Sherman's Food Adventures: February 2024

The Greek Broadway

A long time ago, I dined at Anatoli's in North Van and came away enjoying a delicious and authentic Greek meal.  Well fast forward to the present and the next generation have opened up several locations of The Greek (by Anatoli) within Vancouver.  One of the newest is The Greek Broadway where Heritage Eatery used to be located.  Yes, they are right along the Skytrain construction zone and hence the angled picture of their storefront.  I was invited recently to give the place a try with a few other foodies.

We began with the Dip Taster featuring homous, tzatziki and taramosalata.  First off, the dips were excellent, but more importantly, the grilled pita was the perfect vessel for the dips.  They were fluffy and light with a smoky and crispy char on the outside.  Of the three dips, my favourite was the briny and tangy taramosalata.  So much umaminess in this one as well as the thick creaminess.  Their homous was also very good being smooth, a bit nutty, garlicky and tangy.

Presented in super big rings, the Calamari was not only great to look at, it was one of the better versions I've had of late.  The batter was light and crispy while properly seasoned.  It stayed adhered to each piece and wasn't greasy.  As for the squid itself, the rings were tender despite being in large pieces.  They still retained an appealingly chewiness that gave good mouth-feel.  The side of tzatziki was bright, garlicky and tangy.  I could've eaten this whole dish myself!

Possibly my favourite small share dish was the Vegan Calamari with fried crispy oyster mushrooms served with tahini soy dip.  As evidenced in the picture, the breading on these was aggressively crunchy.  Hence, there was much enjoyment with each bite.  Beyond the breading, the mushrooms were tender and juicy with natural umaminess.  Yes, these were tasty on their own, but the dip provided the necessary nutty saltiness that made an impact.

The hits kept on coming with their version of Spanakopita.  These were larger ones cut into smaller pieces.  Hence, the amount of filling was significant.  You can see in the picture that they were stuffed full of tender spinach and feta cheese.  So much so, it was hard to keep it in with every bite.  Hey I wasn't complaining though as it went well with the super crispy phyllo pastry.  They were extra tasty when dipped into the side of tzatziki.

Now we had the calamari already, but the Grilled Humboldt Squid was equally delicious.  The dish consisted of super tender pieces that were lightly kissed by the grill.  I liked how the squid was easily chewable but still had a slight bite at the end.  As much as the squid was seasoned, the combination of lemon and olive oil added the necessary acidity and adhesion.  To top it all off, literally and figuratively, we found a bright sharpness from the salsa and herbaceousness from the cilantro.

Okay, one of the more under-appreciated dishes in my mind is Saganaki.  For those who don't know, it is a seared piece of mountain sheep cheese that that is pan-fried and finished with some lemon juice.  Typically it is served with bread.  For this one, it was lightly breaded and yes, as you can see, it was stringy with nicely seared edges.  The cheesiness and aromatics of this dish as through the roof.  Of course the lemon helped cut through the heaviness.

Another under-the-radar item we had was the Avgolemono Soup with chicken, rice, kale, carrot, celery, egg and lemon.  Oh wow, this was so hearty, comforting and addictive!  The broth was like a warm blanket giving us a loving hug.  It was sweet, meaty and tangy.  This ensured that it had plenty of depth without being heavy.  The shredded chicken was both plentiful and moist while the rest of the ingredients added their natural sweetness.

Yep, we also had some salads including the Greek Salad and Lentil Salad.  Sure, Greek salads aren't complex, but this one was really good due to the large pieces of fresh cucumber, tomato, onions and peppers.  Beyond, that, the side of feta was much better than it being on the salad in my opinion.  For bonus points, they also have an option for vegan coconut feta.  It was really smooth and creamy!  As for the lentil salad, it was comprised of stewed green lentils, arugula, cherry tomatoes, crispy chickpeas, green onion, feta and lemon soy dressing.   Yeah, this was quite the loaded salad and in many ways, it didn't eat as such.  I thought due to the lentils and chickpeas, it was much more of a meal due to the robust textures and heaviness of the ingredients.  Loved the dressing as it was tangy and salty.

