Wednesday, December 4, 2013

My Wonton Mein Saga: MaxNoodle House

My fascination with generational wonton makers continues with a visit to MaxNoodle House.  I had spotted this eatery on my visit to Michigan Noodle Restaurant and what actually caught my eye was MaxNoodle’s Chinese name.  It’s nearly identical to the famous Mak’s in Hong Kong (the pic of Mak’s in Hong Kong is courtesy of Google Street Map).

In all likely hood there’s no relationship at all between the two but I was definitely curious.

As I entered the eatery I realized I’ve been here before.  However it was many years ago when it was called McNoodle. 

I ordered a bowl wonton noodles and plate of taro root & pork spring rolls.  Much like my previous visits to McKims and Michigan, the wontons and overall noodle bowl are smaller in proportions at MaxNoodles than say the Congee Noodle franchises.

Despite its petite size, this bowl of noodles packed a satisfying and comforting punch.  The wontons were bite sized.  The filling was the best out of all the generational wontons makers I have tried.  The shrimp were whole and had nice firm texture.  The mixture was fairly compact and cohesive.  This probably contributed to the potent seafood savoriness in each wonton.  These were excellent wontons. 

I thought the noodles served here seemed thinner.  They had an excellent chewy texture to them.      

The soup was flavourful, complex but not overwhelming.  I find that with the  superior broths used at other restaurants, there’s usually a very dominant flavor that standouts, whether it’s ginger, pepper or seafood fishiness.  However with Mak’s soup, I felt the flavours were more harmonious and as result there were no sharp flavours jutting out. 

In my hunger induced haze, I forgot to ask for my typical green leafy vegetable side.  Apparently when I become super hungry, healthy eating goes out the window and deep fried spring rolls takes its place. 

I had to order the pork and taro spring roll filling, simply because it’s unusual and well I like taro.  When prepared properly, taro root has a subtle sweet fragrant flavor and a nice fluffy texture. 

For the most part the taro exhibited the soft texture and had its characteristic aromatic flavor.  In addition to the purplish tuber, there were bamboo shoots which provided a crunchiness and slivers of pork (in one of the rolls, the pork pieces were quite dry). 

A savory sauce helped provide some moisture to the filling.  I was expecting a somewhat oily affair since one of the spring roll looked over fried.  However all the spring rolls were not that greasy.  These crunchy appetizers were not earth shattering but were tasty and executed fairly well.

Out of all the generational wonton makers, I feel MaxNoodle’s wonton soup is the best one so far.  The execution, taste and texture of their wontons and the balanced superior stock make it better than its competition.  In fact, if the quality I experienced on this visit is replicated over a few future visits, MaxNoodle may become my new favourite wonton house in Greater Vancouver.

Max Noodle House on Urbanspoon

PS: When I was grabbing the screen shot of Mak’s in Hong Kong on Google Map, I couldn’t help but whirl the camera angle to see what the atmosphere was like around Mak’s. 

As I did, I spotted another restaurant in Hong Kong that has a doppelganger here in Richmond.  It seems that when a vast ocean separates you, trademarks don’t matter.  None the less, thanks to this discovery, I may have my next destination for my wonton mein saga.     

Friday, November 29, 2013

Wow, You’ve Got Something There! – Ipoh Bean Sprout Chicken from Ipoh Bean Sprout Chicken

When I was kid, my favourite meal and frequent birthday request was white cut chicken with ginger scallion dip, broccoli blanched in the same cooking liquid as the chicken and rice.  I remember loving to eat that particular meal very much. 

So much so, that my entire family has created a bit of a tall tale about my love of white cut chicken.  Apparently, as young as 4 years old, I was able to eat an entire white cut chicken in one sitting.  I don’t remember this gluttony and I’m almost sure it’s not true as what would my parents have eaten?

Neither the less, white cut chicken and all similar dishes (Hainanese, Empress, Drunken etc), remain one of my favourite things to eat.  I like that it’s simple and focuses on the chicken (its flavor, quality and texture) and the preparer’s skill. 

After seeing a mass of people milling in front of the XLB’s stall at Crystal Mall’s Food Court, I needed a plan B for lunch.  After doing a lap around the food court I settled on Hainanese Chicken from Ipoh Bean Sprout Chicken.  Unfortunately they sold out and the lady manning the counter recommended the Bean Sprout Chicken instead.  I thought, “Well, this stall is named after her recommendation, sure why not.” 

As I waited for my food, I looked up what Ipoh was.  Ipoh is not a “what” but a “where”.  It is a region of Peninsular Malaysia (South of Thailand and North of Singapore).  Ipoh is famous for a dish called Bean Sprout Chicken which looks similar to the very popular Hainanese Chicken Rice from its southern neighbour, Singapore. 

