Sherman's Food Adventures: November 2020

Tutto Restaurant & Bar

At one point in time, there was generally one good and well-known fine-dining Italian restaurant in the Lower Mainland.  Operated by Umberto Menghi, Il Giardino was the place for Italian eats for years until its closure in 2013.  However, he opened up Giardino in 2015, steps away from the former Il Giardino.  Currently, more than ever, there is an array of choices when it comes to fine Italian food including Savio Volpe, Ask for Luigi, La Quercia and so on (too many to list).  Now we can add another in Tutto Restaurant & Bar kitty corner to Homer Street Cafe.  Ironically, the head chef has worked at Giardino before, so it wouldn't be a surprise if the food would be good.  I was recently invited to try their Truffle Fest Menu (available until Nov 30th).

We ended up trying items from the regular menu as well as sampling their Truffle Fest Menu.  This began with an Amuse Bouche of Truffled Taleggio Toast.  Such a simple little bite, but the flavours of the 2 key ingredients were able to shine.   Other than the crispy crostini, the ample taleggio on top was ooey gooey and mildly tangy.  Naturally, the shavings of Black Uncinatum Italian Autumn truffle added the usual musty and earthy impact.

Staying with the carbs, we had the classic Pizza Margherita.  This was loaded with a good amount of tangy San Marzano tomato sauce as well as an inordinate amount of fior di latte.  As a result, the pizza ate very hearty and the middle was more tender due to the sauce.  I thought the crust was well-charred and there was considerable leoparding throughout including the bottom.  I enjoyed the nuttiness of the crust as well as the chewiness.  Of course, the fresh basil on top (added after the pizza was done) was the proverbial icing on the cake.

I'm a sucker for Vitello Tonnato, so it was a given we'd give it a try.  This was presented more elegantly than many of the other versions I've had.  Sliced super-thin, the veal was tender, moist and literally melted-in-my-mouth.  It was topped with a drizzle of tuna aioli that was beautifully accented by the capers and pickles on top.  I could see how the amount of pickles could be overwhelming, but for me at least, I enjoy the sharp tanginess and saltiness.  It really provided impact and was truly appetizing.

On the topic of melt-in-my-mouth, the Carpaccio di Manzo was superb.  Even before I dug into it, the dish was attractively plated with inviting colours.  It consisted of AAA beef tenderloin, horseradish aioli, capers, arugula and parmesan shavings.  Everything about the dish screamed out balance.  I could definitely taste the beef while the aioli was creamy with just enough bite.  Capers added the usual salty tang while the parm hit the super thin and tender beef with another burst of salt and nuttiness.  One of the better versions of carpaccio I've had of late.

Our last appie from the main menu was the Tonno Crudo featuring smoked ahi tuna, spicy cannellini bean puree, pickled enoki and parsnip crisps.  This was also appealingly plated with tuna that exhibited a beautiful sheen and freshness.  It was lightly smoked and there was enough inherent flavour that the bean puree wasn't really necessary.  I didn't really notice the pickled enoki, but there was background acidity to the dish.

One of my favourite items from the meal was the 1st course of the Truffle Fest Menu being the Sformato di Parmigiano which was essentially a flan with truffles.  Oh this was such a textural and taste delight!  So fluffy and light, the flan was delicious and rich with a creamy egginess.  The aroma of the parmesan came through with the unmistakeable salty nuttiness, which was definitely pronounced without being overwhelming.  The shavings of black truffle complimented the flan perfectly with subtle woodsy and even chocolate notes.

Onto the 2nd course of the Truffle Fest Menu, we had the first of many pastas with the Taglierini al Burro featuring thin ribbon pasta with butter and black truffles.  This was a simple pasta that was perfectly al dente, especially for freshly-made.  Noodles were moist and did not clump at all.  Possibly, it could've used even more butter, but that is nit-picking because it was really good.

Something that was far less subtle was the Bucatini all'Amatriciana in pomodoro with smoked guanciale, onion confit and chilies.  Once again, it was perfectly textured with a mouth-pleasing chewiness that gave way to tender pasta.  I enjoyed the noted tanginess from the sauce that was amped by the spice from the chilis.  Plenty of balancing sweetness from the onion and lots of fatty meatiness from the smoky guanciale.  I thought the flavours were in perfect harmony and I kept going back for more.

