Wednesday, November 02, 2005

chinese: i recommend DIN TAI FUNG

DIN TAI FUNG
218 Chung Hsiao East Rd., section 4
(enter from Lane 216)

(02) 2721-7890

Pricing: $
review visit: Nov 1, 2005

If you've ever been to Taipei, then more than likely you've eaten xiao long bao- or steamed 'soup' dumplings. You were probably even taken to Din Tai Fung, a popular restaurant chain that originated in Taipei, and has restaurants all over the world including in Los Angeles, Japan and Korea. It's a busy, crowded restaurant that both locals and tourists can equally enjoy with menus with English and pictures for those that request it.

The xiao long bao come in steam baskets of 10 with slight variations you can order- the classic original pork, the crab and pork, or the pork and mushroom. The xiao long bao are bite size, moist and delicious- one could easily devour half a dozen. What makes them different from other dumplings such as potstickers or gyoza, is its rounder shape, the thinner moist skin, and the soup that collects inside that gives you that "melt in your mouth" feeling when you eat it. The crab and pork dumplings were too soft for me, with not enough oomph and flavor that the classic xiao long bao has. The pork and mushroom tastes pretty much like the regular pork- I didn't even know the order had come until I asked our waitress. Upon examination, I saw tiny bits of shitake mushroom with the pork. The siu mai dumplings recommended by the waitress for the American friends we brought also were a let down compared to the xiao long bao. Stick the the restaurant's specialities- order the classic xiao long bao, and some vegetable dumplings.

Vegetable dumplings and pork xiao long bao (they go fast!)


There's also various soups and noodles you can order- the beef noodle soup is not too spicy with thin noodles, the sesame noodle is a bit bland with a wad of plain noodles in a sesame sauce. In the past, I've had good experiences with the hot and sour soup and the chicken soup- as well as side dishes of vegetables, tofu and zong zi, or a sticky rice pyramid bun.

Sesame noodles


Side dishes- vegetables and tofu


Though it's quite affordable at 150NT - 300NT, Din Tai Fung is pricier than other local dumpling houses. Why? Its established brand is so popular that they've started featuring Din Tai Fung dumplings on some international flights (I think Eva Air first class) and its crowded lines means they've established a fanbase for their reliable eats. It's worth it if you want to know what the fuss is about and you don't know where else to go.

In the past, I used to avoid Din Tai Fung because of it's popularity and instead take my friends to a busy local xiao long bao place down the street from my grandma's house. For my cousins, my sister and I, we would always ask our grandmother to take us to that restaurant every trip we came back to Taipei. Xiao long bao for 100NT- such a bargain- US$3 for a whole basket of delicious dumplings that you could rarely find in the states. In the recent years, the xiao long bao at that restaurant have become more gingery and their vegetable dumplings are no longer vegetarian, although their beef noodle soup is still very tasty, and my past two visits to Din Tai Fung did not disappoint, so I wouldn't hesitate to go again and also take my tourist friends the next time they are in town.

PS- 2/20/06
You can see the menu and photos at their official website: http://www.dintaifung.com.tw as well as the contact info for all their locations.

PS- 8/7/06
Don't forget to order a "long" or steam basket of red bean dumplings for dessert! Though it's kind of strange at first, to think of eating something sweet while looking at something salty, they are very delicious! With red bean paste inside the drier dumpling skin, it's something unique you won't find anywhere else. They also feature taro paste dumplings though personally I don't like taro.

OTHER LOCATIONS IN TAIPEI (updated 3/4/2008)

Yong Kang restaurant
No. 194, Xinyi Road, Sec.2
(entrance of Yong Kang Street)
(02) 2321-8928

Fuxing Branch
at green Fuxing Sogo, B2 FL
No.300, Zhongxiao E. Rd., Sec. 3
(02) 8772-0528

Monday, October 24, 2005

italian: i do NOT recommend DIAMOND TONY's

DIAMOND TONY's
Taipei 101 Mall 4F
45, ShihFu Rd.
(02) 8101-8268

This 4th floor location is closed. This is not a review of the Diamond Tony's on 85th floor of 101 (which I have never been). Here is a link to my later review of the Tianmu location in 2007

Pricing: $$$
review visit: Oct 24, 2005

I have been to Diamond Tony's three times. The first time was last year with a large group of friends- I remember the food tasting excellent and a fun time being had by all. The second time was for a company dinner in July- again the mood was festive, but this time the food was not as good as I remembered it to be the first time. The baked eggplant appetizer I ordered was not baked eggplant parmesean (which was my mistake that I assumed it would be) and the baked penne pasta had soggy penne pasta, too much cheese and was bland. However, I did try my neighbor's pesto fettucine with lamb, which was ordered by quite a few people at the table, and it was quite tasty. I figured, I just ordered wrong.

The third time, I returned to Diamond Tony's recently with my family, anticipating ordering the right dish this time, and again I failed. Or the restaurant, I should say, failed. Miserably. So it will probably be my last time going to Diamond Tony's. Partially because of the how bad so many of the dishes were that night, that the food is overpriced compared to other better tasting Italian restaurants you can eat at in Taipei, and that their service could benefit a total rehaul.

Diamond Tony's is one of those restaurants that looks really nice from the outside. Usually, it's tough to be seated right away without a reservation. This third time, we were seated right away and the restaurant was maybe a third full. Perhaps it was a Monday night. Perhaps the newer Macaroni Grill nearby had taken away a lot of its customers. Perhaps people realized how bad the food and service was there and decided not to go back anymore.

After being seated, it took a very long time for a waiter to come take our order. You pretty much have to flag them down whenever you need service. The menu is in English and Chinese and they have set courses that you can order that include salad, soup, a main dish, dessert and a drink. We ordered the garlic bread, crab dip, and shrimp cocktail to start.

