Wednesday, May 30, 2007

my kitchen: vietnamese spring rolls and chicken tikka masala



Courtesy of Carrefour supermarket and a little elbow grease in the kitchen- my first time making Vietnamese OR Indian food. It's been hard to find Vietnamese spring rolls like this in Taipei since the place I went to seems to have gone out of business. I found it very tricky to soak the rice paper just right.. I think the water was too hot and this particular rice paper had a grid on it, which made it tear easily. But we managed to salvage a few. This package of rice paper includes the noodles too, but I probably wouldn't buy it again! I made these before I read these tips on oishiieats, but I did manage to wrap it with the shrimp facing out. I will have to try grilling the shrimp because I can practically smell the flavor from her pictures. Also, I bought some new rice paper with the rose on it the other day to try out along with the special dipping sauce. We'll see how that goes!

lunch:



dinner:







As for curry out of a can, you definitely have to add water and the tip on the can to add plain yogurt- I thought gave it that extra creaminess and slight sweetness that took it from average to above average, since the curry already has a slightly tangy lemon flavor already in the Tikka Masala. I stirfried the onions first a little bit and then cooked the chicken, before I added the curry and simmered it for a bit. I wish I had had bought some basmati rice or naan to go with it. I would definitely try the other varieties from Patak's Original brand if I see it again at the supermarket. I'm all about the shortcuts.

dessert: i recommend GINJER CAKES AND MORE



GINJER CAKES AND MORE
20, Lane 233, Tun Hwa S. Rd, Sec 1
(right around the corner from Eslite Bookstore on Tun Hwa S Road)
(02) 8773-3061

website: ginjer.com English and Chinese

hours: 12 PM - 8 PM

$$

Visit reviewed: 5/11/2007

The first time I passed by Sprinkles in Beverly Hills, I saw a line out of the door and people leaving with brown boxes and brown cupcake stickers. Out of curiosity, I had to get in line. I had to see what the big deal was for myself. Even the guy in front of me volunteered how much the line was worth it and he was getting a box of cupcakes for his boss as a birthday gift. The cupcakes were huge and beautifully decorated with frosting perfectly spread and colorful button like candy wafers stuck in the middle of each one. But personally, I didn't like the taste in comparison to my cupcake favorite Auntie Em's in Eagle Rock. Whoever made your personal favorite- cupcakes were a childhood flashback food trend taking over the city. But outside LA and NY, not so much it seems.

You would think that a city like Taipei full of sweet tooths and most often willing to wait in long lines- for shaved ice, for red bean filled pastries and rice balls, for cream puffs, for ice cream covered waffles, for chewy rings of donuts, for slices of cheesecake and any other cake imaginable, that there would be cupcakes all over town- but cupcakes are not easy to find. Maybe it's too American of a tradition. Maybe the Taiwan palate is used to the less sweet frosting and cakes of the Japanese style cakes. Either way, if you're looking for cupcakes in Taipei, Ginjer is your one stop shop for now.



You can buy cupcakes individually from the counter or order them in bulk for a special event. They also have regular cakes, with a homestyle feeling of decoration. I've had mixed experiences with their cakes- the first time I had it, I thought the decoration was more appropriate for a child's party than adult's and the chocolate cake was dense without being moist enough and the frosting was not lick your fingers clean worthy. The second time I heard about their cake, I heard many people complain it was too salty- though I wasn't there to try it- perhaps there was a mix up in the kitchen that day? I've also heard good things from others about it- that it was just the way they liked their cakes and hard to find elsewhere in Taipei.

So I'd recommend that you try it out for yourself if you are tired of the lighter fare of cakes in Taipei and aren't up for baking something at home yourself. Hidden a lane away from Eslite on Dun Hua South Road, it's not hard to find once you are in that area. Once you are in the store, they will usually offer a few samples of their more popular or new flavors. Look for the hanging Ginjer sign and past the outdoor patio that is great for their afternoon tea time (one free drink w/ purchase of a cupcake from 12pm - 2 pm). They also offer cupcake decorating for kids everyday at 4 pm.



