February 10, 2010

A Taiwanese adaptation

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I'm back in Taipei today and met up with some friends I used to work with, as I haven't caught up with them for a few months.  Food & Beverage (巷弄) is a casual place that's close to the office, and had been recommended to me by a friend some time ago.  There's no menu and what you get is dependent upon both the pleasure of the owner as well as your budget.

We arrived to find the small restaurant filled with businessmen in their 40s to 60s, making the three ladies at our table the only female customers of the night.  A closer look at the crowd revealed the CEOs of several financial firms as well as the stock exchange among them, all having a good time over the food and some wine.

The starter platter was traditionally Taiwanese for celebrating the new year - slices of raw radish and garlic shoots to accompany slices of dried mullet roe (烏魚子), slices of pork and fish cake in tofu skin, and sausage that was very spicy and smoky.  The mullet roe stuck to my teeth as I expected, but I love this stuff.

Next came the steamed free-range chicken (土雞).  The meat was pretty tender and tasted pretty nice, even the breast meat.  The red onions on the side was marinated in a Japanese dressing, and the acidity was refreshing.

The pan-seared scallop and tiger prawn was pretty good. The scallop was perfect - lightly seared on the outside and still raw and tender in the middle.  The prawn was a little more cooked but still pretty decent.  The combination of basil, garlic and cherry tomatoes on the side look Italian at first glance, but the taste was all Taiwanese.  The basil used isn't the Italian sweet basil but the local varietal 九層塔, which is much stronger in flavor.

The steamed black cod (蒸銀鱈魚) was very local.  While I love cod and steamed fish in general for the tenderness, this was just a little toooo watery, to the point where I thought I was eating a sponge...as each chewing action seemed to release more juice into my mouth.  Did the chef just soak this in a ton of water being cooking?  The liberal use of ginger, spring onions and soy sauce made it almost Cantonese.

The beef that followed was pretty decent.  It was fatty enough to be juicy and tender, and it was seared nicely to be just a little charred at the edges.  The praise from the crowd, though, was for the kale (芥蘭) which accompanied the beef.  We're spoiled in Hong Kong  but it's not easy to get really good kale in Taiwan.

The traditional clam soup was nice in flavor, but the clams themselves were waaaay overcooked.  In fact I don't ever recall having clams this tough in Taiwan.  Was it because the clams weren't fresh?

We wanted to try some carbs so we added the linguine with calamari in pesto sauce.  Pretty decent and a good way to fill up those empty pockets in my stomach.

I brought a bottle of 1997 Turley Zinfandel Old Vines, which had just been shaken around all day in my checked suitcase.  The wine needed some aeration and the nose eventually came out.  Spicy and smoky at first, there was also sweet fruit, toffee and a little bit of Christmas potpourri.  Unfortunately we had to drink this out of small wine glasses, as the nice ones were all used up by the financial bigwigs who arrived before us...

For the price we paid (or should I say the price someone else paid for me...) I thought this was a nice place to have a pretty casual meal.  Arthur the owner started this about 5 years ago and he's clearly got a good clientele.  Let's see what we get on the our next visit.

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