their fish tofu or not, but it was light with a bounce and plenty of sweetness.  The 3-second bean curd skin was soft with a light chew and yes, cook it for only 3 seconds.  The veggies included spinach, lettuce, crown daisy, napa cabbage, enoki, shiitake, crab and oyster mushroom.  We were served a cooked tripe dish which was reminiscent of dim sum.  We didn't end there as we also had Argentine Red Shrimp, Kung Fu Sliced Potato, House Special Beef Tripe and Fried Chinese Donut with Shrimp Paste.  Although the red shimp would've been previously frozen, it was super sweet and still maintained a meaty texture.  I found the Chinese donut to be interesting where the donut got rather soggy while the shrimp paste was sweet and bouncy.  Believe this or not, but we actually had a few more plates of food that I didn't even get a chance to mention here.  This visit to the Richmond location reinforces my opinion that Liuyishou as one of the better a la carte hot pot restaurants in town.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- High food quality
- Fair pricing
- Attentive service (as observed on previous visits)

The Bad:
- Their locations are generally smaller than the competitors so tables are at a premium


Terroir Kitchen

When it still existed, La Regalade could be classified as a hidden gem in West Van, albeit an expensive one.  However, it was worth it due to the large portions of rustic French cuisine.  Now in its place, there is something very much different in Terroir Kitchen. Gone is the cramped seating and boisterous room.  We now find a finer dining experience with well-spaced tables and a serene environment.  Furthermore, the cuisine reflects that with precision and refinement.  Mijune and I decided to check the tasting menu out right after our dinner at Water Street Cafe.  Yes, she is truly a bad influence.  Now back to the gym...

Our meal started with a Seared Scallop atop boudin noir, minted pea puree and flaked pastry.  If perfection is a real thing, than this first bite was it.  The scallop couldn't have been seared any more evenly as it was nutty and sweet while the centre was buttery soft.  Not to be outdone, the accompaniments were stellar including the earthy boudin and the sweet pea puree.  I could've eaten 10 more of these easily (Mijune could do 20 because she is Mijune).  The Charred Octopus was nearly as good.  It was smoky with a light crust giving way to tenderness with a light resistance.  I felt the octopus was a bit over-salted though.  Underneath, there was potato and orange salad, green olives and N'duja salami.  Seeing how the octopus was already salty, it didn't help that the olives and salami also added more punch.  Despite this, this was still very tasty.

Going in a different direction we had the Mushroom Risotto.  This was a bit perplexing to me as it resembled a cream of mushroom soup with rice more than a risotto.  I'm not sure if it was the chef's intention to have it that saucy, but in the end, the rice was still al dente.  Flavours were good too with plenty of woodsiness from the morels and a touch of tang to go with it as well as cheesiness (from the grana padano).  Even though I gushed about the scallop, the best dish hands down was the Branzino with dungeness crab, pea shoots, squash and broth.  First off, the fish was absolutely the star with crispy well-seasoned skin while being tender and flaky.  Second best thing on the plate was the impactful broth that was full of punch that was a balance of all flavours except for spice.  The dish looked light and indeed it was, yet at the same time, exuding very powerful flavours.

Moving away from seafood, we had the Grilled 45-day Aged Striploin with smashed fingerling potatoes and red wine jus.  Prepared medium-rare and properly rested, there was not much to complain about with the steak.  It was meaty, nutty, juicy and tender.  Surprisingly, I equally loved the meaty potatoes underneath.  For dessert, we were served a platter consisting of Chocolate Pavé, Pot de Crème, Chateau de Bourgogne Cheese with cassis poached pear and burnt almond biscotti.  Okay, the best thing on the board was the pot de crème as it was balanced and super silky.  Loved the cocoa nibs on top.  Normally, I'm not much a cheese person for dessert, but this was so creamy and satisfying, we actually got some grilled bread to eat it with!  Finally, the chocolate pavé was rich and not overly sweet while exhibiting an appealing bitter aftertaste.  As you can see, the meal was pretty delicious with some extraordinary highlights.  Sure, the risotto was a bit soupy, but everything else was impressive.  Nice little spot out in West Van.

The Good:
- Almost everything was prepared properly
- Impactful flavours
- Spacious seating

The Bad:
- Downtown pricing in West Van
- Risotto was too soupy

Joyful Seafood Restaurant (Dinner)

Here we are again visiting the same Chinese restaurant within the same month (Joyful in this case).  Why?  If you follow this blog, you will know I like to do this because Dim Sum and dinner can be two completely different animals.  One may be better than the other while the optimum is that both are equally good.  I guess we don't really want to bother with places that have neither!  One thing that is pretty evident about the place is their relatively good service compared to many other Chinese restaurants.  Let's not even try to remember the long gone Po King that used to reside here several restaurants ago!  We ended up getting a set meal and adding an extra dish.

