Sherman's Food Adventures: June 2024

Spelt

Spelt has been on my wish list for quite some time.  After I was tipped off by a friend, I had my eyes on this hidden little gem in the commune of Tourrettes-sur-Loup to the north of Nice.  The place doesn't have a Michelin star, but really, it should have one.  They only serve a tasting menu and considering how expensive things are, especially in France, it is reasonably-priced at 85 Euros.  I actually got in at 75 Euros, but the price has gone up since (like everywhere else).

So to start, we were presented with selection of small bites including Parmesan Gourgeres, Lemon Butter Radish, Marinated Tuna and Cheese & Sardine Sable.  The savoury choux pastry was on point with an airiness and plenty of pungent parmesan.  Whimsically plated, the radish were fresh and crunch while coated in a tangy lemon butter.  Presented on a tapioca crisp, the marinated tuna was accompanied by avocado and pickled onion.  It was a clean bite with balancing flavours.  Lastly, the sardine sable featured little cookie crisps sandwiching a briny sardine mousse.  Good textural contrast and focused flavour.

Next, we were served the Confit Tomato in tomato water.  On the side we were served a texturally wonderful tomato brioche. That tomato water was intense with the natural and concentrated flavour of tomato.  It was sweet in a tomato way (if that makes sense). To complete the dish, we found goat cheese, balsamic, EVOO, basil and granité of tomato. This resulted in layers of flavour that included more tomato, but also tanginess and aromatics.
Right after, we were served a palate cleanser on a wooden spoon.

Not looking very interesting, we had the Potato covered with haddock cream, peanut crunch and lemon zest butter.  This seemingly simple offering was actually quite delcious.  First of all, the tender potato was the main part of the dish, but the root vegetable was flavoured with a fish cream that was subtle and slightly sweet.  Nice role-reversal here.  To add some texture to the dish, it was smartly topped with an aromatic peanut crunch.

One of their signature dishes is the Spelt Lobster Risotto made with, well spelt!  The restaurant is named after this grain which is similar to wheat.  With the husk on, the spelt maintained a firm chewy texture.  It had a nutty almost fruity flavour that took a seat to the dominant creamy lobster essence.  This was such an aromatic dish that was full of umaminess.  The complex marriage between the spelt and lobster bisque meant this was both a textural and taste experience.

Moving along, we had the Fish Tartare with miso seaweed sauce, lemon, herbs and avocado.  In reference to the meal progression, this was a nice departure from the richness of the risotto.  The sauce was an umami bomb with the fermented richness of the miso and the taste of the sea from the seaweed.  Naturally, the addition of lemon added the necessary acidity that helped keep things bright.  The fish itself was fresh, buttery soft and was not overwhelmed by any of the ingredients.

Keeping with the theme of fish, we had the Turbot with eggplant puree, balsamic, capers and fried garlic in a sauce of tomatoes and pickled shallots.  The piece of turbot couldn't have been prepared any more expertly.  It was soft and flaky bordering on buttery.  There was a light crispy sear that also yielded enough seasoning.  However, the combination of tomatoes and creamy eggplant made for a cross between bright and tangy with smooth and mild.  Nicely balanced dish.


So in between the turbot and the Smoked Lamb Rack, we had some fritters and zucchini bites.  I couldn't tell you much about them because I didn't take notes on it!  But I can tell you that the lamb was excellent.  It was smoked with lemon & thyme where I could definitely taste the earthiness.  The lamb itself was medium and succulent.  It was served with a zucchini puree, seared zucchini and almond cream.


Onto the first of two desserts, we were asked to walk over to a "lemon tree" where we could choose our own Kalamansi Dessert shaped like a lemon.  Looking rather inconspicuous, the thing was a tangy and sweet flavour bomb.  I've had something similar before and this one was even better.  Beyond the white chocolate shell, the creamy filling was best to be eaten in a few bites as it was impactful.


