Showing posts with label beijing_duck. Show all posts
Showing posts with label beijing_duck. Show all posts

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving at 龍都酒樓

Sorry I haven't been blogging this week - on top of a crazy work schedule, I was still sick. Only now am I starting to feel somewhat better. Something had to go, and that something was blogging (and most of my free time activities, as all I had energy for in my free time was sleeping).

But yesterday was great - I was so impressed with 龍都酒樓 the first time I ate there that I was really excited to return for our Thanksgiving meal. It's something of a tradition with us to go out for Beijing Duck on Thanksgiving and put together a group of friends with whom to enjoy the meal. We could have gone to one of the hotels for the traditional spread, but from what everyone tells me, those meals are expensive, and not particularly good.

I never really warmed up to turkey anyway, and have always preferred duck or other birds. What's interesting about putting together Thanksgiving dinners in Taipei is that most of the time, the other guests aren't American! This time we had several Taiwanese friends, a Canadian and an Australian join us. It doesn't really matter - every culture and citizens of every country can understand the joys of a large group meal for tradition's sake.

龍都酒樓 is great not just for its duck, but for the rest of the menu, which is actually Cantonese (they do a mean dim sum) - so you can have your Beijing specialty and your BBQ pork buns all at once!

...and the pork pastries are fantastic. Say goodbye to the hard, lardy crust at Luckstar or Diamond Star Hong Kong Style restaurants, and say hello to flaky, buttery, savory heaven. They're so rich - I think that this is what angel meat must taste like.

And the duck is so juicy - other places have served us slightly dry meat. Not here. The fat practically runs down your chin, and the skin is lacquered to perfection.

How much meat can I shove in my face hole?? Also, I need a haircut.

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Another thing I love about this place - which I learned of through local friends who took me there for 11am dim sum one weekend long ago - is the total '80s style amazingness. It looks like an old kung fu movie, maybe from '86, where the Good Guy Cops face off against the Triads and do martial arts while jumping over mezzanine balconies and generally destroying the place. If I had had a Taiwanese wedding, Id've wanted it here.

It helps that it's off Linsen N. Road - the "Japanese Businessman Entertainment Area". Old school foodies from across Taiwan (or even East Asia) come here to enjoy the throwback ambiance and amazing duck, and I sure intend to go back again. Too bad you have to make reservations about a month in advance.



Then some of us headed over to our place for pie and cookies, and my special Swiss hot wine, while we decorated the Christmas tree.

Hot wine is 2/3 dark, sweet wine (well, I use drier wine, but Dad uses sweeter wine), 1/3 Fire Water cinnamon schnapps, a shot or two of something like Goldschlager (depending on how many glasses you're making), a stick of cinnamon per glass, cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom if you like, all heated to just-about-to-boil (turn it off when steam starts rising, but before bubbles start forming).

It gets you real toasty, real fast. I have to bring the two kinds of cinnamon schnapps from the USA - just try and find it in Taiwan (no seriously, try, and if you find it let me know because I've sure been unsuccessful).

We're going home for Christmas this year, so we only have a few weeks to enjoy our tree - but I'd rather go home, because while I love Taiwan, they don't do Christmas very well. This year I will be home for Christmas, and they better have snow, and mistletoe, and presents by the tree!

We still stuff stockings for each other despite being in our 30s.

                                                       The end of the hot wine

We fixed the wonky star later.

Monday, March 19, 2012

My In-Laws' Culinary Tour of Taipei

The in-laws try Tiger Noodle (韓記老虎麵) on Jinhua Street 
I haven't had a lot of time to write about my in-laws visit or other things that have been on my mind recently - a busy work schedule has kept me consistently behind on blogging.

I thought, though, that this might be of some use, or at least interest, for anyone with visiting friends or relatives looking for places to take them for dinner. I should say straight out that I'm not a coddler: I'll try my best to find food I think people will like and will be sensitive to "I absolutely will not eat that" or "I really hate X" preferences, but I am absolutely not the sort to just cop out and take folks to Kiki, Ding Tai Fung and Gordon Biersch to avoid the possibility of them not liking something. 

And you know I'm a food freak, regularly writing and updating on the best eats in Taipei, even though I'm not really a "food blogger" (even if Forbes thinks differently, haha). Note that, despite being quoted in that article, Ding Tai Fung is one place I notably did not take my in-laws. Not because it's not good (it is great), but because it's overhyped, overtouristed and, honestly, too expensive for no good reason other than that they can get away with charging Japanese tourists such high prices. For your foreign visitors, unless they insist, you can do better in Taipei food-wise.