They have numerous flavors offered on their website, from chocolate, lemon, banana, taro, orange, pumpkin, cream cheese, coconut, and their original Cloud Nine and Ginjer special. They also offer red velvet seasonally and more unusual fare like Waldorf Salad and Apple Pie- though not every single one is offered everyday (but more than I thought in person- probably about 10 flavors). You can browse their decorations in their gallery which are cute and more home-grown than professional(NT$60-150 each for special orders). I tried the carrot cake cupcake (NT$50) on this day which I quite enjoyed- it was average sized (same as if you baked it in muffin tins yourself ) but also dense, fluffy, sweet with tiny slivers of carrots and a sprinkle of nuts (and no raisins thankfully which some carrot cakes do have) and topped with cream cheese frosting, which I love, and a cute little frosting carrot. It could have used a little bit more frosting if you ask me, but I am used to the piles of frosting that come with the big enough to share cupcakes in LA. You might have heard about it several times before from other people like I have, it's worth a try- you might surprise your sweet tooth.

Monday, May 28, 2007

japanese: RAMEN ON YONG KANG STREET



RAMEN
somewhere between 15 and 53 Yongkang ST

$

Visit reviewed: 5/8/2007



After a failed attempt to eat at the newly opened California Grill (which wasn't open during lunch on the weekdays while they were working out their opening kinks), we ended up wandering down the street to eat at this fairly decent ramen place, full of mostly students. Their menu is all in Chinese with different kinds of broths for your ramen, but there are a few pictures to point at and a couple of lunch sets. A big bowl of miso ramen with a side of chicken cutlet for less than NT$150. Simple, quick, tasty and cheap- it was a good warm up to what my friends were really waiting for: Ice Monster mango ice, just down the street.




On a hot day like this, it was a nice cold treat to share- and you have to eat it fast so it doesn't melt before you can dig in. I still think the sorbet on top is a bit overkill, but whatever floats your boat.

On our way from California Grill to the Ramen place, we also spotted a Pinkberry knock-off yogurt place- Yogurt Me. I'll have to save some room for my stomach to try it out the next time I try out California Grill.




CALIFORNIA GRILL
53 Yongkang St. (near Jinhua Road)
Hours: 11 AM -10 PM

ICE MONSTER
15 Yongkang St.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

japanese: PEONY JAPANESE RESTAURANT



PEONY JAPANESE RESTAURANT
No 106, Xin Yi Road, Sec 5
(02) 8780-5757

website: hachioji.com.tw (Chinese only)

hours: 11:30AM- 4:30PM
5:30PM- 10PM

$$-$$$

Visit reviewed: 5/14/2007






This is probably my third time to Peony, which is most definitely an elegant and fancy place to have your Japanese food, but somehow I feel that the food doesn't measure up in taste to (1) the price, (2) the way the restaurant looks and the food looks, (3) as compared to equally fancy Sumie or even less fancy places that offer better values. From my unagi bowl set lunch (NT$680) menu, that made me glance twice was the sesame ball appetizer which was a slightly deep fried ball of sesame tofu that was crispy on the outside with a soft, perfectly flavored center soaked in tempura sauce. It was light rather than dense and just the right texture. The sashimi and salad were fresh and beautifully presented, though nothing out of the ordinary. The cocktail glass seems to be a new trend in serving appetizers, but this tiny shrimp appetizer maybe was a little too trendy for me- as well as few others, especially for those who don't like to eat little seafood creatures with eyes. My unagi or eel was grilled in a way that left the meat less tender and less moist than I'd prefer- it's probably among the most dry eel I've ever had.

The menu is in English and Chinese and Japanese and there are several private rooms- ours had an elegant garden mural on the wall. They offer valet service which can be a bonus on the busy Xin Yi Road across the street from the 101 mall. It's a good space for large parties, families or business dinners because of it's elegance and presentation, but again, personally I think you could a lot more mouthwatering memories from other Japanese restaurants in town. It's one of those places I wouldn't mind going if someone else chose it, but not a place I'd choose on my own.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

not taipei: i strongly recommend JOHNNIE's PASTRAMI



If anyone can tell me where to find a pastrami sandwich like this in Taipei, I will treat you to lunch there. (And yes I've tried the pastrami at the Diner and definitely not the same!) Ohhhh- juicy but not overly greasy pastrami with some squirts of hot mustard, lovingly hugged by two toasted soft buns. Huge sandwich you can share or pack to save the other half for later. Can't forget the chili cheese fries to complete your classic diner experience. Open late for your cravings and super busy at lunch.

