July 28, 2022

Freedom in da 'hood

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I was meeting up with the Tiggers again, and this time they requested a dinner at Neighborhood. The Kitchen Nazi is eating his way through the Land of the Rising Sun, which meant I was free to order whatever I wanted off the menu - with input from the family, of course.

French Aquitaine beef tartare / abalone / sansho pepper - there was never any question that we would order this. We loved the chewy texture of the hand-chopped beef, and the abalone slices also delivered a good amount of bite. The sansho (山椒) peppers tickled the tongue very nicely.

This is always better when taken with some sourdough bread.

July 27, 2022

Occupy Amber: vegan.brown.butter

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Another year has passed and we once again find ourselves back at Amber. It's a vegetarian day for us, and after the lovely time we had last year, we were very much looking forward to see what Richard and his team have on offer. As was the case last year, we chose to go "light" and took the 6-course menu, but of course Richard wouldn't let us off so easily...

Our host generously started us off with a complimentary glass of Champagne.

2013 Legras Présidence Vieilles Vignes - a blanc de blancs meant this delivered a good hit of acidity, lively and full-bodied, with marmalade on the palate and some bitterness on the finish.

Our first amuse bouche was sliced asparagus and asparagus mousse with watercress purée, topped with pomme soufflé and Australian winter truffle. The asparagus was nice and crunchy.

July 25, 2022

The tiger Chairman

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The Tiggers are back in town after a long absence resulting from the pandemic, and I arranged to meet up with them as soon as I got out of my hotel quarantine. First up? The Chairman (大班樓). I did not realize until during the meal that none of them have ever been here. So my decision to let them choose the dishes - partly based on my recommendations, of course - was correct.

Cherry tomatoes pickled in basil reduction (九層塔甜醋醃漬小番茄) - the basil flavors in the tomatoes were really nice, and the accompanying Korean pear was marinated in wine. Very refreshing way to start our meal.

July 23, 2022

Diary of a Quarantined Boy part 2, day 7

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Today is the day! The last day! We get out at midnight!

Scrambled eggs ∙ pork banger sausages ∙ cherry tomatoes ∙ hash brown ∙ croissant ∙ sliced fresh fruit - croissant OK, and no real complaints about the other items.

July 22, 2022

Diary of a Quarantined Boy part 2, day 6

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Second-to-last day of quarantine, and it's Friday! Breakfast this morning was an interesting mix, which involved a little DIY:

Boiled eggs ∙ bacon ∙ tomato salsa ∙ guacamole ∙ tortilla ∙ croissant ∙ sliced fresh fruit - the croissant was OK.

So I sliced up one of the boiled eggs, laid it out in the tortilla along with the smoky bacon and added some salsa and guacamole. Not too bad.

July 21, 2022

Diary of a Quarantined Boy part 2, day 5

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We are now in the latter half of our prison sentence so things are looking up. I started the day with more dim sum for breakfast.

Vegetable and shrimp dumplings ∙ steamed rice roll ∙ fish congee (鮮蝦菜苗餃 ∙ 蒸腸粉 ∙ 鮮魚粥) - I was surprised to see the dumplings and they were pretty tasty, with some garlic in the filling. The congee had a few decent-sized chunks of fish.

This morning's coffee was Ethiopian Guji Hambela Wate Natural from Simple Kaffa. Definitely still elegant, but with more depth and slightly stronger bitterness, and a long finish. Red berries in the nose, and the acidity came out later.

July 20, 2022

Diary of a Quarantined Boy part 2, day 4

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Day 4, halfway through the ordeal. We don't get out of bed unless it's for breakfast...

Shrimp dumplings ∙ BBQ pork bun ∙ pork congee (蝦餃 ∙ 叉燒包 ∙ 豬肉粥) - the wrappers for the har gau () were pretty thick, and I counted only 10 folds. Meh. But the char siu bao (叉燒包) were pretty good. The congee with pork wasn't as good as the one with beef yesterday.

July 19, 2022

Diary of a Quarantined Boy part 2, day 3

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Day 3 started with the door bell letting us know that breakfast has been delivered. The regularity of the daily feeding schedule has now become familiar, and we find ourselves looking forward to gettng fed 3 meals a day by the hotel. It's also a chance for us to open the door to our room and get a peek outside. 

