Sherman's Food Adventures: 2020

Fufú Café

I think it goes without saying that I tend to repeat myself here over and over again (I think I just did that... LOL).  There is a very good reason for that though.  You see, Vancouver (not unlike many other cities) is very much susceptible to fads.  Now I'm not implying that all of these fads eventually end, I'm just saying that when something becomes popular in Vancouver (albeit like 10 years too late), there are many copycats and in no time, we find a saturation of the marketplace.  Right now, we are witnessing the infancy of the souffle pancake craze.  In addition to certain dessert spots and the Richmond Night Market, we are seeing independent stores open up as well as the grandaddy of them all in Gram.  After our meal at Bodgea, we went to the newish Fufú Café to sample their souffle pancakes. 

We hit them up just before closing and managed to snag 3 versions including the Classic Souffle Pancake with butter, maple syrup and icing sugar.  Since I just recently tried Gram as well as the version served at Sweet Honey I had some form of comparison.  The pancakes at Fufú were more like the one from Sweet Honey being soft, fluffy and airy.  I would say they were a bit firmer than Sweet Honey though.  Gram, on the other hand was stiffer and much more aromatic in flavour.  I quite liked the pancake here and that was a great start.  We did have to use much of the syrup as the pancakes themselves weren't very sweet.  We also ended up trying the Mixed Fruit Souffle Pancake which was essentially the same as the classic except with the addition of grapes and strawberries.  I'm not sure where they sourced their fruit from since they were ripe and freshly textured.

Our last order was the Tiramisu Souffle Pancake where it was remarkably different than the other two so far.  We weren't sure if we liked this or not.  I mean we did enjoy the pancakes themselves and the combination of mascarpone cheese whipped cream, espresso sauce, almond chunks, dark chocolate curls, cocoa powder and espresso flake ice cream provided lots to the senses.  However, it wasn't as impactful as it looked and sounded.  On the other hand, it wasn't offensive and there were the elements of tiramisu.  So let's just say this will be judged in the taste of the eater.  Overall, we thought
Fufú was good, but not great.  Still worth checking out.

The Good:
- Fluffy souffle pancakes
- Interesting flavours
- Decent service

The Bad:
- Not many seats
- Wait is long (but I guess they make it to order)

Bodega

Earlier on, I had visited Bodega when it was still fairly new.  I came away with mixed feelings where a return visit wasn't high on my list.  Maybe I was unfairly comparing it to the shuttered La Bodega (Father ran that, son runs Bodega)?  I'm curious how it would do against some of the newer tapas spots in town.  Well, give Bodgea credit because the restaurant is still there bustling with activity.  So I wondered, did they improve?  Yah, that's what I heard from other people.  But one must really experience it for themselves because our opinions regarding food is subjective.  

What better way to kick things off than the classic Patatas Bravas?  Yep, we used to enjoy this dish at La Bodega on Howe in Downtown.  I'm glad that this was still as good as we remembered with crispy chunks of fully cooked potatoes.  Compared to a recent version we tried at Havana, this was much better as the chunks weren't as big, so they were fluffy.  As for the sauce, it was smoky from the paprika and lightly tangy with background spice.  Next, we had the Calamares Fritos which were serviceable.  A little pale, the squid rings were the beneficiary of possibly new oil, hence the colour.  I say that because it wasn't as if it wasn't fried enough.  Rather, the batter was light and crispy while not greasy.  It could've stood for more seasoning in the batter though.  The side of lemon and aioli did help in this regard.

Costanza and I really enjoyed the Callos a la Madrileña or beef tripe in a stew of tomato, chorizo and paprika.  Naturally, we love offal and that would already put this dish high on our lists of preferences.  Delightfully, it was prepared well with tender pieces of tripe that were appealingly gamy.  The best part was the stew itself as the tomato was richly flavoured and smoky earthiness from the paprika.  What added an extra layer of depth was the chorizo as the fat and spice really came through.  Something remarkably simple was also quite good. The Pollo Frito (fried chicken wings brined with garlic and sherry) was reminiscent of Asian-style wings being juicy and moist.  On the outside, the skin was fairly rendered and crunchy.  Due to the brine, there was also no absence of seasoning which made the wings good on their own even without the side of aioli.  

