Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hong Ma No - Authentic Korean Noodle in Surrey


Hong Ma No Korean Restaurant

10330 152 St, Surrey

Hong Ma No Korean Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Food: 3.5
Service: 3
Price: Fair

Once again, it's another friends gathering night, and we were discussing where to eat. So when M mentioned that a friend recommended a new place for
jajang myeon, I was all for it. Especially since this one is very close to where I live.

Hong Ma No is located in a strip mall on 152 Street and 104 Avenue. It's tucked in the end unit, and I probably would have never discovered it if I wasn't looking for it. The minute I walked in, I knew this place has to be decent, because it was packed and 85% of the diners were Korean.
I can't help but compare this place with Ma Sarang, it's essentially the same, but this one is slightly bigger in size. Since I tried the sweet and sour pork at Ma Sarang, we ordered on here as well for comparison. I believe this was slightly more expensive($12?), but the size is about the same. Although the sauce was almost identical, but the meat was different. Ma Sarang used glutinous rice flour to coat the pork which give it's a nice crunchy yet chewy texture, where as this one is just regular flour. The pork was not as tender either, and it was bit over fried. Therefore the sweet and sour pork at Ma Sarang wins hands down.
Next up is their
Jajang myeon, which all 3 of us ordered it ($7.95). The only difference between J, M and mine is that I asked for the spicy version. When the sauce came, it all looked the same, so it's a good thing they specifically brought out mine later and inform us this was the spicy one. I actually like the presentation here, because you can mix it yourself. This allows you control on how much sauce you want on your noodles.
I thought the the sauce was very good, it had tons of mixed seafood, pork and vegetables. The sauce was rather liquidy as well (comparable with Ma Sarang) which indicate they did not use starch to thicken it. Also my spicy sauce was indeed spicy, especially when I ate the left over the next day. The noodle were soft but still had a bite to it. Although all 3 of us thought the noodles were good, but M (who is Korean) preferred the ones at Ma Sarang better. I personally thought they were equally good.

In general, I am very happy that I found this place. Because now I don't have to travel all the way to Coquitlam for good jajang myeon. In terms of which place is the winner, I will have to say it's still Ma Sarang, only because their sweet and sour pork was better. However since Hong Ma No is really close to me, I think I will probably end up going there way more often than Ma Sarang.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Pittsburg - not impressed with food, but it's cheap


Pittsburg Restaurant

4500 Kingsway, Burnaby

Pittsburg Restaurant (Crystal Mall) on Urbanspoon

Food: 2
Service: 2.5
Price: cheap

I haven't seen my friend (K) for a long time, so finally we both managed to find some time to hang out. Because we set the time to meet after lunch, so I ate at home prior to going out. However K didn't eat anything, so that lead us to a question, where should we go for some afternoon snacks with lots of choices. Since we were already heading towards Metrotown, K suggested Pittsburg restaurant in Crystal Mall.
Since we arrived after 2:30pm, they handed us a special afternoon tea menu. You got to admit, the prices are cheap. This also includes a hot drink as well. I was tempted to order from this menu, even though I ate already.
In the end, K went for the Curry Beef Brisket with egg noodle. The portion was good for only $6.50, but it went downhill from there. The noodle was too soft. The soup was rather watery (not rich at all). In fact it tasted like water mixed with curry powder. The beef brisket was a too chewy as while.
At almost all the Hong Kong Style Cafe, you can add soup to your meal, it is usually a tomato based or cream based. K asked for the tomato based. It was just your typical watery tomato soup for an extra $2.00 (or was it $1.50?)
Although I was tempted, but I was also quite full at the same time. So in the end, I decided to utilize my other 'stomach' and ordered dessert instead. I got the waffle with fresh fruit for $5.75, which also included a hot drink. Despite the nice presentation and the cheap price, I was disappointed with this dish. The waffles were way too thin and crunchy. I don't think there is any leavening agent used in the batter. The ice cream had that artificial strawberry taste. The only good thing was the melons, they were relatively fresh.

Service was also lacking. When we first walked in, all the servers were seated at a table chatting and eating. So they just told us to sit anywhere we like. They came to take our order and brought our food, and then never came back again.

