December 31, 2023

The best dishes I had in 2023

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Another year of eating pretty well, now that we've been released from the shackles of the pandemic and resumed travel around the world. Revenge travel, it is called, and I've made no less than 6 trips to Taiwan just to see the Parental Units. Of course, there were other trips, too... and I finally made it outside of Asia towards the end of the year.

Once again I have compiled a list of dishes I've enjoyed during the year which drew the most emotional reactions from me. I've had many, many delicious dishes over hundreds of meals, and as always it is no easy task to pare the list down to a manageable number. The dishes were tasted in Hong Kong unless otherwise indicated.

Golden roast pigs from New Territories Farms (新界農場大金豬), from Red Seasons Aroma Restaurant (季季紅風味餐廳) - it had been four years since I was last able to taste this roast pork... where the pigs were roasted in underground ovens and the very crunchy crackling come with that beautiful smoky flavor. Just so, so happy to be able to enjoy this with friends again.

December 30, 2023

Last dance for Steve

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I got pinged by Giona a couple of weeks ago, asking if we were interested in joining dinner at Hansik Goo tonight. Chef Steve Lee is leaving the restaurant for greener pastures, and tonight would be his last "regular" service. Foursheets and I haven't been back at the restaurant since receiving terrible service at our last meal, and I figured we could join the gang for another taste. The restaurant was right to put us in the big private room at the back, since we would be pretty loud.

The menu said "Steve's Last Dance", which is reminiscent of the documentary elBulliLastWaltz...

December 25, 2023

Dry aged in Taipei

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It's Christmas day and once again, the Parental Units are at my place for dinner. While we pandered to mom's tastes last night, tonight we are firming aiming to make dad happy. And that is easily achieved with a piece of good steak. On the advice of Big Mac, we went to Taylor Butchery (泰勒肉鋪) and picked up a nice, big piece of dry-aged côte de bœuf. And Foursheets built a nice dinner around this hunk of meat.

December 24, 2023

A 4kg Christmas

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It's been four years since I last spent Christmas with the Parental Units, and this time we decided to cook dinner for them. More specifically, Foursheets will be doing the cooking so that mom doesn't have to. We decided early on that the main theme for Christmas Eve would be an Alaskan king crab, and we spent some time doing our homework in terms of sourcing our crustacean. In the end, we ended up picking up a live one from Addiction Aquatic Development (上引水產).

The crab I chose weighed in at over 4kg, and while it had been out of the water for 9 hours by the time Foursheets stabbed its heart with a knife, it was still alive enough to wiggle its legs while we posed for pictures with it.

December 23, 2023

Good beef, meh broth

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Foursheets always wants to have beef noodle soup whenever she's in Taiwan, and tonight she's decided that she wouldn't hit her favorite Lin Dong Fang Beef Noodles (林東芳牛肉麵). Instead, we decided to return to Noodle Cuisine (天下三絕麵食館) as we liked the beef there.

Cold eggplant (千張茄子)

Beef chuck rib noodle soup (牛肩胛小排麵) - I've always liked this place for the amount of good quality beef they serve, and this bowl was no exception. Three delicious ribs. Tender and flavorful. The broth, though, was pretty middle-of-the-road. It's neither really rich and intense like what you'd get at Beef Father Beef Noodles (牛爸爸牛肉麵), nor light and herbal like Lin Dong Fang. It's a very decent bowl, but nothing more.

I guess we could do some more exploring to find other options in the future.

Deep-fried before Christmas

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I wanted to have one nice meal while we were in Taiwan this week, and once again I was leaning on Little Rabbit for some suggestions. It was, of course, an impossible task to find seats on short notice at most of the well-known restaurants in Taipei... and I wasn't the least bit surprised when all the answers came back negative.

Well, I decided to randomly check on a few restaurants myself, to see if I could find some place that might, on the off chance, have seats available. Imagine my surprise when I saw from the booking website that Mudan Tempura (牡丹 • 極上 天ぷら) had an opening for lunch today. And at both locations, too! And this just 10 days ahead during the busy Christmas season. That was really unexpected. So I invited the Compatriot to come along, too... even though he had just spent about 10 days in Japan and only returned yesterday.

