Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Krug Room + Mandarin Grill: Pictorial

I've always been a fan of the Mandarin Oriental restaurants. Why? Well, because of the below...

Krug Room: "Meat Fruit"
- Liver pâté disguised as a mini pear (thank you, progressive gastronomy). Served with black truffle brioche.

Krug Room: "'Rain' Flower Pot Salad"
Mix of steamed and raw greens arranged in arugula "soil" purée.

Krug Room: "Bounty Bar"
Coconut and chocolate with pop rocks = :D

Mandarin Grill: Amuse Bouche
Spherical olive + spun sugar sitting on some black sesame situation.

Mandarin Grill: "RAW" ($268)
Kindai, salmon, hamachi, botan shrimp, sake, cucumber.

Mandarin Grill: "Black Cod" ($428)
Cod with coriander, ginger, miso, sesame, praline. And Oyster leaf.

FOOD: 4.5/5

1/F, Mandarin Oriental
5 Connaught Road, Central
2825-4014 // 2825-4004

[TAIWAN] Du Hsiao Yueh: Good Enough

(Tan Tsai Noodles: the one Taiwanese dish that moves me)

Yes yes yes, it's a tourist trap. But I made the pilgramage anyway and hit up Du Hsiao Yueh during my Taiwan trip. One of the oldest AND most authentic Tainan joints in Taipei City, Du Hsiao Yueh does a mean Tan Tsai noodle (NT$50) topped with the traditional works of mince and single shrimp.

Compared to the starchier, thick noodles of Taipei, Tainan Tan Tsai noodles are on the lighter, more slurpable side. Personally, I prefer the latter, even in terms of the broth. And seriously, at NT$50 a pop, it'd be obscene not to lap it all up.

(Open since that long ago)

(Lobster roe roll)

As for the other dishes, it blew hot and cold for me. I guess I just really don't "get" Taiwanese food. Among the many small plates we ordered, only the lobster roe roll (NT$200) stood out for me. Part of me resented its resemblance to an American fusion sushi roll (random vegetables + pickled carrot + lobster roe + dab of mayo --> wrapped in nori --> wrapped in rice paper roll) but it was interesting, at least.

I'll probably never understand Taiwanese food. But at least I'll have the Tan Tsai noodles to fall back on. That's good enough for me.

No. 12, Alley 8, Lane 216, Sec 4 Jhongsiao E Road
Taipei City, Taiwan
(886) 2 2773-1244

[TAIWAN] Sadaharu Aoki: Love Letter

Dear Sadaharu Aoki,

I’ve had a crush on you for over five years. I admit, at first, it was your looks that attracted me – everything about you is beautiful. I fell for your clean, minimalistic white packaging, your rows of chocolate blocks dyed in the Pantone spectrum. But it didn’t take long for me to fall in love with everything else about you too – your substance. The perfect crunch-to-chew ratio of your delicate macarons never cease to wow me. And your creativity (matcha/earl gray jam, anyone?) impresses me to no end.

When I see you, I can’t help but spend all my money on you. It’s not that I think you are exchangeable for mere currency, but I just have an urge to splurge and spoil you. Don’t blame me. It’s only because I love you too much.

Eat Love Write

(Chocolate-encased macarons)

(Chocolates: in all the Pantone shades)

(Macarons: love)

FOOD: 4.75/5
ATMOSPHERE: N/A (it’s a counter)

Shop 11073, B2/F, Bellavita
No.28, Song Ren Road
Taipei City, Taiwan
(886) 2 8729-2759

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Yiu Kee: Summer Seafood Tour

I don’t usually trek out to faraway Ap Lei Chau for lunch on a weekday. But when my favorite food writer, KC Gourmet offered to take me on a seafood tour of the area, how could I say no?

To start things off, KC took me to the fishing ships parked out in the Ap Lei Chau waterfront promenade. Two fisher people were diligently cleaning and gutting their day’s catch with lightning quickness. Impressive. After trading in $20 for a big bag of fresh loach fish, we made our way back to the Ap Lei Chau market for the rest of our lunch provisions.

(Daily catch)

(Loach for lunch)

KC took me on a quick round of the seafood market, all the way explaining to me how to tell if an abalone is fresh or not, or where to buy the best pounded cuttlefish in the winter. We ended up with a few more bags of fresh seafood and made our way up to the second floor cooked foods center to drop off the goods at Yiu Kee. While Yiu Kee has its own menu of stir-fried noodles, rice and bla bla bla, most people tend to do what we did. That is, buy some seafood from the market downstairs and bring it up to Yiu Kee and ask them to cook it to your liking for a nominal “oil fee.”

