Tuesday, June 30, 2009

not taipei/hakka: i recommend LAO DI FANG

or "The Old Place"
No. 489, Yuan Lin Road, Sec 1
Ta Shi, Taoyuan County

(03) 390-6863


Kid friendliness: high chairs available

Visit reviewed: 6/21/2009

A few weekends ago, I went on a road trip with a ton of relatives and family friends. The kind where you sit on a bus and listen to them karaoke to pass the time (whether or not you want to). The kind where you end up in other parts of Taiwan and you have no idea how to blog about where it is or how you'd get there. The kind where the day ends with a family dinner where the relatives do the ordering, you never get to see the menu and then huge platter after platter of food come out until you have no idea where the next plate will go.

We went up and down some mountain to take a bunch of pictures and then ended up in Ta Shi at Lao Di Fang, a Hakka or "Ke Jia" restaurant that was bustling with families chowing down. The food arrived as soon as we sat down (might have been a pre-order by my aunt or the tour guide) and never stopped. Mostly everything was good, though some dishes were more oily or salty than we might be used to.

In case you're curious, Brian Webb does a great job explaining in a summary about Taiwan's 3 ethnic groups: Aboriginal, Hakka, Hoklo, and Immigrant.

My favorites were the

stir fried rice noodle

vegetables with thousand year old egg

and tofu with vegetables pot.

Also pretty good was the oysters

and chicken

and eggplant.

Surprisingly, I didn't like the Hakka stewed pork belly over simmered preserved mustard greens (similar to "gua bao" when put into steamed buns) and the soup with the "tang yuan" (or rice balls). I'm used to having the "tang yuan" over shaved ice, so I couldn't get used to it in a salty soup, especially the pink ones. The Hakka pork and mustard greens were too salty for me and I missed the Taiwanese version with the condiments of the ground peanuts/sugar powder and cilantro to balance out the flavors.

Also, it didn't help that these dishes arrived at the end- the shredded "si gua" or loofah and the Hakka stir fried squid. Too stuffed to try it.

I don't think this was my first time having Hakka food, but I'm definitely not familiar with it. But send some huge hot fragrant plates of Chinese food to our table, and we're happy customers. Especially after a long day on the bus. Any big fans of Hakka food? Any recs for inside Taipei city?

Friday, June 26, 2009

snapshot/coffee: STARBUCKS coffee jelly frapp

I like that Starbucks Taiwan is willing to experiment. I think I even saw this last year or the year before and thought that I should give it a try. I thought I'd just walk in and drool over the chocolate muffin and enjoy some AC and walk out, but the sign caught my eye and before you know it, I'm ordering a Caramel Coffee Jelly Latte Frappuccino.

Yes, I said, Caramel Coffee Jelly Latte Frappuccino. Dude, if you are going to have a calorie bomb, you gotta go all the way.

But I immediately regretted getting it after I took my first sip. I think I'm so used to the chewy Q consistency of boba, I felt that the coffee jelly didn't have any spring in its step. It was a bit flavorless and lost in the icy snowstorm of my Caramel Coffee Jelly Latte Frappuccino. I think if the coffee jelly was a bit stronger in flavor, it's a good concept. After all, I'm a huge fan of the coffee jelly topped with coffee ice cream dessert from Sawtelle Kitchen, and this is pretty much the same thing, but blended.

But for the price of one frapp- NT$150- I can get three "Yuan Qi Q Nai" and chew on brown sugared boba to my heart's content.

This hasn't hit the states yet, has it?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

hotpot/organic: QI-MIN ORGANIC HOTPOT

CLOSED! a/o 2013

128, Zhongxiao E Rd Sec 4, 2 FL
(02) 2772-5123

MRT: Zhong Xiao/Dun Hua

website: qi-min.com

hours: lunch: 11:30am to 2:30pm
dinner: 5:30pm to 10:30pm


Kid friendliness: spotted an older kid there. roomy but calm atmosphere

Visit reviewed: 6/2/2009

If you're crazy about organic foods and don't mind paying a premium for it, then Qi-Min Organic Hotpot is the place for you. I had passed by Qimin many, many times, but always thought it was too pricey to eat at. My friend wanted to check it one day while craving hot pot, so we agreed to go.

