Sherman's Food Adventures: 2022

Liberte Cafe & Restaurant

Hidden restaurants tend to have a certain charm about them.  This is especially true when the food is good as well as the service.  Then for the people who find it first, they get to share this with everyone else, hence, the place is no longer a hidden gem nor a secret.  For Liberte Cafe & Restaurant, they have all of the aforementioned characteristics including the fact they serve Filipino-inspired cuisine.  That makes it even more interesting as they are not merely "another" cafe.

I came in for a quick bite and only tried 3 dishes, but it was enough to give me a good idea of the place.  We enjoyed the Honey-Truffle Fried Chicken with rice, however, the frozen veggies were limp and lifeless.  Beyond that, the fried chicken thighs were fantastic.  Crispy and light, the batter stayed as such even though it was drenched in sauce.  The dark meat was juicy while cooked through.  We really liked the sauce as it was just sweet enough with a restrained amount of truffle.

Next, we had the classic Tapsilog with sliced beef rib steak, garlic fried rice, sunny side eggs and veggies.  I thought this was quite good with tender strips of beef that retained a good chew.  There was a balanced amount of seasoning including sweet, tangy and savoury.  The side of vinegar dipping sauce brightened things up as usual.  Garlic rice was chewy and full of flavour.  Eggs were nicely runny and went well with the rice.

We liked the beef so much, it was the featured protein in the Signature Tapa Waffle.  Included with the beef was an ube waffle which was crispy and somewhat light.  The seasoned wedge fries were also crispy due to the starch coating.  It also came with a house salad which provided us with some more veggies.  Now even though we only had 3 dishes, they were good enough to warrant a repeat visit.  The place is definitely charming and serves up food that is not the usual.  Pricing is also quite reasonable.

The Good:
- Decent eats
- Well-priced
- Nice people

The Bad:
- Those frozen veggies (they might've changed that by now)
- Not a big place, better make a rez 

 

Song YVR

My initial visit to Song YVR (formerly known as Kin Kao Song) was fantastic.  Subsequently, they were recognized as Michelin Bib Gourmand and it was to no surprise.  For those who aren't familiar, Bib Gourmand refers to restaurants that good quality and value.  That pretty much sums up Song as the food is delicious and although not cheap, the pricing is fair for the quality.  We love this place so much, we had to make a return visit to try some more dishes.

However, we went back to the well with the Lemongrass Wings that were split then deep fried.  This way, there was much more of a uniform crispiness and since they cooked much faster, they didn't dry out.  Hence, the skin was well-rendered and crispy while the meat stayed juicy.  Beyond the aromatic lemongrass, the side dip was key in providing acidity, sweetness,  herbaceousness and a slight kick.

One of the stealthiest dishes was the Pomelo Salad topped with crispy shallots and shredded coconut.  Juicy and sweet with a touch of bitterness, the pomelo was a treat by itself.  However, the aromatic and crunch of the shallots and coconut acted as a perfect textural contrast.  Hints of lemongrass and lime leaves complimented the already tangy, sweet and slightly spicy dressing.  Completing the whole thing was some cashews.

One of the best things to have here is the Tom Yum Prawns Soup.  It is served in a hot pot that almost brought the soup to a boil.  I say almost because it didn't and the soup was a bit lukewarm.  Despite this, the flavours really popped.  Beyond the expected hot and sour notes, there was plenty of aromatics and bite from the galangal, lime leaves and lemongrass.  Umaminess and saltiness was evident from the shrimp paste as well.  This was more of a stew than soup as it sported large and meaty tiger prawns, young coconut and oyster mushrooms.

Jam-packed with large and fluffy chunks of crab meat, the Crab Fried Rice was truly a real treat.  Although the jasmine rice was just a touch soft, it was still the beneficiary of high BTUs, hence it was nutty with caramelized flavours.  The addition of shrimp paste provided impact in the form of a fermented and rich saltiness to go with some brininess.  This was a considerable portion, but then again, it was $40.00.

