Sherman's Food Adventures: June 2023

Linh Café (Granville Street)

It has been a long time coming, but I finally made it out to the Downtown Vancouver location of Linh Café.  Interesting spot really as it sits underneath the Granville Street Bridge a stone's throw from Fresh Street Market.  Compared to their much smaller original location, this one sports a full-service bar, open kitchen and many more seats.  They still feature most of their popular items including many more deluxe ones too.  This blog post is an amalgamation of 2 separate visits 2 days apart.

They have a featured menu at the moment where the first item is the BC Spot Prawns sautéed with garlic butter (also the option to have them deep fried).  Sure, this won't be available much longer, but we couldn't resist.  Good choice though as these were perfectly prepared.  Spot prawns are notoriously delicate and can overcook easily.  These were still buttery soft and tender.  They had all of the natural sweetness and the garlic butter was a delicious compliment.  We dipped the bread into it.

Staying with seafood, we got the Yellowfin Tuna Tartare atop avocado and dressed with soy and sesame oil.  It was served with a side of house made potato chips.  The was a study of textures and not necessarily about strong flavours.  The buttery soft tuna and avocado were balanced off by the crispy potato chips.  Since tuna is rather delicate in taste, the restraint with the soy ensured it wasn't overdressed.

On the other visit, we went for the Steak Tartare with shallots, capers and parsley.  This was also good with tender cut-to-order striploin.  They were not shy with seasoning it where the tanginess really came through as well as some noted spiciness.  Hence, every bite had layers of flavour where it started off tangy and gave way to the aromatics of the shallots and then finished off with spice.

We really enjoyed the Foie Gras Parfait as it was super smooth, appealingly sweet and full of aroma.  Of course the butteriness and creaminess of the parfait made it texturally delicious.  We had toasted house-made brioche on the side to act as a vessel for the parfait.  To compliment the richness of the foie gras, there was some tangy and sweet strawberry jam.  I actually didn't need any of that because I wanted the full force of foie gras on the airy brioche.

Since I wasn't ordering any dish with Fries, I decided to get a side of them.  Spoiler alert, I didn't get the Steak Frites because I got something a bit bigger...  Anyways, back to the fries, they were actually starch-coated.  Usually, I much prefer house-cut fries that are not coated in anything, but these were pretty good.  They were crispy with lots of potato goodness inside.  Unlike the Cavendish brand type of starch-coated fries, these didn't have that greasy sliminess.

Onto something that really piqued my interest when I first saw the menu - Lobster Benedict on brioche.   It featured a split butter-poached lobster tail with a runny poached egg in between.  Then it was topped with a seriously rich and thick Hollandaise sauce.  I found it to have quite a bit of acidity, which helped cut through the heaviness.  The egg was perfectly poached while the lobster had its classic rebound texture.  I liked this dish, but felt the Hollandaise was probably just a touch too rich.

Continuing with the larger items, we had the Ling Cod with baby bak choy and velouté.  The fish itself was prepared properly with flaky and moist meat while the skin was hard-seared until crispy.  There was enough seasoning for the fish, but the velouté underneath had good flavour and wasn't too thick from the roux.  There was some slight pepperiness to go with a surprising amount of acidity.  But it worked with the fish.

We also had the Brome Lake Duck Breast atop duck jus, glazed grapes and apples.  This was served medium where it was fairly tender and moist.  Loved the natural duck essence which was complimented by proper seasoning.  The duck jus added both moisture and body.  Underneath, the grapes and apples were cooked through being soft with lots of inherent sweetness activated by the cooking process.

Okay, we went big with the 40oz Côte de Boeuf (rib steak) that was prepared a perfect medium-rare.  It had been rested properly where the juices stayed within the meat.  That meat was super tender with natural meat texture while being well-salted.  Underneath, we found a creamy peppercorn sauce that was rich and only amped the decadence of the dish.  This was quite the steak and was enough for 2+ people.

Of course we couldn't forget about the Phở Bò with braised beef brisket.  There are many options on the menu to amp this bowl of pho, but we chose not to since we had enough food already.  So the basic bowl was pretty small in portion size.  I would say if you want this as your meal, you need to add extra noodle and meat.  We found the broth to be clean with deep flavours.  It was meaty and full-bodied bordering on salty.  The noodles were still a little soft while the beef was buttery and tender.  Yes, we added the chili vinegar condiment to this and yah, it tastes good.

