July 23, 2011

NOT the king of chefs

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About a week ago I was checking out some stuff on the net when I came across Scubagolfer's Plurk page.  He had posted the link to my blogpost about the cheese dinner at Caprice, and wondered how many so-called fine dining restaurants in Taipei would actually meet with my approval.  Well, it's true that there are currently less than a handful of places I find worthy in Taipei, and I'm on a mission to see if I could increase that number.

A few years ago the name Antoine Room (安東廳) - named after Marie-Antoine Carême - came up during a discussion I had with a senior banker, on the topic of the best French restaurants in town.  Despite having a history of more than 20 years, I had never heard of the place - because I haven't stepped foot in the Lai Lai / Sheraton Hotel since my days in grade school...  It's in a weird location for me, and is basically off my map.  That changes today.

I called around lunch time today to reserve for dinner.  I was informed that tables were indeed available, but I may have to sit along the walkway and the table might be close to the entrance.  No problem, I said.  I just wanted a table where I could eat.

I arrived to a half-empty restaurant, and was led to a comfortable booth near the back of the restaurant.  WTF?  I'm not complaining about my seating, but why did the staff have to warn me about being seated near the entrance/walkway, when they weren't anywhere near full?  Minus one.

I took a look at the menu, and from the composition of the dinner sets I can deduce that when Taiwanese people come to have "Western" or French meals, they expect a steak as their main course.  Many of my local friends can point me to their favorite place for steak, but have a hard time coming up with places where beef isn't the focal point.  Anyway... Another WTF moment came when I saw a shark's fin and sea urchin course as part of the most expensive set dinner.  Shark's fin and French food?!  Did they run out of ingredients to justify the high price?  Minus two.

I took the mid-priced set, and asked to change my main course from steak to lamb chops.

Amuse bouche - a trio consisting of:
Black plum vinegar

Cream cheese on toast

"Italian dumpling with duck" - Huh?  Italian?  Phyllo pastry?  Dude, this doesn't look anything like Italian to me... rather like an samosa or what it turned out to be - a Moroccan bisteeya which is sometimes made with duck instead of pigeon.  The presence of cumin and sesame seeds inside confirmed the identity...

Antoine's duck liver pate with fresh fig - this was pretty good.  The paté itself was rich and smooth, and a little salty.  It paired very well with the fig, but the accompanying brioche was woefully dry.

Braised river eel and mushroom risotto with red wine sauce - FAIL.  The flavor of the eel was very strong, and I am almost reminded of the lampoire I had at La Tupiña in Bordeaux.  Not a fan.  Lone saving grace was the little chunk of petit salé I found in the bowl.  The risotto was a complete failure, with some clumps of congealed cheese or cream mixed together with rice that was overcooked and mushy on the outside, while some grains were chewy or kinda al dente inside.  The last time I tasted risotto this bad - other than my own failure - was at Les Deux Magots in Paris...

Creamy apple soup with Alaska king crab meat - I must be dyslexic, because the word "creamy" didn't register in my brain at all... I was expecting a clear, fruity apple soup when  the creamy, milky liquid was poured into my bowl.  Apparently the soup was made by adding fish stock, white wine and brandy to apple juice.  I could definitely taste the white wine...  There were diced onions and celery below the king crab.

Pan-fried Boston lobster and tagiatelle pasta with truffle olive oil - Umm... I think the pasta is called "tagliatelle"... The lobster was OK, if perhaps slightly overcooked.  The pasta was OK, too... I saw lots of cream sauce, not olive oil...

Peach sorbet - this was introduced as lemon and verbena sorbet, but after a few mouthfuls we had to reconfirm with another waitress, who told us it was peach with a little yogurt.  This is why it tasted a little like Yakult...

Grilled New Zealand lamb chops - I asked for medium rare, and while the meat was still a little pink, it wasn't medium rare.  I guess that's to be expected in Taiwan.  The sauce was made with some Parma ham and mustard seeds.  The meat had enough "lammy" taste for me, at least...  I started to cut into a big wedge of veggie, which seemed pretty tough and required a little effort to cut.  I was flabbergasted when I found out what it was - a piece of preserved bamboo shoot (筍乾).  W-T-F... I am all for chefs using local ingredients and all, but neither the strong smell/taste of this nor the tough texture qualified it as a good accompaniment to the meat.

Grape jelly cocktail - while I liked the refreshing feeling from the jelly and the grapes - especially the one grape on top that actually still had the delicious skin - I didn't understand the chef's use of the cream on top.  Basically marred what otherwise would have been a perfectly good dessert, but that's just my personal taste...

Food-wise, this was OK but not very exciting.  Like many other restaurants, I would have a hard time finding a reason that draws me back.  Service, though, was very good.  The staff were courteous and efficient, even if smiles were sometimes absent from their faces.  Wine service was excellent, as they kept to small pours into our glasses without me having to say a word.  Cheap corkage, too, for a restaurant in this price range...

2000 Guigal Château d'Ampuis - the wine was served too warm at first, and gave off lots of hot alcohol, and ripe fruits like prunes.  Also notes of wood, forest, became a little perfumed  with a hint of floral notes after 1 hour in the decanter.  Grilled meats, spices and roasted coffee beans showed up later.  Lovely to drink, but where are the violet and floral notes that I love so much?

1 comment:

scubagolfer said...

Many chefs, local & foreign, had drifted through Antoine Room's kitchen during the past decade. Currently, I can only describe their food as 'Tai-Continental-Fusion-SteakhouseWannabe', but it works/garners business for the hotel.

Plurk is much more popular here than Tweeter or Weibo, drop me a message there anytime.^^


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