Sherman's Food Adventures: December 2019

Farina a Legna

If you can believe it, Viv has never been to Pizzeria Farina...  Yah, it's been around for quite some time, but she just hasn't had a chance to try it.  It's not like she doesn't like pizza and trust me, she's gotten her fair share of razzing from others about it.  Finally, when we had some time on a Friday night, she suggested we head out for dinner.  Well, since Farina a Legna had just opened on the North Shore, we ended up braving the wait to eat there.  To be honest, that wasn't even our first choice as we tried to go for the dinner service at Douce Diner on Friday nights.  Unfortunately, they weren't open and our backup plan was Farina!

Even though it was just the two of us, we tried to get a sense of the menu by trying a little of everything.  That began with the Polpette al Forno consisting of wood fired beef and pork meatballs in tomato sauce and parmigiano reggiano.  Light, loose and moist while still maintaining a meaty bite, these were able to ride the fine line between tender while not being fatty.  The tomato sauce was impactful with a pleasant tanginess while being well-seasoned bordering on salty (but not salty).  For our veggies, we got the Brussels Sprouts with bacon.  Typically, most restaurants fry the heck out of Brussels sprouts so that they are crispy and frankly not "Brussels sprouts" textured anymore.  These were definitely fried, but not enough to lose the natural texture of a firm sprout.  We enjoyed that, as well as the plethora of bacon.

The moment of truth arrived when Viv finally got to try a pizza!  We selected the Finocchiona with tomato sauce, fennel sausage, provolone, parmigiano reggiano, fresh basil and spicy peppers.  This was not lacking flavour as the spiciness really came through as well as the zestiness of the combined tangy tomato sauce and fennel sausage.  Although the crust didn't appeared to be charred much from the top and the edges, the bottom did exhibit leoparding.  Hence, the well-seasoned dough was nutty and crispy throughout.  Viv really enjoyed it and the wondered why it took her so long to try it.  We chose one pasta from the menu in the Vongole with spaghetti, clams, parsley, lemon, calabrian chili and butter.  For people that really know me, this is my favourite pasta.  However, this version was not good.  It was as if they forgot to season the dish.  It was that bland - no saltiness and no brininess.  Furthermore, the spaghetti itself was past al dente.

For dessert, we went for the
Torta al Cioccolato or flourless chocolate cake with salt, EVOO and hazelnut cream.  This was a surprisingly awesome treat for a place that isn't really known for its desserts.  The cake was rich, chocolatey and just sweet enough.  The flakes of salt really amped the flavour as well as the drizzle of EVOO.  Light and nutty, the hazelnut cream added the necessary moisture to the relatively dense cake.  So if you look at the dessert and everything else except for the pasta, our meal was good.  The fact that there is a proper dining room compared to the other location (albeit with a low ceiling), is a bonus.



The Good:
- Solid pizzas as usual
- Expanded menu
- An actual dining room (compared to the other location)


The Bad:
- The one pasta we tried was meh
- Low ceiling means loud and a bit claustrophobic feel


Sing Yee

In Richmond, it goes without saying that you will find some of the best Chinese food (especially Cantonese) in the world.  I personally think the food in Hong Kong is also good but not any better than what we find right here in our backyard.  However, as we move forward, the trend is more expensive and more deluxe dining experiences.  Hence, the good ol' family Chinese (Cantonese) restaurant isn't as easy to find in Richmond as it once was.  Although, there is this small little place best known for its late night "da lang" menu, yet boasts a very comprehensive regular menu as well.  Sing Yee, located in Continental Shopping Centre, still offers their "woh choy" build-your-own multi-course dinners that are reasonably-priced.