A lone menu and staircase is the only sign that there's a restaurant upstairs. Before you get to the actual restaurant, there is a room with display cases of their organic goods, as they also have a home delivery service of meats and vegetables you can use to cook with at home. Their motto is "from farm to table" which is also a movement going on in the States, eating more things grown locally.

Once you step in, the atmosphere has to be one of the most spartan and regal hot pot places I've ever seen.

Their set menu runs from NT$600- NT$2680(! for two) which includes seasonal appetizer, a choice of broth, a basket of seasonal organic greens, your main protein, a choice of two sauces, a choice of starch and vinegar disgestif and dessert. There's also an English and Chinese menu full of pictures of additional or ala carte sides you can add such as dumplings, squid balls, veggies, seafood.

I ended up choosing the Prime Beef Shortrib in the Organic Vegetable and Mushroom Broth, with Qimin and Lemongrass sauces. There's also a bonito and dashi broth or a Lushan Chicken broth.

The appetizer was delicate and stylishly presented. The bite of pork I had was good.

We chatted and waited for our water to boil. For hard core shabu-shabu'ers, you should cook the meat first and then throw in the veggies. But we were hungry, so put in some veggies first.

Once in awhile, nature sounds from a CD they played would come on the speakers. My friend was startled by the frog sounds that came out of the blue- we all giggled at her reaction.

I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of meat I got. Long sizeable slices that made for some delicious beef consumption.

I was going to get the Organic Noodles for my starch, but the picture in the menu looked like such a small amount, I got what my friend who had been here before got- the Steamed Rice with Shrimp. Good call.

The Lemongrass sauce gave the meat and vegetable a sour, citrus flavor that I haven't had with hotpot before.. double dipping it in the lemongrass and the soysauce and garlic flavor gave the right salty, fragrant kick. At Qimin Hotpot, it's quality over quantity, so I savored the food I got, instead of wolfing down everything like I usually do at all-you-can-eat shabu shabu Momo Paradise.

The lunch ended with a pumpkin pudding and plum-like vinegar drink. Both flavors I happen to dislike, so after a tiny bite and sip, I left it alone.

Would I go back? With so many hotpot options in town, probably not- there's mala spicy hotpot and the jazzier Orange hotpot if I want to splurge. Or even the mushroom overload Bai Gu Yuan, where the broth is so flavorful from the different mushrooms, it's good for even non-vegetarians. But if you've got an organic health nut friend you gotta impress, Qi-Min should do the trick.

Monday, June 22, 2009

thai/dessert: PARADISE THAI

No. 423, Rueiguang Rd.
Neihu District
(02) 8797-1686

hours: 11:30AM-2:30PM; 5:00PM-10:00PM


Kid friendliness: high chairs available

Visit reviewed: 5/31/2009

Paradise Thai is a Thai restaurant located in an office building in Dazhi/Neihu, next to a Korean BBQ restaurant. My relatives said on weekends they come here because it's less busy. But on weekdays, they go to Thai Town (in the mall) because it's less busy and easier to park. Less busy was an understatement as there was only one table at the large restaurant on a Sunday night, and after they left, it was like as if we booked the whole restaurant to ourselves.

The atmosphere was nice enough, the English and Chinese menu was extensive enough and the service was decent enough.

But unfortunately, the only reason I'd come back to Paradise Thai would be for the strawberry ice dessert. The most important part- the food- was just so-so.

The shrimp pineapple rice lacked any real flavor and was a bit on the mushy side. You had to excavate dish to find the shrimp.

The appetizers came after the main dishes. The satay was dry, but the shrimp pancake was crispy and good. I gotta give them that.

The fried chicken, on the other hand, was not crispy and made me miss the perfectly fried Thai fried chicken from Mei Hu. And their pineapple fried rice. And anything else from their menu.

The stir fried vegetables were forgettable.

And I was about to give up on the place, until my aunt declared how when she brought our cousins here they devoured the strawberry ice dessert. So we ordered a couple and it saved the meal. Condensed milk poured on large fresh strawberries soaked in syrup on crushed ice.

Crunch, crunch, crunch. It tasted as good as it looks. Perfect for a hot summer night. If you're in the area, just stop by for the dessert. Otherwise stick to your favorite neighborhood Thai place, or you'd probably be disappointed.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009


CLOSED! a/o 2011

No. 42, Chung Shan North Road, Sec. 7,
(02) 2874-1366

website: elgallotw.com

hours: M-F 11:30 AM to 3 PM; 5:30 PM to 10PM
Sat/Sun 11AM to 3PM; 5PM to 11PM


Kid friendliness: high chairs and kid menus available.

