Sherman's Food Adventures: 2022

Hart House (Brunch)

You wouldn't think trying to get a reservation for brunch would be such a difficult thing to do right?  Well, it seems people are really itching to dine-out these days and if you aren't quick with the trigger (whether it be online or by phone), you won't be getting a reservation at the time you wanted.  Furthermore, many places do not even take resos!  This was the case for us as we wanted to go for brunch with my parents.  Sure, there are many places to hit up for brunch, but we also wanted something interesting.  So we ended up going to an ol' favourite that often gets lost in the noise of newer and sexier spots - The Hart House.  Situated in a Tudor-style house and overlooking Deer Lake, not sure why we didn't think about this earlier.

It was no surprise that my son opted for the Smoked Salmon Benny with crispy fried smashed potatoes.  This was a solid benny with runny free-range egg yolks atop plenty of buttery salmon.  There was a layer of spinach underneath, to my son's chagrin, and a nicely toasted English muffin on the bottom.  Hollandaise was creamy and just rich enough with good flavour and a hint of acidity.  The abundance of potatoes on the side were really crunchy with a creamy potatoey inside.

For my daughter, she went a bit off the board from her usual choices and had the Chef's Three Cheese and Herb Frittata. This didn't look like much, but it was very fluffy and ate well.  It also came with toasted sourdough and far too many fried smashed potatoes (I mean it is better than not enough).  Beyond being fluffy, the frittata was cheesy and aromatic from the herbs.  It wasn't filling per se, so it is good for people with small appetites.  Yet will the potatoes, one could be full too.

For myself, I went for the Hart House Burger featuring a fresh ground brisket patty, confit garlic aioli, smoked Caciocavallo, arugula, tomatoes, pickles and frites.  I really enjoyed this burger as the nicely charred patty was thick and juicy.  The natural meat flavours really came through while the garlic aioli was impactful.  That smoked cheese added another layer of flavour.  Frites on the side were thin and crispy.

Viv had probably the weakest item of the meal in the Huevos Estrellados with two organic fried eggs, crispy prosciutto, crispy smashed potatoes and piquillo sauce.  Now it wasn't a bad dish per se, but the lack of a noticeable protein (prosciutto was somewhat lost) made this essentially a plate of fried potatoes coated in sauce.  Sauce was good though with a smoky and creamy sweetness.  Maybe adding some chorizo might've been a better choice.

My dad ordered the Knuckle Sandwich sporting Nova Scotia lobster, arugula, tomato jam and lemon tarragon aioli on brioche.  I thought there was enough lobster present to make an impact (could've been a bit more, but then the sammie would've been more expensive).  The lobster was sweet with the classic rebound texture.  Tomato jam added sweet tang while the aioli provided creaminess and acidity.  Brioche was soft and did not interfere with the lobster.

My mom ordered what she usually orders in the Steak Frites featuring a 6oz flat iron steak, shoestring frites, truffle aioli and gremolata.  Cooked to medium-rare, the steak was tender and had good beef flavour.  This was complimented by the bright gremolata on top.  Frites on the side were just like the ones I had with my burger. Overall, brunch at the Hart House was pleasant and reasonably-priced.  It is no more expensive than a chain restaurant, but the setting, service and history of the place makes it unique and somewhere people should consider for Sunday brunch.

The Good:
- Beautiful house and setting along the lake
- Generally good eats
- Reasonably-priced

The Bad:
- Usually lots of free parking, but when there is a wedding or event, the lot is full
- Home fries (fried smashed potatoes) were good, but some were too small and overfried  

The Filipino Noodle Joint

Often, my Filipino friends tell me that they don't prefer going out to eat at Filipino restaurants because they can make the food better at home and of course, at a fraction of the cost.  I mean that can hold true for most types of cuisine but Filipino food is quite home-style and hence, I can see their point.  That might also partly explain the lack of good Filipino restaurants in town as well.  However, what if I told you there is this little hidden gem in the Chinatown food court in the main parking structure?  Also, what if the place is reasonably-priced and boasts massive portions?  Lastly, the food is prepared with love and is definitely more home-style than the mass-produced restaurant variety.  This place is called The Filipino Noodle Joint and I got the chance to sample a variety of dishes with Mijune.

