Sherman's Food Adventures: June 2021

Hello Nori (Robson Street)

I must profess that when I first saw all the social media hype about Hello Nori, I completely tuned it out.  Now why would I do that, especially since I absolutely love all things to do with Japanese cuisine?  Simple.  I looked at the hand rolls they were serving and thought "meh".  Well, slowly but surely, people were telling me how good it was and what really got my attention was when Mijune confirmed it.  So I decided to follow her lead and go try out Hello Nori on Robson Street.

Since Mijune joined me (she wanted to eat it again), I had no choice but to order the 6-Hand Roll Set (for each of us) as well as 5 more off the a la carte menu.  We started with the Toro (actually it was essentially negitoro) first and any preconceived notions I had about the place disappeared with each bite.  The high-quality nori was crispy which gave way to perfectly seasoned sushi rice.  There was an even ratio of filling-to-rice.  Loved butteriness of the toro, the brightness of the green onion as well as a hint of freshly ground sesame seeds.

Next up was probably one of the best of the bunch in the Ora King Salmon.  The quality and freshness of the fish really came through with natural sweetness and a soft buttery texture.  Once again, the seasoning was enough that the roll could stand on its own.  There was a balance of sweet, savoury and vinegariness in the chewy sushi rice.  Just like all the hand rolls, the crisp nori helped provide a clean textural contrast.

The hits kept on coming with the Yellowtail.  The sweet butteriness of the fish was evident while a hint of the sea really made this great tasting.  There was a side of soy provided, but I only used this sparingly, if at all.  If you have noticed so far in the pictures, there was also freshly-grated wasabi served as well.  For those who have had this before, they will know that it is much milder than the fake stuff and has a touch of sweetness.  This complimented the fish perfectly without overwhelming it.

Probably the most important reason why the hand rolls were so fresh was that they make-it-to-order as you finish the previous roll.  This way, it is ensured the nori is crispy and the rice is warm.  For the Unagi roll, timing was everything as they started torching the eel as I was on my last bite of the hamachi.  As you can see, the piece of eel was large and nicely charred and sauced.  This ate well with soft eel with caramelized flavours.

Something that was new and off-menu (it was on the Father's Day Menu though) was the Tako (or torched Octopus).  Due to the size of the hand rolls, they used smaller tentacles which were first cooked until tender then torched to finish.  This way, the octopus was tender to the chew while still sporting caramelization and a slight crispiness on the outside.  We did get hint of butane due to the torching, but not enough to break the dish.  I'm sure charcoal would not be practical for this type of restaurant.

 Onto something a bit different, we were served the Spicy Shrimp.  Similar to the last roll, this one was fully cooked featuring tender shrimp that still had some bounce in its texture.  It was mixed in with a spicy mayo which was creamy with a small kick of spice.  I enjoyed this with the warm rice as it impacted the mayo in a good way.  So rather than being warm and cold, there was a slight transition from warm, to luke warm to cold.  Loved that temperature contrast.

Continuing on the same theme somewhat was the Spicy Tuna.  Again, this was hardly hot, but in Japanese cuisine, it isn't typical to have something super spicy.  It is all about balance.  This was no exception with soft tuna with a slight hit of spice while the natural sweetness still came through.  Of course the rice added its usual well-seasoned flavour, but the perfectly chewy texture complimented the soft tuna well.

Back to the set menu items, we were served the Hokkaido Scallop with fish roe.  As delicate scallops can be, these were indeed mild, sweet and tender.  There was only a light dressing of mayo that added another hint of sweetness.  Even though this was probably the most light-tasting roll, this was the perfect time to add some of the freshly-grated wasabi.  It just gave the roll something extra without obscuring the scallop.  Fake wasabi would've been too strong.

Onto another delicate-tasting offering was the Crab roll.  Once again, it was not inundated with dressing.  Rather, it was just straight-up shredded real crab meat with the smallest amount of mayo and seasoning.  Therefore, we could really taste the crab in its purest form where the seasoning only further enhanced the natural flavours.  As for the texture, the crab was fluffy with a light rebound.