As far as I could tell there were only a few differences between the two chicken dishes, with the inclusion of blanched bean sprouts and use of plain white rice being the key variations.

Ipoh Bean Sprout Chicken’s titular dish looked and smelled good.  It featured bone in dark meat which was very sweet and juicy.  The texture of the meat was firm.  I really liked the preparation of the chicken as it really let the natural flavor of the meat shine.

Slivers of carrots, scallions, sprigs of cilantro and fried shallots came with the slightly cooked bean sprouts.  White pepper was included to help offset the “fishiness” that some Chinese people can taste in bean sprouts.  Adding white pepper or ginger is the traditional method of neutralizing that off putting taste.

I loved the crunchy texture of the sprouts and overall flavor of this side dish, especially the fragrant shallots. 

I believe a sweet soy was poured over the medley of veggies.  However, I really didn’t taste it in that side dish but it was noticeable in the bottom part of the plain white rice which soaked up the sauce.  Soy and rice is a classic combo in my books, so I enjoyed every bite of the soy enhanced rice.

Overall I was impressed with simplicity yet flavorful Ipoh Bean Sprout Chicken dish.  It’s a great light, appetizing and healthy meal option. 

My positive experience made me to return to the same stall to get their Hainanese Chicken Rice.  The dish was average in comparison to the Ipoh Bean Sprout Chicken dish. 

For the Hainanese Chicken Rice, the Ipoh stall uses deboned dark meat but I felt it was bland and had a softer texture.  It didn’t have the same impactful umami flavor as the chicken from the bean sprout dish. 

The rice had a nice chicken taste.  There were also bits of garlic cooked in the rice so that added to the flavor profile of the carb.  The rice actually was not mushy and actually had a bite to it which I enjoyed.

Another enjoyable part of meal were the side of pickled carrots and cucumbers and the ginger scallions dip for the chicken.  The pickles were mostly sweet with just a slight sour after taste. 

With the Hainanese and Bean Sprout chicken a small bowl of chicken soup was included.  The soup only had a faint chicken taste and a few pieces of sui choy was included. 

After reviewing my photos, I believe the difference between Hainanese Chicken and Bean Sprout Chicken is the type of chicken used.  For the Bean Sprout Chicken, I think the stall uses free range chicken just based on the colour of the chicken skin, the firmer darker colour meat and the superior taste.  In comparison, the Hainanese Chicken was probably prepared with regular chicken which explains its lighter colour, taste and mushier texture.

The Hainanese Chicken was not bad. The Bean Sprout Chicken was just a lot tastier and definitely the chicken dish to order at the Ipoh Bean Sprout Chicken Stall at Crystal Mall.

Ipoh Bean Sprout Chicken 怡保芽菜雞 on Urbanspoon

PS:  This blog, Food: It Is More celebrates its first birthday this week.  The most surprising thing I discovered in the past year is how much I enjoyed the creative aspect of writing.  As a result I think I will continue to write about food and issues surrounding food.

For people who have been consistently reading my ramblings for the last 12 months, THANK YOU and I hope you continue to visit my blog.

Let’s celebrate with cake (or in my case chicken) and hope for more enjoyable dining experiences in the upcoming year!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Wow, You’ve Got Something There CHINATOWN! – Mamie Taylor’s Grits & Fried Chicken

People love a side show, a spectacle and novelty.  It’s an old sales trick to draw a crowd.

So when I heard a restaurant was going to decorate with taxidermy, use mismatched collector’s plates and named themselves after a obscure cocktail/movie starlet from a bygone era, I thought, “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the freak show.”

As much as the circus freaks got people through the gates, it was the actual big top performers that made a lot of people come back to the circus year after year.  After visiting Mamie Taylor’s twice, once with the Distributor and then later with Speedy, I can say the food will keep me coming back.

Located in Chinatown where the Keefer Bakery operated last before shutting down, Mamie Taylor’s serves a menu that has southern classics like grits and fried chicken on it.  From the first visit to the second visit, I noticed that the menus had change quite a bit.  However it seems the main proteins (fried chicken, steak, pork chop) stay the same but the kitchen like to alter the sides that accompany them.

Please note you will see discrepancies in some of the pictures and this reflects the 2 visits I made. I'm going to amalgamate the 2 visits, reviewing first all the appetizers and then the main entrees I ate.

I was really impressed with the grits. Made from ground dried corn kernels (hominy), grits are naturally bland and has a similar texture as porridge or an over thicken bowl of congee. Mamie Taylor's adds roasted mushrooms, cheddar cheese, butter, poached egg, shredded green onions and crispy chicken skin to increase the flavour of the dish.

