October 1, 2011

Un nouveau palais

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I'm hanging out in the old part of Taipei today, which is a rare occurrence.  After a couple of hours spent checking out a number of camera shops, I suddenly realized that my favorite ice cream joint was just a couple of blocks away.  Yes, I realize that it is after Mid-Autumn Festival and the weather was no longer scorching hot, but one can always eat ice cream...

I sat down at Snow King (雪王冰淇淋) and browsed through the menu.  A few flavors have been taken off, notably in the fruit section.  The owner decided that there was very little point in producing flavors that everyone else was doing - such as strawberry.  Quite frankly their prices are not cheap, so people wouldn't come here and pay a premium for what they can get elsewhere, anyway... They have enough unique flavors and I'm sure they can continue to do brisk business.

I decided to forgo my favorite custard apple (釋迦) and try something new instead.  Mulberry (桑椹) has been on my mind in the last few months, so I got a scoop of that.  Not exactly what I had expected, though... as this was preserved with a little salt like the way Chinese preserve plums.  These weren't de-stemmed so I ended up chewing on a few. Hmmm... salty and sour ice cream...

A few hours later, I ended up at Le Palais (頤宮) at Palais de Chine Hotel (君品酒店).   This is Taipei's newest hotel in this part of town - situated on top of the new bus terminus (台北轉運站) and across the street from Taipei Train Station.  I've been meaning to come check this place out, but a few earlier phone calls to the "French" restaurant kinda dampened my interest in the place.

The place was nicely decked out, like the rest of the hotel.  A chic and modern interpretation of Chinese elements.  Private rooms with views of the city line one side of the restaurant, while the main dining has been divided up into booths to afford diners a good amount of privacy.

The menu is mainly Cantonese, although unsurprisingly there are dishes from Sichuan and Fujian.  I ordered up a few simple dishes that struck my fancy...

Two little bowls of complimentary appetizers arrived.  The first was a mix of tofu, agar (洋菜), coriander, Chinese cabbage...etc.  Not bad.

The chunks of radish - both white and green varieties - were very nice and crunchy.

We were also served a shot of mulberry vinegar, which was lovely.  I guess today's just the day for mulberries...

Honey glazed barbecued pork (蜜汁叉燒) - FAIL.  The restaurant offers 3 different versions of barbecued pork, although they did not have the crispy version that I wanted to try.  Like many restaurants in Taipei, this place refers to pork from the collar region by the nonsensical/nonexistent name of 松坂豬肉, although I have to deduct more points from this particular restaurant because they can't even spell it correctly... Isn't "Matsuyama" written as 松山?!

In any case... the simplest version was the one we got, and it didn't work.  Yes, the meat was tender and juicy... in fact it was almost too watery, and on the verge of being soggy - if that were possible.  But like many local versions of barbecued pork, this one just didn't have enough flavor.  It was too bland.  You just don't see the traditional honey glaze on the outside, which would have imparted the pork with enough ooomph.  Not until tonight did I realize how much I miss a good plate of char siu...  Yet another thing I took for granted in all my years in Hong Kong.

Fried doughnut stuffing with minced shrimp in X.O. sauce (X.O.醬油條) - I was intrigued by this, and images of stuffed fried crullers from Singapore's seafood restaurants came to mind.  While it was largely similar, this version was drenched in - surprise! - sweet and sour sauce.  There wasn't much X.O. sauce... barely enough to register a tingling sensation on my tongue.

Stewed seafood with mixed vegetables (海味什菜煲) - one of my all time favorite dishes in Cantonese cuisine, and it doesn't get any simpler.  Just throw in some chopped mixed veggies, a bunch of glass vermicelli, and dried seafood such as conpoy (干貝/瑤柱) and dried shrimps (蝦米).  The version being served here is a little "upscale", with blanched calamari thrown in.  In terms of flavor, this was much, much more to my liking than the ones I'm used to having at places such as Honolulu Cafe (檀島) - where they use chicken bouillon with lots of MSG for the soup.  The soup base here is clear with subtle flavors of the ingredients you see in the pot.  Slurp...

Chinese sausage rice clay pot (腊味煲仔飯) - the mistake that the waitress made here was to remove the lid of the clay pot immediately after serving.  That - combined with what I'm sure was a medium heat with which the rice was cooked - meant there would be almost no rice crispies (鍋巴/飯焦) at the bottom.

Cantonese fried noodles with seafood (廣式海味炒麵) - a few days ago one of my friends was asking about places where they serve Cantonese fried noodles (廣州炒麵).  I had to ask her what she was referring to, because I'd never heard of the dish after a decade and a half of being in Hong Kong...  Turns out it's just the style of deep-fried crispy noodles commonly referred to as "fried noodles (炒麵)" in Hong Kong, or what the Shanghainese would call "double-sided yellow (兩面黃)".  Since it was on the menu, we decided to give it a try.

The noodles themselves were pretty good - crispy, crunchy and yummy.  But the mixed seafood topping could have been a little better.  There was a little too much starch, and in general it was lacking in "wok hei (鑊氣)".  Interesting use of the Japanese ark shell (赤貝)...

Sweetened cream of almond soup in papaya with Chinese doughnut (木瓜杏仁露) - surprisingly good.  The almond flavors were very prominent, and I could taste the granular texture of the soup.  The small papayas are apparently supplied by a contract farm which grows them organically.  Love the green-colored skin.  Not sure what the crullers are for, though...

A pretty decent meal overall.  Now I know where I can grab some food in a comfortable setting in this part of town... and they've even got decent wine glasses!

1 comment:

KC said...

The XO 醬油條 should be very good!


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