Our last one for the meal was the Truffle Lobster which also contained a generous amount of filling.  The piece of lobster was firm with the classic bounce texture.  It was sweet with the unmistakable essence of lobster.  And not trying to repeat myself, but it was only lightly dressed with just the right amount of truffle flavour.  Again, the warm seasoned rice just made this complete.  So if it sounds like I really enjoyed the hand rolls at Hello Nori, it is pretty obvious that I did.  I take back all the assumptions and misconceptions I had about the place.  The pricing is absolutely fair for the quality of the product.  It is like a quasi-Omakase experience without the usual price tag.  I'm going back for sure and can't wait for the Brentwood location to open up.  In fact, they have a few more on the way including West Van and Richmond among others.

The Good:

- Quality ingredients

- Good filling-to-rice ratio

- Beautiful decor, cool experience

The Bad:

- Not a place to necessarily linger, seating is bar style and food comes out as fast as you consume it

Festal Paleo Cafe

Yes, the last post on Manna was about plant-based meals, so the conventional thinking would be that an unhealthy gluttonous food adventure was to follow.  Well you would be wrong as we did some paleo and keto dining at Festal Paleo Cafe in Downtown.  We did get back on the meat train, but went easy on the carbs.  As much as paleo and keto diets have become more mainstream, there is a general lack of dedicated restaurants.  Now the biggest problem for me isn't the availability, rather it is about taste and texture.  I was curious if Festal could win me over.

We ordered a wide range of dishes including the deliciously-looking Butternut Lasagna featuring local grass-fed beef, butternut squash, spinach, cashew cheese, creamy coconut tomato sauce & fresh Italian herbs & spices.  Sure, there was a lack of noodles in this lasagna but I really didn't miss it due to the "layers" of textures and flavours (sorry for the pun).  This included tender meat, creamy cashew cheese and a noticeable spiciness to go with the tanginess of the tomato sauce.  This was so large of a portion, it could easily divide into 2 meals.

My absolute favourite dish  had to be the Bolognese with zucchini noodles, raw cashew cheese and cassava foccacia.  Zucchini can be a finicky vegetable as it can overcook easily.  The "noodles" in this dish were perfect being soft and cooked through without becoming mushy.  It was bathed in a flavouful and meaty bolognese with the sweetness of onion and carrots.  We fought over this dish and finished it easily.

Another well-executed item was the Butter Chicken with marinated chicken breast, spiced tomato, cashew and coconut sauce.  For a version that did not include heavy cream, this was still rich and ate very much like butter chicken.  The sauce had a thick viscosity while being "creamy".  There was a nice balance including a tangy finish with spice.  The large cubes of chicken were tender and moist.

Sticking with the theme of the restaurant, the Sirloin Burger did not come with a bun.  I really could care less as the grass-fed beef patty was topped with thick cut bacon and a giant glob of bacon jam.  The patty itself was rather lean, so it wasn't exactly juicy.  Yet it wasn't dry either.  There was plenty of natural beef flavour and when combined with the tangy jam, it was just plain delicious.  Definitely a fork and knifer.

Working our way through the menu, we decided to get a couple slices of Paleo Pizza including Wild Hawaiian (crispy bacon, Canadian black forest ham, pineapple, cashew cheese and tomato sauce) and Meatlovers (beef, bacon and Canadian black forest ham).  As much as the pizza crust was a bit dense (no grain dough), it wasn't heavy and was relatively thin.  There was no lack of toppings, which made it a hearty meal (I guess it justified the $13.95 for 2 slices).  The creamy cashew cheese was a fine substitute reminiscent of Virtuous Pie.