Visit reviewed: 11/2/2008

Any time I hear about a new Mexican restaurant in town, I think to myself, nah, can't be good, don't want to get my hopes up. Then I drool over any decent review, forums about good experiences, pictures and the more time passes, I think the more my expectations build and get too high. It took me awhile to get to El Gallo from when I first heard about it, as it's in Tianmu which is far for me, and took me awhile to write up and post this review (from when I first started it over 8 months ago), but I'm sure it will still be new to some of you.

El Gallo is definitely a cute, little sit down restaurant that's elegantly festive, with a decent sized English or Chinese menu that include appetizers and main dishes that are more than just tacos and burritos, with dishes like Chile Colorado Pork Stew or Chile Rellenos Stuffed Bell Peppers.

They even offer a weekend brunch.

I was extremely excited about the enchiladas, as that is one of my favorite dishes back home and the guacamole. My love and familiarity with Mexican food is from Southern California, probably starting with family dinners at neighborhood restaurant El Paso Cantina in Torrance when I was a kid with their warm crispy chips and sweet, spicy salsa- continuing to discovering places like the awesome Mexican/Salvadorian Gloria's Cafe on Venice. In LA, often you get huge hot plates with pools of refried beans and rice almost overwhelming the enchiladas or chimichangas.

I've been to hole in the walls, taco stands, sit down family restaurants and chains, so I'm open to the variations that exist. With El Gallo having a Mexican chef/owner, I thought I'd have something that reminded me of home. But then a number of "different than my expectations" happened.

"Different than my expectations" number one was when the guacamole (NT$150) came and we tasted it, we could tell it was made with Taiwan avocados (which was confirmed when I asked the waitress). Taiwan avocados are just more stringy and less sweet and creamy than Haas avocados. While I know that Haas avocados are expensive here and not always in season, if I'm paying NT$150 for a tiny bowl of guacamole, then I want the real deal, or don't serve it. Or at least the waitress to ask "it's made with Taiwan avocados, is that ok?" But it was my fault for not asking.

"Different than my expectations" number two was that when the carnitas (NT$450) (or roasted pork) came they weren't spiced, browned and shredded. The flavors of the dish was very light. But this wasn't a big deal- it was still tender and nothing a little salsa couldn't fix.

But "different than my expectations" number three when I bit into my enchiladas (NT$380) was the deal-breaker. The texture of the corn tortillas was chewy rather than soft and the sauce was like a thick salsa and I realized that the dish wasn't piping hot and it wasn't baked.

And wait, there wasn't any melted cheese anywhere.

I took a few more bites to convince myself that it had just been too long since I had an enchilada, but the textures, flavors and elements just didn't add up to be what I was craving. I even asked "aren't enchiladas usually baked?" and they said "no, they were pan fried and then served with sauce."

Huh. I've never had them not baked.

That night, I googled up a storm, extremely confused and I guess in some parts of Mexico that that IS how enchiladas are served? So perhaps El Gallo is a bit too authentic for me and people who are expecting Mexican American versions of Mexican food. Maybe it's sort of like people who come back to Taiwan and wonder where their favorite neighborhood Chinese restaurant's beef and broccoli or moo shu pork went? Even if we eat the original versions, our favorites are the incarnations that we've grown to love, a sort of comfort food that reminds us of home.

After that, I was a bit too disappointed to enjoy the rest of the food, which was decent, but I had really hoped for baked, cheesy enchiladas to eat. I think I might have been okay if I had ordered a burrito or tacos, as their rice and beans were not bad, although sort of randomly served. Some dishes, like mine, came with both. Others came with only one or the other.

There was a very spicy shrimp dish or Camarones a la Diabla... (NT$380)

and chicken fajitas (NT$450)...

and a kid's meal which had 1/2 a quesadilla and rice...

and a strawberry margarita.

If I lived in the neighborhood, I'd definitely give them some more tries with other items on the menu, like the Carnitas Tamales or the Mexico City Steak, and I think they have a weekday lunch special, but they are just too far for me to make the trek without a special occasion.