Stunning to look at the Spaghetti di Mare was a bevy of well-prepared seafood including beautifully seared scallops, sweet prawns and buttery clams and mussels.  As much as squid ink pasta is not unusual these days, this one was excellent.  Texture was spot-on like the rest of the pastas.  Also, there was a slight brininess to it which added the taste of the sea.  Usually, squid ink doesn't add a whole lot other than colour.  The roasted cherry tomatoes provided the tangy acidity to liven up the flavours and the plethora of garlic and onion added aromatics.

When we first laid eyes on the Ravioli Fatti in Casa, it was as if they tried to stuff as much braised short rib as they could into each one.  Personally, I could've done with less filling as it ate a little dry as a result.  However, that didn't detract from the overall execution of the dish since I enjoyed it very much.  The thin pasta couldn't have been any more perfect with a tender chewiness. Earthy, silky and full of umaminess, the porcini brown butter was so luxurious and the horseradish gremolata added a slight bite as well as aromatics.  

Originally, that was going to be all of the pastas we were going to try, but something told us that we had to also order the Risotto di Zucca with roasted butternut squash, sage and spiced hazelnuts.  Normally, there would be something to critique about a risotto because it is a finicky dish to prepare.  However, this one was absolutely perfect.  It spread onto the plate evenly and looked on point.  It was cheesy with an appealing consistency.  The rice was done just right retaining a pleasant chewiness while being cooked through.  Loved the sweetness from the squash, aroma from the sage and also the crunch from the nuts.

To completely ensure we got the full pasta experience, the Casarecce con Salsiccia was added to the meal.  Fortunately we got a chance to eat this dish because it was probably our favourite.  The pasta itself was excellent, with good chew and mouth feel.  It was sauced in a pork & fennel sausage ragout with cream, veal jus and parmesan.  There were layers of flavour with umaminess and creaminess.  The sausage itself was in bite sized pieces which were moist and full of meatiness without being salty.   This couldn't be prepared any better.

Off to the proteins and back to the Truffle Fest Menu, we were served the Costata di Vitello which was a veal chop served with wild mushroom risotto, grilled asparagus and truffled veal jus.  The large double cut veal chop was perfectly medium-rare which meant it was moist and super tender.  There was a good sear that resulted in caramelized flavours.  I would've liked more salt, but that is a personal preference.  Of course, the truffled veal jus only added more body and earthiness to the dish.

Also prepared perfectly medium-rare, the Bistecca Ribeye came with smoked bone marrow sauce, crispy gnocchi and wild mushrooms.  Normally, ribeye can be hit and miss in terms of being tender to the chew.  This one was moist and buttery tender with a delicious meatiness.  It was well seasoned, but the smokiness of the silky bone marrow sauce was welcomed.  The bevy of wild mushrooms was the perfect compliment to the ribeye. I thought the gnocchi was a bit too crispy though.  

Ending off the savoury portion of the meal, we had the Branzino with salsa verde, baby gem potatoes and broccolini.  As evidenced in the picture, the skin was super crispy and smoky from the sear.  Underneath, the fish itself was flaky and moist.  Again, I could've used more salt personally, but it in actuality, the fish got all the seasoning it needed from the bright salsa verde.  The accompanying broccolini and potatoes were also good being cooked just right retaining texture.

For the Truffle Fest Menu, the dessert was Pear & Sorbet featuring poached & grilled pears, barolo sorbet, pecans and parmesan truffle honey.  Yes, this was a sweet and savoury creation that really played with my taste buds.  I enjoyed the tender pears that had a balanced red wine taste.  Sweetness was in the form of the honey (that was also salty and truffly) and the red wine sorbet.  So with every bite, depending on what was on the spoon, there was alternating hits of mild sweetness to go with saltiness and mustiness of the truffles.

That wasn't the only dessert we tried...  We had the classic Tiramisu that not only looked traditional, it ate like it too.  Continuing the theme of the entire meal, the execution was straight-forward and on point.   The lady fingers were moist but not wet with a good amount of espresso.  I found the mascarpone to be just rich enough with the light airiness provided by the whip cream.  I quite enjoyed the level of sweetness as it was definitely there, but not too much so.

