Wednesday, March 29, 2017

news: TAIWAN RESTAURANTS LAND ON ASIA's 50 BEST

Finding Asia's 50 Best Restaurants in Taiwan
Good luck getting reservations at RAW, named Taiwan's Best Restaurant by Asia's 50 Best

Asia's 50 Best Restaurants were counted down earlier this year at an awards ceremony in Bangkok, where chefs eagerly waited to hear what place they had earned on this year's list. Nominees invited know they are guaranteed a spot in the top 50, but they do not know where on the list they rank until is announced at the ceremony. 


"Even the regional chairmen don't know who the voters voted for, or who got the votes. So it is very exciting for chefs to attend." said chef Richie Lin from Mume, a new entry on this year's list from Taiwan. 

RAW's chef Zor Tan recalled, "It is the time of year when you want to see your report card to know if you outdid yourself the previous year." 

This year, Gaggan, a progressive Indian restaurant in Bangkok, Thailand, retained his spot at number 1 for the third year in a row- an impressive record considering that Asia's 50 Best has only been around for five years. Gaggan will be familiar to those who have seen him on Netflix's "Chef's Table" series, or spotted his emoji menu or Japanese influenced, modern Indian tasting menu on Instagram. 


Taiwanese chef Andre Chiang's Restaurant Andre in Singapore moved up one spot to number 2. Third place is Amber in Hong Kong. The list includes restaurants from Singapore, Thailand, Japan, China, Taiwan, Korea, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Philippines. Chef May Chow from Hong Kong's Little Bao was named Asia's Best Female Chef of 2017 and Otto E Mezzo's Umberto Bombana was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

Chef Zor Tan who is involved with both Restaurant Andre and RAW said, "It's a gratifying feeling knowing both restaurants got into top 50 and best restaurant in Singapore and best restaurant in Taiwan. I am humbled that both restaurants are well accepted by our audience. It is a team effort that is recognized by our fellow peers in the industry." 

Unlike the Michelin Stars Guide, which awards highly coveted stars given by anonymous food critics in specific cities, Asia's 50 Best held a series of events where the chefs could eat, party and gather together. Chef Zor Tan, "This is where we pause for a moment from our busy schedule and gather." 


"The most valuable part of this experience is to connect, a chance for all the chefs to meet each other from different countries, share ideas and exchange knowledge." said chef Richie Lin. 

But both lists skew towards fine dining, higher priced restaurants that serve intricately plated dishes rather than the casual, mom and pop restaurants that could arguably also be a "best" restaurant on a list. Some critics also point out the lack of restaurants helmed by female chefs, as well as voter bias towards restaurants already on the list or in cities where tourism boards actively woo voters. 

Taiwan landed three restaurants on this year's list, with RAW (number 24), Le Mout in Taichung (number 28), and Mume, debuting at number 43. RAW jumped ahead from last year's 46th place past Le Mout to take over the title of Best Restaurant in Taiwan. Reservations at RAW are already nearly impossible to get through their online booking system, and with the additional publicity, diners will have an even tougher time. 


Without flying to another country, you can also try the Taipei branch of Ryugin #7 and L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon which placed for its Bangkok and Hong Kong restaurants, at #40 and #41. Keep an eye out for pop ups and "four hands" collaborations with chefs from other countries, such as Restaurant Andre (#2) at RAW, or Den (#11) at Mume. Regent Taipei has also brought Sri Lanka's Ministry of Crab #29 and Seoul's Jungsik #25 to Taipei. 

First time hearing about this list and these restaurants? Here's a brief introduction to the Taiwan's best restaurants, according to Asia's 50 Best. 


RAW #24


Who are the chefs at RAW?: Andre Chiang, Alain Huang and Zor Tan. 

What is the menu like?: RAW has a seasonal menu that changes every few months and has featured a Best of the Year menu at the end of the past two years. Comprised of eight courses, the menu lists just three key ingredients for each dish on a word puzzle like sheet. Dishes such as beef tongue shavings on top of a beef tongue cracker or miniature bbq corn are inspired by Taiwanese snacks with a modern gastronomic twist. Every menu highlights local produce, sourced with the island's local farmers, such as the spring 2017 menu's sliced tomatoes with green chili sorbet and gazpacho foam, with tomatoes from Yilan, Nantou and Yang Ming Shan.


How to make reservations: Book at a table though RAW's website Reservations can be made two weeks in advance and are released at 12Noon everyday. Try your luck with the waitlist by messaging RAW through "Contact" on the page to snap up last minute cancellations. For an upgraded menu (at a slightly higher price) and view of the bustling kitchen, or if you have a larger party, try to get chef's table seats, which are usually released on the first Tuesday of every month at 3PM.


