Sherman's Food Adventures: March 2023

Lil' Jon Restaurant & Lounge

Gosh, we haven't met up with Lola and Scout since pre-Covid times.  You see, they live in Seattle and well, during the border shutdown, it was a bit difficult to head down South.  Yes, I have been across the border a few times since it opened up, but just didn't get a chance to meet for eats (hey that rhymes...).  Finally, we made plans to do so and they suggested a classic diner in Lil' Jon out near Factoria.  With vinyl booths and counter seating, I would say that this place has diner written all over it.

I was pleasantly surprised at the reasonable pricing given that food costs are out-of-control these days.  Taking advantage of that, I went for T-bone steak, that came with a choice of soup or salad to start.  I went for the Cream of Potato Soup and it was a hearty with lots of tender potato cubes.  I found it having the right viscosity being thick, but not so much that I couldn't drink it.  Flavor was mild, but was well-seasoned.

Behold, my 16oz Choice T-Bone Steak.  I asked for it to be prepared medium-rare and it came exactly like that.  Of course the tenderloin portion of the steak was a touch more rare, but that was expected and frankly, welcomed.  I found the seasoning to be spot on as it was flavorful on its own.  I found the meat to be quite tender.  The side of mashed potatoes were smooth and velvety while the brown gravy wasn't too salty.

As for Viv, she went for the Bacon Cheeseburger with 1/3 lbs patty, shredded lettuce, tomato, pickle, American cheese and bacon.  This looked impressive, but ultimately was quite average.  Despite sporting a large meaty patty, it was dry and somewhat chewy.  However, the bacon was crispy and the produce was fresh.  On the side, the fries were not bad being crispy with plenty of potato texture inside.

My son decided on his favorite with the French Dip featuring thinly-sliced roast beef on a French roll with au jus on the side.  The best thing to describe the roast beef is that it resembled Arby's.  So if you are familiar, the roast beef at Arby's is marinated to the point where it is very tender and almost ham-like.  Now I'm not saying this was necessarily a bad thing here if you enjoy that texture.  Just be aware it wasn't very meaty.

My daughter had the Turkey Melt with roast turkey breast, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayo on grilled sourdough.  I thought this was fairly standard and definitely serviceable.  I liked how they didn't slather the bread with a stick of butter.  Hence it wasn't overly greasy and oil-soaked.  It was still crunchy though.  Nice balance of ingredients and it ate rather moist inside.

Scout went for one of the classics here in the Chicken Fried Steak featuring breaded cube steak topped with country gravy.  He has had this before and enjoys it partially due to the gravy.  It has a nice consistency where it is creamy while not being too greasy nor floury.  As for the steak itself, the coating is crispy while the meat is moist and tender.  This was also served with a side of mixed veggies.

We ended things off with a few orders of their pie.  Although they are frozen pies, we found them to be more than acceptable.  Of the ones we ordered, I enjoyed the Cherry Pie (pictured above) the most as it had a nice tangy sweetness.  The crust was not exactly flaky, but it had a nice firmness to it.  We also had the peach, which was just sweet enough, however, the chocolate cream pie was too sweet for me.  Overall, Lil' Jon is a no fuss, ol' school diner that serves up predictable eats.  There are a few gems such as the T-Bone Steak and Chicken Fried Steak, but the other items were pretty average.  Yet, for the reasonable prices they charge, I think you will be satisfied (especially if you pick the right items).

The Good:
- Well-priced
- Surprising food if you pick the right dishes
- Excellent service

The Bad:
- Pick the wrong dishes, and they are pretty average

BittyFish Sushi

Sometimes...  I choose where we dine, not necessarily on what is best, rather what we feel like and the novelty of it all.  While we were out in Lynnwood, we needed to get some eats as it was already past lunch time.  Sure, I could've been more creative and chosen something good and unique.  Instead, we went for something that we hadn't had for a long time - conveyor-belt sushi.  The place was BittyFish located right in Alderwood.  We went in with reasonable expectations and honestly, we were just hungry.

For those unfamiliar, conveyor-belt sushi is serve yourself from a conveyor-belt snaking its way around to each table.  All the plates on the belt at BittyFish are the same price at $3.69.  Other menu items vary in price.  We had a few things first including the Gyoza and Cucumber Salad.  Although sporting rather thick dumpling skin, the gyoza were fine and did the job.  Cucumber salad was crunchy and fresh but totally devoid of seasoning.  We got something from the menu in the Chicken Karaage for $7.00.  Chicken was juicy and tender, but each piece was greasy.

