Thursday, July 31, 2008

american/sandwiches: GORDON BIERSCH



GORDON BIERSCH
Shin Kong Mitsukoshi A11, 2F
11 Songren Rd

(02) 8786-7588

website: gordonbiersch.com.tw

hours: 11am- 12midnight

$$

Kid friendliness: high chairs available. crayons. lots finger foods

Visit reviewed: 6/13/2008

You may or may not have heard about this new addition to the "Western Chain Restaurants" (or now known as "WCR") that have made their mark in the Xin Yi area in Taipei in the recent years. Gordon Biersch is a restaurant that I first heard about because of its garlic fries. So imagine my surprise when I saw its familiar sign on the second floor of Shin Kong Mituskoshi where there used to be random shops.

I went there opening week (it was packed at 1pm) and again the following week (not so packed at 12pm).



Why so long for the review? I wanted to figure out how to fairly describe their opening week kinks (and there were lots). I wanted to think about how GB is different than the other WCRs.

It's got an across the board menu filled with appetizers, salads, burgers, pastas, pizzas, grilled meats similar to TGIF, but has yet to work out its growing pains in training its servers to (1) bring you drinks right away and keeping them filled; (2) understand English requests/questions/orders and (3) bring you bread/soup etc right away to keep you happy/munching.

Service was on the slow and confused sides on both visits- with our first visit experiencing a missing pasta dish that ended up having to be reordered and coming about an half hour after we'd all started our food. And the Linguine Marinara ended up being too acidic for my tastes (though my friend thought it was ok).

Another annoying thing is that on the lunch special menu, it says in English that one of the options is lemonade. But apparently, that isn't an option according to the servers. They have lemonade, it just isn't complimentary as a drink with the lunch special (even though it's printed on the menu). And there is no option to upgrade the lunch special sodas/ice tea/coffee to something like lemonade (which turned out to be VERY sour).

But if you like BBQ pulled pork sandwiches, then you should definitely try the one at Gordon Biersch. I don't think you could get one anywhere else in Taipei (please correct me if I'm wrong).



And if you go at lunch and ask them to switch out the potato chips for garlic fries (it might take a few tries) and get the business set lunch that comes with soup OR dessert and drink, then it's not a bad deal at NT$250. With a sprinkle of coleslaw and tender pulled pork bathed in tangy sweet bbq sauce on a bun, it's better than quite a few pulled pork sandwiches I've had in LA. And the garlic fries-- good, but hopefully you get a batch that is not overfried.



And if you're tired of the same old spinach salads from Mac Grill or Quesadilla Explosion salad from Chili's, then you should try the Grilled Chicken Cashew salad here.

GB also has a selection of award winning beers and even a beer sampler (NT$230) of shot glasses for you to try if you can't decide on which one. Personally, I'm not a beer drinker, so I can't report how it is.

From the lunch special, the various creamy soups (potato? mexican chicken?) go down easy like reheated Campbell soups and the chocolate cake is a good size for lunch (not too big, not too small). Chocolate-y enough though not as rich as the cakes from Mac Grill or Chili's.





But there were a few other things on the menu I might want to try if I go there again.. crabcakes, hummus, a couple of their other salads, fish and chips. BTW- if you end up with a menu with English titles for the foods but the descriptions in Chinese, you can ask for an English menu. Most of the WCRs have separate Chinese/English menus that you need to request if you are NOT an obvious Not Chinese Menu Reader like me (aka Chinese American who went to Chinese School for six years but can still only recognize first grade level characters). har har. Okay, my Chinese comprehension has gotten better than that since I've been here so much, but I'd still like my English menu.




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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

snack/chinese: ALMOND TOFU



You've probably seen the jelly in a cup, even with fruit suspended inside. But I bet you haven't seen this! Pre cut almond tofu with fruit IN A BAG! :)

One reason that I enjoy living in Taiwan is that it is a SNACK city. There are always lots of different kinds of snacks everywhere- hot, cold, on the street, in 7-11, cute, practical, salty, sweet. I'll try and take more pictures of the various snacks or types of snacks that are more unusual, though you can find lots of them in Asian supermarkets, like Ranch 99 or Nijiya or Marukai or even Famima!, in the states now.

