Showing posts with label yongkang_street. Show all posts
Showing posts with label yongkang_street. Show all posts

Monday, April 9, 2012

Restaurant Review: Yin Yi (銀翼/ "Silver Wings")

Yin Yi / Silver Wings Restaurant
(02) 2341-7799
Jinshan S. Road Sec. 2 #18 2nd floor / Jinshan Xinyi intersection

金山南路2段18號2樓 / 金山信義路口
10am-2pm, 5pm-9pm

MRT CKS Memorial Hall (you could also get there from Zhongxiao Xinsheng without much trouble. It's very close to the Xinyi end of Yongkang Street).

Notes: Reservations recommended, great for large groups, some specialty dishes need to be ordered in advance (a few hours ahead)

Four words: really tasty, great service. Here's a rundown in Chinese.

So, OMG, I managed to find a good restaurant recommended by a student that has not already been reviewed in the Taipei Times! Yin Yi is locally famous, although not really well-known among expats (obviously, the restaurants that get to be known among us foreigners tend to be the ones that end up in guidebooks, which are often good, sometimes not). Rather like Rendezvous (龍都酒樓, another gem), local reactions to my eating there run along the lines of "it's famous! How did you know about it?!" with the strong implication that all Taiwanese in Taipei have heard of these places but it's expected that foreigners have not.

清炒鱔魚 - slivered braised eel (or something like eel)

Yin Yi specializes in Yangzhou food (from the province of Jiangsu, but cuisine from here is apparently closer to Shanghainese or Zhejiang food), although locals I know have mistakenly said that it's a "Zhejiang" restaurant or even a "Shanghai" restaurant. I'll be honest - the food was amazing, but if you told me "this is Zhejiang food" and not "this is Yangzhou food", I'd be all "Oh, OK." The three cuisines are really very similar. I wouldn't really know. I know a fair amount about regional Chinese cuisine, but I'm not an expert.

鍋粑蝦仁 - shrimp and puffed rice in tomato sauce

But anyway. The food. It was excellent! We had three kinds of dumplings cooked on pine needles, which give the dumplings a subtle but unique aroma and flavor. I highly recommend any one or all of the three.

小籠菜餃 (the second photo) - all the dumplings cooked on pine needles are recommended!

We had the famous shrimp pot with tomato sauce and puffed rice, which is a good dish to order if you're entertaining visiting friends or family members (or clients) - very easy on foreign palates. We had the "shanyu", which is like eel ("manyu"), which had an interesting texture. There was a shredded tofu and dried meat dish that, by east coast Chinese standards was spicy, but to this woman who lived in Guizhou and ate Sichuan-style food for a year, was not spicy at all, but still good. It was hard to tell what was tofu and what was meat, because it was all quite tender. We also had a sour cabbage salad and the red bean paste in fried tasty thing (it has a real name, but I prefer this one) as well as their famous noodle dish (蔥開煨麵), which was fantastic, but I don't have a photo. It's thick noodles in a cloudy soup with dried meat and shrimp: delicious!

紅椒肉絲炒干絲 - dried slivered pork, I think with tofu, and some chili

Finally, we had the duck. It's served as something between Beijing duck and fatty pork gua bao (the dish for which you put slices of braised fatty pork into sesame buns): a roast duck, more dry and not as 'lacquered' as Beijing duck is torn to shreds, and the shreds dipped lightly in salt and put into soft white buns. Absolutely delicious, and a real treat. The salt really made the dish: don't skimp.

香酥全鴨 - duck with bread. You can see what we did to this poor duck, who is now just a carcass (in our fridge, because we took it home - Imma make SOUP!)

Everything was  really just...good. I'm not sure how else to describe it: think of visiting a new city and having your friends there introduce you to their favorite place that isn't in guidebooks. Or going out with a group to a new restaurant and having just a fantabulous meal together. Think of a well-made, well-served meal where you leave thinking "that was so yummy, my stomach is so full, I'm going to get cramps if I try to walk!" That's really the tone the food at Yin Yi sets. For me, that's the hallmark of a good Chinese meal.

