Saturday, December 30, 2006

CLOSED/french: i strongly recommend PAPILLON

at San Want Hotel
No. 172, ZhongXiao East Rd, Sec. 4
(02) 2781-7063
(no longer a french restaurant)

Breakfast 6:30-9:30 am
Lunch 11:30 am-2 pm
Teatime 2:30-5 pm
Dinner 6-9:30 pm



date visited: 12/25/2006

I didn't know what to expect since I had never heard much about PAPILLON, but I was pleasantly surprised- even amazed by the beautiful presentation and exquisite tastes of dinner that night. I had been invited along on a company dinner to sample a set dinner menu for the PARIS Je'TAIME film, which turned into a lovely quiet holiday celebration.

Located in the back of the lobby past the elevators of the San Want Hotel, the entrance is very unassuming and we were seating in a large elegant private room. The private rooms are for set menus only, while they have ala carte and buffet options outside. Papillon also services the all day buffet which has an entrance on the right front hand side of the hotel lobby.

They started us off with a cheese wonton that has served warm and crispy with a soft cheesy center, which whetted our appetites.

The experience was everything a fancy French restaurant should be- decadent, romantic, beautifully presented, mouth-watering and good service. Each dish had a combination of textures- soft and crunchy, sometimes sweet and salty. The sighs of happiness could be heard around the table.

The appetizer was a plate of mini-bites of seafood and jelly. I am not a big fan of jelly, but it was so beautiful to look at. The seafood was also propped up with tiny pillows of mashed potato. The flavors were enhanced by the diced mangos and apples in the center which also provided mini-bursts of crunch and sweetness.

The tuna tartare was almost like a spicy tuna roll with a base of rice at the bottom, but without the spicy and seaweed. I didn't think I would like it, but each bite was addictive- the tenderness of the tuna with the equally soft rice and the crunch of the salad above.

The waiters then delivered to us each a slice of bread that they said was shipped in from Italy especially for the holidays.. It was a sliver of a very large loaf and some googling revealed it is probably panettone bread.

The cauliflower soup was light, creamy and again perfectly flavored- served cappuccino style. I gave my smoked salmon sliver away because I don't like smoked salmon. It would have been cool if they had served them in cappuccino cups with little handles so we could have drank the soup that way.

I can't remember the last time I had lobster THIS good. While the menu said "lobster stew," it was actually broiled and tender and sweet and flavorful. I savored every bite and chewed slowly even though it was quite a sizeable portion. The fried wonton flower that it came in was slightly sweet and weirdly, it made a great partner to the lobster and the wisps of saffron sauce.

i could probably eat way too much of this

Practically after our friend at the table mentioned that they often served a refresher before the main dish, the waiters brought out a zesty lemon sorbet scoop for us to cleanse our palates for the filet mignon.

While I definitely enjoyed the filet, it was not as hot or as rare as I would have liked it. I asked for a 5 to 6, on the scale of doneness, and I guess I should have stuck to a 5. In Taiwan, they ask you for a number, 1 being raw and 10 being well done- most of the time the waiter will recommend medium or a 5. I also might have taken too long taking pictures. The vegetables on the side were also delicious, but my favorite was the eggplant.

can i order more lobster?

While our stomaches and tastebuds were reeling from the overload of flavors and courses of the night, the desserts arrived. Again, we ate with our eyes first, and we all oohed and aahed over the prettiness and girliness of this chocolate mousse. While I love dessert and I love chocolate, I don't really care for mousse, so unfortunately, this was one of my least favorite dishes of the night. But I definitely polished off all of the handmade vanilla bean ice cream.

But it was still amazing to look at-- as far as food porn experiences go, this one was definitely lived up to its appearance- it was orgasmic tasting as it looked. I was surprised, but I guess I should have been- another restaurant in the same hotel, Sumie, has been a favorite of ours for always having beautiful and original presentation of their delicious food.

I hope my pictures captured most of the experience- it was very low "romantic" light- so I bumped my ISO up to "High," turned on my digital macro, upped the exposure and adjusted the white balance. I didn't realize until dessert that some of the pictures are a little too purple, so adjust your food porn glasses accordingly please.

So the next time you need to go out for an anniversary, birthday or celebrate something special, take a seat at Papillon. (Did I say how much I loved the lobster?) In the meanwhile, I'm definitely trying the buffet next.