Another solid dish was the Pulpo a la Parilla (grilled octopus with piquillo romesco).  Nicely braised until tender, then grilled with sufficient charring, the octopus had the desired texture being soft with a chew.  There was even a slight crispiness from the char on the outside.  It was seasoned enough, but the romesco was a good compliment with nutty sweetness.  To amp things up even more so, there was a side of roasted garlic.  One of the more meh dishes we had was the Gambas al Ajillo (sautéed prawns in garlic and chilies with sherry).  There was nothing particularly wrong about the execution as the prawns were buttery with a snap.  The real problem was the muted flavours of the dish.  Was it garlicky?  Somewhat.  Was it spicy?  Not at all.  So they could improve this dish with just a bit more punch (was better last time).

Simple and well-portioned, the Champiñones (sautéed mixed mushrooms with garlic, sherry and finely grated aged manchego) was fantastic.  Although the plate wasn't particularly large, you must remember mushrooms cooked down considerably, so this was pretty bountiful.  They were subjected to enough heat for caramelization while they weren't overdone either.  Buttery with a bite, the mushrooms were also tasty with the garlic and cheese coming through with an aromatic nuttiness.  For only the sole reason to compare with the one from Como Taperia up the street, we ordered the Tortilla Española (potato and onion omelette with aioli and mixed olives).  This one was a bit different, served as large wedge rather than a whole circle.  With a section of a larger circular omelette, this was a bit looser.  I didn't mind it as it was somewhat lighter despite the layers of potato.  It was more mild, but I did get the onion and the charred flavour from the outside.

The most basic dish we had was the Chorizo a la Parrilla served with mustard.  At the same time, it was one of our favourites.  Grilled and charred beautifully, the flavours were definitely activated with smokiness, spiciness and fatty aromatics.  Of course, the mustard was a natural compliment to the sausage.  Okay, the first time I was here, the Paella Mixta was a bit of a disappointment.  This time around, it was significantly better boasting a generous amount of seafood, chicken, chorizo and pork.  Due to the amount of ingredients and most importantly, the chorizo (there was none last time), we found the chewy rice to be flavourful and aromatic.  The seafood was properly prepared where the large prawns were our favourite.  This was a good end to a pleasant time with friends over food and drink.  Much better than the first time I went and proves that multiple visits are necessary to give restaurants a fair shake.

The Good:
- Above-average and better than the first time I went
- Reasonably-priced
- Acceptable portions for tapas

The Bad:
- Service was friendly, but could be more attentive


L'abattoir

Similar to our recent visit to Cin Cin, I am continuing my series on revisiting some of the best restaurants in the city.  It is true many of them have been around for awhile and aren't necessarily the sexiest or newest additions to the culinary scene.  However, the reason they continue to thrive is that they are good at what they do.  Up on deck is L'abattoir and their finely crafted French cuisine.  We ended up here to celebrate Viv's birthday with Costanza and Elaine.  Like we always do when we get together, we shared 4 appies and 4 entrees.  Unfortunately we had no room for dessert, but I made up for that with a return visit with Mijune shortly afterwards.

Now onto the appies, we were all in with the Terrine of Duck Foie Gras with quince segments, wine jelly and toasted brioche.  Generous in portion size, the terrine was rich, silky and smooth.  By itself, the luxuriousness of the foie went well with the toasted firm brioche.  However, things got rolling when we added the quince and wine jelly to the mix.  This cut through the heaviness (although that was actually appealing in this case) with acidity and tang.  A fulfilling bite to start off the meal.  Equally delicious was the Wagyu Beef Tartare with sauerkraut, quinoa and Avonlea cheddar.  The greatest compliment I could give this dish was the fact Elaine ate the tartare without issue.  Normally, she isn't into raw beef but the texture and flavour were exquisite.  Cut into little morsels, the buttery beef didn't require any effort to eat and was seasoned enough without the meat being completely overwhelmed.  We got the silkiness of the egg yolk with hits of tanginess.