I hate being late to a restaurant, and being late to Japanese restaurants is a cardinal sin. Many sushi and tempura restaurants prep and serve all guests at the same time, so late arrivals end up delaying service for other guests. Well... unfortunately I was the late one today and arrived about 15 minutes after the appointed time, so I apologized to the chefs and the staff.

Little Rabbit reminded me to tell the restaurant about not wanting to have shark's fin, so I made sure to advise them of the dietary preferences for Foursheets and myself. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that Little Rabbit also had dietary preferences of her own...

We were shown today's ingredients at the start of the meal, and sure enough, shark's fin was prominently displayed on a tray.

December 22, 2023

Gumabi with no gubami

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We're back in Taiwan for the holidays, and took this chance to meet up with a few friends. I can't believe I haven't seen Ms. Tiffany in a decade... but so glad to have caught up with her today. Unfortunately, our lunch was completely underwhelming and a real disappointment.

Gubami Social is a casual establishment run by Lanshu Chen (陳嵐舒), whose former restaurant Le Moût arguably served the best French cuisine in Taiwan for a while. Naturally, any place that bears her signature these days have the benefit of halo effect. I wasn't exactly dying to try out the place, but since we were denied entry a few months ago when we tried to casually walk in, Foursheets decided that she would like to give it a try. So here we are.

The name Gubami is a transliteration of the Hokkien pronunciation of 牛肉麵 - beef noodle soup - and was the initial focus of Lanshu's first venture after closing down Le Moût. Ms. Tiffany decided that, as it was her first visit, she would like to have the signature beef noodle soup that the restaurant is named after.

Well... The restaurant was about 60% full for a weekday lunch, and we were told that two of the dishes we wanted to order - including the "signature" beef noodle - had already been sold out. WTF?!

Scallion pita: fried scallion pita with sauce trio (手作蔥餅配三種Social招牌蘸醬: 口袋香蔥餅) - OK, so these weren't your standard Chinese scallion pancakes (蔥油餅) but pita made in a similar way... which explains why it didn't taste as good to me as the original stuff...

December 14, 2023

Rayas without Lord Rayas

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I don't show up at wine dinners often, as I've had some bad experiences with sitting next to horrible strangers. I'm also a cheapskate who prefers to drink my own wines, as I've got plenty. But when Hairy Legs pings me and suggests that maybe I should come to one of these dinners, I figured it would be wise to take his advice. So here I am, back at Caprice, and with no bottle of wine in hand. A rare occasion, indeed.

The restaurant has partnered up with ThinkWine to present a lineup of wines from Famille Reynaud of Château Rayas fame. Over the last few years, wines from this producer has seen a big increase in interest from wine lovers, and as a result the prices have experienced a massive surge... even down to the humble vin de pays and Côtes-du-Rhône. While the price of dinner was not low, Hairy Legs felt it was reasonably-priced... and I kinda agreed with him.

We had a small group tonight which included a Vaucluse native who represents the producer. I also met Lord Rayas' niece for the first time. More than 20 years after I first met and starting drinking with Lord Rayas - well-known for his love for Château Rayas but who, undoubtedly, relegates Château de Fonsalette to something he gargles with - I am now drinking with his niece. I wish someone had recorded my facial expressions the moment I was told of her relationship to my friend.

Well, we started with an aperitif while waiting for everyone to arrive:

December 7, 2023

Excursion to Takao: fly high, butterfly

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The upside of spending a night in Kaohsiung on this short excursion is that I get to have dinner in a city I barely know. Thanks to spending most of my life outside Taiwan, I really don't know places outside of Greater Taipei very well. And given that this trip was a last-minute idea, I wasn't surprised that a few of the places I had wanted to try in Kaohsiung didn't have availability with one-day notice... Fortunately, I could still grab us a table at Papillon at the TAi Urban Resort (承億酒店).