Our last 2 items consisted of a Chocolate Tart as well as some Mini-Madeleines.  With the tart, we found several layers of chocolate in terms of texture and flavour.  The chocolate tart shell was firm with a background bitterness.  Inside, the chocolate was not too sweet while the chocolate sauce was silky and also semi-sweet.   As you can see, the food at Spelt is next-level and worthy of much more than they are charging.  Combine it with stellar service and a charming location in Tourrettes-sur-Loup, it is a must visit if you are ever in Côte d'Azur.

The Good:
- Outstanding food that is made with precision
- Thoughtful dishes
- Well-priced

The Bad:
- Unless you have a car, not the easiest place to visit if you are not from the area
- When you get there, parking is limited

Chez Max

Sometimes, we just want to keep things simple and really, when on vacation in a foreign  place, it takes some of the stress away.  This is especially true after driving around and touristing all day.  I did have some ideas for dinner but they were either too far away or was much too formal of a place.  Hence, we did a quick google of what was casual and ultimately decent to eat nearby.  It lead us to Chez Max where the menu items were very familiar: burgers!

We ended up sitting outside across the street (yes, the server had to cross the road!), because it was far too hot inside.  For myself I was all over their All-You-Can-Eat Moules et Frites!  I could pick one of 3 flavours and decided on the basic mussels mariniere with white wine, butter, garlic, parsley and onions.  I would say this was acceptable.  Nothing amazing, but definitely serviceable.  The mussels were a tad overdone, but the broth was tasty and well-seasoned.  The side of frites were crispy and I enjoyed them.

Everyone else went for burgers and Viv ended up with the Jack Daniels with of a shot of JD.  This was served on a freshly toasted bun but the way they cut it was rather strange with so much more bun on the bottom than the top.  The meat patty was thick and rather juicy.  There was a good amount of BBQ sauce that would naturally go well with the JD.  You know what, this was a satisfying American-style burger North of Nice!  Who'd knew?  

My son went for the Royal with greens, tomato, cheddar, onions and burger sauce.  Hey, isn't this a Royale with cheese (see Pulp Fiction)???  Well, this also featured an aggressively toasted bun that was cut like the last one.  The fresh ground beef was moist and nicely seared.  Having burger sauce rather than BBQ sauce, this tasted more along the lines of a Big Mac, but with better meat.  Very strange that the burger ate well despite having more bun on the bottom.

My daughter went for the Madame with greens, tomato, cheese, pickles, sunny side egg and burger sauce.  The bun on this one was cut a bit more evenly.  It featured all of the same ingredients as the royal except with the addition of the egg.  This made things messier and also more wet, but in a good way!  In actuality, this meal was rather good and prepared properly.  A taste of North America in between all the other food we were having.  


The Good:
- Burgers are good
- Made with fresh beef
- AYCE Moules & Frites available

The Bad:
- Maybe a little pricey, but there isn't anything cheap around

Chez Pipo

We all know that Nice is famous for their Salade Niçoise.  Heck the place is in the name of the dish!  Now I love a good salade niçoise but really, there are more things native to Nice than that.  So we ended up visiting Chez Pipo in the heart of Downtown in search of another famous dish - Socca.  There are many places you can get this specialty in the area, but according to most, this is the place to get it.  Is it a bit on the touristy side?  Maybe, but we didn't care!

So we got there at opening and snagged a table outside.  It quickly filled up and then a lineup formed.  Before we got to the socca, we started with the Pissaladière.  This version was a bit different than the one we had at Le Fromager de Saint-Paul.  The flatbread was a bit thicker and the onions were not as caramelized.  Hence, it was more robust and the natural onion flavour came through much more strongly.  It ate more like an onion tart of sorts.

Staying on the same theme, we had their version of Pizza with tomatoes, parsley and garlic.  Due to the thicker bread-like crust, this was more dense, but not in a bad way.  The generous amount of fresh tomatoes on top added both moisture and natural tomato flavour.  Equally present, the garlic was really prominent with both aroma and just a touch of sharpness.  I much preferred this flatbread since it was not so full of onions.

