Sherman's Food Adventures: 2020

The Lunch Lady

Okay, if you have ever followed the late Anthony Bourdain, you will know that he helped popularize a spot in Vietnam called The Lunch Lady.  Now, unless you were traveling abroad, there would be very little opportunity to try the place.  With the opening of the Vancouver location of The Lunch Lady, it has suddenly become accessible to people in North America.  Well, sorta because not everyone is traveling and even if you could, there are restrictions in place.  So I guess count ourselves lucky if we live in BC, specifically in the Greater Vancouver Area.  Grace and I decided to check the place out for lunch (after the initial hype died down a tad).

Even though the Bánh Tôm Chiên (Crispy Prawn Fritters) have been somewhat of a hit and miss for some people, we thought they were actually quite good.  I believe that initially they were too hard according to some, but for us, they were light and crispy.  The prawn in the middle was meaty with a snap.  Although they were put thoroughly through the deep-fryer, we didn't find them overly greasy.

One of the more interesting things we had was the Bò Né (Steak & Eggs) consisting of marinated filet of beef, 2 fried free range eggs, sautéed onions, house-made pâté, Laughing Cow cheese and french fries on a sizzling skillet with a bánh mì.  Yes, lots of things going on here, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.  Steak was perfectly medium-rare and super tender.  Loved dipping the crusty and airy bánh mì into the runny egg yolks with the provided soy dip.  Mind you, spreading the pate and cheese on it was plenty tasty too.

Onto more typical items, we had the Phở Bò sporting a 24-hour beef broth, brisket, rare beef and rice noodles.  We found the usual condiments on the side including mint.  I found the broth to be quite impactful being well-seasoned and meaty.  The meats were tender including the rare beef.  As for the noodles, there was a modest amount where it was al dente and not clumpy.  Overall, this was a fine bowl of pho, maybe not my favourite in town, but I have no issues with it.

In actuality, we were more impressed with the feature of the day, being the Mì Quảng with prawns, pork belly, quail egg, fresh rice noodles and full flavoured pork broth.  I thought the broth was even more impactful and complex than the beef.  There was a natural sweetness to go with the seafood as well as the ample seasoning.  Although the seafood was fine, the best part was the tender and buttery pork belly.

Our last dish was not the most interesting, but it was solid nonetheless.  The classic Cơm Gà featured the usual rice, fried egg and char grilled chicken thigh topped with pork crackling and scallion oil.  Let's just say the chicken was well-chared and well-brined.  It was juicy and full-flavoured with the smokiness from the grilling.  Much like the rest of the meal, this dish was good and it would be nit-picking to find a fault.  However, there are some high expectations due to the inherent hype.  Is it worth lining up for?  Maybe not, but the food is prepared properly.  I would be open to trying their dinner menu.

The Good:

- Properly prepared eats

- Decent service

- Some interesting items

The Bad:

- Worth lining up for?  Probably not

Takenaka

With the challenges that go with running a dine-in establishment these days due to Covid-19, it seems the ones that have outdoor dining as well as delivery/take-out options are best suited to survive.  In actuality, the restaurants that didn't have dine-in options to begin with didn't even have to change anything, such as food trucks and purely takeout operations.  That is why the new Takenaka food truck appears to have the right business model during these very strange times.  Offering restaurant-quality dishes (owner of Raisu has a stake in the truck) served out of a food truck (and commissary) for takeout, delivery and limited outdoor seating, this may be the way to do things at the moment.  Mijune and I recently visited the outfit and dined "Mijune-style". 

Starting light with a couple of salads and one item called Snow Crab on the Egg.  Pretty literal name, but it was essentially a boiled egg with snow crab and ikura on top.  Simple, but good with natural flavours and sweetness.  I enjoyed the Sozai Salad the most because there was chicken to go with the kale.  But the dressing was also very good being nutty and just sweet enough.  The Kawaii Salad with spicy beet dressing was a refreshing mix of kale, sunflower seeds and dried cranberries.  I thought the spice was mild, but that was fine as it probably wouldn't work for this salad if it was scorching hot.