Onto some large meat items, we had a selection of Souvlaki consisting of Chicken Thigh and Tiger Prawn.  Due to the use of dark meat, the chicken was juicy and tender.  Naturally, they had to nail the execution too for that to happen and yep they did!  They were also marinated enough so that there was inherent flavour in addition to the smoky char and natural meatiness.  As for the prawns, they were pretty large and cooked just enough that there was a buttery snap texture.

Before we got to dessert, we ended off the savoury portion of the meal with the Pidakia Platter consisting of 5 flame-grilled lamb chops atop rice with lemon potatoes and seasonal veggies.  This was oh-so-good with beautifully charred lamb chops that were marinated and also cooked to medium.  Succulent and delicious!  Rice was tender with a chew while the potatoes were soft but browned with a good hit of lemon.  Roasted veggies were cooked perfectly.

With dessert, we had the Baklava, Chocolate Mousse and Ekmek.  As much as baklava can be sickingly sweet, this one was fairly balanced.  Loved the many defined layers of phyllo with nuts and sticky sweetness.  My favourite of the 3 was the chocolate mousse as it was super rich and extremely chocolatey.  I would say it trended towards a dark chocolate bitterness rather than being overly sweet.  Lastly, the ekmek was presented in a ramekin rather than looking like a piece of cake.  It turned out to be very creamy and light as opposed to the heavier versions I've had.  It was sweet, but not overly so.  Overall, this meal at The Greek was very impressive on many points.  First of all, the food was almost flawless in execution and it was just damn tasty.  Great share dishes in a modern comfortable dining space.
*All food and beverages were complimentary for this blog post*
The Good:
- Authentic Greek eats that are modernized
- Food was executed expertly
- Nice trendy spot
The Bad:
- Well, not their fault, the Skytrain construction makes it a bit difficult to see and find parking 

North King Noodle House

Finally!  A Northern Chinese restaurant has opened up in Burnaby North.  Yes, we've seen some of those come and go before such as Lucky Star over a decade ago.  So North King Noodle House has taken over the long-standing Paul's Restaurant.  They are related to Yu Xiang Yuan out on Fraser Street, hence we had high hopes since they offer up fantastic hand-pulled noodles and a free wifeJess ended up organizing a tasting and we sampled a good array of dishes for our meal.

We kicked things off with the Woodear Mushroom & Cilantro Salad and the Spicy Beef & Tripe.  As simple as these dishes appeared, they were a really great start to the meal.  Sure, the texture of the woodear mushrooms were crunchy as expected (can't really mess that up), but the seasoning was on point.  A little of everything to give it that salty, sweet and a background tang.  The tripe and beef were nicely textured where they were tender but still had a bite.  Nice spice to the dish, but still balanced.

I was pretty happy to have the Hot & Sour Soup next because it is one of my favourite items to order.  This was done right with a thick viscosity that was still soupy, not clumpy.  In addition, there was plenty of components within the broth that were properly textured including the silky tofu (they used a softer tofu than other versions I had) and crunchy veggies.  I thought the soup base itself had depth and was accented properly by equal parts spice and tanginess.

We were served a pair of vegetable dishes including the Spicy Green Beans as well as the Stir-Fried Lettuce Stems.  Both featured good wok hei (hot enough wok) to caramelize without overcooking the veggies.  The green beans were still crunchy (from the quick oil-blanching) while the lettuce stem exhibited a delicate texture (but was not overly soft).  I found the spiciness with the beans to be balanced and the lettuce stems to be glazed with a mild starch-thickened sauce.

