November 7, 2008

The ass and the Idiot

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Tonight I met up with a few old friends in Taipei, and tried out a relatively new place called L'Idiot. The restaurant is run by a friend (and ex-colleague), so there was a lot of anticipation on my part.

The new establishment occupies the former space of Tony Roma's, and I must say thngs are much improved. As you step through the doors, what hits you are two large, irregular structures which dominate the room. Because of the mosaic covering the structures, I am immediately reminded of both Barcelona's Park Güell (esp. the iguana) and the dining room at Ukai-tei in Tokyo. The room was airy and bright, and nice solid wood is used throughout the room.

Our owner/friend tells us that the name L'Idiot comes from the movie L.A. Stories, which is a movie that I remember well. In the movie, the French restauraunt was so snooty that they dictated what their customers can order by examining their financial status. I'm glad they won't be doing it here...

We decided to forgo the tasting menus, and ordered a number of dishes a la carte to share. This was definitely the way to do it with our group, since we had a bit of everything to go around and go to taste what the restaurant had to offer.

Homemade Ricotta - a hint of lemon, pretty light on the palate. Very nice with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and served on slices of baguette.

Fig salad - a simple salad with sweet figs and, surprisingly, bits of Chinese sausage.

Country pâté - nicely done with some herbs and served with thin slices of baguette.

Headcheese - this was something that jumped out at me, since so few restaurants serve it. It was very good, but what we got was only a tasting portion and the whole thing was probably not even enough for me...

Foie gras slices - almost like carpaccio. Once you put them on the baguette slices and it warmed up, the foie gras basically melted... Yummy when drizzled with balsamic vinegar.

Wagyu carpaccio with molten organic egg - the thin, fatty slices of beef were delicious. The egg has been deep-fried with breading on the outside, but the yolk was still liquid and viscous - hence the "molten" description. Reminds me of Scotch eggs without sausage.

Tripe with tomato and chickpeas - I'm always a fan of tripe, and they've done it well here.

Uni and roasted bone marrow risotto - a recommendation from the owner so we ordered two portions. The interesting combination of uni and bone marrow made for a very rich and creamy risotto. The rice was reasonably al dente, although it still has some way to go to match Cipriani's level. Of course, I'm not sure that the Taiwanese palate would actually take what the Italians can offer...Many Asians would probably complain that the rice isn't fully cooked...

Gnocchi with pancetta and pumpkin sauce - I remarked to the owner that I've only seen big gnocchi chunks in Taipei. Apparently this is a conscious effort on their part to make them big. Anyway the dish was pretty good, with the sweetness of the pumpkin providing a good balance to the salty pancetta.

Duck breast with orange and mango - the classic dish with a slight twist by adding mango. Generous portion of using a whole breast, and quite nicely done.

Lamb chops - 4 pieces of this were served, all nice and juicy and tender. Pink enough to retain the juice and flavors. My only gripe is that it is too bland and doesn't taste like lamb... but I think most customers would like it.

Side dishes:
Grilled mushrooms - very nice with some pieces a bit dry and chewy on the edges. Intensely flavored.

Mac and cheese - I love mac and cheese and wanted to try out their version. This was done au gratin - with a nice, hard crust on top. It was certainly very cheesy and hit the spot. However, I disagree with the chef's choice of American cheese, and personally prefer cheddar for something slightly stronger and cheesier.

Passion fruit and vanilla soufflé - pretty nicely done and no complaints here.

Caramelized fruits with vanilla ice cream - this was OK but not really special in my view.

I didn't try the molten chocolate cake, since I've had this thing to death since 15 years ago and now refuse to eat it...

As for drinks, we started with a round of cocktails on the house. I brought a bottle of 1997 Cos d'Estournel, which was decanted for about an hour before serving. This was a classic Bordeaux, with a bit of smoke wrapped around the red fruit core of the nose. The wine was very silky smooth on the palate. A very enjoyable wine.

I have to say that this was a really enjoyable meal. Everything was very well made, and reflect the care that the owners and chef put into creating the best possible experience. This is not a highfalutin restaurant (like its namesake in L.A. Stories) but a place that serves us good, solid food and reasonable prices in a relaxed dining atmosphere.

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