September 5, 2008

An evening that could have been

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I was in Taipei looking for a place to have dinner and some nice wines, and we wanted to try something new. I read about 90 A La Sante (酒食歐風朝) on the web and decided to give it a try. The place is not very big, and has a homey feel to it. The chef and managers at the restaurant were very friendly, which was a real plus. The restaurant has been opened as an annex to a wine shop, and the main business of the group is actually wine sales. I soak up the atmosphere while waiting for the others to arrive.

There are a number of set menus available, from NT$ 800 to NT$1,600. There is also a special daily set prepared by the chef, for something like NT$4,000, but we weren't quite in the mood for this.

We were given a complimentary piece of the pumpkin pie to start. The puff pastry was well-received by everyone.
We were then served two house specialties: tiny cherry tomatoes stuffed with blue cheese and topped with a dab of caviar; and escargot with onions marinated with balsamic vinaigrette, curry powder and topped with pinenut. Both came in bite-sized portions and were delicious, especially the marinated onions. So far so good!

We then had a small plate of sauteed eringi mushrooms, which were pretty decent. A plate of pan-fried cuttlefish with grilled vegetables, paired with various sauces such as vinaigrette, olive oil...etc was interesting. There was supposedly some sauce made from uni but I didn't quite get that...

There was also a plate of salad greens, with balsamic vinaigrette dressing. This was a tad more acidic than I'd like, but in general it was OK.

The soup course was a clear fish broth, with slices of fish whose identity I didn't quite confirm, although it had the texture of a type of fish that one finds in the night markets in Taiwan...

Once again I find myself wondering why the chef decided to do a soup at all... For main course I had ordered the duck leg confit.  Initially the chef refused to serve it to me, saying that she felt the leg they had was too small, and she couldn't charge me full price for it.  Not bad...a restauranteur with conscience.  She suggested the duck breast confit.  But I had my heart set on the duck leg, and she finally relented. When it came, it actually wasn't that small - certainly big enough for me anyway. While it certainly looked and tasted like confit, somehow this just didn't do it for me, and I can't quite pin down the reason. While the skin was nice and crispy, and the meat a little dry because of the cooking method, the flavor just wasn't quite there. It's a far cry from the dish that I had at Legends Concept in Hong Kong.

We finished with a small piece of cake that was pretty yummy with coffee beans inside.

BTW someone in our group ordered pan-fried scallops for the main course, and she felt the scallops weren't fresh - they were probably frozen. She was none too happy about this.

In terms of wine, I brought a bottle of 2005 Vincent Girardin Meursault 1er Cru Les Genevrieres. The nose had some minerals, petrol, toasty oak to start, then gradually showed creamy butter and finally lemon and citrus. Sweet on the palate, and obviously a "hot" vintage. As with all the 2005 Girardins, the wine needed some time to open up. Actually I thought this was not a good choice of wine for drinking now - it was clearly too young, unlike the 2005 Chassagnes I have been drinking over the last few months.

I had high hopes for the 1995 Guigal Chateau d'Ampuis that I brought, as it has been quite a few years since I popped open one of these. Unfortunately I think this bottle has been moved around quite a bit, and we can see signs of seepage on the label as well as the cork. The nose had classic mint, bacon fat, grilled meats that I would expect from a Rhone. The tannins were smooth, and the finish had some length although there was some obviously acidity there. However, this was supposed to be a big wine - the first vintage where Guigal took a few vineyards and blended the fruit into a product that sits between the famous LaLaLa's (which I so love) and the regular Cote-Rotie Brune et Blonde bottling. I didn't get the sense of power from this bottle, so I was very disappointed.

Finally, one of my colleagues brought a bottle of 2004 Le Petit Cheval, the second wine of Chateau Cheval Blanc. This wine was still very young, with classic sweet fruit, mint and smoky, grilled meats in the nose. The tannins were still very firm and chewy. While it's pleasing to drink now, I would think that the wine could use further aging.

So the evening didn't quite turn out to be what I had hoped. I would say that throughout the evening, there wasn't anything that we ate or drank that was terrible. The food was OK but nothing to write home about. The wines weren't performing as they should. It should have been a really nice evening, but just didn't quite make it. Oh well... I still need to find a nice place to go in Taipei that has good, consistent cuisine. Afterall, I can only go back to Paris 1930 so many times...

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