We decided to get a set of their Tartinades featuring olive tapenade paste, anchovy cream, mix of Provence vegetables and sundried tomato.  This was served with golden croutons on the side.  Such a simple, yet delicious shareable appie.  I was all about the anchovy cream as it was salty and briny.  Tomatoes were impactful too with sweet tanginess.  Naturally, the olives in the tapenade was salty and tangy while the veggie mix was bright and fresh.

Ordering all the local specialties, we had the Mini-Pan Bagnat as well.  This is a small bun filled will all things found in a salade niçoise.  Story goes, these were eaten with leftovers from the salad.  Yep, this was indeed filled with tuna, egg,  radish, anchovy, onion, green pepper, tomato and olives.  The trick here was to soak the bread with olive oil and the tomato juice (since bagnat means "wet").  Therefore, the sandwich was moist, soft and conformed to the ingredients.  Of course, we had the saltiness of the anchovy.


Now let's talk about Socca.  This chickpea flour based pancake said to have originated from Roman soldiers cooking them on their shields or when residents in Nice sustained themselves with the 2 ingredients that were plentiful at the time (olive oil and chickpeas) when the city was under siege by Turkish forces.  Whatever the case, we absolutely loved it!  So crispy and light on the outside while satisfyingly soft and well-seasoned inside.  This could be eaten as a snack or meal anytime in the day!  We also got a variation with parmesan and it come out flatter and a bit denser.  But had the salty nuttiness of parm really added another dimension to the already flavourful socca.  Whatever the case, Chez Pipo really delivered with their delicious socca.  The other dishes were fine too, but the real draw is their signature dish!

The Good:
- Delicious socca
- Reasonably-priced
- Good service

The Bad:

- Other dishes were okay
- Parking in Nice is not nice

Le Fromager de Saint-Paul

Luck would have it that Mijune would be in Nice at the same time as us and she would have time to meet!  We ended up driving over to St. Paul de Vence to rendezvou at Le Fromager de Saint-Paul.  Similiar to Mougins, but bigger, St. Paul is a medieval town that sports beautiful views, artisans and of course, excellent places to eat!  Like the name suggests, the restaurant specializes in cheese with other accompanying dishes as well.  We didn't go for anything complex and shared a bunch of little bites.

This included their absolutely delicious rendition of Pissaladeriere.  For those who haven't had this, it is basically a flatbread with caramelized onion, olives, capers, thyme and nutmeg.  Well, this was truly excellent with a thin crust that was slightly crispy in places.  The intense sweetness from the onions was balanced off well by the saltiness of the olives and capers.  Of course the tanginess from both also helped keep things from being too heavy.

Even though we had left Italy several days ago, we couldn't resist ordering some Burrata with tomatoes and balsamic. Mind you, Nice and the surrounding area used to be part of Italy...  Anyways, the burrata was supremely fresh with a creamy and cheesy centre.  It was topped with an aromatic and nutty pesto.  This went really well with the supplied baguette.  We got more of it since there was so much burrata (and other things on the table).  The tomatoes were super fresh and juicy.  Loved the simple balsamic and EVOO drizzled on it.

We ended up also getting our meat fix with a Charcuterie plate consisting of coppa, saucisson and jambon cru.  This was a nice collection of familiar items including the nutty and firm saucisson and the coppa was salty with plenty of fat due to use of pork shoulder.  Essentially prosciutto, the jambon cru was nutty, salty and fairly lean.  It was soft with the classic chewiness.  We had a baguette on the side and we ate that with the meat and cheese.

Also on the table was the Terrine de Cochon Maison served with a green salad, conichons and pickled onions.  We found this terrine very rustic and almost a bit fluffy.  This was not a tightly packed terrine and it was not overly meaty.  The combination of whipped meat and fat, it was almost spreadable.  I say almost, since it still had some chunks, so it didn't really spread.  Flavourwise, it was meaty but mild-tasting.  It was nutty from the pistachios strewn throughout.

And finally we had a slice of Truffle Brie as per my daughter's request.  This brie was really good being creamy and buttery without completely melting upon contact.  It was lightly sweet and nutty while the thin layer of truffle add the usual woodsiness and aromatics.  We combined this with the baguette and some meats to create layers of flavour.  So as you can see, the things we had at Le Fromager de Saint-Paul was pretty simple.  But really, this was sufficient as a light meal especially on a hot day.  Was cool to sit outside and catch up with Mijune while thinking of other things to eat later!