My favourite dessert had to be the Budino al Cioccolato where the viscosity of the Italian milk chocolate pudding was smooth, creamy and rich.   There was plenty of depth from the caramel flavours that complimented the chocolate.  As much as the earl grey was in the description, it was really in the background (which worked here).  The addition of the sea salt afforded the classic salted caramel notes.  Finally, the toasted nuts and caramel tuille provided the textural crunch to accent the thick pudding.

Normally, if I didn't try the budino, I probably would've rated the Pannacotta con Limone higher.  But again, the budino was just plain awesome.  As for the pannacotta, the consistency was also bang on being creamy and thick.  Loved the thin layer of lemon gelatin on top where it added a sweet tanginess.  This was truly refreshing and purposefully sweet with fresh berries on top.  The crunchy contrasting texture was courtesy of the candied pistachios on top.

The last, yet heaviest dessert was the Torta Caprese featuring flourless chocolate cake, amarena cherries and sour cream gelato.  This was so rich and chocolaty, it definitely needed to be shared.  I liked how the chocolate (including a mild bitter finish) really came through without too much sweetness coming through.  The sweetness was mostly provided by the cherries.  To bring it back down, the sour cream gelato had a light tang and mild sweetness.  These desserts really did epitomize the careful execution of the food at Tutto.  Most items were straight-forward and not fussy.  Rather, the skill of the chefs and the quality of the ingredients were on full display.  Tutto is definitely a crowd-pleaser that will satisfy a wide-range of tastes at fair prices considering its location.  I will definitely will be back.

The Good:

- Almost flawless execution

- Straight-forward and not fussy

- Fair pricing for the quality and quantity of food

The Bad:

- Some of the proteins could've used more salt

Porkmafia

Sometimes, the best food isn't necessarily found in a B&M restaurant.  It can literally be found at the side of the road on a farm with pigs roaming around freely in Delta.  Porkmafia, run by Pitmaster Jamie, is well-known to its many loyal fans.  However, for many others, this may be the first time they've ever heard about the place.  That was true for myself and Mijune as we were invited to try their BBQ.

Behold!  The platter of meat that was presented to us consisted of Smoked Brisket, Carolina-style Pulled Pork, Smoked Chicken, Burnt Ends and Smoked Oyama Sausage.  Okay, I've been to Texas and for those who don't know, I'm also a certified PNWBA judge.  So I'm pretty confident that the BBQ I tried at Porkmafia is completely legit.  The brisket point was at its fatty and moist best with a balanced smoke.  Good varied flavour from the rub as well.  Naturally, the flat was not as juicy due to the lean nature of the cut.  However, it wasn't dry and was just as tasty.  The star of the platter was the legit burnt ends which were large, smoky and ate like candied meat.  Although it didn't look it, the pulled pork was moist and tender.  Pitmaster Jamie did the chicken his way and it was not dry and full of flavour.  Lastly, the custom collaboration with Oyama made for a delicious and meaty sausage that had a firm snap.

One of the biggest surprises was the Smoked Pork Steak St. Louis style.  You would think that the pork would be dry due to the leanness of the meat.  However, it couldn't have been any further from that.  Rather, it was moist with the rub penetrating the meat as well as the smoke.  There was a slight sweetness that went well with the appealing tanginess.  The meat ate really well where it didn't need any sauce.

Lastly, we got to the sides including Coleslaw, Smoked Mac n' Cheese and Smoked Pit Beans.  Okay, don't laugh, but this has to be one of the best versions of coleslaw I've ever had.  Fresh, crunchy and tangy with a slight kick from horseradish, I couldn't stop eating it.  Mac n' Cheese should've been renamed cheese with mac because there was so much cheese in it.  No roux.  Just cheese.  Pit beans were smoky with plenty of smoked brisket.  A meal in itself!.  I can't say this enough, this BBQ has to be the best I've tried in the Lower Mainland.  Pitmaster Jamie doesn't take any shortcuts and it shows with the quality of the BBQ.  Don't just take my word for it, try it for yourself.  Make sure you pre-order otherwise you won't get any.

*All food was complimentary*

The Good:

- Legit

- Made with care

- Even the sides are legit

The Bad:

- Well, a bit restrictive when and where you can get it, but worth the effort!

