Sherman's Food Adventures: 2024

Bellwether BBQ & Grill

I'm sure many of you have tried an AYCE Korean BBQ before.  It isn't like there is a shortage of them as we find many chains across the country.  Furthermore, if you travel lots, you will notice that SoCal has an inordinate amount of them and there are good ones to be found in NYC as well.  Our latest food adventure has brought us to Bellwether in the Chinatown-International District in Seattle.  Across the street and half a block down from Uwajimaya, Bellwether shares a space with Happy Lamb Hot Pot as well as free parking underground (which is a huge plus).

One thing that sets Bellwether apart from other AYCE Korean BBQ joints is their self-service bar that includes soft drinks (if you paid extra for that), corn cheese, veggies (including romaine to wrap your meats), small dishes, dessert and rice.  So really, other than the raw meats, you have all of the other items you need at your disposal (and as much as you want).  I find this a very efficient way of doing things where you don't have to wait for the simple things.

Onto the meats, we had a combination of the regular menu (which is $39.98 per person) and 3 premium meats that adds $6.00 per person.  In this picture, there is one of the items in the Gold Grade American Wagyu in addition to the Black Angus Ribeye and Premium Beef Tongue.  Seeing how fatty the Wagyu looks in the picture, it ate like what you would expect.  It was buttery and soft while charring up beautifully.  The ribeye was great too being soft and moist with plenty of marbling.  Sliced super thin, the beef tongue was chewy, but in a good way.  Lots of meaty flavor from the fat.

The 2 other options for the premium meats are the Hand Cut Short Rib and Marinated Hand Cut Short Rib. If you look at the first picture, it is quite obvious how fresh the meat was.  It cooked up well with nice charring and plenty of natural meat flavor.  It was tender with the classic short rib chew.  As for the marinated version, it was obviously more impactful and didn't really need any sauce.  It seared up even easier due to the marinade and seemed a bit more tender due to the marination.

Sticking with short ribs, we got the Marinated LA Galbi as well.  Also known as Maui-style, these are cut across the bones.  This way, you get much more of the meat around the bones and the connective tissues.  This was tender and also quite good.  Looking at the picture of the Pork Belly, it is pretty obvious that it was more meat than fat.  I personally prefer that ant there was enough fat to keep things moist and have an impact.  It still crisped up well on the grill.


We had 2 more meats including the Sweet & Spicy Marinated Chicken and Premium Pork Jowl.  There is also an option to get the chicken with garlic instead of it being spicy.  I thought the chicken was tender since it was dark meat.  It was somewhat spicy.  The pork jowl was predictably flavorful from the fat and also had that unmistakable rebound texture.  Due to the fat, it crisped up well on the BBQ as well as sporting a nice char.


Possibly something that I wouldn't have guessed that would blow us away was the Squid.  It was so good!  Nice chewiness that gave way to tender pieces that were also naturally sweet.  Even without dipping it into any sauce, it was flavorful, but yah, we used the sesame oil and salt for this anyways.  Should've ordered more of this!    One of the meat items that didn't require us to cook it was the Lamb Shank.  It was tender and gelatinous as lamb should be.  The outside was nicely spiced and crispy.  Good option if you like lamb!

As mentioned, there were several dishes available at the self-service station and the best of the bunch was the chicken wings and spicy tofu.  Soups were good too including the gamjatang.  Naturally, we had some Banchan included and that was served to us.  The grill itself was well-ventilated and was powerful enough to create some serious sear.  Overall, for $39.98, we felt the quality of the food, service and layout of the restaurant made for a good value and delicious meal.  This is a place that I will be bringing the fam next time we are in Seattle (which might be quite soon!).

*All food and beverages were complimentary for this blog post*

The Good:
- Fair pricing
- Good quality meats
- Free parking downstairs

The Bad:
- Service can be stretched as they place gets busy

Skalka

When we were organizing our schedule around The Locks Cruise by Argosy Cruises, it seemed that Skalka was the best place to start our day.  If you haven't heard about the place, it dishes up a Georgian bread called Khachapuri.  They put all sorts of things in the middle such as cheese, eggs, meat and/or veggies.  Hence, this makes for a great brunch and since it was literally a block away from Pier 54 (where our cruise was scheduled to leave at Noon), it was bliss that this all worked out!