My favourite small plate of the night had to be the Pan-Fried Veal Sweetbreads on Toast.  Although the toast was a bit too firm, it was necessary to hold up to the wet ingredients (which it did successfully).  On top, the sauce gribiche was creamy, tangy and bright.  This helped balance out the richness of the tender sweetbreads.  Topping it all off literally and figuratively, the pickled shallots provided another shot of acidity.  If one person ate this, it would be rather filling by itself.  Next, the Glazed Veal Brisket looked rather unassuming on the plate next to kohlrabi and green beans dressed with whole grain mustard.  Not as majestic as the previous dish, yet still very well-executed and tasty.  This was super tender with enough meatiness for effect.  It also had depth with the sharpness of the mustard coming through while balanced with equal sweetness.

On my revisit with Mijune, we were started off with the amuse bouche version of the Sliced Raw Albacore Tuna with Meyer lemon, snap peas and horseradish.  Although it was difficult to actually see the tuna underneath the other ingredients, it was definitely there with a "fresh from the sea" essence.  The horseradish was beautifully restrained where it was apparent without being overpowering.  Lots of greenery aroma was provided by the snap peas while the lemon (and rind) added acidity and bitterness.  Of course we can't forget about the complimentary Bread which included bacon brioche, parmesan twist and sesame flatbread.  That alone was the price of admission both times (and previous visits too!).  Excellent for snacking on and also sopping up any sauces left on the plate.  I also had their signature cocktail in the Avocado Gimlet with Mediterranean-style gin, fresh avocado, apple liqueur and lime.  Smooth and refreshing, this had an appealing bitter finish.  I could see myself having lots of these since it went down so easily.

Back to the food, we moved onto the Fillet of Pacific Ling Cod cooked in sake with sauce of sturgeon caviar, fine herbs and bunches of tatsol.  OMG.  The cod couldn't have been prepared any better.  It was tender flaky and ever-so-slightly rare in the middle.  Hence it ate with texture, yet at the same time, melted-in-our-mouths.  What really brought it all together was the creamy and briny sauce with a bevy of sturgeon caviar.  Not forgetting the tatsol bunches, it provided a mild earthiness that tasted like the garden.  Normally, I'm not overly excited about greens, but the Winter Endive Salad was so robust and hearty while at the same time, not heavy.  It also included Comte cheese, shaved black truffle and a fried egg. Naturally, the bitter crunch of the endive was front and centre.  However, the silkiness of the egg added luxuriousness and body.  The plethora of shaved black truffle did its earthy magic and brought the whole thing together.

Onto some bigger plates from my original visit with Elaine and Costanza, we had the classic Steak Diane with smoked potato, marrow and onion.  L'abattoir is well-known for its high quality execution and this was absolutely spot-on.  The steak was prepared medium-rare and well-rested.  The pan sauce was really silky and full of depth from the bone marrow.  Good hits of tanginess as well.  One of the more filling dishes (most were though), the Honey Glazed Duck featured Brussels sprouts, pear and jus gras.  Loved the duck as it was tender and meaty while cooked to medium.  The skin was crispy and fairly well-rendered.  It is all about the sauces here at L'abattoir where the jus gras was sinfully rich from the duck fat but still sported a slight pick-me-up with background acidity.

Continuing with the same visit, we had the Barbeque Venison Loin with salsify, yellowroot and chestnut.  Since the meat was lean, it had to be prepared more rare than the steak.  That it was and therefore, the texture was perfectly tender and moist.  It was slightly gamy, but not terribly so.  Although the sauce looked similar to the one of the steak, it was appreciably different with a noticeable tanginess to go with the silky meatiness.  Featuring beautifully crisped skin, the Roasted Striped Bass was again, perfectly executed.  It was accompanied by clams, fregola and kale.  If there was a perfect example of expertly prepared fish skin, this would be it.  It was firmly crispy while not burnt nor over-browned.  It was well-seasoned and did not affect the moist texture of the bass.  Loved the brininess of the fresh clams on the side.

Circling back to the visit with Mijune, we had probably the best plate of the bunch in the Slow-Cooked Fillet of Ocean Trout.  Oh wow, if I thought the sea bass was perfect, this trout was beyond perfect (if that is possible, like "Infinity and beyond"?).   It practically melted-in-my-mouth with a buttery delicate texture.  Normally, lobster sauce is merely cooked down shells and some cream and/or butter.  Well this one actually had big chunks of lobster which only further enhanced the aroma and flavour.  Completing the dish was white asparagus and interestingly pink grapefruit.  Finally moving onto what we were really here for - dessert!  We began with the Rice Pudding sporting chai spice pudding, mandarin orange crémeux and sorbet, milk jam, milk foam and brown sugar crumble.  Lots going on here where the rice pudding was on point.  Great texture and aromatically sweet.  I could've done without the sorbet as the whole thing was too cold.

