Sherman's Food Adventures: April 2022

Jade Palace (Dim Sum Service)

Going for Dim Sum is generally a thing people do on the weekends.  Sure, it is can be a weekday thing too, but the busiest is generally on Saturday and Sundays.  If we want to be more specific, Dim Sum is a complete zoo from around 11:30am to 1:30pm.  That is why we made a reservation since we were heading to Jade Palace after Sunday morning hockey.  Yep, it was jam-packed and even with a reso, we had to wait about 30 minutes.  I've already done a dinner post about Jade Garden and it was time to also do a Dim Sum post.

JuJu, Milhouse and Tonya all joined me after hockey for some gluttony as we ordered probably too much food beginning with the Specialty Baked BBQ Pork Buns.  Channeling their inner Tim Ho Wan, these were pretty impressive.  The bun was ever-so-light and almost creamy.  It literally required barely any chewing.  The sweetness from the topping and the filling was rich and impactful.  The BBQ pork was plentiful and generally lean.  I highly recommend that you try these.

Now we weren't expecting the Sparerib & Chicken Feet Rice to arrive so quickly, but I guess they had some cooking already. I found the rice to be quite good being dry (which is a good thing) and somewhat nutty (no socarrat though).  There was no shortage of sparerib on top which was tender with some rebound texture.  They were well-seasoned with garlic and a touch of spice.  The chicken feet were on soft and somewhat plump.

Usually, an order of Beef Rice Noodle Rolls consist of 3 rolls stacked in a pyramid.  Well, it was rather surprising to see a whackload of rice noodle with beef strewn throughout.  Consistent with the recent trend of of a continuous sheet of rice noodle, this was a large portion and actually really good.  The rice noodle was delicate while still having some elasticity.  The little nuggets of beef was airy and light.

Of course we had to get the essentials including the Ha Gau (Steamed Shrimp Dumplings) as well as the Siu Mai (more on that next).  The shrimp dumplings were pretty large in size.  Maybe not Western Lake size, but the quality was better than Western Lake in my opinion.  The dumpling skin was thin, yet a bit soft.  I would've liked more elasticity.  Inside, the whole shrimp filling was on point.  The shrimp was buttery with a sweet snap.  Plenty of seasoning and the aromatics of sesame oil.

Now onto the even larger Siu Mai (Steamed Pork & Shrimp Dumplings), these were getting close to Western Lake territory.  Again, I thought these were better since the textures were more appealing.  The dumpling was tightly-packed, yet not dense.  There was a bouncy texture from the pork, yet the siu mai was mostly comprised of shrimp.  Yes, the shrimp had the desired consistency where it rebounded and was nicely seasoned.

Okay, I'm sounded repetitive, but the Beef Meatballs were also very large.  Yep, some really big balls!  Normally, these are processed to the point where they are airy and super light.  I thought these were probably too light where the whole thing as actually lacking texture.  Now this might be purely subjective on my part because I'm sure some people would find this texture completely fine.  In terms of seasoning, it was quite mild and definitely needed the Worcestershire.

Typically, we do not order Xiao Long Bao (Steamed Soup Dumplings) in a Cantonese restaurant because they just do not turn out.   Although these were not like the ones you'd find in a Shanghainese joint, they were still good in their own right.  Yes, the dumpling skin was a bit too thick, but it was not dense and rather delicate.  Inside, there was a decent amount of sweet soup and the meat was tender and slightly bouncy.

Somewhat similar to the ha gau, the Steamed Scallop Dumpling featured spinach mixed in with the shrimp.  That really didn't impact the texture much as the shrimp as still bouncy and well-seasoned.  It did add some squishiness and I suppose healthiness to the dumpling. Dumpling skin was thin and translucent with an appealing chewiness.  On top, there was a small slice of buttery scallop with some tobiko. 