So for my 5 readers out there, what are you guys craving in Taipei from back home?? Put it out there in the blog universe in the comments, and maybe other readers will be kind enough to share if they know where they can find it!

JOHNNIE PASTRAMI
4017 Sepulveda Blvd
Culver City, CA 90230
(310) 397-6654

hours: Sun-Mon 10am-1am;
Tue-Thu 10am-2:30am;
Fri-Sat 10am-3:30am

$$ (cash only)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

new in town/dessert: i strongly recommend COLDSTONE CREAMERY



COLDSTONE CREAMERY
at NY NY Mall
12, SongShou Rd
Corner of SongShou Rd. (松壽路) and SongZhi Rd. (松智路) near the "Statue of Liberty"

phone: 0800-001-677

website: coldstonecreamery.com US site

hours: 11 am-10 pm

$$ (for ice cream)

Visited reviewed:

Nothing beats the heat like a nice ice cream cone and in Taipei, the humidity comes earlier than most summers. That's why I predict Coldstone's will be around for quite awhile. It's got more variation than the established Haagen Daaz and though it's sweet, I feel like it's less heavy than Haagen Daaz as well. It's easier to find than the local Big Tom's chain and got more pizazz than Movenpick.



I heard about its opening through a friend's text message a few weeks ago and when I passed by it on a busy Sunday afternoon, there must have been at least 40 people in line. A little googling showed that the same company (PSCP) that operates McDs, Mister Donut and Starbucks here plans to open 60 more Coldstone stores in Taiwan in the next 7 years. So maybe it's time to buy your stock in Coldstone. Even though most of the people I see here are so darn skinny, I know they have a sweet tooth too!



While you're waiting in line, try and snag a copy of their menu which is full of pictures and ice cream w/ English and Chinese names like "Monkey Bites" or "Cookie Mintster", but the description is only in Chinese. You don't like their combos? You can also make up your own.




So if you want details on what is in the combos (or do your homework on the website), ask one of their servers who are taking the orders. Ours had quite good English, and the servers at the counter- not so much. I sampled a dark chocolate flavor ice cream and asked him what flavor it was, and he didn't know the English name.




One you've placed your order, one of the many servers will scoop up your ice cream, mix in your choice toppings on the cold slab on the counter, and then scoop it back into your cup or waffle. I got a medium Mud Pie (which came with coffee ice cream mixed with fudge, peanut butter and almonds) with a waffle cone to share with a friend (NT$160 + NT$20). It's definitley not cheap, but soften the blow by sharing with a friend or getting a single scoop with one mix in (NT$90).





There were at least seven servers behind the counter buzzing about so the line went fairly quickly and occasionally they would burst into song, which I've heard is their trademark in the states.



Pay, get your stuff, and then eat on the go, or try and get one of the very few tables inside, or slightly more tables outside. Or if you have a whole team of eaters, have someone else grab a table while you wait in line. We had to wait a little while for them to make our waffle cone and wait for it to cool so it didn't melt our ice cream creation. It was a little softer than I would have normally liked, but it was still sweet and coffee-chocolately goodness.

So if you've had your fill of Ice Monster mango ice, then head over to get some Coldstone. Go on a weekday and you might not even have to wait in line!

I wasn't sure if they had cakes, but how awesome would it be if they had Red Velvet cake in Taipei?? I would become a fat, but happy frequent customer.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

revisited/mexican: AMIGO

AMIGO
No. 28, Lane 280, Guang Fu S Road
(02) 2771-1188

$$

Visit reviewed: 3/13/2007



The thing that cracks me up about living in Taipei so long is that we settle for things that we normally wouldn't back home. Food adjusted to Taiwanese palates, showing up early and waiting in line for a decent Western style breakfast, enjoying a plate of tacos and... fries? Everyone I've talked to about Mexican food in Taipei mentions a handful of restaurants that have managed to stick around, but the best we can say is usually, "It's not bad for Taiwan."