ChiMec

A by-product of my quest to find the best fried chicken sammie in the Lower Mainland has been stumbling upon places that were never on my radar.  Case-in-point, my visit to Alphabet City yielded not only another fried chicken sammie contender, the rest of the food was really good.  Now the quest has brought me to ChiMec Fried Chicken & Burger out on Denman.  Run by the same good people from one store down at MDG, the chances of good fried chicken were pretty good.  Jacqueline and I dropped by for a tasting of their wares.

Not going to talk about something else and get right to the ChiMec Burger presented 2 ways.  First, we had the original with 2 deep fried chicken thighs and then the spicy with 2 pieces of deep fried chicken breast (that equals a whole).  As you can see, they were massive and fully loaded with creamy coleslaw, pickled onions, cheese and pickles on a brioche bun.  My preference was the dark meat as it was juicier.  In terms of original vs. spicy, definitely the spicy for me as the kick was noticeable and impactful.  Well worth the $12.00.

Now their Wings were pretty darn good as well.  We got them in Sweet & Spicy Korean and Salt & Pepper.  I found the coating to be a hybrid between batter and breading.  It wasn't heavy though and stayed crunchy throughout.  The skin was nicely rendered and there was sufficient seasoning even without sauce.  However, the Korean-style glaze was pretty tasty with the usual sweet and spiciness one would expect. 
This carried onto their Fried Chicken with a firm, yet not overly heavy coating.  Nicely seasoned and completely rendered skin.  Meat was super juicy, but didn't degrade the crunchiness outside.  Not much to say about the Fries and Onion Rings as they did the job, but were pretty standard.  However, the most important part of the menu, the chicken, they do it well and I do not hesistate to recommend it.

 

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:

- Well-seasoned, juicy chicken with rendered skin and crunchy coating

- Large sandwiches

- Reasonably-priced

 The Bad:

- Fries could be better

Alphabet City

Happenstance.  Sometimes I stumble upon a restaurant not because I knew about it or that even someone tipped me off.  Take Alphabet City on Main Street for instance, it has been open for a year and I had no clue it existed.  I even walked and drove by it several times while going to pick up cakes at Trafiq!  Located in the old Splitz Grill location, I only found out about the place because they noticed my fried chicken quest and asked if I would like to try theirs.  I was absolutely game and brought Mijune with me after our meal at Shin Ka Gyuu (yes, second dinner...).  We definitely ate their chicken sammie as well as many other items as well.

Before we got to the sammie, we had their popular Tuna Bites dusted in an array of spices including togarashi.  Yah, the tuna was seared just enough on both sides that left the centre rare and tender.  But the real draw of this dish was the layers of heat and spices with every bite.  It was hot enough to make our tongues tingle without destroying the actual delicateness of the tuna.  Served on the side was a soothing sesame ginger mayo.

Continuing with the same theme of spiciness, we had the Pound o Wings with "D" spice consisting of cayenne and paprika.  These were coated with rice flour (hence making them gluten-free) and dusted with plenty of dry rub.  These were pretty crunchy with properly rendered skin.  The meat was moist and juicy while the heat from the spices made for some tingling lips.  Really good wings.

Let's not stop there with the heat as we ventured into "F" spice with the Fried Boneless Chicken Leg (thigh and drumstick).  Once again, the rice flour batter resulted in a crunchy exterior.  This was even juicier than the wings as the liquids ran amok from the meat with every bite.  The spiciness from the F spice was very noticeable leaving a lingering burning sensation on my lips and tongue.

Of course we can't forget about the real reason I was here - the ABC Chicken Sammie in "E" spice.  OMG.  This was totally unexpected, but I'll happily take it - this sammie was delicious!  The fried chicken breast was explodingly juicy with plenty of heat.  Tangy and crunchy, the slaw brought the heat down a notch while the pickled onions added tanginess.  Toasted brioche was on point, holding things together.  One of the best sammies I've had in town!

