Sunday, April 1, 2012

Lvsang (呂桑食堂): Delicious food from Yilan on Yongkang Street

Red Date Pork (紅糟肉) at 呂桑
Lv-Sang ("Mr.") Yi-lan Restaurant

# 12-5 Yongkang Street, Taipei

(they also have a branch in Zhongshan: Zhongshan N. Road Section 2 Lane 59 #5-1)

What a fantastic restaurant! Along with my quest to find a suitable Japanese restaurant in which to SPEND ALL THE MONEY, I'm also on a mission to find a short list of restaurants to prove anyone who says "Taiwanese food isn't very good/flavorful/delicious/well-seasoned" wrong.

I also have to say that the past few weeks have really reminded me of how well I eat in Taiwan for such little money. People say "it's cheap to eat out" and usually mean the night market or hole-in-the-wall restaurants, but even nicer food is generally cheaper than you'd pay at home, unless you're going out for Indian, German or some other non-Asian "foreign" cuisine (and even then, prices are not bad)...and better. Washington DC was a mecca of good foreign food, but didn't have a lot of good "American" or continental fare - and yet restaurants charged through the nose for what they did have - bilking politicians, networkers, social climbers and foreign dignitaries no doubt. In Taipei I can enjoy quite literally the best the city has to offer and not  end up in the poorhouse. Sure, there are NT$6,000 per person restaurants serving birds' nest soup, but come on, that's not really the best Taipei has to offer.

It's places like this that remind me that, as well as I can cook, I can't really cook. Not like this. I couldn't turn out a perfect red date sliced pork like the delicious dish above. I wouldn't dare put cheese on a baked papaya. I can't create the dishes we enjoyed here.

Recommended by our friend Joseph and well-known in its own right, Lvsang is one of the restaurants that gives Yongkang Street its reputation for good food. Serving Yilan Taiwanese food, including plenty of lesser-seen or less-known dishes, this is also one of those places that kicks to the curb any notion that Taiwanese food lacks flavor or that it's all just the light&sound of soy sauce, chili oil and deep fryers.

Fatty stewed intestine
For our meal, we got the "liver flowers" roll, the fatty stewed intestine (above), the red date pork, the cold chicken, the vegetable salad and a baked papaya, and have agreed to try the liver next time (it's supposed to be great).

Other than the papaya, which was interesting and unexpected but not exactly something I'd try to re-create, everything was amazing. I'm not a fan of intestines or innards normally, but the intestine used to make two of the dishes we tried was soft and tender, not chewy and weirdly-textured. It's really the texture, not the flavor, that bothers me. This stuff was melt-in-your-mouth soft and savory without being too salty, served with slivered ginger to give it a spicy, dry punch.

The restaurant itself has an Old Taiwan vibe going, as well.
The salad has a bit of a wasabi vibe to the dressing, but isn't spicy (Brendan called it "decaf wasabi"). I'd prefer if it had the wasabi punch, but the fresh vegetables and tangy sauce were still delicious (although I can't say I'm a fan of the white vegetable, which I believe is 山芋 - biting into it releases juices that have the texture of runny snot).

Quick warning: they don't seem to serve water or any alcohol here - the only beverage available is tea, and the tea seems to be a slightly savory kumquat potion which I liked, but I wouldn't say it sated my thirst. It was made from dried kumquats and so had a bit of the salty-ish stuff they use to preserve fruit and vegetables in it.

The eggplant, mushroom and other vegetables are delectable, though. Fresh, well-seasoned, delicate in a tangy dressing. Definitely not your standard stewed or fried fare.

Cold chicken (白斬雞腿)
I'm a huge fan of plain cold chicken in sauce (and the sauce at Lvsang is a bit different from the usual flavored oil this dish is served in - the dipping sauce has a spicy punch to it, as well) and this not-very-sexy but standard and good dish is a fine addition to your order. It's simple but they do it well.

I don't have a good picture of the stuffed "liver flower" (宜蘭肝花)but, served with a very Taiwanese "pink sauce" (the kind you get on sticky rice and Taiwanese tempura), it's cooked beautifully and delicious. Above is the 烤木瓜, which is a slice of papaya baked with cheese, underneath which are chopped vegetables in a creamy sauce. Although it was interesting and new, I'm not sure I'd recommend it, an I've never actually seen this dish in Yilan. It's...something. I'm happy I tried it - it was a new experience. I didn't dislike it, but I am really not sure I see the point.

Overall, though, I was thoroughly pleased with Lvsang - especially that divine red date pork.  Thoroughly and highly recommended overall!  

No comments: