Eating Vancouver Part 4 Shanghainese and more

Richmond near Vancouver is the place to go for Chinese food. Probably best I’ve had outside of Asia. Highest concentration of quality and variety. Over the summer, we have gone back a couple of times and discovered some new places.

Now as it turns out Shanghainese cuisine is pretty trendy now, and popular in Vancouver. Most authentic Shanghainese foods I have had outside of Shanghai / Asia has been here. That includes NY, SF, and LA. Two places that I particularly liked are Top Shanghai (Yelp), and Yuan’s Shanghai Serendipity Cuisine (Yelp). Don’t trust the Yelp ratings. Top Shanghai is more like a mid range Shanghai Applebees. Crowded, long lines for a reason, the food is as close to Shanghai comfort / traditional dishes as they come. 36 Page menu is a extensive tour of Shanghainese cuisine. Their Shanghai breakfast / dimsum menu is page 27 and on. Of particular note is their duck seasoned with soy sauce, exactly like Grandma’s. With her passing, no one else in the family can make it, but Top Shanghai nailed it. Their glutinous rice ball with pork filling is authentic but out of this world ginormous (that’s a regular sized rice bowl in the picture!). Their Shanghai noodles and braised pork are also excellent in an unassuming authentic kinda way.


Yuan’s is a slightly more upscale restaurant with an interior attempting to echo 1930’s French Concession Shanghai. Food is overall good across the board, some dishes better than Top Shanghai, others a different take, but to me not as good. However, the best Shengjian mantou (panfried mini buns) this side of the Pacific is here.

As for dimsum of the cart variety, we decided that Chef Tony is the best overall. We didn’t have a great experience at Fisherman’s Terrace last couple of times. Don’t get me wrong, better than anything Seattle has by miles, but have fallen behind Chef Tony’s for sure. I mean look at the egg yolk custard bun (official English menu item name: Steamed bun filled with salty egg yolk lava) that is worthy of a James Bond villain! Squid ink black, perfectly fluffy, gooey creamy slightly savory inside.

Of course there’s the night market, much has been written on the interwebs on it, and YouTube videos everywhere. The fried chicken that’s flattened and fried like a weinerschnitzel size of your head, and the rather expensive stinky tofu.

As for Taiwanese food, and really there for the flavored Taiwan Beers (see previous post on beers of Taiwan) and casual food there’s Maji (Yelp). Also the slushy topped beer we had in Japan now exists at Guu, looked like Richmond location is now closed. Hopefully the beer slushy machine survived and got moved to another location…

A visit to stationary heaven aka Itoya in Ginza Tokyo

Itoya is the most awesome stationary store I have ever visited, period. Everything stationary you every thought about, have seen on the internet, all in one place. The Itoya store in Ginza is actually 2 buildings separated by an alley and Tiffany’s (English floor guide). One is called G.Itoya (13 floors) and the other is K.Itoya (7 floors). The G.Itoya is the fancier of the 2 stores, more like a department store feel, with a cafe, travel, gifts, etc. The most amount of fountain pens I have ever seen in one place is on the 3rd floor. Major major sensory overload. Fountain pens I have seen on manufacturer’s websites, all in person, all in one place. Not just Japanese fountain pens either, I have never seen so many Cross pens, or really any other brand I have ever heard of in one place. I can not understate the amount of fountain pens on display here as someone who is more used to either a Mont Blanc store in a fancy mall that sells mostly lifestyle accessories or the local Staples. Also ink, lots of ink, mostly in drawers. There is also a mini Mont Blanc store on the same floor. Fancy paper has its own floorin G.Itoya, and you can customize your notebooks on the 2nd floor of K.Itoya (also get your tax back if you have foreign passport).

K.Itoya is much more like an day to day art and stationary store with ballpoint, gel, and pens of every kind, staplers, cool paper clips. It is still 6 floors of stationary supplies. Including the most complete selection of Faber-Castell artist pens, it is like everything on their website in person. Including the Graf von Faber-Castell wooden pencil. The 1st floor is pretty much all pens, the great thing is that most of them had testers.

I ended up buying 2 bottles of Pilot iroshizuku, the Tokyo Limited Edition in fukagawa-nezu which is grey, and shimbashi-iro which is a light blue teal. 50ml bottle is ¥1500 each, or you can get a set of 3 smaller 15ml bottles for ¥2100. The one I didn’t get was the de-murasaki which is more of a purple. All of the pilot iroshizuku inks had testers in Pilot clear bodied Prera fountain pens. The more expensive fountain pens were all behind counters. The ¥1,000,000 Namiki appropriately behind a glass display.

