December 23, 2023

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.

Mudan appetizer: South African abalone, caviar (《牡丹先付》南非鮑 魚子醬) - this was our substitute for fish cum, and I'd say it's a damn sight prettier! Love the perilla flowers adding their wonderful fragrance.

The abalone was very, very tender, with some Yumepirika (ゆめぴりか) rice from Hokkaido. This was a very delicious mouthful, and a fantastic start to our lunch.

Mudan bowl: Taitung grouper (《牡丹椀盛》台東 石斑) - we've got a couple of thin slices of grouper in dashi (出汁), with a small piece of yuzu rind and some sansho leaves (木の芽).

Kagoshima classic: extremely rare makiebi (《鹿兒島》經典 極稀 卷海老) - I asked the staff why this was described as "extremely rare", but I did not get an answer. I found out separately that the term makiebi (卷海老) is used to describe Japanese tiger prawns which are sized between 25 to 30g, with 20 to 25g speciments called chu-makiebi (中卷海老), and those under 20g referred to as sai-makiebi (才卷海老).

Well, these prawns were on the small side, very sweet and tender. The batter was very thin and delicate.

The second prawn was fried at a higher temperature.

As a result the batter was a little more crispy on this one.

Kagoshima classic: sillago (《鹿兒島》經典 鱚魚) - very hot when served, very fluffy, very nice.

Hokkaido ultra premium: Japanese pink sea urchin with perilla leaf (《北海道》大極上 赤海膽盛大葉) - this is, of course, one of the highlights of any high-end tempura meal. Gotta say the sea urchin was very rich and very creamy. I didn't check the box to see who the supplier was, though.

Hokkaido seafood assortment: scallop (《北海道》海幸盛 貝柱) - how scallops are done is a good measure of a tempura chef's skill.

This was beautifully done and still mi-cuit. So, so tasty.

Northeastern tip delicacy: lobster (《東北角》珍品 龍蝦) - this was our substitute for shark's fin, and lemme tell ya... I would take this any day of the week. These pieces just looked absolutely stunning!

Just like the scallop, this was cooked perfectly mi-cuit, and the texture was very, very springy. The flavors were fantastic, too!

Yuanshan specialty: baby sweetfish (《員山》名物 子鮎) - it's a little strange to be served baby sweetfish (稚鮎) in the winter, as the season is normally summer, but these are farmed in Yuanshan (員山) township in Yilan County (宜蘭縣). Very nice, and beautifully presented.

Hokkaido specialty: corn (《北海道》名物 玉米) - I love sweet corn from Hokkaido, and this did not disappoint in the last. The texture was very crunchy but also very springy, too.

Small dish: spinach with dashi vinegar jelly (《小鉢》菠菜 柴魚醋凍) - pretty refreshing.

Mudan specialty: Hokkaido salmon roe (《牡丹限定》北海道 筋子) - not sure about the "only at Mudan" part when it comes to sujiko (筋子), but this was nice. I love any kind of salmon roe, whether marinated or not.

Mudan specialty: Gifu A4 wagyu with mushroom(《牡丹限定》岐阜A5和牛 段木香菇) - this was a piece where the beef was wrapped around a small shiitake (椎茸).

The mushroom itself was very tender and packed with plenty of flavors, while the sirloin was fatty and very, very tender. This was just fantastic! I could have had another 2 or 3 of these...

Zhushan specialty: winter bamboo shoots (《竹山》名物 冬筍) - I love bamboo shoots in the winter, and this came with a crispy batter on the outside.

Fukuoka special selection: conger eel (《福岡》特饌 穴子) - I wondered if this piece of conger eel was fried for a little too long, as I could start to taste the oil in the batter a little bit more. Just about the only blemish on an otherwise stellar meal.

Shizuoka specialty: shrimp taro (《靜岡》名物 海老芋) - the texture was so, soooo smooth inside. So delicious.

Mudan rice: prawn and seafood tencha (《牡丹食事》海老 海鮮珍天茶) - I again opted for tencha (天茶) over tendon (天丼).

The pickles were pretty nice.

Beipu: Orient Beauty Tea from national treasure Jiang Zhao Xuan (《北埔》國寶姜肇宣 東方美人茶) - we took a sip of the tea first.

Tainan traditional muscovado: lotus root mochi (《台南》古法黑糖 蓮餅) - this may look like warabi mochi (蕨餅), but it's much softer. Made from powdered lotus root grown in Baihe (白河) in Tainan, this was served with muscovado and a sprinkle of kinako (黄粉).

It's kinda fun to watch how far it would stretch...

New Zealand, Central Otago: cherry (《紐西蘭》中奧塔哥 櫻桃)

I don't drink much at lunch, and I knew that Little Rabbit was bringing a bottle of bubbly, so I came empty-handed. I guess the Compatriot was thirsty, and the ladies would always oblige him...

1999 Bruno Paillard Nec Plus Ultra, dégorgée en Janvier 2012 - drinking beautifully with lovely notes of marmalade and savory Chinese salted plum. Nice and ripe now.

Kokuryu Daiginjo Ryu (黒龍 大吟醸 龍), 2023 - very classic with notes of banana and starchy rice. Reasonably sweet with decent depth on the palate.

I gotta say that I was very impressed. It's been a while since I've had tempura outside Japan at such a high level, and I think this was probably better than some of the famous places I've been to in Japan. I'm really happy to have had the chance to come try it out, but I wonder when I'll be able to have another chance?

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