March 10, 2011

Eating palatial treasures

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I flew back to Taipei today to celebrate mom's birthday with her.  I had long heard about Silks Palace (故宮晶華), the restaurant at the Palace Museum (故宮博物院), as they have created a few special dishes inspired by a few of the museum's prized national treasures.  The dishes sure looked pretty in the official pictures, but I wondered if they tasted any good.  Given that the restaurant is managed by the Grand Formosa Regent (晶華酒店), I figured it couldn't be too bad...

Braised e-fu noodles (乾燒伊府麵) - this was supposed to come at the end of the meal, but for some reason it was the first to show up on the table... Oh well, so we kicked off the meal with longevity noodles (長壽麵) in honor of mom's birthday.  This was actually surprisingly decent, with some wok hei (鑊氣) I really liked.

Steamed char siu buns (蜜汁叉燒包) - these were OK.

Pan-fried radish cake (腊味蘿蔔糕) - disappointed as there wasn't enough radish so the texture was wrong.

Fried pork slices with red lees (紅糟肉) - the pork was easy half fat, which made it better, of course.  Unfortunately there wasn't enough of the red lees flavoring, and I didn't care for the Taiwanese-style batter as it comes out powdery.

The rest of the dishes are from the restaurant's "Imperial Treasures Feast (國寶宴)" collection:

Jadeite cabbage with insects (翠玉白菜) - this was anticlimactic... This heart of baby Chinese cabbage (娃娃菜) had been "sculpted" but didn't look as pretty as I had hoped.  There was a single sakura shrimp (桜海老) which was meant to mimic the locust in the original piece.  Taste was rather bland, and there wasn't enough of the dried conpoy sauce...

Courtesy of NPM
The original jadeite, from the Qing Dynasty (清朝), is undoubtedly the single-most famous piece of national treasure among the Palace Museum's vast collection.

Buddha's tureen in ting cauldron with string decoration (弦紋鼎佛跳牆) - this is commonly known as "Buddha jumps over the wall".  In terms of flavors I thought it was pretty decent, as the combination of the abalone, scallop and pan-fried pork worked well. But this most certainly wasn't the best value one could find for this dish, as it basically was half the cost of the entire meal.

The vessel above was inspired by this bronze ting cauldron (鼎) dating from China's Warring States Period (戰國時代).

Meat-shaped stone (肉形石) - this piece of braised pork belly was OK.  The skin and fat were delicious enough, although the lean meat at the bottom could have been a bit more tender.  The meat rests on a bed of shredded loofah (絲瓜).

Courtesy of NPM
The original piece of stone from the Qing Dynasty does look like a chunk of fatty pork belly...

Chicken wing stuffed with glutinous rice (香苗藏鳳袖) - presentation is no longer as pretty as the official photo, but this was definitely one yummy chicken wing!  The glutinous rice stuffing inside has dried shrimps and conpoy, making it very tasty.  Curiously, this was provided with a sweet chili dipping sauce common used in Thai cuisine.  This was inspired by a bronze sculpture of a bird.

Classic desserts in Chinese curio box (多寶閣甜點集) - pretty interesting mix, with some pretty creations.  Mom got her longevity bun (壽桃), and there was another version of the jadeite cabbage but with egg yolk cream (奶黃) inside.  Pretty good.

This being mom's birthday, I brought out another bottle of wine from her birth vintage.  I've run out of reds from that vintage, so I pulled out a sweet Bordeaux which I managed to pick up on my last trip to Singapore oh-so-many years ago...  Mom was pretty happy about this bottle, but the surprise was my 97-year old grandma gulping down whatever was poured in her glass... in one go!  We told her it wasn't wine and she believed us...

1943 Doisy-Daëne (rebouché au château 2006) - honey, nutty, orange marmalade, grapey, very rich. Thick and viscous. A very long finish of more than 45 seconds.

I'm glad I finally got the opportunity to check out the food at Silks Palace.  I always knew that we would likely be paying a premium for the decor as well as the presentation.  Overall I think the food was at least decent, and nothing came out horribly wrong.  Was it touristy and a little pricey?  For sure, but I'm happy to have tried it once.

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