February 12, 2012

Fusion izakaya

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It was a beautiful day in Taipei today, and luckily I had invited a few old friends over to my brand spanking new place for a little afternoon tea.   The Rice Ball eating crew (飯團) has been hanging out for the better part of the last decade, and we've shared many good meals (and desserts after meals) together.  Naturally we whiled away the afternoon sipping on some tea and nibbling on a few snacks... just biding our till dinner.

We were being introduced to Hwa Tze Xun (花 彘醺), which labels itself as "fusion cuisine, sake bar".  Turned out to be an interesting place for casual dining.

The chef did his usual thing of putting together a selection of "recommended dishes", which is probably the same "greatest hits" that everyone gets when visiting for the first time.  Basically if one picks all the dishes on the menu that have pictures, one is likely to come up with the same selection...

Shoe string fries - these were nice, and we quickly devoured the entire bowl.

House specialty raw beef (花 彘醺招牌生牛肉) - a pretty good way to start the meal.  The beef carpaccio was very fresh, and the shredded raw onion underneath was pretty tasty - chilled in the fridge so the spicy flavors have been toned down.

Korean-style spicy tuna (韓風辣味鮪魚塔) - another pretty good dish.  Tuna tartare mixed with raw yolk from free-range chicken - just look at the gorgeous orange color of the yolk - shredded raw onion, spring onion and chili sauce.  Gone in a few seconds.

Baked potato with marinated pollock roe (馬鈴薯明太子) - not something I would have ordered myself, but turned out pretty OK!  Cut flat pieces from a spud, squeeze some sweet Taiwanese mayo (美奶滋) on top and mix in some pollock roe, then bake until brown.  Easy.

Next came a trio of sushi:
Sea urchin (雲丹) - nothing to write home about, but at least it was reasonably fresh.

Salmon (鮭) - another very Taiwanese twist... Sear the tuna lightly, add a dollop of sweet mayo and a couple of salmon roe (イクラ) on top.  Just the right balance between being raw and cooked, to give the optimum texture and mouthfeel.  Pretty tasty.

Flounder (平目) - this is actually flounder wings, again lightly seared to melt the oil and give the whole thing a smooth and silky texture.  Delicious.  Nice teriyaki sauce, too...

Grilled arabesque greeling (花魚一夜干) - traditional (and one of my favorites) dish prepared with 𩸽 that's been split open and dried overnight.

Deep-fried mushroom with oysters (香菇鮮蚵) - wrapped inside a layer of batter with practically no seasoning, the original flavors come through but it comes off as a little bland.

Scallops with spring onion (鹽蔥干貝) - OK but a tad overcooked.  Clearly some of my friends felt the same way, because we all started talking about a disastrous experience with scallops years ago at a top-tier Japanese restaurant in Taipei...

House specialty noodles (招牌麵) - OH-MY-GOD.  What a way to finish off the meal!  The bowl might look small, but there's a little pile of heavenly goodness inside.  The sanuki udon (讃岐うどん) is nice and chewy, but that's not all.  The fabulous topping is made with little chunks of beef fat - the same bits that get sliced from chunks of sirloin, fried on the teppan until brown, and added into the bowl of fried rice at the end of teppanyaki meals.  That fat oozing from the chunks coats the noodles, and later on one's lips and tongue.  Happiness.

Deep-fried mochi (炸麻糬) - very nicely done.  Crispy exterior with a soft center, coated in a layer of sugared peanut powder.

What a pleasant surprise!  This was the perfect casual meal on a Sunday night.  I'm sure I'll be back for more...

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