I'd also like to note Yinyi's fantastic service. These folks could really go teach Song Chu a thing or two about cultivating service that will keep people coming back. We got a free dish because I said the boss (or a boss, it's hard to tell), who also took care of our table looked like my boss - and he did. To the point where I was startled for a second. He brought a free dish (the sour cabbage salad) and said "it looks like you don't like your boss, and I don't want you to not like me!"

                                               拌白菜心 - sour cabbage salad with peanuts

When they realized it was Brendan's birthday - our reason for going out - they helped us with the cake I'd brought from My Sweetie Pie and gave us a plate of mint candies and almond roca (although we were so stuffed already that it was hard to eat it)! They didn't pressure us right away with the check, and they didn't try to overload us with food: what they said should be enough for 8 people was just about enough, but we ended up ordering more. At some less ingenuous restaurants - not sure if that's the right word but we'll go with it - they'll purposely upsell and oversell in the interest of raising the bill, not what you actually want to eat. At Yin yi, they recommended the dishes that they were truly famous for and didn't kill us with volume.

We killed ourselves with volume, ordering three extra dishes that we could barely finish!

It was never difficult to get a waiter to come over (something that is a problem at a few good restaurants in Taipei) and we never felt rushed, bothered, upsold or kicked out even though we stayed until closing time, even long after we'd finished our order and were having cake and Brendan was opening gifts.

                                            豆沙鍋餅 - red bean paste in tasty fried thing

All in all, it was a fantastic evening and I strongly recommend this restaurant to anyone and everyone. Especially for foreigners who like Chinese food but want dishes that are palatable to Western diners: this isn't American Chinese, not at all, but the flavors are the sort that Westerners can enjoy, even if they aren't used to the many variations of Chinese cuisine.

Now, as it was my dear husband's birthday, enjoy a few birthday pics!

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!  

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Quote in Forbes!! (11!!11!!)!1

Here I am!

I mean, I'm not entirely a "food blogger" but I blog enough about food that...hey, sure. Sounds good to me.

This isn't really the entirety of what I said, but it's a good enough quote taken from a much lengthier opinion on Din Tai Fung.

For the record, I do think their dumplings are excellent, but I don't eat there often - I've been once - because while they're really good, there's only so much you can do with a dumpling and I find their prices high. I believe the price has more to do with being able to get away with charging Japanese tourists that much than it does with how much it actually costs to run the restaurant and make a profit.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Dangly Bits

Brass, treated lapis, turquoise (possibly artificial or color treated) and onyx earrings by Tai&Vin - NT$450 on sale - Yongkang Street #28-2

As I've written two sequentially thought-provoking posts - at least they are to me! - I thought it was time for a little fun. There is more than just frivolity when one starts talking about independent artists and designers, as well as small businesses (even if the product are not hand-designed or made): I do find meaning where others may find fluff.

And what kind of fun do I like more than earrings? No kind, that's what. I'm a total earrings-and-scarves hoarder, which I think may be some sort of weird personality issue (seeing as before earrings and scarves it was nail polish, and for awhile it was colorful striped socks with individual toes). But as quirks go it's not a financially or personally devastating one, so I think it's fine.

I've found that a combination of a strong creative spirit (yes, it's there, if you look for it), massive consumer goods shopping opportunities from department stores to night markets - heck, the streets are filled with stores selling FOOD and STUFF in a way that not even the USA could imagine - and low prices make Taipei an excellent city in which to scout out awesome new earrings, which means I can enjoy my little habit without breaking the bank or pondering seeing a therapist for my compulsive-collector tendencies.

Here are a few of my favorite haunts, interspersed with photos from my own massive collection of earrings:

The lady who sells silver by MRT Jingmei Exit 2 (past Family Mart) - people selling silver from SE Asia - usually it really is sterling, but do check each item for the stamp to confirm - are all over Taipei, but I particularly like this woman's small shop. She goes to Thailand a few times a year and buys items there to sell in Taiwan. Yes, it would be cheaper if I just bought my own stuff in Thailand, but I haven't been since 2003 and if you are a regular she starts giving discounts.