Of course we needed to try more desserts in the awesome Smoked Honey Flan with salted honey, whipped crème fraîche, toasted buckwheat tuile, and armagnac prunes.  L'abattoir is also know for its desserts and the flan was a good indication why.  It was smooth and silky with no air bubbles.  The smokiness really came through while the sweetness was measured.  The perfect amount of salt helped elevate the rich caramel flavours even more so. Also quite good was the Dark Chocolate Ganache with sesame chocolate praline base, earl grey syrup, yuzu banana sorbet, caramelized banana, black sesame crumb and sugar glass.  Again, there was a lot going on here, but they seemed to work well with each other.  Rich with an appealing bitter finish, the ganache benefited from the nutty crunch of the base.  Normally I'm not  a huge fan of banana desserts, but the sorbet was a good mild accompaniment to the ganache.

One last dessert because we wanted it was the Rum Cake with white chocolate crémeux, rum raisin crémeux, horchata crumble and soaked sultana raisins.  This was a close 2nd behind the fabulous flan.  At first, I thought the rum cake was dry and too mild, but that was by design.  The side of cremeux added all the necessary moisture and flavours to compliment the cake.  If the cake was any more moist, the whole thing would've been too wet.  So if I didn't know this before, these 2 revisits reinforced that the notion that L'abattoir continues to be one of the premier dining destinations in Vancouver.

*On the second visit, some items were discounted*

The Good:
- Expertly prepared food and desserts
- Attentive service that isn't pretentious
- Good cocktails

The Bad:
- Not inexpensive, but worth it IMO
- Not the easiest area to find parking


Imperial Garden

After our 3-week road trip, we were pretty starved for some good Chinese food whether it be wonton noodles or dim sum.  We did do the latter, but it was only once before we hit the road again for another jaunt out-of-town.  This time, it was a short drive down to Seattle so that we could catch the NCL Bliss cruising to Alaska.  Yes, we realized there are many cruises to Alaska out of Vancouver, but we really wanted too be aboard one of the Breakaway-class ships on Norwegian.  So on our way back from Seattle (which we dined on Chinese food the past 2 meals), we stopped by Imperial Garden in White Rock for some obligatory welcome back dim sum.

There was once upon a time when dim sum didn't exist out here, but they do now.  By the looks of the few dishes, it looked to be legit.  Since they already had the Pineapple BBQ Pork Buns sitting in a warming oven already, we got them first.  Loaded with sweet and savoury BBQ pork, these buns ate rather hearty.  Moreover, the bun itself was a little on the denser side.  I found the sugar topping to be sweet and crumbly.  One good thing of dim sum in Vancouver is that the XO Daikon Pudding Cake is deep fried in cubes.  On our road trip, the versions we had were haphazardly cut pieces that were stir-fried (the one in Victoria was too).  This one was good with a crispy exterior and a fairly light fluffy interior.  Lots of brininess from the dried shrimp along with a touch of spice.

Onto 2 versions of the rice noodle rolls, we had both the shrimp and salty donut.  Sporting a semi-thick rice noodle, the Shrimp Rice Noodle Roll was above average.  Although not that thin, the rice noodle was still delicate with a touch of elasticity.  Inside, the whole shrimp were meaty with a aromatic snap.  I would've liked to see larger shrimp, but these were still fine.  In the background, you will see a plate of Blanched Gai Lan which was cut into little pieces for some reason.  It wasn't over done though, yet not aesthetically-pleasing.  In a loud shade of fuchsia, the Donut Rice Noodle Roll was also decent.  Again, the rice noodle was a bit on the thicker side, but it wasn't dense.  Inside, the donut was slightly crispy and completely soft in the middle.

Onto the standards, we had the usual Ha Gau (Shrimp Dumplings) and the slightly-less-than-usual-but-more-usual-now Truffle Siu Mai (Pork & Shrimp Dumplings).  As for the ha gau, they featured a relatively thin dumpling skin where it was still appealingly al dente while still being tender.  Inside, the whole shrimp filling was somewhat loose where the texture was on point.  The shrimp were buttery with a sweet snap.  It was seasoned mildly with a background taste of sesame oil.  Regarding the siu mai, there was far too much in the way of fat.  We literally had to pull out half of the filling since it was not appealing to eat.  In addition, there was little-to-no-shrimp inside either.  Too bad really as the dumpling was well-seasoned and the black truffle paste was aromatic.