Fortunately, my in-laws aren't the sort who would want cop-out meals, nor are they the sort to say "I've never tried that, but I'm not interested in doing so", which is good (I can accommodate that sort of attitude, I'm not interested in forcing anyone to try something they absolutely do not want to try, but I don't have much respect for such an outlook). Even things that weren't on their list of favorites - things made of tofu, various seafood dishes, things that were spicy or unrecognizable or just weird, were all things they were still generally willing to try. Hooray!

For example:

Ginger tofu pudding (薑汁豆花), with taro and sweet potato QQ balls and boiled peanuts. I like hot tofu pudding, but not iced, and I *love* hot ginger tofu pudding - especially from Sanxia - but I knew it would be something novel, without much reference point for any other food, for the in-laws. The one we got wasn't that great - the stuff available in Sanxia is so much better - but fortunately they were game. Dad seemed to like it, Mom not so much.

Tangyuan (湯圓), in a meal that also included sweet potato leaves (地瓜葉), rice sausage (米腸) that pink fried pork with slivered ginger that foreigners tend to like and tofu was another novelty that went over slightly less well.  I like it, although it's not my all-time favorite, but it's so commonplace in Taiwan that I felt it was a good thing for them to try. We got this in Daxi, not Taipei, but really you can get it anywhere. The rice sausage also got a lukewarm reception (I love the stuff - like many Taiwanese, I have a thing for gooey foods).

What they really loved? The sweet potato leaves. They were a hit.

Another must on their culinary tour was traditional tea. We had this twice - once on Maokong and once in Jiufen. I would have loved to have taken them to Wistaria House but we didn't have time. Either way, if your visitors are at all interested in or even like tea, making sure they have a chance to try tea brewed the traditional way is a great introduction to one facet of Taiwanese culture (even if not many people actually brew this anymore). I do know how to make it, but it was easier to just let the attendant do it.

Tea at A-mei

Besides Wistaria House, I would recommend Mountain Tea House (山茶館) on Maokong - 2nd floor up, best place to sit is 3rd floor - it's to the left and past the first clutch of development from Maokong Station. It's also a good place for dinner, with tasty Lemon Diced Chicken (檸檬雞丁), mountain pig (山豬肉) and other good food, and they have a good selection of tea snacks. The Taiwanese dried mango and walnut cakes were a hit, and I've always loved the slightly crumbly, melty green bean cakes - they remind me of the texture of very fresh maple candy.

In Jiufen I rather liked Amei Tea House (阿妹茶樓) down the stair street, although the 100NT per person water fee is quite high. Down the stairs even further is another similarly beautiful teahouse with a more open outdoor area that I've also been to and like. Try the fried taro - so good!

Fairly early on in their trip, they ended up at two of Taipei's best eateries: Celestial Kitchen and Hui Guan Ningxia Restaurant. I would have personally picked Rendezvous (Longdu) for Beijing Duck, but they could get in to Celestial without a reservation for lunch, and honestly, it's basically as good (I just like the dim sum available at Rendezvous and find the duck fattier, which I like). Celestial is fantastic, and the mustard/wasabi (it's something between those two things) covered Chinese celery from Celestial certainly left an impression!

If you don't have the time or Chinese ability to make reservations, but want to take people for Beijing Duck, Celestial for a weekday lunch is a strong bet.

While I do feel that Taiwan and China are absolutely not the same, I have to admit that there is a lot of good Beijing Duck on offer in Taipei, and it would be a shame for them to miss out. As long as there is also a variety of Taiwanese cuisine served up for the eatin' on your trip alongside the best of the mainland, I figure, if it's good food and in Taipei, it's worth it to go.

As for Hui Guan, well, you know it's one of my all-time favorites. They didn't have the spicy cold chicken or dong fen I usually like, but the sour vegetable and noodle salad, Central-Asian style bread with minced meat and lamb skewers were delicious as always. This is a kind of Chinese food that is not easily found in the US, especially in rural Maine, so being able to take them out to try the cuisine of oft-forgotten Ningxia, with its many Chinese Muslims and strong Central Asian influence, was a real treat for everyone. It's also a great place to try Chinese chili-pepper heat when it's mixed in a big cultural mortar and pestle with Middle Eastern spices.