One of my favourite items was the Stir Fried Razor Clams for only $28.95!  Granted these were smaller Pacific ones, but I didn't enjoy them any less.  Even though the dish consisted of green peppers, woodear mushrooms, different types of onions and celery, there was still plenty of clams to be found.  The caramelization was there and also the spicy garlickiness.  I found these clams to be a bit more robust in texture compared to the longer and more delicate Atlantic Jack Knife.

Of course we had to try the classic Beef Rolls featuring a green onion pancake with sliced beef shank, green onion and hoisin sauce inside.  At first, I was a bit concerned with the thickness of the pancake, but it turned out to be okay.  The surface was seared well, hence there was both a crispiness and nuttiness.  Overall, the texture of the pancake was chewy with some elasticity.  Inside, the beef was tender while the amount of hoisin was enough to make an impact.

Onto some bigger plates, we had the Pickled Cabbage Fish (sometimes known as Sauerkraut Fish).  This was a huge bowl of food for $22.95.  There was a wealth of flaky fish pieces that were just cooked through.  It sat in a broth that was sweet and slightly tangy from the pickled mustard greens.  I could also taste the natural flavours from the fish as well (in a non-fishy way). This was really appetizing and I went back for seconds and thirds.  

Continuing on with another big bowl of food, we had the Spicy Boiling Beef.  So the fish was a non-spicy and generally subtle dish, but this one was outright in-your-face (yes, the chili oil did get all over the place too).  Beyond the crunchy sprouts and Napa cabbage, we had a boatload of tenderized sliced beef.  It was buttery and soft while taking on the spicy nuttiness of the broth.  Underneath we found some glass noodles that soaked up the spice.

Let's stick with spicy with the next dish being the Deep Fried Chicken with Szechuan peppercorns and dried red chilis.  For those who have had this dish before, you will know that it looks a heck of a lot more spicy than it is.  For this version, the crispy nuggets of chicken (that weren't dry) took on the spice from the peppercorns with a minor numbing effect but overall wasn't really all that spicy.  Nice earthy aroma though and also well-seasoned too.

Another usual dish for this type of cuisine is the Beef Noodle Soup.  This wasn't the spicy version, but that was a good thing as it was a nice break from the previous 2 dishes.  It featured a meaty broth that had depth with a mild amount of seasoning.  Hence, the soup wasn't salty nor was it bland either.  The little nuggets of beef finger meat was super tender and fatty.  It had been cooked down so that some of the fat had been rendered (but there was still a good amount of fat left).  Noodles were al dente and didn't get too soft even while sitting within the hot broth.

From soup noodles, we moved onto sauce noodles with
the Soybean & Pork Sauce atop spinach hand-pulled noodles.  This was the classic Ja Jeung Mein that featured a rich meat sauce that had even more umaminess from the both the pork and soybeans.  Again, it was not particularly saucy, rather it was meaty and was able to coat each al dente noodle. The second bowl was the Dan Dan Mein.  Unlike the really saucy versions, this was more meat forward with plenty of savoury umaminess.  There was good spice and nuttiness provided by the peanuts.  There was enough of this meat sauce to coat all the noodles affording the dish plenty of depth and flavour.  As for the hand-pulled noodles, they were extra al dente with lots of chew and elasticity.  We could definitely tell these were fresh.

Just to cover all of our bases, we also got the Xiao Long Bao.  These were pretty large in size and featured a medium-thick dumpling skin.  They were rather delicate and lacked a bit of elasticity.  Hence, the skin broke easily when picked up with our chopsticks.  With that being said, the filling was excellent being tender and moist.  There was a good amount of sweet soup inside that was meaty with a hint of Shaoxing wine.  If they could make the skin just a bit thinner with some chew, it would be perfect.

For dessert, we were served the Sweet Rice Balls in Rice Wine Dessert Soup.  I'm normally not into Chinese sweet soups but this one was pretty darn good.  It was sweet for sure, but not overly so.  The starch-thickened viscosity was just enough to coat a spoon while the texture of the rice balls was delicate with some chewiness.  So in the end, this tasting revealed what I was expecting - solid Northern Chinese eats with hand-pulled noodles and other delicious dishes.  Definitely a welcome addition to North Burnaby, even if you don't receive a free wife...