The appetizers came fairly quickly, especially when compared to the main dishes. The shrimp in the shriimp cocktail were the smallest shrimp I had ever seen. Sure they weren't listed as tiger prawns, but there were five regular sized shrimp in a half tomato with a creamy sauce instead of cocktail sauce. The crab dip was a creamy, slightly sweet dip with no visible crab and no crab when tasted. The garlic bread came in a pie pan, sliced in eight pieces filled us up while we waited. Note that you have to order and pay for the bread separately when you order the crab dip.

shrimp cocktail


crab dip


With our party of six, we ordered our main dishes. Only two of the dishes arrived, and when they were almost finished, the other dishes slowly trickled in. This is the other main complaint I have about Diamond Tony's. It's not that the restaurant was completely full to capacity and they could not handle all the orders. There was no apology that the dishes were spaced so far apart. Personally, it's strange when a restaurant cannot deliver all of its dishes to one party within 5-10 minutes of each other. Especially I think when you are paying the prices that you pay here. Some people won't begin to eat their food until the rest of the party's food is on the table- in this case, their food would be cold by the time their fellow friend's food came.

seafood pasta


shrimp


My father and grandmother said they enjoyed their dishes- the seafood pasta with red sauce, and the jumbo shrimp.

My sister ordered the set course with prime rib steak. The salad was an unfortunate looking section of iceburg lettuce with some dressing on the side. The minestrone soup is probably the only tasty thing at the table that evening. It was flavorful, with lots of vegetables and little bit of beef and pasta. The steak was a good sized portion and looked appetizing, but tasted a bit too tenderized.

salad


soup


steak


The crab and porcini fettucine I ordered turned out to be totally not what I expected. I even asked the waiter if he had delivered the wrong dish to my table.The wad of fettucine was surrounded by several breaded and fried balls. I didn't see any crab or porcini mushrooms. It turned out that the Chinese translation of the dish was different from the English one. The balls on the side were the "crab" and "porcini"? Even after tasting it, I was unsure what the dish was. The balls tasted like a mix between seafood meatballs you'd find in soups and a hush puppy. The fettucine was dry and stuck together, like when you boil pasta and don't rinse it afterwards and it sits for awhile. After two bites, it sat on the table, uneaten.

crab and porcini fettucine


The pesto fettucine with lamb that had been such a crowd-pleaser the last time also failed to please this time. The fettucine here was also dry and stuck together, despite the creamy pesto sauce that drowned it. There was also a cream of mushroom soup and mushroom pasta ordered. Both featured bland, buttery cream flavors that seemed more watered down cream flavored than mushroom. We even asked the manager if they had changed chefs because the food was so drastically worse from the past few times we had eaten there. She said that they hadn't and offered to take off the two fettucine dishes off our bill since they were uneaten.

pesto fettucine with lamb


So consider this review a fair warning- the food at Diamond Tony's doesn't seem to taste as good as it used to. Even if you want to try it out, expect slow service and for part of your party to be finished eating by the time your dish arrives. Compared to the friendlier service and tastier, more affordably priced dishes at Macaroni Grill nearby, Diamond Tony's is more cubic zirconia than a diamond.

Friday, October 14, 2005

mexican: AMIGO

AMIGO Around-Mexico
(02) 2515-6633
台北市復興北路202號
pricing: $$
review ordered: 10.14.05

For awhile, I had been craving enchiladas. The closest one I could find from home were the ones from La Casita, but since our last experience there, no one wanted to join me. I decided to order to-go from Amigo, since it was one of the last Mexican places I hadn't tried yet in Taipei. I ordered the chicken enchilada set which came with rice, fries, sour cream and guacamole. I asked the restaurant if they could recommend anything else, and he said, you should come into the restaurant next time, we have a lot to choose from. I wish when you ask people to recommend something that they would offer up a few suggestions.

chicken enchiladas?


When I got my to-go dinner, the box was cute and colorful. The weird thing is that my enchiladas were not really enchiladas- you can see in the picture. Instead of a corn tortilla it was a flour one; the sauce was in a separate foam container rather than poured on; the chicken inside resembled fajitas grilled chicken rather than shredded; the whole thing seemed recently assembled rather than baked with the sauce and cheese on top. It looked like a reject hybrid of a chimichanga and a fajita that couldn't make up its mind what to be. I was VERY disappointed. If I wanted to eat a fajita, I would have gone to Chili's. If I wanted to eat a chimichanga, I would have ordered one.

I gave it try. Overall, the flavor was not bad, if you ignored that it was supposed to be an enchilada. Interestingly, there was corn kernels inside with the chicken, and there was only a little bit of cheese. The fries that came on the side tasted good. The rice tasted like rice I had eaten at other Taipei Mexican restaurants, not spicy or red, but a yellow sticky rice that has an indistinguishable flavor. The guacamole was really sour, it almost tasted as if it was on the verge of going bad. The bottom line is that it just didn't hit the spot because it just WAS NOT an enchilada.

I will have to go another day to try something else and see what the restaurant is like in person. I hear the tortilla soup is not bad and that their beef dishes are better than the other meats. But if you ever want to eat an enchilada, do not go to Amigo.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Need a second opinion?

Here are some sites/photos for Taipei restaurants that I have either read in the past or recently discovered:

Taipei Fun Dining the most thorough and updated reviews in English, featuring an extensive set of restaurants and reviews since 2001


Seday in Taiwan some random guy's brief reviews on restaurants- he has three main catergories, worth the trip back, average and would not go back.


Geocities Taipei restaurant review a older set of reviews and limited to a couple per catergory


Danburg's photos featuring photos of food and places of lots of restaurant heavy areas, including on Anhe Rd, Xinyi district, Shihlin night market, and Yongkang St


I'll update as I find them, but since everyone's tastebuds are different, so take everyone's reviews (including my own) and try places out for yourself!

Sunday, August 14, 2005

japanese: i strongly recommend SUMIE

SUMIE NOUEVELLE CUISINE JAPANESE
4th Floor, 172 Chung Hsiao East Road, Sec 4
(In San Won Hotel)
(02) 2781-6909

kid friendliness: high chairs available, friendly service, ambience is on quieter side, but private rooms available

$$$

When I want to eat Japanese food in Taipei, we usually head over to Sumie which is a upscale, sit down Japanese-fusion restaurant with good service and super fresh sashimi. The best bet to order if you have never been or are pretty hungry is the set course. They offer 3 different levels of the set course, as well as a vegetarian set course, which includes over 6 small courses and ranges from $1500 NT and up. Sometimes if you order different things off the menu separately, it ends up being around that much anyways. The menu has a wide array of sushi/sashimi, appetizers, hot dishes and hot pot- you can even try asking for requests off the menu if you don't see what you want.