Now, the place is really busy and you must order from the kiosk and you get a number.  However, there is no system for the tables.  It is everyone out for themselves!  Luckily we did get one and got our order of 4 different Khachapuri starting with the Adjaruli.  This consisted of melted fresh cheese, grass-fed butter and soft runny egg yolk.  So the method here is to rip off pieces of bread and dip into the cheesy mix.  Naturally combining the egg yolk and butter was optimal and it was truly delicious.

Now if you wanted something more than cheese (but still wanted cheese, butter and egg), you could go for the buttery Chicken Ragu on the other half of the Khachapuri.  Naturally, the best thing to do here is still to combine everything together with the cheese and egg.  So every bite is just as good as the Adjuruli except with the addition of the savory chicken.  Honestly, I didn't even notice it was chicken because the dominant texture and flavor was still the cheese.

On the other hand, the Veggie was surprisingly the most flavorful due to the combination of tomato, eggplant and onions.  This tanginess with some sweetness was the perfect foil for the creamy and rich cheese and yolk mixture.  It broke up the heaviness and added brightness.  With no meat involved, you'd think this would be my least favorite, but alas, this was probably the one I would order over everything else!

Now the meatiest of them all was the Stroganoff with shredded beef, mushrooms and sour cream.  This was the heaviest version, especially combined with the cheese, egg and butter.  They smartly added pickles to lighten things up and to add a crunch.  I thought the stroganoff was quite good with tender meat and a sweet creaminess.  In the end, we didn't finish all of this because it was a lot.  I think one person would find it hard to eat it all by themselves.  Hence this is reasonably-priced for around $17.00.  This is something I would come back for when I'm in Seattle next!

*All food and beverages were complimentary for this blog post*

The Good:
- Something different
- Super cheesy!
- Quite large

The Bad:
- It takes time to make since it is made-to-order, so be patient
- No real system for tables, it is everyone for themselves

Ginger & Scallion

Onto our next food adventure, Jackie and I made our way to Phinney Ridge where we would find Ginger & Scallion.  If you are familiar with the Asian condiment of grated ginger and scallion, then you would have guessed that this place dishes up chicken rice.  Known as Hainanese Chicken in Chinese cuinse, Ginger & Scallion is actually Thai and serves up Khao Man Gai.  There are a few differences namely the main condiment, which is a bit ironic with the name of the place.  Ginger and scallion is usually associated with the Chinese version while the Thai version has as soybean paste sauce with thick soy sauce, chilli, ginger, garlic and vinegar.  Well, they have all the sauces here, so they cover all of the variations in terms of condiments.


Before we got to the chicken, we had some appies to start including the Cucumber Salad and Spicy Shishitos.  Lightly pickled and then topped with some goji berries, the cucumbers were fresh, crunchy and juicy.  The mild brine ensured there was some impact without being being overpowering.  As for the shishitos, they were beautifully charred and salted.  Hence, there was a noticeable smokiness before we got into the mildest hit of spice (as shishitos are typically not spicy).

Before I talk about the chicken, we got to acknowledge that they offer up all the necessary Sauces to make things tasty.  Amalgamating different sauces for various versions of this dish, we find the usual ginger & scallion (name of this place!) and sweet chili that we associate with the Chinese and Singaporean dishes.  Then we have the sweet and spicy ginger & garlic sauce for Khao Man Gai.  Finally, we have the Kecap Manis from Indonesia.  Yes, they had it all!

To start things off, we had the standard in the deboned Chicken Thigh.  This was a healthy portion of tender dark meat that was mild-tasting.  It wasn't exactly juicy, but it wasn't dry either.  I felt this went best with the ginger & garlic sauce that have Nong's vibes but spicier and less sweet.  Naturally, this also came with chicken oil rice and soup.  I found the rice to be well-seasoned, gingery and definitely tasting like chicken.  It was firm, but not dry.  Soup was sweet and gingery.

