Sherman's Food Adventures: September 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*

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