Very much worth a visit for anyone who ever thought Staples should sell less electronics and more fountain pens.

Eating Vancouver Part 3 Dim Sum

While we have been to the usual trio of Vancouver dim sum of Dinesty (more of a soup dumpling place like DinTaiFung), Fisherman’s Terrace, and Sun Sui Wah, we wanted to try some place that does the usuals very well but also wasn’t afraid to have some new dishes like Koi Palace back in the Bay Area. We ended up at Chef Tony Seafood Restaurant. Located in a strip mall in Richmond, the outside looked like a run down 70s strip mall, the inside was more like the bar at the W. The usual dim sum staples were well done (which won’t be mentioned here), but they had some cool dishes we really enjoyed.

img_1380

Creamy almond paste buns. Light and not too sweet almond cream paste in a bun. As light and ephemeral as Marzipan (which I also love) is heavy and substantive. A good in between of Marzipan and Annin tofu, in a bun.

img_1381

Flaky almond meat loaf sticks. Tastes way better than the English translation sounds. Had no idea almonds went with mix of pork and shrimp.

img_1382

The usual tripe on the right. The left is egg plant with a meat ball on top. I actually liked it even though I am not an eggplant fan.

img_1383

The usual shumai but with a fancy topping of black truffles. It smelled absolutely fantastic, made a regular dim sum staple more magical. The difference between a regular Ford Taurus and Taurus SHO.

img_1384

I had hopes that the mushroom tart would be equal of Koi Palace’s abalone  minced chicken tart, alas, it was not to be.

img_1385

This artsy looking piece is the Longan jello with goji berries. Not too sweet, as a fan of longan, I can’t believe this isn’t at every dim sum restaurant.

img_1387 img_1388

Lastly, the fried taro with various fillings topped with an abalone. This was also quite good. Even without the abalone, the dish would have been great.  Crispy on the outside, middle layer of soft taro, and fillings on the inside. Mmm…

Eating Vancouver Part 2 French and Shanghai

For breakfast, after Yuji’s Japanese fare, some French pastry was in order. We ended up at Thierry. It is a chocolate shop and a cafe. Chef Thierry was pastry chef for a couple of 2 star Michelin in France and London.

img_1377

From upper left clockwise. Ham croissant (Pain au jambon), butternut squash soup, chocolate croissant (Pain au chocolat), and a grill chicken on baguette.

For dinner we switched it up and went for Shanghainese at Shanghai River  in Richmond. The menu was impressive and vast. We ended up over ordering per usual. The steam dumpling was very good and more authentically Shanghainese than the technical precision of DinTaiFung. If DinTaiFung dumplings are Porsches, the Shanghai River ones are Corvettes. Meatier, not as uniformly pretty, but good in a slightly different way. Duck 2 ways, smoked fish, duck and scallop soup were all equally well done.

img_1378 img_1379

Eating Vancouver Part 1 Yujis

We spent a few days visiting Vancouver. We had been there quite a few times before, and continued to finding new restaurants.

First up is Yuji’s in Kitsilano. Located in a shopping center across the street from a Papa Johns. Their Omakase is more like a set menu and priced at $60 Canadian, really great deal considering the current USD exchange rate of 1.35 to CAD. Well worth the money. The restaurant itself was situated next to another pizza takeout restaurant at the corner of an unassuming shopping center.

img_1372

Fuji’s first course of from upper left clockwise, yellow tail salad, uni, fish and roe, crisp taro and yam, fried soft radish, bamboo shoots. Lots of root vegetables for winter I guess. The uni was great, and way the yam and taro was made was fantastic even though I usually don’t even like either.

img_1373

Second was grilled cod (no miso unlike Shiro’s) with picked ginger (the pink and red shoot on top), and grilled chicken.

Third was a tempura selection which I didn’t take a picture of.

img_1374

Fourth was the steamed egg with scallops and shrimp.
img_1375

Selection of sushi was fifth.

img_1376

Lastly was the green tea Panna cotta with red bean paste on the bottom.

J Herbin French Ink

The fountain pens I bought in January during the great fountain pen buying binge of 2016 are now all starting to run out of ink with the cartridge that they came with.