*All food was complimentary for this blog post*

The Good:
- Excellent hand-pulled noodles
- Overall delicious and well-portioned food
- Reasonable-pricing

The Bad:
- XLBs could use a thinner more elastic dumpling skin

Sushi Bella (North Vancouver)

I'm not sure if you have noticed, but AYCE (All-You-Can-Eat) is making a comeback in the GVRD.  It was all the rage in the 90's up until the early 2000's, but then many of the AYCE spots began to disappear.  Now we have an array of AYCE yakiniku, hot pot and Japanese.  We even see the non-buffet endless brunch at ARC Dining.  Is it because of the economy and inflation?  Do people regard AYCE a good value considering that it costs just as much, if not more, to dine a la carte?  Not really sure, but I must shamelessly admit that I do enjoy the occasional AYCE just for the variety.  I go in with reasonable expectations (shocking how many people do not and then complain afterwards).  That we did when Jackie and I visited Sushi Bella for lunch. 

To get a sense of the menu, we ordered almost everything starting with Edamame, Green Salad, Sunomono, Spicy Tofu and Agedashi Tofu.  Not a whole lot to say about these as they were pretty standard.  I thought the sunomono was nicely sweet and tangy with al dente noodles.  The tofu was a bit stiff for both dishes.  Next set of dishes included the Ebi/Veggie Tempura, Fried Gyoza and Chicken Karaage.  Although the batter was a bit thick, the tempura still ate quite well and crispy.  The gyoza were crunchy with a moist filling.  Also crispy, the chicken karaage was juicy while properly seasoned.

Although not cut in a particularly attractive manner, the Atlantic Salmon & Albacore Tuna Sashimi were decent with a pleasant texture and sheen.  We got a bunch of Nigiri as well including Chopped Scallop, Inari, Tamago, Salmon, Ebi and Tuna.  Again, these were quite typical for AYCE with a little less ingredient-to-rice ratio.  With that being said, the chopped scallop was quite good with a buttery texture and tasty mayo mix.  The sushi rice was decent, being chewy with not too much moisture.  Would've liked a bit more seasoning though.

Also had the Spicy Sashimi and it featured fairly large chunks of fish.  Texture was fine and the sauce was sweet and slightly spicy.  We ordered a selection of Sushi Cones that consisted of the Spicy Salmon Cone, Spicy Tuna Cone, Negitoro Cone, Chopped Scallop Cone, Spicy Chopped Scallop Cone, California Cone, Yam Tempura Cone and Dynamite Cone.  Since we had to take pictures, the nori had softened up. To be fair, they were still crispy when they arrived.  I thought there was a good amount of ingredient-to-rice ratio in these and they were worth ordering.  I particularly enjoyed the scallop cones as well as the spicy cones.  These had the most moisture and flavour.

Onto the Maki Sushi portion of our meal, we got everything and as you can see, they were constructed decently, especially for AYCE. I'm not going into each individual roll, but the highlights included the really large BC Roll with lots of ripe and creamy avocado and salmon skin (with lots of meat on it).  Shockingly, I also enjoyed the Veggie Roll with lots of crunchy beet, daikon and carrot.  All of the other rolls were decent with a fairly thin layer of rice (so they weren't trying to stuff us full of rice).

Onto some cooked food (other than the appies), we had the Teriyaki Beef, Teriyaki Chicken and Teriyaki Tofu.  Again, nothing out-of-the-ordinary here with the beef being in thin slices and drizzled with some teriyaki sauce.  I did appreciate that it wasn't doused with too much.  The beef was decently tender.  I found the chicken to be more moist and juicy (which is usually the case) while the tofu was stiff like the other items we had earlier.