The Good:
- Outstanding location with a nice view
- Quality products
- They have hot dishes too, but we didn't try them

The Bad:
- Limited parking in the area, but that is a given

Le Rendez Vous de Mougins

Initially, we were planning to do some more AYCE sushi at L'Asia in Mougins (don't judge me!), which is North of Cannes and somewhat close to where we were staying in Sophia Antipolis.  However, they must have the most dysfunctional parking lot I've ever seen.  I barely got out of there without damaging my rental car!  Hence, we were hungry and needed to find another spot to get some eats.  We set our sights on nearby Mougins village (which was super quaint), but never ended up at the restaurant we had our sights on.  We couldn't find it for the life of us within the maze of streets.  Hungry and tired, we settled for Le Rendez Vous de Mougins as it had availability.

We didn't get any appies this time and went straight for the mains where I inexplicably ordered the Salade Niçoise.  I guess I was partly wanting something lighter and also when in the vicinity of Nice...  When it arrived, it didn't look like anything familiar as it was missing potatoes and had an inordinate amount of greens.  Their interpretation consisted of 2 types of tuna with crumbled and marinated tuna throughout while a small filet of tuna was served on the side.  Hence, this salad did not have any absence of meatiness.   The dressing was bright and acidic while the greens made me feel healthy.  Sure, this was missing a few components of a traditional Salade Niçoise, but it was good in its own way.

My son didn't deviate from his usual ordering habits and went for the Grilled Beef with frites and salad.  This was well-prepared with a beautiful sear on the outside that was smoky and well-seasoned.  The steak itself was medium-rare as requested and the result was a fairly tender texture.  The compound butter on top added luxuriousness as well as lots of aromatic nuttiness.  Frites were crunchy and nicely salted.

My daughter had the Tuna and Avocado Tartare with a Japanese wasabi sauce.  In reality, this tasted very much like it was marinated in orange juice (lots of it too).  Hence, it was watery mess.  However, it did taste and eat a lot better than it looked.  The small nuggets of tuna were buttery and soft with the complimentary sweetness from the juice doing its thing.  We would've liked to see a bit more acidity though.  Frites on the side were crunchy like the other dish.

Viv ended up with a Braised Beef Pasta which was the best dish of the bunch.  It featured buttery soft noodles topped with delicious stewed meat that was super tender and gelatinous.  There was considerably depth and body that flavoured the entire dish.  Overall, the food at Le Rendez Vous de Mougins was serviceable.  Really, that is the best description as we were a bit desperate for food and time was running out.  So in that respect, we were satisfied.  Thought the service was pretty good too.

The Good:
- Decent eats
- Friendly service
- Cute spot

The Bad:
- There are better choices

Dragon Bowl @ Club Kitchen

Back when I first visited Dragon Bowl out in New West, I was impressed with the home-style food they served.  Things were not overly greasy nor salty, which in my mind, made things a bit healthier.  Furthermore, the portion size was more than enough for my appetite as you could choose your protein, carb, sauce and side items.  The most important thing of all, is that the food was delicious in my opinion.  Now, we can get the same tasty and well-appointed rice and noodle bowls from Club Kitchen in Downtown Vancouver.  Club Kitchen is a commissary concept where a collection of different restaurants dish up eats for eat-in, take-out and delivery.  We paid them a visit to try out some bowls and drinks.


Before we got to the bowls, we tried 3 different drinks including Original Black Tea, Peach Black Tea and Lemon Black Tea.  My favourite of the bunch was the lemon as it was tangy and lightly sweet with a fairly light tea flavour.  To illustrate the home-style food at Dragon Bowl, you don't have to look much further than the Daily Soup.  The one we tried was daikon & carrot with chicken.  It was so clear and clean with natural sweetness and essence.  It wasn't salty and the ingredients were honest.