So not sure how we doubled-up on the BBQ Pork Buns, but at the very least, we got the steamed version to compliment the baked one. These were decent in size and featured a soft bun which had a bit of a fluffy chew (if that makes sense).  Inside, there was a good amount of sliced lean BBQ pork (much like the baked ones) and was sauced in a sweet glaze.  This bun was less sweet than the baked one by virtue of not having a sweet crust on top.

As if we needed more carbs (we also ordered a noodle dish, more on that later), we ordered the Lo Mei Gai (Sticky Rice).  They added some wild rice into the mix and beyond the visuals, it added some texture to the soft sticky rice.  As you can see, there was so much filling, it was visible even without breaking the thing apart.  I thought the seasoning was on the milder side, but this was pleasant enough.

So the other carb, as mentioned, was the Pan Fried Rice Noodle with Beef in soy sauce.  This was a solid dish sporting soft rice noodles that retained a bite.  The dish wasn't overly greasy and the noodles were not clumpy.  Loved the amount of gai lan as it added both colour and crunch.  There was a decent amount of tender sliced beef as well.  They used enough dark and light soy for colour and flavour.  There was also decent caramelization.

Our last dish was the Deep Fried Prawn Spring Rolls with nori.  Staying with the theme of large, these were indeed so.  The picture shows clearly that they were stuffed full of whole shrimp there were texturally akin to the ones in the other items.  They were seasoned enough too.  Now this was a lot of food for 4 people, but we finished it.  So there was no room for dessert.  I will be back for sure and there will be items added to this post.

The Good:
- Large portions
- Overall good food
- Owner seems to really care about the customers

The Bad:
- Crowded seating

The Spud Shack

So I've been back to the Spud Shack on many occasions but never felt the need to blog about it again, but this time, I finally thought why not?  I mean, this is one of my favourite spots for house-cut fries with a variety of dips as well as their poutines.  Other than La Belle Patate, this is the place to get your hands on poutine in the GVRD.  They do have other things on the menu too and I will cover that in this post.  For those who don't drive, this is also quite convenient since it is located in the New West skytrain station.

Now the thing here is to get the Fries and really why would they be called the Spud Shack otherwise?  This time around, the fries were solid as usual being fluffy and light inside while crispy on the outside.  The dips we had were Roasted Garlic Mayo, Smoked Onion Mayo and Pamesan Mayo.  For me, I enjoyed the smoked onion mayo the most as it was sweet, aromatic and lightly smoky.  The roasted garlic was solid as it had strong garlic notes.  However, the parm mayo was quite salty due to the plethora of cheese.  Good for those who love parm!

Now their other prominent menu item is Poutine and lots of them.  We got The Original as well as Le Montreal (smoked meat, pickles and mustard).  As you can see, they use legit cheese curds and they were still intact being squeaky.  The gravy was salty enough to make an impact while also having a nice viscosity.  I personally love the smoked meat poutine as they don't skimp on the meat and pickles.  Add in the mustard and the whole thing wasn't too heavy.

They also have some burgers on the menu including the Effin' Good Burger with prime rib patty, smoked onion mayo, BBQ sauce, bacon, tomato jam, lettuce, pickle and Monterey jack cheese.  I've had this burger many times and it ranges from being juicy to a touch dry.  However, it is always nicely charred and fulfilling.  The chopped bacon adds smoky saltiness while the tomato jam adds sweet tanginess.  Overall a solid burger.

The other burger is the J.W. Wimpy Burger with 2 hand pressed beef & pork patties, double aged white cheddar slices, grilled onions and special Tuesday burger sauce.  Yes, this had Popeye's vibe written all over it (not the fried chicken chain, the cartoon) and I would gladly pay you on a Tuesday for a burger today!  This was good where the patties were juicy due to the addition of pork.  That white cheddar really came through as it was substantial.  This was packed with flavour.