For dessert, we had the Lemon Tart as well as the Matcha Cream Puff.  The lemon tart featured a firm, yet somewhat crumbly shell that the creamy lemon curd resided.  It was tangy with just enough sweetness. But our favourite was the cream puff.  The choux pastry was on point being crispy on the outside with a soft and airy inside.  The matcha cream in the middle was fairly light and not overly bitter.  It was a nice study in textures too.  Overall, the food at Linh was a quite good with a few standouts.  Sure, the prices are on the higher end, but what isn't these days.  Love the location as it is bigger and more spacious.  As good as the Pho was, I would recommend that you go to an actual Pho shop instead because you would get a better value.  Come for the French food though.

The Good:
- Nice dining space
- Excellent service
- Food is generally good

The Bad:
- Can get spendy
- Pho is delicious, but not a good value here

Kokoro Toyko Mazesoba (Brentwood)

It has been nearly 5 years since I tried the original location of Kokoro Tokyo Mazesoba in Downtown Vancouver.  For those who do not know, they specialize in mixed noodles without soup.  Sure, they have ramen on the menu, but that is not their main thing.  Rather, they have a selection of noodles with various toppings.  Once you are finished, they offer you a bowl of rice to sop up the remaining "sauce".  Spoiler alert, we didn't do that this time around.

So to start, we got the large order of the Chicken Karaage served with spicy mayo and tangy mayo.  This came out piping hot and glistening.  Hence, the exterior was uniformly crispy and in certain parts, rather crunchy.  The dark chicken meat was juicy and naturally tender.  We found the chicken to be sufficiently tender but a bit of lemon and the dips helped add more pop.  For me, I enjoyed the spicy mayo more as it added some sweet kick.

We also got the 10-Piece Pork Gyoza, which was served in a cast iron pan (but not the one they prepared it in).  As you can see, there was a nice sear on the bottom and an accompanying skirt too.  The result was a smoky and nutty crunch that wasn't overly greasy.  The dumpling wrapper was fairly thin and al dente.  Inside, the pork filling was mixed with plenty of veg and green onion while being juicy and flavourful.

For myself, I had the Zenbu Mazesoba featuring slow braised pork chashu, spicy minced pork, soft boiled egg, seaweed, bamboo shoot, seaweed flakes, egg yolk, chives, green onion, minced garlic, ground saba, and house-made multi-grain noodle.  Yes, this had everything but the kitchen sink.  The result was a rather fulfilling bowl of noodles that had the meatiness from both types of pork as well as the "green" taste of the chives and green onion.  I had to pick out some of that because it was a lot.  The raw garlic really came through (and lingered) while the ground fish provided brininess.  Noodles were chewy, but in a good way.

For my son, he ordered the Salmon Avocado Mazesoba with spinach, seaweed flakes, ground saba, minced garlic and egg yolk (he omitted the green onions).  His first remark was that it was a bit weird with warm noodles and cold salmon.  Now I've had cold and hot in the same dish before and they do work.  In this case, I was on the fence.  Maybe a completely cold noodle might've been better.  Otherwise, it was good with similar flavours as the Zenbu except no pork and less green-tasting.

For my mom, she had the Mentaiko Cream Mazesoba with slow braised pork chashu, seaweed flakes, green onion, minced garlic, ground saba, spinach, egg yolk and mentaiko.  Naturally, this was a briny-tasting concoction while creamy (just as its name suggests).  Noodles were al dente and ate much like a mentaiko udon except with some meatiness from the pork.

My dad wasn't very hungry so he got a Mince Bowl which was essentially rice with spicy minced pork with an egg yolk and green onions.  This ate very similarly to the Taiwanese dish Lo Rou Fan except without pork belly.  This had a good spice and meatiness while the egg yolk added a creamy silkiness.  The rice itself was not too soft or wet, so it was the right vessel for mixing with the minced pork.

My daughter had exactly what she had last time in the Tomato Tonkotsu Ramen with slow- braised pork chashu, ramen egg, green onion, garlic, baby corn, dried red pepper, bamboo shoot, bell pepper, kabocha, cherry tomato and black fungus.  Yes, the list of ingredients make it sound like a lot, but it was only like one piece of each.  The broth was thick and creamy with good tomato essence.  The thin noodle remained al dente even though it sat in the broth for awhile.  I think this tastes really good, but the broth is really rich and I don't think I could drink all of it.

