Wednesday, May 04, 2016

dessert/american: STAR WARS CUPCAKES from the CUPCAKE SHOP



May the fourth be with you! 

Always love the cupcakes from the Cupcake Shop.. They are my go-to shop for cupcakes, but since they don't have a store, it takes a little planning (three day notice and coordinating pick up). My favorite flavors are red velvet and carrot cake, but all the flavors are moist and right enough of sweetness since they are made to order. What amazes me are their designs- these Star Wars ones are perfect for Maythefourth! All frosting, no nasty tasting fondant!

Since Les Bebes is gone, other top cupcakes in Taipei options include 

-Twelve Cupcakes (maybe third best cupcakes in Taipei? They have some simple but cute designs and lots of flavors to choose from)
-Felicitas Patisserie (newcomer shop frosts lovely bouquets of flowers and roses atop cakes and cupcakes. Will have to check them out soon) 
-Cloudy Cupcakes (they have Hello Kitty cupcakes, but their cupcakes are smaller and dense)
-Ginjer Cupcakes (I heard they closed their storefront but can order online)
-Black as Chocolate (kind of overpriced for me, but they have a Disney license to do Mickey and Pixar decorated cupcakes)
-We Love Cookies (haven't had their cupcakes in a long time too, but they have some good flavors, and delicious cookies although they kept their cupcakes a tad too cold for me)
-VVG Bon Bon (pretty but sometimes dry. Also more petite than American sizes) 
-Cupetit (haven't tried it yet.. Maybe I should do a cupcake taste off soon!)

Who else am I missing? 

previous review: 5/2015

Monday, May 02, 2016

taiwanese/breakfast: YONG HE DOU JIANG DA WANG - REN AI


YONG HE DOU JIANG DA WANG 永和豆漿大王
No. 63 RenAi Road, Sec. 4
仁愛路四段63號
Phone number(02) 2751-2713

MRT: ZhongXiao DunHua or ZhongXiao FuXing

hours: 

visit reviewed: 4/12/2016


When in Taipei, you must try Taiwanese breakfast at least once. There are breakfast shops like this all over Taipei- look for the signs with the characters above or a basket of long fried crullers out front. I am the type of person that will get excited about a photo of a basket of you tiao.. If you are too, then you are in the right place. 

Typically the shops are most busy in the morning, but some are open twenty four hours. The most famous one currently is probably Fu Hang Dou Jiang because of its mention on CNN's list of 40 Taiwanese foods we can't live without. (Look for number 28 and then 18 and 35 for my picks)

I am still unsure if all the Yong He Dou Jiang's originated from the same source at one point, or did they all spring up individually? This Yong He Dou Jiang Da Wang layout is quite similar to the other one with the same name, with the work space to make the you tiaos in the front.

If you want to eat where the locals eat, then start with your neighborhood Yong He Dou Jiang... My personal picks are a cup of cold soy milk with shao bing you tiao (pictured up top as first photo) 燒餅油條 or sesame flatbread with fried Taiwanese crullers. Or as my friend Chris said when he tried it for the first time, a carb sandwich!!! 

wouldn't say this is my favorite Yong He Dou Jiang Da Wang, but it's a good place in Daan District to grab and go when you don't want to wait in line. (My favorites are all getting too damn crowded) It's right off the RenAi circle and near Jiu Ru, which has really delicious won ton soups and tang yuan, though I haven't been in yearsThis shop preps a lot of the food in advance, so my you tiao wasn't crispy although the shao bing was good. The you tiao wasn't crispy inside the fan tuan either, which was a bummer. The best fan tuans for me are from the street carts... they always manage to have crispy you tiao inside. NT$87 for cold soy milk, shao bing you tiao and fan tuan. Can't beat that.



Saturday, April 30, 2016

my kitchen: EASY CARBONARA PASTA


First time making carbonara pasta, pretty happy with the results!!! Will definitely make it again. 😊😊🍝 I found an easy recipe with only 5 ingredients and adapted it a little bit. I'm sure there are more elaborate or authentic versions, but I wanted to try something easy for my first time and it was surprisingly creamy with no added cream or butter.