We made the trek out there with the fam to order from that menu, including the addition of pre-ordered Peking Duck and Pork Patty & Salted Fish Clay Pot Rice.  We did start with the aforementioned Peking Duck and it was really good.  In a beautiful shade of dark mahogany red, the skin was crisp and light where it wasn't chewy at all.  There was some fat underneath, but not excessive.  I liked how they left a decent amount of meat with some of their cuts.  As for the crepes, they were medium-thick, yet still delicate and remained moist throughout.  The second course consisted of the usual Duck Lettuce Wrap.  Despite being rather pale in colour, there was still decent wok heat that there was caramelization and a nice smoky flavour.  There was plenty of tender chunks of duck as well as crunchy bits of vegetable.  I guess they could've used more dark soy to give a nicer appearance.

Moving onto the other dishes, we really enjoyed the Sweet & Sour Pork.  Yes, this poor dish doesn't get a lot of love due to its association with places like Manchu Wok and Flaming Wok, but rest assured, it is a legit dish and when done right, it is delicious.  Of course one of the few places that did it authentically with hawthorne was the retired Hoi Tong.  With that in mind, the version at Sing Yee was still solid where there was just enough sauce clinging to every morsel of tender (not refried) pork that had a slight crispy exterior.  Solid dish.  The same could be said about the Deep Fried Fish with cream of corn sauce.  Normally, the fish is tossed in the sauce, but we preferred keeping the fish crispy and got it on the side.  This was a huge portion of flaky basa with a thin crispy seasoned exterior.  We found the sauce to be watered-down a bit, but the dish still had enough flavour.

Sporting large butterflied prawns, the Satay Vermicelli Prawn Hot Pot was texturally sound.  The noodles were chewy, yet not clumpy while the prawns were fried just enough that the meat was still bouncy and sweet.  Interestingly, they didn't devein them despite going through the effort of butterflying them.  One thing we wished for was more satay as the dish was very mild and lacking in impact.  For our veggie dish, we got the simple Wok-Fried Pea Shoots with garlic.  Another great value as this consisted of a large mount of perfectly-prepared pea shoots.  They were cooked through while still crunchy and vibrant.  The ample wok heat ensured that the dish was not watery and the caramelized flavours came through.  They were easy on the grease too.

At the end of the meal, we were served the Pork Patty & Salted Fish Clay Pot Rice.  This is one of their signature items and it didn't disappoint.  On top of the chewy and nutty rice, we found a large pork patty that had the salted fish chopped into it.  As such, there was the unmistakeable briny saltiness interwoven with the natural sweetness of the processed pork.  It was manipulated enough as well consisting of just the right amount of fat to create a luxurious tender and delicate bounicess.  The meat was so moist, there was very little need to chew, yet at the same time, there was a certain meatiness that was retained.  There was also the requisite rice crust stuck to the clay pot.  A fitting end to a solid meal as we were satisfied while not paying an arm and a leg.  This was actually better than the meal we had at Jade a few weeks prior.

The Good:
- Reasonably-priced
- Food is solid
- Has the build-your-own dinner option 

The Bad:
- Very busy, service is fine, but hard to flag down
- Seating can be tight

Annora

Whenever Nikita and Bluebeard want to get together for eats, they are looking forward in escaping Langley and heading into Downtown for some fine eats.  Well...  I usually put a wrench into those plans as I look at it as an opportunity to explore the culinary scene in Langley!  Okay okay, I know that culinary and Langley are usually not spoken in the same sentence but bear with me here.  This suburb is one of the fastest-growing and as a result, it has increased amount of services including good places to eat.  One place that I had on my list is a little spot called Annora in Langley City.  We checked the place out before heading to Cineplex for a movie.

Viv and I decided to go for their 3-course meal deal at a reasonable $34.00.  For my starter, I chose the Homemade Gnocchi with crisp prosciutto, squash puree and herb cream.  This was a delightful appie where the delicate gnocchi was seared up beautifully with crispy caramelized sides and a fluffy interior.  Enveloped by the sweet and smooth squash puree and aromatic cream, this was a pleasant beginning to my meal.  For Viv, she had the Crisp Halibut Cake with cilantro creme and lime.  Our fears of an overcooked dry fish cake were completely alleviated when we found flaky and moist halibut encased in a crispy breading.  The dish was not overseasoned so that the fish could be the star.  A touch of acidity and the unmistakable cilantro essence was evident as well.