Stinky Tofu Fried with Thousand Year Old Egg at Chia Chia
 I couldn't let my in-laws leave Taiwan for the second time without trying Hakka food, which is such a big part of food culture in this country. We weren't really able to go down to Hakka areas like Xinzhu or Miaoli just to eat (although with another free day we might have taken them to Beipu), so we just went for Chia Chia (家家客家), widely regarded as the best Hakka food in Taipei.

Unsurprisingly, the hearty pork dish we ordered was popular, as was Hakka stir fry (客家小抄). The cuttlefish cooked in vinegar was a hit with everyone but my mother-in-law, who just doesn't do seafood.  We avoided the ginger intestine because I figured we'd hit our limit of "try this new thing!" dishes with the famous stinky tofu deep fried with thousand year old egg above.

Surprisingly, it was a huge hit. I loved it, and so did my father-in-law. Mom...not so much. Definitely a good place to take people. You could even surreptitiously order the ginger intestine...mwahahahaha.

Medium-spicy lamb with puffed rice at Tiger Noodle
My mother-in-law was keen to try different kinds of spice, even though she's generally not an eater of spicy food. Little did she know that the wasabi celery at Celestial was just the beginning! We took them  for a Trial By Fire to Han Chi Tiger Noodle and got Dad the medium hot, which we usually get, and Mom the "xiao la" or "mild" it were. Tiger Noodle's "mild" is still pretty damn hot. This was their introduction to spice including hua jiao, or flower pepper - which tingles the lips and numbs the tongue. A great choice, but only take people there if you know they can basically handle it. Basically. Mostly.  Crying might happen. I love that place.

Taipei Snow King
Eager to  put out the fire in their mouths and bellies, they were happy to hop on the 235 bus and head for Taipei Snow King on Wuchang Street - an old Taipei institution near Zhongshan Hall (along they way they got to see a good chunk of Ximen and the more attractive parts of Wanhua, including my favorite building in basically the entire city of Taipei:

...all before hopping into a taxi to Dihua Street (the distance between these two points is not great, but the transportation is tricky and it was just easier to take a cab).

We got chocolate and chocolate chip (the two normal ones), rose wine, wasabi, basil, egg (which tastes like the custard in Macau egg tarts) and mint (my favorite) - we'd gotten the Kaoliang before and didn't think the in-laws would take it well (we didn't take it well!), but if we could have eaten more I would have gone for ginger, honey, cinnamon or chili pepper.

Kung Pao Chicken at Tian Fu
Back to "best of Taipei, even if some of it originated in China", that night we were not kind to their digestion. We met some friends and all went to Tian Fu in Yonghe - hands-down the best Sichuanese in Taipei, if not all of Taiwan. Don't even bother with Kiki ever again: this place has it goin' on. If you've got visitors who want good food, and care about that more than fancy ambience, this is the place for you. I can't hawk it enough. I don't even want a commission: leading people to such great food is my reward for all of this free advertising they get, because it's just that good.

I was eager to take them here, not only for more hua jiao, but also as an example of what real Sichuanese food opposed to very-different-but-good-in-its-own-way "Szechwan Palace Garden Gate Panda Buffet" from the USA. No General Tso's Chicken* here! We got them shui zhu niu (水煮牛 -beef in spicy broth), kung pao chicken, chili chicken, mouthwatering chicken (口水雞) deep fried bread (銀絲捲), ma po tofu (媽婆豆腐), green beans (四季豆), fish-scented eggplant (魚香茄子) and pork with sweet potato cooked under sticky millet (I've forgotten the Chinese name but it has 排骨 in it) as the token not spicy thing.

Oh, the fear that must have shadowed their hearts as the giant bowl of angry red broth full of tender sliced beef came out!

If you've got visitors who are OK with some spice but might be overwhelmed by Tiger Noodle, the selection at Tian Fu is varied enough that it's still a good choice.

"niu bang" and peppered salty pork at Auntie Xie's

Back to typical Taiwanese food:  the place to take your guests is, without a doubt, Auntie Xie's (#122 or thereabouts on Bo'ai Road). Afterwards you can buy them some pineapple cakes at Olympia across the street (#3 Bo'ai Road) and show them Shanghai Dispensary on Hengyang Road, Taiwan's most famous gray market pharmacy, where I get my Imigran semi-legally. A national treasure, that is! 