Our final set of dishes were the carbs including the Tempura Udon, Veggie Yaki Soba, Chicken Yakisoba and Beef Yakisoba.  I thought the yakisoba were all quite good with chewy noodles and not being overdressed with sauce.  The udon was pretty typical and was non-offensive.  In general, the AYCE at Sushi Bella is serviceable and decent in quality.  Naturally, you need to have reasonable expectations (which means you know that it won't be comparable to the best in town).  Considering it is $32.99 for weekdays and $34.99 on weekends for lunch, this is fair pricing.

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

The Good:
- With reasonable expectations, the food quality is actually decent
- Good selection, especially for a lunch AYCE
- They didn't overload the sushi with rice

The Bad:
- Sashimi was sliced strangely (probably due to the fact they weren't the prime cuts)
- Without reasonable expectations, your experience might be different  

Top Wok

Okay with a name like Top Wok, one might assume it is a food stall at a food court.  Well, it is not but they do have some 3-item combos on their menu.  So what is this place really?  Well, first of all, it is located on Marine Way in Burnaby near some industrial parks.  Second, the food is freshly prepared to order, not like the aforementioned food court stalls.  Third, they offer dim sum combos as well.  On top of that, they have frozen dim sum for you to take home and steam yourself.

So yeah, the place is somewhat one-of-a-kind.  Let's get to the classic Stir-Fried Combo first with three items including Sweet & Sour Pork, Honey Garlic Chicken and Broccoli Beef atop fried rice.  For another $2.50, you can add a Hot & Sour Soup.  I have to say that the food was pretty legit.  The pork was tender with just enough sauce that was plenty tangy and sweet.  The chicken was also good where it was more garlicky than sweet.  Broccoli was crunchy and not overdone.  The soup on the side was excellent with the proper viscosity and sporting quite the spiciness.

Here we are with the aforementioned Dim Sum Combo featuring Ha Gau, Siu Mai, Potstickers and a side of Lo Mei Gai (instead of rice or noodles, this is a $3.00 upcharge).  I thought the potstickers were on point with a relatively thin wrapper that was seared well.  Inside, the meat filling was juicy and tender.  Siu mai were solid too with bouncy pork that was well-seasoned.  Ha gau were so-so due to the thick dumpling skin and soft filling.  The sticky rice was excellent being moist and glutinous.  Plenty of ingredients and hence, some good umaminess.

Continuing with Dim Sum, we tried a selection of Baos including the BBQ Pork Bun, Chicken Bun, Veggie Bun and Custard Bun.  All of the buns were fluffy and light, especially the veggie one.  Actually, I enjoyed that one the most as the veggies were tender but not mushy while completely seasoned.  I found the BBQ pork bun and chicken bun to feature enough filling.  The custard bun was sweet and aromatic.  On the side, we had some veggie spring rolls which were crunchy and featured the same filling as the veggie bun.

Something new on the menu is their $8.00 Go Bowls including the Dim Sum Bowl with 1 Ha Gau, Siu Mai and Beef Meatball each on Soy Sauce Chow Mein.  The Stir-Fried Bowl features stir-fried veggies, Fried Garlic Chicken Leg and Egg Fried Rice.  For those who do not want meat, the Veggie Bowl sports Veggie Dumplings and a Veggie Spring Roll.  These are fantastic deals because there is nothing small about these.  I found the beef ball to be soft and bouncy while the veggie dumpling had a slightly thicker wrapper with tender vegetables.  The chicken leg was super juicy and well-brined.

We also had the Spicy Wontons that were delicious.  The wontons themselves featured juicy pork with shrimp.  Unlike some versions that are bland, this was not.  There was a balanced amount of spice to go with the saltiness.  We finished off with a freshly-made Bubble Waffle and it was also quite good.  It was aromatic and purposefully sweet while the exterior was crispy yielding to a soft and chewy interior.  Overall, the food was more-than-acceptable at Top Wok given the type of restaurant and the reasonable-pricing.  Definitely a good option for take-out or a quick meal.