I can tolerate bad service, poor ambiance, but the food has to be good. In this case, food quality is definitely not there. Although it may be cheap, but it's not really worth it. Also the service was not good either. With that combination, you can certainly count me out for a revisit.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Dulcinea - heaven for the chocolate lover


Dulcinea Chocolate Cafe

1118 Denman Street, Vancouver

Dulcinea Chocolate Cafe on Urbanspoon

Food: 3
Price: Fair

This post is seriously over due. I actually went to Dulcinea Cafe about a month ago right after the mediocre meal at Lime. Dulcinea is conveniently located on Denman right next to Qoola, so it was easy to find, parking on the other hand was the hard part.The minute you walk into the shop, there is a sense of coziness. It has primarily wood structures with soft warm lighting. Luckily the tables on the raised platform were empty, so we got a nice view of the whole restaurant.
I had a hard time deciding which drink I wanted, because there was this tea that caught my eyes, but this is after all a chocolate cafe. The tea I was contemplating is called Picasso ($3.85). It had pear, melon, kiwi, pink rose bud, white chocolate shaving and lemon. The owner took out the tea for me to smell, I was sold immediately. It had a fruity scent with a hint of rose. The tea without honey was a bit sour, I am guessing it's from all the fruit bits, but after adding just a bit of honey, it was delicious.
M ordered Magellan for $4.50 (banana and caramel with whip cream). The chocolate was very creamy and strong with a slight bitter taste. Although it stated there were banana in this, but it's barely detectable. B ordered Dominicano for $4.75 (cloves, vanilla and amaretto essence). I actually really liked this drink, the chocolate taste is not as overpowering as the Magellan. It was slightly sweeter too with a nice vanilla scent.R and K ordered Chocolate Chai and Valencia (cinnamon and sweet chufa nut) for $4.50 respectively. Since I didn't taste either drinks, I will just leave you with the pretty picture to look at. :P

In the end, I liked Dulcinea Chocolate Cafe for 2 reasons. The drinks were mostly good, and the place smelled heavenly. I think what really won me over is the ambiance, it has a relax and cozy feel to it. It's the kind of place where I would go on a cold winter day. With that being said, I hope they have good cold drinks too, as summer is right around the corner.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Alvin Garden - first of the 8GTCC


Alvin Garden

4850 Imperial St., Burnaby

Alvin Garden on Urbanspoon

Food: 4

I usually start every post with a score for food, service and price, but this post I only scored the food. The reason is that this meal was special, because this was a cater dinner organized by Chowtimes. It was the first dinner of their Eight Great Traditions of Chinese Cuisine event (8GTCC). They have extended the invitation to their readers to join them on this quest to taste the 8 great Chinese cuisine.

The 8GTCC teams has decided the first dinner was going to be the Xiang cuisine (aka Hunan cuisine). The Xiang cuisine is known for it's liberal use of chili peppers. They also tend to use lots of garlic and shallot. The main difference between Chuan (Sichuan cuisine) and Xiang cuisine is that Chuan uses lots of peppercorn, thus resulting in a very numbing effect. Xiang on the other hand is just simply spicy.