The bulk of the menu is dedicated to maki sushi and we decided on several including Snow Crab Roll, House Roll, Unagi Roll and Steak Roll.  As you can clearly see, the rolls were large and stuffed full to the brim with ingredients rather than just rice.  On top of that, the quality of the ingredients was good as well as the preparation.  Of the 4, I thought the unagi roll had the best balance of flavour and texture.  However, the abundance of filling in the snow crab roll made for a luxurious experience.

Eating 4 rolls wasn't apparently enough for us, so we also had the slightly different Mayowill Roll which was essentially a house roll coated in tempura batter and deep-fried.  Even though the heat softened the rice a bit, the consistency of the sushi rice was still good being chewy and just moist enough. The light crunch from the batter gave some texture while the sweet tangy dip went well with the mild-tasting ingredients.

Off to some Temaki, we tried the Lobster, Uni and Bluefin.  These continued the trend of the maki sushi where they were stuffed full of quality ingredients.  All 3 were very good in their own ways.  The lobster was the most hearty with a tempura-fried small tail with real crab meat.  Really enjoyed the fresh sweetness of the uni that was further enhanced with snow crab, ikura and yuzu tobiko.  The bluefin had a beautiful sheen where it was accompanied by snow crab, scallops, ikura and yuzu tobiko.  Something along the same lines without the sushi rice, we found the Seafood Tartar servied with nori.  This was a good mix of fish with 2 tobiko and ikura.  Very simple and fresh.

Staying on the same theme, the Bara Charashi was a colourful mix of salmon and tuna with snow crab, scallops, tamago, ikura, 2 types of tobiko, radish sprouts, shiso-marinated kelp and cucumber.  Since the sushi rice was layered with more ingredients, the bites were balanced and there was actually more ingredients than rice itself.  Again, the fresh ingredients spoke for themselves as well as the properly-prepared rice.  Loved the addition of scallops and snow crab as it added another level of sweetness.  Lots of tobiko ensured pops of ocean brightness.

Still with the raw stuff, we had the Yuzu Tuna Tataki with with a ponzu jelly atop marinated seaweed.  As an aside, loved the plastic packaging they used as it paired well with the colourful food.  Once again, this was excellent with delicate tuna that was lightly seared evenly on all sides.  The ponzu jelly provided pops of saltiness to go with the bright tang of the yuzu.  Classic flavours that were both familiar and delicious.

For our 2 cooked items, we had the Ebi-Mayo as well as the Chicken Karaage.  Nothing amiss with these ones as the deep fry was even where the batter on the ebi was not too thick while crunchy.  It was served with a side of chili-mayo.  As for the chicken karaage, the outside was crispy and the inside was juicy and well-seasoned.  For me personally, I like the fact I can get ebi-mayo to go!

We weren't originally planning to order the Wagyu Shabu Shabu Udon with thinly sliced beef, radish sprouts, seasoned egg, yuzu zest, Sanuki udon and original udon broth.  However, it was suggested we try it.  Wow, this was excellent with strong impactful aroma and seasoning from the broth.  It was meaty and full of umami.  It was so effective that it seasoned the noodles with penetrating flavours.  The beef was so tender and buttery with full meatiness due to the fat content.  I highly recommend this dish.

In a custom to-go box, the Kaiseki Bento Box was as stunning as any take-out can get.  This needed to be pre-ordered. Taking a page from Raisu, this featured 9 different chef's omakase tapas including Saikyo miso grilled black cod, pickled zucchini and eggplant, chicken karaage, whelk with tobiko mayo, house roll, chicken salad, stewed pork belly, snow crab on egg and steak with wasabi sauce.  This could also be made into a combo with a half or full-sized chirashi bowl.

We also tried the Makunouchi Bento that sported some of the same items such as the egg, black cod, chicken salad, whelk, karaage and pickles.  However, the most obvious difference was the beautiful mini-seafood bara chirashi.  There was nothing mini about it as it was quite filling. Again, the best thing about the bento box was the fresh quality ingredients.  Yes, the boxes cost $30.00 and $26.00 respectively and despite being take-out, the food is restaurant-quality if not even better.