Beef dumplings ∙ beef congee ∙ steamed bun (牛肉燒賣 ∙ 牛肉粥 ∙ 饅頭) - enjoyed the siu mai (燒賣) with crunchy water chestnuts and coriander. The steamed buns (饅頭) were, admittedly, a little plain. Having grown up eating them, though, I could appreciate just savoring the simplicity of their sweetness.

July 18, 2022

Diary of a Quarantined Boy part 2, day 2

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It's day 2 of our quarantine, and I'm working from the hotel. Breakfast got delivered not long after 8 p.m.

Boiled eggs ∙ pork banger sausages ∙ baked beans ∙ curry samosas ∙ hash brown ∙ bread roll ∙ sliced fresh fruit - nice to get a little kick from the spice in the samosa. The Hami melon (哈密瓜) was nice and crunchy, and very sweet.

July 17, 2022

Diary of a Quarantined Boy, part 2, day 1

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We have a morning flight this morning, so we woke up bright and early to finish tidying up the apartment. This didn't leave me much time for breakfast, but fortunately I have just the answer:

I found this instant noodle from Ng Ah Sio Pork Ribs Soup Eating House (黃亞細肉骨茶餐室) at a Family Mart yesterday. Just had to get it since it's from my favorite bak kut teh (肉骨茶) joint in Singapore. The soup was a lot more dense and concentrated than I what I remembered from the shop, but the intense white pepper and garlic flavors were there alright. Not bad lah!

July 16, 2022

Taipei 2022: pleasure, little treasure part 3

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I was blessed to have been able to spend 3 weeks in Taiwan after having been away from 2½ years. The long absence meant that I missed a great many things about the people and the food. Not surprisingly, I took the opportunity to retrace my steps over the years, which included grabbing a few bites which brought back memories and emotions.

In addition to the specific meals which have already been recorded, here are some of the little, more humble bites:

Uni-President Big Pudding (統一大布丁) - this was the very first thing I bought and ate after being allowed to leave the apartment at midnight after 3 (actually 4) days of quarantine. It's a childhood memory. I loved eating this as a kid, and I especially loved the dark caramel at the bottom of the plastic tub. In the old days there was a little "stick" at the bottom, which you could break off to make a hole at the tub. If you flipped the tub over and placed it on a plate, then broke off the stick, you could let in some air and the pudding would slide (relatively) easily out of the container. Smart, huh?

I always thought of this as "egg pudding (雞蛋布丁)", but didn't realize until this time that they could not make that claim and had to call it "egg flavored (雞蛋口味)", because no eggs were used in making these. It's true. I checked the list of ingredients. Eggs aren't listed. But I still love it.

Durian and mango pizza

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I came upon something last night while scrolling through social media. A friend had posted about the newest offering from Pizza Hut Taiwan that was stirring up a lot of controversy, and I knew immediately that I had to go get a taste... and it had to be today - my last day in Taiwan.

I had not realized that the business model for Pizza Hut had changed in Taiwan. Most of their outlets now are for delivery/takeout only. There are only three dine-in restaurants in all of Taipei, and the only option for dining in is the all-you-can-eat buffet. Of course, they do serve up a selection of their pizzas, which you can grab by the slice instead of ordering a whole pie. So I called 2 of the 3 outlets in Taipei to figure out which one was serving the new pizza today.

Durian mango pizza (榴芒水金金比薩) - YES, BOYS AND GIRLS... IT'S DURIAN! AND MANGO! ON A PIZZA!

So we've got chunks of durian - Thai Mon Thong (หมอนทอง), to be exact - but I found them to be a little more raw and crunchy. There's also durian jam which was, as expected, more intense in flavor. In addition to the Mozzarella that's been melted, they also sprinkled durian-flavored cheese on top. Yes, I did taste a couple of them individually and there was a hint of durian flavor in them. We've also got Irwin mango (愛文芒果) jam, and what I felt was the one thing that made it all work together - coconut powder. In Thailand you've got the sticky rice topped with either mango or durian, and in either case you get them with coconut milk on top. That's the hit of familiar flavors ringing a bell in my head.

Honestly, minutes before biting down on this, I thought about chickening out. I didn't think this would work and thought I might hate it and regret pulling this stunt. I was wrong. I wouldn't say it was the best pizza I've ever had, but I went back for a second slice.

