October 7, 2011

French, Cali or Scotch toast?

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I've got more visitors in town from Hong Kong, and I was struggling to find a place that served good Taiwanese food and had decent wine glasses.  Turns out they don't exist, and the common solution was for people to bring their own glasses.  Upon the recommendation from ScubaGolfer - who suggested a few other solutions to my problem but attached a disclaimer regarding the their tastiness - I booked a table at Mao Yuan (茂園餐廳), an old establishment just a couple of blocks from my office.

I arrived first with two bags full of stuff, and promptly got started on the wine (self)service.  After taking the glasses out of the box, I proceeded to uncork two bottles of white.  Although I was sure that others had done the same before me, I still got a few curious looks from the staff as well as other diners.

As is typical with many Taiwanese restaurants, the ordering is done at the icebox/counter where many of the ingredients were laid out.  There was a wide selection of seafood, with types of fish I had never seen.  We ordered a bunch of dishes and eagerly waited for the food.

Stir-fried white water snowflake (炒水蓮) - I love this type of crunchy green stems, and it's always an interesting dish to show visitors.  There were round little fragrant manjack fruits (破布子) which had been pickled and tasted both salty and sour.

Steamed chicken (白斬雞) - most good Taiwanese restaurants are known for this dish.  Here the chicken flavors were definitely pretty good, and the texture was certainly more chewy, but I felt it was a little too chewy...  Would have preferred the meat to be slightly more succulent.  My friend commented on the size of the dish, since we only ordered 1/4 of a bird.  Yeah, we got some big free-range chickens around here...

Deep-fried fish - OK, so I can't remember what the fish is called, and I've never seen them before.  These flat, grey things have giant red dots in the middle of their bodies... kinda like someone used a paint brush to mark them.  Pretty fresh, juicy and tasty.

Braised pig trotters and intestines (豬腳拼大腸) - two of my favorite parts of the pig... how could I say no?

Deep-fried cuttlefish balls and shrimp rolls (花枝丸拼蝦卷) - honestly, I wasn't impressed by these supposed signature items.  The use of cabbage in the middle of the shrimp rolls was interesting, but it was just OK.

Stir-fried rice vermicelli with pumpkin (黃金炒米粉) - made with pumpkin.  Not particularly impressed.  Just didn't have the fragrance I expected.

Stir-fried Manila clams with basil (九層塔炒海瓜子) - pretty yummy, and very Taiwanese.

Someone was still hungry, so a couple of more dishes were ordered...

Stir-fried leafy lettuce (炒A菜) - classic.  Should have ordered the sweet potato leaves...

Deep-fried slender sprat (酥炸丁香魚) - actually these were soooo good... Very crunchy and tasty.  I couldn't stop once I started...

I'm sure I'm sounding like a broken record, but why do restaurants insist on bringing all the dishes to you at once?!  It's not like we inhale our food or something... All 7 of our dishes arrived within less than 30 minutes, even after I asked the waitress to hold the last couple.

Barley and mung bean soup (薏米綠豆糖) - complimentary dessert.

Knowing that we'd be having mostly seafood, I brought 2 bottles of Chardonnay to go with the food.

1997 Hospices de Beaune Corton-Charlemagne Cuvée François de Salins par Louis Max - picked up this bottle at a bin end sale.  It was clearly pretty oxidized, but then again I happen to love oxidized white wines.  Nose of cotton candy, sugar, a little straw and grassy, with notes of orange rind and sugar cane.  Kinda acidic mid-palate with a ripe and bitter finish.  Can't complain too much given the price I paid...

2004 Aubert Chardonnay Lauren - nose showed a lot more concentration, definitely felt the new oak, and the wine was kinda ripe.  At the end the alcohol was very prominent, which is curious given that it usually shows up immediately...

We wanted to go for a drink after dinner, and I brought my visitors to MOD - a place I've known since I first moved back to Asia around 1995...  It was one of the first whisky bars in Taipei, and the place was still heaving on a Friday night.  We ended up taking the only available table as some people had just left as we were coming in.

My friend went to talk to the bartender, and ended up with a flight of 3 Ardbegs.  I ended up tasting the Ardbeg Supernova, which, as the name implies, is simply explosive.  At more than 100 PPM, the peat is extremely heavy - even for an Ardbeg.  Nose was soooo medicinal, full-on hospital disinfectant.  It was also at cask strength, or around 60% alcohol, and it definitely was burning the ends of my nose hairs... Maybe it's because I was already fairly drunk by this time, but each sip I took of the whisky actually induced a hiccup, and burned going down.

My alcohol tolerance has been coming down in the last couple of months, and I was very drunk by this time... falling asleep at the table.  My friends decided that I had had enough, and we (or at least I) ended up calling it a night...

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