Lastly, we had the 1 piece Cod & Chips with a side of tartar sauce.  So yes, the colour of the batter was rather dark.  That really wasn't the issue as it was crunchy and tasted fine.  Yet, it was on the greasier side.  The fish was perfect though, flaky and moist.  They really didn't skimp on the fries and the tartar was not only good with the fish (I recommend that you dip your fries into it as well).   So yah, the food at The Spud Shack is pretty straightforward and I personally enjoy it.  I actually crave the fries and wish I made it out more often.  Great place to grab a quick bite before a movie at the Landmark Theatres.

The Good:
- Solid fries with dips
- Burgers are good too
- Many varieties of poutine

The Bad:
- Limited seating  


So you might be wondering why it has taken me so long to dine at Acquafarina.  Well, if you haven't already heard, they do not allow cellphone use and/or photos to be taken at their restaurant.  Hey, I totally respect that and understand.  They have every right to operate their restaurant the way they see fit.  Unlike some other places, at least they make it clear.   But for a limited time (it is probably over by the time you read this), they allowed photos and this coincided with the introduction with their new Executive Chef, Jefferson Alvarez.

The tasting menu was tempting, but we ended up going a la carte instead.  Before we got to the food, we were presented with house-made Focaccia Bread served with EVOO and balsamic.   Now I don't usually talk about complimentary bread, but this was very good.  It was light and airy with a fluffy interior.  The edges were crunchy, yet not hard and nicely salted on the top.  Dipped into high quality EVOO and balsamic, this was addictive (I ate too much of it!).

Now onto our first course, we had the Capesante Scottato or seared Hokkaido scallops with prosciutto, puffed scallop cracker atop celeriac puree.  This was pretty darn good with perfectly browned scallops which were slightly rare in the middle.  They were buttery and delicate with natural sweetness and scallop essence.  The salty prosciutto added depth and flavour to the dish while the puree was creamy and earthy.  Loved the tapioca scallop cracker on top, it had the unmistakable flavour of scallop.

Next, the Polpo alla Griglia or grilled octopus was accompanied by a smoked tomato marmalade and olives while topped with a tempura fried branzino skin.  A little too soft, the octopus was indeed tender.  I wished it still had a bit more chew still.  However, the marmalade was freakin' awesome.  It was so impactful with bright sweetness and only a background tang.  Even though it was bordering on salty, it didn't go over the line.

One of the more striking dishes was the Linguine all' Astice.  This featured linguine bathed in a lobster bisque-like smoked beurre blanc with a plethora of lobster meat. There was also a basil parsley cream as an accent as well as the striking lobster tail topped with caviar.  Was this good?  Oh you bet your $55.00 it was!  The house-made linguine was firmly al dente with ridges that clung onto the aromatic and impactful sauce.  With a buttery bounce texture, the lobster was absolutely perfect and the generous dollop of caviar only added to the decadence.

Equally delicious was the Risotto e Champagne featuring aged arborio rice, Ferrari brut, black truffle, roasted porcini and morels.  The rice couldn't have been any more perfect as it was fully cooked, yet still chewy.  It was bathed in a considerable amount of salty parm, which made it almost salty.  The woodsiness of the dish was quite apparent with the porcinis, morels and of course the liberal use of shaved black truffle.  Replacing the usual white wine with champagne didn't really change the flavour profile of the dish but it is suppose to cut through the heaviness.

Moving onto the mains, we had the Halibut Scottato with warm fennel orange salad.  Seaweed-crusted, the halibut skin side was hard-seared.  Hence, it was crunchy and nutty.  As for the meat underneath, it was still flaky and mostly moist with a few firmer parts.  The fish was properly seasoned so it could stand on its own.  That was necessary as the salad was super light and could've used more seasoning/dressing.  I did enjoy the crunchy fennel and the sliced tender fingerling potatoes.

We went big with the 8oz Tajima Wagyu Striploin accompanied by jus, grilled vegetables and crispy polenta.  If you are wondering why the steak was so dark, it was due to being ash-crusted.  Even though we asked for it be prepared medium (instead of the usual medium rare), the steak was still pink and juicy.  Hence it was buttery tender with the slight bitterness of the ash coming through.  Served tableside, the jus was meaty and not over-seasoned, so the wagyu could stand out.

