Sherman's Food Adventures: April 2020

Farina a Legna

Wait, wasn't there a post for Farina a Legna a few months ago?  That would be right.  Normally, I do not revisit a restaurant so soon (this was before the restrictions were in place), but Costanza really wanted to try the place out.  He is a big fan of the original Farina on Main Street.  Hey so am I!  I figured why not since I only got to try one pasta the last time (it wasn't good by the way...).  So this was a good chance to see if it anything would be different this time around.  Well, at least nothing different with the pizzas though because they were as good as the Main Street location.

So let's get right to the pizzas with the best on their menu in our opinion - the Finocchiona sporting tomato sauce, fennel sausage, provolone, fresh basil, parmigiano reggiano and sweet peppers.  In terms of taste, this pizza pops with the intensely sweet peppers and also the aromatic sausage.  The tang from the tomato sauce and mildness of the cheese brought everything together.  Loved the crust as the outside was crispy while the middle was not much softer than the edge.  Hence, it was easy to hold the pizza without losing any toppings due to drooping.  Farina is one of the only places in town that can boast that.  Should a Neapolitan pizza be like that?  I don't really care because I like it!  It was almost anti-climatic as we tackled the Margherita, but that didn't mean it was not just as good.  Same crust, same sauce, just simple with fior di latte, olive oil and fresh basil.

We also ordered the Funghi with white sauce, mushrooms, parmigiano reggiano, aged mozzarella, roasted garlic and arugula.  This is another fan favourite based on their original location.  This also did not disappoint with the same well-seasoned chewy crust that was uniformly crispy throughout.  It was all about the aromatics with this pizza as the flavours were both subtle and apparent at the same time with woodsiness and the hit from the garlic.  Okay, here is where the meal went into hit and miss mode.  For our first pasta, we had the Spaghetti Bolognese with beef, pork and mortadella, which was decent.  We found the pasta to be firmly al dente while coated in just enough sauce for impact.  It wasn't as rich as we would've liked, but there was still appealing meatiness. Tomato sauce was fresh as well.

We ended up trying both versions of the Carbonara with spaghetti and rigatoni.  If we had to compare, the rigatoni came out better with al dente tubes of pasta that was able to stand up to the salty guanciale more than the spaghetti.  We liked how it was not as rich as some other versions.  We universally hated the Pappardelle with pomodoro, guanciale, pecorino and amatriciana.  The pasta was clumpy and completely mushy.  Futhermore, the flavour profile was far too sweet.  Even the salty ingredients weren't able to balance it off.  Considering these pastas cost as much as places such as Oca Pastificio, Livia and La Tana, they have a long way to go to catch up.  However, their pizzas still rock, so that is a constant.  If you want some of the best Neapolitan-style pizza in town, Farina still remains one of the best choices.

The Good:
- Excellent pizza with the most uniformly textured crust in town
- Attentive service
- More dining space compared to their other location

The Bad:
- Pastas on both visits

Sun Star

Whenever there is a new spot for Dim Sum near me, I am always on it.  On the other hand, there haven't been many good experiences though as the best Dim Sum is generally found in Richmond and sometimes, in Vancouver.  So when I noticed that the newly relocated Sun Star offering up Dim Sum, it was with some trepidation.  I've had their takeout Chinese food before when they were on North Road and it was decent.  Wonder what we had in store at their new digs in the Ramada Inn off Lougheed?

Well, the renovations were not exactly extensive as the remnants of the shuttered Char 631 were still visible.  I guess it was extra noticeable as we were seated in the lounge which sported far-too-high banquettes for the tables.  Toe start, we ordered a couple of noodle dishes including the Seafood Fried Noodles.  This was strangely fishy and it wasn't because of the fish either.  It was actually the squid and it wasn't that appealing.  Too bad as the noodles were fried crispy and the rest of the ingredients were fine.  A touch on the pale side, the Pan-Fried Rice Noodle Rolls were okay.  We would've liked to see more caramelization and saltiness though.  It wasn't too greasy as it normally can be.