To illustrate the portion size, look at the Ilocos Pancit with egg noodles & veggies topped with longganisa, bagnet and fried egg.  This thing was packed with chewy noodles that were nice seasoned and completely covered by meat!  We found meaty and lightly sweet sausage on top as well as crunchy and aromatic pork belly.  This made for a really filling and heavy dish.  However, the lemon wedges lightened things up.  This could easily feed 2 people if not more.

Continuing on that trend, the Filipino Spaghetti was one of the best I've ever had.  Normally and rightfully, the sauce is usually quite sweet due to the use of banana ketchup and brown sugar, however, this one was really balanced.  Unlike other ketchupy versions, this one was more of an actual sauce with lots of natural sweetness from the onions complimented by the additional deep sweetness of the ketchup and sugar (yet, there was equal parts of savouriness and meatiness).  Plenty of minced meat as well as the classic sliced wieners to make this very hearty.  Moreover, the spaghetti itself was perfectly al dente.  Even though it was missing the cheese, this was still really good.

To complete the trifecta of classic noodle dishes, we had the Pancit Palabok with the usual shrimpy and fishy taste (topped with smoked fish flakes, shrimp and chicharon).  However, the flavours were more pronounced in this one and for me at least, that was perfect.  It could've used a bit more salt, but in the end, there was enough brininess and meatiness to make this tasty.  With the thicker noodles, this was more of a malabon. Again, the portion size was massive and it can easily be 2 meals for one person.  

One thing that was a little of everything was their Baon Box, specifically the Famous Breakfast Box with garlic rice, fried egg, lumpia, beef tapa, longganisa, tocino and eggplant omelette.  Again, this was plenty of food, specifically with the meat.  The beef tapa was tender  as well as being well-seasoned. The tocino was sweet and caramelized exhibiting a nice smokiness.  I particularly loved the eggplant omelette was it was delicate and carefully prepared.  Nice silky texture.  This was essentially a tocilog, tapsilog and longsilog all in one box.

For our soupy item, we tried the Illocos Miki with Bagnet Toppings.  So that the noodles didn't get soggy, the soup was served on the side.  I know I sound like a broken record, but this was another huge portion (this was a large) of slippery white noodles, bagnet, chicharon and egg .  I thought the chicken broth was full of flavour and depth.  Lots of natural sweetness and umaminess.  Noodles were al dente, but got soft quickly, so I would use the soup conservatively or if you eat this at home, separate into small portions rather than eating out of the big bowl.

All of the dishes so far were really good, but the Sisig was our favourite.  Usually, this is made with pig's head, but to keep things less heavy (relatively speaking), they used pork belly here instead.  Hence, the combination of meat and chicharon on top was rich with crispy bits, but not overly greasy.  It was super flavourful and of course, went well with the rice.  Loved the balance of sweet, salty and tang as well as a real kick of spice.   If you have never tried this dish, I suggest you try it. 

Onto the sweets, we were served the Turon with saba banana and jackfruit.  Think sweet version of a Lumpia.  By virtue of using a saba banana, it was more sweet and starchier.  The jackfruit provided extra sweetness and aromatics.  This was encased with a wheat spring roll wrapper which was fried until crispy.  This was not that greasy and had a nice contrast of textures between the filling an the exterior.

In addition to their noodles and other Filipino items on the menu, there was the Buko Pandan.  This dessert drink is a combination of coconut milk and pandan which really offers up tropical flavours.  Be warned, this is a pretty sweet concoction, but the trick is to let the ice melt first and the result is a milky, aromatic and refreshing beverage.  Great for warm days of Summer.