Onto the sweets, we had the Ricordi di Sorrento with olive oil cake, limoncello mousse, sour candy and olive oil gel.  I thought the cake was a little on the dry and dense side.  However, the tart mousse did help make up for that.  The most interesting component to this dessert was the sour candy.  It was crunchy with a pleasing bitterness that I swear was candied lemon rind.  Whatever the case, this really provided a punch which elevated this dish.

Our other dessert was the Tiramisu Moderno that was their take on the classic Italian dish.  I give them props for thinking out of the box, but I really didn't enjoy this.  I found the espresso sponge to be oversoaked where it was too wet and the excess moisture leaked into the aerated mascarpone.  This made for some unappealing textures.  Flavours were good though with definite marsala and espresso notes.  So if you are unfamiliar with Acquafarina, they are indeed a fine dining restaurant with prices that reflect that.  I have to say that their service is top notch and does live up to its fine dining intentions.  The food was generally good with some standouts.  I would say some dishes could use some further refinement, but as they say, nothing is perfect.  My thoughts is that if you want to get spendy, Acquafarina is an option for high-end dining in Vancouver.

The Good:
- Some of the best and professional service in town
- Some standout dishes I would certainly return for
- Nice dining space

The Bad:
- Prices are high (and it is reflected in the service and generally, the food)
- Ambiance is nice but if you want quiet, stay away from the terrace

Sushi Aboard

There are times when I get sucked into gimmicks.  It isn't often, but since a dining experience isn't necessarily all about the food, I have been influenced by ambiance, decor, service, buffets and/or theatrics.  However, I was pretty much dead set against visiting Sushi Aboard since the "bullet train" serving apparatus reminded me of conveyor belt sushi (which I've also indulged in just for the heck of it).  I wasn't going to buy into the hype and continue eating at regular Japanese restaurants.  But Nikita wanted to try it and since I really like Nikita, I couldn't say no despite my personal biases.

Since the place is setup for bullet train delivery, there are only tables of 4 available.  Hence we had to sit separately.  There are screens at each table where you can see the menu and order.  We began with some Nigiri including Tamago, Tuna, Sockeye Salmon, Unagi, and Chopped Scallop. These were pretty decent, if not standard.  Nothing out of the ordinary, but the fish was fairly good quality.  The way it was presented was truly like conveyor belt sushi.

We moved onto some appies next with the Chicken Karaage and the Assorted Tempura.  We found the karaage to be good with juicy and tender leg meat.  The pieces were medium in size and were properly seasoned.  The coating was light and was crispy.  As for the tempura, it was mostly seafood (fish, scallop, shrimp and squid with one piece of sweet potato).  This was also good with a light crispy batter that was a tad greasy.

Onto some Sashimi, we ordered both the Atlantic Salmon and Albacore Tuna. They were served in 5 pieces each with the salmon including a piece of belly as well.  In terms of appearance, there wasn't anything amiss.  Texturally, they were as expected where the salmon was buttery and soft.  I found the slices of tuna a bit big (which is decent value), so it resulted in a slightly denser texture.  It was still fine though.

One of the best values on the menu was the Mini-Charashi Don for $7.55.  It featured chewy sushi rice topped with tuna, salmon, hokkigai, ebi and ika.  For our first roll, we got the Spicy Salmon Roll.  As simple as this was, I enjoyed this as the rice was at a minimum and the amount of salmon was generous.  The spicy sauce wasn't actually all that spicy, but it had a good amount of aromatic sesame oil.  I liked how they put the minimum amount of cucumber in it too.