Heading into the offal course of the meal, we had the Braised Beef Tendon and Tripe.  Interestingly, there was only like one piece of tendon amongst all the tripe.  Not a big deal because I like tripe more anyways.  Texturally, the tripe was perfect where it was soft to chew while still retaining a bite.  This was aggressively seasoned where there was intense hits of sweetness, garlickiness and saltiness.  No gaminess either as the tripe had been cleaned properly.  In the same shade of brown-red, the Phoenix Talons (Chicken Feet) were pretty good.  Although a touch scrawny, the chicken feet featured soft steamed deep fried skin while the cartilage and fat underneath was soft.  Seasoning was similar to the tripe being imapctful with the same qualities.

The following two items were typical in terms of being on most dim sum menus, but they prepared them with a twist.  Underneath the usual wrapper, the Shrimp Spring Rolls sported a layer of seaweed.  I've seen this before and it does add a certain umaminess to the roll as well as a chewier texture.  This was the case here while the outer wrapper was a touch moist in spots.  Inside, the shrimp filling was bouncy and sweet.  Presented as a dumpling, the Beef Siu Mai combined the usual beef meatball filling with the familiar shape of a siu mai.  I liked the filling as the beef was bouncy and mildly seasoned with only a small amount of green onion.  However, as it was stuffed into a dumpling wrapper, the texture as a whole was not quite right being too firm.  I would've preferred just the regular beef meatballs in my opinion.

Back to the usual, we had the Steamed Pork Spareribs and the Bean Curd Skin Roll.  Although a bit fatty, the spareribs were still meaty with plenty of rib pieces.  While tender, the meat had a good bouncy chewiness as well.  These were full-flavoured from the seasoning that was garlicky with a touch of spice.  Large and plump, the bean curd skin rolls were really good.  The amount of sauce on the outside was just right without being goopy.  The steamed deep fried skin was appealingly chewy while still adequately softened by the steaming.  The best part was the filling as the processed pork was combined with mushroom, veggies and shrimp.  Texturally, there was a light rebound texture that made the roll really easy to eat.  So much so, I ate a lot of it!

To get some comfort food into the meal (as if this wasn't comforting enough), we added the Chicken and Shiitake Mushroom Congee for good measure.  Seems like we all agreed as we dusted it off.  The congee itself was thick and mildly-seasoned.  Viscosity was on point while the amount of ingredients was generous.  Maybe the slices of chicken should've been smaller, but whatever, it was tender.  We took a risk and ordered the Xiao Long Bao which were actually decent, but since they were mushed together, the skin broke and all the soup leaked out.  Yes, there was soup, when we could save it.  The skin was a bit thick, yet tender with no elasticity.  Filling was tender and sweet.  We didn't end up getting dessert because there was so much food (due to my over-ordering).  We generally enjoyed the Dim Sum at Imperial Garden and are happy that White Rock has some legit options.

The Good:
- Comparable Dim Sum to the rest of the GVRD
- Decent variety
- Spacious dining room

The Bad:
- Some execution issues with a few dishes
- A little pricey

King Noodle

Coming off a decent meal at Northern Dumpling House in Kirkland, we had not totally satisfied out Asian food cravings after a week aboard the NCL Bliss.  So we considered going to V Star Buffet which used to be Lucky Buffet (we visited when it was that).  However, since we just came from a cruise, it was probably not the best idea to pig out on more mediocre food.  So the next course of action was to hit up a moderately-priced spot that featured made-to-order hand made Chinese noodles.  That place was the highly rated King Noodle on Yelp.

We started off with the Seafood Hand-Shaven Noodles which was a huge portion.  Although picking seafood was not the optimal way of maximizing the texture of the noodle, it was still a good dish.  Chewy and exhibiting great mouth feel, the fresh noodle was on point.  As mentioned, the seafood didn't add a whole lot of body nor carmelization (due to the moisture) to the dish.  Along the same lines, we had the Shrimp with Snow Peas.  Now this dish had enough caramelization from the ample wok heat.  Hence, there was more impact.  As you can see, the veggies were vibrant and they were still crunchy.  The shrimp was just as good as the noodle dish being large and meaty with a sweet snap.