Other than their fried chicken, another prominent part of the menu is dedicated to their burgers.  Stacked high thanks to a mess of house-made hickory sticks, The Smokeshow consisted of a 6oz patty, whiskey BBQ sauce, bacon, smoked provolone, green relish, garlic mayo, pickle and the aforementioned hickory sticks.  This was surely a hearty burger with a well-charred patty that was not dry.  Lots of textures and full-bodied flavours including smokiness, sweetness and meatiness.  The fries on the side were also excellent with a crispy exterior giving way to tender potatoness.

Almost anti-climatic after trying the smokeshow, the Classic Jr. sported one 3oz patty, American cheese, ketchup, mustard, mayo and LTOP.  Yes, this looked more like a lettuce burger than anything, but for those who don't want to eat something heavy like The Smokeshow, then this would be it.  There was still meatiness to be found here, but the burger ate light with a toasted soft brioche and the usual condiments. 

As if we needed anymore food, we had the ABC Nachos with chorizo, refried beans, cheese, pickled jalapeños, onions, cilantro and house made tortilla chips.  On the side, we found pico de gallo and sour cream.  This was prepared and served on a sheet pan so that every chip was kissed with toppings.  As such, this was a hearty serving of crispy nachos.  Lots of different flavours and no need to layer the ingredients and get everything wet.

Lastly, we had the Mac n' Cheese with a 3 cheese blend, panko/parm crust and chives.  The noodles in this were al dente despite being bathed in a creamy cheese sauce.  There was definitely ooey gooey cheesiness that was mild and subjected to a crunchy aromatic topping.  Overall, I thought the food was solid and definitely filling.  The spice levels here are spot on and can satisfy a variety of tastes.  If you go for the spicier letters, beware, they aren't playing around here!

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:

- They don't mess around when it comes to the spice level

- Good portions

- Solid eats

The Bad:

- You might not be able to handle the spicier "letters", start slow (we loved it though!)

Shin Ka Gyuu 辛火牛

There once was a time where AYCE (all-you-can-eat) anything was super popular in the Lower Mainland.  Yes, there are still some kicking around, but with the ever-increasing amount of foodies, those places are not seen as "The" places to go especially for posting on IG.  Hey, I agree since the food quality at AYCE joints tend to be lower and the execution can be hit and miss.  If we look at AYCE hot pot, it can get even dicier as the prices aren't exactly cheap.  Add in the surcharge for broth(s) and sauce(s), it can quickly add up to North of $50.00 easy (depending on the class of restaurant).  So when Shin Ka Gyuu opened up in the old Joey location on Broadway, I was pretty skeptical as it was charging even more than that for their AYCE sukiyaki menu.  Mijune and I were invited to try it out recently, so it was a good chance to see what it was all about.

They have 2 dinner menus at $58.00 and $78.00 each with the pricier one featuring more variety of meats including Wagyu.  There is a special going on where you can get the $78.00 menu for $58.00 during the day before 4:00pm.  Although the menu is AYCE, there is a limit on the Sashimi where we got 4 pieces of Atlantic salmon, 2 spot prawns, 4 pieces of hamachi and 4 pieces of hokkigai. Too bad there was a limit because the quality of the sashimi was quite good.

Moving onto the Sushi, we were served Ebi Aburi and Salmon Aburi Oshi as well as SKG Dragon Roll and Ka Gyuu Roll.  The sushi rice itself was a little on the wetter side, but it wasn't bad at all.  The rolls and oshi were constructed well.  Although the aburi was torched enough for effect, there was a bit too much mayo/sauce on top.  The salmon and ebi underneath were nicely textured and fresh.  I would say these were more than acceptable given they were unlimited.

There was also a bunch of Appetizers available including Tako Wasabi, Seaweed Salad, Cucumber Salad, Jellyfish Salad, Tuna Avocado Salad and Tofu Salad.  I thought they were all pretty solid and in fact, appetizing.  In particular, the tuna salad was full of tuna and salmon.  We asked for more of that without the mayo and voila, more sashimi (see below)!  Even though the soft imitation crab on the softer tofu was all the same texture, I got another.  I liked it for some reason.  Jellyfish salad and seaweed salad were typical, but appealing.  Tako Wasabi was a bit sweet, but also a nice appie.