One of the most simple-looking items was the Almond Tofu with peach & orange jelly.   Don't let the appearances fool you as this was freakin' delicious.  Aromatic and just lightly sweet, the delicate tofu did its best pannacotta impersonation while topped with a naturally sweet and tangy fruit mixture.  An excellent finish to some pretty impressive looking and tasting food.  Takenaka is just the right food truck at the right time.  With all the Covid-19 concerns about eating within a restaurant, Takenaka offers up restaurant-quality food (just like Raisu) in a convenient take-out format complete with custom containers to match.  I would gladly eat this again.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:

- Fairly extensive menu

- Restaurant-quality eats

- Quality ingredients

The Bad:

- Not necessarily inexpensive for a food truck, but the food quality is that of a restaurant

Mrkt Haul

During these challenging times due to Covid-19, the way people do business has changed.  It is with no doubt that it has been difficult for B&M dine-in restaurants to adapt since their business model relies on customers visiting their dining room.  Furthermore, retail stores have been affected differently depending on what they are selling.  Some grocery stores haven't seen so much business in years (ie. Safeway).  So this brings me to the point of this post - adapting to the current business landscape.  There is a new platform called Mrkt Haul where local business can showcase their products so that people can order them online for pickup.  Featured vendors rotate every month with a variety of products.  Recently, I was given a preview of their September haul with an item from every vendor (ordering is open until Sept 13 for this month).

The most prominent item, due to its clear lid box, was the Mochi treats from Matcha & Cocoa.   These little mochi cupcakes came in matcha, cookies & cream, s'mores and coconut mango.  With a tender chewiness, the bite-sized mochis were also moist and sweet.  My personal favourite was the coconut mango due to the fruity aromatics.  I can see this as a scene- stealer if you bring them to a party.

Two boxed ready to heat and eat items consisted of a Vegan Lasagna from Conscious Food Creations and Chicken Inasal from Hapag Filipino Grill.  If you know me, I'm no vegan, but this lasagna was not bad.  Noodles were not overdone and the freshness of the veggies made it light and easy to eat.  As for the chicken inasal, it was good too.  The well-charred chicken was nicely brined hence the meat was tender and flavourful.  Underneath, there was annatto-garlic rice which was aromatic and nutty.

When I spotted the two bags of Nina's Pierogis, they looked much bigger than ones you would find at the supermarket.  They were completely overstuffed with filling, yet at the same time, sported a relatively thin dumpling skin.  This combination meant tender Pierogies with lots of flavourful and airy filling.  I enjoyed both flavours and found the butternut squash to be super impactful and sweet.  The cheddar and potato was very cheesy and soft in texture.

One of the most unassuming items in the haul was the Raspberry Rose Preserve from Le Meadows Pantry as it was full of fruit flavour with just the right amount of floral essence.  Loved the recycled Chopstick Cheeseboard from Chop Value as it was both beautiful and environmentally friendly.  I don't have a dog, but the Kettle Cod from Bob the Dog will be given to a friend with one!  Of course after eating all these items, one needs to wash up, and what better than a bar of Citrus Bomb Soap from the Poco Soap Co.  Eco-friendly and basically an appealingly smelling soap, we enjoyed using it.  On the topic of smelling nice, the Manang Mina Asiaben-Luisito from Kapé Phillipine Coffee was complex in flavour from the sweetness of peanut-brittle and mamon.  Lastly, there was a handy reusable ziplock Pouch from Happy Baby.

Something that looked and ate like popcorn wasn't popcorn at all.  Rather it was Popped Lotus Seeds by Sacred Foods.  Offered in 3 flavours, the lotus seeds were crunchy, nutty and well-seasoned.  I particularly enjoyed the spicy wasabi with the unmistakable kick.  Of course white cheddar is always a fan favourite and these ate like Smart Food.  The Himalayan salt was well-seasoned without be overly salty.  I could still taste the natural flavour of the lotus seed.