(Sea snails: big n' fat)

(Steamed abalone: sweetness)

First to arrive was a heaping plate of blanched sea snails. We were ooh-ing over how big and fat the snails looked in the market. Cooked, they were succulently sweet, with a nice bit of chew and bite. Within mere minutes, the two of us had worked up a huge mound of snail shells on the plastic covered fold-up table. Our table was then graced with a half dozen steamed abalone – again, sweet and fresh, albeit with a more deepset flavor and fragrance than the sea snails, thanks to the addition of dried pomelo peel.

(Steamed scallops: lowlight)

(Loach fish in oil salt water)

(Single loach)

The steamed scallops with vermicelli and minced garlic paled in comparison to the first two dishes. Sad, since this dish is usually one of my all-time seafood favorites (well, mostly because of the piled high minced garlic). The scallops were overcooked and tough and stuck to the bottom of the shell. Thankfully, Yiu Kee redeemed itself by doing right by the loach fish. KC had asked for it to be prepared in traditional fisher people fashion known as “oil salt water.” Instead of cooking the fish with direct heat, the fish are submersed in hot water and then a mixture of oil, salt and water is ladled over it. This causes minimal damage to the fish, keeping the flesh soft and tender and locking in all its natural sweetness.

(Mantis shrimp: garlicky good)

(Crazy roe!)

But it wasn’t until the end that the meal reached its ultimate high note when our four mantis shrimps stir-fried in chili and garlic arrived, glistening in its tin pan. We cracked off the shell and took a first bite into the flesh to reveal a big beautiful, bright orange strip of roe. No joke – there was more roe than flesh. I felt like I was eating a mooncake egg yolk. And though mantis shrimp roe is less sweet than, say, crab roe or even lobster coral, it was still pretty effin’ amazing.

What was even more amazing though, was how the two of us managed to polish off everything. The amount of food we had for lunch was pretty obnoxious – it’s the first time I’ve ever downed two whole mantis shrimps and half a dozen steamed scallops and abalone in one go for lunch. But like I said earlier, how could I have said no?

FOOD: 3.75/5 (varies dependent on what you purchase from the market)
SERVICE: 3.75/5
ATMOSPHERE: 1/5 (it’s a cooked food center after all)

YIU KEE ($-$$)
Unit CF3, 2/F
Ap Lei Chau Complex
Ap Lei Chai

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ta Pantry: J'adore

(Bread and butter)

I am definitely way behind in my postings. It’s been over a month since the wonderful Tata invited the bunch of us up to her cute little private kitchen, Ta Pantry. The occasion? To test out the new “L’Indochine” menu ($500/person) she designed for the summer season.

I’ve always been in love with how Tata’s décor’d up her little Star Street apartment space. It’s got a cozy, rustic French charm, with cute knickknacks here and there (but all artfully placed, of course), a huge shelf of magazines and cookbooks, pink kitchen utensils, and an impressive collection of wine bottles. We arrived to find Tata all aproned up and busy in the kitchen, chopping up this and cutting up that to the medley of classic French pop playing on the sound system.

(Hokkaido scallop green mango curry roule: tastes like the start of summer)

After a few glasses of Veuve Ambal Peche, peach sparkling (yum), we took our seats and prepared to feast. First up was the Hokkaido scallop green mango curry roulé on sea urchin foam. Loved the creaminess of scallop and the subtlety of the dish. The light foam carried brief flavor notes of the ocean without giving away too much too early on. This dish tasted like the start of summer and we eagerly waited for the rest to come.

(Citrusy crabmeat ravioli: summer lovin')

The citrusy crabmeat ravioli was next and oh-my-G I loved this one. The seemingly unassuming single, round ravioli was plumped up with sweet, fresh crabmeat and floating atop a clear chicken broth scented with lemongrass. Now, I’m a big fan of lemongrass so this dish hit all the right notes with me. It’s amazing how light yet satisfying this dish was. It tasted like something you should be eating alfresco in the summer sunshine in a floral day dress. A hands-down winner.

After the crazy-amazing ravioli, a meat-fest ensued. Tata threw in her signature melting onion duck (usually supplementary $150). This beautiful fowl is slow-cooked to tenderness and lovingly carved into small, thick pieces and served atop the caramelized onions. Soooo rich and soooo good. Pork followed duck with the Iberico pork cheek cooked with star anise. The fork tender pork was topped off with a paper-thin slice of mint-infused pineapple, which gave the dish an interesting dimension and depth. It was then drizzled with a blue cheese sauce which, as much as I lurve blue cheese, I personally thought was a tad much for this particular dish. It overshadowed the beautiful flavor of the pineapple a little. But I lapped it all up anyways.