Yongkang Street is full of places that sell cool earrings, both new and old. Be careful for fake antiques sold at real antique prices, though. I bought these gold vermeil and jade beauties there, got them checked and have been told that yes, they are the real deal and probably came off of an old Chinese headdress (the big kind with dangly bits that brides used to wear and that I personally think brides should still wear because they RULE). Tai&Vin is also great to browse in this area - it can get very expensive but some of their items are affordable - it depends on whether you're buying just nicely made earrings or earrings made from real jade and antique pieces.

That Turkish earring guy (sometimes a woman works there and I'm not sure who owns it) at Tianmu International Square weekend flea market. Whenever the area across from the big stationery store in Shi-da opens for a little artisan's market, you can also find them. They sell beautiful "Turkish" (not sure if they really are - who cares) earrings in a variety of colors and shapes, screened and engraved with mehndi-like patterns.

Shi-da night market - I completely love the guy who sells cheap but gorgeous enamel earrings on the busy street in the market - another woman near the big stationery store sometimes sells them too, along with watches. At NT150 each, I couldn't help but build a collection!

Earrings above by Aliko Chen (found her in Shi-da and have not seen her since)

The weekend market at Red House - I haven't been in awhile but I assume it's still around. I bought these beauties there - the chain goes through your piercing and they hang that way. They're well-weighted and don't slip. You can find a lot of cool stuff here - and some of the same jewelry makers (and some who just sell cheaper jewelry that you can wear for fun) can also be found in the mall under Caesar Park hotel approaching Taipei Main Station.

Chinese Handicrafts Market on Zhongshan Road - I know, such a cliche, but they sell cool stuff like this. Well, I made the little puffy stars, but the two cloisonne earrings are from the handicrafts shop. Check out the selection at the National Palace Museum gift shop on the top floor, or wade through bins of ugly faux-silver-abalone earrings for one piece of pure gorgeousness on the first floor.

The Indian import store in the Wuchang Street covered market (Wuchang Street east of Bo'ai, near/across from Zhongshan Hall) - with earrings starting at NT100, you can't go wrong. The styles are ethnic, sometimes overwhelming, and very colorful. Also, extremely cheap: these are wear-for-fun earrings, not investment pieces. Also the best place to get earrings in copper tone if you're into that (I am).

Anyway, that's my fun post for the weekend - enjoy!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Best Coffee in Taipei

Everyone who reads this blog even remotely regularly knows about my semi-fanatical obsession with two foodstuffs: 1.) sea urchins and 2.) coffee. With coffee, I'm sort of like this.

I've written extensively about coffee before, but haven't really come out with a post that clarifies where good coffee - the best coffee - can be found in Taipei. This is that post.

You can get coffee anywhere in Taipei, from 7-11 to one of the myriad Starbucks, Dante Coffees or Ikari chains, as well as in department stores and other smaller chains (such as Artco and Is) and independent operators. It can be as cheap as a 40NT 7-11 latte (which is not your worst choice, I have to say) or as expensive as a 500NT cup of Kopi Luwak or overpriced but still substandard coffee at a lot of chi-chi cafes (Bastille, I'm looking at you).

Unfortunately, most options, as in the USA, are mediocre at best, and Charbucks is Charbucks everywhere, with their over-roasted jet fuel.

The key to a good coffee is a light hand with the roaster (even medium dark roast is fine, but many dark roasts - not all mind you - are just bitter and charred), even grinding and scrupulous preparation, although I'm the first to admit that I use a regular old coffee machine at home. The best coffee comes from a siphon brew, but it is possible to get good espresso and non-siphon coffee.

I'm not interested in listing out the millions of places in Taipei where you can get a brain-smack of caffeine - I'm talking about genuinely good coffee that one can savor, that wafts down the street with its strong scent and turns heads when you carry it away in a to-go cup. Yes, you can find it in Taipei.

Get your cup of awesome beans (the kind that hipsters and yuppies would say have a "great flavor profile") at:

Xinsheng S. Road Section 3 Lane 76 #1 (the entrance is on Xinsheng Road, not the lane)
I've praised this place to the moon and back, as you can read in the link above.