It's fun to see how they plate their sashimi and sushi- the portions aren't huge, but they make it look like artwork. The ambiance is modern with dim lighting and a lot of reflective surfaces. The mood is pretty quiet and can be romantic, with 3 private rooms in the back, but lots of families come with kids. It's not a huge restaurant and they close the kitchen at 9PM, so you should call and make a reservation if you want to make sure you get a table. The service can be a little slow sometimes if they are busy, but they aim to please.

I often get the seafood and fruit salad, which is a refreshing light salad with lettuce, crab, shrimp and fruits (but ask them to hold the raisins), but this week I was really craving California Rolls for some reason. As we got to the restaurant pretty late, our server apologized and said that they ran out of sushi rice and the sushi chef would try and figure out an alternative. At first, I was thinking ran out of sushi rice? Crazy! And they wouldn't use "regular" rice. But they were accomodating and the result was pretty appetizing and low-carb for all the dieters out there- it was a roll of crab, shrimp, asparagus, cucumber, avocado and masago wrapped in seaweed and thin egg layer. Mmm- masago!



For our eel/unagi and deep fried soft shell crab roll, they just plated it ala carte without rice, and the three of us shared. I also ordered a fish chin/jaw- which I am surprised I like because I don't love fish. Fish chin has the most tasty, moist part of the fish, and the way that they grill it leaves the skin crispy and the meat flaky and not fishy at all. They include a lime with it which I usually squeeze to give it an added tart twist.

To make up for my missing carbs, I also ordered a tempura udon which included a good assortment of vegetables with a pair of shrimp and a hot bowl of udon with perfectly seasoned soup, with additional chili powder and chopped green onions on the side. In general, my favorite vegetable tempura are yam and mushroom, which they had, and my least favorite are eggplant and taro, which were also included. (In this picture, I already ate some of the tempura- sorry I couldn't wait!)


Of course, I eyed the set course dishes that my friends got and sampled a little bit here and there. We usually get the set menu with the lamb chops, which are some of the best lamb I have eaten. It's tender, flavorful and grilled to perfection. You can pick up the chops since they wrap the bone with foil and devour it. The set course starts off with a custom appetizer, today it was crab with tomato sauce, and includes sashimi, salad, lamb chops, sushi, fish, soup, fruit and dessert.




I've gone to Sumie as a couple as well as with larger groups, and usually everyone is pretty satisfied. It's a little pricey for the portion sizes, but every bite is worth it, especially if you are looking for fresh sashimi to hit the spot, you must try Sumie out.

Friday, August 12, 2005

CLOSED/italian: I recommend GUY's CAFE

CLOSED (for a few years I think) updated 6/2009!

GUY's CAFE
No. 105, Da An Road, Sec 1
(02) 2721-2706

$$

I happened to eat at Guy's Cafe for a press luncheon that I was invited to. On this particular day, we could choose 1 of 5 pastas that was on the set menu: Pasta with (1) Clam garlic white wine sauce, (2) spaghetti meat sauce, (3) grilled chicken pesto sauce, (4) bacon mushroom cream sauce or (5) Calamari with squid ink pasta. They all sounded really good, and I decided to go with the grilled chicken pesto pasta.



We started out with a soup, which I'm sorry to say I didn't know what it was, but it was really tasty. It could have been either a seafood bisque or a pumpkin soup- it was reddish orange in color and creamy. The grilled chicken pesto pasta turned out to be a pesto cream sauce, which was just the right amount of cream and flavor. The pasta was the right consistency and all the flavors blended together. I was happy that there were also chopped white mushrooms in this dish. The spaghetti and clam garlic pastas seemed to also be a popular dish and also looked very enticing.

The menu seemed to have a lot of pastas featured- and based on what I ordered, I'd go back and try more dishes. The location is near Sogo, on a alley street behind it and may be tougher to find. The atmosphere is pretty simple and busy, probably a great place for lunch. The service was quick and friendly. My other Italian restaurants have a new competitor for their pasta business! I'll write more if I go again and try out other dishes.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

MOVED! chinese: i recommend SWEET DYNASTY

CLOSED a/o April 2012
MOVED across the street to Shin Yeh Table's old location

THE SWEET DYNASTY
No. 160, Chung Hsiao East Road, Sec 4
(02) 2772-2889

$

Sweet Dynasty is probably better known for its desserts (as its business card states it's a "specialist in Chinese Desserts"), but has a lot to offer in terms of dim sum and quick delicious Cantonese food. Apparently, Sweet Dynasty has original locations already popular in Hong Kong, and its Taipei location is always busy and you will usually have to wait for a table as they don't take reservations.

The extensive menu features much for you to choose from, such as different types of dim sum, noodles, congee, stir-fried dishes, desserts and drinks- ranging from NT$60- NT$200+. The affordability of each item lets you have a wider selection, whether you are by yourself or sharing with a group. The walls of the restaurant have black and white photos of customers at the restaurant, perhaps from its earlier days or at its Hong Kong location. It's a pretty large space, brightly lit, with lots of small groups in midst of conversation and eating. I was happy to find out on this time that they do have a menu in English and you can order the item by its number. Sometimes you have to wave down a server to place your order, but they bring the food and clear the dishes pretty quickly, probably to help turnover the tables.

We ordered drinks first, and I had an almond milk tea boba, which was a little more watery and the boba were a little soggier than I would like. I usually finish my drink, but I drank a little over half throughout the meal.


We got an assortment of dimsum, a pork/thousand year old egg congee, wonton noodle soup and veggies to share between four friends. If you order dim sum to share, note that each order comes with 3 pieces. For the dimsum, my favorites were the bbq pork bun (chau sau bau), shrimp dumplings, shrimp rice noodle roll, and of course, the deep fried sticky rice ball (shien shway jiou) which is actually not widely available at a lot of dim sum places. Everything comes out fresh and hot, rather than on a cart where you aren't sure how long it's been there, especially for the fried dishes.