Auntie Xie's has no menu, is closed on Sunday and is always packed, and the hair-netted old ladies who work there will totally talk about you in Taiwanese as you're eating: but it's totally worth it and they don't really mean any harm by their "hey, white people!" gossip. You show up, pay NT 300 per person for lunch (might be more for dinner), and they bring out whatever they're cooking that day. There's always taro congee and thin noodles in thick broth as well as white rice available. We got a delicious fish, the above fried "niu bang" plant (not potato but had a potato-ey taste and texture) with peppered salty pork, cold chicken in a sour oily sauce (油雞), a green vegetable, some appetizer plates (小菜) and young bamboo with tree mushroom.

Basically, it's food you'd get if someone's Taiwanese grandmother invited you over for dinner. Home food. Simple but delicious. 

A lot of foreigners in Taiwan are unimpressed by the food in Taiwan (read the comments - and this is just one example post. Laowiseass has said similar things, but I can't find the link). I happen to like it: the flavors are light and clean, and yes, they can be hard to discern if your palate is swamped with my much-beloved hua jiao and chili oil, but they are there if you taste carefully.

So, I was really happy when both my in-laws had a positive reaction to Auntie Xie's: along with Hui Guan, the most positive reaction I saw regarding any restaurant we tried. Taiwanese food is good if you are discerning and willing to suss out those delicate, clean flavors and willing to seek it out in places like this where it's made right, and it's a whole different experience from the more famous night market snacks and stinky tofu.

I, too, love pungent food but find Auntie Xie's cooks up something entirely different, but just as delicious. 
cold chicken with cilantro at Harbin Dumpling King
Last time they were here, we took the in-laws to Shilin Night Market - which is really not one of my favorites, but was convenient at the time. We did want to take them back to another market, but didn't really have any more space in our eatin' schedule for eating at one (and at this point even I was starting to get a woozy stomach from all the rich and luscious restaurant food we'd been enjoying. I don't eat out at actual restaurants quite so often as I did that week). But, a night market is a must-do, so we walked through Tonghua Night Market ("Linjiang Street Night Market") near our apartment and did some light shopping (I got a lobster claw lighter that, when you click to open the claw, it spits out flame from the middle. Awesome!).

On our final night we took them to Harbin Dumpling King - another kind of Chinese cuisine you're just not going to get in rural Maine, or basically most of the USA. The food isn't really "Harbin" food - it's pan-Chinese, from Xinjiang to Sichuan to the northeast - but has that distinctive flavor that northern Chinese, especially Beijing, food takes on, regardless of where the recipes originated. It is one of my favorites. I'd been hearing about it ever since I attended a house party in my first few months in Taiwan and a bunch of guys (one of them a formerly prominent Taiwan blogger) were talking about going. It was years before I actually went myself, but I'm sure glad I did.

Apparently it is also a favorite of Wu Bai (伍伯) - yes, that is him above my eyeball. Not joking. Not someone who looks like him - that's Wubai and he wouldn't take a picture with us. Which is fine; I'm not out to pester rock stars!

We got cold chicken with cilantro, slivered meat with onion, the delicious and famous spicy lamb skewers - another thing you can get across Taiwan in different restaurants - Hui Guan, Harbin Dumpling King, Xinjiang lamb skewer stalls in night markets, Shao Shao Ke - and each is delicious in its own amazing way. We got Q-bing, which comes with  plum sauce and cucumber and is wrapped not unlike Beijing Duck, two kinds of dumplings (green bean chicken and fennel beef - I highly recommend the fennel beef. Yum!), glass noodles with cucumber and pig's ear, more flower pepper chicken (辣子雞), some really good eggplant...and probably some other delicious things as well. I forget. I was so stuffed and excited to have spotted Wubai, who has very good taste in food!

(Of course my in-laws were all "Who's Wubai?")

This was a good place for some not-so-spicy dishes, but also to try more lamb seasoned with hot pepper powder and cumin, which provide a kind of earthy heat when mixed together, and to get a taste for real northern Chinese fare.


One thing about the restaurants I've been mentioning is that they're generally better with larger groups - because you can order more types of food. This was an excellent opportunity for my in-laws to get to know our friends in Taiwan, both local and foreign. This is me with two of my closest Taiwanese friends, Cathy and Sasha, at Harbin Dumpling King!