Our selection nigiri included Atlantic Salmon, Mackerel, Tuna, Tuna Toro and Tamago.  The salmon was okay being soft and fresh, but it was sliced pretty thin.  Mackerel was pretty typical.  Albacore tuna was a bit stiff and not as buttery soft as I would've liked.  Interestingly, we grabbed another tuna and it looked and ate more like toro (but wasn't labelled as such).  Nothing much to say about the tamago as it was the usual easy-made kind.

Our next selection of nigiri consisted of Coho Salmon, Hotate, Seared Salmon and Seared Tuna. Although sliced rather haphazardly, the coho salmon was quite good.  It was meaty with a natural sweetness.  Also cut rather oddly, the hotate was soft and sweet.  We thought the seared salmon to be okay with some sauce on top.  Would've liked to see some charring.  As for the seared tuna, it was pretty plain looking and needed something on top to give it color and flavor.

Onto the rolls, we had the Red Dragon Roll, Double Pepper Roll, Crunchy Crab Roll and Double Shrimp Roll.  Of these, I thought the red dragon was good due to the spicy tuna on top.  Also liked the double pepper as it had spicy crab salad with seared salmon on top.  The other 2 were okay, but I found the double shrimp to be lacking in flavour.  The crunchy crab did sport some crispy shallots on top.  All of them had pretty mushy sushi rice, which made them heavy.

Our last rolls were the Spider Roll, Philly Roll and Kinshi Roll.  We also got some Inari as well.  Spider roll was typical where the softshell crab wasn't exactly crispy anymore due to being on the conveyor.  Philly roll wasn't bad, had cream cheese, smoked salmon and avocado.  I didn't mind the Kinshi as it sported tuna salad, crabstick and cucumber in a egg wrap.  Again, the rice made things rather heavy though.  Overall, the sushi at BittyFish was "ok".  It did what it was supposed to do for a reasonable price.  Naturally, we could've had better, more authentic sushi in Seattle, but then that is a totally different experience altogether.  Can't compare.

The Good:
- Inexpensive
- Good service
- Serviceable food

The Bad:
- Well, it ain't great sushi, but that isn't the point
- Some items were unavailable and we had to order them (but that isn't necessarily a bad thing)


It was almost exactly one year to the day that I had last dined at Shaburina in Redmond (more like Bellevue).  So why am I blogging about it again?  Also, why did I revisit a restaurant, especially one out-of-town?  Well, we really enjoyed out last visit and just like Mr. BBQ out in Fullerton, we just had to go back.  Featuring all-you-can-eat Shabu Shabu, there are 3 options for dinner: Buffet Bar Only ($30.00), House Course ($39.00) or Premium Course ($55.00).  We went for the mid-priced option (like last time).

Included in the price is your choice of broth including original Kombu, Sukiyaki, Creamy Vegetable, Spicy Miso or the broth of the day (Mala).  I went for the Spicy Miso and yes it did have a kick, especially when it began to cook down.  I would say the spiciness did overshadow the fermented taste of miso.  Viv tried the Mala and it was less spicy and had more of a smokiness.  The kids had the Sukiyaki and Kombu where they were naturally mild compared to the spicy choices.  They weren't too salty which was good.

Similar to many hot pot-like places these days, there is a Sauce bar.  Here, you can create your own signature dipping sauce to compliment your food.  There are many options including Jingisukan, Chef's Special (looked like a sesame soy), Ponzu, Rotating Sauce (looked like a spicy vinegar) Sweet Chili, Goma Tare and various bottled items such as vinegar, sesame oil, sriraccha, chili oil and soy.  Of course, we find things like cilantro, green onion, fried garlic, fresh garlic and chili peppers as well.

Onto the meats, we actually asked for less to start because the last time, we had all 4 options per person and it was a bit too much.  They included Beef Shortplate, Beef Chuck, Pork Shoulder and Pork Belly.  I guess we were hungry this time since we got 6 sets of 4 when we were done.  We loved the shortplate as it was fatty and tender while the pork belly was just as fatty.  Overall, the meats were good.

The Buffet Bar consists of 2 sections including the predominantly vegetable and vegetarian-focused portion.  In addition to leafy greens, potato, tomato, squash and corn, we also find quail's eggs, tofu puffs, wood ear mushrooms, tofu and vegetarian wontons.  Everything here is fresh, well-organized and always refilled.