Check out this video interview by the Culinary Institute of America with RAW's chefs Alain Huang and Zor Tan, featuring dishes All About Duck, Taco Tako TACOS, Onion Onion Onion and Mango Snowball. I worked on this as a location producer/Taipei fixer last year for the CIA and they captured everything so beautifully. 


LE MOUT #28


Who are the chefs at LE MOUT: Lanshu Chen,  Jimmy Lim and pastry chef Makito Hiratsuka. Chef Lanshu Chen was named Asia’s Best Female Chef in 2014.  

What is the menu like?: Modern French dishes such as Blaze mushrooms, veal sweetbread, dried tangerine rind, chestnut, rice essence or American prime filet with French goose foie gras poele and sautéed chanterelles topped with a green peppercorn sauce.


How to make reservations: Make reservations on http://www.lemout.com
59 Cunzhong St, West District, Taichung City, Taiwan 403 +886 4 2375 3002 

MUME #43


Who are the chefs at MUME: Richie Lin, Kai Ward and Long Xiong

What is the menu like?: The Modern European menu features Snacks, Small, Bigger and Sweets on an a la carte menu. Signature dishes include the waygu beef tartare with clam mayo, confit egg yolk and preserved daikon; summer salad of nearly 30 different vegetables from local producers dressed with fermented black beans and crispy amadai with 


How to make reservations: Book a table through the reservation tab/link “Book a Table” on Mume's Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/mume.taiwan/). Call (02) 2700-0901 or e-mail: info@mume.tw for private dining room reservations, which seats 8-12 people serving a set menu only.


Check out this video interview by the Culinary Institute of America with Mume's chefs Richie Lin and Kai Ward . I worked on this as a location producer/Taipei fixer last year for the CIA's World of Flavors and love how these videos turned out. 

No. 1 GAGGAN, Bangkok, Thailand

No. 2 RESTAURANT ANDRÉ, Singapore 
No. 3 AMBER, Hong Kong, China  
No. 4 8 1/2 OTTO E MEZZO BOMBANA, Hong Kong, China
No. 5 NAHM, Bangkok, Thailand
No. 6 NARISAWA, Tokyo, Japan 
No. 7 NIHONRYORI RYUGIN, Tokyo, Japan
No. 8 ULTRAVIOLET BY PAUL PAIRET, Shanghai, China 
No. 9 ODETTE, Singapore
No. 10 BURNT ENDS, Singapore 
No. 11 DEN, Tokyo, Japan 
No. 12 L'EFFERVESCENCE, Tokyo, Japan
No. 13 SUHRING, Bangkok, Thailand
No. 14 FLORILEGE, Tokyo, Japan
No. 15 MINGLES, Seoul, South Korea 
No. 16 LES AMIS, Singapore
No. 17 LUNG KING HEEN, Hong Kong, China
No. 18 QUINTESSENCE, Tokyo, Japan
No. 19 BO.LAN, Bangkok, Thailand
No. 20 WAKU GHIN, Singapore
No. 21 ISSAYA SIAMESE CLUB, Bangkok, Thailand
No. 22 LOCAVORE, Bali, Indonesia 
No. 23 CORNER HOUSE, Singapore
No. 24 RAW, Taipei, Taiwan 
No. 25 JUNGSIK, Seoul, South Korea 
No. 26 SUSHI SAITO, Tokyo, Japan 
No. 27 TIPPLING CLUB, Singapore 
No. 28 LE MOÛT, Taichung, Taiwan
No. 29 MINISTRY OF CRAB, Colombo, Sri Lanka
No. 30 INDIAN ACCENT, New Delhi, India 
No. 31 EAT ME, Bangkok, Thailand
No. 32 JADE DRAGON, Macau, China
No. 33 TA VIE, Hong Kong, China
No. 34 HAJIME, Osaka, Japan
No. 35 GALLERY VASK, Manila, Philippines
No. 36 THE DINING ROOM AT THE HOUSE ON SATHORN, Bangkok, Thailand
No. 37 LE DEU, Bankgkok, Thailand
No. 38 LA YEON, Seoul, South Korea
No. 39 THE TASTING ROOM BY GALLIOT, Macau 
No. 40 L'ATELIER DE JOËL ROBUCHON, Bangkok, Thailand
No. 41 L'ATELIER DE JOËL ROBUCHON, Hong Kong, China
No. 42 JAAN, Singapore
No. 43 MUME, Taipei, Taiwan 
No. 44 SHINJI BY KANESAKA, Singapore
No. 45 RONIN, Hong Kong
No. 46 WASABI BY MORIMOTO, Mumbai, India
No. 47 THE CHAIRMAN, Hong Kong, China 
No. 48 FU HE HUI, Shanghai, China 
No 49 NIHONBASHI, Colombo, Sri Lanka
No. 50 TAKAZAWA, Tokyo

