Sherman's Food Adventures: March 2020

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

La Cucina (NCL Bliss)

Our final specialty dining experience aboard the Norwegian Bliss was at their Italian restaurant – La Cuccina.  Even though we have been on 3 NCL cruises, we’ve never tried this particular restaurant.  Initially, we had a very late 8:30pm reservation, but we decided to take a chance and arrive earlier and see if they could accommodate us.  That they graciously did and let it be a tip to all other cruisers that they shouldn’t give up on a restaurant if they cannot get a reservation.

Since we had the dining package, we went nuts with the ordering and started with an array of appetizers including the Antipasti featuring salami, capicola, San Daniele prosciutto, mortadella, parmesan, pickled veggies and olives.  This was a generous portion that featured a good selection of meats which were good quality.  The kids devoured it all and if there wasn’t more appies coming, we would’ve gotten another.  Continuing on impressive quality, the Burrata Caprese with heirloom tomatoes and basil was on point being creamy and delicious.  Honestly, I’m not sure how this was achieved since burrata needs to be eaten within 72 hours.  This was the end of the cruise, but it was on point.  Did they get more in at one of the ports?  I’m not sure.

Another appealing starter was the Breasola (thinly sliced air-dried beef) served on a bed of arugula with lemon & olive oil dressing.  If appearances meant anything, this looked legit and indeed it was where the meat was firmly tender.  Nutty and aromatic, the meat definitely had a certain mustiness to it, but in a good way.  Classically plated with arugula, lemon and olive oil, this was a table favorite.  Compared to the others, the Calamari Fritti didn’t look all that impressive.  However, looks were deceiving as the tender rings were lightly coated in a crispy batter.  The best part was the side of marinara sauce as it was impactful with bursts of tang and sweetness.

Although unassuming in appearance, the Cannellini Bean Soup with bacon and pasta was quite good.  In fact, it was so good, my mom got a bowl for herself.  The best part was the actual broth itself where it was just thick enough for body without being too rich.  There was an appealing smoky saltiness from the bacon.  Of course, the bacon fat and the beans themselves provided the texture for the soup.  I really liked the beans as they were soft, yet not completely melted either.  Moving onto the pastas, the Shrimp Ravioli with lobster tarragon sauce was good despite the appearance of far too much sauce.  Yes, they could've done with 1/3 the amount of sauce, yet it was pretty tasty though.  It was full of lobster aroma and spiked with the brightness of tarragon.  Sufficiently al dente, the ravioli contained a briny shrimp filling.

My favourite of the bunch had to be the surprising Wild Mushroom Risotto.  One would think that a good risotto would not be possible on a cruise ship right?  Well, this was actually very well-executed where the arborio rice was chewy while cooked through.  The whole thing was cheesy and rich with plenty of earthy mushroom flavor.  Sure, this wasn't the best risotto I've ever had, but given the venue, it was pretty darn good.  Also in the good category, Spaghetti Carbonara featured al dente pasta that featured just enough moisture.  Often, carbonaras can get rather clumpy and wet.  This one was more on the drier side without the spaghetti being stuck together.  With that being said, there was enough "sauce" on the bottom for both lubrication (not sure if that was the right word for this) and flavoring for the dish.  It was sufficiently cheesy and salty enough.

Although the pasta was similarly thick to the one found at Savor, the Penne Amatriciana was appreciably better.  Sure, it was still a little dense, but it was nicely al dente at the same time.  The promise of heat from the spicy marinara didn't fully materialize, but then again, we have a high tolerance to spiciness.  In terms of actual impact, the cured pork was nicely salty and fatty, which added body and depth.  Continuing with tomato-based sauces, the Tortellini with sundried tomato sauce, garlic and ricotta was the most pedestrian of the pastas we had.  Also featuring thick pasta, these ate rather heavy and it didn't help that the sauce was rather one-note.  I thought the globs of ricotta did help create some really nice creaminess that helped temper the tang on the sauce.

Now if you think the Gnocchi with creamy basil pesto sauce looked more like a soup, well, you aren't wrong.  This was far too much of it and it frankly wasn't appetizing to look at and was too heavy as a result.  Such a shame as the gnocchi was actually decent.  They weren't fluffy per se, but not overly dense either.  The pesto was aromatic and creamy which would've been great if there was 1/4 of it.  Believe it or not, after that appies and then the pasta course, we went ahead and ordered a Pepperoni Pizza with basil and mozzarella (ahead of the entrees!).  So was this a true Neapolitan pizza?  Well no.  With that being said, it was fine for what it was.  The crust was fairly thin and crispy except with a lack of charring and leoparding.  It was topped with plenty of tangy tomato sauce so there was enough moisture and flavor. 