Another must-order at Song is the Pad Thai.  We added grilled pork jowl as our protein for an extra $5.00.  Featuring their house tamarind sauce, the dish was rich with tang and sweetness.  The rice noodles were chewy and not clumpy.  There was enough sauce for impact and lubrication.  Pressed tofu and pickled turnip made this a very legit Pad Thai with all of the necessary textures as well.

So one of their newest dishes is the Beef Short Rib Stir Fry with fresh turmeric, peppercorns, chili, garlic sauce, mushrooms, eggplant, green beans and peppers.  Once again, the wok fry was excellent as the flavours were caramelized and there was no moisture on the plate.  The short ribs were meaty and had some chew.  As for the veggies, they were vibrant with a bite and plenty of texture.

One of my favourite dishes was actually vegetarian in the Squash Stir Fry featuring kobacha and egg with a garlic and mushroom sauce.  The texture of the squash was appealing where it was firm, yet still tender.  The ample amount of fried egg provided a complimentary texture.  Best of all, the umaminess from the mushroom "oyster" sauce was sweet and full of depth.  Okay, I can't tell you enough how delicious the food at Song YVR is.  I highly recommend the place and it definitely deserves its Michelin Bib Gourmand status.  Sure, it is not cheap, but what is these days?  Might as well eat something that is guaranteed to be tasty.

The Good:
- Expert wok skills, things are caramelized without excess moisture
- Pronounced flavours
- Not your ordinary Thai restaurant

The Bad:
- Dishes average around $40.00 each, so it is pricey. Worth it in my opinion though.

Switch

I'm sure you've noticed that I've been trying to feature restaurants with good food at reasonable prices in the past few posts.  Well, this isn't by accident as the soaring price of food makes it expensive at the grocery store and even more so at a restaurant.  Hence, I've been personally searching for the best places to go for solid eats that won't break the bank.  Up next is Switch on Robson Street that is a restaurant, a bar and also a Karaoke spot.  Yes, this would be the last place you would think to find good food at value pricing.  Alas, it is and you really won't believe how inexpensive their lunch sets are!  Try $10.95...


So what do you get for $10.95?  Two examples include the Grilled Saba with rice, pickles and miso soup and the Spaghetti with mussels and cream sauce and a side salad.   Saba was good with a nicely grilled skin while the meat was moist and flaky.  It was properly salted as well. The spaghetti was al dente with a flavourful cream sauce.  There was also plenty of fresh mussels.  Now these weren't even the most impressive offerings.  They also have a lobster burger, hamburger steak and chicken karaage don.

We were then served some dinner appies including Kusshi Oysters for $1.50 each.  These were properly shucked with no shell fragments.  I really enjoyed these as they were fresh, sweet and briny.  We also had the Tuna Tartare featuring both bluefin and yellowfin tuna as well as avocado and green onion.  This was fresh and properly seasoned, but the chunks of fish could've been smaller.  There was also a chef's special that wasn't on the menu that appeared to be some form of Teriyaki Beef on meslun greens and an onsen egg.  The beef was sliced thin and was tender.  The silky egg added some nice creaminess.

Another set of appies arrived consisting of Ankimo, Fried Oysters and Silky Tofu.  The thick slices of ankimo were on point with a creamy, yet firm texture.  It had the requisite taste of the sea with sweetness.  Those fried oysters were money being perfectly fried with a crispy panko coating.  It was served with kewpie mayo.  Served cold, the delicate tofu appeared to be sitting in a dashi-soy sauce.  Once again, not on the menu.


Onto 2 dishes that would be found on most fine dining menus, we had the Beef Tartare and the Escargots.  Even though the beef was cut pretty thick, the AAA tenderloin was buttery soft.  Beyond the quail's egg yolk on top, the tartare was dressed with wasabi cream and capers.  The result was a flavour profile akin to a tako wasabi with a sharp bite and the tangy saltiness of the pickles.  As for the escargots, they were prepared more traditionally with herb butter and grana padano.  These were tender and full of salty buttery garlickiness.