I was really really tempted to buy it, especially since I really like almond tofu. But I didn't know if I wanted to spend NT$109/US$3 on it... even though it probably could have filled a couple of bowls.

I was uploading pictures for new reviews and spotted this. So while I'm procrastinating and typing this at 1 in the morning, I kind of wish I had bought it so I could have it as a cold snack. But then again, maybe it's better that I didn't. *Sigh. Oprah says no eating after 9pm (or however many hours before you sleep).

Maybe I'll head over to Shin Kong Mitsukoshi's supermarket in A4 tomorrow to give it a try. Do you think it'll taste good?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

my kitchen: pasta salad



I think it's so funny I buy all these drool worthy recipe books (ALWAYS with the pictures. I can't stand those recipe books without pictures) and then when I end up making something, it's usually spur of the moment and without a recipe (I guess more Nigella style than anyone else).

One day, I definitely want to plan ahead and make a whole set dinner from NIGELLA EXPRESS or HOME FOOD, but it's always seems so much more convenient to eat out in Taipei. Especially when certain ingredients seem harder to locate here than back at Ralphs in LA, or where ever.

Anyways- I always felt that cold pasta salad is great for summer, especially these hot days we've been having here. I just tossed up some bowtie and spiral pasta leftover from the night before, halved grape tomatoes, cucumbers and shrimp with some drizzled in EVOO (extra virgin olive oil), red wine vinegar and salt/pepper.



Yum!

I don't like pasta salad with mayonnaise overload because I don't like mayo, but I haven't seen a lot of American/Italian style cold pasta salad in Taipei to begin with. So you just gotta make your own, right?

Friday, July 25, 2008

bakery/snack: i recommend CHOCOLATE MUFFIN from STARBUCKS



STARBUCKS
near Zhong Xiao E Road and Dun Hua S Road intersection

website: starbucks.com.tw Unfortunately, Chinese only

$$

Visit reviewed: 7/24/2008

I swore off all the baked goods from Starbucks after my terrible experiences with their cakes the last year. But then when I was craving chocolate chip cookies, my cousin surprised me with chocolate muffins from Starbucks.

I was hesitant to like it, but once I sank my teeth into them (yes, she got me TWO), I was happy. It is definitely like eating mini chocolate cake and I always love the TOP of the muffins.

So I was craving a chocolate muffin yesterday, but they were sold out.

I ended up trying their *new* Banana Walnut Muffin (NT$60). It seemed smaller than the chocolate (but it's probably the same size) and tasted like you'd expect it to- dense, banana/nutty, sweet- but didn't live up to the "must eat" addictiveness of the chocolate muffin, therefore not worth the high price tag, unless you are in a pinch for breakfast at your business meeting at Starbucks.

Plus reminded me a bit of the Costco banana muffins (while the Costco chocolate muffins were not as delicious as the Starbucks chocolate muffins) SIGH!

At least they redeemed themselves from the terrible pastries I had the last time.

So I definitely recommend their chocolate muffin- moist, with chocolate chunks, devoured in one sitting with only some regrets afterwards, and then wanting to eat another one! I'll try to get a picture of it next time!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

food court/mall food: LIVING MALL food court



Food Court at
the LIVING MALL (CORE PACIFIC CITY MALL), B1
No. 138, Bade Road, Sec 4
(02)

website: livingmall.com.tw English and Chinese

hours: 11AM- 9:30/10:30 (fri/sat)

$

Visit reviewed: 6/28/2008

While there is nothing too exciting about the Living Mall's food court, I guess I should mention that the Living Mall itself is shaped like a huge ball. The shape can be seen clearly from the outside (or even from the 89th floor from 101) as well as the inside, with its funky design and circular floors, allowing you to peer down on the floors below. (A funny article about it here.

The first time I went to the Living Mall, I was reminded a bit of the Luxor in Las Vegas, another huge, unusually shaped structure that sort of makes you admire (or not) it at first sight, but then you just get used to it.

But anyways! Back to the food- there are a collection of restaurants upstairs (I've only been to Lawry's for their prime rib and creamed corn) as well as a movie theater there, but as I circled around the food court to find something to eat, nothing looked especially exciting. There are a selection of the typical Chinese wonton noodles, oyster omelette, stuff over rice, the ubiquitous Subway, I ended up choosing a bimbimbap from the Korean place.