(Melting onion duck: mmmm... rich)

(Melting onion duck: plated)

(Iberico pork cheek: blue cheese or no cheese?)

Another highlight was the coco balsamic linguine with mushrooms. When this arrived at the table, I was thinking, “Fark. I’m full to the brim, there is no way I can polish off a whole bowl of carbs.” I took the first bite, then another, and another, and… before I knew it, it was poof – all gone. It was absolutely genius to use balsamic in this dish. The tart vinegary taste shook me up from my near food-coma state and refueled my appetite. G-e-n-ius!

(Coco balsamic linguine: co-co-crazy good)

(Red wine poached pear crumble: layers and depths)

To end, Tata fed us a super comforting red wine poached pear crumble with tapioca and tiramisu ice cream. Loved the layers to this – the crunch of the crumble, the soft pulpiness of the pear, the chew of the tapioca and the smoothness of the ice cream. Needless to say, this menu got the big fat thumbs up from all of us.

(Financiers to end!)

For those who haven’t tried the new menu yet (there are five menus in total to choose from), you should definitely do so. And for those who haven’t tried out Ta Pantry yet, you should most definitely eff-initely do so. Note though that Tata only does one table per night and advanced booking is required. She tells me that she’s just recently waived corkage as well so… :D !

FOOD: 4.5/5
SERVICE: 4.75/5

TA PANTRY ($$$$$)
1C, Moonstar Court
2D Star Street
Wan Chai

[TAIWAN] Really Good Seafood: What the Name Says

On Tata’s (aka the Taiwan food expert) recommendation, we booked ourselves a table for Really Good Seafood on our last evening in Taipei. And no joke – that really is the restaurant’s name.

When we arrived, we were quickly ushered to our table by a crew of unsmiling ladies. Intimidating. They seemed more like prison wardens than professionals in the hospitality business. “Have you ordered already?” unsmiling lady #1 asked as she handed us the menus. Uhmm… you’re handing us the menu. Meaning, we haven’t even looked at the menu yet. How the eff could we have ordered already? Well, apparently, she’s assuming we’re regulars who know how the complicated ordering system at Really Good Seafood works (we do not know how it works). Basically, you can:

1. Order from the multi-fish tanks out front and have the kitchen cook the seafood to order.
2. Order one of the many set meals in the menu
3. Order one of the “Chef’s Recommended” set meals

We went with option 3, going with the NT$2000 option. Head Chef Li was very kind. Realizing that we looked like lost lambs and finding out that we were first-timers from Hong Kong (which is also where he hails from, explaining his fluent tongue of Cantonese), he came up with a long list of suggested courses, running it by us to make sure we approved before he fired up the grill.

(Seafood salad: ocean-fresh and delectable)

(Deep-fried baby oyster rolls)

First up was the chilled seafood salad which mixed together crab leg meat, scallops and some uber fresh octopus. Western influenced but not in tired way and, most importantly, it was absolutely delicious. Everything stood out – even the simple mound of lettuce, which was particularly crisp. Everything was shrouded under a light drizzle of creamy, yolky dressing. So simple and elegant.

Next was the Tainan style deep-fried baby oyster roll. Designed to be wrapped and eaten in a lettuce leaf. A little on the greasy end, even with the lettuce and personally, I’ve never really been a big fan of deep-frying oysters. I prefer them au natural so this wasn’t a course I could fully enjoy. What I did enjoy was the next dish – two whole, succulent slipper lobsters. Again – so simple but executed so that the freshness of the seafood itself becomes the main focal point. All it needed was a slight drizzle of lime juice to bring out its sea-freshness. Same goes for the following course of steamed crabs. Being the good man that he is, Chef Li chose a variety of crabs favored particularly for their rich, sweet roe. I love Chef Li.

(Slipper lobsters: a whole loada' meat)

(Steamed crabs: a whole loada' roe)

Taking a break from the seafood extravaganza, unsmiling lady number something served us a dish of sponge gourd – a famed local produce from Penghu Dao in Taiwan. The jade green gourd was again simplicity done well. After the brief healthy interlude came a French style beef tenderloin. A smoky cracked pepper sauce blanketed the beef, which was, of course, perfectly pinked and juicy on the inside. Delish, but definitely not as good as the preceding seafood dishes.