Friday, December 29, 2006

CLOSED/american: i recommend CITIZEN CAIN

CLOSED a/o 2010

No. 67 Dong Fong Street
(02) 2708-4557

Sunday 11am~1am
Kitchen closes at 10:30pm

Monday-Saturday 6pm~2am
Kitchen closes at 12am


visit reviewed: 10/26/2006

toscana pizza

I had been hearing a lot about Citizen Cain for awhile before we found the time to go- maybe it was their ads in English language papers, or the mentions on other blogs or forums or their "Mexi-cain" night on Wednesdays. I even checked out their website and menu to see what looked good. Their menu focuses mainly on pastas and pizza, with a few salads, appetizers, main dishes and sides- as well as full bar of drinks, but no desserts. Some of the features are very unique from other American or Western eateries in Taipei- with items like hummus.

When I finally made it there, it was almost a last minute decision to go. My friend and I headed over first, and then called over some other friends to join us later.

We walked into a candlelit lounge-like atmosphere, with purple velvet-like sofa seating along the moody turquoise blue walls. There were both locals and foreigners, though probably more foreigners than I've seen at other places. The manager came with the menus and was quite friendly, making suggestions on what to order. We ended up taking her advice and tried the stuffed chicken (NT$370) which was stuffed with pesto and feta cheese and served with tumeric mashed potatoes and sauteed spinach. It was a lot going on on one plate- sauces, paprika, tumeric, feta... the chicken was cut in half with the feta in the middle rather than "stuffed" as stated on the menu. The flavors were strong, bordering on being too salty.

With only two salads to choose from, we initially ordered the Cain's Garden salad (NT$250), which has sliced apples slivers, grilled onions, spinach, sundried tomatoes, and a warm vinagrette, and later added the caesar salad to share. I felt the vinagrette was a bit oily and the salad wasn't really blended as a cohesive taste. The dressing for the Caesar was very lemony.

I was going to order just the Hummus, but the manager strongly suggested we get the Middle Eastern Platter (NT$290) instead which also included Hummus, baba ghanoush (roasted eggplant yogurt spread) and falafel served with olives, fresh tomatoes,tahini and pita bread. It was pretty addictive, though we needed to order another side of pita bread (NT$50) to finish all the dip. The falafel was also hot and crispy, straight out of the fryer.

The pizzas (NT$220-320) are quite tasty as well, with an assortment of different toppings. It's more oblong than round and has sesame seeds sprinkled around the crust. They are quite satisfying and disappeared fast. The toscana pizza comes with spinach, but it's chopped and topped onto the pizza, not baked in. We also added shitake mushroom to ours.

pesto di mare pizza topped with shrimp, pesto sauce, tomatoes, olives and cheddar

Prices can be very affordable, especially if you go when they feature specials on different nights- Monday is two pizzas/pastas for NT$299, Tuesday is any main dish for NT$199, Wednesday's Mexican food for NT$199, Thursday features burgers from around the world, Friday NT$100 beer specials and Mexican night again, and Sunday with NT$199 set menu NY style brunch.

While the food and the presentation is more homemade than polished, taste wise and for the price, it's definitely worth a try. It's also a great late night option for a late night snack, after a movie or a semi-romantic casual date, as they are open until 2am, with last orders placed at 12am midnight. While the bar has an extensive list of cocktails, spirits and beers, Citizen Cain doesn't serve desserts, so don't go expecting to fulfill your sweet tooth.

If I went again, I'd probably stick to the appetizers and the pizza. Another appetizer they have is the hard to find Canadian snack, poutine, which is mushroom gravy, cheddar and mozzarella cheese over french fries- I suppose a Canadian version of American chili cheese fries. I'm looking forward to trying their Mexican food and their brunch! Anyone else have any favorite dishes to recommend?

chinese: i don't recommend HWA YOUNG GOURMET AND BANQUET

(02) 2175-3888


visit reviewed: 11/18/2007

sau mai, chicken feet and shrimp balls

When the Miramar Mall or Mei Li Hwa first opened a few years ago, it was a popular destination for its shopping, movies and IMAX theater, but mostly the ferris wheel (the third largest in Asia). Families, couples and tourists waited for over an hour for a 17 minute ride in a private seat for a sky high view of Taipei. Nowadays, you can hop on the ferris wheel for less than a 10 minute wait.

While visiting Miramar, our family wanted to eat somewhere decent, but not at the food court. While checking out our options on the 5th floor, there was a 20-30 minute wait at Hwa Young which seemed packed with customers eating amidst dim sum carts, a Japanese restaurant and a steak place. We ended up putting our name on the list for Hwa Young- thinking it must be worth the wait- it must be good if that's where everyone is eating. The wait sped by as we shopped nearby and waited for our cell to ring.