As you can imagine with all these ingredients, this appetizer had a complex array of tastes and textures.  The grits themselves were smooth for the most part minus a small lump or two and very creamy.  The egg yolk added another level of richness.  The roasted mushrooms were an assortment of different kinds of fungi and were savoury.  The chicken skin added pops of crunch in each bite; while the slivers of scallions provided a sharp taste to balance out the heavier elements of the dish.  This small plate embodied what comfort food can be: hearty, warm and delicious.

The roast beet salad was also a standout dish for me.  It was simply roasted beets and carrots mixed with goat cheese and mint.  The dish is about the quality of ingredients and pairing the right flavours together. The sharp and tangy goat cheese pairs well with the earthy sweetness of the root vegetables. I also liked the vibrant colours and how all the salad was presented.

A special feature that was offered on my second visit was Bumps on a Log.  I thought, "You guys are weird, you going serve me Cheese Whiz?"

The server assured us this was highfalutin version.  Instead of Cheese Whiz/Peanut Butter and Raisins, foie gras and kumquats were used along with crispy chicken skin.  It was rich, savoury, sweet and refreshing.  More importantly, it did remind me of my childhood snack albeit much more gourmet.

The only appetizer that I didn’t care for was the Pea Salad (not pictured).  It was simply a green salad with trimmed peas in it.  There was not a lot of contrasting flavour.

On my first visit I loved the texture and taste of the sides that went with the steak.  There was a velvety smooth potato mash contrasted with crispy shoe sting potatoes.  The Brussels sprouts and the au jus were also nicely prepared.

The steak was prepared medium as we asked and it was nice and tender.  However, I thought it was a little under seasoned. 

On my second visit, the kitchen staff had changed both the presentation of the steak entrée and the sides.  The steak was not sliced and a new puree (possibly celeriac), beans, grilled beets and onions rings were the new comers.  Speedy like her meal and thought every aspect of the dish was prepared well.

After my first visit, I knew I wanted to come back to try one dish: the fried chicken.  For the price, I was impressed with the amount of food I received: two decent sized pieces of chicken (dark & white), a small tossed salad, a biscuit, gravy, spiced pumpkin seeds and spiced spaghetti squash.

Among the sides, the biscuit and squash stood out.  The biscuit was light with a slight crust.  The inside was fluffy, buttery and was seasoned with ample amounts of salt.  The spaghetti squash, with its trademark strands, was sweet but there was a hint of cinnamon and a slight hit of heat.

Mamie Taylor’s delivered fried chicken that was crunchy but incredible juicy, especially the dark meat.  In the full light in my kitchen I was able to see from my leftovers, thyme and paprika in the batter. As much as the chicken was seasoned, the natural flavour of the chicken was the star.   

To be honest, I prefer dark meat as it has more flavour and stays more moist in comparison to the chicken breast and I thought the leg piece I ate was fantastic.

After careful consideration, the curios employed at Mamie Taylor's may not be a sales gimmick.  It may be just swagger derived from knowing how good the food they served is.  As result, they can do as they please even if it means using random decorated plates and hanging up dead animals.

Overall, I really enjoyed my 2 visits to Mamie Taylor’s and so did my friends.  I will definitely make return visits for just the grits and fried chicken.


Mamie Taylor's on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wow, You’ve Got Something There! – The Caprese From Via Tevere Express

The owners of Via Tevere Pizzeria located on Victoria Drive, serving some of the best Neopolitan Pizzas in the city, have rolled out a new food truck called Via Tevere Express.

Instead of serving Neapolitan pizza, Via Tevere Express focuses on Saltimbocca sandwiches which makes use of an oven in the truck.

What’s unique about Saltimbocca sandwiches is the bread.  It has similar charring (leoparding), crispiness and chewiness as the crust of a Neapolitan pizza, albeit a little thicker.  

In essence, if a Neapolitan pizza was an open face sandwich, then Saltimbocca would kind of be like the pizza folded like a book.  

After visiting Via Tevere Express twice, I have decided sometimes keeping it simple is the best option.

For my first Saltimbocca sandwich I ordered the one with the most filling.  It had prosciutto cotto (cooked ham), salami, mortadella, mozzarella, basil, arugula, tomatoes and topped with mayo.

I watched them put my order together and place it into the oven in the truck.  The sandwich was warm and had a crispy exterior with the burnt spots you would expect in Neapolitan pizza.  

All the ingredients were of good quality.  The sandwich was filling and hearty.  However, I felt all the salty savoury cold cuts in the sandwich obscured the most distinct feature of the Saltimbocca: the bread.  

The texture and flavours of the oven toasted bread got lost in the shuffle with all the other ingredients.  Without highlighting the distinct bread, I felt this sandwich was just another well prepared sandwich that you can easy find downtown; no different than a good Panini. 