While there was a decent amount of beef, you couldn't customize the vegetables- it came with the cucumber, bean sprouts, green beans and hot sauce. It fed me and was ok.

My friend got a wonton soup that was also pretty mall food-ish.



A looong time ago, I got a corn dog near the movie theater that was pretty decent, but I don't know if the vendors are the same anymore.

More memorable was our trip to Tai Yi later on in the evening. I tried out the mango milk ice (with tang yuan), I decided I liked the red bean and tang yuan milk ice better. Plus it's half the price of the mango shaved ice.




Mmm, looking at the shaved ice is making me hungry. I wish someone could make a shaved ice delivery service. That would be awesome!

PS
Finally figured out this Google Maps thing, sort of... I've been slowly adding restaurants to it when I have time, but it's a lot of work! It's cool to see the locations of all the different restaurants relative to each other though.

If you find it helpful, let me know!



View hungry in taipei restaurants in a larger map

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

korean: i strongly recommend HAPPY KOREAN CUISINE



HAPPY KOREAN CUISINE
No. 1, Lane 99, Xin Yi Road, Sec 3
(02) 2703-9237

hours: Lunch: 11:30AM- 2PM;
Dinner 5:30PM- 8:30PM
(closed every second and fourth Monday of each month)

$$

Kid friendliness: VERY! high chairs available plus a little play area in the corner with play kitchenette and toys.

Visit reviewed: 4/15/2008

I can't tell you how happy I am that we found this restaurant that was recommended by a friend. Every dish we ordered was delicious, the service was friendly and it was very affordable.

The English and Chinese menu has lots of pictures and everything from bimbimbap (a mixed vegetables rice) which the beef was slightly sweet and tender like bulgobi to the cold noodles I love to tofu stew to bbq meats.



Located in a little alley not too far from AIT, it's a good spot to hit up after you've been waiting in line all day. Or even if you're not near AIT, if you've been looking for a good casual Korean restaurant in Taipei.



I wasn't sure what to think when it was not crowded during the first time we went, on a weekday lunch, but the complimentary fresh panchan was a good sign- I always love it when japchae is included.



Little touches like that were continued throughout everything we received- the bimbimbap in a stone bowl (NT$190) had a bit of seaweed strips on top;



the cold noodles (NT$160) (which you can get with or without the soup) had thin slices of both radishes and pear in the soup which made a great layer of sweet and savory combination that was already in the vinegary soup.



On the second time we went, on a weekend, I made a reservation with a large group and thankfully I did because it was packed full with families. To be honest, the service was slower since they were busier and the seafood pancakes weren't as good (not as crispy) as the first time, so maybe try it out when they are less busy if you want to ensure the best experience.

They also offer vegetable pancake for the vegetarians out there- as well as vegetarian bimbimbap or cold noodles or tofu stew (which some Korean restaurants have few or no vegetarian options).





We also spotted a little playarea in the corner for kids to play which is such a great idea and makes the restaurant especially family friendly.



Until now, I had been fulfilling my cravings for Korean food at the food court at the various malls or doing the bbq beef at Mindong which is only open in evenings and also packed- but now this is a place that will top my list.

Especially with the "naengmyeon" or soupy cold noodles being a perfect way to beat the Taipei heat! It's the best version of it I've found at any of the Korean restaurants in Taipei.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

dessert: i recommend SHI CA DWO



SHI CA DWO
No. 26, Lane 216, Zhong Xiao East Road, Sec. 4
(02) 2773-3982

website: http://www.shicadwo.com.tw/

hours: 10:30 AM ~10:00 PM

$

To-go reviewed: 7/9/2008

When you think of green beans, you might think of stir-fried or steamed, but green mung beans (lui do) are a different kind of green bean entirely. They are small and round rather than long and stick-shaped and often sweetened and used in desserts like on top of shaved ice or in dessert soups.

A family friend kindly brought some green bean dessert over from what he declared was the best stuff that I had to try. What he liked about it, that I have to agree, that it isn't too sweet. Everything is soft and sweet, but not mushy.

