September 20, 2010

Paying for a home-cooked meal

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I'm getting together with a few friends in Taipei, and the venue is usually "Western" because of the presence of wine.  Tonight, however, we met somewhere that seems to have gathered a fair amount of praise lately.  D-Jen Food (鼎珍坊) seemed like one of those restaurants I'd always complain about - mixing dishes from various cuisines together so it's no longer simply Cantonese, Shanghainese, or whatever.

The restaurant was busy, and the evening was pretty hectic in terms of the arrival of dishes.  We started with one of the signatures here - tongue-swallowing good (吞舌菜).  This combination of mushrooms, bamboo shoots, edamame (毛豆), black fungus and tofu (素雞) is supposed to be so good that one would accidentally swallow one's tongue while enjoying the dish.  I didn't.  And I didn't think it was anything special, either... It's a homey dish, and mom would definitely kick the chef's ass on this one.

Braised goose web (燉鵝掌) - pretty good in terms of the soft texture as well as the flavor.  Didn't see anything accompanying the webs, so a little plain...

Braised pig trotter (豬手) - these trotters weren't braised with soy sauce, and retained their pale, pinkish color.  A little on the salty side, but certainly soft and tender - unlike the chewier Taiwanese style trotters.

There were a series of dishes like stir-fried beef with scallions (蔥爆牛肉), stir-fried shredded cuttlefish (炒雙絲), steamed minced pork patty (蒸肉餅)... which were alright.

The house specialty beef noodle (牛肉麵) came but I didn't see the big bowl.  It was served to us in small bowls, but the waitress didn't tell me what it was, so I let it sit in the bowl for a long time...  The beef in clear broth (清燉牛肉) was tasty, but the handmade noodle squares - a little like the northern Chinese 饃 or 麵疙瘩 - had soaked up all the soup and became soggy.

A second round of orders went to the kitchen, and out came dishes like these deep-fried fish... Not sure which variety but they sure were yummy!  There was also some stir-fried omelette that was pretty good.

Finally, there were the pan-fried dumplings (生煎包).  These were definitely not OK.  Has the chef ever had an authentic one from Shanghai?  I think not.  These should be pan-fried until the skin on the contact side with the pan is golden brown and crispy.  Preferably, there should be enough meat juices inside the dumplings.  Definitely not the case here.  A very, very far cry from what I would get in Shanghai... or even in Hong Kong!

I should know better than to bring wine to a Chinese restaurant in Taipei... but we always drink wine, so we opened the 2004 Kistler Chardonnay McCrea Vineyard.  Classic Kistler Chard with that heavy, toasty oak and vanilla.  Rich and buttery.

The waitress took away the next two bottles of red and didn't come back for a long time.  When I offered to open the wines myself, she felt embarrassed and insisted on doing it, even though it should have been done half an hour before.  I should have insisted on opening the wine myself...  She ended up breaking the cork of the 2001 Kongsgaard Syrah, leaving half of it in the bottle.  She then tried to salvage the situation by pouring the wine into a pitcher, but somehow decided to use one that had just been washed in very hot water.  As if the room temperature wasn't warm enough, we would now be drinking hot wine...  I was livid.  I tried to get as much of the floating bits of broken cork as I could into my tiny glass.  The wine was still fairly fruity and sweet, with prominent cassis notes.

Finally there was the 2005 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvnignon, which was nice and young, and typical Californian Cab.

I thought the food was decent, but more like a home-cooked meal than a real "foodie" or classy restaurant.  But the price was a little more than what one should be paying for food of this caliber.  Given that mom can do a better job on at least half the dishes we had tonight, what would be my incentive to return?


Unknown said...

Hi Peter
I really enjoy reading your blogs on the many food and wine pairings you have had. It is indeed fun to have a group like MNSC. I am from Manila Philippines and I also have a group like yours which indulges in food and wine pairing.
Anyway, I am very interested to know where you get your wines. In one of your blogs, you mentioned that you source your good bottles from UK.
In my case, I source my good bottles from America like Vinfolio, K&L, Cellaraiders and others in
If you would be so kind to share with me your source, I would appreciate it very much. If ever, please send your reply to my email addresses as follow:

It is the start of the "ber" months and I am sure to read about more hairy crab dishes in your next blogs.

Thank you and best regards

Nelson Uy

Beef No Guy said...

Peech, thanks for your comments on my short writeup of this place. I see that you did not like your meal at DJF and it is understandable, since you obviously have better access to better and more authentic private kitchen fare in HK (I personally do not as I am only a visitor).

When I went to DJF last year, I did not do the ordering, but we also didn't have quite a few of the dishes you had, and certainly not SJB.

It is very expensive due to the location, and yes I agree, not everything is Cantonese, but more so Cantonese style. But I was still impressed with what they were able to do, even though it doesn't taste like HK. Then again I don't think authentic HK Cantonese exists in Taipei for the most part, mostly Cantonese style re-interpreted for Taiwanese. Not a meal I would shell out that much $ for...


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