MMmm.

I also really enjoyed the pork and thousand year old egg congee or porridge rice, which came with the right amount of each and wasn't too soupy or thick. The wonton noodle soup was a little bland to me, with no distinguishable flavors from either the wontons or the noodle or the soup. Also, the beef rice noodle roll was a big miss- as the first time, the beef was a little pink and undercooked, so we sent back and the second time was still not that tasty. I will stick to the shrimp rice noodle roll, or try the vegetarian mushroom one next time.



For dessert, we ordered its specialty Wood Bucket Tofu Dessert (dou-hwa) (NT$220) which can serve 4-8 people. We each had 1-2 bowls each and still had almost half left to take home. It's fun to scoop out your own portions of the slippery, smooth dou-hwa and then add the amount of sugar syrup to your liking. You can also order dou-hwa accompanied with other things, such as almond milk or fruit- the selection is quite extensive.



We also ordered rice balls on the side (NT$30) which I thought were the smaller pink and white kind that come with shaved ice, but they were the larger kind with sesame on the inside. They were chewy and hot, but a little too chewy- maybe could have been boiled a tad bit longer.



The menu has enough stuff on it that you could probably order different things each time you come. So whether you are coming just for dessert, or for a whole meal, check out Sweet Dynasty, and hopefully you won't have to wait too long for a table.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

afternoon tea: JOYCE CAFE

JOYCE CAFE
No. 22, Ching Cheng St
(02) 2713-8362

$$$

Since I met friends at Joyce Cafe for afternoon tea, I didn't get a chance to check out the lunch/dinner menu. Instead we got their afternoon tea special which featured a three tier tray of goodies and drinks for two or more people to share. The tiers included finger sandwiches, dim sum, baked muffins and scones assortment, and cakes/desserts. The sandwiches were tuna and mini-club sandwiches; the dim sum were egg rolls and fried shrimp on top of tofu; the desserts included a carrot and chocolate cake. I liked the finger sandwiches and dim sum- they were bite size and disappeared quickily from the tray. The muffins and desserts on the other hand were kind of dull to me, lacking in special flavor or texture.



I happened to order a drink that wasn't included with the afternoon tea, which was iced hot chocolate, which was just like it sounds icy and chocolately. But I don't know if it was too sweet or had too much ice, I didn't really care for it though it came in a tall glass with a fun straw. Maybe I should add that I don't like chocolate milk or chocolate ice cream, though I am a fan of mocha frappacinos and hot chocolate.



Our friends got the waffles with fresh fruit, which seems to be more a dessert or afternoon tea dish rather than breakfast in most places here. When I was here last year, my cousin and I went on the hunt for american style breakfast, or the perfect waffle, in which we took taxis to at least 3 or 4 different places, before we ended up at the Formosa Regent Hotel restaurant which did serve a pretty good waffle. The waffle here at Joyce Cafe was also pretty good- the waffle was thin and crispy, and served as four slices with fresh raspberries and blueberries, as well as syrup on the side.



The service is a little fussy, but still needs work. One of my friends ordered a salad, which was never ordered or brought to the table. Perhaps they had too many servers not talking to one another. We also got amusement from the speed they liked to remove plates from the three tiered tray. We would put up plates to share food and soon as it was emptied, someone would come by and take away that plate. There were a lot of people there with afternoon tea special trays on their tables, so it seemed like a popular option. But it's on the pricey side, especially if the desserts that come with it are not as good as desserts you could get somewhere else.

Friday, July 29, 2005

CLOSED! mexican: LA CASITA

CLOSED
a/o August 2010

LA CASITA
No. 7 on Lane 64, SongJiang Rd.,1F
(02) 2531-9246

pricing: $-$$

kid friendliness: room for strollers

lasted visited: 7.29.2005

The first time I went to La Casita was earlier this spring, after craving Mexican food for weeks and not knowing where to find it in Taipei, a quick google named about 3-4 places. I called first, asked when they closed, and they said if we came over that they would stay open for us (I think it was about their afternoon siesta time). I went there with a friend, and he asked the owner for his recommendations for us. We had nachos to start, chicken enchilada for me, and beef burrito for him. He said that his ground beef burrito tasted similar to a meximelt from Taco Bell (which he likes, so it was sort of a compliment, meaning that what the owner chose for him was appropriate). I also was craving chicken enchilada, so we were quite pleased with what the owner recommended. We left satisfied and happy to return again to this mom and pop mexican hole in the wall. We also thought it was a funny coincidence that the owners were relatives of a friend of a friend.

Our most recent experience however, was unfortunately not quite the same. I called first, confirming the address and asked if we had to make reservations for 4-5 people. She asked when we were coming and I said that we were leaving soon- and she said that she would set the table for 4 and add a seat for the 5th person if we needed. I said that was fine. We arrived in different taxis and I was excited to introduce this hidden place to three friends. When we arrived, there were about 4 other customers there occupying 2 tables, and the place is pretty small, with about 4-5 tables in total.

The menu has a selection of appetizers, including chips, nachos and quesidillas, then an assortment of burritos, chimichangas, tacos, enchiladas and combo plates which include a side of rice and beans. There are also fajitas, margaritas and desserts.

Like most mexican or tex-mex places in Taiwan, they charge you for chips, salsa or any accompaniments. We ordered nachos to start, with beef, guacamole and salsa (all additional separate charges) which made them about $10 US. The chips were crispy and topped with nacho cheese, beef and jalepenos. The cheese was like nacho cheese, maybe like the kind you would find at the movie theater, or melt yourself at home from a jar, rather than shredded cheese that was melted on top. The guacamole and salsa looked homemade, and the portion came in a small side bowl. The salsa was pretty spicy, but you can tell them what level of spiciness you want when you order your dishes. It was a decent sized plate of chips, but not enough for five people to share, so we had to order another set.

Because La Casita is a smaller place, everything is basically run by the two owners and their family. They take the orders and then go back to the kitchen and make it. They have two daughters (I think) who come and bus the tables and bring over dishes when they are ready. So you have to have an open mind with the service and be patient since each dish is being made by one person.

The atmosphere is cute and quaint with murals along both sides of the wall, and signatures of previous customers raving about the food or their visit, and making their mark that they were there. It's entertaining to read while you are waiting and you may find a name or two that you recognize.

I ordered a chicken enchilada and chicken chimichanga combo. Overall, I enjoyed the dish- the chimichanga was crispy and the shredded chicken in both were tender. The enchilada had a good amount of cheese and sauce and last time the owner said that the corn in the corn tortilla were made from purple corn. However, the dish was topped with sour cream, which I don't like, but scraped to the side, and no guacamole and a tiny bit of salsa (which I thought I saw came with enchilada).

I also found the dish overall to be a bit salty as did some of the other people that night. I finished most of the food, including the rice, which I liked. The refried beans were a bit dry and I left more than half of that on my plate. The other three people got various assortments of combo plates, which were mostly finished, though I have to say I was disappointed that one person's order was wrong- he ordered a beef burrito and chicken taco and got the reverse, a beef burrito and a beef taco.

Our dishes all came one at a time, and we were pretty much all finished by the fifth person's fajitas came. This was a combo of it being the fifth dish, as well as being shrimp fajitas, I think. When the shrimp fajitas finally came they were not peeled and the heads were still on the shrimp. It looked more chinese than mexican, and the friend whose order it was said it tasted that way. In addition to us all staring at him because we were done and we were curious, he later said the shrimp tasted funny so he had it packed to go. He actually also requested that we stop by Burger King after we left and he ordered a sandwich.

The other thing about that night that left a bad taste in my friends' mouth was that once our food started to come, the restaurant had emptied out. We were cramped into a table for four with five people (four guys) and asked the owner if we could move one of the empty tables to adjoin ours and create more space. He seemed to be in a bad mood and responded "You made a reservation for four." which actually was not true- I had talked to the other owner and explained the situation when I called. The table _was_ occupied when we came, but was now available, as well as the rest of the restaurant. He was more rude than accomodating, as well as when I went to order the extra nachos, he pointed towards the kitchen, rather than accepting the order himself. Later on, he went outside and stood outside grumpily and walked around. This left quite a bad impression on my friends, who felt that he shouldn't have come that day if he was in a bad mood, and it was definitely a contrast to the last time he had greeted us.

So unfortunately, I would say, that if you are really really craving mexican food- you can stop by La Casita. But don't go with a larger or odd numbered group, don't order the fajitas (if you want fajitas, Chilis and TGIF actually have good fajitas) and maybe even get your order to go. I was going to take pictures, but I was kind of scared- maybe the next time if I can convince someone to go with me!

Saturday, July 23, 2005

chilean: i strongly recommend SALSA BISTRO

SALSA BISTRO
No. 9 on Lane 141, An Ho Road, Sec. 1
Tel: (02) 2700-3060

visited: 7.22.2005
pricing: $$

I was introduced to Salsa Bistro when a friend hosted his birthday party there. I have to note that we got terribly lost when trying to find it- the way that I listed the address may be different than how it's listed on other sites. In Taipei, a lot of smaller restaurants are on lanes/ or alleyway streets which are offshoots of the main street. So Salsa Bistro is No.9 on the Lane, not on the main street. No. 9 on An Ho Rd is actually near another restaurant, Pasta West East.

When we finally arrived, there were delicious appetizers waiting for us. I would definitely recommend what we had, which was pumpkin bread and sauteed shrimp, both of which came with supplemental green and red sauces. At first, I thought, pumpkin bread- that sounds strange and imagined something like banana bread. But it was more petite and like a starter bread with more flavor and texture.

The menu has a good selection of meats, seafood and pasta. If you order a main entree, you can choose 2 of 4 accompanying side dishes: banana fries, rice, croquettes or vegetables. Jeff decided to get the half roasted chicken and I got the pork loin. Both were great selections- they were tender, flavorful and a good portion. I also sampled some of the lamb from a friend and that was equally good. The sides were good flavors to match, but I was slightly disappointed with the amount. The banana fries were more like banana dollars, but they were crispy and sweet. I didn't care too much for the croquettes- I found them kind of bland, but the rice was good.





The atmosphere was romantic and quaint- the whole restaurant was about ten tables or so, and you could see the kitchen and servers. The service was prompt and courteous. We also ran into some friends there who brought business guests from Japan, so it's a great place for any occassion. I would definitely go there again and with friends. Be sure to double check the address with the restaurant anytime you are going somewhere new and have the phone number handy!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

american: i strongly recommend CHEERS

CHEERS Pub Bar
at Grand Hyatt Taipei
1st Fl., 2 Sungshou RD
(02) 2720-1234

kid friendliness: not kid-friendly, smokers & second hand smoke everywhere since it is a hotel pub bar with mostly business-men.

$$-$$$

Sometimes you just want to eat a steak sandwich with fries. If that's the case, then you head over to Cheers at the Grand Hyatt hotel, even though it will end up costing you about NT$440 with the service charge, which is about $13 for a steak sandwich with fries. But it will be one of the best American steak sandwiches you can find in Taiwan- the steak is grilled and seasoned just right, accompanied with sundried tomatoes and grilled onions. The roll is the perfect combo of crunchiness and softness, slightly toasted and soaking up the juices of the steak. The portion of fries are generous and make me drool just thinking about it- they have a crispy texture asking to be dipped in ketchup.



Though pricey, I would also recommend their beef taquito appetizers. They are on the larger size, sliced in half, so that there are 6 servings. The taquitos are hot, flaky and crispy, and accompanied by guacamole, sour cream and salsa served in little silver serving bowls. They are not too spicy, although a little filling, so order them if you are in a larger group. They are better taquitos than you will find at the other mexican restaurants I've tried in Taipei.



The caesar salad is also a good bet and a good starter. The romaine lettuce is crisp and fresh, and it comes with bread croutons with pesto sauce.



My friend got the Reuben sandwich with fries, which has pastrami and cheese on a rye toast. The club sandwich is also really good here, with slices of turkey, avocado, bacon, tomato and ham piled tall.