So I'm not sure how we ended up with 2 of nearly the same roll in the Hot Crunchy Ebi Roll and the Popcorn Roll.  There were a few differences where the base roll for the first one was a dynamite roll topped with fried shrimp and fried sweet potato and the second was a Cali roll topped with fried baby scallops topped with fried yam.  Both were sweet due to the toppings and usually I'm not a fan of these types of rolls.  With that being said, they were fine and we ate them.

Our last 2 rolls consisted of the Hot Summer Roll and Melting Cheese Roll.  Once again, our ordering strategy was flawed as the first roll had similar components as the last 2 rolls with prawn tempura, cucumber and imitation crab inside with seared salmon and fried yam on top.  The melting cheese roll had the same base roll but was topped with mozzarella, cheese sauce and tobiko.  This was quite pungent and cheesy.  It didn't need any soy (much like all of the other rolls).  In the end, the food at Sushi Aboard was decent and we didn't mind it.  However, it is truly about the gimmack of the bullet train here.  We thought the prices were okay with all things considered, but we would've been happy with just going to any other Japanese restaurant.

The Good:
- If you like the novelty of the food being served via bullet train
- Friendly service
- Decent variety

The Bad:
- Decent, but nothing extraodinary
- Due to the setup (and it is totally understandable), only tables of 4 available

Hapa Izakaya

Returning to the series of restaurants I haven't visited for a long time, we made our way to Hapa Izakaya.  Yes, the place is far cry from its heyday when it sported 3 locations in Vancity and one in TO, however, they still operate the Yaletown spot as well as the one in Toronto.  Some might want to point out that Kingyo (and its affiliated restaurants), Guu and Black Rice are equal or better than Hapa.  That might be true, but for me, Hapa holds a place in my heart since there are so many memories as well as the fact they participated in the Foodie Feast that Mijune and I hosted in 2011. 

So off we went to see what has changed or stayed the same at Hapa since the last time I was at there.  We couldn't be any more classic than starting things off with the Ebi Mayo.  These were executed quite well with crunchy, yet light tempura encasing meaty prawns.  There was the natural sweetness and aromatics emanating from the fried prawns as well as a snap texture.  The moderate drizzle of tobanjan mayo was only lightly spicy.

Is it just me or the portion size for the Negitoro incredibly small?  Well, to be fair, it was enough to spread onto all 4 slices of garlic toast.  Now before the haters want to point on that portion sizes at Izakayas are supposed to be small since these are snacks to be had with bevvies after work (and not for an actual meal), I know that...  I just wished there was more of it.  Now with all that being said, it was good though with spice and aromatics from the sesame gochujan.

Since I was wanting more tuna from the last dish, it was partially satisfied by the Ahi Tuna Tataki (yes I realize the last one was tuna belly and this wasn't, but hey, it was still tuna).  This was evenly seared on all sides and left nicely rare in the middle.  The tuna was meaty while still delicate.  This was accompanied by shiitake mushroom and ponzu topped with spicy grated daikon and garlic chips.  Nice combination of ingredients that added tang, saltiness, umaminess and sweetness.

Staying on the same theme, we ordered the AAA Beef Tataki with sesame chili sauce.  This was a good portion of thinly sliced rare beef that was evenly seared on the outside.  Despite the appearance of sinew (was actually fat), each piece was buttery while still retaining a tender meatiness.  We could taste the natural beef flavour due to the conservative amount of sauce on top.  The sauce was sweet and nutty with only a touch of spice.

If you are wondering why there is an Avocado Roll right next to the Smoky Salmon Oshi Sushi, it is because my brother-in-law's daughter wanted it.  What was important on this plate was the oshi that featured sockeye salmon, karashi aioli, shiso, garlic chips and sour cream.  Now this cannot really be compared to the one found at Miku because of the different composition.  So if we looked at it individually, it was decent.  The sushi rice was chewy and seasoned while the salmon was fresh.  I found the sauce to rather mild despite the promised sharpness of the karashi.  That was okay though as it allowed the salmon to stand out.

