Saturday, May 13, 2006

thai: I strongly recommend MEI-KUNG

157-3 Yanji St
(02) 2752 3051

11:30am - 2pm; 5:30pm to 12:30am


kid friendliness: high chairs available, very friendly service

visit reviewed: 5/13/2006

One of the luxuries of living in LA that I miss having in Taipei is delivery and take out. The stereotypical delivery is Chinese food. But the favorite at our house is Thai food. Mmm, satay, pad thai, pad see yew and pineapple fried rice coming to your door while you just tip the driver while wearing sweats that you were too lazy to change so you couldn't leave your house, but you could still order Thai food. If there were a place in Taipei that I wish had delivery service, it would be Mei-Kung.

Strangely enough, the signage in English for this restaurant is Mei-Kung, but everyone refers to it as "Mei-Huuh" in Chinese. Either way, it translates to "good Thai food," in my opinion (not literally!). It can be tough to get a table during prime dining hours, despite their two floors of tables, so be sure to make a reservation in advance if you can and don't want to wait long. It is a great place to go with large groups so that you can order more variety of foods to sample. They have smaller tables and larger tables, and their larger round tables can comfortably seat 8-12 people. They even have a set "group" course menu (but I am not sure if this particular set menu is in English) while their regular menu is in both English and Chinese and has lots of tantalizing pictures.

On this occasion, we had the set menu for 8 people, with a few alterations and additions. I believe we added or swapped out the satay. This set menu included squid seafood salad, shrimp cakes, fried chicken, crab curry, chicken curry, pineapple fried rice, fish, chicken feet, shrimp pot with glass noodles and dessert/fruit. Also, I usually order Thai ice tea at Thai restaurants, but I find that the Thai ice tea here is a little watered down for me.

The squid salad was very fresh and refreshing, with a lime and chili flavor to the squid and cucumbers. The round shrimp cakes were hot and crunchy, not greasy or heavy at all. I probably prefer and would recommend the triangle shrimp cakes, which feature the same shrimp filling but in a won-ton like skin deep fried and cut into triangle slices.

The satay is spectacular. They have chicken, pork or beef, or you can get a combo, which I recommend. The meat is grilled, tender and especially flavorful. You almost don't need the sweet and spicy peanut sauce to put on top. In case you needed it, they also give you soy sauces and chili sauces with fresh chilis of varying heat to accompany any of your dishes.

The fried chicken, thai style is unexpectedly delicious. Whoever is frying everything in the kitchen definitely knows what they are doing. Oftentimes, when you are eating something fried, it is either (a) oily/greasy (b) soggy (c) burnt or (d) too tough for whatever was being fried. Mei-Kung's fried offerings, especially the fried chicken is definitively none of the above. It is perfectly crispy, while the meat is tender, juicy and not greasy- it is surprisingly light for something deep fried. The batter and meat have also been seasoned so that it has an addictive slightly spicy salty sweet taste. The chicken quickly disappears from the plate.

The shrimp glass noodle pot is, for some reason, something I have been often thinking about eating again since I've eaten it. The noodles have soaked up all the soup, so they are tender rather than chewy. While I chew it, it seems to call to me to have more. The shrimp is also steamed, flavorful and tender. I actually don't know if they have pad thai or pad see yew here, but this dish make me glad that I've tried something new.

The crab curry is a little tough to eat. While it is very popular (I saw it quite a number of other tables that night), it features crab in the shell in curry. You'd have to be quite dedicated to de-shelling the crab in the first place, much less de-shelling crab covered in curry. With all the other food on the lazy susan, most of us were not in the mood to attempt it and this dish went mostly uneaten.

The chicken curry on the other hand is a more friendly curry accompany your pineapple rice. A typical yellow curry with potato, carrots and chicken, the only thing I dislike about it is that the chicken is on the bone (which seems to be the trend with most Thai restaurants here). However, the chicken is so tender it falls off the bone without much resistance and the curry is fairly thick and spicy (and can be adjusted by request).

One of the last dishes to arrive (maybe so you don't fill up on it?), the pineapple fried rice has fresh crab, cashews, pinepple and dried pork to top it off. It's dense and reliable, but you've probably too full to have much of it by now. And though we are quite full- we've of course saved room for dessert.

Mei-Kung offers a hot or cold dessert. The hot dessert is like a sesame paste soup, which is an acquired taste. The cold dessert is an assortment of tapioca and starches/jelly in a coconut milk soup with crushed ice. It's sweet and colorful and I can only take a few bites of the tapioca and ice.

The unique dessert here is also the green mochi cakes. They are chewy and sweet, but not too much so, and the perfect ending to your perfect Thai dinner. Called Khanom Chan, they multi-layers represent the many layers of happiness.

The restaurant has its share of gold statues and paintings to complete your Thai experience and it's ambience is quite talky with many parties of groups and families. The service is relatively fast and they are fairly personable. A visit after this one, we had a baby that was almost asleep, and one server gave us two chairs for him to sleep and a tablecloth to use as a blanket, without us even asking for anything. I was very very touched and impressed with his thoughtfulness, and we've had a good experience with Mei Kung's waitstaff overall being relatively more helpful (or perhaps better trained and managed) than many Asian restaurants in Taipei.

I can still hope and dream that they might someday offer a delivery service, but in the meanwhile, I will have to get out of my sweats, make my reservation and head over the the restaurant to eat my favorites.

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