Continuing with snack food, the Goji Granola Bites from True Nosh were right up my alley.  One of my biggest complaints about any granola product is the amount of added sugar.  There was none of that here with this product as I could really taste the goji berries as well as the natural flavours of the granola.  I felt rather healthy eating them!

To be honest, one of the items that I was not looking forward in trying was the Velo City Veg from Coastie Craft Burgers.  Yes, I'm a meatatarian, so the mix of split pea, walnut and roasted beets didn't seem so enticing.  However, after forming the mix into patties and frying them up, I didn't mind them at all.  I found it to have the texture of firm refried beans with a natural sweetness.

I gotta say that the selection of Brownies from The Brownie Bakers was one of my favourites.  The brownie stack consisted one each of the classic with walnuts, salted pecan caramel, white chocolate peppermint and rocky road.  They were ooey gooey and purposefully sweet.  I actually preferred putting them in the fridge so they would firm up a bit.  I really enjoyed the salted pecan caramel with hits of salty sweetness and the crunch of the nuts.

Also at the top of my list was the Cream Dream Cookie from the Ooey Gooey Cookie Co.  It featured a chocolate chip cookie stuffed with cookies n’ cream chocolate and topped with even more cookies n’ cream chocolate & Oreo crumbs. If this sounds sweet to you, it sure was, but I didn't mind it since it was bursting with flavour as well as the cookie living up its ooey gooey name (10 secs in the microwave!).

I guess I left some of the desserts to the end (except for the mochis, as I dug into those right away) including the Mangonada from Crema Ice Cream.  Sporting Creamy mango sorbet with chamoy sauce.  Oh man, this was a flavour bomb with the natural sweetness of mango intermingling with the spice and tang of the chamoy.  Very refreshing and impactful at the same time.

To wash this all down, I gave the Blueberry Kombucha from Top Hat a try.  Normally, I don't drink kombucha, but the addition of blueberry really helped.  The vinegariness was nicely balanced by the sweetness of the fruit.  This was truly refreshing and was really good with the popped lotus seeds.  I gotta say that the items in this haul really helped open my eyes to some truly excellent locally-made products.  I would've never known about them otherwise.  With the Mrkt Haul platform, not only do I get to order these amazing products, there are new vendors featured every month.  Good time to support local in a very convenient manner as well.



*All items were complimentary*

Granville Island Delivery Co

Recently, I had visited Granville Island and although there were people shopping there, it was a whole lot less busy than it would've been during a normal July.  With a lack of international tourists, Granville Island and other tourist attractions are in a bit of a bind.  This is where we, the locals, can help the various businesses in and around the market.  Despite being a tourist spot, there are many gems on the island that many foodies swear by.  So when I was offered a basket of goods from the island from Granville Island Delivery Co, I was more than game.

Some of the best goodies were represented in the basket including possibly one of the most popular in Lee's Donuts.  We got a mix including sprinkles, chocolate glaze, cinnamon, jelly-finned and of course classic honey-dipped.  Yes, there are newer spots in town, but the soft yeast donuts from Lee's are excellent, especially served warm from the fryer.  Skip the lineup (which is long these days) and order some for delivery.

Another spot in the market, that I've had the pleasure of trying in the past, is Chocolatas.  Silky and smooth chocolates that are gorgeous to the eye and a multitude of tastes to the tongue.  In this box, we found flavours such as mojito mint & rum, anejo havana rum, pina colada pineapple rum and earl grey tea.  Yes, there were some more typical flavours including traditional caramel and raspberry & basil so the kiddies could enjoy too.

In a cooler bag with a gel pack at the back of the basket, two more favourites from the market were included.  We got truffle salami from Oyama Sausage Co and sorcier cheese from Benton Brothers.  I've actually had this salami before and it goes really well on a pizza.  Love their selection of
pâtés!  Nearby in the market, I've also picked up cheese to go with my meats from Oyama at Benton Brothers.  The one included in the basket is raw sheep's and cow's milk cheese with a layer of ash in the middle.  Nicely earthy and rich.

The rest of the basket was a wonderful selection of goodies including Nelson Sauvin Kelly Pilsner from Granville Island Brewing, Almond Butter Crunch from Fraser Valley Gourmet, Cream Earl Grey Tea from the Granville Island Tea Company, Pear Walnut Chutney from Luv the Grub, Canadian Maple Almonds from The Nut Merchant, Wildflower Honey from Chilliwack River Valley Natural Honey, Hand Sanitizer from Healing Bees and Figs and Walnut Wine as an accompaniment with Oyama's truffle salami.  Yep, that is a whole lot of goodies from Granville Island.  So if you want to keep enjoying your favourites without needing to drive or transit down there, Granville Island Delivery Co can fill that void!

*Basket of goodies were complimentary*

Rooftop Patio Dining at Joe Fortes

So after our good experience at Glowbal's outside patio along with their strict Covid protocols, we had to find another similar spot to dine.  Seeing how my parents were willing to dine out for the first time since mid-March, we had to choose a place that boasted not only good food, but outdoor dining.  We settled on an ol' favourite in Joe Fortes and their wonderful rooftop patio.  It seemed like everyone had the same idea as it was hard to secure a table!

We were able to sneak in a few happy hour items as we arrived just before 6:00pm.  Of course I had to get the Mini Lobster and Shrimp Rolls.  Nestled inside buttery toasted rolls, the seafood salad inside was dressed in just enough mayo for moisture and binding purposes without making it heavy.  Not overly seasoned, I could taste the shellfish.  Nice little treat before we got onto the main course!

Continuing on with the happy hour menu, we got the Jumbo Tempura Prawns.  So when they describe these as jumbo, they aren't exaggerating.  Just look it the size of them in relation to the lemon wedge!  Beyond the firmly crispy batter, the prawn inside was thick and meaty.  There was a firm snap texture while the natural aroma really came through.

Our final happy hour dish was the Truffle Parmesan Fries.  These were actually not as crispy as previous visits, but I'm pretty sure this was a one-off.  Despite this, they were still good with lots of potato texture.  Of course the aromatic saltiness of the parm as well as the truffle oil made the ketchup not very necessary.  I dipped it into the mayo that came with the prawns.

Now the real thing we were here for - the 2-Tier Seafood Tower!!!  This beauty sported oysters, clams, mussels, scallop ceviche, tuna tataki, cocktail prawns and lobster. We didn't get the happy hour version because we wanted the lobster, hence it set us back $78.00 per tier.  Worth every penny because other than Blue Water, this is one of the best seafood towers in town.  Things were fresh and prepared just right.

For my main, I decided to go for one of their features being the Halibut Cheeks in lemon butter with golden beets and diced zucchini and roasted potatoes. Oh what a treat!  The unmistakable texture of halibut cheeks with buttery and elastic strands were beautifully prepared.  Subtly-seasoned so I could enjoy the fresh taste of the fish.

Viv also had fish in the Steelhead Trout with lemon beurre blanc with the same accompaniments.  With beautiful grill marks, the fish was cooked expertly where it was flaky and moist.  Again, the seasoning wasn't overly aggressively where the dish let the protein do all the heavy-lifting.  Loved the golden beets as they were sweet with a subtle earthiness.

My daughter also went for something sea-dwelling in the Maple Salmon with tempura asparagus and gnocchi with creamed spinach.  This was another dinner feature and it was also quite good.  Once again, the salmon was cooked just right where the centre was barely done.  The maple glaze provided a delicious lacquer that was sweet and caramelized.  Gnocchi were pillowy soft while the asparagus was crispy.
 
It seemed like all of us were ordering fish since my dad had the Blackened Ling Cod with pico de gallo, roasted potatoes, golden beets and diced zucchini.  Sounding like a broken record (hey, these are popular again!), the fish was flaky and buttery.  With the blackening spices, there was more depth to the flavours than the other dishes.  Nice brightness and contrast provided by the pico de gallo.