Bluebeard went ahead the ordered the featured appetizer in the Seared Scallops with parsnip puree and mustard greens.  Visually-stunning with 5 evenly browned scallops, they ate buttery and were just barely cooked through.  In addition to being adequately seasoned, the scallops themselves were fresh and sweet.  Much like my ghocchi with squash puree, the parsnip puree was smooth and mildly-seasoned where it helped add a creaminess to the dish.  For his main, he decided on the Ling Cod and Prawns with crispy risotto, coconut prawn bisque and cilantro.  Decent in portion size, the ling cod was beautifully prepared where it was flaky and soft.  Prawns were perfectly meaty with a sweet snap.  As expected, the bisque was creamy and aromatic.

Seemingly a similar dish, but not, Viv had the Seared Ling Cod and Scallops with crispy risotto, thai tomato broth and cilantro.  Prepared exactly like the previous dish, the ling cod was cooked through yet still flaky and delicate.  Scallops were perfectly seared like Bluebeard's appetizer being buttery and sweet.  Loved the tomato broth as it was rich and aromatic while the cilantro was not too intrusive.  Only blemish was the risotto cake as it was burnt on on side which created an unappealing bitter taste.  The rice was good though being cheesy and and al dente.  Nikita went for the Seafood Curry which sported a bevy of expertly-cooked seafood.  However, the Thai curry was far too rich and thick while lacking the classic Thai flavours.

For myself, I decided on the Braised Beef Shortrib on a bed of mashed potato with chanterelles and leek demi glace.  I felt that the portion size on this dish to be truly lacking, yet at the same time, the execution partially made up for it.  In addition to the fluffy mash and deliciously woodsy mushrooms, the slices of shortrib were superb.  Tender and almost melt-in-my-mouth delicate, the meat was also well-seasoned by the braise.  The demi-glace was impactful and had the slightest brightness of leek.

Onto dessert, I chose the Apple Crisp with oat crumb, white chocolate and semifredo.  Small and packed with flavour, this featured little nuggets of tender sweet apples.  I thought the addition of white chocolate added another layer of sharp sweetness that the dessert probably didn't need.  Despite this, the crunchy and aromatic oats brought the sweetness down a bit and overall, it was a pleasant dessert.  I much preferred Viv's Lemon Mille Feuille with puff pastry, lemon curd and blueberry compote.  Although more sweet than tart, the lemon curd provided enough brightness to keep things light.  Add in the crunchy puff pastry and mild blueberry compote and this was less sweet and lighter than the crisp.  In general, the food at Annora was solid and provides a different option than the myriad of expensive chain restaurants nearby.

The Good:
- Excellent service
- On point execution of proteins
- Reasonably-priced

The Bad:
- Some portions sizes could be a bit bigger
- Seating is really cozy

Pho Haven

For a cozy tight community such as Ladner, they do have some culinary gems despite little fanfare.  We have options such as Il Posto, Sapporo Kitchen and Taverna Gorgona that I would not hesitate to visit again if I'm in the area.  Recently, Boca Grande opened up a B&M shop offering up not only donuts, but Mexican food.  I made plans to meet up with Vandelay (yes, he lives!) but to our disappointment, not only were they out of donuts (they sell out really early), they were actually closed!  Well, that meant we had to go with Plan B where we made the short walk over to the newish Pho Haven (photo from their Facebook page).  This means that there are 2 Vietnamese restaurants in Ladner including Pho Saigon.