EASY CARBONARA PASTA
adapted from Damn Delicious
http://damndelicious.net/2014/03/29/spaghetti-carbonara/

1- Boil pasta (half pack of spaghetti)
2- Pan fry bacon (I didn't have bacon so I used half w pack of salami. Pancetta is also recommended. ) with some minced garlic (I also added fresh peas) on medium heat 
3-Stir together 1.5 cup grated Parmesan cheese with 2 room temperature eggs. Using room temperature eggs will help the eggs not scramble when you cook the sauce. Mix with strained pasta when pasta is cooked. 
4-Stir pasta on super low heat with salami, peas until carbonara sauce is slightly creamy. This should take no longer than 1 minute. 
5- Salt and pepper 
6- Plate, top with more grated fresh parm and serve!

Monday, April 25, 2016

salad/desserts: i recommend SAVOUR CAFE



SAVOUR CAFE
No. 115 Xinyi Rd Sec. 4
台北市大安區信義路四段115號
(02) 2701-2498

MRT: Daan

hours: 11:30AM - 10PM

$$ (NT$400+ per person)

website: Savour Cafe's FB page

kid friendliness: quiet atmosphere, but kids may like sandwiches and desserts. i wonder if there is a drink minimum for kids.

visit reviewed: 4/12/2016



I've probably passed by Savour Cafe hundreds of times and never noticed it since (a) I'm usually on the other side of Xinyi so it's blocked by the bus stop stands in the middle and (b) the glaring MUCHO sign down the block and the red Eclat boutique hotel around the corner are more eye catching. But if you were walking down the street, you could definitely spot the cafe with the white and gold sign. 



Inside, they make the most out of their narrow space, with a few tables and throw pillow type seating and the "kitchen" and counter in the back. There are quite a few solo patrons working on their laptops and all of the customers are women (except my lunch date). Makes sense considering the light fare on the menu. By mid afternoon, all the of the tables were filled.



There are pretty much only four things on Savour Cafe's menu- a caesar salad, a baby spinach pumpkin salad, a basil chicken panini or a spicy duck breast panini (NT$180-200). The good- the salad that I had come for was delicious, especially since I had been needing a place to fill the void that the loss of Les Bebes' veggie salad left. The bad? They have a mandatory drink minimum and every drink price is jacked up to at least NT$140-180.



UGHHHHHH. I hate drink minimums. I would much prefer a restaurant have a minimum charge. I even asked the server, what if I ordered dessert? But the answer was still no. The drinks to choose from include coffee, tea, au lait, juice, soda, slush or milkshake. After reluctantly mulling over the menu for a few minutes, I tried to pick a drink with the least damage calorie wise- rose tea (NT$180).



Service was fairly quick- the paninis came out around the same time and before the salad that we were going to share. Each panini is cut into three slices and came with a few potato wedges and small salad. Both sandwiches tasted like something I could make at home, which was a good sign, meaning that I liked the flavors and the combination of elements in the sandwiches.

Spicy Duck Breast Panini (NT$180) with pan fried duck breast, jalapeño, tomato, cheddar cheese and mozzarella.


The spread with our mandatory drinks- rose tea on the left and mixed berry soda (NT$180) on the right. I probably wouldn't order the rose tea again- it was floral but not rose, and tasted like watered down tea. Luckily my friend treated me to lunch so I wouldn't lament the fact that I was forced to pay NT$180 for watered down tea. Sure makes for a pretty photo though! (lol, read with sarcasm)


Baby spinach pumpkin salad (NT$180) the salad was plentiful to share between two people (along with a sandwich each) and I liked how they added various almonds and nuts to give the salad a contrasting crunch. The dressing was a bit on the sweet side, but I thought it went well with the baby spinach. The grilled pumpkins were caramelized and tender. I wouldn't mind eating just the salad by myself, with dessert.



Toffee banana tart (NT$160) 



Whipped cream and toffee caramel sauce slathered atop frozen banana slices and cookie tart crust. Like if tiramisu and banana split had a baby. I wasn't going to order this, but I had to ask them about the red velvet cake, and then looking at instagram, it seemed quite a few people raved about the desserts. After finishing the whole thing myself, I could see why- the icy banana slices taste like ice cream and the thick toffee sauce gives it a sticky sweetness. So so good- I might have to try making it at home. They also had red velvet and cinnamon apple cake on the menu, but were out of red velvet. 



So would I come back to Savour Cafe and acquiesce to their drink minimum again? The toffee banana tart was so good that I'm thinking that the red velvet has a good chance of being good as well, so yes. Next time, I'll skip the teas and get coffee to go with my dessert instead. 