I guess the next dish didn't look all that interesting other than the fact it had romaine lettuce (super hard to find and really expensive right now!).  However, the Mentaiko Caesar was unlike any other version I've had.  The dressing sported pollack roe and mullet bottarga where it provided an appealing fishiness.  The grilled prawns had a meaty snap texture while tasting naturally sweet.  We were also served the Assorted Sashimi consisting of ebi, Atlantic salmon, sockeye salmon, hotate and tuna.  As evidenced in the picture, things were fresh with a nice sheen.  


One of the weaker items was the Spaghetti with lobster cream sauce and mullet bottarga.  Although al dente, the pasta was pretty bland as the lobster essence did not come through.  The 3 pieces of seafood consisting of prawn, squid and scallop were perfectly prepared.  The Braised Short Rib was also an off-menu item and it should be on the menu.  It was fantastic.  The meat was super tender and moist.  It benefited from the red wine braising sauce where flavours were rich and full of depth.  Some vibrant and crunchy sauteed veggies were served on the side.



After we were all full, we made our way to the one of the larger Karaoke Rooms where we enjoyed singing some popular songs while being served some dessert.  This included the Yuzu Cheesecake and also the Matcha Tiramisu.  I appreciated that the cheesecake was not some factory-bought version.  It was creamy and rich with a refreshing tanginess.  I liked how there was no crust.  As for the tiramisu, it was creamy and light while only a little sweet.  The matcha came through and was not overpowering.  Overall, I found the food at Switch to be quite good and well-priced (especially the lunch menu).  The place is stylish and has a club-like bar that serves up tasty cocktails.  I can see this as a great venue to grab some reasonably-priced eats before or after some karaoke.  Moreover, this place would be great for special events and celebrations.

*All food, drinks and karaoke was complimentary*

The Good:
- Decent eats
- Reasonably-priced (with the lunch menu being actually cheap)
- Nice decor and sexy bar
- You also have karaoke

The Bad:
- Wished that the karaoke songs had some background images or videos rather than just lyrics

Hanai Vancouver

So one of the newer restaurants on Commercial Drive isn't really all that new.  Hanai, which takes over the spot Ugly Dumpling used to reside, started out as a food stand, then a takeout spot.  So moving into a brick & mortar location is a huge step forward for owners Tess Bevernage and Thomas Robillard.  Vancouver is blessed with a variety of cuisines, but Hawaiian isn't well-represented (unless you include the countless poke shops...).  For me, I love Hawaiian food and I finally made it out to Hanai for their well-priced Ohana Menu for $60.00 per person.

As mentioned in my previous posts, the cost of eating out is through the roof these days.  Hey, I don't blame the restaurants as they need to cover their expenses.  So this family-style menu is a great deal in my books.  We started things off with the some soft bread with a delicious Tall Shadows Ube Buns & Limu Butter.  The buns were only lightly kissed with ube and were super-soft.  However, the star of the show was the butter.  It was so filled with umami and the taste of the sea, we wished there was more!  We would've eaten with a spoon...

Our next course consisted of 4 dishes including Whole Pig Pork Terrine with pickles, Crispy Smelt, Curry Dashi Squash and Purple Yams. Starting with the terrine, it was made with various parts of a whole pig, hence the different textures and flavours were pronounced.  Very meaty, a bit porky and definitely tender.  It was served with pickles and some gochujang.  Absolutely loved the crispy smelt as they were delicate and deliciously fishy.  Kewpie mayo was served with it.  The delicate sweetness of the squash was accented by a mild hint of curry while the naturally sweet purple yam benefited from the nuttiness of the sesame seeds.

In between the aforementioned course and the next, we were served the Cheesy Rice Cakes with gochujang and mozzarella.  Personally, I would've liked it with a some more kick, but this still had most of what makes this dish good.  Namely, the rice cakes were soft and tender while retaining a chew.  Also, the flavours of the dish included spice, sweetness and tanginess.  Lastly, can't hurt with all that ooey gooey cheese on top.

