Sunday, May 30, 2010

revisited/french: i strongly recommend PAUL



PAUL
at Shin Kong Mitsukoshi, A9
No. 9, Song Shou Road, 2FL
(02) 2722-0700

website: paultaiwan.com

hours: 11 AM to 9:30 PM; bakery opens at 9 AM

$$

Kid friendliness: high chairs available at this location

Visit reviewed: 5/20/2010
Previous review: 10/7/2008



Lately, I've been on a Paul streak... not for their delicious but pricey raspberry tarts and flaky napoleons, or their oversized macarons or assortments of breads, but for their extended brunch menu that includes lighter fare like crepes, quiches and sandwiches. (And I'm happy to report that the sandwiches are their full size again after spotting them having shrunk temporarily in 2008).

The sets include a soup, salad and drink (coffee or tea) for about NT$300-400. At first glance, the crepes look like not a lot, but the meal is quite satisfying. My only complaint is that 1- for ice tea options, they only have bottled options of jasmine and lychee, and 2- for the coffee, if you want refills, you have to pay for a new cup.

First comes a bowl of soup- the past few times I've visited it was a hot vegetable soup with chunks of veggies and pasta- the right blend of acidic and sweet.



My favorites from their lunch menu are the tuna sandwich or the mushroom cheese crepe (NT$385 for the set) or if you want something sweet, the chocolate crepe. The crepe is perfectly thin and moist, stuffed with mushrooms and gooey emmental cheese which tastes like a fancy swiss cheese. I eat it together with the sunny side egg and then alternate between the roasted tomato and salad.



When Paul first opened, everyone wondered how long they would last with their pricey baked goods with ingredients shipped from France, with so many bakeries in town. I think they were smart to offer light French cafe fare to keep people coming back, which is a rarer find in town among all the Chinese, Italian and Japanese eateries. Paul's second Taiwan location at Mitsukoshi opened up only last year and is always filled with afternoon shoppers, even on a weekday. My recent visit to the Paul on Ren Ai had a 10-20 minute wait for a table at weekday lunchtime.


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OTHER LOCATION

No. 107, Ren-ai Road, Sec. 4,
(02)2771-3200

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

afternoon tea/western: i strongly recommend SMITH & HSU



SMITH AND HSU
No.33, Zhong Xiao E. Road, Sec. 5
(02) 2747-4857

MRT: Taipei City Hall

website: smithandhsu.com
hours: 10 AM - 10:30 PM

$$

Kid friendliness: no high chairs, fragile items in store section

Visit reviewed: 5/17/2010



If you've never had a buttery scone, then you need to book your next afternoon tea date at Smith and Hsu. For years, I equated the word "scone" to "dry biscuit" because of my past experiences in the states at American coffee shops. Make that "rock hard, super dry biscuit." But Smith and Hsu makes their scones like warm biscuits and even gives you some fancy Devonshire clotted cream and farm jam to spread in its luscious center.



The shop is the opposite of what you might expect to a tea shop- modern and glossy, rather than frilly faux Euro and old fashioned like the chain Rose House. The founder had "a passion for (both) Chinese and English tea culture" and so you can find a wide variety of both here. Often times when I passed by Smith and Hsu, I wasn't even sure that it was a place to eat as most of the shop is occupied by tea sets and tea displays.



But lucky for me, a girlfriend had picked it for a place to meet up for a late lunch and I got a chance to finally check it out. There are only about 10 or so seats at the ZhongXiao location, so be sure to call ahead if you want to ensure you have a table- our neighboring tables were full most of the afternoon.



For the casual tea drinker like me, the dizzying selections of teas to choose from can be a bit overwhelming. As are the tray of bottled tea leaves that they set on the table for you to browse. I was unsure if we were supposed to open them up and smell them or just admire them and my friends did not really touch the tray, so it would have helped if the servers explained a little bit of what to do.