Continuing with the carbs, we ordered the Fish Congee with a side of Salty Donut.  For a small size, the congee was rather large being enough for the entire table.  It was a touch on the thinner side, but not watery.  I found it to be mild-tasting whereas the generous amount of fish did add some sweetness.  Nice touch on the condiments on the side including peanuts, green onions and wonton crisps.  Seemingly refried, the donut was pretty crunchy yet not completely oil-soaked.  It was seasoned well and somewhere in between dense and airy.  Staying with the deep-fryer, we got the Shrimp Spring Rolls which were served in a modern bowl.  As evidenced in the picture, they could've stood for a bit more filling.  They were crispy though and the shrimp were bouncy and well-seasoned.

It looked like we overdid it with the carbs, but in reality, the limited menu didn't offer up many other choices, especially with some things that were sold out (including the Siu Mai on a Saturday morning???).  So we got the Lo Mei Gai (sticky rice in lotus leaves) and they were pretty typical.  I thought there could've been a bit more ground pork filling which would've softened up the slightly dense sticky rice.  It did taste good with plenty of umaminess.  So they were also sold out of the BBQ pork buns, hence we had no choice but to get the next best thing which was the Steamed Chicken Buns.  Honestly, I'm much more a fan of the BBQ pork buns than chicken buns.  Therefore, the fact that the bun was fluffy and the chicken was juicy and well-seasoned didn't win me over.

As mentioned, the siu mai was sold out, which meant the Ha Gau were rather lonely without its partner in crime.  They were fairly large and the filling was decent.  It was a combination of whole pieces of shrimp bonded together with some shrimp mousse.   Texturally, there was the classic bounce texture, yet the whole thing was lacking seasoning.  As for the dumpling skin, it was a touch thick and really wet.  I think the dumplings were oversteamed at tad.  Well at least these could be considered good since the Xiao Long Bao were sub-par.  As you can clearly see in the picture, the dumpling skin was soaked with moisture and hence lacking any texture.  No elasticity whatsoever.   There was also very little soup, yet at the same time, the pork was tender and tasted fine.  It just lacked variation in flavour.

2 other typical Dim Sum dishes we had were the Phoenix Talons (Chicken Feet) and Beef Meatballs.  We thought the chicken feet were acceptable with plenty of garlic and a nice balance between sweet and salty.  The chicken feet themselves were on the scrawnier side and could've been cooked a bit longer.  Nothing wrong with the fried skin, but the cartilage underneath wasn't soft enough. As for the beef meatballs, this was actually one of the better dishes of the meal (not say much I suppose).  Texturally, it was on point being soft and tender with a rebound when bitten into.  There wasn't a whole lot of green onion nor cilantro, which was fine by us as we think most places over do it and hence the whole thing tastes like the herbs only.  Interestingly, there were 4 of them rather than 3 which was a good value.

Ending with 2 more savoury dishes since the selection of desserts were limited, we tried the Steamed Pork Spareribs and the Pan-Fried Bun.  Although rather plain-looking, the spareribs were quite good.  Plenty of meaty portions and low on the fat, this was plenty hearty.  Furthermore, it was well-seasoned with garlic and appealing saltiness.  I guess we ended off strong as the pan-fried pork buns were also decent.  The bun itself was soft and fluffy and not too thick.  Inside, the pork filling was juicy and tender.  We wished they were a bit more aggressive with the sear on the bottom though.  Overall, the Dim Sum at Sun Star was rather mediocre with a limited selection.  I give them props for trying, but for me, I'll stick to their take-out combos instead.

The Good:
- Nice people
- Reasonable-pricing
- Plenty of parking

The Bad:
- Dim Sum is mediocre
- Limited selection

Fairmont Pacific Rim 10-Year Anniversary Tasting Menu at The Botanist

Before the Covid-19 shutdown of things, Mijune and I had the Botanist's 10-course tasting menu celebrating the Fairmont Pacific Rim's 10-year anniversary.  This featured all of the restaurant's greatest hits.  For those who aren't familiar with the Botanist, it is one of the better hotel restaurants in town.  In fact, I consider it to be one of the best restaurants within Vancouver period.  That is saying a lot when people do not normally consider hotel restaurants as destinations in themselves.

