June 23, 2023

Taiwanese tapas

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We're meeting up with Little Rabbit tonight to make up for Foursheets cancelling on her during our last trip to Taipei. We had a casual beef hotpot lunch near our place and the girls went up to get their nails done, but we regrouped for dinner. I didn't have any requests in terms of dinner venue, so it was decided that we would meet at T+T. I knew that this place had gotten themselves a macaron but never checked to see what kind of cuisine they served - until a couple of days ago. I was a little curious about how the kitchen would present familiar Taiwanese flavors.

The restaurant serves up a single tasting menu, with a choice of main course out of 2 options. Of course, beef is always an option...

Grass jelly | aubergine | shiso (仙草 茄子 紫蘇) - we were meant to place the contents of the bowl (which included, cockscomb, shredded chicken which had been roasted in butter, eggplant, as well as shredded spring onion) onto the piece of deep-fried chicken skin "cracker". However I didn't understand why we were given spoons instead of chopsticks or even forks, which would have been more functional. In any case, the toppings were tasty as there was chicken broth jelly mixed in along with tiny basil leaves and tiny perilla leaves.

After we had finished all the solids, the chicken soup with grass jelly was served for us to finish up. This was pretty nice, especially the sweet aftertaste (回甘) from the grass jelly (仙草).

Oyster | garlic | vermicelli (生蠔 蒜泥 麵線) - this is an off-menu extra that seems to be served quite often, which totally evokes memories of one of Taiwan's most iconic dishes - oyster vermicelli (蠔仔麵線). An oyster was wrapped with "noodles" made of kataif before being deep-fried to a crisp, accompanied by garlic mayo and shaved katsuobushi (鰹節). This was a really tasty dish. The kataif was very nice and crunchy, and the mayo had good acidity with lots of spicy kick while delivering lots of garlic. When everything is put together, it really does taste like a bowl of oyster vermicelli - and the bonito flakes were a thoughtful touch.

The only complaint I have is the lack of utensils, as it was really difficult to try to pick up the sauce and the flakes using the skewered oyster.

Cuttlefish | bamboo shoot | plum (軟絲 竹筍 梅子) - the dish took inspiration from common Taiwanese cold starters featuring bamboo shoots and cuttlefish. Here the lovely and sweet summer bamboo shoots came in thin slices, while the thick piece of chilled cuttlefish was scored but not cut all the way through - and the latter was something we couldn't understand... as it made the cuttlefish difficult to chew. The dipping sauce made of root vegetables was OK, as were the tiny dabs of plum sauce, but the molecular olive oil caviar seemed more of a curiosity. At least the fiddlehead fern (過貓) underneath was nice.

For the next course, we were first introduced to the broth made with ginseng, Chinese angelica (當歸), wolfberries, and jujube.

Lotus seed | yam | pork broth (蓮子 山藥 豬骨) - the inspiration for this dish came from herbal soup with pig intestines (四神湯). On top of the steamed egg custard we have lotus seeds, Chinese yam, nasturtium leaves, and crispy chips made of jamón ibérico. The flavors of the latter were nice but very heavy, and needed the other ingredients for balance. We also thought there were too many lotus seeds here.

Scallop | shrimp | laksa (干貝 白蝦 叻沙) - the sheet of flat noodles was made with scallops and Pacific white shrimp (白蝦). This was accompanied by some Stout red shrimps (胭脂蝦) and tau pok (豆包) which had been stir-fried with chili paste, and laksa foam. Pretty tasty dish.

I should have followed Foursheets's lead and tasted the noodle on its own, because once it's mixed in with the laksa foam which was reasonably spicy with a good dose of acidity from lime juice, one would never be able to taste any scallop or shrimp flavors in the noodle. It's a shame that the kitchen put in all this effort into the noodles as my guess is that 90% or more of the diners wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

King crab | chili | turmeric (雪場蟹 辣椒醬 薑黃) - another off-menu treat. The crab had been coated in batter and deep-fried tempura-style, and served with a sauce that is used in Singaporean chili crab. A little sweet and tasty.

Truffle | foie gras | wheel pie (松露 鴨肝 車輪餅) - apparently, this dish is so popular that the kitchen is practically forbidden from taking it off the menu. Kinda like Richard Ekkebus' sea urchin and caviar at Amber, I guess...

Well, the creamy filling came with obvious bitterness so we can taste the presence of liver, but the porcini mushroom flavors were so overpowering that one had to work hard to distinguish the truffle flavors. The filling was also on the salty side and needed the sweetness of the pastry to balance.

At this point they should probably take out the "truffle" in the name and replace with "mushroom".

Lamb saddle | angelica | wolfberry (羊鞍 當歸 枸杞) - the pan-fried lamb saddle was seasoned with some Chinese angelica, and accompanied by wolfberry purée. Pretty nice.

Salted fish | shiitake | rice (鹹魚 冬菇 越光米) - the carb course came in two parts, and partially takes inspiration from traditional Taiwanese breakfast items.

Pork roll with marinated cucumber (瓜仔肉卷) - a chunk of pork is encased in a ring of pork mousse along with some marinated cucumbers (醬瓜) like a roularde. The sauce was a little smoky and reminded me of shacha (沙茶) sauce

The rice with diced salted fish came covered in a layer of shiitake mushroom slices along with thin wafers of salted egg yolk. The flavors here were relatively gentle, which was perhaps the reason it was suggested that we pour the leftover sauce from the pork roll on the rice.

Bird nest | peach | elder (燕碎 水蜜桃 接骨木) - the peach purée was a little gritty, but the floral flavors from the elderflower were very nice.

Pineapple | mum flower | lemon grass (鳳梨 菊花 香茅) - in the middle we have bars of pineapple (倒刺鳳梨 or 菠蘿) with a groove carved out to encase a strip of potato starch jelly (粉粿). This came with some really sweet syrup made with chrysanthemums on the left that turned out to be too fucking strong in terms of flavor. On the right we have some diced pineapple and lemon balm below a quenelle of lemongrass and coconut milk ice cream. I found that the coconut milk was too sweet and overpowering for the lemongrass. If one took the effort to blend all the ingredients in one mouthful, then it could have a chance of working.

The herbal tea was made with camomile, fennel, and apple. The fennel was very strong.

Knowing that the girls had a headstart on alcohol - OF COURSE they had Champagne just before showing up at dinner - I brought a couple of bottles of bubbly and kept it civilized...

1995 Bruno Paillard Nec Plus Ultra, dégorgée octobre 2006, bouteille 6,252/9,393 - nice nose of salted plum, definitely very savory. Beautiful and a little nutty. More savory almost an hour after opening but this warmed up a little so it was slightly bitter on the palate. About 1 hour and 45 minutes later this was more elegant, and more than 2 hours after opening there was a bit more toast on the nose and lots of marmalade. A little sweet and ripe on the palate, along with lots of savory minerals. Drinking so beautifully.

Krug Grande Cuvée, 170ème Édition, ID 221035 - very fresh with lots of mousse. Pretty floral, good amount of acidity that was above average but acceptable. Later on showing savory minerals. Around 2½ hours later there was a lot of toast that showed up.

This was a fun meal, watching the kitchen team reinterpret classic Taiwanese and Singaporean dishes. There's certainly room for improvement, but we had a pretty happy evening. Many thanks to Little Rabbit for taking us here.

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