Okay, my mom did not get any seafood and opted for the 7 oz Sirloin Steak prepared perfectly medium-rare (also evenly cooked on both sides).  It was pretty buttery for a sirloin steak as it usually can be a bit more chewy.  It was served with the same zucchini and golden beets.  Rather than roast potatoes, there was buttermilk mashed potatoes which were a bit more stiff than creamy.  However, we didn't mind that as it wasn't overly heavy.

Predictably, my son had the 12 oz New York Striploin also prepared medium-rare.  Since it was a better cut of meat, the texture was softer and more tender.  Instead of mashed potatoes, he got an order of Macaroni & Cheese as his carb.  Good choice as it was cheesy and creamy with al dente noodles.  Loved the crunch on top.  So after so many months of not eating out, it was good to make up some of the good meals we missed with a visit to Joe Fortes.  The bonus was their fabulous rooftop patio under the Summer sun.

The Good:
 
- Solid eats as usual
- Best seafood tower in town
- Beautiful rooftop patio

The Bad:

- Doesn't come cheap


Private Dinner with Chef Kristian Leidig

Awhile back, I had visited the now-closed Ham & Eggmans with a few others for a delicious brunch.  Owner operator Chef Kristian Leidig created a menu that was both familiar and unique that satisfied many different palates and dietary needs.  Unfortunately, Covid-19 came on full force and his restaurant (like many others) was forced to close.  However, he is still cooking, holding private dinners in Squamish.  We were recently invited out to try his 5-course French-inspired dinner out on a gorgeous rooftop (regularly $69.00).  Definitely a nice way to finish a day out in Squamish, where there are not many choices left for fine-dining ever since Covid-19 helped close restaurants there as well.

To kick things off, we had an Amuse Bouche consisting of a Prawn-stuffed Tomato with smoked paprika, mirepoix and garlic panko.  A little more than one-bite, the tender tomato still retained its shape.  Inside, the buttery shrimp had a light meaty snap while the veggies were well-seasoned and naturally sweet.  As much as the base of garlic panko served as a stability device, it also added aromatic crunch to the dish.

At first, I thought the Rillette de Carnard was going to be shared between Jacqueline and myself, but alas, we were served ONE EACH!  Very generous portion of tender and delicious tasting duck with rosemary potatoes, cherry gastrique as well as crostini and almonds.  There was actually more duck than crostinis on the plate.  Naturally, the tangy and sweet gastrique went well with the rillette where the crunch of the nuts and crostinis added another texture.

From this, we headed off to something much lighter in the Carrot and Fennel Salad with Summer greens, pears, walnuts, and comté dressed in orange & ginger vinaigrette.  As Maggi mentioned, this was a good transition from the heavy rillette as we progressed towards the main protein.  Really enjoyed the comté as the saltiness with a touch of sweetness complimented the veggies and crunch from the walnuts.  The salad was lightly dressed where it allowed us to taste the individual components.

Our main dish was Roasted Sablefish atop saffron hominy grits and haricot verts with a bouillabaisse sauce.  As described in the previous passage, the progression made sense from the salad to the buttery fish.  The best part was the sauce as it had a rich aroma from the shellfish and depth from the reduction.  It was more than enough to flavour the dish in terms of taste and smell.  Loved the extra hit of aroma in the saffron with the nicely textured grits.  Beans were perfect being vibrant and crunchy.

We ended off with the perfect Summer dessert in the Peach & Berry Dacqoise with hazelnut meringue and Chantilly cream.  Other than the fresh fruit, the best part of the dessert was the meringue as it was airy, crispy and light.  Not too sweet either and of course a bit nutty.  The cream wasn't too sweet as well, instead letting the fruit do the heavy-lifting.  Overall, I really enjoyed the meal as it was not fussy while well-prepared.  I went away full and satisfied.  Chef Kristian is planning to bring this back into Vancouver and of course, he can be booked for catering dinners too.

*Dinner was complimentary*

The Good:

- Well-prepared

- Well-portioned

- Lovely setting

The Bad:

- Well, it is in Squamish, but make a day of it

 

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