Monday, April 18, 2016

western/steak: i recommend LE BLANC




LE BLANC
No. 183 DaAn Road, Sec. 1
台北市大安區大安路一段183號
(02) 2700-7770

MRT: DaAn


Hours: 11:30AM- 2:30PM; 6PM - 9PM

kid friendliness: short menu, so mac and cheese and fries for broccoli for kids unless they like steak and lobster

Visits reviewed: 12/29/2015 & 3/16/2016


Le Blanc is a new steak and lobster joint in town, just opened a few months ago in December 2015. The restaurant for the gleaming white Swiio Hotel next door, Le Blanc functions as a breakfast for hotel guests, but for lunch and dinner, they have the same menu- steak frites or lobster or both. Chef Long Xiong is from Boston/NY and wanted to bring some east coast flavor to Taipei, moonlighting from his other restaurant a few blocks away, Mume

The menu is short and sweet- Boston lobster (NT$1400) or steak frites (NT$1000 for 10 oz) and optional classic sides and desserts like truffled mac and cheese, mushrooms, creamed spinach or broccoli. There is no shortage of steak places in town, as a ton of new ones have opened in the past year (TK Steak and Seafood, Mortons, Top Cap), but I can't think of (m)any steak frites places in Taipei. 







Each meal includes romaine salad and warm popovers, and lobster can be chosen to be grilled or steamed. I like their popovers- they aren't as dry as the Yorkshire pudding from Lawry's and they even give you a pat of good butter if you need, though the popovers are seasoned already.

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The caesar salad included is a full portion that would cost you a couple hundred NT a la carte elsewhere, with flakes of parmesan cheese, hardboiled egg and candied walnuts. It was a nice touch that they grill the romaine for the winter season. Or you can opt for a bowl of the daily soup.



The whole Boston lobster (NT$1400) comes along with a lobster bib, scissors and skinny forks to scoop out the meat. If you don't want to get your hands dirty, then opt for the grilled lobster which is already cut in half. But I quite like the taste of sweet steamed lobster dipped in butter. You have to use a little elbow grease for unlocking the whole steamed lobster (and use the bib cuz it gets messy, with lobster brains squirting around), but the scissors cut through the shell easily, even for newbies like us who needed a little bit of direction from the server (pull off the head and cut down the center back). But I did get some lobster juice on my shirt because I didn't wear the bib! And the lobster brains- I forgot to take a photo of it because it got stolen away from me at the table, it's so good! 



Whole Boston lobster, split in half and grilled, with steamed corn, French fries and drawn butter.  The lobster from my first visit was on the smaller side, as the waitress asked me if I still wanted lobster when we ordered. Since I was sharing half with my date and eating some of his steak, I didn't get my fill. But during my second visit, I thought the steamed lobster was great size and very satisfying... maybe partially because one of the girls didn't eat any lobster so I had extra. Hah!

On my second visit, Chef Long stated that they will no longer accept lobsters less than 1 1/4 pounds from their vendor, so hopefully the issue no longer exists.


For my second visit to Le Blanc, we reserved two lobsters and ordered one steak frites, which was enough to share with three other lighter eaters. Of course if you are with a bunch of dudes, which I was on my first dinner there, then everyone will appreciate that they get to have 10 oz to themselves. I'll have to be honest- my first visit to Le Blanc, just a few weeks old at the time I was a little bit worried for them. The sides were terribly salty, the steak was a bit tough and the lobster was on the small side, but the restaurant seems to have worked through its growing pains and everything was on point for my second visit. 

Steak frites (NT$1000) you get to choose one choice of sauce from classic béarnaise, spicy horseradish or green peppercorn. The servers recommended the béarnaise to us. The fries can also be refilled upon request. I wonder if the roasted garlic can be too? haha. Love roasted garlic- it brings out the sweetness. The server recommended that we get the steak at medium rare (level 3 doneness) and it was perfectly done on my second visit. 



Truffled mac and cheese (NT$180)-- my girl friends said that they usually don't like mac and cheese but they liked this.. With a bit of bread crumb crust, the truffle flavor is not strong, but the gemelli pasta is bathed in hot, cheese sauce. I also like the roasted mixed mushrooms (NT$180). It's great to have steak frites in Taipei when you don't want to pay an arm and a leg for full set at a steakhouse. 


Creamed Spinach (NT$180) 


Le Blanc's placemat/menus from my first visit



The chocolate mousse (NT$180) was surprisingly good. I usually don't like mousse, but this was more fudgey and thick. Would totally order this again with chocolate lovers.



Almond clafoutis (NT$180)  I don't think this on the menu anymore since now they are serving freshly baked cookies, but this was tasty as well.