I have bought various converters for them now so that I can use them with  various inks that are available. I started with the basic black and blue: French produced Parker Quink black, and German made Faber Castell royalblau. As I started to look at ink, it turns out there’s a whole world of ink out there. Sort of like beers, there’s all of these microbreweries that make a lot of different inks, varieties, and for different purposes. Some are quick drying, some will last hundreds of years, some are fade resistant, some are water resistant, some are special editions, commemorative editions, limited editions, small batches, and some even come with gold flakes.

I decided to give J. Herbin a try. They have been making ink since 1670, including inks for Louis XIV and Victor Hugo.  What’s good enough for the Sun King and author of Les Mis is good enough for me. They also make the ink with gold flakes. I went with the more standard ink line modestly named La Perle des Encres aka the pearl of inks. Of the 30 rather inventively named colors, I decided to give Vert reseda (green reseda) and Café des îles (island coffee) a try.

I cleaned out my Lamy Safari, installed the ink converter, and likewise Pilot Metropolitan with quite a bit of a mess at first.  Then onto the new inks! Vert reseda is actually pretty close to a light teal that is more green than blue, and the island coffee is a light pleasant brown. Definitely give the writing on the page a pop. Not sure which brand and color I will try next, but just reading about some of them is already pretty entertaining.

French ink

 

Back to mechanical pencils too

pencilsAfter getting back into fountain pens after a twenty some odd years of not having used one since elementary school, I realized I also haven’t used mechanical pencils in a while since moving to the US in grade school. In Shanghai, most elementary school kids have mechanical pencils. With 1st and 2nd graders using 0.9mm and then gradually going to 0.7mm and then 0.5mm in the upper elementary grades. In the US, it was all about the Ticonderoga #2 wooden pencil. In fact, I have never seen an American style hand cranked wooden pencil sharpener until I started grade school here.

Anyway, I ended up choosing 4 different mechanical pencils after reading a few online articles. Rotring 600 ($24), Rotring 800 retractable ($40), Pentel Graph Gear 1000 ($11), and Staedtler 925 25-05 ($11). All of them in 0.5mm, and Amazon was pretty quick with the shipping and the Rotrings well below MSRP.

I started with the Rotring 600, and really enjoyed writing with it.  It is super solid, great weight, heft, balance, and just well constructed. However, the lead sleeve is pointy and I didn’t think it would survive in my bag, so I wanted to see what else was out there. Rotring makes a retractable version of the 600, the 800. The 800 adds some gold accents that took me some getting used to. Sort of like people who gold plate their Lexus emblems. But after a couple of days with it, I got used to it, and now think the tone of the accents aren’t too shiny and fits the black of the pencil rather well. The 800 is ever so slightly chubbier than the 600, and the retraction mechanism added a little bit of wobble. I opened the pencil and added a piece of tape to the inside barrel and the wobble went away. But really, shouldn’t have to MacGyver a pencil this fancy with gold accents. The 800 trades portability for added mechanical complexity and a slightly less overall solid feel than the 600.

Rotring 800 wobble fix

Pentel Graph Gear 1000 is much lighter than either Rotrings, and the retraction mechanism is activated by the clip. Pressing on the clip releasing the notch on the barrel and it moves up the main body of the pencil. It is part metal, part plastic. It is a great mechanical pencil, but because it is not as solid as the Rotrings, it writes just as well, but doesn’t feel as substantial.

Both the Pentel and the 600 have rings that you can select to remind yourself what kind of lead you have in the pencil for people with real professional use of the pencils as opposed to everyday office note taking.

The Staedtler 925 25-05 is just a nice, no frills, no nonsense, comfortable, capable mechanical pencil. The Toyota Corolla of mechanical pencils really.

When I do feel like using a pencil, the 800 will go in my bag with the Pentel as the back up. The 600 will be in the office pen cup, and the Staedtler will probably around the house as needed.

While doing research on these pencils, found out that Sharp the Japanese electronics manufacturer started out with mechanical pencils called the Ever Sharp, hence the company name Sharp.

Pretty good pork chops

Pork theme continues, this time tried to do a good old skool pork chop. I got 2 of them with bone in.