We got a few more things before the sukiyaki.  They included Onsen Tamago, Chicken Karaage and Kimchi.  Somehow, we didn't get the takoyaki and gyoza, but we had more than enough food already.  Egg was perfectly silky in the centre and the seasoning was just enough.  Chicken karaage was a bit small, so it was more crunch than chicken.  Kimchi was tangy and slightly spicy.  Wish there was some fermented shrimp in there.

Now the main event with the Sukiyaki with the original broth as well as Karai.  We preferred the sukiyaki broth as it was flavourful with depth.  Even though the karai was spicy, it needed more salt.  We had all the meats including Pork Belly, Beef Short Plate, Wagyu Beef Short Plate, Prime Boneless Chuck Flap, Beef Chuck Eye Roll and Chef's Choice (we didn't know what that was...  LOL).  All of them were tender and moist, even after cooking all the way through.  The quality of the meats was high and that alone justifies the price.

We sampled all of the desserts (of course we did, Mijune wouldn't want it any other way) and it was hit and miss.  The highlights included the Green Tea and Black Sesame Ice Cream as well as the Matcha Tofu. That tofu was so silky and just sweet enough.  I could have many of those.  So in the end, much like any other AYCE, we could pick at some of the faults.  However, given the modern dining space (which had great Covid protocol), high quality of the meats and some appealing appies, it was really worth the price.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good: 

- Excellent meat quality

- Nice dining space

- Decent variety

The Bad:

- Dessert can be hit and miss

Zia's Cafe and Grill

The "industrial park" restaurant is one that we've seen before.  Hidden within warehouses and offices, the place is usually non-descript, have limited hours and offers up generic food for the workers in the area.  However, that is certainly not the case with Zia's Cafe and Grill located in 13700 Mayfield Place in Richmond.  Sure, they still serve burgers and such, but that is only a small part of the menu.  In addition to that, we find made-from-scratch Persian, Indian and Middle Eastern dishes.  I recently made my way out there with Jacqueline for a taste of their wares.

We began with their Vaziri consisting of both Kebab Koobideh and Joojeh Kebab with saffron rice and grilled tomatoes.  This was a large plate of food that would serve 2 people easy.  Both the chicken and beef were tender and nicely spiced.  The ground beef kebabs were juicier with a nice onion finish while the chicken breast kebabs were a bit drier with the essence of saffron.  I would've liked a bit more char, but these ate very well nonetheless.
 
The next set of dishes included Gheimeh (Split Pea Stew, Ghormeh Sabzi (Herb Stew) and Kashk O Bademjoon (Eggplant Dip).  We could really tell these were made from scratch and resembled more like home-cooking than restaurant food.  Hence, the dishes were salty nor too greasy.  I found the lentil stew to be mild with tender beef and light tomato notes.  The herb stew was very subtle with herbaceousness and tender beef as well.  Complimented by mint, garlic and yogurt whey, the roasted eggplant dip went well with the soft flatbread.  I also thought the flavours in this was also subtle.

By looking at the colour of the Butter Chicken, it didn't appear that they used tomato paste.  In fact, it looked like they used fresh tomatoes.  Hence, the flavours were creamier and again, I'll used the word, subtle.  I was able to get the earthiness of the cumin and just the slightest hint of spice.  Nestled in the sauce, we found tender nuggets of chicken.  Again, this was served with saffron rice.

Now the fact they serve different things other than their core menu has mainly to do with offering more lunch options in the industrial park they reside in.  But their Famous Charbroiled Burger was far from a throw-in.  I thought it was fantastic as the fresh beef patty had a great meaty texture and flavour.  Furthermore, there was a smoky sear that complimented the natural taste of the meat.  Sure, their fries were not house-made, but at least they used Cavendish (Costco Fries) because they were good.

One of the best, if not the best, things we tried was the TFC Burger featuring crispy tandoori chicken bites nestled in a brioche bun with jalapeno mayo.  They were indeed crispy with some spice and plenty of impact.  Chicken was moist and the whole thing just ate well with a variety of flavours and textures.  I would say this is the thing to get here as it is unique and cheap at $10.00 including fries!  I would say that the food at Zia's is reasonably-priced considering that everything (well, almost everything) is scratch-made and not loaded with salt and preservatives.  Good option if you are in the area.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Scratch-made food
- Reasonably-priced
- Wonderful people

The Bad:
- Since it is homemade, things are milder and more subtle

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