Sherman's Food Adventures: October 2023

Mercato Centrale Roma

I initially booked out hotel close to Roma Termini for a couple of reasons.  First, I would be arriving into the station from the airport by train, so a quick walk to our hotel with luggage would be preferable.  Secondly, we would be leaving by train at the same station en route to Florence.  So that part of the plan worked out flawlessly and our hotel turned out to be pretty good as well.  However, a byproduct of staying so close to the termini would be access to Mercato Centrale with all of its selection of quick eats.  We ended up grabbing lunch here twice during our stay in Rome.

Upon entering the market, we spotted some pretty stacked pizzas at Il Forno di Raffaele D'Errico.  Yes, the display probably persuaded us to try their pizzas by the weight but really we shouldn't have.  This is not to say that there weren't enough toppings and also the crust wasn't heavy.  After a quick reheat in the oven, the crust was actually crunchy.  However, the pricing was rather pricey (32 Euros for 3 large slices of pizza), even though there was quite a bit of food.  We also found each slice to be too oily.

On the other hand at II Trapizzino, their sandwiches with ingredients stuffed in a triangular pizza-like shell were money.  Only 5 Euros each, they were filling and delicious.   My favourite was the Stracciatella with Anchovies.  They were not shy about cramming as much as they could in and it was overflowing with cheese.  The anchovies were briny and salty, which went well with the mild fresh cheese.  We also had the Polpette and it was a giant meatball that was tender but without much filler.  The sauce was tangy with lots of tomato flavour.  Surprisingly, the Pollo was probably the best tasting with fresh herbs.  The chicken itself was both plentiful and tender.  The bread itself was light and almost fluffy with a crispy exterior.

On another visit, I had to get some pasta at Las Pasta Fresca in the Linguine with Meat Sauce.  This was not a very good rendition of pasta, especially in Rome.  I found the linguine to be too al dente and hard.  As for the sauce, it was rather one-note being salty and not very tomatoey.  In fact, I didn't even get a good tanginess out of it.  No other distinguishing herbs or seasoning.

Viv and my son were craving burgers and went to Lo Smashburger.  She had the Single Smash Cheeseburger and he had the Double Smashburger.  Those came with pickles, onion, Joe's secret sauce and cheddar.  Believe it or not, these were actually quite decent.  The patties could've been thinner, but there was a good char and slight crispiness on the edges.  Good flavour with the meat too with natural taste accented by enough salt.  The bun was soft and conformed to the rest of the ingredients.

My daughter didn't go very complex and had the Caprese Sandwich from La Mozzarella e i Formaggi.  Pretty basic and nothing amazing but did the job nonetheless.  She found the bread a bit chewy but okay otherwise.  The ingredients were fresh and there was enough cheese, tomatoes and basil to make things interesting and not all bread.  As you can see, the food at the Mercato was not gourmet by any stretch of the imagination.  However, it isn't meant to be.  It served its purpose where we got some quick eats with II Trapizzino being my favourite and a must visit in my opinion.

The Good:
- A variety of eats for reasonable prices
- II Trapizzino is the star of the show
- Won't take long to get your food

The Bad:
- Not everything is good there.  Do your research

La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali

Boy it was quite the day of travelling to get to Rome.  First we made it to Schipol after 9 hours and then endured a flight delay and finally made it to Rome 15 hours after our day had started.  Then a taxi driver at the airport tried to scam us, so we got out of his taxi only to forget my camera in it.  Had to track him down to get it back.  Made it to our hotel after a train ride on the Leonardo Express and by the time we hit La Taverna dei Fior Imperiali, it was over 24 hours since we had slept.  Luckily we made a reso because the place was full for most of the night!

We started our late night meal (at least that is how it felt like to us) with the Fritto Misto Della Casa with 2 zucchini flowers with mozzarella & anchovies, cod, honey & mint ricotta cheese & hazelnuts and zucchini.  Loved this dish as the batter was super crispy and fairly light.  My favourite items was the ricotta as it was springy and fluffy.  The drizzle of honey really elevated the flavours.  That cod was also good being flaky and light with the crunch from the batter as the perfect foil to the soft texture of the fish.  