By the pot, there's black tea, green tea, scented teas, oolong tea, pu erh and white tea, herbal tea, milk tea and fruit teas with about 5 to 10 choices in each category (NT$180- NT$690). The most expensive is for Green Sencha Fukujyu tea at NT$800 and I wonder if the average tea drinker would be able to tell the difference between a pot of that and whatever the local Japanese restaurant gives you.

The food part of the English and Chinese menu has mostly sandwiches, salad (NT$160-220) and desserts, but everyone's table had a tiered afternoon tea set (and camera toting customers taking photos of their food and themselves enjoying their food). I was asked not to take photos when I was walking on the store side, so I starting taking photos with my iphone, but once I noticed they didn't seem to care about everyone else taking photos of the food, I brought the DSLR back out.



Smith and Hsu offers three kinds of afternoon tea sets- a Cream Tea set (NT$240) which has 2 scones, cream, jam and one cup of tea; an English Afternoon tea set (NT$990) which has 4 scones, Devonshire clotted cream, 2 jams, 4 tea jellies, 2 cakes, cookies, six assorted finger sandwiches and 2 pots of tea; or the Sweeties set (NT$220) which is one cake and one cup of tea.

Our hungry table of three decided to get the English Afternoon tea set to share- at which point they ask you to choose 2 jams (blueberry, raspberry, honey or lemon curd (I think that's what the last one is. In Chinese, they said lemon and egg yolks)), 2 desserts from the counter and the tea that you'd like. I got a cup of Kir Royal Fruit Ice Tea, made with Kir Royal tea, lemon and apples, but tasted like it had some berries infused in it.




The best thing about the English Afternoon tea set is definitely the scones- I enjoyed both the raspberry and blueberry farm jams. The clotted cream was like a whipped butter, not like cream cheese like I expected. The inside of the scone is moist inside and golden and crispy on the outside. I ate one and half of another a little later. If you order just the scones, it's NT$130, which is a pricey NT$65 per scone, but I've paid for desserts/bagels/muffins that price that were far less tasty.



We picked the cheesecake and a caramel mousse chocolate cake and the cheesecake was definitely more up our alley with a traditional creamy texture and flavor.




My favorite of the finger sandwiches was the smoked chicken, which had a layer of hidden mango and cream cheese underneath, giving it a surprise creamy and sweet flavor. I'll eat smoked salmon, but I'm not crazy about it, it was decent. The least fave was the roast beef because the meat was lost in the huge baguette.



We also didn't like the jellies which tasted a bit medicinal (think cough syrup) rather than tasting like it was made from tea.

One neat thing about the menu is that they recommend tea pairings with the sandwiches, and though it's in Chinese, you can reference it by number.



I'd definitely recommend Smith and Hsu as a place for a light lunch or splurge for afternoon tea- they had some other sandwiches (gouda cheese and smoked ham, melted mozzarella and roasted bacon) that sounded good too.

OTHER LOCATIONS

No.103, Section 3, Minsheng E. Road
(02) 2546-6088
hours: 10 AM - 10:30 PM

No.177, Zhongshan N. Road, Section 6,
(02) 2838-1828
hours: 10 AM - 10:30 PM

Thursday, May 20, 2010

hotpot/taiwanese: i strongly recommend DING WANG MALA GUO



DING WANG MALA GUO
No. 251, Da An Road, Sec. 1
(02) 2704-4172

MRT: DaAn

hours: 12PM-2PM; 5PM-10PM

$-$$

Kid friendliness: no high chairs spotted; non spicy hotpot and noodle soups available too

Visit reviewed: 11/30/2009 & 4/15/2010 & 5/2010



Recently, I found out that one of my friends who had moved here last year had never had spicy mala hotpot before. EVER! So I quickly rounded up some friends and we decided on this Ding Wang for her first time.



Not as frou frou or hard-to-get-reservations-for as that other Ding Wang (AKA Tripod King), but equally good, Ding Wang also offers noodles by the bowl in case you are dining alone or don't want to do a whole hotpot of mouth-numbing broth. The space is cozy and clean with maroon walls, dark wood tables and modern lighting, unlike some local places which can feel a little bit grimy.