Of course, we couldn't get out of their without having the Halo-Halo.  Now the word essentially means mixed and you are supposed to combine all of the ingredients (crushed ice, evaporated milk, coconut milk, ube jam, sweetened beans, sago, coconut jelly and ube ice cream). together.  As you can see, that would be quite the challenge in the cup we were presented with.  However, after a demonstration, it was proved it can be done without making a complete mess!  This was predictably sweet and full of textures/flavours.  Also an excellent dessert for the hot weather.   So as you can probably tell, I really enjoyed the food and thought it was an excellent value.  Such a hidden gem.  I'll definitely be back!

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Home-style cooking done right
- Large portions
- Wonderful people

The Bad:- Not the most obvious location, but worth trying to find!- Desserts on the sweeter side, but some people like their sweets, well sweet

Luigi & Sons Butcher Shop

Recently, I re-visited Elisa in Yaletown.  If I wasn't impressed the first time, this further cemented my belief that Elisa is the premier steakhouse in the GVRD.  From the gorgeous dining room and on point service to the high-quality well-prepared steaks, Elisa has got it all.  However, what if I told you that you can obtain the same variety of steaks right next door at Luigi & Sons Butcher Shop?  Yep, they have all the usual suspects and a bit more in addition to sides, salads, soups, sammies and dessert.  I picked up a dinner for 2 to go and headed home to grill up steaks you wouldn't find at any supermarket.

So I ended up with the Double R Ranch Boneless Ribeye cut 1" thick as well as the Double R Ranch Bone-in 30-day Dry Aged Ribeye cut 1.5" thick.  In addition, I got the Caesar Salad, Tender Leaf and Fresh Herb Salad, Pomme Puree and Truffle Mac & Cheese.  For dessert, I picked up the Banana Cream Pie, Blueberry Cheesecake and Salted Caramel Ice Cream.  To complete my meal, a bottle of Fox & Archer 3 Blocks Pinot Noir made its way into the bag.

With a bit of Diamond Crystal kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, these well-marbled steaks hit my Weber Grill at 500 degrees fahrenheit.  I seared them on both sides first and then proceeded to cook the smaller ribeye for about 5 minutes on each side.  For the thicker cut bone-in ribeye, I added another minute and a half for each side.  That came out a beautiful medium-rare while the 1" cut ribeye was medium.

Before I talk about the steaks, l'll get to the sides first.  For the Pomme Puree, there are instructions via a QR code on the container.  This required cooking it on the stove by adding some milk and salt.  The result was delicious as it was creamy and smooth.  As for the Truffle Mac & Cheese, the truffle was just strong enough while the whole thing had balanced flavour with minimal salt.  Pasta was al dente and there was plenty of cheese which was creamy with the proper viscosity.  The Caesar Salad featured fresh and vibrant romaine.  Dressing was flavourful with plenty of anchovy.  I loved the pecans in the Tender Leaf & Fresh Herb Salad as it provided a textural contrast to the delicate ingredients.  There were tender beets as well as citrus segments.  This was indeed herb-forward and aromatic.

Onto the steaks, the Double R Ranch Boneless Ribeye was cooked to medium with a well-charred exterior.  It was juicy and tender with lots of natural beef flavour thanks to the marbling.  All it needed was a side of Himalayan Pink Salt and Kosher Salt to complement its inherent flavour.  This was $54.00 and could easily feed 2 people by itself.  However, if one was very hungry or a linebacker, yes they could finish it.  But remember, there were sides and also dessert later!

We enjoyed this steak, but the Double R Ranch 30-Day Dry Aged Bone-In Ribeye was the bomb.  Definitely more intense beefiness as well as noticeable nuttiness.  Best of all, the meat melted-in-our-mouths.  It was so buttery from the marbling as well as the aging.  Properly rested, it turned out to be super juicy and once again, only a bit of salt helped enhance the flavours that were already there.  Also due to the marbling, it wasn't difficult to achieve a beautiful char and some crispiness on the outside.