Starting off, we had the Combo Plate of marinated jellyfish and fried pork chops.  More tender than chewy, the jellyfish still had a minor snap texture.  I would've liked it a bit more firm, but it was fine nonetheless.  It was lightly dressed with the usual sesame oil, white pepper, soy and chili flakes.  I found that the flavour was on the milder side.  As for the pork chops, they resembled the Taiwanese version due to the use of red fermented tofu as the main flavouring agent.  Hence, there was an aromatic fermented saltiness.  I thought the pork itself could've been crispier.  We ended up getting the Peking Duck and we loved how it was carved table side.  This ensured that we were getting the entire duck.  The skin was crispy and in an appealing hue.  The layer of fat wasn't too thick while the meat was tender.  Best of all, the crepes were paper thin.

Majestically plated, in a bamboo steamer lined with lotus leaves, the Lobster with Sticky Rice was really good.  Was it better than the popular version served at Ho Yuen Kee or the equally impressive one at Shoom?  I would say pretty close but different.  The lobster was of a good size and prepared perfectly with bouncy sweet meat.  The sauce was paler but still full of briny sweet saltiness.  Unlike some other spots, the wok-fried sticky rice was mostly sticky rice.  Some places blend too much long grain rice into it.  The second course of the Peking duck was the Duck Lettuce Wrap.  This was full of duck meat with crunchy vegetables.  There was more than enough caramelization and seasoning.  We liked how they trimmed the iceberg lettuce into big pieces that wasn't soaking wet with water.

Our vegetable dish was the Water Spinach with Beef wok fried in fermented tofu and garlic.  There was plenty of sliced beef in the mix, but they ranged from chewy to tender.  I think they didn't tenderize it evenly.  I also thought there could've been more fermented tofu as the flavour was somewhat weak.  On the other hand, there was plenty of chilis which created quite the kick.  The spinach itself was prepared nicely where the stalks were still crunchy while the leaves were cooked through.  For the kiddies, they wanted the Stir-Fried Shrimp and Eggs.  As you can see, there was a bevy of shrimp in the dish.  They were cooked just enough where there was a meaty snap.  As for the eggs, most of it was still silky, however, so parts were overdone.  In general, the meal was a bit hit and miss. 

We came back for another visit shortly after and let's just say the food was good, but the overall experience was not.  More on that later.  We ended up having the Peking duck again as well as lobster.  New dishes included the Fish Maw & Crab Meat Soup.  This was okay with a mild broth and plenty of fish maw.  Quality of the fish maw was mediocre being less silky and chewier.  There wasn't a whole lot of crab though.  When we were here for Dim Sum a few months ago, they were touting their Soy Sauce Chicken.  We tried it out for this dinner and it was pretty good.  I wouldn't put it on the same level as Sanbo because the chicken itself was less juicy (most likely because it was free-range).  In terms of appearance and flavour, it was on point with a salty-sweetness.  This skin was nicely gelatinized too.

Presented as a large portion, the Fried Bean Curd Skin with broccoli and enoki mushrooms was something that I enjoyed.  Normally, this dish is overloaded with sauce and hence, the bean curd skin becomes far too soft.  The bean curd skin here was still chewy and somewhat dry (which I like) since the sauce was thick enough to not drown it.  Underneath, the broccoli was crunchy and vibrant.  We also had the Preserved Plum Sauce Pork Chops which was also in a generous portion size.  The pork had been tenderized so that it was juicy and tender.  There was a bit too much sauce which made things a bit mushy though.  In terms of impact, the sauce was a good balance between sweet, tangy and salty.  Loved the bits of preserved plum as it added pops of tartness.

For dessert, we were pleased to see something a bit different in the Black Sticky Rice Red Bean Soup as well as Almond Cookies.  I liked how both weren't very sweet and in fact, maybe more sugar was needed.  Texturally, the black sticky rice was chewy and added body to a normally boring red bean soup.  Cookies were light and crumbly.  Okay, so from these 2 visits, the food was pretty good and well-portioned.  Service in general is decent, but the second visit was rather disappointing.  For some strange reason, all of our dishes came out within a 5-minute window where our table literally couldn't fit all of the food.  The complaints about this was met with indifference.  Personally, I think they should be careful about this since no one at the table was interested in experiencing this again despite the good food.