At Wendell's Tianmu

With all of our Chinese and Taiwanese food exploits, the in-laws also wanted to try some of what Taipei has on offer in terms of "ethnic food" (hey, in Taipei, "German" counts as "ethnic"). We took them to Wendell's - although Cafe Goethe is just as good for many dishes - and Calcutta Indian food, which is reliably delicious. At Wendell's, enjoy the great bread, and don't miss out on the exquisite beef tartare (ask for extra bread to eat it with, trust me). At Calcutta,  make sure to get lamb samosas and butter chicken, and the garlic naan is wonderful. This was another kind of spice to try - Indian spices, fried in ghee, and slow-cooked with a gravy and meat or vegetable to produce a much more rounded spice that settles in your gut and then seemingly spreads through your veins to create a sort of happy, ethereal, "high on spice" feeling (you can get a similar feeling by eating a massive amount of red chili peppers). These, along with Zoca Pizza and The Diner, are all reliable choices for non-Chinese/Taiwanese food in Taipei.


Shrimp Roll Rice on Dihua Street

Of course, there are places we didn't get to enjoy. We didn't eat my favorite shrimp roll rice on Dihua Street, even though we did go there for fabric shopping, because my mother -in-law just would not have been able to do the seafood. I don't think it would have appealed to them.

We didn't make it to Shao Shao Ke, with its Shaanxi food featuring a cross between the Central Asian influenced spices of northwest China and hua jia and chili spices of Sichuan, but next time they visit, we certainly will (and we'll call ahead to pre-order some of their specialties that they need notice to prepare).

They didn't get to try Zoca, because the restaurant was closed for an extended break while they were here. That was really sad, because it's literally a few minutes' walk from my apartment.

We didn't get to Nan Chuan, which has great noodles and an amazing cold chili sauce chicken xiao cai that you absolutely have to try.

*As for that General Tso's Chicken, there's a restaurant run by the son of one of Chiang Ching-kuo's chefs, known as the "inventor of General Tso's Chicken". I can't find a link now but will update with it when I do: I would have definitely taken them there, just for kicks, if we'd had time.

And finally, sadly, we missed out on aboriginal food, which I see as a mainstay of good Taiwanese cuisine.

Needless to say, there's still enough great uncharted food territory for my in-laws when they come back, and plenty of options for friends I'm hoping will visit...which are also options for your friends and relatives who visit, too!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Beijing Duck in Taipei

Beijing Duck is one of my addictions. This delicious fowl is from Celestial Kitchen

You might have noticed that many of my restaurant and food-related posts are about Beijing Duck. There's a reason why - I absolutely love the stuff. I pretty much love duck in any form. It's like chicken but actually tasty (I hear that chicken used to taste good before it got all processed).

So here, for your pancake-wrapped gorging pleasure, is my listing of good Beijing Duck restaurants (well, one's not a restaurant) in Taipei.

duck congee at Rendezvous
#18-1, Zhongshan N. Road Sec. 1 Lane 105
(closer to enter via Linsen Road near #100 )

This is my pick of all the choices. Wonderful, juicy duck that's firm but not dry and bursting with flavor, with a complementary sauce and a bit of red chili wrapped around the onions...and while service is a bit brusque - they basically ignore you if you want anything after you order unless you insist - it's world's better than Song Chu in that regard. Make reservations, go here.

3F #1 Nanjing W. Road (near MRT Zhongshan)

Also fantastic duck, with an atmosphere that's less "kung fu movie" than Rendezvous. The duck was good, the sauce not so memorable, other dishes were also good, very friendly and prompt service. I'd definitely go back.

#14, Lane 15 Zhongxiao E. Road Sec. 5
(Almost right next to/slightly behind MRT City Hall)

Well, just read the review. Amazing duck (although really no better than Rendezvous'; the main difference is that Song Chu's sauce is luscious which amps up the duck while Rendezvous' is slightly more astringent which complements it) but the service leaves a lot to be desired. Good duck or no, I won't go back.

Too bad the service at Song Chu left me bitter, because I loved the sweet, sweet duck

02 2708 4242 
A friend really liked this place on his first visit, but when we all went together we agreed that the duck was a bit dry. It was pretty good, but not quite up to Celestial or Rendezvous (or even Song Chu, sad to say).

All over Taipei!

You won't be getting a high-end gourmet experience with duck from one of these blue food trucks, but at NT250 for half a duck (which is too much for one person but barely feeds 2) you can't go wrong on price, and with the food truck craze sweeping the US, being able to say that you got dinner off the back of a truck and it's Beijing Duck, so you can stick that in your mobile taco and suck it, well, who can resist? And the duck isn't bad. It's not going to elevate you to new heights of culinary rapture but it's just fine for an evening in. Plus the stir-fry of all the non-breast duck with chili and basil is always fantastic.

