May 20, 2018

Taipei Michelin hop: three stars?! Puh-leeze!

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On the day that the Michelin stars were announced for the inaugural Taipei red guide back in March, just about no one expected Michael Ellis to go beyond announcing the two restaurants receiving two stars.  The minute he told the crowd that a new 3-star was born, there was collective shock in the audience.  The words "WHAT THE FUCK" came out of my mouth while I watched the live stream of the event from my desk in the office.

When it was announced that Le Palais (頤宮) had won the extremely coveted three stars, I probably shouted "WHAT THE FUCK" at least a half-dozen times. I have some history with the very same restaurant, although admittedly it was quite a few years ago.  After all, this was the the place which served us such incredibly crappy seafood - think frozen, treated with baking soda, or possibly something worse - that mom and I didn't think we would ever return.  It was yet another validation of my opinion - shared by many in the region - that Michelin simply didn't know Chinese food.  Their choice was simply laughable and deserved ridicule.

Shortly after the announcement, The Dining Austrian went into action.  SOP dictates that he make a trip to check out any newly-anointed three star restaurant in the world, and this one in Taipei would be no exception.  Well, I would have no excuse not to join him on his adventure, as Taipei is both my hometown and a short flight away.

And when he had trouble booking a table via the restaurant's website, I decided to ask my friend Big Mac for a favor.  Sure enough, he got us a table for dinner tonight with seemingly little hassle.  So I assembled a fitting crew to join The Dining Austrian and I - including The Prince of Napa - for a little attempt at 踢館.

Big Mac pre-ordered 4 of the signature dishes which needed advance notice, and although they seemed a little repetitive, I was loathe to cancel any of them.  And no, we did not take the "Michelin 3-star tasting menu" - which cost a ridiculous USD 250 per head.

Barbecue pork (頤宮叉燒皇) - this was their "crispy char siu (脆皮叉燒)", with a caramelized honey glaze on the outside.

The cut is actually pork collar, so there is some marbling which made the texture very tender.  Not bad at all.

Cantonese style crispy roast duck course (火焰片皮鴨三吃) - so this is the famous "flaming Peking duck"... OF COURSE we had to order this, if only for the show and the chance to take a video...  As usual, an entire duck is divided into several servings - in this case 3 of them.

Wrapped with romaine lettuce and cheese (蘿蔓起士卷) - we didn't want to have this option, but the staff made a mistake and served some to us.  Not a fan.  The pancake wrappers here are on the thick side, and these were a little dry.  The cheese inside was also dry and bland.

Wrapped with traditional spring onions (傳統青蔥卷) - the traditional way was much better, with spring onions and hoisin sauce (海鮮醬).

Duck meat - the rest of the duck was cut into thin slices.  Not surprisingly, the breast meat was a little on the dry side, but dipping into the master stock (滷水) at the bottom of the bowl helped a little.

Crispy roast baby duck (先知鴨二吃) - these baby ducks from Yilan (宜蘭) were generally between 26 to 28 days old.

This was much more delicious than the Peking duck we had moments earlier.  There were apparently several pieces from the breast area where one could the soft cartilage.  Very tasty.

Duck soup (酸菜鴨架湯) - the second serving of the baby duck was done as a soup, with pickled mustard greens (酸菜) and tofu.  Loved the refreshing acidity, and I think The Dining Austrian enjoyed this, too.

Deep-fried marble goby (油浸筍殼魚) - I've loved marble goby since I was a kid growing up in Singapore, as it was the popular fish served in many seafood restaurants.  I don't see them much in Hong Kong, so I took the opportunity to order one up tonight.

This was done pretty well.  Loved the crispy exterior, and the soy sauce seasoning. 

Crispy deep-fried chicken (君品吊燒炸子雞) - yes, this would be the THIRD bird we pre-ordered for our meal... But the crispy chicken (炸子雞) is such a Cantonese classic that it's a good way to measure to skill of the chef.  This was pretty decent, and I liked it better than some of the versions in Hong Kong - such as the one in Lung King Heen (龍景軒), itself the very first Chinese restaurant to receive 3 stars - where they over-season the chicken.

Sautéed loofah with ground pork and wood ear mushrooms (肉鬆雲耳燜絲瓜) - loofah is one of my favorite vegetables, so I figured we should try the dish recommended to us.  Not a combination I would have thought of, but it was decent.

Wok-fried rice noodles with crab meat and eggs (強哥炒米粉) - the rice vermicelli was very, very thin, and obviously stir-fried at very high heat to achieve the desired wok hei (鑊氣).  This was very good.

Cantonese fried noodles with seafood (廣式海味炒麵) - this dish simply HAD to be ordered, because it was this very dish, 6 years ago, that came with seriously shitty prawns.  Well tonight they did better.  I didn't expect the freshest of seafood for the price they were charging, but at least the giant prawns - which were much bigger tonight - weren't translucent and artificially crunchy.

Deep-fried cheese pastry (炸豆腐奶) - this was a treat from Chef Ken Chen (陳偉強), and came filled with two types of cheese inside.  Certainly tasted like deep-fried mozzarella sticks...

Well... I gotta say that compared to 6 years ago, tonight's dinner was miles better.  All the flavors were as they should be - other than the silly Peking duck wrap with cheese.  But 3 Michelin stars???!!!  C'mon...  When I have never considered Lung King Heen to be worthy of its 3 stars, this place is certainly not gonna come even close.

But of course... who the fuck am I compared to the all-mighty Michelin inspectors?!

Even though it's Sunday night and I have a 7 a.m. flight the next morning, we decided to bring a few bottles...

1999 Amour de Deutz - fairly mature now, good balance between the ripe sweetness and acidity on the palate.

2008 Hugel Riesling Schoelhammer - big nose with lots of petrol.  Needed time to fully open up.  Most certainly the best offering from Hugel.

1995 La Conseillante - smoky and lovely.  Tannins have softened up nicely.

1986 Joseph Phelps Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard - smoky, minty, pencil lead, and still lively.  The acidity of the soup brought out the fruity notes and sweetness.  Very nice.

1990 von Schubert Maximin Grünhäuser Abstberg Riesling Spätlese - still have plenty of acidity, with lemon and citrus notes, and almost green apple.

1990 Joh.Jos. Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Auslese - sweetish but still got acidity.  Big nose of plastic with some white flowers.

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