Then we had the White Meat, but served cold with a wine sauce.  Since this was not kept warm, such as the previous dish, the meat was more moist.  This was true even though this was chicken breast meat.  Once again, the chicken was mild-tasting, but really benefited from wine.  There was also a bit of gelatin underneath the skin, which was tasty.  I felt that this went well with the ginger & scallion condiment as it allowed the wine to stand out.

Sticking with cold chicken, but this time with the dark meat, we had the Spicy version.  This cold dark meat was truly succulent and had even more chicken gelatin between the skin and meat.  Therefore, the chicken itself was pretty flavorful even without sauces.  This could've been partially attributed that it was dark meat since it has more fat.  With that being said, the spicy soy did taste really good and adding even more spice with the garlic and ginger condiment was the way to go here.

Moving away from chicken for just one dish, we had the Braised Duck.  This duck breast was sliced thin and topped with the braising liquid.  The duck was pretty tender and took on all of the flavor of the braise including a salty-sweetness from the soy and some elements of five spice.  I felt that the only condiment that worked for me was the kecap manis where it reminded me of eating Chinese smoked duck with a similar thick sweetened soy.

My favourite dish was the Coconut Curry Chicken with breast meat (that was hand shredded to order) and then served with chicken rice and a cukes.  To amp things up, a big dollap of chili sauce was added to the plate.  When combined, there was enormous impact with heat, smokiness, spice, sweetness and coconut.  In addition to the already gingery sweet chicken oil rice, this was super addictive and I'm still thinking about it as I'm writing this blog post!

At the end, we were presented with 3 desserts including a Matcha Cake, Thai Tea Tres Leches and Key Lime Pie.  The pick of the bunch had to be the tres leches.  It was soaked beautifully with sweet Thai tea that was also fragrant.  The cake itself was super moist but not mushy.  We really enjoyed that!  The other 2 were good too with proper textures and flavors, but go get the tres leches!  In the end, we were quite impressed with the overall execution of the humble chicken rice.  Loved that they had different variations and all the sauces.  You will find something that suits your fancy and at a reasonable price.

*All food and beverages were complimentary for this blog post*

The Good:
- They have all the condiments!
- Choice of chicken meat, temperature and flavor
- That coconut curry chicken!

The Bad:
- Due to having to keep the warm chicken at temperature, the meat can be a little over (so get the cold version if you want consistency)

Pho & Chill

Here we are with our out-of-town food adventures, this time in Seattle.  First stop is Pho & Chill out in Lynnwood that boasts authentic Vietnamese cuisine.  Honestly, most Vietnamese restaurants I've been to in multiple locations have been authentic, rather than something fusion.  However, one look at the menu at Pho & Chill reveals many dishes that are not offered at the run-of-the-mill Vietnamese spots.  Furthermore, they boast a variety of drinks and desserts not seen at most places.

To start things off, we had the Bánh Khọt served with all the fixin's including nước chấm, lettuce, herbs and pickled veggies.  These little pancakes, cooked in their own special mould, were crispy on the bottom and edges, while being a bit custardy in the middle.  There was the unmistakable coconut milk flavour as well as a certain sweetness to go with the usual savouriness.  Shrimp in the middle was cooked just right having a buttery snap texture.  Wrapped these little things in lettuce and dipped into the fish sauce, so delicious!

Next, we tried their Fish Sauce Chicken Wings.  These gigantic wings were coated in a fairly thick batter that was universally crunchy with surprisingly rendered skin.  I guess this was achieved by an aggressive deep-fry where the meat was not dry per se, but wasn't juicy either.  On the outside, each wing was generously coated with a fish sauce caramel that was sweet, garlicky and slightly spicy.  Due it being quite sweet, I think if there was a wedge of lime for us to squeeze onto the wings, this would be perfect.

We had a cold appie in the Gỏi Bỏ or Beef Mixed Herb Salad featuring beef with lettuce, onions, carrots, fried shallots, banana blossoms, basil and peanuts.  This was a light and almost refreshing dish, especially with the warm weather.  The slices of slightly rare beef were sufficiently tender, but had a chew to them.  The rest of the ingredients were crunchy while the shallots and basil offered up aromatics.  The light fish sauce dressing added some tangy saltiness.