2.) The Best Roasted Coffee (TBRC)
Taipei, Shilin District - Jingshan Road #18: near the Wenhua University bus stop heading up Yangmingshan, and not far from the top of Tianmu Old Trail
This place is fantastic - you can buy a pound of coffee for NT500, and their home blend (a medium-to-dark roast) is only NT100 per cup, which is a steal. It's really tasty and goes down smoothly, so you don't need to drink it with milk (which is good, because the owner really will lecture you if you ask for milk or sugar). You can also buy cheesecake, cookies and other light fare here - the cheesecake is tangy and homemade without being too sweet.

Jinhua Street #247 - closest bus stop on a major route is Xinsheng/Jinhua along Da'an Park, also walkable from Yongkang Street

This place offers coffee that packs a flavorful punch - they take it very seriously, allowing you to smell the grounds several times to highlight different smells and potential flavors, and then serve it to you both in a standard coffee cup, which brings out darker, earthier flavors as well as in a small stemmed cordial glass, which brings out more syrupy, flowery liqueur-like flavors in the coffee. Not cheap, but totally worth it.

They also have branches in Taizhong and Tainan.

Guangzhou and Huanhe Rd. intersection near Longshan Temple
Try the "Ma Gao" coffee (馬告) at the booth selling Taiwanese local coffee here for NT90: the cup is small but it packs a strong punch of flavor, and best of all it's grown in Taiwan an (according to the vendor) is grown on aborigine-run farms, so you're doing good for the local economy and you get to try a Taiwanese local product not often found in stores.

#405 Sec. 1 Neihu Road Taipei (02)2799-4966
#123 Songde Road Taipei (02)2726-6085
#336 Jinhu Road Taipei (02) 2634-8803
#7 Lane 243 Jinhua Street Taipei (02) 2322-3830
B1 #14 Nanjing West Road Taipei (02) 2522-1681
This place is my new favorite find that you absolutely have to try. They're your best source of Kopi Luwak, if you've ever wanted to try it, and they'll brew it to perfection for you (I haven't tried it yet, but I will). I had a cup of coffee from Nicaraguan beans (can't remember which type) at their Songde Road location and I was blown away by the depth and spirit of the earthy, slightly smoky, addictive flavor. They siphon brew their good beans (lattes and other coffee types are also available) and there's a large choice of global beans, with a lot coming from Central America.

They also keep Jameson on hand, at least at Songde Road, which means they know how to make good coffee with whiskey.

Call ahead if you want a cup of Kopi Luwak - they'll make sure they have the most, ahem, fragrant beans for you to try.

Seriously - I love my Drop Coffee but this place is really just amazing, too. It's probably going to tie for 1st place in my list of favorite coffee shops, along with Drop.

6.) Black Bean Coffee
Zhongshan Road in Shilin, just south of the Zhongzheng Road intersection past Skylark and some other businesses
This place makes a good brew, if a little on the dark roasted side for my taste. A cup costs an average of NT150 - I strongly recommend the earthy but soft Monsoon Malabar coffee from India. They also sell handmade cookies.

I'm not sure if this place still exists - I haven't been there in years - but will check back soon to see if they're still around.

7.) Shake House (listed second in the post, after Red House)
Wenzhou Street / Lane 86 corner, across from Bastille, Gongguan
I usually praise this place for its homey, studenty feel and good selection of Belgian beers, but haven't mentioned how good their coffee is. They do not-too-bitter lattes, Americano and espresso, they make ice coffee in batches in a giant machine similar to a siphon, and their specialized beans are packed with flavor (try the Ethiopia Yirgacheffe or the Guatemala Huehuetenango). They can alcohol-ify any coffee order (just ask for it on request - I usually get a latte with a shot of alcohol added - I am fine with alcohol added to espresso drinks but would never add it to a good brew of quality medium-roast beans.

You can also buy the amazing Monsoon Malabar coffee here to brew at home.

#3 Lane 93 Shi-da Road, Taipei
I normally don't go for espresso, opting instead for larger servings of more expensive siphon coffee, but My Sweetie Pie makes a not-too-bitter espresso that I can really get behind. It's still darker and more bitter than I normally prefer, but it cuts through the sweetness of their delicious cakes so well that I can forgive the extra roasting time!

9.) Fong Da
#42 Chengdu Road (near Ximending)
This place is wildly popular with both coffee enthusiasts and people who love old Taipei institutions. They still use vintage equipment and have a 1950s vibe going, and lots of different beans to choose from. I have to say that I find their brews a bit overpowering (not like the deeply but not jarringly flavored siphon brews I normally go for), but hey, that doesn't mean it's not good stuff! The brew at Fong Da acts like jet fuel to the brain and still gets my vote!

