March 31, 2011

The local idiot

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I met up with my very very very single friend John for dinner tonight.  It's been a while since my first visit to L'Idiot (驢子餐廳), which is run by John and his brother Fudy, so I was happy to return.  I was very impressed with the menu last time, as there were off-beat items which is what usually gets me excited.  John told me that Fudy had planned a series of dishes for us to showcase the latest menu.  We would find him table-side with the arrival of each course, explaining the origin of the ingredients as well as the inspiration for some of the dishes.

Cold king crab legs egg custard with salmon roe and marinated strawberry (冷製帝王蟹腳茶碗蒸, 花椰菜泥, 香菜油, 醃製草莓, 鮭魚卵, 馬蜂橙葉) - this is actually a variation on the Japanese chawanmushi (茶碗蒸し).  The juices from the crab legs are used in the egg custard, and the pairing with salmon roe was nicely done.  The seaweed was sourced from a local fish market, and although Fudy said he added some chiffonade of kaffir lime leaves - and I thought I spotted a few - I really couldn't taste the distinct flavors for some reason...  Good start to the meal.

Fresh abalone confit, cuttlefish and sliced mullet roe (香料油封鮑魚, 花枝, 薄切烏魚子, 紅蘿蔔泥, 咖啡餅, 香橙) - the abalone was alright, with an interesting mix of fennel seeds and finely diced orange zest on top.  The carrot purée was nice, although I didn't quite understand the nutmeg meringue.  Fudy said he created the dish after tasting a really old Bourbon, but unfortunately my unsophisticated palate didn't really get the similarity...

Short-necked clams, sea urchin and tofu tortellini - the presence of the acidic sudachi (酢橘) was obvious in the sauce for the short-necked clams (海瓜子).  The tortellini underneath the Parmesan crisp was tasty and interesting.  The nasturtium (早金蓮) leaves are supposed to have an interesting peppery taste, although once again my unsophisticated palate failed me...

Organic Cherry duck breast, foie gras, duck egg and caramelized popcorn (有機櫻桃鴨胸, 香橙, 葡萄柚, 紅酒陳皮醬汁) - the duck from Yilan (宜蘭) was delicious and done just right.  Fudy called this a duck oyakodon (親子丼)...  The sauce is based on red wine and mirin (ミリン), with some preserved orange zest (陳皮) as orange does work well with duck.  The little sansho leaves (木の芽) are always interesting.  Not sure about the rationale behind the caramel popcorn, but I would never say no to this!  I did find the slice of grapefruit unbearably sour, though...

Pan-fried Atlantic halibut, seaweed in beurre blanc, pear roasted in brown butter, lentils (嫩煎大比目魚, 水梨, 海帶“Beurre Blanc”醬汁, 燉扁豆) - the execution for the halibut was perfect... the skin was crispy and lovely, while the flesh was succulent and melted in my mouth.  Interesting that there was both beurre blanc and beurre noisette in the same dish.  Very yummy.

Aligot - I saw this on the menu and my heart leapt with excitement.  I had been wanting to try this specialty from Auvergne for soooo long... but never got around to it the last few times I was in France.  I requested that the kitchen send us a serving... and it came in a Le Creuset cocotte.  I tried to take a video as the waitress twirled it around with spoons before plating, but I was totally out of practice and failed miserably.  In order to adapt to local tastes, Mozzarella and Fontina were used instead of the more traditional choices for cheese.    While it may not have been 100% "authentic", it was still enjoyable to me.

Cinnamon apple and puff pastry with vanilla ice cream and Earl Grey sauce (肉桂香蘋果, 泡芙脆餅, 卡仕達鮮奶油, 香草冰淇淋, 焦糖榛果, 熱伯爵茶醬汁) - a variation on the tart tatin... the addition of milky Earl Grey tea was pretty unique and interesting.  The caramelized hazelnuts added fragrance and crunch.

I didn't bring wine tonight, but we did order a bottle off the restaurant's list.  The 2004 Leeuwin Estate Art Series Riesling had lots of petrol in the nose, with flint and plenty of polyurethane. Also lots of toast, like roasted corn cobs, and kinda floral. Ripe but not sweet like the Germans.

Since my last visit, the menu had seen some significant changes as they tried to adapt to local tastes.  To be honest, your average Taiwanese diner isn't very sophisticated when it comes to "Western" cuisines... and off-beat items that interest people like me just won't sell, hence makes no business sense.  It's a shame, really, because I see Fudy as a younger version of David from On Lot 10... with lots of passion and always in pursuit of new and interesting ways to tantalize his clients.  The difference - besides the obvious age gap as well as experience - is that On Lot 10 has a more cosmopolitan demographic due to its location... and can actually thrive without needing to resort to the tried-and-true items like foie gras, lobster bisque, roast chicken and steak.  I can only hope that over the next few years, the palates of my fellow Taiwanese can improve enough...

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