As if this wasn't enough food already, we moved onto dessert with the Blueberry Cheesecake, Banana Cream Pie and Salted Caramel Ice Cream.  The cheesecake was smooth and had a pronounced cheesiness to it.  It wasn't overly sweet but the sugariness of the crumb base made up for that.  Oh, how we loved the banana cream pie!  The crust was crisp and a had a firm texture.  Inside, there was a whole ripe banana in addition to the cream and custard.  Mildly sweet and completely aromatic.  Melting very fast, the ice cream was high quality (melts fast due to lack of stabilizers).  It was creamy and rich with plenty of kick from the salted caramel.  Once again, the sweetness was just right.  Gotta say that this take-home meal was restaurant quality (and that was no surprise due to its affiliation), easy-to-prepare and worth the money.  It won't be any surprise to find another blog post on Luigi & Sons in the near future.

*All food was complimentary*

The Good:
- High-quality steaks not usually found anywhere else
- Sides, salads and desserts are good quality and compliment the meal
- Even has wine, so it is a one-stop shop

The Bad:
- Steaks are not cheap, but worth it in my opinion
- Parking in Yaletown can be tough, but if you live in the area it isn't an issue


Okay, here we are with a new post since the end of June.  I decided to take a bit of time off to relax in July.  So we haven't been back to AnnaLena for quite some time and we decided to try out their tasting menu.  In fact, this is all they serve these days and it is a good strategy to keep costs predictable and to streamline their inventory (as well as their operations).  Now this tasting menu was for the month of July (as they change every month).  Not that applicable for people reading this post in August, but you get the idea of their food.  We got to sit at their most awesome table right at the front enjoying all the fresh air and natural light.

We were started off with an Amuse Bouche that was a lamb croquette with dungeness crab on top with a hint of curry.  This was a rather large bite to eat in one go, but for me, I managed with no problem.  It was lightly crisp on the outside with a tender and delicate interior.  The hit of lamb was a the very end while the crab hit right away with its fluffy texture and hint of curry.  A great beginning to the meal!

For our first dish, we had the Summer Beet & Cherry Salad with burrata and maple hazelnut granola.  I found this refreshing and pleasant first dish of the meal.  The beets were tender while still retaining a bite.  A nice tang complimented the earthiness of the beets while the sweet cherries offered up balance.  I absolutely love burrata and the small dollop on the plate was fresh where it was creamy with some stringiness.

Next up was a variation of an AnnaLena classic - Torn Brioche with wakame mussel vin blanc, ramps and trout roe.  I said it before and I'll say it again, I absolutely love this dish, but would've preferred the mussels be left in the shell (also more of it too).  Besides that, the sauce was so aromatic and creamy where the awesome fluffy bread was the perfect vessel to soak it up.  The contrasting crispiness of the exterior was a textural delight.

On par, in terms of deliciousness with the previous dish, I loved the Potato Ricotta Cannelotti with onion jus, crème fraîche and guanciale.  The fresh hand-made pasta was beautifully al dente with a firm chew.  Inside, the tender and flavourful potato ricotta filling was accented by the fatty saltiness of the guanciale.  Silky and naturally sweet, the onion jus was able to adhere to the pasta ensuring layers of flavour.

Onto the meat of the meal, we were served the 63 Acre Beef Bavette with charred gai lan, morels, miso eggplant and madeira jus.  As pictured, the beef was perfectly medium-rare, hence it was juicy and tender.  I love morels and it was nice to see it intermingle with the flavourful jus and fermentness of the miso eggplant.  Lots of umaminess and earthy tones in this dish.

For dessert, we had the Blackberry & Yuzu Paris Brest with toasted oat ice cream.  I enjoyed how this was plated as it was pleasing to the eye.  The fresh berries and the yuzu provided both sweetness and tang.  Very refreshing and light.  Loved the crunch of the meringues with every bite.  The choux could've been a touch lighter, but it was fine.  Creamy and melting fast (which is a good thing), the ice cream was lightly sweet and aromatic.