Completing our savoury dishes, we tried the Spicy Chicken Waffle Sandwich sporting local free-range chicken breast, bacon, no-grain waffle bread & colelsaw.  Once again, the lack of grains didn't detract from the waffle's texture.  It was soft and fluffy while holding everything together.  The chicken was thin, yet still moist and the abundance of crunchy coleslaw added moisture and messiness.  The side of cassava chips were light and crunchy.  Completing the dish was a generous portion of real maple syrup.

Onto dessert, we had a good selection including Keto Almond Croissant, Raspberry Log Cake, Keto Blueberry Muffin, Keto Chocolate Brownie and Keto Boston Cream Donut.  Since all of them employed alternative flours such as coconut and almond, the textures were predictably more dense.  However, they were still good in their own way.  I thought the raspberry log was fluffy enough and had a good balance of sweetness and tartness.  The donut was mildly sweet and almost pudding like.  I found the muffin to be close to custard quality while sporting enough sweetness from the topping.  The croissant was rather dense while the brownie ate like a typical version being chocolaty and rich.  Now I've had paleo food before at various other restaurants in town, but the one thing that sets Festal apart is that they elevate the food.  In this way, I didn't feel like I was giving up anything necessarily to go paleo and keto.  Flavours were impactful and they did their very best to keep the textures appealing.  I would definitely return with the lasagna and bolognese at the top of my list.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:

- Impactful flavours with spice

- Nearly all the items had an appealing texture despite the lack of conventional flours

- Wide range of items

The Bad:

- Predictably, some textures were more dense, not much you can do about that

- Pizzas are a bit pricey

Manna Sacred Meals

If you haven't noticed, I don't have much of a relationship with vegan eats.  In fact, vegetarian might even be a stretch for me.  However, when done right, I'm more than happy to go meatless.  Now it gets much more challenging when you take out all animal products hence I've tread very lightly when it comes to plant-based cuisine.  Recently, Manna Sacred Meals reached out to me and asked if I would try some of their meal kits.  They consists of all of the prepared ingredients sealed in bags that you either remove and bake or boil in the bag itself.

I was rather curious how one could make a "Smoked Salmon" Sushi Bake without fish.  Well, the "salmon" was actually smoked carrot slices that were indeed smoky and sweet just like salmon.  In the bake itself, there was tofu, veggies and greens. Now this ate quite well, despite not really resembling a sushi bake.  I would say it was more like a hearty vegetarian dip.  Lots of textures at play.

My favourite item was the Bulgogi Lettuce Wraps with kimchi fried rice and marinated soy curls & veggie stir fry. Loved the use of red romaine as it was more malleable so it didn't split.  The fried rice was nutty, a bit spicy and perfectly textured.  For me, I love soy curls, so the chewy texture was appealing.  There was plenty of seasoning and the unmistakable taste of shiitake.  I would've liked less bamboo shoot essence though.

I was initially worried that Truffle Wild Mushroom Pasta would be woefully overdone due to the reheating process.  To my pleasant surprise, the whole grain pasta was perfectly al dente.  There was a plethora of mixed mushroom, garlic, olive oil, herb and truffle.  In fact, we had some leftover!  Could use that with something else.  To complete the dish, there was a lemon roasted veggies and tempeh.  Compared to a regular mushroom cream pasta, this was heartier and with more body.  Just enough truffle to go with the natural woodsiness of the mushrooms.  Really tasty.

Last dish was the Portobello Mushroom Steaks stuffed with lentils and accompanied by fresh herb spaghetti squash, braised cabbage and MANNA drizzle.  I would like to use the word hearty again to describe this.  Despite the lack of meat, this was fulfilling and "meaty".  The mushroom was well-seasoned and the lentil stuffing had body yet wasn't too dense.  Absolutely loved the spaghetti squash.  Great texture and nicely seasoned while naturally sweet.  Overall, I really did enjoy the plant-based meals from Manna.  This was a convenient way to eat more healthy while being tasty at the same time.

*Food was complimentary*

The Good:

- Not lacking in flavour

- Hearty even without the meat

- Healthier

 The Bad:

 - Bamboo shoots in the lettuce wrap could be less pungent

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