10.) Update: Rufous Coffee
Fuxing S. Road Sec 2 #333 / 復興南路2段333號

I was tipped off about this place by another expat, and realized it's basically just down the road from where I work. Fuxing S. Road south of Heping and north of Xinhai boasts three coffeeshops and a tea shop. The first is Tiamore, which has good (but not the best) coffee, is a bit down-at-heel and boasts a bevy of semi-friendly cats - or at least they did, it seems the owners don't keep cats there anymore since my last visit. The final one is called Mono, and I haven't actually gotten coffee there yet, but they serve it in glasses, not cups, and there's a shy but sweet cat there. Their mint and pomelo tea is great and they do a good brownie with ice cream.

Update: read below re: Rufous's siphon brews, but really what you want to be getting at this place is an espresso drink. For a very mildly flavored coffee, try the honey and cinnamon latte. For a luxurious experience, try the Irish coffee (with real sweet foamed milk, not whipped cream, to cut the bitterness of the whiskey-flavored coffee below). For a hot or stressful (or hot and stressful) day, get the iced dark chocolate banana latte. Their cold brewed iced coffee is also fabulous.

Only just today I continued on to Rufous at this person's recommendation, and the coffee was pretty excellent (I had a syphon-brewed coffee from Panama). The atmosphere is completely different from Tiamore, where I go for a friendly, very 台neighborhood feel - Rufous is smaller, more upmarket, more expensive. No cats, but the coffee is better. I did find the Panama to be lacking some of the depth of the coffees I've tried at Shake House (see above) and Drop (also above) - especially both shops' Sumatra coffee, and the Kona at Drop, as well as the Nicaraguan coffee at Coffee Family Roaster. The Panama coffee - ordered because I don't see beans from Panama on menus very often - was roasted a bit darker than I like it, as well.  However, it was quite good, and I intend to go back and try not only the house blend but also ask them to make me a light roast coffee, and see what they can come up with.

11.) Gold Diamond Coffee (金鑽咖啡)
Zhonghe, Xinbei City, Liansheng Road #41

About a 15 minute walk from MRT Jing'an (walk up Jinping Road and turn at Liansheng) and near the 262, 275 and various other bus routes, this place is a good bet if you're stuck in the wilds of Zhonghe. A good place to rest after a hike to Yuantong Temple or if you are otherwise in the area.

This tiny coffeeshop nestled among a huge slightly higher end apartment complex (but not inside it) on a quiet side street was a surprise find for me: I happen to know a family who lives in the complex - I play with their kids in English once a week (I'd be hard-pressed to call it a class as it's very non-traditional) and have gotten coffee here. The lattes are strong and flavorful, with lots of bold character, but the thing to get here is light roast drip coffee. I was blown away by what the guy made for me, and they have many choices of bean.

12.) Cafe Booday
Nanjing W. Road Lane 25 #18, 2nd floor above the shop (very close to MRT Zhongshan)

While the food at Booday didn't blow me away - the desserts were good, though - the one cup of Monsoon Malabar I had there was pretty delish. They have a selection of high-end coffees including this favorite of mine for approximately NT140 per cup. On the high end but not impossible, and your best choice among all the cafes in this area for a good cup of something comforting, caffeinated and well-made.

13.) Other places I haven't tried yet

There are a ton of places I haven't had the good fortune to drink coffee at, but are probably on par with the places listed above. There's an especially large number of cafes in the lanes around Yongkang Street, and some of my favorite places to drink beer also make pretty good coffee (not included here because I wanted to highlight the best of the best, but that doesn't mean they're not also good).

If you have a favorite stop for high-quality coffee - the kind you savor, not gulp - leave it in the comments!

You can also buy great beans to brew your own coffee at home at most of the places above, as well as at:

- 里仁: organic food store in Gongguan (go to Roosevelt Rd. Sec. 3 Lane 283, and it's just down the lane from So Free pizza) - you can buy organic coffee beans from southern Taiwan here - very flavorful!