Triple cheese pepperoni pizza (臘腸起司三重奏) - with Parmesan, Mozzarella, and a stuffed cheese crust. The cherry tomatoes were nice.

Seafood pizza (海鮮比薩) - it's a cheap pizza so I wasn't surprised at the tiny frozen shrimps. Also with fheese crust.

Teppanyaki steak pizza (鐵板牛柳) - actually pretty good, with black pepper in the sweet-tasting sauce.

I was pretty stuffed after 5 slices, and pretty happy. I had accomplished my goal of trying the special pizza, and it was a pretty unique experience for my last lunch in Taipei on this trip.

July 15, 2022

1940s tea party

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One of the sad things about the pandemic over the last two-and-a-half years, stemming from the fact that I haven't seen the Parental Units during that time, is that we haven't celebrated the important dates together. I usually travel back to Taipei to celebrate their wedding anniversary as well as our birthdays together, and none of that happened. So now that I'm spending 3 weeks in town, I decided to pick a night to make up for lost time.

Our family has a relatively long history with Paris 1930 at the Landis Taipei. It all started with that fateful dinner to celebrate dad's 60th, where we eventually popped open a very nice bottle of wine from the restaurant's wine list. Since then we have spent many special occasions there, and Jack has been at the restaurant and the hotel throughout this time.

Lots of things have changed since then, and the restaurant has gone through a number of chefs. The current chef is Takayama Hideki (高山英紀), and the restaurant has been rebranded as Paris 1930 de Hideki Takayama. His claim to fame is having taken first place twice at Bocuse d'Or Asia-Pacific - in 2014 and 2018 - and achieving fifth place at the 2015 Bocuse d'Or main competition. That's somebody whose cuisine I need to check out...

There were a few tasting menus on offer, but after weighing the options I chose La Saveur, which was kinda in the middle of the range.

There were 4 different amuses bouches:

The shot glass contained 3 different layers of granité: cucumber and basil, crushed ice, and watermelon. The top layer was pretty salty and really needed the ice in the middle, along with the watermelon, to balance it all out.

July 14, 2022

Taipei at Hong Kong prices

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Afu had been wanting to catch up and show me his restaurant after they finished renovations, but unfortunately they were hit with delays and could not complete on time. I was surprised when he suggested we meet for lunch at Longyue (朧粵), a relatively new Cantonese restaurant that Little Rabbit didn't think much of. It was perfect, then, that we were also joined by the Prince of Napa - whose critical opinions are even harsher than mine... if you could believe it.

Afu did the ordering and we figured he would know best. I just sat back and waited for the food to show up.

Roasted pork belly (冰燒三層肉) - the crackling was actually decent, but not enough fat for me. Mustard and shichimi (七味) on the side.

July 13, 2022

A very flowery meal

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This was the place I really wanted to check out. I had a pretty good meal at Florilège in Tokyo a few years ago, so I was pretty happy to see them open logy and add to the dining scene here in Taipei. I was hoping that Chef Tahara Ryogo (田原諒悟) would follow in the footsteps of Chef Hieda Ryohei (稗田良平) of Shoun RyuGin (祥雲龍吟) and make extensive use of the beautiful produce in Taiwan, and adapt his cuisine to showcase Taiwanese flavors.

I had originally wanted to take the Parental Units here, but decided against it when I realized it was mostly counter seating and it would be tough to carry on a good conversation. Things would be easier with just the three of us.

The restaurant claims that they don't provide printed menus because of environmental reasons. Well, this is annoying. I really would like to see a menu, and if they didn't want to waste paper, they could have easily let us scan a QR code for us to read a menu online. Plenty of other restaurants already do that, so why can't they?

Bigfin reef squid, confit lemon, cucumber, caviar - underneath the thin sheets of squid we had apparently some confit Italian lemon zest, although I didn't bother asking for the region or cultivar. There was also cucumber from Yilan County (宜蘭縣), and thick cubes of squid. The caviar on top was from France - but again, I didn't ask for the brand... or whether the caviar really came from French sturgeon (like La Maison Nordique) or it was just the brand that was French (like Kaviari)... Some chamomile oil on top.