We didn't get too creative with our appetizers going for the good ol' Salad Roll as well as an order of their Fried Chicken Wings.   As you can see in the picture, the salad roll was pretty standard consisting of rice vermicelli noodles, sprouts, romaine lettuce and prawn.  With that being said, it was neatly constructed (not too tight nor loose) with fresh ingredients and an on point texture for the rice wrapper.  We were on the fence with the chicken wings though.  The meat itself was juicy and tender, but the skin was not crispy nor rendered enough.  Loved the glaze it was tossed in as it was briny from the fish sauce balanced off by sweetness.  Of course, the side of sweetened and spiced nuoc cham also kicked up the flavour quotient a notch.

Going for the standards, we had the Pho Dac Biet and also the Lemongrass Chicken with Rice.  Presented in a decent portion size, the pho was quite good.  The broth itself was clean and fairly subtle.  We could get some sweetness and faint hints of star anise.  Noodles were al dente and not clumpy while the meats were generally tender.  I thought the rare beef could've been just a slight bit more tender though.  Neatly plated, the lemongrass chicken was charred and caramelized.  It was juicy and full of flavour from the brine exhibiting a sweet briny saltiness.  Although it could be considered a small detail, the fried egg was not overdone, so the runny yolk could be enjoyed with the rice.  Overall, this was a pleasant meal served in a clean inviting dining space.  Owner was super nice and I would say the food is competitive with Pho Saigon down the street.

The Good:
- Solid eats
- Clean dining space
- Super nice people

The Bad:
- Wings could've been crispier
- Pho broth could be more impactful

Jade Seafood Restaurant

Sometimes, I completely forget about certain restaurants because I get distracted by the newest spots opening up all over town.  One of which happened to be Jade Seafood Restaurant in Richmond.  I mean I would drive by it all the time (when it was located on Restaurant road on Alexandra), but I would never actually stop and eat there.  It took a complete move to a different location on #3 Road near the Richmond Night Market to prompt me for a return visit.  It was for their Dim Sum service and I would have to say it was as good as I remembered.  This also encouraged me to come back for dinner as well, which I will discuss below.

We looked at their set meals but determined it would be too much food for us, so we went a la carte.  Just like at Dim Sum, we once again ordered the Dried Scallop & Vermicelli in clay pot. In addition to the ingredients in the description, it also included egg, sprouts, celery, dried shrimp, shiitake and cured sausage. Unlike the last time we had it, this was much drier, which meant that it was even more aromatic.  However, it was like they forgot an ingredient (possibly the sausage?) as the flavours were less apparent missing that cured saltiness.  On the table, there was a featured dish in the Red Wine Braised Angus Beef Ribs Hot Pot.  We weren't sure about this, but ultimately, it was pretty good.  I would say it had elements of HK-style cafe execution where the meat fell off the bone and was super tender.  Furthermore, the wine was not that apparent as the flavour profile was rather sweet (hence, the HK-style cafe reference).

Looking over their Chef's Recommendation section, we thought the Braised Portobello Mushrooms & Pea Tips with Truffle Sauce sounded good.  In terms of taste, we agreed it was nicely balanced with just enough truffle.  The pea tips were perfectly-prepared where it was tender while retaining a crunch.  The one issue we had was with the portobello mushrooms.  Coated with a thick layer of starch, it soaked up quite a bit of the moisture.  In turn, the resulting texture was gummy and off-putting.  Too bad since the rest of the dish was good.  The flop of the meal went to the Sweet & Sour Sakura Pork served in a half-pineapple.  This was clearly re-fried as the pork was too crunchy with no meat texture left.  What a way to waste Sakura Farms pork!  So disappointing as the sauce was balanced and just barely clinging onto each piece.  Loved the fresh pineapple chunks too.

Arriving a bit later, the Salt-Baked Chicken was fantastic.  Beyond the rendered and slightly crispy skin, we found tender and just salty-enough chicken meat.  In fact, even the breast meat was juicy.  Moreover, there was more than just the taste of salt as we got green onion, ginger and some sweetness to balance out the flavour profile.  This was probably the highlight of the meal.  Our last dish, Braised Halibut with Ginger and Green Onion took forever to arrive because they had left it off the bill.  Would've been nice for them to check if everything had arrived rather than us waiting foolishly for it.  Anyways, it was pretty good with flaky and moist chunks of halibut that had the definite taste of the aforementioned ingredients as well as classic Maggi sauce (goes so well with fried halibut).  The dish was a bit greasy though.

For dessert, we were treated to Almond Cookies and Glutinous Rice Rolls.  Since these were complimentary, we didn't have high expectations, but they turned out to be excellent.  This was especially true with the rolls as they were soft and featured a tender elasticity.  Inside, the custard was purposefully sweet.  Compared to the Dim Sum service we had prior, we felt the dinner lagged behind.  There were definite high points but also complete low ones too including the sweet & sour pork and the mushrooms.  Considering the price point, these mistakes shouldn't happen.  We had a more consistent meal at the more reasonably-priced Sing Yee a few weeks later.  Different class I know, but just food for thought.

The Good:
- Fairly attentive service except for the missing dish
- When they had hits, they were really good
- Spacious and comfortable seating

The Bad:
- For the price point and reputation, no dish should be bad
- Parking wasn't an issue since we ate early, but it can be

Dong Tai Xiang Shanghai Dim Sum

I'm sure this isn't a revelation to most people, but the increasing number of Mainland Chinese restaurant chains popping up all over the GVRD is becoming a regular occurrence.  Many of them involve a hot pot or something like that while others focus on Northern Chinese cuisine.  One spot that hasn't received much attention is Dong Tai Xiang Shanghai Dim Sum.  With locations in Shanghai and Macau, it specializes in pan-fried steamed dumplings rather than the usual Xiao Long Bao.  I paid a couple of visits to the place recently and this post is an amalgamation of both.

In addition to not featuring XLBs on their menu, the selection in general is pretty limited.  Their main focus is on their dumplings, wontons and noodles with a few side dishes.  I decided to go with the Shanghai-style Sauce Stirred Noodle with a side of Brasied Spareribs (looked more like a pork chop).  Topped with 2 pieces of Shanghainese bak choy, the noodles were appealingly chewy with just enough sauce for flavour.  It could've been more stronger tasting in my opinion, but it was still good being salty and sweet.  I really didn't like the pork chop as it was too soft from the braise and completely drenched in oil.  On the revisit, we had the Noodle Soup with Shanghai-style Sweet & Sour Pork Rib.  We found the soup to be fairly bland yet clean at the same time.  The noodles were a touch overdone which made this bowl fairly average at best.  Similar to the previous side dish, the spareribs were super greasy and the "sauce" was basically oil.  Not good.

Onto the wontons, on my initial visit, I decided to try the Fresh Shrimp & Meat Wonton Soup.  Similar to Cantonese-style wontons, this featured a delicate wrapper with pork and shrimp filling.  I thought these were actually quite good except that the wrapper was overdone and soggy.  The filling was meaty with a bounce and the shrimp had a snap.  Broth was mild, but I liked the julienned egg.  It provided a bit of umaminess and texture.  Now this was good, but the Shanghai-style Pork & Vegetable Wonton Soup was not.  Obviously this was a different style, but the thicker wrapper was far too dense and chewy.  These larger wontons ate heavy despite the tender meat centre.  Once again, the soup was lightly sweet and mild-tasting, but then again, that was the intention too.

Some of the other side dishes we tried included Sauce Egg, Deep Fried Shanghai Steamed Gluten and Braised Wheat Gluten & Dried Mushroom.  Unlike the meat side dishes, these were far less greasier (makes sense as there was no rendered fat from the meats).  Of the 3, I liked the deep fried steamed gluten as it had a good rebound texture in addition to be delicate.  I also enjoyed how it was balanced between salty and sweet.  As for the braised wheat gluten, it was too soft where the classic chewiness was not present.  Furthermore, the pieces could've been larger as they were too tiny.  This dish was also far too wet as there was a lot of residual sauce on the bottom.  It was also too sweet in my opinion.  Lastly, the sauce egg was pretty typical being overdone due to the being in the braising liquid after being fully cooked.  Flavours were not overly strong but enough savouriness for effect.

While looking at the menu, we thought the picture of the Spring Rolls looked appetizing, so we went by that and ordered it.  They were indeed golden and crunchy, but also very greasy.  Furthermore, the vegetable filling was very mealy and wet.  There was probably too much cabbage that had not been properly prepared (ie. not salted and then residual moisture squeezed out of it). Since the Pan-Fried Dumplings were made-to-order, they arrived last.  This was worth the wait as these dumplings were the best dish by far.  Sporting a thin layer of soft bun, the bottoms were fried up aggressively crispy.  Inside, the meat was tender, bouncy and naturally sweet.  We tried both the regular pork dumplings as well as the shrimp and pork.  I didn't think the shrimp was worth the extra costs as the regular ones were good already.  Overall, I thought the food at DTXSDS as average at best.  However, their pan-fried buns made up for everything else.

The Good:
- Those pan-fried buns
- Service was pretty good
- Low-key dining room

The Bad:
- Other dishes were average
- Expensive

Mink Chocolates & Cafe (South Surrey)

Fresh off a satisfying and extremely filling meal at Afghan Kitchen, we were debating whether to order dessert or not.  Whilst in discussion, I quickly did a search on my phone for nearby dessert options.  Unbeknownst to me, Mink Chocolates had opened up a location within The Shops at Morgan Crossing.  That was music to Girl Smiley's ears as she has been dying for something other than the usual dessert options (ie. fast food spots) in the area.  So after paying the bill, we made the short jaunt over for some chocolate treats.

The kids were most interested in the S'mores prepared table side.  I'm not sure how safe it was to do this, but the kids had a blast roasting the marshmallows and then squashing them into the supplied graham crackers.  The proverbial icing on the cake was the smooth 38% chocolate served on the side.  It was creamy and quite sweet, but that was what we were aiming for.  We did have to wait for a bit for the chocolate to warm up as well as the burner for the marshmallows.  For the adults, we opted for the Chocolate Fondue served with a variety of fruit and cubes of pound cake.  We decided on 70% dark chocolate and it was an excellent decision as it wasn't too sweet with an appealing bitter finish.  Once again, it took awhile for it to heat up.

That wasn't all that we got as we tried the both the Tutti Fruiti and Belgian Monkey Waffles.  If I had to choose, I personally enjoyed the tutti frutti more since I like lighter desserts.  The waffle itself was pretty good being crispy on the outside and slightly chewy on the inside.  We thought the amount of whipped cream was excessive and frankly messy to eat, but that could be rectified by a custom order.  Naturally, the drizzle of chocolate was probably the best part, especially the 70% in my opinion.  Since it was on the menu, we also had the Seasonal Fruit Parfait and well, it was a pretty much what we expected.  It wasn't bad, but nothing out-of-the-ordinary.  Good mix of fruit, oats, bananas and chocolate.  Again, we chose the 70% and it kept the sweetness level to a minimum.

Of course we couldn't get out of there without a Hot Chocolate.  We had both versions including the 38% and 70%.  My daughter insisted on the 70% and I completely agreed with her as the chocolate really came through with a pleasant bitterness at the end.  Sweetness was of course muted and it came with a little chocolate square for good measure.  Overall, Mink is a great addition to the area and no, they don't have the most outstanding desserts, yet there isn't much competition nearby.  Chez Christophe opened up shop nearby recently and they offer more refined options, but they aren't open as late though.

The Good:
- Something different for the area
- Lots of chocolate options
- Open late

The Bad:
- Desserts are not particularly creative, but decent for the area