September 28, 2009

Hot new destination in Taipei

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Tonight I got together with a bunch of finance types in Taipei, all of whom are into food and wine.  They chose one of the hottest restaurants in town - Abu - as the venue.  This was just perfect, since my friends were just asking if I had given this a try...

The chef Abu - who is originally from Hong Kong - used to be the chef at Tutto Bello.  Many people in Taipei are fond of this Italian establishment, although on my last visit a few years ago I was less than impressed.  I checked out a few reviews of this place on the net, and I was pretty excited about trying this place.

The restaurant is still pretty new and was getting some rave reviews, so they were pretty packed.  We weren't able to book the private room in the basement, and ended up squeezing together as we became a party of 11 instead of 8...  Naturally, we ran into a friend who ended up sitting at the next table!  I guess word about this place got around fast...

We did not ask the chef to prepare a special tasting menu for us, so we ended up ordering the slightly more expensive of the two set menus.

I think they were a bit overwhelmed by our group, so the service level was slightly off.  First they had to deal with the fact that we increased our headcount, and scrambled to find a way to fit all of us in the space.  Then we had brought a bunch of wines for the meal, which they definitely didn't expect, and spent some time trying to organize the wines and the glasses.  Right off the bat, they basically forgot to serve us the welcome cup of Eastern Beauty tea (東方美人) - which was a little disappointing.  They also struggled to come up with enough glasses and decanters to cope with our wines, for which I don't blame them.  After all, they weren't expecting 11 people x multiple changes of wine glasses.  But one of the captains did break the cork when opening the best bottle of wine, and I found that annoying.

King crab legs, lobster and scallop salad - a nice combination of seafood to start us off.  Served with pesto sauce, olive oil and some cream over arugula and frisée.

Pan-fried foie gras with apple sauce - the foie was done well, as it was charred on the outside while soft and moist inside.  Pairing it with apple was a classic combo, although the texture was unexpected in the form of apple sauce.  The red peppercorns garnished on top gave a bit of extra kick/bite and was pretty interesting.

Cream of mushroom soup - not to take anything away from Abu, but I never find this very interesting... hence I didn't even bother taking a picture.

Langoustine with sweet corn mash - actually the yellow blob on the bottom was a cross between mash and polenta in terms of consistency, with whole kernels of corn.  The salsa on top was pretty interesting.  But the langoustine itself was a disaster - it was mushy!  I expect my langoustines to be fresh, firm and bouncy, not soft and mushy like mashed potato... Bleh!

Rose granita - every review on the net talked about how interesting and intense this was, but I didn't think it was all that... Yes, I could taste the rose but only mildly - which was just as well since this is a palate-cleanser and not supposed to hijack my taste buds.

For main course I picked the ox tongue braised in red wine, despite most net reviewers raving about the osso bucco or the skate wing.  As the chef came from Tutto Bello, an Italian restaurant, I had an image in my mind of the tasty ox tongue I used to have at Cipriani in Hong Kong.  Well...what I got didn't exactly fit with the picture in my head.  First of all, the slices were pretty thin instead of being thick-cut like the traditional Italian style.  Then the chef got creative (guess I can't blame him for trying) and drizzled potato mash on top, which I initially thought was mayo but was grateful to discover otherwise.  There was a bit of black truffle sauce on top, and the red wine sauce didn't turn out to be very heavy.  Not one of my favorite ox tongue dishes.

Fortunately, a friend of mine was kind enough to cut me a piece of his osso bucco, which was very tender and cuts like butter.  Guess I should have followed the crowd...

Strawberries with almond cream - the strawberries were very ripe, almost seem like they were lightly poached.  The taste of almonds was more intense than I expected - probably from real almonds instead of extract - which I liked very much.

Coffee mousse cake with vanilla ice cream - not bad, and the chef used real vanilla ice cream with the seeds.

We were offered some madeleines and what I think were described as amarettis stuck together with some lemon cream.  The latter was OK but the former was kinda disappointing.  This is the second restaurant I've been to this year which failed to make a decent madeleine... what's going on?

I was a little buzzed by this time, and made the mistake of ordering coffee instead of tea.  It completely slipped my mind that the tea on offer isn't just your regular black tea - although that is available - but supposedly nicely aged Pu Er (普洱).  Aarrrggghhh....

Now onto the wines.  There was an abundance of bottles and we didn't get around to opening them all, which was just as well.  I don't think the restaurant could have handled any more wine glass changes!

2004 Château de Fonsalette Côtes du Rhône Blanc - this wine did not disappoint, with a sweet and slightly oxidized nose and notes of pear and apricot.  Surprisingly very ripe on the palate with a bit of butter and a slightly bitter finish.

2006 Lucien Le Moine Volnay 1er Cru Les Caillerets - from arguably the best plot of land in the appellation, this was a beautiful wine from a vintage that's overshadowed by the great 2005s.  Reasonably sweet on the nose with farmy, bacon fat and Asian spice notes.  Drinking pretty well now even without much aeration.

1989 Jaboulet La Chapelle - I've been waiting to open this bottle for some time now, and it wasn't bad.  Initially a bit grassy and a hint of vegetal notes, it opened up to reveal lots of sweetness with ripe prunes, pine needles and a little "hot" and alcoholic.  On the palate it was smooth but still full-bodied, although it faded and by the end the finish was somewhat acidic.

1989 Troplong Mondot - another wine I've been dying to open.  Classic Bordeaux with peppery and smoky nose, a reasonable amount of fruit core with a full-blown palate and a long finish.  Was this bottle deserving of the 96 points from Parker? Not quite.

2003 Sassicaia - a generous contribution from a fellow diner.  The wine is still young but you can see the potential.  Nose of sweet fruit, black cherries and smoke.  Still a bit alcoholic.  The captain actually knocked the bottle to the ground as he was opening another bottle... fortunately it didn't break.

2007 Mollydooker Carnival of Love - I was sure that the wine would be too young, but my friend was pretty set on opening this and sharing it with everyone.  We opened the screw top, poured a bit of the wine out into a separate glass, then my friend proceeded to shake the bottle vigorously in an attempt to aerate the wine.  Apparently this process - called the Mollydooker Shake - is recommended by Sparky and Sarah Marquis who are the proprietors of the winery.  I can certainly understand why.  These wines are total fruit bombs and people seem to want to drink them very young, so the only way to make these wines palatable was to be unconventional and shake things up a little!  Well, as much as I have a preference for big wines, this was still too much for me.  Huge, sweet nose with coffee, toffee, vanilla, caramel, cotton candy, tangerine, iron and mineral notes.  Very alcoholic at 16%.  I think people should wait a few more years for the edges to wear off a bit...

I was a pretty happy camper by the end of the meal.  Not only did I get to try out a new and hot restaurant in Taipei, but I drank some good wines and caught up with old friends.  Abu is a pretty decent restaurant, but does it have "shadows of Robuchon" was some people suggest?  Not in my book.  The real L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon is supposed to open in town sometime in mid- to late-October.  I look forward to the real deal.

1 comment:

whiskey decanter sets said...

Wow! This looks great! I am so impressed!


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