Going up a different mountain

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Time to catch up with more friends I haven't seen for too long. I last saw the King almost exactly 3 years ago when he was in Hong Kong for a few days, and my other friend was last in Hong Kong nearly 5 years ago. I'm pretty glad that I was doing a long stay in Taiwan this time around so that I could spare some time to meet up with a few friends. I wanted to have more meals with Taiwanese cuisine, and I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the King suggested Mountain and Sea House (山海樓). It's been a few years since I was last at their original location, and I admit I was pretty curious to see what, if anything, has changed.

The King set us up in a private room with a pre-arranged menu, but of course some of us had ideas of our own. I asked for the menu to be shortened as I would have a big night out tonight, but I guess we needed to get to the minimum spend...

Deluxe Mountain and Sea House platter (山海樓豪華拼盤) - always start with this... today we only have 5 components, which is just fine by me.

July 12, 2022

Some last minute fun

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I had been away from Taiwan for far too long, and even before the pandemic I was mostly spending time eating at home with the Parental Units, or doing the occasional meal at a place with the ability to order à la carte. Tasting menu was a tough ask for mom, so this pretty much ruled out taking her to most of the newer fine dining establishments which have popped up over the last few years. As a result, I am pretty unfamiliar with the hip places in my hometown.

Thankfully Little Rabbit came to my rescue, and helped me book a couple of meals at places I've been wanting to try. Tonight we hit Impromptu by Paul Lee, which is in the corner of the Regent Galleria. Chef Paul Lee (李皞) wasn't in town tonight, but hopefully that didn't matter much.

The restaurant has an open kitchen, and this, plus what seems to be their policy on aircon, meant that the space was a little warm. Maybe that's why the guy at the neighboring table came in shorts. I was also grateful that my friend did not book us seats at the counter, since neither the heat nor the loud conversation from the neighbors would have been pleasant.

Buckwheat tart, cantaloupe, sausage - with diced cantaloupe, cantaloupe sorbet, and saucisson. A little lime zest shaving brightens things up.

Seaweed, melon, scallop, finger lime - using crispy laver (海苔) as tart base was perfect, as the flavors worked well with the diced scallops and Oriental melon (香瓜). We also have acidity coming from finger lime as well as jalapeños marinated in lemon.

July 9, 2022

The wedding banquet

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So we finally did it. Kind of. When Sankala and I got married in 2020 during what we thought was the height of the Covid pandemic, social distancing restrictions meant that our party consisted of the two of us, plus one witness on each side, and the civil celebrant who made it official. We had told ourselves and everyone else that when travel opened up again, we would host a 'real' wedding banquet in Taipei and invite our friends to join us there.

It's been almost 2 years since that fateful day, and travel still hasn't opened up for Hong Kong and Taiwan. Quarantine is still required at both destinations, and non-nationals would have a pretty tough time even getting into Taiwan. So we have kinda given up on the idea of doing a big bash, and allowed the Parental Units to organize a small dinner with a close circle of family and the Parental Units' friends.

I had been seeing posts about Silks House (晶華軒) at the Regent Taipei, and one particular dish tickled my fancy, so I informed the old fogeys of my intention to host the dinner there. As it turns out, on the night of our actual wedding, the Parental Units hosted a dinner at this very restaurant to celebrate dad's 80th birthday. It was from here that they spoke to us via a video call after our wedding ceremony. So the Parental Units contacted the restaurant to make sure the same private dining room was reserved as it is able to seat more than 20 people around one large table.

Meanwhile, I got in touch with the restaurant to set the menu. I had zero interest in taking their standard set menus as they inevitably include shark's fin - which is a definitely no-no in my book - and other high-end ingredients I don't have much interest in. I insisted on picking out the dishes that I wanted to try, and I am grateful for the Parental Units' willingness to indulge me.

We arranged a short ceremony before dinner so that Sankala and I could serve tea to the Parental Units as well as the elders in my family, and this was being done in a suite in the hotel upstairs. Due to a miscommunication between dad, the hotel, and me, we almost couldn't get it done in time. Fortunately we were able to clear things up and check-in properly for Sankala and mom to have their make-up done. The ceremonial tea service was relatively straightforward, and we had a number of people joining us for a photo op.

We adjourned to the restaurant for dinner, and dad happily made brief introductions regarding all of tonight's guests. Sankala remarked that she's always known dad to be the quiet one, so she was amazed at how much talking he actually did today...