They had an Octopus special which was pretty delicious too.  It sat atop an eggplant caponata with crunchy breadcrumbs, olives, tomato, pinenuts and rosemary.  There was a generous amount of octopus that was tender while still retaining a bite.  Outside, it was gilled up with portions of crispiness.  Good textural contrast with the tender meat.  As for the caponata, the eggplant was perfect being soft while having a firm skin.  The flavours were on point with tang, sweetness, saltiness and some aromatics.

We picked the Vignarola di Fave with artichokes, peas and Roman guanciale as our side and it was tasty as well.  The fava beans were cooked down until they were soft as were the peas.  The intense meatiness from the rendered fat from the guanciale added body and saltiness to the dish.  I found the guanciale to be rather intense as it was salty on its own with a firm texture.  It burst with a cured saltiness that needed the mild beans and peas to act as a blank canvas.

Onto our pastas, we tried the Carbonara with the same guanciale and pecorino romano cheese.  The tube pasta was dead perfect with an al dente chewiness that had a great mouth feel while still being tender enough to eat.  Being large and thick, the pasta stood up to the heaviness of the carbonara. The intensity of the guanciale was evident with each bite.  This was further enhanced by the cheese as it added another layer of saltiness as well as nutiness.

We had their featured pasta of the night that was somewhat similar.  It featured guanciale again with fresh figs.  Employing the same Paccheri as the carbonara, the texture was firm and slightly dense, yet still completely chewable.  Since there was plenty of rendered guanciale, the dish had a deep saltiness as well as a luxurious fattiness.  With some pecorino romano, we found a close flavour profile with the carbonara except for one major difference - the fresh figs.  That lightened up the heavy dish somewhat and provided a bright sweetness.

Our favourite pasta was the Gnocchi with white veal ragout and black truffles.  Although the gnocchi was a little on the lukewarm side, it had a great texture.  There was a certain firmness with each bite while still being soft.  Due to the saltiness of the previous 2 pastas, the mildness of the meaty ragout was welcomed.  It was rather meaty too.  Naturally, the addition of shaved black truffles added woodsiness.

Onto our bigger plates, we had the Veal Saltimbocca with prosciutto, sage and white wine sauce.  I really enjoyed this one as well since the veal was meaty while tender.  The addition of prosciutto on top added more meatiness and of course saltiness.  The white wine really came through in the final flavour profile with a certain booziness yet still cooked down.  Although not looking like much, the side of roast potatoes were excellent being soft and tender with a slightly crisp exterior.

Last dish was the Grilled Vacche Grasse Rib Eye Steak served with the same roast potatoes as the veal.  Although the quality of the beef was quite good, it was cooked to about medium-well.  That in itself made it a touch too firm and of course no longer juicy.  However, it was still plenty tender with good natural beef flavour.  The rosemary butter served on top added a woodsiness nuttiness.  Throughout the meal, we were literally falling asleep, but the food was solid enough that it kept our attention.  A great start to our European trip and really appreciated the warm family atmosphere of the restaurant.

The Good:
- Solid home-style eats
- Wonderful people, very welcoming
- Reasonable-pricing

The Bad:
- Steak was a little overdone
- Food was a bit salty

Paella Experience by The Paella Guys

Believe it or not, I'm walking on air...  Wait, no what I meant is believe it or not, I have not ever tried out the Paella Guys before.  Hey, it isn't as if I haven't seen all their giant and tasty-looking paellas on social media though.  I guess, there is just too many places and things to eat in the GVRD to get to everything.  I really do enjoy paella and I actually own a paella pan (which I've used on several occasions to make my own paella.  So when I got invited to their commissary kitchen to participate in their Paella Cooking Class, I didn't need much convincing to go!

Upon arriving at their facility near the Production Way Skytrain station (which makes it convenient for those who want to transit), I took a seat at the large table.  I put on my apron and proceeded to write my name on the supplied name tag.  We were presented with a variety of Meats and Cheeses including loin, salami, Serrano ham, manchego, truffle and black garlic cheeses.  We also found some olives and marcona almonds as well.

Onto a quick lesson on how to make an authentic Red Sangria, we learned that adding sugar gives it the necessary sweetness.  No use of any sweetened sodas such as ginger ale or lemon-lime, rather we used club soda.  Also, we diced up 3 types of tree fruit including apples, pears and oranges.  No rinds were added due to their bitterness.  Normally, this would be prepared 7 days in advance or minimally 4 hours prior to consuming.  This was truly refreshing and went well with the paella.

