Saturday, February 18, 2012

龍都酒樓 ("Rendezvous Restaurant")

Rendezvous Restaurant (龍都酒樓)
#18-1, Zhongshan N. Road Sec. 1 Lane 105
(closer to enter via Linsen Road near #100 )

I know I've been writing more fluff than thoughts recently, but for whatever reason, these days, despite having a lot of things I want to write about in terms of thoughts, musings, meditations on life, whenever I try it just doesn't come out right or my brain short-circuits.

Hoping that will pass - it always does - and not beating myself up too much for writing fluff in the meantime.

Anyway, last weekend I had the chance to go to the famous 龍都酒樓 in a lane between Linsen N. Road and Zhongshan N. Road, just south of Nanjing E. Road. They're famous for Beijing Duck and dim sum style dishes.

The place caters more to groups, and yes, you should make a reservation.

I can say that the duck is truly fantastic - just as good as other heavyweights like Celestial Kitchen and my personal bugbear, Song Chu. Definitely worth the reservation and price (we had duck and lots of dim sum at two tables with about 8 each, and it cost us all approximately NT650 each).

It's juicy without being greasy, it's flavorful without being cloying, and the little green onion spears are wrapped in a bit of chili pepper to give them a bite. Song Chu's sauce is better, but Rendezvous' is not overly sweet, it's almost slightly antiseptic which is a nice match for the luscious duck.

The decor is like something out of a scene in a restaurant from a kung fu movie - back-lit Chinese medallions, crystal chandeliers, light-colored textured wallpaper, round banquet tables, a balcony and lower seating area. Not usually my style but whatever, the food is good.

I went with a newer group of friends (the one in the picture is the one I know best, his wife is the one looking away) - unfortunately, due to work commitments, my husband couldn't join us. The upside of going out occasionally with a group of locals who are also food lovers and interested in trying the city's best restaurants is that I get to try places that are not often on foreigner radar.  A few savvy long-term expats might know about them, but they rarely make it into guidebooks (guidebook restaurant listings in English make me a little sad sometimes - the world is not right when Kiki gets a nod but 天府, which is quite literally the BEST SICHUANESE FOOD IN TAIWAN HANDS DOWN, is ignored). I get to try the places that locals believe are the best, and it's opened me up to a lot of new options.

And you know, one of the great things about Taipei is that the best restaurants are not necessarily the most expensive restaurants. In fact, they rarely are. You can completely avoid hotel restaurants or places that charge $6000 a head for bird's nest soup (and they exist - I have students who regularly entertain clients at such places) and still forage through the best Taipei has to offer.

Another great thing about eating out with a group of locals is that I have to speak Chinese. I've written before about how having to socialize entirely in Chinese is good for my Chinese, and well, duh. Of course it is. My friend (above) speaks English well, but his wife does not - or she's afraid to, but he insists she really can't and she concurs - and he didn't really start inviting me out to such meals until it was clear that I would be just fine speaking Chinese the entire time. I can understand this: even if someone does speak a foreign language - at least two others at lunch can also speak English well - when out with friends and not at work or in class, the average person will prefer to converse in their native language and having one non-native speaker there, even if that person is a native speaker of a "popular" foreign language like English, can cause discomfort if it means that everyone has to then speak English when, in their free time and with friends they know, they'd perhaps prefer not to.

It happens in business, too: a group of Taiwanese people and their one foreign guest go out or have a meeting, and the presence of the one guest means that the entire language of the group changes to English, not the mother tongue of the majority of the group. I understand completely how someone might not want to repeat that dynamic at a fun Saturday lunch with friends.

I hate to say it, because it sounds suspiciously close to something annoying expat who says things like "oh I only hang out with locals, I get along with them so much better than other [*snicker*] foreigners" would spout, but it's true: not long ago I had another lunch at a restaurant that was not really good (but well-known in foreigner circles) with a group of expats. It was fun, although some things that were said bothered me, but honestly, this was more fun. Instead of conversation topics like "are Taiwanese women materialistic" (sadly, the general consensus seemed to be "yes"), I got to explain, in Chinese, why "Bear Bar" and "G2-Paradise" - two bars behind Red House Theater in Ximen - are such funny names in English. I learned a useful new bit of Chinese vocabulary, too ("G點"). I feel I owe 文昌帝君 for that one. As for the other diners - they were delighted at this tidbit of cultural knowledge. Who says that Taiwanese people are conservative and uptight? That's not been my experience!

It doesn't matter to me if I never go out with that group of expats again, but I honestly do look forward to going out with this group of Taiwanese food lovers in the future.

And I will definitely be returning to 龍都酒樓.

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