Onto yet another multi-dish course, we had the Potato Salad, Roasted Beet Salad and Manila Clams.  Featuring sieglinde potatoes, smoked bonito and kewpie mayo, the potato salad was chunky with some firmness.  It was creamy with a bit of smoky fishiness.  It was topped with a ramen egg.  I really enjoyed the beet salad where the beets were firm, yet tender.  Nice sweet earthiness complimented by the nutty and sweet sesame dressing.  The purple daikon and pickled wakame added even more texture to the salad as well as acidity from the wakame.  The best of the three was the Manila clams in a ginger & lemongrass broth complimented by cured Chinese sausage (Lap Cheong) and chili.  These little clams were buttery soft and briny.  I thought the saltiness from the sausage and the chili added depth and impact to the otherwise mild fragrant broth.

Okay, onto the literally the meat of the meal, we had the Huli Huli Chicken, Cropthorne Farm Carrots, Furikake Rice, Perilla Leaves and Two Rivers Pork Chop.  Now if the chicken looks suspiciously like Chinese soy chicken, you aren't far off since this was indeed cooked with sweet shoyu.  It was perfectly prepared where the meat (including the beast) was super moist and juicy.  On the side, there was a finadene sauce which added tang, sharpness and spice.  Equally moist and juicy, the bone-in pork chop was topped with an umami-packed fermented black bean butter sauce.  It was balanced where the butter tempered the saltiness of the black beans.  Not to be outdone, the roasted carrots were cooked through, yet still had a firm crunch.  They were naturally sweet and a bit earthy.  On top, there was a extensively briny XO sauce.  To compliment all the meats and full-bodied flavours, we had some furikake rice with a side of braised perilla leaves.  The leaves were great to wrap things with and had a nice herbaceous hit.

Finally, we got to our last course which was dessert.  We were served both the Banana Melt (consisting of banana cake, brown sugar coconut, Filipino cheese and fior di latte gelato) and Rouie's Guinatan (mochi, banana, ube and coconut milk).  We found the banana cake a touch dry, but it was still aromatic and just semi-sweet.  The cheese on top added an "it" factor to the dessert in terms of texture and savouriness.  A scoop of gelato from next door (Dolce Amore) helped add moisture to the cake.  Of the two, I loved Rouie's Guinatan the most as it was so creamy and aromatic from the coconut milk.  Those hand-made mochi balls were so soft and appealing.  This was just sweet enough and I could've had a few of them for myself.  Overall, this was a really good meal at a reasonable price.  There was more than enough food for all of us and we even had leftovers.  Proteins were cooked perfectly and the sides were equally delicious.  We will be back.

The Good:
- Well-prepared proteins
- Reasonable-pricing and generous portions
- Excellent service

The Bad:
- Seating is a bit tight due to the size of the restaurant 

 

Time & Place

Long ago, Crystal Grille at the Hilton Vancouver Metrotown featured an underrated Sunday buffet.  It had changed names to Reflect over 10 years ago and still featured the buffet.  Sadly, that buffet is now gone (they still have a standard breakfast buffet though) and we are only left with a default hotel restaurant.  Once again, they rebranded and now it is known as Time & Place.  Interestingly, after looking at the menu online, the prices seemed very reasonable for a hotel restaurant.  Since my parents loved coming here for the buffet in the past, we took them along to see what this new place had in store.

Since we arrived in time for Happy Hour, we gladly selected a few items from that menu.  Interestingly a 1/2 pound of Wings during happy hour equated to $9.00.  But the regular price for 1 pound was $18.00.  Um, I don't think we were getting a deal...  Anyways, we ended up with 3 orders consisting of hot, garlic & pepper and salt & pepper.  Despite the stark difference in colour, the wings were uniformly crispy with juicy meat.  The hot wings were actually spicy and we enjoyed them.  As for the other 2, they tasted somewhat similar.