Unfortunately all their menus are in Chinese only with no pictures, so you'll probably need a native reader to order.



The menu has all the basics, but definitely get the freshly made squid balls, which you scoop into the boiling broth to cook. The end result is fragrant and chewy, but not starchy like the premade kinds. We had to order two rounds of these- they always get devoured quickly.




I also love to dip the you tiao and instant ramen into the spicy mala broth to soak up the soup and eat it while it's still a little bit crunchy.




At an Indian restaurant, you might drink some mango lassi to cool off the tongue, but here it's coke and plum juice. I don't usually drink soda, but here, the bubbly sweet Coca-cola is a relief to the heat (temperature and spiciness wise)!



One of their specialties is their chicken feet- which I've yet to try. I just can't do it! It grosses me out. But my friends order it every single time, and gnaw on the little bones of the claw and wrinkly skin with contented smiles. So if you're a chicken feet lover, you should give it a try.



Those familiar with shabu-shabu might be looking around for sesame sauce or other sauces, but Ding Wang keeps it straightforward with only these two sauces- vinegar and sesame oil. Pour into your bowl and toss in a spoonful of green onion.



For the times I went, we ordered a bit of everything and it ended up being about NT$500-600 a person for lunch.



If you are a party of one and can't do a whole mala hot pot assortment, Ding Wang offers quick and cheap mala noodle soups by the bowl!



You can indicate how spicy you'd like it and a large or small bowl of mala noodle soup (NT$110) full of gelatinous duck's blood.




If you can't handle the spicy, they also have tasty beef noodle soup (NT$150) although the broth was more salty on my recent visit a few weeks ago than I recalled past visits being. I like it with ban zhou ban jing, or half beef, half tendons. I was thirsty all afternoon.



Don't forget to choose a few side dishes, like the tofu skin or cucumber.



You can walk in on a weekday for lunch, but if you have a big group, you should definitely call ahead for reservations.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

CLOSED! burgers/new in town: i strongly recommend THE BURGER STOP



CLOSED! A/o 2011

THE BURGER STOP
No. 26, Ln. 137, Yanji St.
(02) 2711-7079

MRT: SYS Memorial Hall

website: burgerstop.com & facebook page

hours: Sun-Thurs 11 AM - 9 PM; Fri-Sat 11 AM - 10 PM

$

Kid friendliness: no high chairs spotted. 2 floors of seating with a few tables on 1st floor

Visit reviewed: 5/5/2010



Burgers, burgers, burgers. Just after I mentioned how there's been a burger explosion in Taipei, I get an email of yet another burger place opening nearby. There's mention of onion rings and shakes so of course I have to give it a try.

The checkered Americana decor definitely stands out in the alley, hidden not too far from ZhongXiao and KuangFu, aka the Pizza Hut buffet corner.



With the checkered theme, the Burger Stop reminds me of Triple O's, which I tried in Hong Kong, which is not a bad thing. The bright red and white interior has ample seating with two floors to sit, with American Top 40s pop music playing in the background. I love that it's open at 11 AM too because a lot of lunch places seem to open closer to 11:30 AM or noon.



Ordering isn't too complicated- choose either a single or double stack (one or two patties), with or without cheese, combo or not combo, french fries or onion strings, soda or shake. A double stack combo with onion rings would cost about NT$190. You can see them grilling up the burgers and frying things to order in the open kitchen. There wasn't any other options besides burgers when I went, but I hear word that they should be adding chicken and pork patty burgers to their menu soon.



I ordered a single stack burger with onion rings and a chocolate milkshake (NT$225), while my friend got the single stack with cheese combo. I got the chocolate milkshake first while I waited for the food and it made an excellent first impression. It was SO good. Creamy, thick yet easy to suck up, that made me feel like I was drinking a Jack in the Box milkshake. I used to drive through Jack in the Box just to order their cappuccino shake. I think the Burger Stop's shakes are decently priced (NT$70 or plus NT$40 for combo), which will give them an advantage from other burger places in town that charge NT$150+ for their shakes. And their sodas have free refills.