The inside was booked with a wedding, so the seating was limited to the outside seating area, sort of like a patio that provided a view of the escalators and the mall. After checking out the website, apparently much of their business is offering wedding banquet services.

The extensive menu, in English and Chinese, had a lot more to choose from than I expected- lots of main dishes, dim sum options and specialty appetizers with nouveau sounding names. We stuck to dim sum with a few side dishes- kon ching tsai vegetables, fried tofu and duck.

I was excited by the first few bites of duck, but overall the dim sum was a disappointment. Partially because I expected more with the higher mall prices, but everything tasted flat and lacked the right flavors. I wouldn't go there again and I wouldn't recommend it to others.

rice noodle

The sauce inside the cha sau bao or bbq pork bun was so thick and overly sweet while the bun was dry that I couldn't finish it after one bite.

The vegetables were not bad, though the fried tofu was totally not what we expected- not the classic cubes of deep fried tofu. Instead, it was if the chef mashed the tofu into chunky bits, reformed it with some vegetables and then pan fried it. It would have been okay if it tasted good, but it didn't.

kon ching tsai

chinese broccoli

fried tofu?

I don't know if it was because they were busy making the better food for the wedding banquet, or if that is just the style of their dim sum or if we just ordered the wrong things off the menu, but I'm sure there are a lot of other better options to choose from nearby. The search continues... any recommendations?

sesame balls and puff balls

other locations

at 101 Mall
No. 45, Shih Fu Road
(02) 8101-8666

No.209, Sec. 3, Civic Blvd.,
Jhongshan District, Taipei
(02) 8772-9666 

Thursday, December 28, 2006

CLOSED/afternoon tea/dessert: SAZABY AFTERNOON TEA

as of October 2007, Sogo Dun Hua location CLOSED/REMODELING!

Sogo (Dun Nan store) B1
No. 246, Dun Hua South Rd, Sec 1

also at Taipei 101, B1


date visited: 11/28/2006 (official site)

A chain of eateries with Japanese style pastas, salads and cakes, with afternoon tea specials. You can also get the cakes to go or shop in their store which sells colorful and cute tableware, towels and random accessories. The Afternoon Tea cafe space in Dun Hua Sogo is very airy and bright with the high ceilings and windows. The space is spread out so you can enjoy your space and has high chairs for babies. I didn't get a chance to take a lot of pictures of the space because we were busy manning and feeding the three kids under the age of 3 we had in our group that day, but there is breathing room for them to eat, walk around and even lay down and sleep on the booth if lunch runs into their nap time, as it did ours.

Their pastas tasted better than these pictures look, but there are a lot of better pasta places in Taipei. The portions are good though and they have some unique options, such as the popular pink mentaiko eggs Spaghetti. The tables next to ours had three out of four orders of the pink spaghetti. The menu is in English, Japanese and Chinese and features a few salads, soups, sandwiches, pastas, and desserts, with quite a few teas, coffees and drinks, and you can get a set menu of pasta/sandwich/salad with drink and dessert for NT$299.

The cakes have never made me go "wow" since they are very light flavored with too much frosting for me, but they had a cheesecake that was not bad.

It was hard for me to find any information about the chain in English, but I've enclosed the official Japanese website as translated by Google. I don't know if there are any other locations besides the ones in 101 and Sogo Dun Hua, but I'm sure there are, as I remember spotting the Afternoon Tea shops elsewhere.

It's a good choice for a group of friends or moms or a casual lunch, with affordable prices and a nice relaxing atmosphere.

And you can even shop for new tea cups after you pay your bill.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

indian: TANDOOR

No. 10 on Lane 73, HeJiang St.
(02) 2509-9853

lunch: 12 pm-2:30 pm
dinner: 6 - 10:30 pm



date visited: 9/24/2006

Tandoor is one of the oldest Indian restaurants in Taipei. You can often find other Indian families or customers there, which is a good sign (don't go to a Chinese restaurant in LA that has no Chinese people there!). And I have had good experiences there in the past, except that I was thrown by the fact that the samosas (NT$120 for 4) are made out of won ton paper skin. They are still tasty, it's just an example of how they tweak the food here for Taiwanese customers.