Of course we couldn't get out of there without their Hokkaido Creme Cup complete with a plastic shovel.  Actually we wanted the cone, but this is the second strike-out for us as they didn't have it again!  No matter, the creamy and rice ice cream was super milky and delicious.  Sure it was sweet, but in a milky way.  It is a lot more than it looks, best to share with someone, unless you really want it all to yourself.  Overall, the dry noodles at Kokoro Tokyo Mazesoba is good, but personally, I prefer classic soup ramen more.  But it is something different and there is many choices to be had.  Love that ice cream though!

The Good:
- A bit different than regular soup ramen
- Excellent service
- That ice cream!

The Bad:
- It looks like a lot, but it really isn't that filling, unless you get the complimentary rice

Lee Garden (Henderson Centre)

Okay, our last visit to the newish Lee Garden in Henderson Centre was only half-a-year ago, but that was after a heavy snowfall.  This meant the restaurant was not fully staffed nor was it completely busy either.  We had a decent meal, but I felt we had to go back when it was 100%.  I guess going on Father's Day itself might've not been the best choice because that could be deemed too busy.  However, it was not overflowing with customers and it seemed like they had the full compliment of staff.

So without further delay, let's get right into the food!  Well, I'll talk about the two most important dishes right off the hop.  The Ha Gau (Lee Garden Crystal Prawn Dumplings) were quite good.  Although the dumpling skin was medium-thick, it wasn't too dense.  There was a nice translucency with appealing elasticity.  Inside, the shrimp filling was moist and buttery with a classic snap texture.  Seasoning was mild with sweetness and some sesame oil aromatics.

Off to the Siu Mai (Steamed Pork & Shrimp Dumplings), they were not uniform in appearance, but ultimately that didn't matter much.  Somewhat loose, the mixture of pork and shrimp were texturally on point.  Exhibiting the desired rebound while being tender and moist, the pork was also well-seasoned (so it wasn't too porky in flavour).  As for the shrimp, it has all of the same qualities as the Ha Gau with a buttery snap.  

We also had the Steamed Rice Noodle Roll with Prawns & Chives which was not bad.  I found the rice noodle itself on the stiffer and drier side.  Now with that being said, it didn't make or break the dish necessarily.  By employing some of the sweetened soy, it somewhat helped soften the rice noodle somewhat (in addition to adding flavour).  As for the prawns in the middle, they were of a good size and had a meaty snap while being lightly seasoned with appealing sweetness.

We always enjoy the Baked BBQ Pork Pastries and naturally we would order these here.  Generally, these were quite good where the pastry was buttery and flaky.  There was a nice aroma while we ate them and I'm sure it was due to the use of lard (hey Dim Sum isn't health food!).  Love the colour on the outside too.  Inside, there was an average amount of BBQ pork filling that featured fairly lean pieces.  The minimal amount of glaze was mostly sweet with some savoury elements.

One of the strangest items we had was the Ling Cod Congee.  Okay, nothing really strange about the dish itself, but the preparation was not what we expected.  They put the head as well as the bones into the congee which meant it tasted great with a natural sweetness.  However, we had a fun time trying to not accidentally swallowing bones.  Not sure if that is necessarily a good idea to prepare fish congee this way.  In terms of the congee itself, the viscosity was good where it was thick but drinkable.  It didn't get watery at the end either.

Onto another larger item, we had the Crystal Noodles with Beef Brisket Hot Pot.  This was served in a hot pot and it was indeed sizzling.  That was good and bad since the noodles on the bottom got pretty singed.  Hence, those noodles were more chewy and in some parts, actually hard.  The positive of the sizzling hot pot was that the whole dish remained warm and the sauce caramelized.  The brisket itself was excellent being tender and meaty.

One of our go-to dishes whenever we are at Dim Sum is the XO Daikon Radish Cake.  These cubes are deep fried then wok-tossed with XO sauce, peppers and bean sprouts.  We found the radish cake to be rather squishy, but they were delicate and not dense.  However, the deep fry on them was not aggressive enough and hence the squishiness.  There was not a lot of XO sauce going on either, so I needed to dunk it into hot sauce.

As you can see in the picture, the Pan-Fried Eggplant with Shrimp Paste was pretty generous with the stuffing.  It was also good where the shrimp was airy and light with a rebound texture.  It was sweet and had a natural shrimp essence.  I thought the eggplant was excellent where it was cooked through while still having some firmness.  The only part of the dish that could've been better was the starch-thickened sauce, it was rather bland.