The meal started with 2 appetizers. I had disregarded the recommendations of the restaurant and dispensed with their usual selection of 6 starters. When the appetizers were served, I quickly realized how foolish I looked... as there were too few portions to go around for a table of 22. Definitely did not start off on the right foot...

Wagyu beef tongue with chili oil (蔥麻和牛舌) - this was very tender, and a little spicy.

Mixed shredded vegetables with sea cucumber (拾香海參絲) - this was OK.

July 7, 2022

Yilan hop 2022 day 2: dejeuner à côte

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Just as I was planning my trip back to Taiwan and thinking of excursions out of Taipei with the Parental Units, I saw the announcement from Fudy about his new restaurant. He apparently decided to team up with André Chiang in his latest venture, located in a white, 3-story mansion nicknamed “the little white house (小白宮)" built in the 1980s which onced belonged to the Lu Clan in Toucheng (頭城). The look and feel of the building - fresh after some renovation - made it look like a holiday home on the Côte d'Azur.

July 6, 2022

Yilan hop 2022 day 1: Peking duck sushi

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Years ago when I heard a friend heap praise upon the roast Peking duck at Silks Place Yilan (蘭城晶英酒店), I wasted no time in making a booking to try it out. While there were a few things I didn't like about that meal, I thought a few of the dishes were truly outstanding. I even thought the duck sushi was one of the best things I ate that year, and possibly merits a visit to the Red Lantern (紅樓) restaurant just by itself.

So when we decided to come to Yilan this week, I decided to make a return visit to the restaurant. After all, Sankala has never tried this Peking duck. Due to our smaller group compared to my last visit, I chose to reserve just the basic Cherry Valley roasted duck cuisine in five ways (櫻桃霸王鴨五吃).

As we were coming on a week night and not on a busy weekend, we were able to be seated within the restaurant proper instead of being shoved into the big function room. The level of service, though, didn't seem to be much different. Every single table was here to have the duck, which meant that a certain number of courses were being served across a large number of tables. The service has become factory assembly line-like, which is to say very mechanical.

I also ordered up a couple of extra dishes since there were no vegetables included in the set, and also got some fried rice in case dad didn't feel full after just the duck.

Fried rice with spring onion (蔥花炒飯) - WTF?! In what world is it acceptable for the fried rice to be served FIRST and not LAST in any Chinese meal?! Well... I guess we were hungry so we made sure dad got some food in him before the duck arrived. He IS, after all, known to get hangry...

Yilan hop 2022 day 1: capybaras!

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We didn't originally plan this trip out of Taipei today. The outing was meant to be a day-trip for lunch tomorrow to try out a brand new restaurant, which would have been a little more rushed. But as I was doing research on what to do in Taiwan, I came across a social media post from an old friend who had stayed at a hotel in Yilan, and they had capybaras on the hotel grounds. Knowing how much Sankala would love to see capybaras and to pet them, I immediately discussed adding this to our itinerary with dad, and someone got very, very excited.

I convinced the Parental Units to take the train instead of driving, so this was my first trip on the Tze-chiang Puyuma Express (普悠瑪自強號). I was dying to try one of the Taiwan Railway Bento (台鐵便當) so I booked one along with our train tickets. It's a simple lunch box with a piece of fried pork chop over rice, along with a soy egg (滷蛋), fishcake, and some veg. As dad was, predictably, hungry after only a small breakfast, he shared the lunchbox with me during our late-morning train ride.

July 5, 2022

Beef noodle soup: hers and his

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We're back in Taiwan so one of the things we must do is to have beef noodle soup (牛肉麵). Sankala and I each have our favorite shop for this, so we found time to hit both.

First up is Lin Dong Fang Beef Noodles (林東芳牛肉麵), Sankala's favorite. It's not a very premium version but does a very good job delivering good value for one's money.

Half tendon half beef noodle (半筋半肉麵) - I took a small bowl today whereas Sankala chose the bigger portion, much to my surprise. I still do like the star anise in the clear broth along with other Chinese herbs, and the beef shank and tendon were both tender.

July 4, 2022

The most sinful bowl of rice

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Now that my quarantine period is over, I can start to meet up with friends who I haven't seen in far too long. J and I have known each other for almost 20 years, and we last saw each other 5 years ago. I was definitely not passing up an opportunity to catch up with her. I wanted something casual as it's just the 3 of us, and as it happens, My Stove (My灶) is really close to her home. This was perfect... because I've been craving a certain dish for a long, long time...