Compared to the negitoro, the Hokkaido Scallop Tartare was only marginally larger in portion size, but it made all the difference.  It was more than enough to compliment the thin wonton chips.  The tartare itself consisted of chopped scallops, karashi aioli, green onion and bacon bits.  I thought the seasoning was light enough to let the natural sweetness of the delicate scallops stand out.  Although the wonton chips were a bit too delicate for the wet tartare, at the very least, they didn't overwhelm the scallops.

Another classic item was the Chicken Karaage with soy ginger sauce.  These were large chunks of leg meat that was juicy and succulent.  I thought there was some good seasoning with the meat already, but the right amount of soy ginger sauce added both sweetness and brightness.  Even with the toss of moisture on the outside of the chicken karaage, the light batter was still crispy.

Usually, when you think gyoza, a dumpling with a wheat wrapper comes to mind.  However, at Hapa, they serve the Renkon Gyoza Tempura that consists of minced pork sandwiched between lotus root slices and then coated with tempura batter.  This makes the "gyoza" more substantial with a lotus root crunch to go with the light tempura on the outside.  Tender and moist, the pork filling was mildly seasoned, but the dip added all the saltiness and tang needed.

One of my daughter's favourite dishes is Gindara (aka Sablefish) and of course she always gets what she wants...  This one was marinated in a miso sake and was done so perfectly.  If marinated too long, the fish can break down becoming mushy and if not enough, it can be bland.  This one was flaky and buttery with the unmistakable fermented miso flavour.  It was also slightly charred and cooked just enough.

Normally, we don't order sashimi when we go for izakaya, but this time around we decided on the Sashimori featuring sockeye salmon, hamachi, ahi tuna, albacore tuna and hotate.  As you can see in the picture, the fish had a nice sheen and was fresh (as fresh as flash frozen can get).  I wouldn't say this is the best sashimi I've had, but I wasn't expecting that.  However, it was a cut above what you'd typically find at most neighbourhood Japanese restaurants.

We decided to also try their Salt & Pepper Wings despite the option of more interesting flavours.  I guess we are basic like that.  Well, these were large and were lightly coated.  The skin was mostly rendered, yet not dry.  We found the chicken to be nicely marinated where there was inherent flavour even with the salt and pepper.  With that in mind, there really wasn't much pepper or salt for all that matters.  They were still good though.

Another classic Hapa Izakaya dish is their Spicy Pork Ishiyaki served in a hot stone bowl.  They mixed it tableside, hence its appearance.  This was a combination of rice, spicy miso minced pork, garlic sprouts, egg, tomato and lettuce.  Now in terms of taste, there was spice, meatiness and aromatics, but the whole thing was a bit too wet.  Hence, there was no socarrat to be found at the bottom and sides of the bowl.

To ensure we were full, we got the requisite filler dishes (in addition to the ishiyaki) with a couple of udons including the Mentaiko Udon with cod roe butter and shiso.  As much as we appreciated the presentation with red onion, tomato, green onion and nori on top, the actual flavours of the cod roe were somewhat obscured.  Sometimes keeping it simple (even though the dish might look plain), allows the main ingredients to shine.  As such, this was pleasant, but the usual sweet brininess was muted.

We also got the other udon on the menu being the Yaki Udon with veggies and chicken.  Again, simple would've been better in this case.  There was so much in the way of veggies and moisture that the whole dish ate wet and lacked any caramelization.  It wasn't as if it didn't taste good, there was enough balanced sweet and salty elements.  However, the udon was drowning in stuff and we would've preferred less of it.  So there you have it.  A comprehensive look at Hapa's menu and you know what?  It is pretty similar to what I had remembered.  For some, that might be a bit stale and boring.  However, I found it pleasant enough where Hapa is still in the mix of izakayas in Vancity.

The Good:
- Fairly solid eats
- Good service
- Fairly spacious seating compared to some other izakayas

The Bad:
- Some dishes, especially the larger ones, could've been simplified
- Lots of competition out there

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