  1. Brine it with some salt for about an hour.
  2. Season it with cayenne pepper, paprika, salt, pepper, and olive oil.
  3. In a preheated cast iron skillet, brown both sides.  Took around 5 minutes.
  4. Put it in 400 degree oven to roast for ~6 minutes to cook the meat through.
  5. Take it out of the oven, let it rest for 5 minutes covered under aluminum foil.
  6. Enjoy!

pork chop

How to Tonkatsu Perfectly

After many tries, finally found a Tonkatsu (aka Japanese pork Wiener Schnitzel) that works for me.  The key is adding a table spoon of oil to the egg wash, and frying it twice at different temperatures.

  1. Pork tenderloin, cut 1 1/4 inch thick pieces. Most recipes call for pork chops, but using tenderloin here since I had some on hand.
  2. Use back of kitchen knife or tenderizer and flatten out pork to size of your hand.  Around 4X4in ish size and ~1/4 in thick depending on how big the original tenderloin is and how thick you cut the pieces.
  3. Sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides.
  4. Lightly dredge it in plenty of flour, make sure it is all covered, pat out an excess.
  5. Beaten eggs with 1 tea spoon of oil added to make egg wash.  Coat the pork pieces in it. 1 Egg will coat ~5 pieces.
  6. Panko it gently, don’t press into it.  Make sure it is covered.
  7. Fry for 3 minutes in 300 degree oil to cook the meat.
  8. Take it out and let it rest for a couple of minutes.
  9. Turn up the temperature, fry again in 355 degrees about a minute or until golden brown. The 2nd frying makes it really crispy.
  10. Enjoy!

I used the Waring DF55 home fryer with corn oil for this recipe.  I do have some refined olive oil that I will try next time to see if it makes a difference in taste since 355 is well below smoking point for both oils.

Tonkatsu 2nd fry

Twice fried on top of the cooling rack, 1st time fried bottom.

Tonkatsu finish

Finally got to eat.

Cars of Kevin Part 1: the Cadillac Cimarron

I realized that I have actually owned quite a few interesting cars in my life so far.  Let’s start at the very beginning.  My 1987 Cadillac Cimarron.  If you look anywhere on the internet, this car is guaranteed to be in the top 10 of any worst cars ever made list, and usually credited with the lowest point in Cadillac’s history, or the car that nearly killed Cadillac.  In my mind though, it was actually a really cool car for many reasons, needed competitor to Europeans, but poorly executed for the time.

The car is really a re-skinned Chevy Cavalier, and shared the same platform as a bunch of other GM cars of the time like Buicks and Oldsmobiles.  This was a huge turn off to the Cadillac buyers of the time, but common practice in the auto industry now.  For example, VW Touareg, Audi Q7, and the Porsche Cayenne uses the same platform.  This is really Cadillac’s first effort to get to a younger segment that they didn’t have before.  They are now doing so successfully with the Cadillac ATS (shares platform with Chevy Camaro BTW).  It’s a pretty good looking car.  Mine was in a lighter blue.

Cimarron

My family bought it used in the early 90s and I drove it in high school and first couple years of college.  The dash is awesome for 1987, all digital, aluminum look surrounding the instrument cluster, very 80’s futuristic. At the same time, everything is where it should be. The interior is a huge step above its Chevy cousin.  Against BMW, Audi, and Saabs of the same vintage that it was supposed to compete against, it set itself apart.

Cimarron dash

The car had a 2.8L V6 making a now absurdly low 125HP by today’s standards, but it did only weigh 2700 pounds.  3 Speed automatic, and 0-60 in 10 seconds or so.  In comparison, a 2016 Honda Fit is 2600 pounds and makes 130HP from a 1.5L engine.   The earlier models had a smaller engine and better MPG.  The V6 version MPG is around the low/mid 20s. The Cimarron cost ~$35,000 in today’s dollars, once again very much in the same segment where the Cadillac ATS is now, competing back then as now with Audis and BMWs.

Cadillac-Cimarron-November-1981-ad

The drivetrain of the Cimarron was very dependable, it did burn a little bit of oil, but the all digital panel was not.  We did not have any mechanical issues during the time we had it aside from regular maintenance.  Sadly, one by one, each display started to fail.  First it was the fuel gauge, then the oil pressure, then temperature.  Until eventually the entire main display died in mid 2000.  Getting the panel repaired would have cost much more than the car was worth, and we donated the car.  Mechanically the car was very sound after 20 years, alas, the electrics did not.

While the car is widely panned by the press, in my book on its own, without all the baggage of GM’s failures of the 80s, it was a unique, dependable, and fun car for any teenager and college student.  I will always have a soft spot for Cadillacs.  Maybe one day, a CTS-V wagon.