At the other side of the bar, we find an array of items including imitation crab stick, meatballs, Spam, shrimp, clams, baby octopus, bay scallops and various noodles including instant ramen, udon, mung bean noodles and egg noodles.  I believe this is a rather generous assortment of items that compliment the meats well, especially for the price.

At the end of the meal, we were served a Soft-Serve Ice Cream Cone to go.  Last time, the machine was broken, so we weren't able to try this.  I would say the ice cream was moderately creamy with a strong taste of vanilla.  It was the perfect thing to cool things down from the boiling soup (especially the spicy ones).  Overall, it was a delicious return visit to Shaburina and it won't be our last.  Prices are reasonable for the quality of food while the service is top-notch.

The Good:
- Reasonably-priced
- Good quality
- Excellent service

The Bad:
- Even though we got a bigger table this time, it is still a bit tight for space to put your plates, sauces and drinks

Donburi Station

Way back, a few years  before the pandemic, we had tried out Fremont Bowl in Seattle.  Located in the Fremont (hence the name), this lil' Japanese donburi joint offered up large bowls with lots of toppings at a reasonable price.  Furthermore, those toppings were not only plentiful, they were good quality and delicious.  A recipe for success right?  Well, they've opened 2 more locations under the Donburi Station name.  I've been to the one in Bellevue before, but this time around, I'm going to blog about it.

Before we got to the donburis, I decided to get some greens into my meal (even though it was mostly iceberg lettuce).  This happened to be the Seafood Salad topped with ebi, imitation crab meat and masago.  On the side, there was some ginger vinaigrette.  This was a fairly large portion of salad and in fact, quite a bit of creamy imitation crab.  Hence, this ate rather hearty and there was enough ingredients for the lettuce, tomato and cucumber.

For my son, it was without a doubt he would order the Chirashi Don consisting of tuna tataki, Atlantic salmon, unagi, ebi, akami, negitoro and escolar (in lieu of hamachi this time).  As you can see, this was a hearty portion of fresh fish atop a large bowl of sushi rice.  This is no different than the one we've had at Fremont Bowl.  I've had this recently myself back in January and I can attest that it more than enough food for one person.

For myself, I went for something cooked in the Mixed Katsu Donburi with both chicken katsu and tonkatsu. Now one piece of katsu would've been sufficient, but with 2 of them, I was plenty satisfied.  Of course the chicken was more juicy and tender, but the pork was also decently moist.  On the outside, the panko was fried until golden brown and crunchy.  On side, there was some tangy and sweet tonkatsu sauce.

Viv ended up with the Volcano Donburi sporting spicy salmon, spicy imitation crab salad and masago.  Again, they weren't shy with the ingredients.  Hence each bite of chewy sushi rice was evenly balanced by the texture of salmon and imitation crab.  I wouldn't say this was exactly spicy, but with Japanese food, spicy is an accent flavour that doesn't overwhelm a dish.  That it did here with just a slight bite with the sweetness of the other ingredients.

My daughter ordered the Aburi Sake Don with sea salt and yuzu koshu.  This was lightly-torched hence no charring, but then again, there was no "sauce" to caramelize either.  Beyond the initial firmness of the salmon, the inside was buttery and soft.  The whole thing was rather mild-tasting except for the slight tanginess of the yuzu.  As you can see, Donburi Station serves the same favourites as Fremont Bowl, but with much more available parking.  A good spot for lunch if you are in the area.

The Good:
- Generous amount of toppings
- Tasty
- Reasonably-priced

The Bad:
- Not the biggest place, so might be packed during peak times

Jinya Ramen Bar (The Amazing Brentwood)

There was a time when I considered Jinya as one of more pricier spots for Ramen in the city.  How times have changed because most places are on par or even more expensive.  I guess the rising prices of food has caught up to Ramen as well.  Initially, we weren't planning on visiting Jinya anytime soon as there are many more other places I'd rather hit up first.  However, we wanted something quick and close by, so off we went to The Amazing Brentwood to hit up their newest location.

Before we got to the ramen, we started off with some appies including 10 pieces of the Crispy Chicken.  These were some ginormous chunks of chicken!  It appeared that most of the pieces were deboned drumsticks.  They were indeed crispy with a uniformly textured exterior that was not greasy.  The meat itself was succulent and juicy.  It was properly marinated and seasoned with garlic pepper but the side of ponzu dipping sauce as well as the slices of lemon added some punch.

We also got the Salmon Poke Tacos as well as the Jinya Bun.  Loved the crispy wonton shells for these small little tacos as they provided a perfect textural contrast to the soft fish.  As for the fish, the salmon was buttery soft and lightly seasoned.  I thought that it could've been more flavourful, but the lime did help the cause.  There was possibly too much onion as it became the dominant flavour.  The bun was quite good being soft and staying so even sitting around for awhile.  The fatty piece of chashu was fatty and tender.