The atmosphere is like a hotel pub or restaurant, with leather booths with white linen tablecloths and napkins, large windows, and a bar area. Many of the customers are businessmen meeting for drinks or coffee, and it often gets smoky since there is no non-smoking section which is one of the drawbacks for me. The menu features a few appetizers and mostly American foods like sandwiches and burgers. It is on the pricey side since it's in a hotel, but the food and service is very reliable. Especially when you feel like a steak sandwich.

pizza: i strongly recommend MACARONI GRILL

Macaroni Grill
1F, 30 Sung Shou Road • Taipei 110
Neo 19 Building, near Warner Village/101
(02) 2722-4567

pricing: $$

kid friendliness: high chairs available, crayons for kids (and white paper on non-booth tables), boisterous environment for families

visited: 7.13.2005

I was very excited to hear about Macaroni Grill opening up nearby when I came back, even though I had probably only eaten there a few times in the states. But it was another place for US style salads, pasta and pizza! The two other occassions we ate at Macaroni Grill were good- check out the other review (Italian)- but on this occassion, I was craving pizza, and craving it right away!

I called and asked what their selection was for my pizza to go- trying to decide between BBQ and asked if they had mushrooms on it. The hostess recommended their Four Seasons pizza, which was mushroom, tomatoes, canadian ham, and pepperoni. I imagined it to be a combination pizza, but when I picked it up, I discovered, it was literally four flavors on one pizza, with each flavor getting its own section and a couple slices. This would be a great recommendation for people who want to share a pizza, since the vegetarian and meats are separated, unlike a combination pizza, or someone who couldn't make up their mind on what to eat.



I will admit I was pretty hungry by the time I got to eat this pizza- they said it would be ready in 10-15 minutes and it was ready faster than when I picked it up. They even called to let me know it was ready. The pizza tasted SO GOOD! The crust was the right combination of soft and crispy, unlike a lot of pizzas made in Taipei, where the crust is either too thin and crispy or too doughy. The tomato sauce and cheese were the right amount and right flavor, not too salty or bland, but just like what you would expect of a restaurant type pizza. The toppings were proportional to the pizza, just the right amount and I liked all the 'seasons' except one- the pepperoni hit the spot, the tomato was surprisingly refreshing, kind of like bruschetta on your pizza, and the mushrooms were fragrant and delicious! There were both shittake and white mushrooms on it, and the flavor was like they lighlty sauteed them and then put them on the pizza before it baked. I didn't like the Canadian ham or prosciutto or whatever it was- it was too salty and hard to eat. If I ordered it again, I would ask them to sub in any of the other flavors for those that section.

It was about $12 US for the pizza, a bit more than CPK or what it costs in LA, but about average for restaurant pizza here. My old favorite places for pizza here were Pasta West East (which recently I don't like their pizza as much anymore) and Cosi O Cosi, which I will have to taste again. In the past, we also tried Auntie Sue's pizza (not to my liking) and long time ago, I had Domino's/Pizza Hut here. Be forewarned- if you try pizza in Taipei, you will likely get some toppings which we aren't used to, like corn or peas or seafood. Some people like it, but I prefer pepperoni and But the next time I'm craving pizza, my first choice will be Macaroni Grill!

PS- they have a website for Macaroni Grill which lists the location for the Taipei restaurant. If you want to see what the menu is probably like, you can check out the menus for the other US locations, though each restaurant has its own variation. I thought this was a good place to at least figure out what they probably had.

Friday, July 08, 2005

CLOSED/indian: Tandoor (City Super mall location)

Tandoor
201 Tun Hwa S. Road, Section 2
Far Eastern Hotel Mall, Basement Food Court

pricing: $
visited: 7.7.2005

CLOSED when spotted 5/2009

Since I discovered Indian food at Berkeley, I have to have it every so once in awhile. I really enjoy the variety of what Indian food has to offer- from the different types of chicken curry- especially chicken tikka masala- to the tender flavor chicken tandoori to the vegetable sides like eggplant or aloo gobi, and of course freshly made naan! Recently, I have been ordering samosas too, when I'm not at the lunch buffet. I used to hit the Indian food spot in Century City mall, until a few month ago, I drove there and discovered they had closed down. For lunch buffets, there is one restaurant I go to regularly in Westwood, as it was in walking distance from my old office, and another in Las Vegas. I was impressed with Tandoor when I went to their main restaurant location in Taipei (I think the first and only Indian restaurant I have been to Taiwan) especially as there were customers there who were also Indian. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that they had branched out into mall location, offering quick and inexpensive alternative to a sit down one.



The server that day was a woman that spoke both fluent English and Chinese. I was surprised, since she looked part Indian- perhaps she was part Chinese or just adapted really quickly to working and living here? The menus are clear, with lots of combo offerings, and one sample combo shown in person. I decided to get the chicken tikka masala combo, which came with a side of vegetable curry, rice, naan, a samosa and a drink. I thought it was a good value for about $7 US.



The samosa was smaller than typical appetizer size, but hit the spot. The samosas that I've eaten here in Taipei seem to be similar in that the skin is like won-ton skin rather than what you'd find in LA. It makes it kind of a fusion flavor- maybe to accomodate Taiwanese tastebuds? The naan was soft and crispy, great for dipping into the curry. The rice was colorful and slightly stickier than saffron rice, but I've had lots of different kinds of rice. The chicken tikka masala had the right amount of spiciness and sweetness, but was a little more watery than I would have liked, and the chicken pieces were bitesize. The vegetable curry was spicier than the chicken, and also a little too watery. The peas and tomatoes were good accompaniments to the rice and chicken. The drink was a ice tea that came in a fun tall glass and was a refreshing sweet cold drink to the curry.