Steamed chicken (水果雞) - we pre-ordered half a chicken as this is very popular. The chickens are apparently fed on a diet which includes fruits, hence the name of the dish. Nice and its own but better with the different dips and condiments.

Braised pork rice (滷肉飯) - for this interview with the South China Morning Post, this was among one of the dishes I mentioned that I most wanted to have once I was able to travel again. So here I am!

July 3, 2022

Taichung hop 2022 day 2: triple-recommended

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After a late one last night, it was not surprising that we would get a slow start this morning. We reluctantly bid the hotel bed goodbye and checked out just before our early lunch, and thankfully Shan-Shin (膳馨創作料理) is within walking distance from the hotel, on the other side of the National Museum of Fine Arts.

I thought things would be easy at a restaurant serving up Taiwanese cuisine since we could order à la carte, but that just meant I would inevitably over-order…

Preserved radish cracker (菜脯餅) – our welcome snack was nice but the seasoning powder definitely packed lots of MSG…

Stir-fried egg with mixed chili (椒香催淚蛋) – with a Chinese name like that, one naturally expects the chili to deliver so much heat that it induces tears just like tear gas. But… no. Not really spicy, even for a wimp like me. The fragrance of chili peppers are there but there’s very little heat.

July 2, 2022

Taichung hop 2022 day 1: sedap Singapura

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The real reason for dragging the Parental Units to Taichung is dinner at JL Studio. Jimmy Lim (林恬耀) is, of course, now a familiar name on the food scene in Asia - having climbed the ranks of Asia's 50 Best Restaurants and also bagging himself 2 macarons along the way. I was first introduced to him a few years ago in Macau, but as his playground is not in my hometown, it was never convenient for me to go check it out. Well... I'm in Taiwan for a whole 3 weeks this time around, so I figured I could plan a trip. Since Little Rabbit is a regular customer, I asked her to join our little gathering.

The young side of our table took the alcoholic beverage pairing while the old fogeys took it easy. But first, Jimmy very kindly offered us an extra bottle of Champagne so the Champagne Monster could start the meal with a smile on her face... and the old fogeys got to drink it, too!

2012 Huré Frères Instantanée, dégorgée le novembre 2019 - pretty lean on the palate, since it is, after all, extra brut.

Taste of home: Kueh pie tie - in a variation on the classic, we have botan shrimp (牡丹海老), cuttlefish, and shredded carrot and radish... toppped with a ton of herbs like chervil and flowers like chrysanthemum. The dried shrimp flavors were pretty strong.

Taste of home: Rose kueh - the achappam came in a savory variety with green soy beans and pea shoots - the latter delivering very green flavors along with coriander seeds in the sweet pea cream on the deep-fried dough.

Taichung hop 2022 day 1: the sweetest day

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We're taking the Parental Units on a short hop to Taichung for the weekend. I'm kinda surprised that mom hasn't been here since that concert back in 2008 - and they didn't even stay over - so this would be a nice change of scenery for her.

The train ride on Taiwan High Speed Rail was smooth and uneventful. After a 20-minute ride in a taxi, we arrived at The Place Taichung (台中大毅老爺行旅). It was much too early to check-in, so we left our bags with the hotel and went for a stroll. It would be nice to do a short walk on the grounds of the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts (國立台灣美術館) across the street.

I chose Caffè Firenze for lunch because, in addition to its proximity to the museum, it was the one place among many recommended to me by a friend that was least likely to cause issues with mom's palate. An added benefit, as it turns out, was that we were the only customers for lunch today - a definite plus when one is spending time with one of the top two cities currently with the biggest Covid case counts...

I ordered a selection of antipasti, primi piatti, and secondi piatti. Imagine my surprise when one of the primi piatti showed up first, before any antipasti. I questioned our waitress, and the answer I got was that since the veggies were still being grilled, the pasta naturally arrived first. HUH?!

Handmade king prawns and Burrata ravioli - the only handmade pasta on the menu. Yes, the dough was kinda al dente, and the presentation was kinda pretty, but both mom and Sankala complained that the prawns in the filling weren't fresh. Maybe due to poor business, the prawns had been frozen for too long.


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