To kick things off, we were served the iconic (yes, even with the youthful age of this restaurant, the bread is iconic) Fougasse Bread.  This time around, the bread was much better than the last time I had it.  Rather than being too hard, it was firm with a pleasant chewiness and baked nuttiness.  The side of fresh whipped butter didn't hurt either. I would've asked for more, but there were many other delicious dishes to come.  For our amuse bouche, we were presented with Northern Divine Caviar with cultivated cream, potato and tapioca pearls.  To be honest, I was rather surprised that they used tapioca pearls as it wasn't something I would associate with caviar.  However, it strangely worked with the buttery soft pearls and tender potato.  Lots of cheesiness from the cream brightened up by the chives.  This was balanced dish that allowed the briny caviar to stand out.  Loved the lemon rind on top as it afforded a bright and bitter finish.

At first, I was a bit skeptical of the Beet Tataki since I really wanted a beef tataki. Well, it was very prejudice of me to think anything but tastiness for this dish.  In addition to the tender earthy and sweet slices of beet, there was crispy sunchoke bark, pickled onions and vegan XO sauce.  Yes, you read it right, vegan XO sauce.  You know what?  It was spicy and flavourful despite the absence of dried scallops, ham and dried shrimp.  This dish hit all the flavours and was one of my favourites.  Shaped into a beautiful flower, the Scallop Crudo was a delight.  The buttery petals of scallop were sweet and super delicate.  This was contrasted by the crunch from the winter radish. There was a smokiness from the torched edges while the fermented jalapeno added a spicy tanginess.

If this couldn't get any better, it was kicked up several notches with the Handmade Tarajin with Hokkaido sea urchin, cured egg and chives.  By virtue of sitting in a veal and lobster broth, the dish was the beneficiary of flavours from the sea being sweet and aromatic.  Pasta was al dente while completely coated with the silkiness of the egg.  Now let's not forget about the ample amount of creamy and bright sea notes from the uni on top too!  Such a delicious creation.  The next dish was a very familiar one as I've had it a few times being the Pan-Seared Sablefish with leek, black kale and black truffles.  It is no secret that sablefish is a very forgiving protein, but by the same token, this was perfectly executed - so buttery, yet still flaky.  To compliment the delicate fish, there was leek oil and foam which was there but not overpowering.  Earthiness was provided by the truffle while the kale was cooked just enough.

Off to another classic dish (which I've also had before), the Butter Poached Lobster was interestingly plated.  As much as this was only the tasting menu version, I found it a bit too busy (even though I understood what they were trying to do).  Beyond that, the lobster was outstandingly bouncy and sweet.  Splattered on the plate, the green mole was layered with flavour.  Providing nuttiness was the pumpkin seeds, while the radishes and celeriac offered earthy notes.  Finally, the spice component was thanks to the charred shishito pepper.  Sitting in a creamy and slightly acidic brown butter, the 20-Day Aged Duck Breast was also perfectly prepared.  Moist with rich meatiness, the duck was super tender with crispy skin.  On the side, there was a tart consisting of onions, duck confit and mushrooms.  Loved the soft crunch from the white fungus, but the tart shell was a bit too soft.

Our last meat savoury item for the tasting menu was the Snake River Wagyu Striploin with pan-roasted Walla Walla baby onion and red wine jus.  Meeting my expectations, the meat was buttery and meaty.  Lots of natural beef flavour due to the fat content.  I found the jus to be silky and full of depth.  I enjoyed the tomato fondue which provided sweet tanginess as well as the sweet caramelized onion.  Onto the sweets, we enjoyed the light and refreshing Mandarin Rice Mousse with ocoa chocolate and orange cake.  I'm generally not a sweets person, yet at the same time, really do not mind fruitier lighter desserts.  Well, this was right up my alley with mild sweetness complimented by tanginess and bitter notes.  Loved the airy orange cake and the crunch from the chocolate.

Our final course was probably the most interesting of them all.  The Black Truffle Choux pastry was appealingly black in colour and surrounded by chocolate soil.  From the outside, it wasn't apparent that it was filled with truffle ice cream.  Due to the dryness of the choux pastry, the ice cream completely made up for it being creamy and aromatic.  Maybe the choux was supposed to be this way, otherwise I can see the whole thing being too soft.  Loved the chocolate soil as it was tasty while texturally interesting compared to the soft choux.  So there you have it - all the greatest hits from the Botanist in one complete meal.  Sure it was expensive, however totally worth it if you have enjoyed the Botanist in the past.  It is one of my go-to restaurants in town and am looking forward to revisiting when it reopens.