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

The Good:
- Overall good food
- Made-to-order
- Reasonably priced and large portions

The Bad:

- Location is not very central
- Ha Gau could be better

Tamaly Shop

I've pointed out on many occasions that Vancouver is blessed with a diverse culinary scene, particularly in Asian food.  However, it lags behind in many other cuisines, including Mexican.  Now we do have Mexican restaurants and some of them are actually quite good.  I know this because I've eaten in Mexico as well as Southern Los Angeles (so I have a baseline).  However, we don't really have restaurants dedicated to something I really enjoy - Tamales.  Well look no further as we have the Tamaly Shop out on Main Street near Broadway.

Let's get right to it with 3 different Tamales including Pork with Salsa Verde, Chicken with Mole and Cheese with Jalapeno and salsa Roja.  Really enjoyed these as they brought back memories of the tamales I've had in San Diego.  2 of them were light and fluffy while the pork tamale was a bit firmer.  They use vegetable shortening rather than lard, hence they were not as heavy nor greasy.  I really enjoyed the mole as it was flavouful, smoky and aromatic.

Onto something that I've never had before, Birria Noodle.  Sure, I've had birria tacos before and of course I've had noodles.  But I've never had them together before.  This was rather pleasant with a meaty broth with a considerable amount of tender shredded beef.  I found the noodles on the softer side, but then again, we took some time taking photos too.  I felt this would be a good dish to order to compliment the tamales as it was lighter and soupy.

We had the classic Chilaquiles next with both the salsa roja and verde.  Normally, you would only get one of the sauces, but this way, we got to try both in one dish.  Underneath the sauces, cheese and sour cream, we found thick and still slightly crispy tortilla chips.  They were completely coated in sauce though, so there was that usual texture in between crispy and soft.  I liked both sauces, but the verde was my favourite where it was bright and tangy.

So what do you get when you combine a tamale and chilaquiles?  It's not a trick question, you get the Guajolotongo!  This particular one featured a cheese tamale topped with even more chicken, sour cream, onions, tomatillo salsa and feta cheese.  Yah, this was quite the meal as the tamale was rather filling to begin with and then it was topped with crispy tender tortilla wedges.  Flavours were fairly subtle in this with the salsa coming through with tanginess.

Last savoury items was the Torta Ahogada with pork belly, pickled onion and lemon.   By itself, the torta was pleasant enough with crusty bread and tender shredded pork belly.  The pickled onion added both crunch and acidity.  However, the real star of the show was the Guadalajara salsa on the side.  It added the necessary flavour and moisture the sandwich needed.  Nice balance of brightness, spice and aromatics.  Would've loved to have even more of it!

Onto the sweets, were presented with a selection of dessert tamales including Blackberry & Cream Cheese, Chocolate and Pineapple.  Yes, these were not the lightest of desserts, but I kept going back for more bites despite being stuffed.  Since I love fruity things, the pineapple was right up my alley.  This was the lightest of the 3 and had a mild sweetness about it.  The blackberry & cream cheese was heavier naturally but it was purposefully sweet and creamy.  Chocolate was the most basic of the 3 and heaviest in texture.  Wasn't very sweet though, letting the chocolate notes come through.

Although we were served the Conchas first, I'll talk about them last because they were a dessert in my eyes.  We had the Dulce de Leche, Strawberry and Blueberry.  These were featured a bun that was fairly light and a bit dry topped with a sugary topping.  I enjoyed the dulce de leche the most as it featured a sweet caramel centre.  These were akin to the Chinese pineapple buns.  Overall, the food was unique and well-executed.  Nice to see something different in a sea of sushi and Chinese food.

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

The Good:
- Not-so-heavy tamales
- Other dishes were good too
- Eclectic decor

The Bad:
- Some of the tables are a bit small

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