Although the Truffle Fries were not the house-cut variety, they were still quite good.  Yes, they somewhat resembled Costco fries, but that wasn't a bad thing though.  Each starch-coated fry was super crispy and ever-so-fluffy inside.  They were well-seasoned and only had just enough truffle oil tossed into it.  Good amount of parm on top to add some nutty saltiness.  These type of fries tend to be greasy, but we didn't find them so.

One of the better values on the happy hour menu is the Applewood House-Smoked Beef Brisket Sliders served with house potato chips.   Nestled within the firm, yet not overly chewy buns, there was a good amount of buttery soft and fatty beef brisket, grainy dijon mayo and caramelized onion.  Pretty good for a non-BBQ restaurant.  Although I wonder why the house-made chips and no house-made fries?

Our last happy hour item was the Slow-Roasted Pork Belly Mac & Cheese which was a fairly large portion.  Although this was on the drier side, there was still enough cheesiness in terms of texture and flavour from the bechamel made of edam and aged cheddar.  As for the macaroni, it was perfectly al dente with a firm chewiness.  There wasn't a huge amount of pork belly, but when we had some, the small bites were tender, fatty and meaty-tasting.

Onto an appie from the regular menu, we had the West Coast Mussels with T&P house lager, chorizo, caramelized onion and fresh cilantro.  Okay, for $18.00, this was an absolute steal.  This pot of mussels was filled to the brim.  As you can clearly see in the picture, these were extremely plump mussels at that.  Furthermore, they were cooked perfectly being buttery, briny and sweet.  Another positive - all of them were fully open.

For myself, I went for the House Ground & Pound Burger featuring a CAB brisket patty, LTOP and edam cheese on a kasier bun.  I thought the burger patty was excellent being moist, meaty and just fatty enough.  All the produce in the burger was fresh and vibrant while the burger sauce was creamy.  However, I would've preferred a softer bun like a brioche or at the very least, toast the kaiser bun instead of serving it as is.

Viv had the West Coast Cioppino consisting of Kuterra salmon and Pacific ling cod, West Coast mussels, tiger prawns, fingerling potato and broccolini in a fennel saffron broth.  For $32.00, this was an absolute steal.  The picture doesn't do it justice as it was chock full of perfectly cooked seafood.  Both the salmon and cod were hard seared, yet still were flaky and moist.  The broth was tomato-forward with a fennel finish.  It could've used a bit more salt though.  

My daughter decided on her favourite, Kuttera Salmon Filet with black garlic spätzle, charred green bean and cauliflower atop a roasted sunchoke and shallot emulsion.  Again, the salmon featured a hard sear and was mildly-seasoned.  This piece was cooked a bit more than the one found in the cioppino.  That black garlic spätzle was packed full of umami and featured an al dente bite.  Rounding out the dish was an aromatic emulsion.

My parents were pretty satisfied with the appies we were ordered, but they still shared the 10oz Grilled CAB Rib Eye Steak with mashed potatoes, charred tomato, broccolini, red wine demi and chimichurri.  Although the steak was charred, I would've preferred a bit more of it.  It was perfectly medium-rare though and was fairly tender.  The chimichurri was bright and flavourful while the demi was rich and silky.

For dessert, we shared two including the Apple Crumble with passionfruit mousse.  Okay, I want to say something positive here, but I cannot because this was terrible.  They didn't baked this enough (in the reheating process) where the crust was flimsy while the topping was mushy.  In fact, the whole thing was barely lukewarm.  Compounding the problem was that there was a complete lack of flavour too.

Now the Caramel Sea Salt Brownie was much better.  It was chewy, purposefully sweet and completely chocolatey.  The sea salt further enhanced the already impactful flavours. It was topped with vanilla bean gelato and there was a side of berrry compote.  Apple crumble withstanding, the food at Time & Place was respectable with some real highlights.  Considering the reasonable pricing, I would actually recommend the place if you were looking for a nicer dinner in a relaxed spot.  It is no more expensive than most of the chain restaurants out there.  Sure, it really depends on what you order, but if you do hit the right dishes, you will be satisfied.