(Sponge gourd)

(Beef tenderloin)

(Tainan noodles: too much carbs)

(Pudding: sad)

To round off the savory courses, we were presented with individual bowls of Tainan Tan Tsai noodles topped in traditional fashion with a single prawn. The heavy carbs probably wasn’t such a good idea after the giant seafood feast but I did lap up the beautiful broth like nobody’s business. Everything up to this point had been fantastic, which is why it was such a shame that they served dessert. The bland and uninspired cold pudding seemed so out of place in this restaurant that churned out stellar salads and perfectly prepared lobsters and crabs. I took one bite and left the rest. But that one small glitch wasn’t about to ruin the great dining experience Chef Li had created for us. The food really is topnotch and Chef Li has a knack for drawing out the natural essence of every ingredient. That’s real talent. And as lame as the name is, it truly is Really Good Seafood.

FOOD: 4.5/5
SERVICE: 2/5 (4/5 for Chef Li)

No. 222, Fushing Road South Sec. 1
Taipei City, Taiwan
(886) 2 2771-3000

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

[TAIWAN] L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon: No Surprises

For my first ever trip to Taiwan, I had my heart set on dropping by Robuchon’s newest baby – L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Taipei. Strangely enough, I’ve heard and read very little about this new outlet. For a city not particularly known for it’s fine-dining scene, this dinner was bound to be interesting…

(Bad bread...)

Thursday of our reservation, we cabbed up to the stunning Bella Vita (officially my favorite structure in Taipei) and elevatored up to floor number five. The set-up is almost identical to the HK L’Atelier, albeit a tad smaller and a lot emptier.

After being greeted and seated, I eagerly awaited for the waitress to plop down the bread basket. Sad to say - the bread falls far short of Hong Kong’s (a little too “fluffy,” lacking that lovely bit of French rusticity) A shame since the breadbasket is one of my favorite things about Robuchon. Still hopeful, I decided to go with the Menu Club (NT$2680) – after a brief struggle, trying to make sense of the Chinese and French only menu, I made my four-course choices.

(Amuse bouche: citrusy...)

First up was the amuse bouche – a shot glass filled with a tart lemony custard of sorts. It was difficult catching the names and explanations of the dishes with our waitress’s jet-speed mandarin. Moments after downing the amuse bouche, first course arrived at the table in a giant glass bowl. It was a “salad” made with tomato mousse layered with celery jelly and topped off with chilled langoustine. The tart tomato worked beautifully with the grassiness of the celery, creating a Bloody Mary-esque sort of taste. Refreshing.

Salad was followed by La Saint-Jacques – a delicately flavored, creamy turnip velouté adorned with a giant succulent scallop. I was most impressed by the thin round of waxy potato floating on the velouté and the similar round of beetroot that was staining the ivory soup purple. So far so good but no real surprises yet.

("Salad" - Bloody Mary-esque)

(La Saint-Jacques)

The star of the meal revealed itself in the main course, L’Amadai. The fish was prepared à la japonaise, sprinkled with shiso flower buds and Japanese pepper leaves. It had the most amazing crisped skin and the milkiest smooth flesh. In other words – addictive. Of course, it also helped big time that the fish was accompanied by a huge vat of Robuchon’s famed potatoe puree. I am deeply in love with these potatoes and easily polished off every single last spoonful of that buttery, velvety, beautiful beautiful stuff.

Pretty satiated with the savory courses, I opted to go light with dessert. Les Fruits Frais was a summery sweet of grassy green basil sorbet dotted with seasonal fruits. Again – good but no surprises, which seemed to sum up the Taiwan Robuchon experience. It also seemed that the Taipei Robuchon sucked at everything its Hong Kong sister excelled at. Like the breadbasket, the petit four chocolate macarons were, in one word – disappointing. They were soggy and airy without the least bit of crispness and chew. Sad, compared to Nakamura-san’s near-perfect concoctions at Robuchon, HK. Ah well, at least I could satiate my macaron needs at the basement level’s Sadaharu Aoki.

(L'Amadai: Fish done Japanese)

(Potato puree: I LOVE YOU!)

(Les Fruit Frais: Summery)

(Coffee + Macaron = :( )

All in all though, I can’t blame this Taipei branch for the “meh” dining experience. After all, like I said, the city isn’t particularly well-versed in fine-dining and even with all its glitches and disappointments, you could tell they were trying. For one, our waitress forgot to explain the dishes upon arrival – by the time she remembered, we were already up to course number three. But nonetheless, she was friendly and helpful throughout (despite the jet-speed Mandarin). Serious props to sommelier Benoît, who recently joined their team after a brief stint in the U.S (he also happens to have been part of the opening team at Robuchon, HK). Hopefully, he’ll help sort out some of the problems… especially with the bread and macarons.

FOOD: 3.5/5
SERVICE: 3.5/5

5/F, No. 28, Song Ren Road
Taipei City, Taiwan
(886) 2 8729-2628