The yi ren or white kernels in the soup looked and tasted like a mix of barley and popped popcorn, and after some googling, I found out that they are called Job's Tears in English or called Chinese Pearl Barley sometimes (though it's not technically barley). Both green mung beans and Job's tears are also supposed to be good for you, unlike boba (or tapioca pearls) another popular option in dessert soups/shaved ice.



So if you are tired of waiting in lines at Meet Fresh (which I have yet to try but I have seen the long lines and heard stories about their slowness), you can try out Shi Ca Dwo especially in the hot summer weather.

Monday, July 14, 2008

CLOSED! american/burgers: I don't recommend JB BURGER




where's the beef?


CLOSED! a/o 4/2012

JB BURGER
No. 2, Lane 345, Alley 15, Ren Ai Road, Sec 4
(02) 2775-3027


hours: 10AM - 10PM

$$

website: wretch.cc/blog/theJBburger

Kid friendliness: small space for seating.

Visit reviewed: 7/9/2008



A semi-new little burger place near Lane 216, JB Burger looked promising. The bright white, red and yellow sign and menu and fonts that oddly reminded me of In N Out (a very popular burger chain in the states, in case you've never heard). Maybe it was the promise of "the fresh experience" or the English menu with the double patties or the fat onion on the burger.

Anyways, it was enough to draw me in for a "snack" before dinner "research" at around 4:30PM. And it had quite a few other people who felt the same, eating inside or waiting for their order.



The pros: they offer not only a beef patty, but also pork patties. Their fries are freshly cut and fried and they offer veggie sticks if you want healthier fare. If you can read Chinese, you might spot their options menu on the counter which says you can ask for grilled onions or other styles for your burger. They also have coffee/latte, Budweiser and Root Beer as drink options.

The cons: they were out of their fresh cut fries and only had potato slice(NT$40).




I did eat a few wedges in the car before I took this picture



Also their beef patty in my burger (NT$65) was much, MUCH smaller than I would have liked. It looked small on the grill and even smaller next to the huge hunk of lettuce they stuff inside the burger.



Overall, the taste is not bad, but it's just an unwieldy bite. The huge lettuce actually makes the burger harder to eat since it's not pulled apart for you. It's not an anomaly since I saw them putting together other burgers with other semi-wedges of lettuce. They also add a thousand island like dressing without asking.

JB Burger has been open since April 2008 so it shouldn't have any more opening kinks to work out. All in all, it's one thing if your burger is small but fat OR skinny but wide enough for the bun- but my burger patty was neither and just not enough to be satisfying or fill out the bun.

And I shouldn't have to get a double patty burger to feel full either.

Granted for these prices, it is nice to know I'm getting a freshly made burger and I'm not asking for a burger like I'd get at Chili's, but I shouldn't have to think that I'd rather get a Whopper from Burger King while I'm eating it.

Have I been brainwashed into thinking everything should be American-style "supersized?" or am I justified in my gut feeling? My burger doesn't even look the same as the ones on their website and outside their store.




Guess we'll just have to wait to go back to LA to go to In N Out for the real thing, or maybe finally try out Mary's Hamburger or California Grill.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

CLOSED! dessert/bakery: i recommend the cheesecake from AGORA GARDENS



CLOSED a/o 2/2012
Bakery at AGORA GARDEN
No. 68, Sung-Kao, Rd.
(02) 8780-5168


website: www.agoragdn.com.tw

visit reviewed: 6/30/2008

$$

Creamy. Sweet. Melt in your mouth soft. Topped with strawberries and white chocolate.

Perfect for summer.

My good friend is moving back to the states after living here for a few years. I'm so sad to see her go, but I'm grateful to have had such a good friend while we were both figuring out Taipei and able to try out new places together for lunch. I also know I'll see her again.

And like a good friend, she brought me dessert despite her busy packing, moving, taking care of last minute things schedule at our last meet up. She said she really enjoyed it when she tried it before and thought I would like it too.

And she was right.

If you like cheesecake, this is a really good option. And I looove cheesecake. Sweeter and creamier than the Japanese style cheesecakes here, but softer and less dense than a typical NY style cheesecake.

I've been having a bit of writer's block lately, but hope to resume posting a few times a week again. Especially since the blog has turned 3 years old! So a little cake for a belated birthday.

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