The parade of shrimp-related dishes continued with the Fried Shrimp Spring Rolls with Garlic.  Again, if we reference the picture, you will noticed the generous amount of whole shrimp jammed within the roll.  There were no empty voids and this made for a robust spring roll.  Texturally, the shrimp had the requisite buttery snap while being well-seasoned.  The spring roll wrapper was wound tightly and was crunchy without being greasy.

Onto the offal portion of our Dim Sum meal, we had the Hong Kong-Style Steamed Beef Tendon & Tripe.  Honestly, I've never seen a dish like this plated so carefully (well at least not at this class of restaurant).  Instead of tripe strewn about, they were neatly arranged on top of the tendon.  Besides that, the tripe were in large pieces and perfectly textured being soft with a chew.  Tendon was also soft but not melted while savoury and sweet in flavour.

A touch on the paler side, the Phoenix Talons (Steamed Chicken Feet in House Special Sauce) were a lot more plump than it should be.  Let me explain, the chicken feet are fried before they are steamed.  They didn't fry them enough, hence the texture of the skin was more akin to steamed from raw than the desired texture.  Beyond that, the rest of the chicken feet was good though being soft and tender.  Flavours were good with lots of garlicky spice.

One of, if not the best dish of the meal was the Steamed Spareribs with Pumpkin.  First of all, the portion size was generous with predominantly meaty rib pieces that weren't too fatty.  Secondly, the meat was the proper texture being tender with a rebound.  In terms of flavour, the seasoning was impactful with lots of garlic, a touch of spice and plenty of savouriness.  Underneath, the pumpkin was soft and soaked up all of the flavours.

Last savoury item was the Beef Meatballs and they were also quite good.  Texturally, these whipped meatballs were fluffy and airy.  However at the same time, there was still some "meatiness" left.  There was just enough green onion mixed in for some flavour without taking over the dish.  I was happy that they put fried bean curd skin underneath as it provided a different texture as well as soaking up some of the juices.

For dessert, we had the Steamed Egg Yolk Bun as well as the Steamed Sponge Cake.  I found the buns to be fairly fluffy with a good amount of runny salted egg yolk filling.  It was sweetened enough so there was balance.  The nuttiness of the egg yolk came through.  The sponge cake was fluffy and light yet there was a noticeable baking powder aftertaste.  It was mildly sweet with a rich brown sugar aroma.  So this second visit to Lee Garden in Coquitlam was good.  Sure, some dishes could be better, but overall, we enjoyed the food.  Service was decent and the spacing of the tables was comfortable enough.

The Good:
- Decent eats
- Decent service
- Fairly comfortable

The Bad:
- Some refinements needed

The Living Room (Hotel Belmont)

It's been awhile since I'm been down to the Granville Entertainment District in Downtown Vancouver.  So it is no surprise I was clueless that Doolin's had shuttered and the Comfort Inn became The Belmont Hotel.  Okay, I've actually been down there not that long ago, but obviously I wasn't paying attention.  Well, I was invited with a bunch of the other awesome foodies in town to try out The Living Room (that replaces Doolin's) and to check out The Basement as well.  Gotta say that underground space is a perfect party room for those looking for a place to book.  But back to The Living Room, they have a nice bar in the middle and they still have those large windows that open up and you get fresh air including all the people watching on Nelson Street.

Onto the food, we were served a bunch of appies including the KFC Bao with crispy chicken, pickled vegetables, gochujang aioli, cilantro and sesame seeds.  I enjoyed these as the steamed bao was soft and fluffy while not stuck to the steamer (probably placed in the basket afterwards).  The chicken was crunchy while being juicy inside.  There was the classic sweet and spicy gochujang flavour that was complimented by the crunchy pickled veggies.

The next plate to hit the table was the Braised Meatballs in a rosé sauce topped with grana padano and basil pesto.  I found the meatballs to have a natural beef texture while still being moist and tender.  There wasn't a whole lot of filler in these.  They were mildly seasoned with enough inherent flavour to stand on its own, but the sauce was totally welcomed.  I thought it was more tangy than being a creamy
 rosé, but that was a good thing as some versions are far too muted due to the addition of cream.  Loved the basil pesto as it provided some herbaceousness.