For my choice of ramen, I decided on the Jinya Tonkotsu Original 2010 with pork chashu, spinach, seasoned egg, nori and extra thick noodles. This was a pretty rich broth with a silkiness due to the fat content as well as the collagen.  I found it flavourful with umaminess and a mushroomy finish.  To be honest, I generally do not like overly heavy ramen broths, but this was okay as long as I didn't drink a lot of it.  The noodles were firmly al dente and stayed as such until the last strand.  I found the pork chashu to be fattier than usual and since it was thick-sliced, it was sure not diet food.  Overall, this was still good.

For my son, he went for the Jinya Tonkotsu Black with pork chashu, kikurage, nori, seasoned egg, garlic chips, garlic oil, fried onion and spicy sauce (he opted for no spice though) with thin noodles.  Although his ramen featured pork broth as well, it was lighter with less saltiness than my tonkotsu original 2010.  Now that didn't mean it wasn't flavourful as it is was the beneficiary of the fermented taste of the garlic oil as well as the aromatics from the garlic chips and fried onion.  As with all of our ramen eggs, they were a touch past custardy and were a little light on the marinade.

Going even lighter, my daughter had the Yuzu Shio Delight with a chicken & pork clear broth, pork chashu, green onion, spinach, seasoned egg and nori.  This was fragrant and a bit floral while having only the slightest of meatiness.  For those who don't want the heaviness of a pork broth (especially the Tonkotsu Original), this would be for you.  Served with al dente thin noodles, this also helped keep things from being heavy.  I liked how the yuzu was restrained as it didn't make the broth too citrusy.  I'm not sure if the pork chashu was a good match for this broth.  Maybe chicken would've been better.

My parents also joined us for this meal and they split a Jinya Chicken Ramen with chicken chashu, spinach and fried onion.  I found this to have more body than the Yuzu Shio Delight as it wasn't a clear broth.  However, at the same time, it wasn't nearly as rich and heavy as the pork broth.  The cloudiness of the chicken broth added plenty of body still with natural sweetness.  Naturally, with no fat, the chicken chashu was not as tender as the pork, but it was hardly dry either.

Viv went for the Spicy Chicken Ramen with chicken chashu, spinach, spicy bean sprouts and green onion.  She chose spicy as the heat level and it was definitely that.  It wasn't too spicy so that we could still taste the sweetness of the broth.  Overall, we thought that this visit to Jinya was good and much better than we had expected.  Cost for ramen these days have crept up there, but Jinya has always been expensive, so I guess they are now on par.  With so many choices for ramen in the Lower Mainland, I still wouldn't choose Jinya over places such as Danbo, Hakkaido Ramen Santouka and Maruhachi though.

The Good:
- Decent ramen
- Excellent service
- Modern and spacious

The Bad:
- On the pricier side, but normal now  

M Cafe

Unless you live in Richmond, there seems to be a limited selection of good Hong Kong-Style cafes in the city.  Even with that, I personally believe there aren't enough HK-Style cafes in general and that includes Richmond.  This is especially true where I live, in North Burnaby.  Thankfully, there is a Happy Valley opening up in the ol' Swiss Chalet soon, but otherwise, I have to go all the way to Metrotown to the Boss for HK-style eats.  One other option is to head into Coquitlam and either hit up Copa or M Cafe, which we did this time around.

We've been here before many times, but I decided that an updated post was in order.  Like with all places like M Cafe, there is usually a soup included with most meals.  The choices range from borscht, cream of something and Clam Chowder.  This is what I had and if you've ever had a HK-Style version, you will know that it is less of a chowder and more like a cream of clams and veggies.  I found this just thick enough and loaded with clams and soft veggies.  Flavour was mild and it wasn't briny at all - a good version in the end.

For my main, I had the Dual Steak Combo and selected a chicken steak and a ribeye steak.  This came with crunchy fries, mixed veggies and I went for the black pepper sauce.  This was quite a bit of food where the chicken steak (deboned chicken leg) was juicy and well-seared.  The ribeye was medium-rare as requested and was sufficiently tender.  I found the black pepper sauce to be salty enough and quite peppery.