If you are looking for a quick fix for Indian food, I would recommend the mall Tandoor. If you have the time, I would go instead to the main restaurant.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

american: i strongly recommend CHILI's

CHILI's
2F, 22 Sung Shou Road
Neo 19 Building, 2nd FL (near Warner Village/101)
(02) 2345-8838

pricing: $$

kid friendliness: high chairs available, rooms for car seats/strollers, loud music so okay if your baby/kids are on the noisy side

last visited: 7.4.05 & 7.9.05

I had probably eaten at Chili's once or twice in my life in the states before I came back to Taipei and it became the place for me to eat when I was craving American food. I used to look at my local friends funny when they would tell me that it hit the spot, until I started carrying the pocket take out menu in my purse and one of the bartenders knew me by name and gave me chips and salsa for free. (Remember- chips and salsa are a delicacy here! They cost $180 NT or $6 US- just for chips and salsa!)

I have to admit I'm one of those people who tend to order the same things when I go somewhere, especially if I've had it before and I like it. I end up not being adventurous and trying other things for fear of not liking it as much as what I've had before. That being said, what I usually order when I come to Chili's are fajitas or the chicken cajun sandwich.

The menu has a lot to offer, including a lot of appetizers, salads, pastas, sandwiches, burgers, fajitas, and entrees, as well as a lot of festive drinks and desserts. There's also a separate menu or ads where they have pictures. They don't have their signature Awesome Blossom onion rings at the Taipei location, but you can check out a sample menu from their official website. They have both English and Chinese menus, and you just ask if you want a particular one. Most of the servers can understand English too, since it's a popular place for foreigners and families- they should defintiely at least be able to understand your order in English.

We went to Chili's for July 4th since we were semi-celebrating the holiday with a pretty large group, about 9 people. Our server was pretty nice and accomodating for it being so busy. I ordered the fajita combo which is both chicken and steak, and comes with tortillas, guacamole, salsa, cheese and sour cream, which was about $600 NT or $18 US. You can also get just chicken or steak, as well as the mushroom jack chicken fajitas which are also really good. Though it's quite pricey for fajitas, the flavor and portions are always good, and the guacamole and salsa taste like they should- fresh, restaurant-quality and enough for all your fajitas. You can definitely share the combo fajitas with a friend and order something else to share. Also- Chili's offers various lunch specials everyday, where they include a drink and soup/salad with your entree for a lunch special price, and they often include fajitas in that.



Another popular dish which was ordered that night, and I had two bites of was the Southwest Cobb Chicken salad- which comes with chopped iceberg lettuce, sliced boneless fried chicken (I think you can ask for grilled chicken), corn, bacon, diced hardboiled eggs, cheese and tomatos or pico de gallo. The dressing is an avocado-ranch dressing. It's huge and enough to share, and a pretty typical cobb salad. I don't love salads with iceberg lettuce, so I couldn't eat it as an entree, but I think it's a good salad to share as a starter.

I usually call and make a reservation for larger groups, as it gets quite crowded for lunch and dinner. Note there's also a smoking and non-smoking section, which is good for me, since I hate sitting near smokers. Once when it was really busy, I just requested to eat at the bar, and I got sat right away- which is something to ask if you are in a hurry and are by yourself. The atmosphere is probably standard-issue from corporate Chili's, since the decor and TVs and uniforms are just like you would expect at any Chili's.

For dessert, we chose the Molten Chocolate Cake and the Chocolate Chip Paradise Pie. The Molten chocolate cake is very dangerous- it's a warm chocolate cake with a gooey chocolate center, a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream covered with a shell of chocolate topping it. I would go back there for dessert alone. I used to love the warm chocolate cake they served at Cafe Tu Tu Tango, but they took it off their menu. Not only does the cake melt in your mouth, the ice cream is the perfect accompaniment and the chocolate shell on top reminds me of when we used to squirt that stuff on our ice cream at home. YUM! The pie was dense and sweet, with more like a brownie made up of caramel, coconut and chocolate, topped with ice cream. It was also sizeable, but the better value or bet is probably the chocolate cake. Both desserts were around $300 NT or $10 US.



I also went back for lunch on the 9th and ordered the Cajun Chicken sandwich lunch special-you get a soup or salad and a drink with it (around $300 NT or $10 US). I actually like the chili soup there- it's the right texture with ground beef, beans and tomatoes in it. Your other choice for soup is usually Broccoli and Cheese soup, which is like eating nacho cheese with bits of broccoli in it. The cajun chicken sandwich comes with a spiced, grilled chicken breast with jalepeno jack cheese, fried onions, chipotle-ranch sauce, and the typical tomato, pickle, lettuce. It's a pretty big sandwich which is cut in half (or comes with a steak knife) and a side of french fries in the basket. Usually the fries at Chili's are really good- steak fries that are crispy, hot and right amount of salt. Mmm- fries. I like the chicken sandwich better than the hamburger because I like the flavor of the chicken and somehow the hamburger didn't hit the spot the last time I ordered it. The bun is also a little bit sweet, and I tend to tear off pieces of it to save my carb calories for the fries.

I mistakenly ordered a lemonade before I ordered my entree, which is not refillable so therefore not part of the lunch special drinks, so I ended up with both a lemonade and ice tea. The lemonade ($100 NT or $3 US) is made with sparkling water or soda water, and was a bit salty or too fizzy, and they were very accomodating to make a new one and the bartender came over and asked what was wrong with it. I asked that it be less fizzy and more sweet, and the second attempt was pretty good. Their refillable beverages come in a huge mug and they come by pretty frequently to check on you. That's one thing I have to give to Chili's is that they have pretty good service, even with larger groups. Also- there are families with kids or businessmen there, so the seating is accomodating enough that you are comfortable and not on top of each other. The food generally comes pretty fast and around the same time.

So for my friends visiting from the states, you probably won't want to eat at Chili's, but rather the mom and pop dumpling and beef noodle places. But for my local friends- see you there!

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

CLOSED! dessert: i recommend ICE MONSTER

CLOSED a/o 1/2010!

ICE MONSTER
15, Yong Kang Street

pricing: $$$ (for shaved ice)
last visited: 7.29.05

Shaved ice is the best in Taiwan, especially since it's so hot and humid here and you need something to cool you down. It's usually pretty cheap, lots of selections and lots of places to find it. However, there has been a lot of news lately about how it's not so safe to eat- you don't know where the water is from where they make the ice, you don't know if the ice blocks have been on the ground, etc etc. But I generally stick to places that have a lot of customers and check if their toppings look fresh. My personal favorites to put on shaved ice, besides Mango & condensed milk, are rice balls, lemon jelly, green or red bean, sometimes boba and almond jelly.