The final item we had was a pair of cute Tonka Bean Cake with black salt.  A nice little morsel to end the meal.  The cake itself was in between light and dense, so I guess it satisfies a wide range of tastes.  I enjoyed it and the hit of black salt gave it a bit of a punch.  In general, the tasting menu at AnnaLena was pleasant and well-prepared.  Loved that they included a classic dish as well.  Service was on point too.  Price is fair at $88.00 per person. 

The Good:
- Well-executed food
- Excellent service
- Good pacing

The Bad:
- Maybe not enough for bigger appetites

District Eleven

Normally, whenever we have "fusion" cuisine, it can be quite the turnoff to many people.  However, I feel that it is both unfair and close-minded to not give new things a chance.  Such is the case at the newish District Eleven on Main Street.  If this location seems familiar, think former Rekados, Beefy Beef and Chi House Chi Pot.  Now, not all the food at District Eleven is fusion, in fact, much of it is traditional Vietnamese (and some are variations of Japanese dishes).  So there is a little of something for everyone in a modern space that is open late.

We didn't go late, in fact we went to their Happy Hour that lasts until 7:00pm (most people come here much later...).  One of the best dishes I tried was also seemingly the simplest in the Accordion Cucumber Salad featuring baby cucumber, pickled red beets, spicy house dressing, crispy shallots and crispy vermicelli.  Beyond the fresh crunchiness of the cukes, the flavours really popped.  Plenty of tanginess and kick that made this appetizing.  The pickled beets only added extra crunch and acidity.

Onto something traditional, we had their Bun Bo Hue.  This was loaded with meats, yet it was missing the pork blood and pork knuckle.  I don't hold this against them because there are rarely any places that include it (probably not popular ingredients with most people).  This was plenty spicy, aromatic and flavourful, but I would've liked to see some fermented seafoodiness.  Meats were generally tender except for a few pieces of undercooked tendon.

Another classic Vietnamese dish we tried was the Bo Luc Lac served with baguette (you can choose rice as well).  Since they used AAA tenderloin, the beef was super moist and tender.  It also helped that they cooked it just enough that the centre was still medium-rare.  Good caramelization from the wok fry ensured that there was some smokiness and sweetness to go with the savoury elements.

One of the Japanese-inspired dishes at District Eleven was the Aburi Crispy Rice with half sashimi grade salmon and half imitation crab meat.  I found the deep fried rice patties to be crunchy, yet not hard.  On top, I much preferred the salmon as it as moist and nicely torched.  It was aromatic due to the scallion oil on top.  As for the imitation crab, I found it too saucy, yet it did taste good with chili mayo.

Staying with the Japanese-type items, we tried the Creamchi Udon with udon, garlic, shallots, cream, house-made kimchi, herb butter, tobiko, mussels, tobiko, shiso and seaweed.  This was sorta like a mentaiko udon but not.  It was much more flavour-forward rather than being subtle.  There was more saltiness and of course, spice from the kimchi.  This was pretty rich, but tasty at the same time.  You can choose to have a bowl of rice to soak up the rest of the sauce at the end if you wish.

Lastly, we ordered the Lemongrass Chili Miso Black Cod with pickles, nori, crispy sushi rice and scallion oil.  Other than the cuke salad, this was my other favourite dish as the sablefish was prepared perfectly being buttery and flaky while sporting a nice sear.  Lots of flavour here including the scallion oil and the spicy fermented flavours of the chili miso.  Loved that it was reasonably-priced at $18.00 as well.  In fact, the prices are all fair considering the portion sizes and overall tastiness of the dishes.  This is worth a visit and I will be returning to try more items.