We had to get the classic Baked Pork Chop Rice.  This is a HK-style cafe staple with fried rice base topped with pork cutlets coated with a crispy breading.  I found the pork chops to be juicy and tender.  As for the tomato sauce on top, it was textbook being only mildly tangy (maybe could've been tangier) with plenty of sweetness.  It was thick enough to coat all the pork chops and some leftover for the rice.

Continuing on with the tour of HK-style cafe staples, we also had the Baked Spaghetti Bolognese topped with melted cheese and served with garlic bread.  For those who aren't familiar, this isn't an Italian bolognese.  Rather, think of a meat sauce with onions and carrots but with the addition of star anise (sometimes) and soy as well as some other Asian ingredients.  The sauce here was a bit tangier than usual, yet still tasty.  The noodles were al dente and overall, this was a solid.

We just had to also include the Baked Seafood Rice which also featured the same fried rice base.  It was topped with a mushroom cream sauce and assorted seafood.  Again, for those who don't know, the cream sauce found at HK-style cafes are mostly starch-thickened milk-based sauces.  With that being said, this was still flavourful and the sauce was just thick enough.  The seafood was not overcooked either.

Going for something more of a Chinese dish, we had the Curry Beef Brisket.  Although this can be found at most Cantonese restaurants, it is also another HK-style cafe staple.  This was served with a plate of rice.  Another solid dish where the pieces of brisket were mostly tender and not dry.  It appeared to be a mix where there was some beef finger meat too.  The curry itself was on the thinner side, yet was still plenty flavourful with only a mild amount of spice.

Another Chinese dish was the Scrambled Eggs and Shrimp on stir fried flat rice noodles.  My son actually wanted this one as scrambled eggs and shrimp is his favourite Chinese dish.  However, when it is served atop rice noodles, it is more of a starch-thickened sauce with egg drop and shrimp in it.  This was good though as the noodles were not mushy nor clumpy while the sauce had plenty of cold-water shrimp and delicate egg swirls.

Our last item was staying on the theme of classic HK-style items with the Clubhouse Sandwich served with fries.  This was stuffed with a fried chicken cutlet, bacon, fried egg, cheese, tomato and lettuce all on crustless toasted white bread.  It was fulfilling and the ingredients were on point where the chicken was juicy and the bacon was crispy.  As you can see, the food at M Cafe is pretty solid and they have all the favourites and then some.  Prices are reasonable for the portion size too.  Don't have to go to Richmond right?

The Good:
- Solid eats
- Fair portion size
- Reasonable prices

The Bad:

- Admittedly, Richmond HK-style cafes are better, but not significantly more

Northern Cafe

I often wonder why some restaurants get all the accolades even though it just seems out-of-place.  Michelin-star restaurant Barbara comes to mind as I never understood why it received its designation despite there being so many other worthy places.  Now we can write a whole post about this (and I did, but never posted about the restaurant), but let's get back to this particular post.  Northern Cafe has been around forever, located above a lumber supply yard.  The place is run-down and let's be honest, it is a dive.  However, there is a certain charm and the prices are quite reasonable.  Oh, and it is had be lauded as one of the best places to eat in the city.

We came here for Breakfast, but they also serve lunch that includes burgers and Canadian Chinese food.  Let's start with the basics being the Pancake Combo.  This was only $12.00 and it included 2 eggs, 2 pancakes and 2 sausages (can be bacon or ham too).  Eggs were perfectly sunny side while the sausages were meaty and not overdone.  Pancakes were a touch on the denser side, but still decent.

We also went for the Corn Beef Hash with peppers, onions, 2 eggs and toast (also a smattering of mac salad).  If you are wondering why the hashbrowns were so dark, we asked for extra crispy.  That it was while the inside was soft and potatoey.  Lots of corned beef too.  Eggs were done easy over and the toast was just right.  This was a bit more at $15.00, but it was quite filling.

Lastly, we tried the Ham Eggs Benny with shredded hashbrowns and also a touch of mac salad.  The eggs were beautifully runny while the amount of ham was generous.  English muffin underneath was toasted well too.  I found the Hollandaise to be rather thin and egg yolky.  May have needed more butter.  The hashbrowns were perfectly crispy.  This was $15.50.  Now I mentioned that the prices were reasonable and that they are, considering the high cost of eating out these days.  However, they aren't dirt cheap either.  With that being said, the food is well-prepared and the people are super nice.  Not sure I would classify this as a must eat in the city, but if you are in the area, it is worth a try just for the novelty and yes, the food is solid too.

The Good:
- Super nice people
- Inexpensive
- Solid eats

The Bad:
- Place is a dive, but I don't mind dives
- Not as cheap as you might think, but still good value

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