June 24, 2016

The Great One's Taiwan tour day 2: the RAW beef tongue

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After a very early breakfast at the very touristy breakfast spot Fu Hang Dou Jiang (阜杭豆漿), we lunched at the other Taiwanese entry to Asia's 50 Best Restaurants - RAW.  I wasn't planning on coming back here so soon, but what the Great One wants, the Great One gets.

We didn't sit at the Chef's Table today, so there was no need to pay the premium.  The restaurant has, however, removed the shorter lunch menu... so now everyone has to take the long, 9-course menu even for lunch.  This would turn out to be a lot of food...

Porridge, fermented tofu, condiments - from the 'mémoire' part of André's Octaphilosophy.  It's common for Taiwanese people to have porridge with condiments such as pickles and fermented tofu (豆腐乳), so this is a modern interpretation.

The pickles are now made of kohlrabi, with a thick wedge at the bottom that has been pan-fried to retain its crunch, while a pile of shredded kohlrabi sits on top.  There is a layer of crab meat in between the two different textures.  Sprinkled liberally with leek powder, and served with a little bit of fermented tofu sauce on the side.

We were meant to drink the contents of this cup first, before tasting what's on the plate.  A simple cup of rice water, which actually tasted a lot like the ubiquitous "barley water" (actually made with Job's tears) found in Singapore and Southeast Asia, with a similar viscosity.

The whipped butter came with buckwheat, cocoa powder, and sea salt...

along with our bread...

Scallop, cauliflower couscous, spicy ponzu - a layer of sweet cauliflower purée sits below the Hokkaido scallop, while a sprinkle of cauliflower 'couscous' is sprinkled on top to provide some crunch. The spicy ponzu (ポン酢) actually provided some citrus flavors which reminded me of aged mandarin peel (陳皮).

The scallop was quickly pan-fried on both sides so that it was still raw in the middle... and I think it's a little more raw than mi-cuit...  A very tasty dish overall.

Beef, tongue, cracker - I had heard about this from my friends... André's take on the classic Taiwanese snack of beef tongue cracker (牛舌餅) - so named not because it contains any beef, but because it visually resembles a cow's tongue.  Normally it's a little sweet with some maltose inside, but here the cracker is topped with thin slices of actual beef tongue which has been cooked sous vide for 36 hours (wait, didn't André tell us that he no longer cooks in plastic bags...?), along with onion purée, garlic mayo, Japanese vinaigrette, and chopped chives.  There's also a "perfect"(?) egg at the bottom of the bowl.

I ate about half of the cracker as is, then decided to scoop some of the egg yolk on top.  Soft, viscous, and rich yolk on top of soft slices of tongue.  The richness of the yolk and mayo was tempered by the acidity of the vinaigrette, and the sweetness from the onion just made everything a little better.

All I can say is that this, right here, was a little slice of heaven that I was blessed enough to experience.  There was no question in any of our minds that this was the best dish of the meal.  I would come back just for this.

Buttermilk, remoulade, gamberoni - the prawn was topped with julienned green apple, celery, and celeriac, along with nasturtium flowers and leaves.  Buttermilk was then poured onto the plate, and gradually mixed with celery oil and olive oil.  Celeriac purée on the side was a little smoky.

The prawn was barbecued but remained raw inside.  There were slight smoky flavors.  A very delicious dish.

Leek oil, daikon, spring vegetables - this was just amazing.  Perhaps this is André's hommage to Michel Bras and his gargouillou.  A total of 23 different local spring vegetables, sitting on a bed of radish purée and extra virgin olive oil... with Kinmen (金門) black garlic purée on the side of the plate.

The dish even came with its own menu, showing all 23 vegetables.  I had a lot of fun picking out all the different veggies and checking them off against the list.

Simply amazing.  Lovely to behold, and pleasure for the palate.

Hirame skirt, pickled jus, meuniere - the flounder skirt (縁側) was nice and cooking it made the collagen all soft. The pickle jus was made with onion, capers, lemon, butter, and Taiwanese watercress (水田芥)... and delivered good acidity to balance out the richness of the skirt as well as the butter richness of the sauce meunière.  The chopped onions on top were sweet and crunchy.

Garnished with green onions, Japanese pearl onions on top, as well as mussels and clams from the northeastern coast.

Red quinoa, oyster Bearnaise, smoked cabbage - a "surf-and-turf" dish.  The curry-flavored translucent cabbage wafer covered up most of the dish, except for the oyster-flavored Bearnaise and the spinach/wasabi foam.

Underneath the wafer, we find a piece of chicken encrusted in red quinoa with some honey, barbecued sauce, and undoubtedly Sichuan peppercorn.  The chicken was pretty juicy and tender, although it was difficult to tell if the chicken itself had enough flavor.  There was also stewed cabbage with soft and tender smoked shark (鯊魚煙) - a local Taiwanese dish that's a byproduct of the shark's fin trade.

Once again we were presented with cold versions of the Taiwanese pineapple cake (鳳梨酥), which was very crumbly.

Thunder tea, almond mochi, shaved bean curd - the base was Hakka "thunder tea (擂茶)" - made with ground tea leaves, sesame seeds, peanuts...etc.  Topped with almond mochi (もち) ice cream, and finally some Koya dofu (高野豆腐) was shaved on top with a Microplane grater.

Unfortunately for me, this turned out to be a near-lethal combination.  The grainy "tea" with all the bits of peanuts, sesame seeds, shaved tofu, together with the sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds hidden inside... All of that ended up stuck onto the back of my throat thanks to the sticky liquid, and I started to choke involuntarily.  Drinking water didn't seem to alleviate the situation, and I rushed to the toilet so that I wouldn't be coughing up my lungs in front of my friends.  I finally regained my composure after a couple of minutes, but there was no way I would touch the rest of this dessert!

The final act was a coffee canelé, which was pretty decent.

With the exception of the dessert that almost killed me, this was a very good meal.  In fact, it was better than my first meal here.  I'd come and have that beef tongue any day, and same for the veg dish.  I'm glad that the Great One and Hello Kitty enjoyed their meals, too.  Many thanks to Chef Alain Huang for taking good care of us.

The only issue I have is that there was just too much food for lunch, and if anyone were pressed for time, they would get even more stuffed by trying to finish the food in the hurry.

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