After much research, Chowtime and the 8GTCC team has decided on Alvin Garden for this event. What started as a idea for a small group of people, turned into a mega event where a total of 52 people attended, that's the power of Chowtimes readership. So it's a good thing that the restaurant was relatively large. The reason I did not list the price for this place is because our meal was predetermined, thus the price was a steal. We had a total of 5 appetizers and 12 dishes of only $20/person (tax and tip included).
First up is two appetizers: Hunan pickled daikon/carrot, and spicy dried bean curd with celery. The pickled daikon were great, it was crunchy and spicy. I don't really like bean curd nor celery, needless to say, that for sure was not my favorite dish.
Next 2 appetizers are the 5 spice pork heart and spicy pork ear. R loved the pork heart, the meat was like extremely lean dense pork and quite chewy too. The pork ear was good, but way too spicy. After only about 2 bites, I was seriously heating up.
The last appetizer was the tea smoked BBQ duck. This apparently also won an award and I can see why. The meat was tender and flavorful with a nice smoked flavor, I will definitely order this again.
The restaurant sponsored a free soup to go with our meal. It was a one of those traditional Chinese soup that is cooked in a clay pot that take 3 hours to make. The soup had rich meaty flavor from the pork bone and a distinct sweet flavor from the corn.
First dish of the night is the Dongting boiled fish. This dish looked scary spicy, but really it wasn't that bad, as long as you don't scoop too much of the chili pepper up. The fish slices were tender and good, it absorbed enough flavor, but still was not too spicy.
This has to be one of my favorite dish of the night: Hunan Brasied Pork. The pork was packed with sweet soy flavor. The fat part just melt in your mouth. I highly recommend trying this is you are not scared to eat the fat portion of the pork.
This is the free ranged chicken with ginger. There was a distinct ginger flavor, which should be obvious by this picture.
Steamed Lingcod heads in chili sauce was very good as well. I find the meat on fish head are usually more tender than the body, and this also is the case here. The chopped chili pepper was actually not that hot, it adds a good kick to the dish.
Pork belly stir fried with jalapeno was overall a good dish. The pork was really thin, so it absorbed the flavors well. Actually I am not too sure if it's jalapeno, because it wasn't too spicy.
The stir fried garlic bolt with smoked pork was good. The garlic bolt was crunch and the meat was chewy. You know, I thought this was a Chuan dish, but maybe I am wrong.
This was R's favorite dish of the night: chicken giblet with Hunan white chili. This was by far the spiciest dish of the night. The white chili are extremely spicy, but it's such a rush to eat this. This is the kind of dish that once you take a bite, you will want another. All I can say is prepare to drink a lot of water or eat a lot of rice if you plan to order this dish.
This would be the beer duck. Despite the name, there wasn't really any beer flavor in this, but maybe that is a good thing, since I hate beer :P
I think the Cumin lamb was the biggest disappointment for me. Usually the cumin lamb is stir fried to a point, there are no oil or sauce left. But this lamb came drenched in oil/sauce. There was a distinct cumin flavor, but something was lacking.
This is our hot pot of the night: chicken with Hunnan chili and vinegar. This was okay, nothing too special.
The eggplant with garlic and chili was also another favorite of mine. The eggplant was soft but infused with lots of garlic and chili taste. This sauce would be perfect on rice.
The last dish we had was the spicy and sour stir fried potato shred. This was not bad, because the potato retained it's crispy texture.

In the end, this was a excellent meal. The food was good, the price can't be beat. Therefore I would like take this opportunity to thank Chowtimes and the 8GTCC team, for the hard work they put into this event, and let us the readers reap the benefit. All I have to say is I can't wait for the next event in the 8GTCC. :)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Giveaway closed - Winners announced


Thank you everyone for participating in this Giveaway, and I appreciate all the feedbacks. After using Random.org, base on the sequence of the comments:

Winner from my Facebook feed: Ling T
Winner from my the comment left on the Benkei post: Jonnek

Congratulations to the winners, if you send me your address today, I will mail out the certificates tomorrow.

Thank you all for reading and supporting this blog :)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Benkei - A complimentary pre-opening party


Benkei Ramen (East 5th)

43 East 5th Avenue, Vancouver

Benkei Ramen (East 5th opening soon) on Urbanspoon

** There is a Giveaway in this post, remember to read to the end :)

There are currently 2 locations for Benkei Ramen, one on Robson, and the other on Thurlow, but soon 2 more will join the scene. The one that will open tomorrow (Apr. 15) with be on 5th avenue by Main street. Shortly after, another one will open on West Broadway.