The Good:
- All of the best dishes from the past and present
- Beautiful and lively room
- Attentive service

The Bad:
- Well, it is expensive (but worth it IMO)





Sopra Sotto (Burnaby)

Here we go again, another restaurant that has opened up in my hood and I totally ignore it.  I've driven and walked past the Burnaby location of Sopra Sotto many times a week and nada.  Nope, just didn't stop and eat there.  However, one of the main reasons is that I've been to their original spot on Commercial Drive when it first opened.  I remembered it to be pretty good, but it just wasn't on my list to revisit anytime soon.  Finally, as the kids were craving some Italian, we made our way to the cozy Burnaby location.

As if we needed anymore carbs to our carb-heavy meal already, we went for the Fresh Made in-House Focaccia.  Although this looked like merely pizza dough repurposed with herbs and olive oil on top, it was still good.  With some leoparding while still maintaining a fluffy chewiness, this was nicely seasoned as well.  Now that was fine, but the actual pizza was better.  The Cacciatora Pizza was the most appealing to us consisting of braised short rib, shallots, black kale, mixed mushrooms and Alps cheese.  Due to the generous amount of ingredients, the crust was fairly soft underneath, but that was to be expected.  The crust was still nutty with leoparding while well-seasoned.  The kicker here was the short rib jus that really added meaty depth to the pizza.

We tried 3 of their pastas including one I've had at their Commerical Drive store which was the Chitarrine al Ragù.  This featured made-in-house square spaghetti with bolognese sauce.  I would say this was 100% better than the one I had last time (at the other location).  First off, the colour was much richer and what I was expecting.  Secondly, the ample meat flavour and texture was apparent.  Lastly, we could really taste the time spent on cooking the meat sauce.  To top it off, the pasta was beautifully al dente. The featured pasta of the day was the Gnocchi with fontina and speck.  As rich and creamy as it appeared, the dish wasn't unbearably heavy.  The large pillowy gnocchi were soft enough without losing its bite.  Salt content was supplied by the strips of speck on top.

Probably my favourite pasta of the bunch also featured short rib.  The Tagliatelle in Sunday Sugo was well-executed with al dente made-in-house pasta (which was also properly seasoned).  Loved the rich and hearty tomato as well as the fatty meat taste of the sugo.  There was also just enough moisture to coat the pasta without creating a watery mess on the plate.  As you can see, the pastas were solid at Sopra Sotto, even better than the first time I had it at their original location on Commerical.  Pizza was good and it being soft in the middle was expected due to the ingredients.  Besides, it isn't supposed to be crunchy anyways.  Solid addition to the Heights and when this Covid-19 thing is under control, I hope it keeps going strong.

The Good:
- Solid pastas
- Nice people
- Decent portion size

The Bad:
- Very small, not good for big groups
- Parking is a bit hard to come by

Tsujiri

There are several things in life that I totally despise.  These include really inconsiderate people and lineups.  Imagine the personal hell of being in a lineup WITH inconsiderate people.  The horror!  Well, that was mostly the reason I skipped visiting Tsujiri when it first opened.  Yes, I know that there are online reservations, but all the good times were usually snapped up pretty quickly. Hence, I completely ignored the place and went about my usual business.  It wasn't until Nora and Joyce suggested we meet there for dinner one night that I finally got to try it out. 

Having designs on dessert after dinner, we decided to eat light (we are not all Mijunes you know...).  This was exemplified by the Nishin Soba featuring cha-soba topped with herring and sitting in a clean broth with bonito flake, kelp, soy sauce and yuzu.  Subtle and refreshing the yuzu was only in the background (unlike the broth at Afuri).  With the herring being cooked in sweet soy, that naturally added some impact to the otherwise mild dish.  Even lighter-tasting, the Ebiten Udon sported a kombu bonito dashi broth with 2 large ebi tempura.  Loved the udon noodles as they were slippery and slightly chewy.  Broth was indeed light, but it was also pleasant and went well with the noodles.  Although half of the ebi tempura was soggy, the rest was crispy with a meaty prawn inside.