So to the main event, we were going to be split up into 2 teams to make on Seafood Paella and a Traditional Paella each.  The ingredients for the seafood included bomba rice (since it is good with high heat), diced onion, red peppers, saffron, salt, EVOO, sofrito (tomato paste, garlic, olive oil), scallops, prawns, squid, mussels, clams and a stock made from whitefish tomatoes and leeks.  For the traditional paella, we found bombo rice, green pepper, green beans, chicken, EVOO, salt, sofrito, rosemary, saffron, paprika and stock made of artichoke leaves and chicken bones.

We began by heating up some EVOO and then adding salt.  We seared the scallops first on the seafood side and browned the chicken on the other.  Then we added the peppers and onions and cooked them until translucent.  We cooked down the squid on the seafood side and then the green beans on the other.  Broth was added to de-glaze the paella pan. The rice was added shortly after.

During this time, there was a platter of Tortilla coming around for us to munch as we anxiously awaited for the paella to be done.   For those who are aware, Spanish tortilla is not a chip.  Rather it is an omelette of sorts with onion and potato. I've had this on numerous occasions, usually during a round of tapas.  This particular one was loadded with potato that made it quite hearty.  This was served on a bread.

So when it was all said and done, the Traditional Paella looked like the picture you see above.  The rice appeared to be slightly underdone, but that was intentional to keep things al dente and also the rice would continue to cook from the residual heat.  Underneath that, there was a socarrat (rice crust) that had formed being nutty, caramelized and slightly crispy on the edges.  This had a robust flavour from the chicken and was very tasty.

As for the Seafood Paella, it was topped with prawns, clams and mussels where they finished off cooking with a tin foil tent.  The rice on it was also appealingly chewy with a nice socarrat on the bottom and edges.  The seafood was perfectly cooked while the flavour was briny and slightly sweet.  As a group, we all agreed that the seafood was our favourite and there was plenty of it to go around.  We even had leftovers!  Oh and it wasn't pictured here, but we got a healthy dose of aioli on the side of our paella.

Onto dessert, we were served small Tarta de Santiago aka Galician Almond Tart with plenty of butter and a hint of citrus.  These were sinful but ultimately delicious with a noticeable butteriness with the unmistakable taste of almonds.  The top and edges were crunchy while the inside was soft and warm.  A fine finish to a fun evening of drinks, cooking, friends (meeting new ones) and eating.  There are several more sessions available in November.  They sell-out quick, so be sure to book online!

*This Paella Cooking Experience was complimentary for this post

The Good:
- You really do learn some new things
- Fun and interactive
- Delicious!

The Bad:
- Only a small class, so limited seats, but also keeps it intimate
- Limited parking


Bombay Kitchen + Bar (Commercial Drive)

If you haven't noticed, we've been invited to try out quite a few Indian restaurants (predominantly Punjabi) all over the Lower Mainland.  Not sure if this by coincidence and/or Indian restaurant really like us.  However, we sure aren't complaining because we all enjoy Indian cuisine!  The latest dinner happened to be at Bombay Kitchen + Bar on Commercial, located in longtime former spot of The Reef.  They have completely renovated the place and similar to many of the higher-end Indian restaurants in town, the decor is appealing with a bougie bar.

So with such a nice bar, we had to get some drinks including the Mango Mojito, Strawberry Virgin Mojito, Sexy Bombay, Lime Soda and Mango Lassi.  The theme of these drinks were definitely fruit and very drinkable.  Hence, they were also dangerous as you can down many!  I loved how the ones with alcohol were balanced and not crazy strong but at the same time, you could definitely tell it was there.

Off the food, we started with the Bombay Mixed Platter featuring veggie samosa, veggie pakora, paneer pakora, and fish pakora.  Things were deep-fried perfectly in this dish as the pakoras were all crispy and not heavy.  The fish was flaky and moist while the paneer was appealingly squishy.  Veggie pakora featured wilted veggies that weren't mushy.  Pakoras sported a crispy outer shell that wasn't greasy.  Inside, the filling was well-spiced.