Over the past weekend, Minako (service manager) of Benkei contacted me, and asked if I would like to come to a pre-opening event. Since I enjoyed the food at Benkei on Thurlow (see post here), so I thought why not.
Due to some unforeseen traffic, we arrived 15 minutes late. We were greeted and then ushered into the back kitchen to join others for a tour of the place. Here is what we came face to face with: simmering soups in huge stainless steel pots. We learned that ever since beginning of March, Benkei has been using this location as the central kitchen that create the soup base, and distributed to the different locations. By doing this, they ensure that the quality remain consistent. Although Benkei has several locations, they are currently all corporate controlled, because of this, they want the taste to remain the same at each restaurant.While we were standing there taking it all in, the head chef (one of 2) took out a slick gadget that looked like a kaleidoscope, but in fact it's called a refractometer. This is where R was impressed, because this little gadget measures the solubility of the soup, meaning the 'thickness' of the soup. By measuring their soup, they can keep the 'richness' and 'thickness' relatively constant. We were told that we can order anything on the menu, and they even encouraged us to order all of it. Because they wanted us to try many different types, thus all the pictures you see here shows only half portions. The two soup base R ordered are Shoyu and Miso. I almost never order shoyu soup, because I think it mostly tastes like water + soy sauce. Boy was I wrong, their shoyu soup is a combination of chicken-pork soup combined with their special soy sauce. I have to say, it was one delicious soup, there was the meatiness from the pork, and the sweet flavor from the chicken. There is no doubt in my mind, this will be a favorite for the summer season, as it is light and delicious. The miso soup was equally good, because it's essentially the Akaoni (my favorite) without the spicy element. This soup is very rich and flavorful.
Since I already know I love their Akaoni soup base, I thought I try two different ones. The first one I chose was the Shio soup, which is a pork bone broth (hence the whitish appearance). Although it looked very rich, but in fact it was rather light compare to R's miso base. This is a simple broth with just sea salt. Personally, if I wanted rich soup, I would go for the miso over this one. R had the Shiro when we went to Benkei on previous visit, but I didn't. The Shiro soup base smells like creamy garlic pasta sauce, it's a heavenly smell, but it does not fully translate into the soup. I mean it's rich and buttery, but the garlic flavor is lacking despite the strong smell.When we were touring the kitchen, the head chef also demonstrated his gyoza making skills. We were told that their stuffing is unique and created by the owner himself. We were also given gyoza (pork and pork with shrimp) to try while we were eating. Sadly, I did not like their gyoza, because it had a really strong garlic taste. That being said, if you like garlic, you will love these.At each Benkei location, there is a paper art wall lamp. Each one is different and unique, because they are all hand made by the owner. I never really paid any attention to any of them, but now that I know each one is hand made, I think I will take a closer look the next time I am at one of their locations.This location have something none of the other one have, it's pretty obvious by this picture. They have a nice big flat screen hanging on the wall, which would be a good thing for any sports lover, because it was on TSN the whole time we were there.

We also had the privilege to meet the man behind the restaurant. He was very nice and very ambitious, because his plan is to expand Benkei all across Canada first, and then branch out to the US. By doing so, he will establish Benkei as a Canadian Brand. We took a picture with him, maybe I will share that in my facebook page, so you can see the man behind this successful chain.

As we were leaving, they handed each person a certificate for a complimentary ramen bowl at this location, but since I already had the privilege to attend this pre-opening party, I thought I share this benefit with my readers. I have a total of 2 certificates valid until Dec. 31st, 2010, and here is how it's going to work:

1. It's open to everyone world wide, just make sure you will be able to use it by end of this year. (I will be mailing the certificate to you)

2. The winner of the first certificate will be picked from comments on this post, so don't forget to leave a comment with your name (no Anonymous post please)

3. The winner for the 2nd certificate will be picked from comments left on the "Giveaway" feed on My Secret Eden Facebook page.

Therefore if you leave a comment here and on facebook, you have 2 chances to win both certificates. The certificate is only valid at this location. The giveaway will end on Friday (Apr. 16) at midnight, and the winner will be picked by Random.org. Good Luck :)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Alpen Club - A German Fest


Vancouver Alpen Club (Deutsches Haus)

4875 Victoria Dr, Vancouver

Vancouver Alpen Club (Deutsches Haus) on Urbanspoon

Service: 2.5

Price: Fair

Our last blogger meet up was at East is East, and we had a huge turn out, all thanks to Sherman. And this time, all thanks to Kim, we had another huge turn out. Here are all the bloggers in attendance: I'm Only Here for the Food, Food and Tell, Le Petite Foodie, Me Plus Food, Tastes Better with Friends, the Friday Lunch, Omnomics, Sherman's Food Adventures, Vanfoodies, Victoria's Food Secrets, and Yum-o-rama.