Chef Xavier Boyer and I barely know each other, but the Parental Units and I first met him 10 years ago when he was running the kitchen at L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon Taipei. I had a couple of visits to Gaddi's at the Peninsula Hong Kong when he moved back to Asia, but haven't had much contact with him in the last 6 or 7 years. So... tonight was a good opportunity to see what he's up to these days.

We were seated at the bar area first for our welcome drink, which was a cup of vin froid aux épicé. As the weather was pretty warm today, it made sense that the kitchen prepared a chilled version instead of the traditional vin chaud.

Excursion to Takao: crabby afternoon

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The Parental Units and I are taking a trip down south, so we hopped on the Taiwan High Speed Rail this morning and took the (relatively) slow train to Kaohsiung. After getting off at Zuoying Station (左營站), I decided that I should lead the two elderly folks on a 1 km walk to lunch...

I had never heard of Hei Bonn Gōrudohausu (平凡五金行) until a couple of days ago. A journalist had just posted about his visit to this gourmet food store and mentioned that they had Shanghaiese hairy crabs (大閘蟹) for sale, and also the fact that there's a kitchen upstairs which would cook them for customers free of charge. I know that mom's always up for having these crabs, and she readily agreed to come check the place out.

I had called yesterday to check whether they still had the crabs, and the store clerk suggested that I reserve some because they only had a limited number of them. I chose not to do this, and figured we'll just see what is available on the spot. Well, someone had got to the crab station literally seconds before us and bought a few. By the time the previous customer was done, they only had one crab weighing around 5 taels and 6 crabs weighing 7 taels. We originally just wanted to buy 4 crabs, but the clerk suggested that we take advantage of their "buy 5 get 1 free" deal, so we took all 6 of the bigger crabs.

We went upstairs and got the staff to steam the crabs for us. They were very friendly and helpful, and agreed to steam them in 2 batches based on our instructions.

The three of us each took a crab to start.

Lovers of these crabs adore them for their roe, and at this point in the season, the male crabs had plenty of it.

Actually, these male crabs also had plenty of translucent sperm, too, in addition to the "roe".

While walking around downstairs, I came across this daily quiche, and this came with a couple of prawns on top along with some mayo. Pretty satisfying, but I wish I had gotten around to eat it before my crab came.

Mom took a second crab and it was better than her first, so she was happy. And that, of course, was all that mattered.

December 6, 2023

Taiwanese fatty pork

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As I'm spending a few days back in Taiwan, Imma use this chance to eat some of my favorite local food. As it turned out, I was really missing some fatty pork!

I landed a few days ago and didn't have lunch on the plane, so I decided to check out a place near home that I hadn't had a chance to try for the last few years. Jin Da Braised Pork Rice (今大魯肉飯) is apparently pretty famous, and when I showed up at 2:30 p.m. on a Saturday, there was still a line waiting to place orders. Thankfully I didn't have to wait too long, since I don't have much patience to line up for food.

Braised pork rice with soy egg (魯肉飯加魯蛋) - pretty good. This is my kind of braised pork (滷肉), which is to say that it is made entirely of skin and the fat below the skin. No lean meat whatsover, so the texture is extremely soft and satisfying.

December 3, 2023

Yilan in Taipei

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A friend from Hong Kong is in town and visiting Taipei for the first time, and since I'm also back home for a few days, I arranged to meet up with him and his traveling companion. Taking into account of the street food and simple eats they have already experienced, I asked them to join me for lunch at Lu Sang (呂桑), an old favorite of mine serving simple fare from Yilan (宜蘭).

Given that this would be my only chance to introduce my friend to some local Taiwanese fare, it wasn't surprising that we ended up over-ordering... and ended up with a combination of what they wanted to try as well as what I thought are "must order" specialties...

Stir-fried white water snowflake (炒水蓮) - white water snowflake (水蓮) is a very local vegetable, and while I have found this imported to Hong Kong, it's not widely available. I love this crunchy veg, and here they've cooked it with some finely-shredded pork and a little wood ear fungus.


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