Normally, ordering Burrata in a restaurant is never a bad decision, but ultimately, some versions are pretty boring.  So when this one was topped with a considerable amount of chili oil tapenade, it really brought the whole dish alive.  First and foremost, the burrata was creamy and acted as a blank canvas for the tangy, salty and slightly spicy tapenade.  We found uniformly toasted foccacia on the side that was crispy and light.

Yes, the next appie we had was actually handmade by The Real Dumpling King but hey, they were good and prepared properly.  The Pork Dumplings were shaped like an XLB, but they featured a very thin, almost translucent wrapper.  The texture was appealing with a good mouth feel and elasticity.  They were seared well with crispy and browned bottoms.  Inside, the pork filling was meaty and juicy with a wealth of seasoning that meant that the dip wasn't even necessary.

Last small plate we had was the Lobster & Prawn Rolls tossed in lemon aioli and herbs.  These were pretty good with a soft split bun stuffed with plenty of filling.  The textures were on point with cold-water crunchy prawn meat as well as lobster with an appealing rebound.  Naturally, the sweetness and brininess of the two ingredients were present, but the lemon aioli with herbs complimented them beautifully.  The balanced acidity really helped keep things bright and light.

Onto the mains, I had the Smash Burger with two patties, American cheese, caramelized onion, lettuce, tomato and burger sauce on a toasted brioche bun.  As you can see, this was a substantial burger where the bun was perfect.  It held together, but was light enough to not be a distraction from the meat.  Those smashed patties were medium-thick, nicely charred and still moist.  Slathered in salty melted cheese and tangy sauce, this ate messy and very well.

Interestingly, almost everyone at the table ordered the Hanger Steak Frites featuring Bulleit Bourbon peppercorn sauce, roasted tomatoes, skinny fries and for this plate, garlic prawns for an extra $7.00.  Due to it being a hanger steak, the meatiness and beef flavour was at the forefront.  It was prepared a perfect medium-rare with an even cook on both sides.  Properly rested and nicely charred on the outside, there was very little in the way of meat juices leaking out.  The steak was sufficiently tender for the cut and the peppercorn sauce was creamy and full-flavoured.  There was a considerable amount of fries and they were uniformly crispy.  Prawns were excellent too with a sweet snap and lots of garlic buttery goodness.  For $29.00 and considering the execution (and since we were in Downtown), this was a good vaule.

Even though the Pan-Seared Steelhead Salmon was not as sexy as the steak and burger, it was also one of the best.  It was seared nicely while still moist and flaky on the inside.  The lemon butter emulsion was creamy but not overly heavy due to the acidity.  Of course it worked well with the salmon.  Underneath, the fluffy quinoa combined with the sauce was delicious.  On the side, the zucchini, red pepper, cherry tomatoes and peas were beautifully prepared.

Beyond all these dishes, it would seem that the Spicy Rigatoni would be an afterthought, right?  Not so.  It was also very good with al dente pasta bathed in an arribiatta 
rosé sauce with foccacia bread crumbs, grana padano and garlic prawns ($7.00 extra).  I found the sauce to be tangy and not that creamy (same as the meatballs), but again, that worked for me.  It was mildly spicy with plenty of nutty cheesiness from the grana padano.  Again, the prawns were cooked right and added some nice texture.

Onto dessert, we had two of them including the New York Cheesecake with berry compote.  This was textbook with a rich and creamy texture that was only semi-sweet.  It was uniformly shaped and featured a buttery graham cracker crust.  As much as the berry compote was a bit pale in colour and chunky in appearance, it was good.  There was a nice balance of sweetness to go with the considerable tang which brought some brightness to the heavy cheesecake.

My favourite of the two was the Warm Chocolate Brownie drizzled with salted caramel and topped with candied nuts and whipped cream.  Texturally, the brownie was rich, chewy and not overly dense.  It was chocolaty without being too sweet.  Good thing because the salted caramel did its thing with heightened smoky sweetness.  The nuts added some crunch to the dessert.  Overall, I was pleasantly surprised at the food quality and execution at The Living Room.  Given its reasonable pricing, especially for its Downtown location, The Living Room is a great place to grab some drinks and food all served in an eclectic modern space.

*All food and beverages were complimentary*

The Good:
- Solid eats and cocktails
- Reasonable pricing
- Nice eclectic vibe

The Bad:
- Street parking is limited and parking lots are pricey

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