If you want to brew South Indian or Thai/Vietnamese-style coffee (that is, coffee with chicory, and add condensed milk for Thai or Vietnamese or just tons of sugar and milk to make it Indian) go to Trinity Superstores and pick up a bag of "Bru". It's not "good" coffee in the yuppie sense but it is the real thing.

Friday, January 28, 2011

James Kitchen

James Kitchen
#65 Yongkang Street, Da'an District, Taipei
(02) 2343-2275

Last weekend we tried this restaurant in an old building on Yongkang Street just north of Jinhua. They've only been in business for three years or so, but their ambiance makes it seem like they've been around since the '20s. The front has old Japanese-style menu boards, a window painted aqua-green and two red glass lanterns hanging outside.

James Kitchen - named for the owner, James (I never did get his last name or Chinese name) - an affable older man who hangs out by the counter - specializes in fish. A chalkboard near the counter announces fish specials, and gets erased whenever they run out of something. We chose a red fish braised in a broth with fermented "na dou" beans (the same beans used in the slimy Japanese "natto" but not slimy) and tofu. It was firm and delicious: I tend to prefer firmer fish to softer-fleshed varieties.

We also ordered salted clams, which were stewed in a soy sauce concoction, some basic green vegetables, fried oyster rolls (delicious: definitely try these) and minced pork and onion rice. The restaurant also provided a free eggplant xiao chi (small dish).

The overall feel of the place recalls Taiwan under Japanese rule: strongly Japanese (sashimi and sake were both on the menu, as well as some kinds of tempura and fried rolls) but at its core, still Taiwanese (hence the fried oyster cakes and other more Taiwanese foods). The sake was quite good and for 200 kuai, the serving (a small pitcher that is enough for two) is generous.

In the end, we ordered way too much food, but all of it was delicious. I definitely want to go back, and soon. There's something on the menu that is basically deep fried pastry stick (油條) smothered in garlic and oysters. I am all gung-ho to try it, so we have to return with friends!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Han Chi Tiger Noodles

We ate at this restaurant - Han Chi Tiger Noodle - on Sunday, and all I can say is Awesome! I got lamb and Brendan got pork, but we both stuck to the spicy (ma la) specialty soup with puffed rice.

This makes two awesome restaurants near, but not on, Yongkang Street that I strongly recommend (the other one is the Japanese fish restaurant I recommended last week). Is it just me, or is Yongkang Street proper really not that great for food? I know it has this reputation as a culinary Mecca, but so far I've mostly been maybe not disappointed but still "yeah, it's OK" while eating there. Nothing stupendous. Not even the erstwhile Ice Monster (Sugar House in Nanshijiao Night Market is much better, and aptly named). I love the shops - jewelry, used books, old furniture, Chinese-style stuff - and the park, but the food? Eh. And no place to get a good drink nearby!

(Some of the old-school xiao chi places with the low brick kangs and simmering pots of meat...things are pretty good, but not better than anywhere else, and my favorite one of these style restaurants is actually on Songde Road on the other end of the city).

Around Yongkang Street, especially around Lishui and Jinhua Streets, however, I'm finding all sorts of great places to hunker down with amazing food. So my advice is: avoid the main Yongkang drag for food, and instead hunt along its outskirts, especially down Lishui Street.

I did forget to tell them that I didn't want duck blood and ended up with a bunch of blood that I didn't eat (I really don't like it; it tastes like pennies!). My bad!

With our main dishes we got beer and two snacks: a tasty cucumber plate and "tofu skin", which I love for its flavor and texture in general. Han Chi's comes with a flavorful sauce.

They also have dumplings and other items, and an area where you can mix your own sauce as such places do. Among their more interesting offerings is flower pepper oil (hua jiao you or 花椒油) and spicy pickled things that I don't commonly see.

Other than that, I can't improve on the Taipei Times' review, so I won't try. Everything they say is true!

Across the street, next to 7-11, is a great little cafe called Vinyl, with a large (but not especially cheap) wine selection, full coffee tea and other drink selection, food, snacks, desserts and a modest beer choice. They have inviting wooden tables, shelves full of wine, plugs and Wifi, too. The music leaves something to be desired but generally a great place to hang out.