To get a taste of everything we got the Tandoori Mix Grill consisting of chicken, prawns, chicken tikka, lamb chops & fish.  This was another winner with nicely charred meat.  My favourite was the bone-in chicken tandoori as it was flavourful and super moist.  The fish was also good being flaky and buttery (from the ghee on the bottom of the cast iron plate).  Lamb was in smaller pieces and was also good.

Next, we had the Vegetable Chili Momos that were bathed in a tangy and spicy sauce.  It was very flavourful and could've been eaten with plain rice.  However, it was there to flavour the momos.  That it did.  It ended up soaking into the dumpling skin.  The result was a soft and very delicate dumpling wrapper as it was quite thin to begin with.  Inside, the veggies were soft, but not mushy.

If you haven't heard about Chicken 65, then you need to hear about it.  It is a flavourful fried chicken snack that originated from the Hotel Bruhari in 1965 (hence the name).  This one was a good version with medium-sized pieces of chicken that sported a crispy coating that was spiced by red chilis.  It wasn't actually spicy.  Rather, it was more balanced.  Inside, the chicken itself was moist and almost juicy.

One of the most surprising dishes was the Chili Prawns.  You see, we asked for mild dishes because not everyone could handle spice.  Personally, I love spice, so it was a nice surprise to see that the heat from the chili prawns was significant.  It caused a lot of coughing at the table.  For me it was perfect as it made up for the delicate flavour of the meaty prawns.  There was also equal parts savoury and sweetness.

Moving onto the mains, we had to get the default dish in the Butter Chicken.  This was quite creamy and smooth with the balancing tang from the tomatoes.  Beyond that, we could also taste the spices with a slight kick and earthiness.  Unlike many other version where they use tandoori chicken breast, they ended up opting for tandoori chicken thighs.  Therefore, the meat was juicy and tender with much more natural chicken flavour.

So the butter chicken was very good, but honestly, the Coconut Chicken was the table favourite.  Sporting the same tender and juicy chicken thighs, the sauce was the real star of the dish.  It was creamy and rich with the aromatic and tropical flavour of coconut milk.  It was further enhanced by the tang from the lemon and bite from the ginger.  However, the dish as a whole was on the sweeter side and definitely needed rice or naan for balance.

On the topic of sweet, the Kerala Fish Curry was equally sweet with some of the same flavours as the coconut chicken.  One of the key differences, other than the protein, was the addition of shallots and garlic, which made for more aromatics.  Also, the green mango provided just a slightest background tanginess.  Of course we need to talk about the pieces of fish as they were delicate and flaky.  So much so, we had to be careful spooning it out of the casserole dish.

Going in a totally different direction in terms of flavour and protein, we had the ever-popular Lamb Rogen Josh.  This was truly rich and comforting fall flavours from the cloves, nutmeg and cardamom. There was also the sweetness from the onions as well as the earthiness from the cumin.  Classic flavours and definitely impactful.  The big chunks of lamb were fairly tender, but it was somewhere in between firm and soft.

Going for a veggie dish as our last curry, we had the classic Palak Paneer.  This was also rather creamy and rich with the slight earthiness from the cumin.  I also got the bright sharpness of the ginger that helped break up the heaviness.  Hidden within, we found little cubes of paneer that were squishy in a texturally-pleasing way.  Not sure if this was necessarily the healthy veggies we were looking for, but it was tasty nonetheless!

Onto the breads, we had a wide selection including Garlic Naan, Cheese Naan, Spinach & Paneer Naan and Lachha Paratha.  On looks alone, these looked on point and in fact, they were with the garlic naan being nicely blistered and crispy.  On the inside, it was chewy and slightly fluffy.  The stuffed naans were softer with crispy edges.  The fillings made them good on their own.  Lastly, the paratha was crispy with a pleasing chewiness while brushed with plenty of ghee.

We also had one rice dish in the Chicken Biryani.  Yes, we know that plain basmati rice should be the compliment to all the curries, but we just love biryani and had to get it.  Turned out to be a great decision as it was prepared very well.  The rice was chewy and moist without being wet.  It had soaked up all the flavours and had a nice spice level.  The morsels of dark chicken meat were tender and also well-spiced.