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

burgers/smoothies: I recommend MEAT UP


MEAT UP 
No. 124-4, Section 2, Wuchang St
西門町武昌街二段124號
(02) 2331-4200

MRT: Ximen

website: Meat Up's Facebook page

Hours: 11:30AM–9PM; Weekends until 10PM; Closed Mondays

Kid friendliness: no high chairs spotted, room for strollers. Kids probably will enjoy burger fries and smoothies

Visit reviewed: 12/12/2017

My must orders: burger with mushrooms and feta, dragonfruit with kiwi and yogurt smoothie, onion rings


[TAIPEI] AWAY FROM THE CENTER OF XIMENDING, there's a bright cafe called Meat Up across from Vieshow Cinemas where I met up with a friend. Meat Up is seemingly designed for the Instagram crowd, with colorful smoothies and overflowing milkshakes and eye catching storefront murals. Burger was tasty with a lot of add on options, but I was addicted to the onion rings and truffle mayo. Dragonfruit yogurt smoothie also refreshing with right amount of sweetness. 



So many cute hand painted murals to admire, or take photos with. Pick a wall and strike a pose, or bring out your smoothie to get the natural light.




The menu includes burgers and fries, customizable with over a dozen toppings,  fried shrimp burger, chicken Caesar or feta salad and sides like buffalo wings, mushroom fries or onion rings. 


The juices and smoothies have names like volcano, summer, autumn, exaggeration or Anna Sui, and have fruits like kiwis, guava, dragonfruit, orange, strawberry, mango and passionfruit. For a sweeter shake, there's chocolate or Oreo banana. 


We didn't know what to get, so we asked the server to pick two for us. I really enjoyed the Dragon fruit and Kiwi Smoothie with Yogurt (NT$150), carefully layered with sliced kiwi peeking out from the mason jar. I would happily order this refreshing drink again.



The Banana and Oreo milkshake is over the top, but either we took too long taking photos or it would have been better with some Oreos or chocolate inside the shake, but I didn't enjoy it as much as the fruit smoothie. I didn't taste much chocolate, maybe it was just a banana milkshake, but tasted a bit watered down. (NT$195)


Burger with truffle mayo, mushrooms and feta cheese and French fries (NT$280); onion rings (we ate some before this photo) (NT$120) I was pretty full from half a burger, onion rings and the drinks. We also got the truffle mayo on the side, and it was delicious as a dipping sauce. Burger had nice fat layer of grilled mushrooms as well as fresh tomatoes, onions and lettuce.



Bring at least one friend so you can try more things. When we got there, we saw two other girls taking photos and a million selfies, but barely talking to eat other. Thanks to my friend D for letting me take a million photos and trying a new place with me, but hopefully we spent more time talking than on our phones. Thanks Meat Up for the invitation and lunch!! (Disclosure- I received this meal for free from Meat Up, but the opinions expressed are my own. No compensation was received.)



Friday, March 17, 2017

american/bakery: i strongly recommend HERITAGE BAKERY AND CAFE


HERITAGE BAKERY AND CAFE
台北市中正區漢口街一段73號之2
(02) 2311-1079

MRT: Taipei Main Station (about 10 minute walk) or Ximen Station (about 8 minute walk) or NTU Hospital (about 10 minute walk)

website: Heritage Bakery's Facebook page

hours: 11AM - 7PM (closed Mondays)

$$ 

Kid friendliness: seating on second floor, elevator available. kids will love the cinnamon buns and desserts

Visit reviewed: 3/16/2017

Must orders: cinnamon roll, salted caramel cheesecake, carrot cake


[TAIPEI]  Anyone who has been craving warm, sticky cinnamon buns in Taipei must get themselves to Heritage Bakery now. Opened in September 2016, Heritage Bakery is the result of owner Sally Song transforming an old family building into a gorgeous bakery/cafe serving a counter full of American style cakes and desserts, including a plate of cinnamon buns beckoning at the entrance's window. The cafe's classic and clean decor, peppered with refurbished vintage fans and speakers as decoration, and bookended by the original building's brick and concrete walls, looks like it could be out of the pages of Pottery Barn or Williams Sonoma catalog, both companies that Song previously worked for.  










There's currently only one savory item on the menu, a bacon mushroom potato tart, creamy and crisp, topped with a thin layer of cheese with a subtle layer of local pepper (NT$180). I wished there were more mushrooms and less potatoes since it's quite filling, but I polished off the entire thing anyways anyways.