On this night, we had a large group, some who had never eaten Indian food before. I was excited because then we could order a lot and share. The menu is English and Chinese and has all the usuals.

my plate: clockwise from the top- lamb korma, aloo gobi, mushroom rice, chicken curry, eggplant, chicken tikka masala

Like most of the other Indian eateries here, the portions are bit small for the price. But on this night, everything was SO spicy, even the Tandoori chicken (NT$480 full/NT$240 half), served on a sizzling plate with four pieces of thigh-legs on a bed of onions.

if my tastebuds could cry from the spiciness, they would have

I've never had Tandoori chicken that was spicy at all, much less THIS spicy. We didn't specify to the waiter about the level of heat we wanted, and he never asked-- but it seemed like either (1) we were being tested or (2) someone in the kitchen lost their tastebuds. Everything we ordered was painful to eat, I had to gulp down with lots of rice (NT$80) and naan and water- the chicken curry (NT290), chicken tikka masala (NT$350), lamb korma (NT300) and eggplant and aloo gobi. Only the rice was not killer spicy, but it was a bit dry. It's not really worth it to pay extra for the mushroom pullao rice (NT$200) since the mushrooms seem like they are canned and it doesn't taste that much different. The lamb was also a bit stringy.

I want to say this is an "off" situation because it didn't happen to me on the previous visit. So until I try it the next time, I can't offer a recommend since my tummy didn't feel well from the spiciness that night and the next day. It also made me like the flavors of Aaleja in contrast to our experience here, even after I was disappointed with their last visit.. maybe I wasn't having the best luck with Indian restaurants that month. I just couldn't enjoy the curry's flavor. So far warning- be clear about what level of heat you can handle, even if the wait staff doesn't ask you when they take your order. In addition to that misstep from our servers that night, I have to note that they are hard to wave down.

It seems that quite a few other people have had the same experience with inconsistency of their visits. It's tough since there are such few good places to eat good Indian food in Taipei- but there are few more around that I haven't tried yet, New Delhi and Ali Baba's, and even some that I've been hearing good things about- the Spice Shop. For the best value, I guess you should check it out during their weekend lunch buffet (12:00~2:30PM or 6:00~ 10:30PM) to see if it's for you. You can also check their website for different coupons each month.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

markets/chinese: i recommend NAN MEN MARKET

At Roosevelt Rd and Nan Hai Rd


date visited: 12/22/2006

To mark the beginning of winter, I guess it's a tradition to eat tang yuan or boiled round rice glutinous balls. Why? Maybe to keep your stomachs full and warm for the cold? I'm not exactly sure.. but it's tradition. If you didn't eat any last friday, then you can hurry to Nan Men Market and buy a pack to take home and boil yourself.

There are quite a few vendors that sell it, but supposedly this one is the most famous. And on this special tang yuan eating holiday, Dong Zhi, there was line and up to a 20-40 minute wait as the lady hand made each ball while customers (im)patiently waited. I've seen this phenomenon at other stores and it's amazing how antsy people will get over their mochi balls!

the line awaits

she can't make them fast enough!

After they are cooked, they almost look like mini snowballs bathing in water. Biting into a ball, you get the chewiness of the rice ball and the sweet oozing taste of the sesame or peanut or red bean paste. They make salty ones too, but I definitely prefer the sweet fillings.

from another vendor- 10 in a pack- this one has peanut paste inside

I ended up here while running errands and a local friend of mine thought it would be a good place to stop by. It''s definitely a sight to see... with lots of local foods available to purchase to take home- chinese style jerky, tang yuan or sesame or peanut filled rice balls, man toh or chinese steamed bread and buns, sausages, dried fruits, candy and even a huge array of cooked dishes like shrimp, fish, vegetables and meat.

Many of the stalls sell similar food to the others, so you just take a quick circle around before deciding on which vendor you like best.

I was intrigued by the vendor roasting their pork jerky over a hot grill and ended up buying NT$50 worth cut up into finger-licking good slices.

Taiwanese jerky is different from American jerky in that it's usually sold by weight and look like red plastic slices rather than sticks wrapped in plastic. They come in all sorts of flavors, such as black pepper, but I prefer the sweeter flavors. You can ask for a sample before you decide- generally, the vendor will cut a tiny piece for you to try.

My friend also highly recommended the vegetarian buns from this man-toh stall- they sold six buns in a bag for NT$70, as well as an array of different colored man-tohs and buns, including cha sau buns (bbq pork) and green onion bread. They also sold nien gao or rice cakes and rice cake noodles. There was even a cinnabun looking roll that the vendor said was coffee flavored.

Totally worth browsing if you have the time and the stomach for it, since you're likely to find some good deals, but most of the stuff is out in the open rather than pre-packaged or in a fridge which some people may not be used to. If you don't speak Chinese, I think the point and nod method will work here since there aren't really any English signs anywhere. The only thing is that I wished that the sesame rice balls were sold ready-to-eat, but this isn't the place for that. Ah well, I can always head over to Jiu Ru for a bowl.