Onto another appie, we had the Shrimp Paste on Sugar Cane.  This is a classic dish, that for some reason or another, I never really order at any Vietnamese restaurant.  Glad we tried these here as they were rather large with a good amount of tender, but not too airy shrimp paste on each piece of sugar cane.  The shrimp paste still had a touch of fluffiness and rebound. The shrimp paste flavor was on the sweeter side, but was further amped by the natural taste of the sugar cane. 

With the bigger plates, I was so glad they had the Bánh Mì Chảo, specifically Bò Né in this case.  Served on a cast iron plate, we found a 6oz filet mignon with sunny side eggs, mini-sausages, tomato, fries and bread.  The steak was already sliced into strips and was cooked to about medium.  It was quite tender with a bit of a chew due to the doneness of the meat.  That sauce was pretty darn tasty with a rich meatiness accentuated by an appealing amount of fat (where all the flavour is baby!) and he silkiness of the eggs.  Yes, we dipped the bread into the sauce!

Continuing on with beef, we had the Bò Lúc Lắc served with rice and salad.  For this dish, the cubed beef was cooked to rare where the beef was juicy and moist but a touch on the chewier side.  I think it would've been more tender if it was cooked to medium.  As for the taste, it was flavourful with the usual meatiness accented by saltiness and some sweetness.  Naturally, the beef took on some of the flavours from the wok-fried peppers and onions.  To kick it up a notch, there was some lime salt & pepper served on the side.  Wished they had tomato rice with this though!

One of the more unique dishes we had was the half Cornish Game Hen with fried egg rice and some veggies.  Although looking pretty cooked on the outside, the hen actually featured moist and tender meat on the inside.  Naturally, the dark meat was more so than the white meat.  The fish sauce caramel was a bit similar to the one found on the wings being on the sweeter side with some fermented saltiness.  It was accented by some garlic butter which went well with the caramelized fried rice.

We some different in the noodle soup department with the Pho & Chill Special or Phở Tái Lăn featuring lightly wok-seared beef with fried garlic, rare eye-round steak and sunny side egg.  This Hanoi-specialty tasted quite different than a regular Southern 
Phở where it was much more fragrant, sweet and fatty.  Due to the wok-fry, the beef sitting in the broth shed some of the oil and hence made the soup more robust.  Lots more impactful flavours due to this and definitely not as clean as a regular broth.
 
We also decided to go with a selection of Bánh Mì including đặc biệt and grilled pork.   These were some pretty large sandwiches with plenty of meat.  In the cold cut, the meats were unusually thick.  In fact, there was plenty of meat in all of the subs.  Therefore, these ate well with lots of texture and flavor.  Grilled pork had a smoky char while being tender and well marinated.  The bread was fairly light with a crunchy exterior.

As mentioned earlier, they also feature a selection of drinks and desserts.  We tried Milk Tea with everything, Che Khuc Bach and Milk Tea with flan and pannacotta cubes.  These were really good!  That flan was silky and creamy.  Pannacotta cubes were stiffer with more gelatin, but I'm sure it is because it needed to not fall apart in the drink.  They were semi-sweet.  I would come here just for these!  But the food is good too, so I would consider this a hidden gem due to being located in Lynnwood.  If you are ever in the area, go check them out.  Very non-descript, yet really good!

*All food and beverages were complimentary for this blog post*

The Good:
- The desserts/drink are excellent
- Large portions
- Impactful flavors

The Bad:
- The beef in general could've been more tender
 

Pho Super Bowl (Burnaby Kingsway)

As much as the point of going out to eat is to find delicious food, more than ever we are looking at things that are the best bang for the buck.  Not everyone has a huge budget to dine at restaurants and given how the economy is these days, the best combination is good food, reasonable prices and large portions.  That perfect trifecta is rarely achieved, but some places have got this down pat.  One particular example is Pho Super Bowl.  I've been to the location in Burquitlam many times and it has never failed me.  Now they have opened up a new spot on Kingsway in Burnaby.  Interestingly, this has been the former location of several Vietnamese restaurants over the past 3 decades.


