September 30, 2009

Just come in...

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I haven't spent much time in Taipei since I left my banking job, so it's been a while since I caught up with some of my old colleagues.  Tonight they were kind enough to take me to Just in Bistro, somewhere I've been wanting to try since the place opened.  The man behind this hot venue is Asia's own celebrity chef Justin Quek, who still has La Petite Cuisine in Taipei and is opening two new venues in Hong Kong.

Unlike some of Justin's other establishments - he is known for his high-end French creations - this place is all about casual dining.  A reasonable wine list and a menu full of "tapas" served with pitchers of sangria... The combination makes for a lively and inviting atmosphere - a place you can just drop in after work.

Confit of cherry tomatoes and Mediterranean olives - the tomatoes were pretty has been removed and you get the full flavors.

Marinated fish carpaccio with fresh herbs - a refreshing dish that's not bad.

Clams a la Mariniere in casserole - standard fare that's done well.  Came in a little red Le Creuset mini casserole.

Forest King pizza - very yummy with mushrooms and black truffle paste on top...guess it's all about 'shrooms!

Fried "rillons" pork - how could I resist fatty pork belly, especially when it's deep-fried?  I happily devoured a few pieces in quick succession.  I think some of the fat has been extracted in the frying process, though...

Seafood croquettes - not bad...I could feel the chunks of shrimp inside in addition to fish and crab meat.

Fried farm chicken, lemon mayo - a bit Japanese in style with a lingering taste of ginger.  Lemon mayo works well.

Char-grilled brochette of chicken liver, spiced red wine glaze - very nice... liver was not overdone and was still soft and wobbly.

Steak frites - I actually didn't touch the steak, but the fries - sprinkled with black pepper - disappeared in no time.

We took in a few desserts to wrap up the meal, but I was honestly pretty disappointed.  The one highlight here was the fact that they had canelés, and these were done pretty well.  My good friend sitting next to me mentioned that he's had three tries at making these, so I naturally should expect delivery of a dozen perfectly done canelés on my next visit...

We ordered Justin's signature tarte tatin, but were told that the restaurant had run out of vanilla ice cream... Huh?  How does this happen?  The waitress offered us red bean ice cream instead, which we emphatically refused.  After some discussion with the wait staff, we dispatched a team to the nearest convenience store and procured a pint of Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream.  Just as it was in Shanghai earlier in the month, the bottom piece of the pastry fell off as I was cutting into the thin tarte...

We were all stunned beyond words when the profiteroles arrived.  We had already told the  wait staff that we would not want red bean ice cream as a substitute for vanilla for the tarte tatin.  So what did they do but insert scoops of red bean ice cream into the puffs?  The combination was awful.

We adjourned to the newly opened Hotel Quote, a boutique hotel opened by one of the friends who dined with us tonight.  We took a tour of the hotel guest's pantry/dining area as well as one of the rooms, and proceeded to examine every little thing to get a sense of the thought process behind the creation and the attention to detail.  I must say I was very, very impressed.  My friend and his team definitely had put a lot of thought into how each element in the room would be utilized by the guests.  This certainly looked like a hotel that I would want to stay in when I travel.

We moved back to 333, the bar/restaurant just off the lobby.  With lots of silver relief on the walls and ceiling, one could argue that the place was very "bling".  The good thing is that the lighting was rather soft, and it was more of an "elegant bling" rather than being in-your-face.  The whole place had a nice and cool lounge feel to it.

It was getting late so we left after a drink.  This was definitely a fun evening, and I look forward to getting together with this gang again...sooner rather than later.

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