Onto the bowls, we had varied selection to try all the different meats, carbs and sides.  On that note, the way you construct your bowl is exactly choosing a meat, a carb, 3 sides and sauce.  Braised egg is extra.  So our first bowl was the Alberta Beef atop rice with black pepper sauce.  The 3 sides were sprouts, cabbage and shredded potato.  This was a good combination of components as the rice went well with the robust beef that was slightly peppery.  Veggies were fresh and kept things light.

One of their classic meats and personally my favourite, is the Lamb Shoulder.  This was on top of white noodles and the 3 sides were celery/carrots, bean curd and wood ear mushroom.  I personally would've either chosen white rice or yellow noodles instead due to the robust nature of the lamb.  It was mildly gamy and benefited from the spicy dragon sauce as it could stand up to the lamb.  The chewiness of the bean curd and crunch from the wood ear were good matches.  I would probably sub shredded potato for the veggies.

The Beef Brisket, being the most pricey of all the proteins (but only comes in large), is the only option that includes a braised egg (at no extra cost).  The brisket was more like beef finger meat, but that was a good thing as that is usually very tender and meaty.  That it was and the fat had been rendered down quite well.  Each piece had soaked up all of the braising liquid and hence, was delicious on its own.  This came with rice, which is the best match for the meat.

So far, I haven't mentioned that the bowls come in 3 sizes with the smallest coming in really inexpensive at $9.88.  This includes the beef, vegan, pork and in this case Boneless Chicken Thigh with black bean sauce.  The base was rice (which is not extra charge) while the 3 sides were bean curd, sprouts and wood ear.  This bowl in the smallest size (without the egg) would really be $9.88!  The chicken was tender and moist while the black bean sauce was rather mild, not being very salty.

With the Pork Tenderloin, it came with a mushroom sauce and sat atop white noodles.  I thought this was another example of how home-style the food is.  The pork was tender, but mildly-seasoned while the mushroom sauce was not overly salty with the natural earthiness of the mushroom coming through.  The rice noodles were slippery and was only slightly seasoned by the sauce.  Add in the 3 sides and this was not very restaurant-like.  Some would argue that there isn't enough flavour, but somehow I don't mind it because it feels healthy.

Our last bowl featured Jumbo Shrimp with dragon sauce atop steamed yellow noodles.  Yes, jumbo shrimp is an oxymoron, but really, they were a decent size.  The texture was meaty with some rebound.  Being non-spicy and slightly sweet, the dragon sauce didn't interfere with the shrimp flavour.  I thought the yellow noodles were quite good being chewy and a good match for the sauce but maybe not the protein.  So as you can see, the food at Dragon Bowl isn't necessarily complex.  Rather, it is home-style food that is not overly greasy nor salty.  You can literally eat this often and not feel bad about it.  Considering bowls start at $9.88, you can eat this every day without breaking the bank.  It is hard to find good values these days, but Dragon Bowl does offer a great mix of good nutritious food at a reasonable price.

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

The Good:
- Reasonably-priced
- Fair amount of food for that price
- Appears to be healthier than other options

The Bad:

- Some might find the flavours a bit muted

Best Fortune

For all of the different types of Chinese cuisine, Sichuan is one of my favourites.  The combination of spice and spices along with meat and noodle dishes, it is something that is much more impactful than say, Cantonese food.  However, due to the influx of immigrants from Hong Kong specifically, that is the most prevalent Chinese cuisine in the Lower Mainland.  So when there is another option for Sichuan eats (and really any Northern or Uygher restaurants), I'm there with bells on.  So I dug out those bells when Jackie and I were invited to try out Best Fortune on Alexandra Road.

We were here mainly to try their Deluxe Sichuan Set Menu that offers 5-courses for $88.00.  There are options for each course.  The 2 choices for the first course included the classic Big Plate of Mouth-Watering Chicken (yes, that is what the description said, big plate...).  Indeed, it was a big mound of tender poached chicken that featured tender meat and gelatinized skin.  Naturally, the chicken was only a blank canvas for the sauce.  About that sauce, it was definitely spicy, a bit nutty and smoky.  There was enough seasoning to add more than just spice, so in general, it was good!