...and more. I know there's at least one place in Shi-da with carry-out duck only that's pretty decent, and I've seen a place near Taipower Building, but these are the ones I've tried. I've had the duck from Shi-da and it's pretty decent, but I can't seem to track down the address.

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.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Song Chu (宋廚) - A Sad Rant About Great Duck

宋廚(Song Chu)
#14, Lane 15 Zhongxiao E. Road Sec. 5
(Almost right next to/slightly behind MRT City Hall)

I have two things to say about Song Chu:

1.) The Beijing Duck is divine. (那邊的北京烤鴨真好吃)
2.) The service is terrible. (他們的服務非常糟糕呢!)

Song Chu is famous for its Beijing duck - most of my students have eaten there at least once and while it doesn't seem to be that well-known in expat circles (certainly it's known, but doesn't seem to be that famous) it's very well regarded among Taipei residents. To eat there, you have to either a.) know someone or b.) stand in line on the first of the month in the morning (get there no later than 10am, and I'd advise earlier) to reserve a table. You can call, but they won't answer. People we know with high positions in various companies seem to eat there often, and I don't believe for a minute that they actually wait in line on the 1st day of the month - they might send their assistants to do it, but more likely they just have some guanxi and don't have to stand around like us plebes. I had to stand around on April 1st to get a reservation for this past Saturday (May 28).

We ordered some other food to go with the duck, as one does. Some sliced fish in a slightly sweet, slightly savory goopy sauce (it was good, really), sweet potato leaves, onion pancake and other things. The other food was good, but not great. If I'd been taken out to a basic Chinese banquet hall and fed it, I'd think it was just fine, but I wouldn't write home about it.

The duck is really where it's at, and also where things went terribly wrong.

When I made the reservation - an hour and a half standing in the sun dodging scooters with the other duck-seekers - I told them our party size (nine) and that we "weren't going to order too many side dishes, we want lots of duck. Basically only duck." "We can do that!" the woman taking the reservation said.

So I figured, you know, they're professionals, they should know that a party of nine who orders relatively few dishes (which weren't worth a two hour wait) and wants to mostly gorge out on duck is going to need two ducks.

Yes, I should have been more specific and said "two ducks!" - but then they also should have asked (they didn't).

So we eat the food, and eagerly await our duck, and one duck's worth of duck arrives. And it's delicious. It's amazing. It's juicy and fatty without being greasy. The plum sauce is truly memorable. Everything is fresh. It's tender. It's better than Celestial and much better than Wei Fu Lou. I ask for more duck.

There is no more duck, because "you only ordered one duck when you reserved."

Err, no, I didn't. I said I wanted enough duck for nine people who didn't plan on eating a lot of other things.

"But we called you to confirm your reservation and you didn't say two ducks."

"You didn't ask and I thought you guys were true professionals and should be able to handle this sort of thing."

"When a table makes a reservation, we always give them one duck unless they ask for more. You should know that."

"How? Nobody told me that. Nobody said 'one duck'. Nobody informed me of this policy. You certainly didn't tell me when I reserved the table."

"I'm sorry but that's how we do it, and we don't have another duck. You can always order more food."

"I don't want other food. I didn't come here to eat mid-range sweet potato leaves. I can do that anywhere without having to wait in line for two hours to reserve a table. I want to speak to the boss. I am really not satisfied. I expected better."

"The boss isn't here." (Either she was lying through her teeth - which is quite likely - or the owner of the place never actually visits and lives off the profits in some hideous granite and marble monstrosity on Ren'ai Road, which I concede is also likely.)

We didn't really get an apology - a mumbled 不好意思 doesn't count. We didn't get anything that would have made me satisfied. Call me spoiled but if I'm going to go to some effort to eat somewhere, I expect satisfaction equal to the time and money spent. I realize this doesn't always happen in Asia unless you're in Japan (and not even always there - try ordering a sandwich from a set menu but asking them to leave off mayonnaise or something), but, you know, I really was not happy.

I'd say "they've lost my business" but it doesn't matter - they're famous. They have a line that unfurls down the block every first of the month. My decision not to eat there again doesn't really affect anything (sort of like how I'm on Dingtaifung strike because as good as their dumplings are, they're shockingly overpriced).

It's a shame though. The duck is truly sublime. If they'd offered some little olive branch to keep the customer happy, this would have been a rave review. Instead it's a rant...and that sucks for everyone.