One very popular shaved ice place is ICE MONSTER which not only serves shaved ice with various combinations of fruit, but also tops it with ice cream/sorbet! My sister loves the shaved ice here, and apparently it's pretty famous or trendy. It's usually quite busy and they've expanded beyond their original location on Yong Kang Street.



I ordered the trio fruit combo and requested the lemon sorbet instead of the mango sorbet. The generous portions of mango, kiwi and strawberries were all coated with evaporated milk, and then the mountain was topped with a big scoop of sorbet. The fruit was kind of sugary as maybe they were soaked in syrup already and the strawberries were probably frozen and defrosted.

You can also get just one fruit, and mango shaved ice is very popular. The trio ice was $150 NT or about $5 US. It's definitely pricey for shaved ice- you can usually find it for $40-$60 NT and sometimes for $30 NT plus $5 NT for milk. Depends on where you get it- I had quite decent shaved ice in Hsi Men Ding for $35 NT with all you could select sides on your plate, and the mango shaved ice with rice balls at IDEE mall was really good.

The atmosphere is busy and crowded- you usually have to start looking for a seat while you are in line. You sit on stools along the countertops and tables in front of the ordering section, and try and eat your shaved ice before it all melts. The sorbet on top and ice quickly melted into a puddle, which some people enjoy, but I personally didn't like. I personally think Ice Monster is a bit overrated and overpriced, as everything is too sweet and I didn't even eat more than two bites of the sorbet. It ends up being sugar sensory overload, when you are just looking for the refreshing taste of shaved ice. But if you are sharing with friends and like all those fruits and sorbet, then it's a fun experience to try.

Friday, June 24, 2005

who's hungry too?

Anywhere in the world- you're going to be hungry. But what are you looking to eat? For me, living in Los Angeles grants me the luxury of eating anything I want almost anytime I want. I accumulated a lot of my favorites- local hotspots, mainstream places, hole in the walls and a variety of tastes- Indian, Japanese, Mexican, American, Italian, Chinese, Californian- you name it, you can probably find it in LA. So traveling back and forth over the Pacific- I miss my favorites- enchiladas, waffles, pastrami sandwiches, french fries, carnitas tacos, chinese chicken salad, spicy tuna rolls, chicken pesto sandwiches with arugula, CPK pizza, asian fusion.

So not that Taipei doesn't have awesome food- it does, but it's another new journey to find out where and trying it out. So this is my little journal of my journey of finding foods I love in Taipei. The basics- dumplings, mango shaved ice, beef noodle soup, boba ice tea- you can't go wrong with most places. But where to find in Taipei - good thin crust pizza? Mexican food? The perfect salad? Minestrone soup? Tandoori chicken? American breakfast? Hopefully- I'll find some new favorites and meet other hungry people in Taipei!

PS- if you are visiting LA, some of the things/places i miss eating when i'm not there, in no special order!
California Pizza Kitchen
Johnny's Pastrami
El Tarasco
Poquito Mas
California Chicken Cafe
Literati
Corner Bakery
2117
Sawtelle Kitchen
California Roll Factory
New India Grill
Tacone
Talay Thai

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

desserts in Taipei

You can also search my blog or click on the restaurant name for the review.


Take your sweet tooth here


LITTLE SOUTH GATE
Food Court, B2, ESLITE Mall (XIN YI STORE)
11, SongGao Road
(02) 8789-3388
also food courts at 101 and Breeze Mall
$



85 DEGREES C CAFE

No. 2, Lane 16, Da An Road, Sec 1
(02) 2776-6350
and other locations
$


BEARD PAPA CREAM PUFFS
Eslite Mall, B2 Food Court
No. 11, Song Gao Road

Mitsukoshi Mall, A4 building, B2
No. 19, SongGao Road
$
and other locations


CHILI's
at Neo 19 (near Warner Village)
22 Sung Shou Road, 2 FL
(02) 2345-8838
$$





JOYCE EAST

128 Xin Yi Road, Sec. 5
(02) 2345-8838
$$






RAO HE NIGHT MARKET

near Song Shan train station
$





SHIH LIN NIGHT MARKET

Between end of Wenlin Rd., Jihe Rd. and Zhongshan N. Rd.
(near the movie theaters)
$




JIU RU

69 Jen Ai Rd., Sec. 4
(02) 2751-7666
$





You could also try...





ICE MONSTER

15, Yong Kang Street
$$$ (for shaved ice)





SWEET DYNASTY

No. 160, Chung Hsiao East Road, Sec 4
(02) 2772-2889
$





MOGA

No. 50, An Ho Road, Sec 2
(02) 2704-9646
$$-$$$





CHA LOUNGE

Grand Hyatt Hotel
No.2, Sung Shou Road
(02) 2720-1234
$$$


MISTER DONUT
-Breeze Center
-NYNY Mall in Xin Yi district
-across from the Takashimaya Mall: 39, Fusing S Rd., Sec. 1, (02) 8772-5990
-Taipei Main Station underground
-and other locations



PATARA

No. 12, Alley 247, Tun Hua S. Rd., Sec.1
(02) 2731 5288
$$


Get the main dish, but I'd go somewhere else for dessert...





BERRY & MILK

Breeze Mall (and other chain locations)
$$






TONY ROMA's

156 Min Sheng East Road, Section 3
(02) 2719-0992
$$





VVG BISTRO

20, Alley 40, Lane 181, Zhongxiao E Rd, Sec 4,
(02) 8773 3533
$$-$$$




YANG JI PEANUT CORN ICE

Hsi Men Ding
$$






EASTERN ICE STORE

Lane 219, ZhongXiao E. Rd., Sec. 4
(02) 2777-2057
$





STARBUCKS

on Badu Road
and almost everywhere
$$





It was nice while it lasted..







K2 GELATO

Warner Village outdoor food court
16 Song Shou Road
$$







HELLO KITTY PATISTORY

Eslite Mall (XinYi)
11, SongGao Road, B1
$$





Reviews coming soon!


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