Unfortunately, it's sad, but true. Personally, I don't understand why some bold chef or entrepreneur doesn't at least TRY to have authentic mexican food here? Or was the entrance and exit of Taco Bell a result of the dire lack of interest in soft tacos and burritos here. (Not that Taco Bell is entirely authentic either). Is anyone out there that we can hire to maybe just host and cook a dinner once a month who can make some decent carnitas and guacamole?



Amigo opened a new location a few years ago with the same bright colors and appearance as its to-go box I sampled from so many years ago. However, the night we went it was pretty much empty for us when the entire time we ate, in contrast to all the loud and fun gatherings I've had at Tequila Sunrise. The menu is in English and Chinese, complete with pictures and the servers are quite friendly and helpful (which I found to be lacking at Tequila Sunrise).



We ended up ordering some food family style- the combo appetizer, two tacos plate and fajitas plate. The trio combo appetizer included hot wings, nachos and quesadillas. What can I say- it came with fries?



The quesadillas were passable, even pleasant, served warm, while the "hot" wings tasted out of microwave from a frozen bag from Costco. The chips with cheese were not really nachos, but at least they weren't stale.



The tacos, again, were passable- with more lettuce than anything else on the base- the shells crispy, the insides assembled. The rice is this mysterious rice that I see at other Taipei mexican eateries- a curried yellow rather than the tomato-ish red Spanish rice I see in the states.



My friend seemed to enjoy her fajitas, although for me, the guacamole and salsa makes the dish for me.

Will I be back? More likely, I'll go back for enchiladas at La Casita or for fajitas and guacamole and pico de gallo at Chili's. But I'm not ruling it out, since *sigh* it's not bad... for Taiwan.

PS Interestingly enough, while I couldn't find the business card for this Amigo, I was doing an internet search.. I guess there is another Amigo, but not related to these two? The photo of the burrito with the article in Taipei Times doesn't look half bad.. Might have to give it a try- anyone else tried it?

85 Linsen S Rd (at Renai Rd)
Telephone: (02) 2393-2488
Open: Every day from 11:30am to 9pm, except Tuesdays
$ (cash only)


previous review on 10/14/2005


AMIGO Around-Mexico
202, FuXing N. Rd.
(02) 2515-6633

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.

Monday, May 14, 2007

news to me/american: TONY ROMA's is CLOSING!



Tragic, but true!!! J'adore food posted a comment that Tony Roma's in Taipei is closing at the end of May 2007! I was shocked to hear this and the news is confirmed on their website:


感謝大家多年來對TONY ROMA'S的支持
由於租約即將到期,我們將於六月份結束營業。
Tony Roma’s經營團隊及全體員工十二萬分的感謝您這些年來的支持。

THANK YOU FOR SUPPORTING
TONY ROMA'S ALL THESE YEARS
On behalf of the management and staff of Tony Roma's, we would like
to extend our heartfelt gratitude for your support all these years.
As our lease is expiring soon, this restaurant will cease operations in June.


Why oh why???? It's been around as long as I can remember- maybe over 10 years or so. Their ribs are pretty close to what you'd get back home even though the price is a bit higher here. Maybe they will reopen in a more traffic-busy location? Does anyone know if they are gone for good from Taipei?? Have you guys been lately or are not making ends meet anymore with all the other newer American chains in town? Argh!!

It's not quite a mom and pop like Chubbypanda requested to blog about in his Save our Faves, but good American food is hard to come by in Taipei, even if it's a chain restaurant.

So maybe we're partially at fault- I haven't been in awhile- but it was comforting to know it was there if I needed some sticky tender ribs to make a mess with. And now, no longer! Can it be saved? I guess I will have to make a trip before it closes for one last time.

Monday, May 07, 2007

CLOSED! thai: CRYSTAL SPOON

CLOSED a/o 2011. I think there is still a branch in QSquare.

CRYSTAL SPOON
at 101 Mall, 4 FL
45, Shi Fu Rd.
(02) 8101-8123

11 AM - 11 PM

$$-$$$

visit reviewed: 12/28/2006




A safe bet for a nice ambience and trendy Thai food, though the service is often spotty and unattentive (which I also found to be true for their now defunct Spoon, formerly at Neo 19). We found it hard to get service and you're lucky if you get your water refilled. It was a bit better at the Sogo location, maybe because it was lunch instead of dinner, maybe they weren't as busy, or maybe they are just trained better at the new location. Even so, the restaurant can get quite busy evenings and weekends, often with groups of stylish business set.