The Good:
- Reasonably-priced
- Depending what you order, the food is more than acceptable
- Excellent service

The Bad:
- Some refinement is necessary, like the bun for the burger and the crappy Apple Crumble
- Very low-key spot, so not trendy like some other restaurants (however, I don't mind low-key sometimes myself)

Sushi U

If you do not live in the Burnaby North area, specifically around Broadway near Holdom, you would hardly know the restaurants that reside in the small strip mall featuring Buy-Low Foods.  There is a good small Vietnamese spot called White Lotus as well as a Chinese restaurant in Garlic & Chili.  We cannot forget Parkcrest Diner with its ol' skool eats.  There is also a newish Japanese restaurant there named Sushi U in the location formerly occupied by Bentei Sushi.  I've been to Bentei in the past and it was a run-down spot with very average eats.  However, we wanted to give Sushi U a try because they have completely remodeled the place and reviews have been good.

The first thing we noticed, other than the modern decor, was the fairly premium pricing of the menu.  We do understand that food costs are high and it will reflect in restaurant menus.  Our first item was the Assorted Tempura consisting of ebi, yam, kobacha, green bean and broccoli.  This was quite good where everything was lightly-battered and crispy.  Grease was kept to a minimum and the ingredients were cooked just right.  Beans and broccoli still had crunch while the yam and squash were soft with a bite.

Next we had the Chicken Katsu served with rice and salad.  This was a fairly large portion with a flattened chicken cutlet that was breaded with panko.  It was deep fried until golden brown where it was crunchy and nutty.  However, the breading didn't adhere well to the chicken and most parts slid off as we picked it up with our chopsticks.  Despite that, we still enjoyed it as the chicken was moist and as mentioned, the panko was crunchy.

Interestingly, we added the Chicken Yakisoba after our original order, but it arrived lightning quick.  I surmised there must've been a backlog of sushi/sashimi orders for takeout.  Anyways, this was also good with a proper ratio of noodles to veggies and meat.  It wasn't too saucy, which I prefer, yet at the same time, it wasn't dry either.  There was enough seasoning that was balanced between sweet, tangy and savoury.  Cabbage was still crunchy while the chicken was tender.

Finally, we made it to the sushi with the Aburi Sampler featuring ebi, tai, salmon, hotate, saba and tuna.  We thought these were decent where the ingredients were fresh and properly portioned in relation to the rice.  These were lightly torched and personally, I would've like to see even more charring.  It might've possibly be due to the conservative amount of sauce on top.  However, I can see how this would be appealing as well, since the whole thing wasn't drenched in mayo either.

For our choice of specialty roll, we selected the classic Rainbow Roll with layers of salmon, tuna, avocado, ebi and hokkigai on top.  As usual, the base was a California Roll and the whole thing was topped with 2 sauces (on being a mayo based and the other being unagi sauce).  This was also quite solid with chewy seasoned rice with plenty of imitation crab meat in the middle.  Ingredients on top were good and evenly portioned.

As per usual, we got some Nigiri for the kids including chopped scallop, unagi, tamago and toro.  Similar to the aburi sampler, the nigiri featured a good ratio of topping to rice.  Hence, it ate well with enough impact from the ingredients.  Chopped scallop was sweet and delicate while the unagi was buttery and soft.  Tamago was rather generic, but the toro was super soft and buttery.  Again, the rice was prepared properly being chewy but not dry.

Lastly, we were served the Assorted Sashimi sporting tuna, Atlantic salmon, sockeye salmon, tai, saba and hokkigai.  As you can see in the picture, the fish looked good, with a nice sheen and colour.  Textures were good, especially the sockeye salmon with a firm sweetness.  So in the end, we were actually pretty surprised at the quality and execution of the food at Sushi U.  Way better than the previous place and this could even be in the convo for a hidden gem.

The Good:
- Above average eats
- Simple modern decor
- Friendly service

The Bad:
- Prices are just a bit higher than some of the value sushi spots, but I guess they aren't competing against them?
- Due to them being busy with takeout (good for them!), the things that should've came first didn't

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