All in all, I think Le Blanc can find a place in Taipei's busy dining scene if they can serve consistently good food with good service. Down the line, it would be great to see an option for steak salad or lobster salad in the NT$600-700 range? The space is quite large and suitable for big groups, although it's quite odd you have to go to the hotel side and down the elevator or stairs to go to the restroom. I will be back to try the freshly baked cookies as well as get my lobster and steak fix. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

indian: i recommend KHANA KHAZANA


KHANA KHAZANA  
No. 366 Keelung Rd, Sec. 1 
臺北市信義區基隆路一段366號
(02) 8786-9366 

MRT: Taipei 101 / World Trade Center 


Hours: 11am-2:30pm; 5:30pm-10:30pm 

Visit reviewed: 4/13/2016 & 2/12/2014 & 10/21/2013



It's been a while since I've been to Khana Khazana, but I've been wanting to retry their lunch sets.  They are one of the few Indian restaurants in Taipei offering lunch sets under NT$200, as well as a halal menu. It's not very far from the original branch of Mayur's Indian Kitchen, also on Keelung Road, across from Grand Hyatt Taipei. You can see the bright orange sign when you are approaching, and huge photos of the owner with Ang Lee, who shot Life of Pi in Taiwan.

Inside is decorated with jewel colored tones, Khana Khazana seat about 40 people, but I've never seen it very crowded in the handful of visits I've gone over the past few years. The menu is sprawling and varied, but what sets Khana Khazana apart is their business lunch set menu. Good options for vegetarians with over 20 vegetable dishes on the menu. 



The set comes with a curry, chickpeas, pakora, rice and naan. Chicken set is NT$180 and vegetarian set is NT$160. Beef and lamb are also available. I had good impressions of the vegetarian lunch set as well as the chicken tikka wrap from the last time I went, so lunch with mom was a good excuse to go back. Thanks to my instagram to remind me what I thought back then in 2014. 


I decided to get the chicken set, even though in the past I haven't had the best of luck with lunch sets in Taipei. Usually it's a watered down, cheaper version of their regular food, especially for the meat curries because they have to sell it such a low price. But I wouldn't know until I tried it. I was debating on whether or not to add a butter chicken to my order, but the server (owner?) dissuaded me, telling me that the set would be filling for one person. (Little did he know who he was talking to! Lol!)


Vegetable curry set (NT$160)


The sets came out fairly quickly and were slightly different than my last visit. Instead of aloo gohbi, this time it was a vegetable curry for my mom; the salad was instead chopped onions and the hot fried samosa type dumpling was instead pakora. 


Chicken curry set (NT$180)


The good? You really do get a lot of variety for the lunch price since meals at many Indian restaurants can add up since they are portioned and priced to share. The naan was great, and more chewy than I recall than at other places.  



The bad? My mom disliked that the pakoras (fried onions) were not served hot and the chickpeas were a bit sour (is that typical?). She also disliked how big and thick the samosas were, although I had no problem with it. I told her that usually people like it when they are getting a big portion for the price. Lol. 


Samosas (NT$90 for 2) stuffed with curried potatoes and peas. meat option available too. I liked the samosas as they are similar to the ones I've had in the states, but it's very filling.




When the food came, I still ended up having to add an ala carte butter chicken since the chicken in the set was a bit bland, being chicken breast, and not tandoori chicken, and there were only two pieces. Come on, I needed the butter chicken curry to dip my naan in and be satisfied! Of course, altogether it ended up being too much to finish, (along with adding the samosas), but I packed leftovers to go for later.



Butter chicken (NT$350) 


In the future, I'd probably share veggie lunch set with my mom (neither of us finished the naan) and add butter chicken (NT$350). I wouldn't mind getting the chicken tikka wrap again, or inviting a bigger group of friends to share more dishes. 

In terms of how Khana Khazana ranks with other Indian restaurants, I think Balle Balle and Saffron are still my favorites, along with Joseph's Bistro. I do want to try MIK 4ever (Mayur Indian Kitchen's buffet style restaurant). I wish one of the Indian restaurants in Taipei would figure out a way to do lunch set with choices-- so that I could opt for the butter chicken curry or whatever I wanted, add a side of veggies or two and choice of naan and rice, like they do in the states or Singapore, so it's portioned for one person, but charge a little more than they do for the lunch sets they have now. If it was good quality and portions, I wouldn't mind paying NT$250-400 for that.

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