November 2, 2018

Hungry Hungarian in Taipei: lunch undercover

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I'm back in Taipei for a couple of days, spending some quality time with the Hungry Hungarian.  After hitting Ningxia Night Market (寧夏夜市) with him and inspecting my flood-damaged apartment last night, I managed to catch about 3 hours of sleep before dragging my ass out of bed.  It's his first trip to Taiwan, and he deserves to enjoy a sumptuous local breakfast.

Which was why we met up at Fu Hang Dou Jiang (阜杭豆漿), as it's close to where he was staying.  And relatively near my apartment.  Yes, it's touristy... but it wouldn't continue to be popular if it couldn't deliver the goods.  And deliver they did.

After getting a little more sleep after the satisfying breakfast, the Hungry Hungarian and I met up for lunch at RAW.  This was the first time I've been able to book a table myself via the restaurant's website, as the process got a little easier recently after the restaurant implemented a pre-payment policy.  But since I could only book for a table of three, I decided to invite Richard from MUME along.

I'm a nobody and an infrequent visitor, but of course Richard was recognized as soon as he walked through the door.  And no one was expecting us today...

Earl Grey, bay leaf, eeg (伯爵茶, 月桂葉, 鵪鶉蛋) - a nice presentation to start us off.  This was a modern take on the classic tea egg (茶葉蛋), with quail egg in place of the usual hen egg, and Earl Grey tea in lieu of Chinese tea.

The tea fragrance in the egg wasn't overpowering, and not too smoky.  The crispy potato bird's nest was nice.

"Escargot", nagaimo, yuzu pepper (海王螺, 山藥, 柚子胡椒) - the "sea escargot"/whelk was supposedly done à la Bourguignonne... I found the texture and flavors to be fairly nice.  The whelk shell carried broth that had a ton of finely diced yuzu (柚子) rind, and the pepper was almost a little too strong.

Crab, ping po, celeriac (秋蟹, 鳳眼果, 芹菜根) - thin sheets of celeriac was sprinkled with different types of powder and herbs, and came with a grainy purée made of phoenix eye fruit (鳳眼果) which tasted somewhere between chestnut and pumpkin.  There were also droplets of an acidic sauce on the flat surface.

The crab meat was mixed with crab fat, pomelo, salmon roe, croûtons, and I thought the crab tasted a little bit of turmeric.  Overall a refreshing dish.

Giant clam, fish lardo, chowder (巨蛤, "醃肉", 巧達湯) - the clam chowder came in a giant clam shell, and included mussels as well as droplets of different oils, and some bacon foam.  This was then poured from the shell onto the plate, next to the vegetables.  And I'm glad to see more vegetables here... with leeks (accented with some dark powder), button mushroom slices, pearl onions, and some baby cabbage (looked like Brussels sprouts) - the last of which came bearing Brussels sprouts jelly that tasted acidic.  I thought the clams were very tasty, and overall this was decent.

Thin slices of rye bread were topped with lardo made of swordfish belly, which were very salty and a little smoky.  This was interesting...

Cascara, buckwheat, taro (咖啡櫻桃, 藜麥, 里芋) - in keeping with the message that "nothing is wasted" that the restaurant seems to want to deliver, the chefs have decided to create something with cascara - the fruit that is normally discarded after extracting the coffee bean inside.  It's used make a tea to accompany the taro.  On the side we also have a espuma dip for the taro made of brown rice, topped with some ground buckwheat.

The taro was baked with coffee beans and coffee leaves, and came with what looked like a thin slice of smoked cheese on top.

RAW tofu, maitake, whey (RAW豆腐, 舞菇, 豆清) - I had seen others post videos about this, and now I've got a big block of the tofu in front of me.  The tofu is made in-house from organic soy beans grown locally, and they've decided to add in diced bits of truffle.

Honestly, this strip of tofu was too big.... considering the total amount of food. I guess I'm also too jaded to be oohing and aahing over the addition of truffle bits.  And I totally didn't get why the whey from making the tofu was added to the dish.  It was separated as a byproduct of making tofu for a reason, so why put them back together?  Was it meant to be like that cheese/whey starter I had on my last visit?  I know they want to stress that "nothing is wasted", but this just seemed too contrived.

At least the pile of shrooms on the side was a nice surprise... as I almost mistook the enokitake (えのき茸) that came with maitake (舞茸) for noodles.

Aubergine, cobia, furikake (白露茄, 海鱺, 沙茶) - the thin slices of lightly-seared cobia delivered some nice charred flavors on the edges.  Underneath lay a charcoal-grilled eggplant, whose skin had been removed before being stuffed with some burnt miso.  There was some sauce made with fish broth, then sprinkled with some furikake (振り掛け).

I didn't think the farmed caviar from Taichung brought a lot to the dish, but I didn't mind it. As it turned out, there was more caviar being used as "glue" to hold the tuile in place than was in the quenelle.  And speaking of tuile... it was made with purple potato, but somehow they decided to add the burnt skin of the aforementioned eggplant into the mix.  That left me scratching my head a little...  or maybe my palate was just too shitty to "get it".  Once again, the "waste-not" philosophy seemed to take center stage and felt contrived..

Beetroot, plum, berries (甜菜根, 蜜李, 梅果) - they purposely left out the main ingredient in the description, and asked us to guess.  So I told them that I think they killed Big Bird from Sesame Street...  It came with a slice of pan-fried foie gras, along with redcurrant, blackcurrant, and blackberries.

On the other side, we've got very thin slices of my favorite dreaded beetroot - together with some slices of plum - topped with red amaranth flowers and dehydrated berries.

As it turns out, this was ostrich raised in Changhwa Prefecture (彰化縣)!  So I wasn't too far off the mark..  Very nice execution... with a black crust on the outside.

Azuki bean, red shiso, purple rice (老鷹紅豆, 紅紫蘇, 紫米釀) - kinda like a Mont-Blanc, except that the cream was made with azuki beans instead of chestnuts.  Served with a quenelle of almond ice cream, and tuiles made into the shape of autumn leaves.  A little bit of purple glutinous rice, Job's tears, and red perilla leaves as garnish.  Actually, this reminds me a little of Ta Vie旅's "Les Feuilles Mortes".

Taiwanese pineapple cake (鳳梨酥) - always a treat.

Walnut and date (核桃椰棗糕)

Since this was lunch, I only took a glass of wine. I enjoyed this a lot a few months ago so I thought I'd order it again.

2015 PUR n° 7 Énergie - more ripe and oxidized than I expected, perhaps it's been open for a while.  Some mineral notes.  Later on a little bit of floral fragrance.

Before we arrived today, we had already gotten word from chefs and friends who found the current menu disappointing.  Truth be told, this was probably my least favorite menu out of the five that I have tasted over the last 3 years.  While we all agreed that there was no single dish today which was terrible - and all the dishes tasted fine - there was also a glaring lack of any upside surprise or "Wow".  On my previous visits, there was always something which made my eyes open wide with excitement, but there wouldn't be today.

I was still very grateful for the opportunity to try this menu, and also for the company.  I know Chef Alain Huang tries very hard and has done much for the restaurant, and with each menu the creations can be hit-or-miss.  Hopefully I'll be a happier camper next time.

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