Onto something soupy, we had the Build-Your-Own Noodles.  We selected hand-pulled noodles with BBQ duck and beef, These thin noodles were slippery and al dente.  We found the soup to have enough seasoning but lacked depth.  There was enough BBQ duck and beef (even though you can't see it) for the portion size.  Our last noodle dish was the Singapore Fried Noodles and it was quite flavorful.  Plenty of caramelized curry essence combined with a good amount of seasoning.  The noodles were a bit wet, but not clumpy though.  There was more than enough ingredients that we hardly had any bite without some.  Once again, this was a large portion and we barely finished it.

One more dish, we had the General Tso's Chicken and it was a miss in my opinion.  This was drowning in far too much sauce which was also way too sweet.  Yes, it is supposed to be sweet and spicy, but the heat was completely lost due to the sugar content.  The chunks of chicken were fairly most though and it did sport a light crunch despite the amount of sauce.  As you can see, the noodles are the draw here and they were quite good.  Prices are very reasonable bordering on cheap.  Combine that large portion sizes and nice people, this place does the job for most people.  

The Good:
- Good hand-made noodles
- Inexpensive
- Large portions

The Bad:
- General Tso's Chicken was meh
- Inconsistent wok heat

Northern Dumpling House

Normally, when we return from a trip, the first thing we look for is comfort food.  This usually includes some form of noodles, congee and/or dim sum.  Therefore, our first meal after disembarking the NCL Bliss in Seattle was at Northern Dumpling House in Kirkland.  This happened to be the one new place I haven't tried before and it was fairly close to Goose's house (where I ditched my car prior to the cruise and also I had to pick up my usual US purchases).  So on our way over to out hotel in Everett, we stopped by for some dumplings and noodles.

Since their signature item is in their restaurant name, we decided to get the Boiled Pork & Cabbage Dumplings as well as the Pork & Shrimp Potstickers.  Naturally, boiled dumplings are as sexy as flannel pajamas, but believe me, these were good.  We found the outside wrapper to be fairly thin and not doughy at all.  Rather, there was a nice soft elasticity that was delicate.  Inside, the pork and cabbage filling was juicy and well-seasoned.  Sporting a seared skirt, the Potstickers were a bit chunky due to their size, but the bottom was still crispy.  Somehow, the skin on these seemed thicker despite essentially being the same dumpling.  I thought the pork and cabbage was a better filling as it was juicier, possibly due to the cabbage.  With that being said, the shrimp were buttery with a snap.

Continuing on the same theme, we tried the Wonton Soup with seaweed and green onion.  Light and definitely influenced by the seaweed, there was an umaminess to the soup to accent the natural sweetness.  As for the wontons, they were delicate even though the dumpling skin was not as thin as the Cantonese-style of wonton.  Inside, the pork filling was just as moist as the boiled dumplings.  Moving away from dumplings, we got the Dan Dan Noodle which was not as spicy as the red color of the sauce would suggest.  Rather, it was more nutty and and creamy than anything else.  Also, the noodles were a bit too soft for our liking.  Despite this, I still enjoyed eating it, but it might of been the fact I was missing this type of food rather than it being good.

Totally carbing-up, we also ordered the Braised Pork Rice with tea egg and milk tea.  As you can see in the picture, there was a considerable amount of pork belly.  It was buttery soft and full of flavor from the braise.  The sauce was a bit salty, however, that was fine as there was plenty of rice on the plate as well.  We actually got a side of Tea Eggs, so this one was a bonus.  It was pretty typical with the marinade seeping into the cracked shell.  Our last dish was the Jian Beng or Pan-Fried Chinese Pancake.  We really didn't like this as it was gummy and thick.  Furthermore, it was not seared enough for a crispy texture nor aroma.  There was quite a bit of filling inside though, yet that didn't make up for the lack of execution.  With that being said about this dish, the rest of the food was pretty solid and it definitely hit the spot for a reasonable price.

The Good:
- Large portions
- Good dumplings
- Reasonably-priced

The Bad:
- Pass on the Jian Beng
- Seating isn't the best with the high-tops