We ended up trying all of their desserts including Gajar Ka Halva, Ras Malai, Mango Cheesecake and Stick Kulfi.  For me, I love the carrot dessert as it was sweet with raisins while soft and warm.  I also love all things kulfi and this was not exception as it was creamy and rich with cardamom.  Surprisingly, the cheesecake was excellent being rich and firm but not too heavy.  Yes, these desserts were sweet, but not so much that it was overwhelming.  All-in-all, this meal at Bombay Kitchen + Bar was fantastic and well-portioned.  Prices are very reasonable and the decor is welcoming.  A solid spot on the Drive and I would definitely come back.

*Food & beverages were complimentary for this post

The Good:
- Solid eats
- Reasonable-pricing
- Welcoming dining space

The Bad:
- Parking is always difficult to find on The Drive
- Restaurant is relatively small and can fill up quickly

Vivace on the Drive

When Eileen asked if I was available for a meal at Vivace on the Drive, I wasn't too familiar with the place.  The only thing I knew was that it took over the spot where Federico's Supper Club used to be located.  Upon arriving at the place, I quickly knew we weren't in Kansas anymore...  Sporting a beautiful bar that occupies most of the restaurant, the place is now much more modern and completely inviting.  With a stage at the back of the restaurant, there continues to be live music as well as a big screen for all those soccer and rugby matches.

We arrived for a late lunch and as a rugby match was just coming to an end.  Loved the atmosphere of the place where it was packed and fans that were into the game as well as enjoying some eats and drinks.  So we decided to get in on the action with our own bevies including Blueberry Mojito, Mezcal Sour, La Vie Lavende and Peachy Paradise Orange Sour.  These were all very good and balanced.  My mojito had some fruitiness and of course herbeceousness.  The mezcal sour was tangy and lightly sweet.  Naturally, the lavender came through on the la vie lavende with some sweetness and gin finish.  For the peachy paradise, it was a virgin drink that was sweet and tangy.

Onto the food, we started with the Terrine made with ham hock, piccalilli and toasted brioche on the side.  This was a nice appie where the pork was tender and nicely brined.  It paired well with the lightly toasted brioche.  The bread stood up well to the hearty terrine, but was not dense nor hard to eat.  The piccalilli condiment added a mustardy tanginess to the mix that helped cut through the heaviness of the ham.

Next, we were presented with the Mushrooms on Toast topped by a soft-poached egg and whole seed mushroom dressing.  Although there was no meat to this dish, it ate very well with plenty of body.  Those sautéed mushrooms were earthy and buttery.  Soft-poached egg was perfectly delicate with a runny yolk while the mustard dressing was sweet and slightly tangy.  The bread held up to the wet ingredients without being too hard.

Although seemingly simple, the Full English Breakfast was satisfying and well-prepared.  It featured a plethora of back bacon, sausage, sautéed mushrooms, baked beans, grilled toast and sunny-side eggs.  As you can clearly see, the eggs were perfect with runny yolks and tender whites.  The bread was nutty and nicely charred.  Mushrooms were like the previous dish while the sausage was meaty with little fat.

The following dish did not belong to their regular menu.  Rather, it is part of the Pasta Challenge until October 29th.  The L'Oceano Vivace featured squid ink tagliolini, lemon butter foam, chorizo, pan-seared scallops and trout roe.  Some EVOO on top for good measure.  This was fantastic with al dente pasta and when mixed with the foam, there was significant lemon tanginess.  Scallops were buttery and tender.

We also tried a few items from their dinner menu including the Pork Belly with pumpkin puree and cranberries.  This was fantastic where the large chunk of pork belly was tender with just enough fattiness.  It was nicely seared on all sides for caramelization and aesthetics.  Puree was creamy and sweet while the cranberries added another layer of sweetness combined with tartness.

Another seemingly simple, yet delicious dish was the Radicchio with grapefruit, pumpkin and fig.  The slice of radicchio was seared up nicely where it was smoky and tender.  However, it was still firm and wasn't overdone.  The sweetness of the pumpkin and fig helped temper the considerable amount of bitterness.  The grapefruit on top added both colour and some acidity to compliment the other flavours.

For dessert, we shared the Brioche & Butter Pudding with white chocolate and cardamom.  Oh wow, this was insanely delicious!  Beyond the appealingly charred exterior, the bread soaked up all of the white chocolate sauce.  Hence, it was well, pudding-like.  However, it contrasted beautifully with the crunchy and smoky exterior.  So we went into this meal not knowing what to expect.  But we came away impressed at the plating, overall execution and deliciousness of the meal.