Nothing too bad to say about the food, which is pretty standard and a good place to eat if you are wandering 101 Mall craving Thai. The tender chicken and pork Satay (NT$280) has a hint of coconut or lime and the peanut sauce is equally tasty. If you like the peanut sauce, there is toast for your dipping pleasure.



The seafood salad (NT$320/460) is spicy and sour with a strong dose of lime - a good extreme rollercoaster of flavors for those wanting some heat with fresh squid, shrimp, crab and clams.



The Fried Rice with Pineapple (NT350) is served in foil in a half pineapple shell- which a lot of the other Thai restaurants in Taipei have stopped doing. Nothing spectacular about it, but nothing bad. I actually don't mind the pork floss in the pineapple rice, but I know quite a few people shudder at the thought of it.




I quite enjoyed this vegetable (San Su) that my friend ordered- I thought I wouldn't like it by the sight of it, with a slightly purple tinge- but it tasted like a crunchier cousin of Chinese broccoli with a slighly seaweed texture to the leaves.






The braised vermicelli (NT$480/680) was forgettable. I prefer it at Mei-Kung as well as the service. The menu is in English and Chinese, with lots of pictures. Their thai ice tea is more sugar than tea- too sweet and the Tom Yum Gung soup we tried to chase down was forgotten and brought at the very end after reminded, with no comp or apology offered.

also at
at Sogo (new green building)
45, ZhongXiao E. Rd., Sec. 4, 11F
@ MRT Zhongxiao Fuxing Station - on Zhongxiao E. Rd. Sec. 3, facing north

Thursday, May 03, 2007

italian: DIAMOND TONY's in Tien Mu

DIAMOND TONY's ITALIAN RESTAURANT
148-4, Zhong Shan North Road, Sec 7,
Tien Mu, Taipei
(02) 2873 6397

Weekdays
Lunch: 11:30 AM - 3:30 PM
Dinner: 5 PM - 12 AM

Weekends
11:30AM - 12 Midnight

website: diamond-tony.com.tw
$$

Visit reviewed: 12/27/2006



So I will admit that the food is a lot better at the flagship Diamond Tony's in Tien Mu than the Diamond Tony's at 101. However the service could still be a little quicker, especially if you are on the clock at lunch hour. But at least it's a bit friendlier and they don't give you an "I don't care if you complain, there's nothing you can do about it" attitude that seemed to sweep over the 101 location.



The lunch set menu comes with a soup, appetizer/salad and dessert at NT$499 for 2 starters (appetizer, soup or salad), pasta, drink and dessert. Their minestrone soup was more like a beef vegetable soup, with no tomato flavor at all. It still tasted good, it just wasn't minestrone.

One of Diamond Tony's most popular appetizer seems to be the Crab dip and bread. The dip is creamy and served warm, but there's no noticeable crab in the dip. However, it's a perfect partner for the addictive pan bread which is also served warm with a crispy crust and chewy interior with parmesan garlic flavor.




I actually really enjoyed the caesar which had smoked cheese, grated parmesan, and micro-croutons sprinkled among the crisp romaine. I savored each bite of the smoked cheese.



The main dish came much later than the appetizer and soups did, but at least four of the six main dishes came at the same time.

I ordered the lasagna, which was not bad- good portion, nice flavor. The seafood cream fettucine was also miles above the 101 Diamond Tony's in which every pasta dish was just a glop on a plate.




What seemed like an eternity later, talking while staring at the emptying chairs nearby, our desserts came.



The fruit sorbet was a nice cap to the meal and there was some chocolate cake floating on the table too. The lunch set is a good price for the amount of food that you get, especially if you have a larger group then you can share the starters. The open airy space is also less claustrophobic than the dark 101 space, and the colorful tables are nice area to have conversation while you are waiting for the different parts of your meal.



Other locations in Taipei
Diamond Tony's at 101 Mall, 4th FL

Diamond Tony's at Mitsukoshi, A4
6F, No.19, Sung-Kao Rd
(02) 2723-5918
11:30 AM- 10 PM

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