The prettiest looking plate was the Salmon Dashi Chazuke featuring tamago, ume, sesame kombu, dashi broth, rice cracker, green onion, wasabi, salmon sashimi and soba roll.  This was fun with all the various things around the perfectly cooked bowl of chewy rice.  When mixed together with the dashi, it was also very pleasant.  Lots of different textures and mild ingredients (except for the wasabi).  Despite having dessert plans after dinner, I had to try something sweet here because it would've been wrong otherwise.  I ended up choosing the O-Matcha Shaved Ice with sweet red bean, mochi and matcha soft-serve.  I thought this was really good even though the ice was a bit too chunky for me.  The ice cream was smooth with a balanced bitterness from the matcha while being just sweet enough.  Classic combination with the red bean.  Overall, I thought the food was fine, albeit not very filling.  It was unfortunate I didn't get to try many more desserts (that's what they are known for).  But I wasn't with Mijune though...

The Good:
- Okay pricing in my opinion at least
- Carefully prepared items
- Decent service

The Bad:
- Portion size wasn't bad per se, but since the dishes were light, it wasn't filling
- Service was decent, but hard to get it when you needed it

Sweet Honey Dessert (Burnaby)

Sometimes, I really wonder if we can trust internet ratings when it comes to restaurants.  Sure, it can be a framework of some kind so we can get a sense if the place is at least worth visiting.  Yet, I've been to many spots that have 3/5 ratings (or even lower) and came away questioning the low score.  To be specific, in my experience this usually happens with Asian spots.  Maybe it really depends on who is rating the place and more importantly, what is it being rated on?  Many times, the low score is due to bad service and/or lack of cleanliness.  Not too long ago, I had a pretty good experience at Sweet Honey Dessert in Richmond and it was not reflective of their low rating.  So when a new location opened up in Burnaby, I gladly hit them up twice in a short period of time.

Now one of the reasons they might score low is that their Puppy Ice Cream plain sucks.  Yes, it is one of the cutest things out there, but the ice cream doesn't melt.  There is truly too much in the way of stabilizers and non-dairy ingredients for it to be good.  To top it all off, it didn't even taste like anything but sweet.  I think it is supposed to be mango???  Whatever the case, we didn't order this at the Burnaby location and I'm only including this as reference for those who are considering shelling out $12.00 for it.  What they are actually good at is their Souffle Pancakes.  Yes, there are other spots that specialize in it, but I find the ones here very good.  Light and fluffy while only semi-sweet, these were consistent both times I've tried it.  This time around mango and yes it wasn't really the season for it, but the imported ones they did serve were decent.

The 2 times I've been at this location, I've ordered the Coconut Milk Sago with Grass Jelly.  Simple, but satisfying the broth was semi-sweet and aromatic from the coconut milk.  Little bits of texture were thanks to the tapioca pearls.  A hit of appealing bitterness emanated from the cubes of grass jelly.  Some people wonder what makes one version better than another (since there are many places that serve these types of dessert)?  With so little variation in ingredients, there are no huge swings in quality. I digress.  One of my favourite Chinese desserts at these type of establishments is the Mango Sago.  This one was respectable with a mildly-sweet "soup" with the usual tapioca pearls, chunks of mango and pomelo.  Refreshing and light where the mango was decently tangy and sweet like the ones served with the souffle.

Lastly, another classic dessert was the Taro Ball Red Bean Soup.  Completely the opposite of the refreshing fruity desserts, this one was heavier and surprisingly not very sweet.  That was a good thing as sometimes red bean soup can be too sugary.  The balls ensured that this ate like a meal.  Personally, not my favourite choice of dessert.  But that had nothing to do with them and I still don't understand the bad reviews.  Sure, it isn't the best in town, but it is more than respectable.  Just stay away from the puppy ice cream.

The Good:
- Lots of choice
- Souffle pancakes surprisingly decent
- Open late

The Bad:
- A bit pricey
- Service is okay, but a little sparse


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