The Good:
- Large portions
- Proteins on point
- Service "can" be good

The Bad:
- Dishes come out too fast and out-of-order
- Staff did not address it properly


Siegel's Bagels

Sometimes, when we are busy trying to look for the next greatest thing, we tend to ignore the classics.  In this case, I was attempting to find something for late night eats after hockey.  Yes, there are still some places like Cuchillo that I haven't officially blogged about yet, but we wanted something more low-key.  Bam!  Why not the ol' Siegel's Bagels out in Kits?  For those who are unaware, this Vancouver institution has been serving up bagels for over a quarter of a century.  They also are open late which was perfect for our purposes.

Nothing particularly complicated about the place. It serves bagels and bagel sammies with a side of fries if you like.  Yes, there is also cream cheese spreads as well.  We didn't stray far from the regular menu though as Lionel Hutz had the Montreal Smoked Meat on a plain bagel with the aforementioned fries.  So compared to a slice of rye bread, the bagel ate more dense and heavy (similarly to the ones at Rosemary Rocksalt - and yes, they are related to Siegel's).  Still good though with a proper amount of meat to balance things out.  Milhouse went for the Reuben on a poppy seed bagel. With the addition of cheese and sauerkraut, the whole thing ate more moist and was multi-layered in flavour.  This was the better of the 2 in my opinion, especially with the poppy seed bagel.

For myself, I had the Club on a caraway seed bagel and by virtue of all the ingredients (Montreal smoked meat, turkey breast, lettuce, tomato, cheddar, mayo and mustard), this ate like an actual sandwich even though it was in a bagel.  As for the fries, they were hot and crispy.  Quite good for a bagel spot.  This was the perfect late night snack and really it would be great for anyone in need of a bite or have the munchies after leaving the bars and/or clubs in Downtown.

The Good:
- Classic spot for bagels in Vancity
- Surprisingly good fries
- Reasonably-priced

The Bad:
- Personally, a bagel sandwich can be rather heavy, especially late at night
- Limited parking in the lot when busy
- Seats are at a premium when busy

Food @ The Fair at PNE 2019

Every year, there are certain things to look forward to.  Things you mark down on the calendar with anticipation.  These may include birthdays (maybe for some people...), vacations, start of the hockey season and the PNE.  Yah, not everyone needs another Sham Wow or cares about the prize home (I do!), but many keep an eye out for the most unique fair food offerings.  So on a very rainy (like downpour) Wednesday, I set out on the annual media tour to seek out the different as well as the classics.  On a side note, if you want to visit the PNE without crowds and you don't mind rain...  I suggest you go when others stay away.

So what is the best thing to start with at 9:00am in the morning?  How about Butter Beer Soft Serve Ice Cream?  To give it more of a "magical" appearance, throw in some dry ice!  Beyond the visuals, the soft serve was creamy and rich (it was thick rather than icy or airy).  It was flavoured with butterscotch and as much as I was skeptical (I'm not a fan of butterscotch), it was purposefully sweet.  I ended up eating it all.  Moving onto something savoury in the Carnitas Tatchos.  I'm a big fan of tater tots, so that alone would've been tasty.  However, add in tender pulled pork and fresh salsa with the creamy kick of chipotle cream, you have the best of nachos with crunchy tots instead.

This was only 9:30am and we had already sampled ice cream and a dish that would be more suited for the inebriated.  So why not go down that road with the Tipsy Unicorn?  Served in a plastic glass that featured a separated section with dry ice, the very berry lemonade was combined with or without vodka (during Playland Nights only for the alcoholic version).  Yep, the presentation was gimmicky, but it was rather refreshing as it wasn't crazy sweet.  Add in the vodka and it would be just right.  We didn't end there as we also sampled the collaboration between the PNE and Parallel 49.  Aptly named Nefairious, this beer features only 4.5% alcohol.  The result was a lighter, more refreshing beverage.  I guess one would just drink more as a result... 

Something that sounded totally out-of-left field and honestly not-that-tasty, was the Ramen Corn Dog.  Well, I had to literally eat my words, I mean the corn dog because it was really good!  I've always enjoyed the corn dogs from Corn Dog King, so that should've been an indication (I shouldn't have judged so quickly!).  The fried ramen bits on the outside offered up a firm crunch that complimented the existing crispiness from the batter.  Once past the fluffiness underneath, we found melted cheese and the wiener.  Now the next food item, Pickle Pizza, did sound good.  I love pickles and this was tangy, sweet and cheesy.  Due to the tang, it was appetizing and really helped cut the fattiness of the cheese.  I found the crust to be crispy on the bottom while soft and chewy the rest of the way.