But we are here for the desserts and there's so many to choose from! I settled on trying the most popular items- the cinnamon roll and the salted caramel cheesecake. Song said that there was definitely a learning curve in working with her pastry chef, who is Taiwanese and has never traveled to the US, to create authentic flavors and textures with rounds of recipe testing without having tasted the real thing. Considering the differences the palate between Asian desserts and American desserts, the results are pretty amazing, as all the desserts I tried were on point. 



Cutting open the salted caramel cheesecake, I could already tell I would like it. Not as dense and firm as NY cheesecake (and less cakey than the Japanese style cheesecake that is popular in Taipei), Heritage Bakery's cheesecake is more melt-in-your-mouth creamy and smooth, as a result of being made from cream cheese, marscapone and sour cream. Perfection with the sweet caramel swirls and touch of salt to balance the sweetness. 


And the cinnamon bun tasted as good as it looks. My fork easily cut apart each layer, which was moist, fluffy and pleasurable with a sticky finish from the caramelized sugars and cinnamon coating. I've tried my share of cinnamon rolls in Taipei (Fly's Kitchen, Mia Cucina, IKEA, Original Bakery, Bonjour Bakery, La Petite Pearl to name a few) and this one is the closest I've had yet to my Cinnabon cravings.  My only regret is that I didn't pick up a few extra to share and eat in the morning for breakfast. Don't make my same mistake.



Balsamic strawberry chocolate tart 


Guava Delight (NT$150)


Passionfruit meringue (NT$180)


Good Ol' Carrot Cake (NT$150)


Even though Heritage has been open for only a few months, Song has ideas about the bakery's space for the future- hoping to bring other bakeries or chefs for pop-ups in Taipei, since the bakery is only open during the day time and she has a full kitchen on the third floor. Until then, I will be happy to come back to try out the other delicious desserts one by one, or maybe one of their beer and dessert pairings. Heritage Bakery is worth the trek to Hankou Street, near Taipei Main Station and Ximen areas.



Wednesday, March 15, 2017

mexican: JUANITA BURRITOS AND BAR



JUANITA BURRITOS AND BAR
No. 307 XinYi Road, Sec. 4
信義路四段307號
(02) 2703-5775

MRT: XinYi/AnHe


hours: 11:30AM - 6PM

$$ cash only

kid friendliness: leather seats and barstools in a bar, don't know there are rules against kids being in bars in Taipei?

visit reviewed: 2/23/2017
previous review: 9/2012


[TAIPEI] So quite a few of you were very excited when I posted on Instagram about Juanita's being "back," when I first spotted it on Ubereats a few months ago. It IS back, but as a pop-up of sorts, taking over the menu and space at Digout Bar on Xinyi Road only during the daytime hours. The strategy to save costs on both businesses bringing an unexpected ambiance to your tacos and burritos. So when you are walking around looking for Juanita, you actually need to look for these Digout signs instead (a couple doors down from Tai Ho Dien). Be sure to go before 6PM, since it turns into a pumpkin, I mean back into a bar then. I wonder if they still offer nachos or finger foods at night. 


The door is here- you have to slide it open. At first, I wasn't sure, so I thought I would point that out. 



Juanita first opened in 2012 and was closely modeled after Chipotle which made a lot of people happy until they closed in 2015. The sign from their original store made it to the new location, explaining the basics to the Taiwanese would-be customers who don't know a burrito from a taco. Haha!




The menu offers up burritos, burrito bowl, tacos, chili cheese fries, quesadillas or nachos, as well as sangria and cocktails, since it is in a bar. Vegetarian options are available as well. I was a bit disappointed to see that there was no barbacoa option since that was my favorite thing from Juanita and something that would be more difficult to make at home.





We ended up getting a burrito bowl, chicken quesadilla and a couple tacos. 


The chicken quesadilla (NT$230) was good, plenty of cheese and side of guac. But something one could easily do at home or find at other restaurants. 




My friend was happy with her steak burrito bowl (NT$190)


Note that the rice is "cilantro lime" rice instead of Mexican rice, same as their old location, but looks kind of like white rice to me. Now that the chicken chipotle bowl from Sugar Pea is available in Taipei, this can't compare.


And the tacos (NT$70-75). The tacos are probably the only thing I wouldn't order again. They weren't very hot and the flour tortillas were a bit thick and the toppings skimpy and bland. In retrospect, maybe I should have tried the burrito instead of the tacos, but when I asked the server if the taco tortillas were corn, she said yes. I think she misunderstood me and thought I was asking for corn salsa in the tacos? In the end, I would have rather spent my money and calories on fish tacos from Macho Tacos instead or stuck to making my own.


So those of you who were fans of Juanita while it was around can give it a try. But those looking for LA style dollar tacos will still have to keep looking. If you find it, please let me know!

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