No.308, Minsheng W. Rd.,
Datong District, Taipei
kid friendliness: high chairs available, very friendly service
visit reviewed: 4/29/2006
The red and gold sign at the entrance as well as the menu inform customers that Bolero opened in 1934 and was the first Western style restaurant in Taipei. My grandmother invited me to lunch here because my grandfather used to enjoy the Set "A" dinner course when he was younger and bring her and the family here.
We are seated upstairs where at first it's quiet and empty, but as the lunch hour progresses, lots of families and couples fill up the tables. The interior features interesting sculptures and different artwork and textures on the walls. Hot buttery rolls on the table are devoured quickly. The English and Chinese menu has an introductory story about the restaurant and features a few set courses, soups, poultry, meats, seafood, some pastas, even some curry. I order the "Lobster and Steak" set course (NT$900) which includes a starter appetizer salad, soup, lobster and steak, a mysterious orange cocktail, and coffee/tea.
The appetizer salad is a interesting combination of various meats and vegetables topped with mayo. After slowly sampling the plate, I enjoy the abalone, the asparagus and the potato salad that is hidden underneath.
The soup is a watery cream of abalone soup, which has chunks of abalone but a unmemorable taste with its semi-watery, semi-creamy texture. The black pepper on the table helps a little bit, but not much.
The baked half lobster is a decent size, but it turns out to be pretty dry and bland, perhaps baked a little too long. You know when you eat really good lobster and you feel that satisfaction of chewing- it's juicy and tender. This wasn't it. It was a bit rubbery and tough with rubbery cheese on top. The cheese gratin on top seems to be lacking seasoning and after sampling my aunt's baked jumbo shrimp- I think that perhaps that set course is a better deal at NT$800 as it is a little bit more flavorful and tender than the lobster. The plate also comes with a small side of a strange combination of asaparagus and fruit cocktail.
By this time, the large party complete with kids and babies next to us are getting their meals- and it seems like everyone has ordered huge steaks on the hot plate. I can hear it sizzling and everyone digging in with their forks and knives. I'm getting excited about my steak part of the meal. When it does, I grumble to myself a little bit at the size- it's tiny compared to the steaks that the other tables have ordered because mine is part of the combination set course, but at least it still has the macaroni pasta on the side.
Unfortunately, the steak is just mushy. I don't know what it is about it- maybe the cut of the steak or the rareness? But I don't recall having steak typically so soft. The macaroni is bland too- not much cream or cheese, and it's cooked so the pasta is very soft.
I'm confused after eating my meal. Isn't the set course combination supposed to feature the 'best of' what the restaurant has to offer? Is the steak at the other table mushy too or is that the way that Taiwanese people like steak or is just the steak that is part of the combo? Did I just order the wrong thing? My samples of my friends' dishes are actually tasty- a huge pig's knuckle that is tender and crispy and the sauteed fish that is also tender and tastier than it looks. The restaurant is very busy at this point, so they obviously have maintained an audience since being established so long ago. Or is it simply, as the menu states, a place that people bring back their grandchildren and great grandchildren?
The meal ends with a choice of coffee or tea and some mochi almond tofu. I had a pleasant time with my family and I'm glad to have visited one of my grandfather's favorite restaurants, but I probably would not return on my own. If I did, I'd probably order the pig's knuckle and stay away from the set course or the shellfish. It's kind of cool to see a restaurant that has been around for so long and was probably very popular for Western food in Taipei when there weren't that many selections back then. But now with a plethora of American or Italian restaurants around to choose from, this restaurant seems like a place to visit only for nostalgia's sake.
P.S. Here is a Taipei Times article about Bolero suggesting a similar sentiment.
P.S.S. down the street, a few blocks away, we had some delicious shaved ice. They also have do-hwa/soy tofu there. They use brown sugar as a syrup which gives it an interesting caramelized taste.