Sherman's Food Adventures: Queens Cafe (Asian Cuisine by Eighteen Chefs)

Queens Cafe (Asian Cuisine by Eighteen Chefs)

The corner of Kingsway and Salisbury in Burnaby is a deathtrap for restaurants.  I can't even count the different establishments that has graced that corner, only to close down in favour of a new venture.  It's not like there isn't any foot traffic, as it is across the street from Highgate.  Furthermore, Nao Sushi and Anatoli's Gate are literally on the same block where they have survived for over a decade.  Now, we find the Vancouver outpost of the Singaporean chain Eighteen Chefs taking over the spot, yet with a curious name.  Due to bureaucratic red tape, they weren't able to secure the name Eighteen Chefs (as of yet) and decided to open under the old name of Queen's Cafe "Asian Cuisine by Eighteen Chefs" rather than not be in business while waiting for the approval.

We dropped by in the opening week to check it out along with Guy and Girl Smiley.  One of the first dishes that caught our attention was the Salted Egg Yolk Fries.  Sadly, it wasn't what we expected as they merely poured a very wet salted egg yolk sauce on top of generic soggy fries.  Don't get me wrong, the sauce tasted great with the unmistakable saltiness from the creamy and luxurious salted egg yolk, but the amount of moisture killed the texture.  This would've been much better if the fries were super crunchy and coated with dry salted egg yolk.  One of the more surprising dishes was the Chicken Skewer with Truffle Curly Noodles.  This was not an overly complex dish but the chicken was both plentiful and super juicy with a smoky char.  They used a lot of rosemary which added a layer of earthiness.  Although the noodles appeared to be of the instant variety, they were al dente and coated with enough black truffle paste that it was woodsy enough without being too much.

Onto 2 HK-style cafe type dishes, we had the Spaghetti Bolognese as well as the Baked Pork Chop Rice.  By virtue of not being baked, the spaghetti was lacking in  body and aroma.  Even with the generous amount of meat sauce, the noodles ate plain and probably needed to be salted more when it was being boiled.  I thought the sauce was decent with lots of tender nuggets of beef, but the flavour was somewhat one note and lacking in the usual combination of sweet, savoury, tangy and a hint of star anise like the usual Asian-version.  The addition of arugula was a bit strange too.  On the other hand, the pork chop rice was excellent.  Underneath, the fried rice base was nutty and dry, which was the perfect compliment to the balanced tomato sauce topped with plenty of ooey gooey cheese.  Best of all, the large panko-crusted pork chop was moist and tender with a crunchy coating.

Sporting the same pork cutlet, the Nasi Lemak consisting of the usual ingredients including rice, crispy anchovies, cucumber, peanuts, fried egg and sambal.  Nothing particularly amiss with this other than us choosing the pork cutlet over the chicken.  Oh and yes, there is a fried egg rather than a boiled egg.  For me, I'm not a stickler for complete authenticity and this was still fine when everything was mixed together.  Again, the pork cutlet was the star as it was large, crispy and completely tender.  Served with roti, the Curry Chicken was fairly large in portion size.  About that roti, it was more like baked puffed pastry rather than the usual doughier roti found in Malaysian cuisine.  With that being said, it was texturally a delight and really was delicious when dipped into the creamy coconutty curry.  It had a nice viscosity and had a touch of spice.  The large chunks of bone-in leg were tender and not overdone.

We also gave the Hainanese Chicken a go and it was acceptable.  However, there were a few glaring issues.  First of all, we got the wing and very little else, so there was barely any meat to go with the rice.  Second, it was if they used a butter knife to chopped the chicken as there were bone fragments everywhere.  Taste-wise, it was pretty good and the chicken oil rice was nutty and chewy.  Loved the chili sauce as it was legit spicy rather than just sweet.  We waited forever for our Spring Chicken & Striploin Steak Platter.  Turned out it was not worth it because the steak came out rare when we asked for medium-rare.  They even argued with us!  We know what medium-rare looks like!  As for the chicken, it was fairly moist with rendered fried skin.  Too bad it was completely bland.  The side of signature heart-attack rice was nutty and chewy, but not as flavourful as we expected (even though it is cooked with rendered fat drippings).  Overall, there were some highlights to go with some duds.  They just opened, so it is fair to give them some time to work out all the kinks.

The Good:
- Portions sizes are generally large
- Proteins were cooked right except for the steak
- Reasonable pricing for what you get

The Bad:
- Service was non-existent, didn't even cutlery for the longest time.  Also, arguing with customers when something is clearly wrong is a huge no-no
- Some dishes need further refinement


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