For the longest time, pork cracklings were "the" crunchy skin that was eaten on its own.  Now we see bags of crispy fish skin with salted egg yolk and also Fried Chicken Skin on more and more menus.  Now you can get yourself an order at the PNE as well.  The best part of fried chicken is even more so when it is deep fried individually.  It was uniformly crunchy with evenly rendered fat.  Add in some seasoning and you have the "it" chip.  The next place we visited was Freakk Fries with their Foot Long Fries in a variety of flavours.  Not only did these look impressively-sized...  They were also very good.  Crunchy from end-to-end, the inside of the fries were still plenty potatoey and not fried to a crisp.  The trick is to pick them up in the middle and break them into 2 or you will end up dropping them.  My favourite flavour was the butter chicken followed by the garlic parmesan.

With all these new food items, we also have to remember the classics including Jimmy's Lunch, that have been operating at the PNE for 90 years.  Still family-run, their claim to fame is their caramelized onions that goes into both their Burger and hot dog.  Simple with lettuce, tomato, American cheese and the aforementioned onions, the burger ate well.  The patty was moist and juicy while the onions added a smoky sweetness.  Solid after all these years.  Then we had a modern version at Rice Burger with chicken katsu and beef yakiniku sandwiched in between 2 seared discs of rice.  This is a good gluten-free option for those wanting a burger or sandwich of some type.  I found the spicy chicken my favourite as it was crispy where the batter stayed adhered to the tender and moist chicken.  The rice was obviously denser than a bun, but a good carb alternative.

After the tour, I decided to go for 2 of the most popular items at the fair including Gator BBQ with their Vegetarian's Nightmare.  This consisted of half-rack of pork ribs, beef brisket, pulled pork, beans and potato.  For me, this is one of the better values at the PNE for $32.00.  It easily feeds 3 people, maybe more (especially if you ate the aforementioned items already!).  Lastly and most importantly, I ended off with something sweet in the form of Mini-Donuts at Those Little Donuts.  A PNE classic (in fact, I worked there before!) with warm sugar-cinnamon donuts made before your eyes by those little machines.  So there you go, this is just a small taste of what is available at the PNE this year.  Enjoy the eats and maybe you can win a house or win a car...

*Most items were complimentary*

The Good:
- Less shock items this year
- They might look gimmicky, but they were good
- Classics are still a good bet

The Bad:
- Of course with any fairs, pricing isn't cheap
- Hunky Bill passed.  Go have some perogies in his honour...


Yum Sweet Shop

For such a big city, Vancouver is pretty lacking when it comes to ice cream parlours.  I'm not talking about spots such as Earnest and Rain or Shine.  These fit into the "modern" category where the classic banana split does not exist.  Other than some restaurants (like DQ) and Glenburn in Burnaby, we don't see the ol' fashion ice cream shop with counter seating.  Of course at this point, I'm going to introduce a new spot on Main Street called Yum Sweet Shop.  It combines the charm of a candy store (think Sweet Factory) with an ol' skool ice cream parlour.  

To get a true feel of their ice cream selection, we got a triple scoop to start in a colourful (and sweet) waffle cone.  From top to bottom, we had Pecan Caramel Crunch, Creamsicle and Grape Float.  The common theme amongst these flavours was the sweetness level, it was pretty high.  Compared to say, Elephant Garden Creamery, the sweetness was more dominant than the actual flavours.  I know this is subjective where some ice cream lovers want it sweet.  Texturally, the pecan caramel crunch was creamy and rich. This was the sweetest of the 3 and that was to be expected due to the bursts of caramel and the crunch.  Of course, the 2 fruitier flavours were sherberts and hence were lighter.  I liked the creamsicle the best since it reminded me of the classic childhood treat.  To pile on the sugar, the crunchy waffle cone was aromatic and yes, sweet.

Remember the aforementioned Banana Split?  Well, we ended up getting it with 3 different flavours including Belgian Hazelnut Chocolate, New York Cheesecake and S'mores.  First off, I thought the banana was the right ripeness being firm and somewhat neutral tasting (didn't interfere with ice cream).  I liked the hazelnut chocolate as it was balanced and nutty.  Cheesecake was creamy and of course sweet, but it was cheesy.  S'mores was sweet like the rest, but especially so due to the ingredients.  We also got an Ice Cream Sandwich featuring chocolate chip cookies, salted caramel ice cream, caramel sauce and milk chocolate.  Yep, this was pretty sweet too, but the salted caramel was salty enough to provide some variation.  This was pretty firm and melted slowly.  Probably better if it sat for a bit first.  Overall, I thought Yum was a cute little shop that is definitely a kiddie heaven.  For more refined tastes, it could be a bit too sweet where the flavours are not as defined.

The Good:
- Lots of candy
- Well done on the decor and feel
- Lots of options on the menu

The Bad:
- Ice cream could be a little less sweet and more focused on the individual flavours

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