Onto secondi, my daughter ordered the Branzino Filet with cherry tomatoes and taggiasca olives.  Sporting crispy, well-seared skin, the fish was moist and somewhat flaky (this type of sea bass is more soft than flaky).  The simple sauce of cherry tomatoes and olives provided tang, saltiness and brightness to the dish.  Just my luck as the worst dish of the meal was the one I picked - Livornese-style Red Snapper with shrimp, clams, mussels, cherry tomatoes, herbs, potatoes, black olives and braised fennel.  From that description alone, it sounded fantastic.  However, the whole thing was lacking flavor and worst of all, the snapper was rock hard.  It was a chore attempting to eat it.  I eventually gave up and just tried to finish the other dishes we had prior.

Viv ended up with the Sauteed Veal Scaloppini with dry marsala sauce and mushrooms.  In terms of preparation, there wasn't anything inherently wrong as the veal was nicely seared and the sauce was plenty impactful.  However, the slices of veal were far too thick which meant the texture was more dense than usual.  Ironically, the thickness of the veal meant it was also more moist and almost juicy.  My son loves steak, so it was no surprise he had the 8 oz Beef Tenderloin with green peppercorn sauce and blue cheese ravioli.  As with all of the other steaks we had on the cruise, this one was spot on.  Medium-rare (as requested) and well-rested, the meat was buttery soft.  Since tenderloin can be rather bland, the salty and peppery sauce helped matters.  With gobs of blue cheese on the plate, the al dente ravioli was definitely sharp and flavorful.

As per usual, my dad stayed with fish in the Grilled Salmon with white beans, crispy cured ham strips, carrots and arugula.  Not that you could actually see the salmon underneath all of the arugula, but it was nicely seared and flaky.  I wouldn't go as far as saying it was moist, but it wasn't dry either.  The fish was on the milder side where the ham really helped salt things up.  I really liked the beans as they were tender with a bite.  Okay, to end off this bountiful meal, we went for the Mijune special (aka all of the desserts) beginning with the Cannoli.  These were filled with sweet ricotta and came in 3 flavors including chocolate, pistachios and tutti frutti.  We found the cannoli to be a bit firm and dense, but still crispy on the outside.  Fairly creamy and light the ricotta was purposefully sweet.  The chocolate and pistachio were pretty standard while we could've done without the candied fruit.  It was too sweet.

One of the best desserts was Chocolate Tartlet with raspberry, pistachio and vanilla sauce.  It was visually-appealing where pistachio really popped against the chocolate backdrop.  I thought the tart shell was pretty good. It could've been a bit more firm, but it was indeed buttery.  Best of all the chocolate ganache was rich and chocolaty with a bitter finish.  I found it just sweet enough.  I also enjoyed the Panna Cotta alla Vaniglia with blackberry compote and meringue crunch.  Also asthetically-pleasing, the panna cotta was served in an angled cut glass bowl.  This was also very practical as we were able to spoon out every last bit easily.  We found the panna cotta creamy and not overly gelatin-like.  It was aromatic and purposefully sweet.  The compote added a sweet tanginess.

Finishing off this huge feast, we had the Ricotta Cheesecake as well as the classic Tiramisu.  Yes, ending a meal with cheesecake could be heavy.  At the very least, they topped this with lemon curd which lightened things up with tartness.  As for the cheesecake itself, I found it consistent in its creamy texture and was appealingly sweet.  Finally, the tiramisu was actually the lightest dessert of the bunch with completely soaked lady fingers (maybe a bit too wet) and creamy mascarpone.  This wasn't very sweet and due to the good hit of espresso, it was impactful.  Overall, we thought this was a good end to the cruise and a more than respectable meal.  Does it compare with the best on on land?  Well no, but given the conditions, I thought this was one of the better specialty restaurants on the NCL Bliss.

The Good:
- Lots of choice on the menu
- Generally good
- Smaller venue

The Bad:
- Some of the pastas could've used less sauce
- Must have reasonable expectations

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