May 20, 2018

Taipei Michelin hop: bongwater with lunch

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As a globetrotting destination diner coming to Taipei for the first time, it was only natural that The Dining Austrian wanted to check out RAW.  Unfortunately, the restaurant is notorious for being one of the toughest to score a table, and thus far I have yet to succeed in booking a table via their website.  The Dining Austrian clearly had the same experience, so I resorted to asking for help.  Thankfully, help came through this time...

Freshest, Taiwan, milk (凝乳, 脆皮湯葉, 乳清) - this was the first dish to arrive, but somehow nobody bothered to explain exactly what it was...  I guess the menu description was self-explanatory?

The tart was topped with the solid cheese curd from making cheese, but presented as shaved powder...

...while the bottle contained whey, and the foam on top was almost floral.

We found out that we were supposed to drink the whey while having a bite of the cheese, so that the components could be combined back together in the mouth.  But since no one came to tell us before we started eating...

Prawn, mioga, peas (胭脂蝦, 茗荷, 甜豆) - we were told that this was meant to be a "sushi reformation".  Yes, the char-grilled prawn head on the side was delicious.  The prawn tartare was mixed with "sushi rice" and placed inside the wrapper, and was meant to be paired with pea purée (in lieu of wasabi), red quinoa (in lieu of soy sauce), and myoga (茗荷, in lieu of ginger)... Although technically, one does not have ginger with sushi... as pickled ginger is used mostly as a palate-cleanser - at least in traditional edomae (江戸前) sushi.

I hadn't planned on drinking at lunch, even though the question had been raised earlier.  The wine list packed with bongwater natural wines piqued the interest of The Dining Austrian, and we decided to ask for a recommendation.  Apparently the restaurant doesn't stock half-bottles but will open up a bottle and sell a carafe.  So we decided to take them up on it.

2015 PUR n° 7 Énergie - very aromatic and floral, with tropical stone fruits.  Almost fatty and oily, thick and round on the palate.

Enoki, scallop, smoked basil (金針菇, 熟成干貝, 煙燻羅勒) - the scallops were lightly salted and air-dried overnight in a similar fashion as the Japanese ichiyaboshi (一夜干し).  The process was meant to dehydrate the scallops and intensify the sweetness.  Served with grilled white and golden enoki (榎茸) mushrooms, smoked basil vinaigrette, and topped with Taiwanese golden oscietra caviar from Taichung (incidentally, the same producer as the one supplying MUME).

The thin slices of scallops seemed sweeter, and while the dish tasted delicious, it was also very rich and oily, full of umami, and smoky thanks to the enoki.  Not exactly a light summer dish...

French, onion, soup (洋, 蔥, 湯) - at first we only saw the grilled onion, but it was removed to reveal the bread shell underneath, with Gruyère and black pepper at the top.  Then baguette was shaved on top of the shell.

Inside we have onion purée, onion "milk?", melted cheese...  Basically a deconstructed French onion soup, and a very, very good one at that.  The flavors were all there, and my comfort and happiness level shot up.  My favorite dish today.

Caviar aubergine, silver fish, crispy noodles (田樂燒, 吻仔魚, 香脆麵) - we were first presented with this "bento box", which was made with porcelain instead of styrofoam (YES!!!)

There was a block of crispy "instant" noodles inside the box, while we were also presented with a cocotte containing local crayfish and langoustines baked on a bed of coarse rock salt along with star anise, thyme, rosemary, peppercorns...etc. 

After taking the crayfish and langoustine out of their shells, I finished the dish by adding the condiments from the plastic packets (OK, deducting points now for not being environmentally friendly...) - the tiny whitebait (吻仔魚); aubergine caviar; a mixture of chicken jus, spinach purée, and liquid lard; chili powder; and shrimp powder.

I gotta be honest here... I'm happy to be able to play with my food and DIY and all... but this seemed like entirely way too much effort for a dish.  

2015 Agnès et René Mosse Les Bonnes Blanches - nose much more muted.  Hot on the palate and burns a little going down.  Not a fan.

Corn, sorghum, gnocchi (水果玉米, 高粱, 麵疙瘩) - the thin slices of corn - which were fused together - came with some popcorn and Japanese sea urchin on top. 

But the real story below was a soft-boiled egg, gnocchi, crunchy corn nuts, maybe some dried shrimp, and a spicy sauce made with local bottarga.  I love sweet corn, and I usually react to any dish with bottarga like Pavlov's dog, but I didn't quite "get" this dish.

Sturgeon, puff rice, garden greens (鱘龍魚, 鍋巴, 春蔬) - the 7-year-old sturgeon came in very thin slices and were arranged around the side of the bowl - kinda like how blowfish (河豚) is served in Japan.  The broth that was poured on top was made with the bones of the sturgeon, and there were supposedly around 15 different types of spring vegetables in the middle.  This was apparently meant to mimic shabu-shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ), and turned out pretty nicely.

We were shown the aged Cherry Valley duck from Yilan (宜蘭) that would be our next course.

Cauliflower, Cherry duck, seaweed (白花椰, 櫻桃鴨, 海藻) - the duck came with cauliflower purée, pan-roasted cauliflower, hazelnuts, and "caviar" made of balsamico.  On top of the duck breast was a thin layer of pickled kelp and pan-fried duck foie gras.  And there seemed to be some shredded duck leg with the cauliflower.

Unfortunately, the duck here was cooked for the typical Taiwanese customer, which was to say that it was fully cooked.  I would have preferred my birds rosé, but it was not to be.  The sweetbreads were also a little overcooked.

2014 Jean Laborde Saint Joseph La Ferme des Sept Lunes - really ripe and almost jammy, with a hint of green.  Almost floral honey notes.

Taiwanese pineapple tart - I always liked this version, which is chilled.

We were asked about our tea and coffee orders at this point.  Normally I would refrain from drinking coffee until after I've finished dessert, and certainly not before I have finished any wine still left in my glasses... so I asked for coffee to be served after dessert.  The Dining Austrian did the same.  But our coffees showed up a few minutes later anyway...

Next came some strawberries which appeared to be dehydrated...

Fermented rice, purple rice, toasted rice (米麴, 紫米, 米香) - the strawberries were then shaved onto our dessert.  On the left side seemed to be a rice pudding, below which was a layer of cracker with strawberries.  Sprinkled on top was a little bit of toasted rice puffs as well as purple rice.  On the right hand side we've got sago with strawberries, topped with rice ice cream.

Two petits fours followed, with chocolate truffles with longans (龍眼) hidden amongst a pile of dried longans.

We also had thin slices of porcini mushroom, with a tea-flavored chocolate truffles sandwiched between two slices.

Our long lunch lasted over 2½ hours, and gave my two friends their first taste of the cuisine at RAW.  As The Dining Austrian remarked, the level of sophistication here is quite high, and I wholeheartedly agree.  Many thanks to Chef Wave for taking good care of us.

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