August 24, 2011

Seafood disaster

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I had long read about Osteria by Angie from a few local blogs - apparently it is one of the newer and popular restaurants in town.  As I continue to eat my way across Taipei, in search of newer discoveries, it was inevitable that I would tick this off my list of places to try.  So when my Very Very Very Single Friend (added a third "Very" at his request) asked me where I wanted to go, I didn't even hesitate before blurting out the name of this place.

I arrived on time despite having been warned by the Very Very Very Single Friend that he would be late, and for the rest of us to start first.  I gave the bottle of wine to a waiter and asked for it to be opened.  The cork was promptly pulled out, and the bottle marked with a sticker to indicate which table it belonged to.  But it was left on a counter far, far away from me.

I saw a couple of decanters on the shelf, and proceeded to ask a waiter to have the bottle decanted.  The junior flunky probably knows absolutely nothing about wine, and didn't really know what I was talking about.  His fellow senior waiter got the message, and proceeded to give the flunky a decanter and told him to dump the wine in it.  And dump he did... every last drop from the bottle... in about 10 seconds.  Thankfully this was a Burg from a relatively weak vintage, and there wasn't any visible sediment.  Sigh...

I was pretty hungry and wasn't gonna last until everyone else arrived, so I ordered some prosciutto e rucola bruschetta.  These looked pretty decent, and the prosciutto was tasty, but somehow I just didn't like the way the whole thing tasted.  It was the tomatoes.  Finely chopped and referred to as "tomato tartar" on the menu (interestingly it's the first time I've heard it described that way), it just wasn't very juicy.  The skin was thick and tough, and the whole thing was drier than I am normally used to.  But I was starving, so I inhaled.

Salumi misti - we shared this among the four of us, and this was OK.  I was a little surprised by the jar of pickled vegetables, though...

Spaghetti chitarra con bottarga e prezzemolo - I'm so predictable... As soon as I saw the word "bottarga" I was done...  Unfortunately my heart sank when the pasta arrived.  First of all it was swimming in oil - which is never a good thing.  The pasta was slightly overcooked, and not al dente at all.  Then the roe wasn't what I had expected, either.  Maybe I should have paid close attention to the Chinese translation instead of the Italian and an Italian restaurant.  When Italians talk bottarga, I'm thinking bottarga di muggine - or mullet roe.  It did say mullet roe in English, and since we're in Taiwan and mullet roe (烏魚子) is a major delicacy and export item, that's what I thought I had coming.  Nooooo... it turns out the Chinese said 鯡魚, which is actually herring... and herring roe is 数の子 - a completely different taste and texture to カラスミ.  Especially when you break it up and actually cook it, instead of sprinkling grated roe on top of the pasta just before serving.

In short, the dish was a total disappointment.  I wasn't expecting something magical like this from Harlan, but come on...

And it seemed my friends didn't fare any better, either.  One had insalata di mare with seafood that wasn't fresh, and I thought the piece of octopus I tasted was definitely mushy and off.  Then there was the gnocchi that was overcooked and mushy.  The other had a whole fish - I forget which kind - cartoccio, which meant it was baked in foil.  It was apparently dry beyond belief, so my friend picked at it a little and then gave up.  I myself was distracted by the overpowering scent of dill (and perhaps ginger?) accompanying the fish, while others were overpowered by the rosemary.  In any case, it was disaster all around.  The only person who made out OK was Big Mac with his tagliata di manzo.

2004 Marquis d'Angerville Volnay 1er Cru Champans - nose was pretty alcoholic at first, then intense strawberries, jammy, forest and mint.  Very pure Burgundian.  Lovely and enjoyable. I have fond memories of tasting the 2009 vintage with Guillaume d'Angerville while visiting the domaine last year.

I've been told by a couple of foodie friends to tone down my expectations before coming here, but this was ridiculous.  And this place was doing brisk business on a Wednesday night, having to turn away customers without reservations.  It was also very popular with the ladies, and couples on dates.  I honestly have no idea why...

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