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Monday, November 23, 2009
japanese/sushi: i recommend NIU SUSHI
No.150, Xin Sheng N Road, Sec 1,
MRT: Zhong Shan
hours: 5:30pm-12am Open only evenings. advance reservations strongly suggested
Kid friendliness: tight space, no high chairs spotted. mostly sushi bar seating, with only a few small tables
Visit reviewed: 10/20/2009
I'm pretty proud of myself. Somehow, I've slowly managed to try almost all the places that won the 2008 reader's poll that I had never eaten at before.... Flavors, Chicago Pizza Factory, now Niu Sushi, which won for Best Sushi/Sashimi. I think I only have Tutto Bello and Lao Zhang left. And speaking of the reader's poll, it's almost that time of year again- I'm going to be drafting up this year's categories, so start thinking about who you're going to vote for!
So back to Niu Sushi... It's located around the corner of Nanjing East Road on a row of restaurants, with a huge neon sign with "niu" or the Chinese character for cow to let you know you're at the right place.
Once inside, you know you're at the right place, as the sushi bar takes up most of the room. Make sure you make reservations as it's a popular place and the sushi bar sits about 22 people, with some table seating on both sides. A sushi bar seat will take you face to face with the sushi chef, and you can get up close to the fresh sashimi at the counter or on the left side, with the tank of shrimp and mussels that you might be eating for dinner.
I'm happy at the table on the right side and the air conditioning is a bit strong, so the waitress kindly offers me a pashmina to wrap my shoulders when she's turned down the AC a little and it's still cold. We haven't even ordered yet, and I already have a good feeling about the place.
The menu is in Chinese, but instead of ordering ala carte, you should put yourself in the chef's hands and order omakase or chef's choice. The prices range from NT$1000-NT$4500, so we end up trying the NT$3000. If we're going to splurge, let's splurge. Some of the pictures below are one person portions, some are two, as some of the nigiri and sashimi, they bring out a pair, one piece for each person.
First course- uni and monkfish liver (for one)
The first dish comes out rather quickly and I'm excited! It's one of my favorites- uni- and there's a whole mini-pile of the sea urchin, and on the right, I think monkfish liver. Both were slightly sweet and melt in your mouth, sort of like a foie gras of the sea. The creamy liver is slightly fishier than the uni, but was offset with a nice ponzu soy sauce that had a citrus touch. There's a bed of slippery seaweed underneath the liver and though it was a bit slimy, the viscous texture created a new sensation for my mouth.
This is one of my favorite courses of the night.
Second course- sashimi platter (for two)
The waitress explains that some of the sashimi is specially selected from a rarer kind of salmon, but to a casual sashimi eater like me, it tastes sort of the same as regular salmon. The waitress also notes that the roe on top are from the sweet shrimp. I do enjoy the seared sashimi and I love sweet shrimp. I'm not crazy about toro- it's a bit too fatty and rich for me, so I give my piece to my date.
Third course- Bluefin tuna handroll (for one)
Okay, now is where it starts to get a little fuzzy. Sometimes the waitress would announce what it was when she delivered it, sometimes she didn't. I couldn't really hear her when she did, and when we asked a few times what things were, I wasn't entirely sure- since she spoke in Chinese and I don't know a lot of the Chinese names for things that are less familiar to me. So if anyone can ID what we ate, I'd be happy to learn!
We are not sure what this is- we thought it was a tuna roll, but I'm not crazy about it. After a bite, I also give this to my dinner partner.
Fourth course- roasted heads of sweet shrimp (for two)
The heads are bigger than I've seen before and I get a little bit of the shrimp's brains out. Imitating my friend, I chew on a few of the crispy bits, but they are kind of tough. Of course, this is a bonus course from the sweet shrimp in the sashimi, so you don't have to eat it if you don't like shrimp heads.
Fifth course- nigiri
This was good, slightly warm with a slight chewy, fattiness.
Sixth course- abalone soup (for one)
Large pieces of abalone that were either steamed or cooked in a broth. Chewy and filling, while the broth tasted like the daikon oden soup.
Seventh course- grilled scallops with shiso leaf (for two)
The scallops weren't as melt in your mouth as I would have liked, and the seaweed was soft rather than crispy. I was still working on my abalone when I ate this.
Eighth course- nigiri (for two)
I liked the warm seared nigiri though my date thought that his previous visit to Niu Sushi was better (with a cheaper set). Perhaps it's because he sat at the sushi bar and could eat it right away, or the chef noticed what he liked or didn't like and could adjust what he gave.
Ninth course- seared beef (for one)
This was another one of my favorites. The two seared pieces of beef were pretty bloody on the inside, but it was good. Sometimes a few bites of good beef are better than a big steak that's overdone or not high quality.
Tenth course- half lobster in shell (for one)
I love lobster, but unfortunately, this baked lobster was a bit overdone and dry. The meat came out easily with the fork and after eating it I was starting to feel a little full.
Eleventh course- nigiri (for two)
Nearly translucent texture to the fish, the nigiri was again fresh and a mystery to me what I was eating.
Twelfth course- mystery ball(for one)
I wasn't crazy about this dish- it had a slightly tough texture and soft filling. It didn't taste like anything I had eaten before and I didn't finish it.
So one of the cons of not knowing what you're eating, is eating it and finding out later what it is. While I half joked that we were probably eating some testes with the shape and texture of this next spoonful... after some googling I found a site in Chinese that had the same dish. I cut and paste the Chinese into Google Reader and it said "Globefish Shirako (Swim Bladder)" and after googling "shirako" and "globefish" it turns out I was pretty much right. Not only was it male sperm sac of a fish, but a pufferfish!
Thirteenth course- stirfried veggies
Solid stir fried vegetables, this was really good. Crunchy, fragrant and the right texture.
Fourteeth course- clam soup
By this time, I'm getting quite full. I think I ate the clams, but the soup was too gingery.
Fifteenth course- crab legs (for two)
What?! Crab legs?
I thought the soup was the last course and I wasn't mentally prepared for another course, so I'm a little too lazy to really dig into the crab legs and all the intricate shells. I get as much meat as I can out, but it's not super sweet so I'm not putting in the effort and I'm wisting for something easier...
So we request more scallop.
Sixteenth course- seared scallops
Now this is what I was wanting... If there were more courses like this, then the sushi chef would have been a mind reader. I think if I ever came back, or for first time visitors, you should start with a cheaper course around NT$1500 because I think the more expensive courses just get loaded with grilled/hot dishes that aren't really worth the price if you are just looking for sashimi.
Seventeenth course- honeydew and mung bean soup
Yay! We're finally done. It's been a long night and time to go home. I'm full, but indulge in the mung bean dessert soup and ultra-sweet honeydew melon. I can check another sushi place off the list, and the 2008 winner no less. After trying it, I can't say it's the best that I've had in Taipei, but it's definitely worth a try.
Speaking of the readers' poll, I'll find some time to set it up and so get your votes ready!