April 2, 2012

STAY… for awhile

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It was about time I did it.  I have stayed away from this place for long enough, giving it enough time to go through growing pains.  The comments from my foodie friends have been very mixed, and skewed towards the negative side.  Second hand stories from people who have worked on the inside - who grew frustrated with the French-Taiwanese JV and eventually quit - didn't exactly make me eager to spend my money here.

By now the original chef is gone, so my friend and I decided to check out STAY - Yannick Alléno's outpost here in Taipei and the fourth location for the chain.  The acronym stands for Simple Table Alléno Yannick, and is meant to be more casual, serving relatively straightforward cuisine.  Once again it was a romantic dinner between two guys, at a place where other guys were taking their dates or having business meals…

We decided to order à la carte and share everything.  The kitchen very kindly helped us by splitting up dishes into two distinct portions wherever possible.

Amuse bouche came in the form of three little spoons : a beet root sour cream; a king crab salad with a little citrus; and a salmon quenelle.

Buffalo Buratta, rocket, pesto and confit tomato - I was tempted to write "FAIL" here, and not because it's spelt incorrectly on the menu… As I cut open the ball of burrata, I didn't see any liquid cream oozing out at all.  The interior has solidified, which tells me that it's not as fresh as could be.  I knew I would be taking a chance to try this in Taipei, and sure enough it didn't pass the test.  The saving grace was that the interior was still soft and creamy, and definitely tasty.  Interesting that it was served with pesto.

Fregola Sarda pasta, spring onions, parmesan and botarga - I knew I had to order this the minute I saw it on the menu.  It's not something you see everyday in Asia, let alone Taipei.  The rather raw spring onions were a surprising local twist, but I thought they worked well with the bottarga and the Parmesan.  Very nice.  I'd do this again.

Eggs "cocotte", seasonal mushrooms and garlic bread - pretty simple dish.  The steamed taiyoran (太陽卵) egg was pretty decent, topped with mushroom fricassée and some foam.  The yolk was a little more solid than molten, but still nice.  My friend warmed me to stay away from the garlic bread until I was done with the egg, since it was pretty heavy-handed in terms of seasoning - just the way Taiwanese like their garlic bread...

Poached wild mahi-mahi, dulgéré sauce, potatoes with sea salt - my friend wanted this since mahi-mahi doesn't show up on the menu often in this town.  This was nicely done.  The fish was still tender and a tad raw on the inside.  If this was done sous vide - and some local pressed talked about "low temperature cooking for an extended period" - that would make sense.  Sauce was yummy.

Chicken spit roast - a whole roast chicken was definitely too big, but we figured we could pack the leftovers.  This was perfect - a local free range chicken (the waitress said "mountain chicken", no doubt she meant 放山雞) roasted without much seasoning or any frills.  I added some jus on the side, and that's all I really needed.  My friend thought it was under-seasoned, and I can see why some people would feel that way.  I'm a little puzzled by the Béarnaise sauce that came on the side...

Buttered green beans

Oyster mushroom "fricassée"

We decided to walk up to the "dessert station" and check out the selection.  Chef Loïc was only too happy to introduce all his creations, and tell us about the concept of the "pastry ribbon" - half-meter long stainless-steel racks designed to hold 4 little trays.  Two of these can lock together to create an impressive meter-long display.  We were pretty stuffed thanks to all the bread we took in with the butter, but couldn't resist taking on 4 little treats…

First came the pre-desserts, which were tiny mango tarts and chocolate mousse tarts.

Meringue with yuzu sorbet - the yuzu (柚子) sorbet was really yummy, and the acidity was balanced out by the intensely sweet meringue at the bottom.  The yuzu/lime sauce provided a little more acidity kick.

Jasmine and lemongrass sorbet - Loïc's got some interesting flavors when it comes to sorbet…  Both flavors were very light, fragrant and refreshing.  I could have these all day.

Pineapple cake - I must admit I don't remember much about the cake base, but my attention was really focused on the piece of pineapple on top.  The fruit had been soaked in raspberry sauce, and may have even been a piece of pineapple confit as the texture seemed a little softer.  I must pay more attention to Loïc's descriptions next time.

Tahitian vanilla millefeuille - Loïc must have stressed at least 3 times that they are the only restaurant in Taiwan which is using Tahitian vanilla, sourced directly from Bora Bora.  The flavors were indeed a lot more intense and fragrant, and very different from the el cheapo vanilla which I buy for myself in Bali.  The pastry was also extremely fluffy and delish.  There are also coffee and chocolate millefeuilles available, and Loïc promised to add different flavors in the next menu change.

I brought a bottle for this casual meal, choosing something that I felt would be easy to drink.

2002 Cakebread Merlot - ripe and sweet, both on the nose and on the palate.  Minty, smoky with grilled meats.  Very classic Californian from a great vintage.  Pretty full-bodied.

We both enjoyed our meal very much.  Honestly, other than the burrata being less than perfectly fresh, we couldn't find any major fault with the dishes tonight.  The food in general was very solid, without being overly fancy and then failing to deliver.  Every single dessert was delicious, and we both wanted to come back and try all the other desserts we didn't have stomach space for.  In fact, my next visit will probably be a decadent tour of the entire dessert station… taking whatever Chef Loïc can throw in my direction!

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