*Partial comp on the meal as the drinks were extra

The Good:
- Appealing plating
- Well-executed
- Nice vibe and drinks

The Bad:
- Lunch menu is good but may need a few more items

Bánh Mì Très Bon

Yes, I realize that it hasn't been long since I made my last visit to the White Rock location of Bánh Mì Très Bon.  However, they have begun to add more dishes to their menu as they get settled into the groove of operating a second store.  So that is the main reason for being there again so soon.  However,  we were able to sample some of the favourites as well as their surprisingly good cocktails.  So I met up with Roanna and Eileen for another tasting.

We started off with their Savoury Mini-Crêpes and I thought this time, they were even better than the last time I was here.  The edges and bottom of the crêpes were uniformly crispy and light.  Each one was filled with fried shallots, shrimp and green onion.  This combination ensured there would be aromatics, brininess and a bright sharpness.  But to complete this concoction, we were served a side of fish sauce to up the salty briny flavour quotient.

So we couldn't do food here without some of their excellent drinks either right?  We got the Taste of Vietnam Cocktail Flight featuring Smooth Landing (plum wine, rambutan juice, ginger, & jalapeños),  In the Air (rice wine, soho lychee, & crème de cassis), Taking Off (hpnotic & coconut liqueur).  My favourite of the bunch was In the Air due to the lychee and creaminess.  We also had the Bonsoir Saigon and Parisian Nights.  Loved the coffee in the Bonsoir Saigon and the fruitiness of the Parisian Nights.

So we had 2 versions of their next dish including the Sweet Tamarind Crispy Prawns as well as the Sweet Tamarind Crispy Tofu & Cauliflower.  Loved the tanginess of the tamarind that was tempered by the sweetness and slight spice of the sauce.  The prawns were indeed crispy with a meaty snap texture.  However, I enjoyed the vegetarian version even more with the firm cauliflower and the tender chunks of crispy tofu.

The next 2 dishes we had also featured the same main dish but with different starches.  We had the Vietnamese Free-Range Chicken Curry served with rice vermicelli or their house-made baguette.  Really enjoyed this dish as the curry featured coconut milk, but wasn't heavy at the same time.  We got the aromatics as well as some sweetness with some spice.  The chicken was certainly tender while the little nuggets of purple yam were texturally appealing.  We also found eggplant, green beans, carrots and daikon hidden within too.  I thought the vermicelli went really well with the sauce.  The bread was fantastic too being soft with a crunchy exterior, but it would go better with a beef stew in  my opinion.

So you can't dine at Bánh Mì Très Bon without having their Bánh Mì Trio right?  Well, this featured braised pork belly & Vietnamese ham, grilled lemongrass chicken and pork meatball.  Again, the bread on these were good with a crunchy crust giving way to a soft chewy interior.  This held all the wet ingredients at bay very well.  My favourite was the meatball as it was soft and meaty with lots of sweet onion flavour as well as a meatiness.

Going for all the greatest hits, we had the BMTB Signature Beef Tenderloin Bone Marrow Phở.  Okay, yes, this was money with a clean-tasting broth that had plenty of meatiness.  It wasn't too heavy on the seasoning though as it was not too salty.  I found the meat to be tender and sliced thin.  Of course the star of the show was the large bone marrow with plenty of fatty goodness in the middle.

We ended our savoury portion of the meal with the delicious Caramelized Fish Sauce Brussels Sprouts.  Yes, to most this would look very unassuming, but rest assured, the flavours in this pop.  With the briny saltiness of the fish sauce and the sweetness of caramel, the balance was all there.  Coupled with aromatic crispy shallots and firm, but cooked-through Brussels sprouts, we had textural and flavour contrast.

Onto dessert, we tried the Apple Cream Puff Tart.  Oh I really liked this as the contrast between the fluffy & crispy choux pastry with the firm tart shell worked.  Also, the sweetness was just right where it was impactful without being overly sugary.  So nice end to this delicious meal.  Things were carefully-prepared and tasted great.  Definitely an elevated Vietnamese dining experience.  Perfect for the neighbourhood.

*All food and beverages were complimentary for this post

The Good:
- Elevated food
- Good flavours
- Nice dining space

The Bad:
- On the pricier side (but what isn't these days?)
- Parking is a bit difficult

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