On my second visit, I decide to go the opposite route of my first experience.  I picked the simplest Saltimbocca on the menu and ordered the vegetarian Caprese.  This sandwich just contained mozzarella, basil, arugula, tomatoes and mayo.  These ingredients created a filling that was milder and creamier than my previous choice; with the arugula adding just a pop of spiciness.

More importantly, I felt the bread had had bigger role in the overall flavour.  I could taste the slight bitterness from the burnt spots and saltiness of the bread.  I enjoyed its chewy texture.  

With the Caprese, the unique bread was showcased and as a result made the sandwich standout in the sea of sandwich choices downtown.  I never thought I would prefer a vegetarian sandwich over a meat option but in this case, less is more. 

Via Tevere Express doesn’t open everyday.  I believe they are usually open Wednesdays and Fridays in front of the Douglas Jung Federal Building at the intersection Pender and Burrard downtown.  It’s best to check for updates on their twitter account (@ViaTeverePizza)

Via Tevere Neapolitan Express on Urbanspoon

PS: If you have been reading my Chinatown posts, here’s a fun fact.  The Douglas Jung Federal Building, which Via Tevere Express operates in front, is named after Mr. Jung because he was the first MP of Chinese descent elected in Canada.  He was elected in 1957 (10 years after Chinese Canadians first got the vote) and represented the Vancouver Centre Riding until 1962.  Here's more information about Douglas Jung:

Friday, November 15, 2013

Wow, You’ve Got Something There! – Saltenas from Rocio’s Saltenas & Pastries

I love it when I discover new foods that are more than meets the eye.  After passing by Rocio's Saltenas & Pasteries for months on my commute to and from work, I finally decided to pop in.  Initially I thought saltenas were just Bolivian empanadas, even though they get their name from an Argentinian city.

Saltenas are dumpling shaped pastries that has a braided ridge on top and a savoury soupy stew like filling, similar to a pot pie but with a runnier gravy.

As I began to research saltenas (thank you wikipedia and after my visit to Rocio’s, I actually think this Bolivian baked snack and Chinese xiao long bao (XLB) are related some how.

The 2 food items have more in common than you would think.  Here's a rundown of their similarities.
-both are savoury snack items
-both have a liquidity filling, which are created in a similar way
-both require a bit of care and finesse when you eat them, unless you want to burn yourself and create a runny mess everywhere
-you can’t just eat one

The liquid is achieved by adding gelatin to the savoury filling (peas, carrots, potatoes, herbs and meat) and then letting it chill for a few hours before it is encased in the pastry wrapper.  In the oven, the gelatin melts and you get the liquid which makes saltenas different than empanadas and what made me think of XLBs.

Much like the XLBs, you want to eat saltenas with care (practice makes perfect).  I would recommend holding the saltena up right so you can start from one corner, ensuring you are sipping and slurping the soup until you eat your way to the other corner. 

Fortunately for me, I resisted the urge to eat the saltenas I picked up from Rocio’s while driving.  I could imagine the mess I would have made in my car.

Safely at home, with utensils and a plate, I tried the beef, chicken and vegetarian saltenas and enjoyed the savoury yet subtly sweet pastry snacks.

The Saltenas at Rocios are not very big; they are about 4 inches by 2.5 inches by 2 inches.  I definitely think you need 2 for a satisfying snack.

The beef (with a plain dull finish on the pastry) and chicken (with a shiny finish on the pastry) had identical fillings with the exception of the meat. 

The aromatic filling included carrots, peas, potatoes, onions and herbs.  With the inclusion of the chunks of beef/white meat chicken and the soupy filling, it is very similar to eating a portable pot pie.  The chicken version had more juice than the beef one.

However unlike a pot pie, the saltena has a sweetness to it.  It’s present but not overwhelming.  I’m pretty sure it comes from the pastry wrapper and not the filling.  The pastry that houses the filling has a slight crispiness to it but is not flaky.

The vegetarian saltena (a speckled finish on the pastry) was a bit spicy.  The ingredients of veggie filling was a little hard to figure out.  There were definitely potatoes, peas, onions, carrots and parsley.  I think there were chopped mushrooms as well and I was sure I ate one raisin (raisins are a traditional ingredient used in saltenas). 

In addition, the vegetable filling was a drier than the meat versions.  The veggie concoction was also sweeter and the spiciness helped add a contrasting flavour to the snack.

Overall, I think all the pastries were seasoned well and I like that there’s a back and forth between savoury and sweet flavours.  Personally, I think the beef one was my favourite saltena.

Rocio's Saltenas & Pastries on Urbanspoon