The other option is the Spicy Beef & Tripe.  This featured thinly-sliced beef shank that had been stewed until tender and chilled.  The tripe has also been cooked until it was buttery soft.  Then it was tossed in a chili oil mix that also had some soy and plenty of garlic.  This was a good version of this dish as the textures of the tripe and beef were on point while the flavours were spicy, but not to the point we couldn't taste anything else.

For the second course, there were 2 options, with first being the Green Peppercorn & Sauerkraut Fish.  This featured some glass noodles underneath and a wealth of sliced fish (looked like snakefish?), pickled mustard greens, seaweed and bean curd skin.  Loved the texture of the fish as it was almost crunchy, but that initial texture gave way to flakiness.  The broth was tangy with numbing spice from the peppercorns.

 

If you didn't want the fish, you could choose the Sichuan Boiled Beef.  This is another classic dish that featured sliced beef atop bean sprouts in a spicy broth.  There was a considerable amount of tender buttery beef within the large bowl.  They had been tenderized perfectly where the meat texture was still present.  In terms of flavour, there was the same smoky nuttiness from the chili oil.  It wasn't so spicy that we couldn't taste anything else which meant there was balance.

The third course had 2 choices that would go well with rice.  The first being the Spicy Blood Tofu & Tripe Stew.  It was a pretty large bowl of food that featured large strips of mung bean noodle underneath with some bean sprouts and other veggies.  There was a mix of luncheon meat, intestines, pork's blood cubes and bible tripe.  This all sat in a spicy broth that was rather flavourful and a bit smoky from all the chili oil.

 

The other option was the Braised Bean Curd in Mapo Sauce (aka Mapo Tofu).  Unlike the Cantonese version, this one was much more robust, spicy and deep-flavoured.  They used medium-firm tofu here and it stood up well to the cooking process.  Each cube of tofu took on the flavours of the starch-thickened sauce.  It was a bit spicy, a bit sweet and plenty savoury.  The ground pork added some meaty texture.

Moving onto the fourth course (which was the vegetable dish), the first option was the Dry Pot Cauliflower.  This was essentially stir-fried Taiwanese cauliflower with an array of spices including Sichuan peppercorns.  There was plenty of caramelization and aroma as well as a noticed numbing spice.  The cauliflower was cooked-through but had a nice crunch.

The alternative option from the cauliflower was the Specialty Eggplant Stir Fry.  I absolutely loved this dish since they coated the pieces of eggplant with starch first and deep fried it.  So that ensured each piece was cooked-through and was sealed with a crispy starch coating.  The result was that the eggplant didn't get soggy and melt while help soaking up the delicious black bean-based sauce.  It had a bit of spice as well.




For the fifth course, we had 3 noodle options including Noodles with Peas, Minced Pork Noodle and Sour & Spicy Yam Noodles.  So the 2 noodles were essentially a form of Ja Jeun Mein where you would mix up the components with the boiled white noodles.  For the first one, the chickpeas were soft but still intact while the ground pork was plenty spicy.  With peanuts and sesame seeds, there was plenty of nuttiness too.  The second noodle was similar except it had some mustard greens.  Hence, there was a bit more tanginess.  The yam noodles had a nice chewiness to them and there was plenty of heat to go with the sourness.  If I had to choose, the minced pork noodle would be the best bet.  Overall, the 5-course set meal for $88.00 is a steal considering how much food you are getting as well as it being delicious.  Love that there are choices for most courses, so you can get almost exactly what you want.  The spice level here is right up my alley being hot yet we can still taste the other components and flavours.  If you only have 2 people, you can get the first two courses for $39.00 and it includes rice and pop.  Hard to find cheap eats these days, but this would be it. Definitely a revisit for me sometime down the road.

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

The Good:
- Well-priced set meal
- Good spice, but not overwhelming
- Large portion size

The Bad:
- One of the employees was away, so there was only one person handling the entire restaurant. Even if they had the other person, service would be stretched. She did a good job though and never got frustrated
- Parking at the back can be chaotic

 

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