After contemplating the menu, the majority of us wanted to try the fest platter ($80 for 4 people), since it pretty much included all the meat items on the menu. However, when the waitress told us the special: any schnitzel with beer for $15, R was tempted. In the end, we still went for the platter.
Read more »

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Golden Great Wall - a mixture of different Chinese cuisine


Golden Great Wall Szechuan

705 W Broadway, Vancouver

Golden Great Wall Szechuan on Urbanspoon

Food: 3.5
Service: 3.5
Price: Fair

When you got to a Chinese restaurant where combo meals are not served, you better go with a group of people. This way you can order a wide variety of dishes and sample way more food. For that reason, R and I rarely go to one of these. Finally we got the chance, when R's friends suggested this place, and we had a total of 6 people for that day.

I find it funny that Golden Great Wall Szechuan really is not a Sichuan cuisine restaurant, but they have it in their name. If anything I think they are more of a Shanghai cuisine restaurant. Regardless, they do serve a good variety of Chinese dishes from all the major provincesThe first thing we ordered was the Peking duck 3 ways (~$34.95). The first way of course is the duck skin wrapped with sweet sauce and scallion. The skin was crispy with a fine layer of oil still retained in between. Therefore although it was crispy, it was a bit oily too. My only complaint was that there isn't enough flour wrap for all the duck skin we had. The 2nd way the duck was prepared was sauteed duck meat with lettuce wrap. The duck meat was juicy and flavorful, you would also use same sweet sauce in this wrap as well. However eating this created a big mess. The sauce was dripping everywhere, and the stuffing was falling out, simply because the lettuce was too crispy. Now I am not really complaining about the lettuce, as I like them crispy, it just a warning that this dish can get messy fast.The 3rd way the duck was prepared was the duck bone soup with tofu and Chinese cabbage. The soup was flavorful with a hint of BBQ duck flavor. Also it wasn't too oily either.

I picked the pork hock (~$15.95), cause I simply love the glutinous skin. However this one was a disappointment, because the skin was too tough. Usually it would melt in your mouse (oops correction 'mouth' lol), but this required a lot of chewing. Also the lean portion was also not soft enough either. Despite the meat being too tough, the sauce was actually good, it was a nice balance between the soy sauce and rock sugar. The traditional Shanghai dish, minced pork ball (~$12) was good in my opinion. However some others did not like it. The reason I like it was because the meat was very tender, to a point it's almost questionable if it was fully cooked. I was totally fine after eating this, so I am going to say it was fully cooked. The pork balls were not simply all pork, they also had water chestnut mixed in.
The deep fried "squirrel" fish (~$17) with sweet and sour sauce tasted a lot like sweet and sour pork. I did not particularly care for the sauce, but that was not the biggest problem with this dish. The biggest problem is that the fish was too heavily battered, when I bite into it, there were almost no meat. Also it was over fried, as the coating was rather hard.
After all the meat, we got a plate of garlic stir fried Gai Lan (~$9). Although this was a simple stir fry veggie dish, it was very well done. The vegetable retained it's color and crunchiness. The vegetable was cooked with chicken stock as well, so it has that rich flavor with a medium garlic taste. Lastly, we had to get a basket of Xiao Long Bao, because I simply love them. Here at Golden Great Wall you get 10 for around $7.95. The skin was very thin, so you have to be really careful picking them up. It was also loaded with soup. The stuffing was a little hard in my opinion, too much starch. Other than that, these were great.

Sorry I can't remember the exact prices of anything, but it's pretty close to what I have listed. Service was actually good compare to other places. They filled our tea pot often, and occasionally they would smile too, that's rare for a Chinese restaurant. :P

Overall, we were satisfied with our food, and happy with the service. Although the prices were slightly higher than other places, but given the decor of the place, you would expect to pay that price. In the end, I would come back, but there are also tons of other Chinese restaurants in the area, which I think I will explore first.