AU JARDIN (BISTRO DU VIN)
No. 222, XingAn St. 松山區興安街222號
MRT: Zhongshan Jr. High School or Nanjing E. Rd
website: Au Jardin's FB page
hours: 11:30AM - 2:30 PM; 6PM - 10:30 PM
Kid friendliness: high chairs available
Visits reviewed: 5/25/2012, 5/26/2012 and 6/26/2012
Opened for a few months now, Au Jardin is a bright, cheery bistro in the Songshan District that serves up Asian meets Italian/French fusion fare. Fans of Just In Bistro or the shuttered Le Petite Cuisine might find some Sino French flavors or faces familiar, but newcomers should feel just as welcome.
Also tucked on this alley is Fresh Cafe, which I've been hearing about and meaning to try.
At first glance, the menu seems a bit disjointed with both items like Spaghetti Alla Carbonara and Singapore Laksa on it, but there are gems to be found. On my first visit, I was a guest of my friend D and the restaurant, so they brought out their signature dishes for us to try. The English and Chinese menu has a range of pastas, main dishes, appetizers and desserts, as well a wine list selection. This post is a collection of three different visits so there's a lot of food to drool over!
I like to treat my grandma to lunch sometimes and if the place is too pricey, sometimes she will feel guilty or be too polite about eating together, but I think she had a good time at Au Jardin and enjoyed the food even more when I pointed out the reasonable prices to her.
The Tofu Spring Salad with Light Soy Bean Dressing (NT$180) sounds deceptively simple, but it's refreshing. With both fried and silken tofu atop dressed greens, the soybean dressing is more like a sweet vinegrette. I've ordered this salad again on every visit afterwards.
The Tempura of Soft shell crab salad with Green Chili Sauce (NT$360) has a strong kick with the spicy green chili sauce that gives the crispy soft shell crab an acidity and fire that is addictive. It also works as a salad since there's some lettuce and greens to spread the sauce around.
On my last visit, on the seasonal menu was the Parma ham with grilled peaches salad (NT $360). Sweet and savory, perfect for summer.
For the more traditional options, the Caesar Salad (NT$200).
I loved the spicy soup from the Sauteed clam "Tom Yam" (NT$120), but I had a few gritty clams that turned me off.
The Grilled Confit Pork Neck with Honey Mustard Dressing (NT$140) is not a bad appetizer to share, but the confit pork neck is used in quite a few of the dishes I ordered, so it's not necessary to repeat order unless you really love it.
Calamari Fritter with Lemon Aioli (NT$180)
Grilled Oyster Mushroom with Potato Salt (NT$100) is a hearty choice for vegetarians.
Soup of the day- Seafood Chowder
A must order is the Roasted Duck Confit with Seasonal Vegetables, Chicken Jus (NT$400). It's a great portion for the price and is roasted perfectly so that the skin is crispy and the meat is juicy and tender.
Depending on your mood, there are two pastas I really recommend- the Tagliatelle Confit Pork Neck (NT$380) is a crowd pleaser with noodles tossed in olive oil and garlic that brings out the flavors of the pasta and the pork. The pasta is cooked perfectly al dente, chewy but not too hard.
And the spicier Tagliatelle Confit Sweet Shrimp Pork Neck Laksa (NT$420) bursts with Southeast Asian flavors of spiciness, sweetness and sourness that somehow works perfectly with the Italian noodle. Again there's the melt in your mouth pork neck meat along with some seafood flavors and shrimp. There's traditional Laksa as well, but I also ended up getting this dish.
My friend was craving red meat, so she ordered the Grilled rib eye lunch set (NT$980) to share. Pricey for lunch, but not a bad price for a nicely grilled steak.
A few orders were not as strong and distinctive- the Cheeseburger, Salad and Fries (NT$380) was gourmet enough, but not as exciting as laksa.
I also felt the Seafood Risotto (NT$400) was not my idea of a risotto- it was quite watery and the rice was too soft. It tasted more like a seafood stew with rice.
One of the things that I think also makes Au Jardin stand out is the service. The dirty plates and utensils were whisked away and replaced with new ones between courses (salads, mains, desserts) without asking. This usually only happens at fine dining restaurants with higher entree prices, but it's nice when you get that quality of service in a casual ambience. It was nice having to have clean forks to enjoy the different flavors and not have to wave the waiter down for water, and is a noticeable gesture in the land of self serve eateries.
There's lots of delicious desserts to choose from- if you want a souffle, be sure to order it before you want to it since it will take time to cook. The first day, they had a Peach Souffle for us to try, but it was a tad underdone for me.
But I loved the decadent warm Baked chocolate cake (NT$220) with the gooey chocolate center.
And the flaky Apple tart (NT $180) that is served as one long strip and easy to share. Meticulous thin slices of apple are sweetened with caramel sauce and the crispy phyllo dough underneath makes it a dessert that is satisfying, but not heavy.
Although it's a bit out of the way for me, it's worth the trip. Au Jardin is also in that sweet spot where not too many people know about it yet so it wasn't crowded, but that might change when word of mouth spreads.