I would go back to Burger Stop just for a milkshake.



When I went, Burger Stop had just opened just days before and they hadn't gotten their trays yet, or their timing down. I got my burger, but then we were still waiting for our fries and onion rings. The burger was a good size and will get the obvious comparisons to In-N-Out, and the patty is grilled nicely and has a good flavor and texture, but I was wishing the patty was just a tad thicker for everything else that was going on in the burger- the crispy lettuce, tomato slices and healthy spread of sauce which tasted a lot like Thousand Island dressing. Maybe because I was comparing it to 1885 Burger Store which offers juicy, thick burgers in the same price range, and just visited the month before.

When my friend and I were finishing up our burgers, we looked at each other and knew that we had to split another burger. So if you're on the hungry side, I recommend getting a "double stack" burger.



One weird thing I noticed halfway through eating my burger was that the lettuce and tomato were at the bottom of the burger instead of above the patty. It gives the last taste to be more lettuce than beef, so I just flipped it over and ate it that way. Do you care about the order of the beef-lettuce-tomato?

The fries came not too long afterwards, and then the onion rings about 5 minutes later and they were nice enough to bring it upstairs where we were sitting. Instead of thickly sliced rings, they have thinly sliced, crispy strings that have some seasonings in the batter that give it an addictive quality. They aren't too greasy and I even stuck a few in my burger. I was happy with the quantity of the sides too, which some places can be quite stingy on. It would be cool if they had ranch and bbq sauce available too to dip the onion st/rings in.



The Burger Stop should quickly become a neighborhood favorite for some, especially if they can find fans from those who have gone without In-N-Out for a long time and have been desperately craving something like it. I wonder if you'd be able to request some "animal style" grilled onions on your burger as well?



Hungry in Taipei burger lovers, what do you think? Will the Burger Stop be able to compete for your fave burger place in town?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

italian: i strongly recommend BIANCO TAIPEI



BIANCO TAIPEI
No. 19, Lane 112, RenAi Rd, Sec. 4
(02) 2325-3655

MRT: Zhongxiao/Dunhua

website: Bianco's Facebook page

hours: M-F 11:30 AM - 10:00 PM
SUN/SAT 10 AM- 10 PM

$$

Kid friendliness: no high chairs but roomy in the back dining area

Visit reviewed: 3/18/2010



Bianco offers Italian pastas and risottos in a casual, yet elegant space. When I used to pass by the shop (a number of times) I thought it was a store because from a glance, you can see the shelves of pastas and countertops from the outside.



It wasn't until I was invited to a party there that I discovered that they have a full dining room in the back decked out with mod bubble chandeliers, including a room that could be a private dining space or buffet area for a private party.

The mushroom soup tasted like pureed, creamy mushrooms. I probably could have drank two bowls.



The main dish was just as successful- the truffle risotto had layers of flavors and textures- black pepper, cheese, crunchy asparagus, soft mushrooms, al dente risotto and topped off with flakes of truffles and thin flakes of parmesan. I savored each creamy bite and it felt rich, but not heavy.



Because it was a big party to serve at one time, I gave them a little leeway that my dish took so long to come out. My friend also gave me a bite of her sweet and savory roasted balsamic chicken, which tasted really good while I was waiting. Everyone's pastas and pizzas were so aromatic as they passed me by.



We finished the meal with birthday cake and two mini-scoops of gelato.



Can't beat sampling gelatos while deciding what to get.



Dishes here range from mid NT$200-$400 (or make a set menu) and seems like a popular place for afternoon tea as well with a counter full of cakes and desserts. You can also browse the shelves to buy ingredients to make your own dishes at home. All in all, Bianco is a good addition to the list of casual neighborhood Italian places to have on your list, especially if you are a risotto fan.


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