The Good:
- Eclectic mix of dishes that somehow works
- Reasonable pricing
- Great place for late night eats that doesn't involve wontons nor Denny's

The Bad:
- Not the most spacious parking lot
- Could use a few more items on the menu

Singapore Hawker

For all the different cuisines that I indulge in, there is one that I never get to enough (of course this is based on availability as well).  Singaporean cuisine should be represented much more than it is within the GVRD, but here we are with only a few here and there.  Now we all know that there are many Singaporean dishes available in Chinese restaurants, but that is not quite the same.  So to get my fix, I finally visited Singapore Hawker out in Coquitlam.  This counter-service spot is constantly bustling with dine-in guests as well as plenty of takeout.

I gathered up the fam including the grandparents to check the place out sans my son (as he is now too cool to eat with us...).   We started off with the classic Roti Canai accompanied by the usual curry dip.  This was a pretty solid version with flaky flatbread with discernible layers.  It was a bit crispy while chewy on the inside.  It fairly light, so it wasn't too heavy nor dense.  The dip on the side was flavourful and adequately spicy.

Since my daughter loves Satay, we got the mix of beef and chicken that totaled 6 pieces. As you can see, they were not scrawny with plenty of meat on each stick.  I thought they were charred enough for caramelization and some smokiness.  The chicken was a touch dry, but not overly so.  I actually preferred the beef as it was still juicy and plenty tender.  Loved that they didn't skimp on the peanut satay sauce.

A stealthily tasty item was the Nyonya Sambal Egg featuring a deep-fried hard-boiled egg topped with a generous amount of sambal.  As you can see, the egg was perfectly cooked where it was didn't sport a dark ring.  The outside of the egg was lightly chewy while giving way to tender egg white and crumbly yolk.  The best part was the sweet, salty, plenty briny and slightly spice sambal.  We used the excess to eat with everything else.

One of our favourite dishes was the Hainanese Chicken with chicken oil rice.  Boneless and ample in portion size, the dark meat chicken was super succulent and tender.  The skin was not flabby while the meat was flavourful on its own.  Although the chicken rice was decently flavourful, it could've used a bit more oil.  Furthermore, the rice itself could've been chewier.  Beyond that, this was still delicious and reasonably priced at $12.95.

Another rice dish was the Kari Lembu (Malaysian Curry Brisket) served with steamed white rice. I make this at home quite often, but minus the considerable oil slick.  I realize that the flavour is all in the oil, but maybe a little less would've been nice.  Ate quite greasy.  Now the brisket itself was on the leaner side, yet most pieces were still tender.  The curry itself was mildly spicy with plenty of aromatics.

For our veggies, we decided on the Sambal Green Beans.  We chose mild because not everyone wanted spicy.  Even with that, there was a flavourful amount of spice.  Interestingly, even though we could see the sambal (as well as the dried shrimp within it), the dish was not as impactful as we would've hoped.  Despite that, the beans were perfectly crunchy while cooked all-the-way-through.  There was still good aromatics to the dish though.

For our noodle dishes, we had to get the Char Kuay Teow and it was a generally a good decision.  I would've liked to see more whole pieces of flat rice noodle (many were broken), but the dish was quite good.  As you can see, the caramelization from the wok fry was appealing.  Beyond the colour, the dish had a light smokiness balanced off by equal amounts of sweetness and savouriness.  Mixed into the noodles was shrimp, squid and fish cake.

The other noodle dish was the Singapore Laksa with tofu puffs, prawns, egg, fish cakes and fish balls.  I asked for this to be medium and it did have a flavourful kick.  I would've liked it to be even more briny, but it wasn't bland by any means where the coconut broth was rich and aromatic.  There was plenty of vermicelli noodles as well as sprouts and the other listed ingredients.  Good value at $12.95.  In fact, most items were $12.95 while be well-portioned.  Such a great value especially with increasing prices at most restaurants.  I'll definitely be back.

The Good:
- Solid eats
- Inexpensive
- Efficient staff

The Bad:
- Tight seating
- Parking in the area can be hard to find  

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