To get a taste of the menu, we started with some appies including the Chicken Salad Rolls and the Salad Rolls with shrimp, pork, vermicelli noodles, lettuce and herbs.  I thought the chicken was slightly better since it was served warm and hence, the rice paper was more pliable and chewy.  Didn't hurt that the chicken was nicely charred and well-seasoned. too.  The cold shrimp and pork salad roll featured a firmer and harder rice paper wrap with meaty and sweet shrimp inside.


Continuing on with the standard stuff, we had the Pork Spring Rolls and the Chicken Wings.  I found the spring rolls to be quite good being tightly-wound but not dense inside.  The filling was not loose, but it had some fluffiness to go along with the meat texture.  Outside was crunchy and not overly greasy.  As for the wings, they were somewhat aggressively battered and hence they were crunchy.  The skin was fairly well-rendered while the nicely marinated meat was juicy.  There was a side of spiced salt to dip the wings into.

From the appies, we went onto the staples including the Phở Đặc Biệt and the Bún Bò Huế.  As expected, the phở was fully loaded with all the meats including tendon and tripe.  Textures were on point while the noodles remained al dente.  The broth was clean and sweet with some background meatiness and daikon.  As for the BBH, the broth was spicy with some fermented shrimpiness.  Loved that they put in the pork knuckle (2 pieces too!).  Only thing missing was the pork blood, but that is probably not a big seller, hence not available.

We ended up having two versions of the Bún Riêu including the original with rice noodles and an alternate version with red rice noodles.  Other than that, they were identical with a seafoody and sweet broth.  I enjoyed this and despite what people will tell you, the one at Bun Cha Ca Hoang Yen is not the best.  I find that one too "porky" and the crab gets lost.  This one, the pork, crab and egg was fluffy and briny sweet.  Lots of shrimp, fish cake and chả lụa to compliment.  By virtue of being thicker, chewier and more robust, the red rice noodle makes the whole bowl much more filling and heavy.  Definitely a good option for those who want more texture.

Our last soup noodle was the Seafood Rice Noodle featuring shrimp, fish cake, crab cake and veggies.  Predictably, the broth was very clean, clear and sweet.  There was the ever-so-slight brininess to it.  Since this was all seafood, this ate more lightly and felt healthy.  We also had the Bo Kho with baguette on the side.  This was loaded with large pieces of brisket that were rather lean (the flat portion of the brisket).  Therefore, it was a touch dry, but still sufficiently tender.  It was bathed in a meaty and slightly fatty braising liquid.  There a little bit of spice to it and the star anise came through.  Definitely some sweetness too.  Great for dipping the bread into.

On the topic of baguettes, we had a trio of Bánh Mì including Đặc Biệt (Cold Cut), Grilled Chicken and Grilled Pork.  These were fully-stuffed with meat and other components (as if that was a given).  I particularly enjoyed the cold cut as that is usually my go-to.  But for this one, the meats were sliced thick (look at the chả lụa!).  The other 2 were solid too with nicely marinated and grilled meats.  They were tender and went well with the crusty bread.


Naturally, we tried one item each from the rice and vermicelli bowl sections.  This included Lemongrass Pork Chop with rice and double-fried eggs as well as the Chicken and Grilled Prawns Vermicelli Bowl.  As illustrated in the picture, the pork chops were well-charred, hence there was both caramelization and smokiness.  Meat was still tender though.  The same could be said about the pieces of chicken as they were tender with plenty of sweet saltiness.  Prawns were meaty and cooked just enough.

Complimenting our meal and also being our de facto dessert, we had the Combination Bean Pudding and the Durian Smoothie.  The Bean Pudding consisted of mung beans, red beans, and pandan jelly, topped with coconut cream and crushed ice.  Both were pretty sweet, with the bean pudding having plenty of textures.  I've had Che on many occasions and this one was fully loaded.  The durian smoothie was not too pungent, so it was rather mild.  As you can see, the food at Pho Super Bowl comes in large quantities.  But the quality is there too, so you get the best of both worlds.  In addition, the pricing is reasonable.  Great place to grab a bite to eat but keeping within a budget.

*All food and beverages were complimentary for this blog post*

The Good:
- Large portions
- Food is good too
- Reasonable-pricing

The Bad:
- Would've liked to see fattier beef in the Bo Kho, but possibly it was just the luck of the draw

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