Wednesday, April 28, 2010

burgers/western: i recommend HALEAKALA

at Bellavita, 4 FL
28 Songren Road

hours: SUN- THURS 10am to 10pm;
FRI/SAT 10am - 10:30pm closes at 10:30pm


Kid friendliness: no high chairs spotted, but two different sitting areas.

Visit reviewed: 3/4/2010 and 3/9/2010

Anytime I hear about a new cuisine hitting Taipei, I wonder how it will be executed, how it will do, and most importantly, how will it taste? So when I heard from a reader that there would be a Hawaiian restaurant in Bellavita, I thought it was an unusual choice. But after visiting Haleakala, one realizes that the restaurant is no more Hawaiian than L'Atelier Robuchon.

Sure there's a wanna-be tiki bar and a floral theme on the menu.

But there's no poi or spam or loco moco or even chicken teriyaki here- the menu is about mini-burgers with waffle fries, burritos, quesadillas, lettuce wraps, and appetizers like Hoisin Duck Tortilla Crisp, Satay, Chicken Katsu or Beef Curry Samosas.

But don't get too excited about the "burrito" as stated on the menu, they are actually cold mini-wraps with options like chicken or tuna salad with egg (NT$240). Go with the garlic shrimp for your best bet and don't bother with the stale chips.

The cozy sofa like seating is in the main restaurant area, or you can sit outside near the escalators for more room if it's crowded. But two out of the three times I went, it was fairly empty, or let's say, private.

And once you get over your disappointment that it's not Hawaiian food, the fare at Haleakala is actually not bad. The mini burgers come in pairs and with crispy waffle fries, and have fun names like "Maui" (with guacamole and sauteed onions), "Malibu" (with bacon and cheese), or "Sunset" (with bbq sauce and bacon) that had no relation to the toppings. Vegetarian burger options are also available.

I got the "Hula" (NT$240) which came with sauteed mushrooms and cheese, along with the requisite lettuce, tomato and pickles.

The buns were nicely toasted and buttery and didn't overpower the beef patty, which held its own as a rotund, juicy centerpiece. My friend who ordered the chicken "burrito" wrap against my recommendation kept trying to give me half of her wrap in exchange for one of my burgers. After I gave in, she agreed that the burgers are definitely the way to order.

The waffle fries reminded me of my high school days and Carl's Jr, but when I snapped back to the present, I was wishing that they'd throw in a few more.

The burger dish alone is probably not enough to fill hearty appetites, so the prices can add up if you order a few other appetizers or salads. We had ordered a Macademia Chicken Caesar Salad (NT$280) to share. The portions here are definitely on the small side for the prices. The Caesar was better than the fried chicken on a skewer.

The onion rings are also decent, but unmemorable- not like those fat, deep fried rings you'd get at any burger place with crispy fresh onions inside.

There are sets available for lunch and dinner for about NT$480, but it's more worth it at dinnertime as it comes with an alcoholic drink then.

Also note that while the dinner set come with appetizers that they are fairly bite-sized and it comes with only one mini-burger instead of two.

The lone Hula burger, mini-sized calamari and lettuce wrap left me wanting more, so I drowned my hunger in my kiwi mojito and panna cotta instead.

Haleakala reminded me of Islands, the Hawaiian themed burger chain in the states, but morphed as a less greasy, more upscale fusion version. A hip place to meet for drinks or burgers, especially if you don't want to wait in the weekend lines at Chili's or want to have a little oasis for a meal with a tropical drink, even if there's no spam musubi.

Monday, April 26, 2010

dessert/afternoon tea: i recommend PATISSERIE SADAHARU AOKI PARIS

at Bellavita, B2
No. 28, Song Ren Road
(02) 8729-2759

MRT: Taipei City Hall


hours: SUN- THURS 11 AM- 10 PM
FRI/SAT 11 AM- 10:30PM


Kid friendliness: colorful but expensive treats. small area to sit for afternoon tea

Visit reviewed:

I'd spotted the sleek, white mini-shops of Patisserie Sadaharu Aoki Paris before at the corners of various malls in Taipei with the dozens of colorful macarons under glass counters, but the price tags stopped me from sampling. Macarons are pretty, but the thought of paying that much for one bite of sugar always made me hesitant.

But when food je t'aime suggested meeting at their new sit down location at Bellavita for afternoon tea, it gave me an excuse to finally try what I'd been hearing about for so long. A cake sampler degustation sounded quite tempting.

At the Bellavita location, there are about four to five small tables for afternoon tea'ers to sit and sip, but we didn't have a problem grabbing a seat on a friday afternoon.

The menu reminded me of a blank canvas to the colorful palettes that are echoed in throughout Chef Aoki's world-

the Bonbon Maquillage ("makeup chocolates") (NT$1080 for 12)- vividly colored chocolates that could be mistaken for pastels in a box or colors from a MAC makeup kit...

the rainbow colored rows of macarons and cakes flavored with traditional or Asian infused flavors...

or the emerald green matcha that was prevalent in the desserts and even drinks that could be made into a cold matcha au lait glace. The flavor was quite strong and sweet that wasn't balanced out by the milk, and I wished I'd ordered a regular latte about two sips in.

The illustration of the Verrine Bamboo (NT$340) also piqued our curiosity, which looked almost like one of those self-sustaining ecosystems or an Earth Day themed dessert.

When it came, we oohed and aahed at the super-Smores in a cup with a Japanese twist...

But it had too much going on and was too sweet for me. There was marshmallow-like creme, thick bite-sized graham cracker type squares, azuki red bean, green tea ice cream, after eating the chocolate cookie on top. I think if some of the flavors were not as sweet, then it could balance out, but with all the elements being so intensely sugary, it became a tad overkill.

For the same price range, get the Degustation (NT$380) instead. Six mini-portions of cakes that are actually enough to share between two- a sampler plate that is perfect for the indecisive.

Each bite had a distinct punch- sesame, green tea and chocolate, hazelnut and caramel- and all were quite sweet again, but at least I felt like I had gotten more my money's worth with this dish.

Patisserie Sadaharu Aoki Paris only has seven shops in the world- the others are in Tokyo and Paris. So the Taipei shop might draw visitors who want a taste of the French/Japanese creative confections with flavors like sesame, citron, matcha, caramel, wasabi or yuzu. I've also sampled a bite of the Bonbon Maquillage which was given to a friend of mine and it was a heavenly bite of ganache- I'd happily accept a box of those (or macarons) as a gift over Godiva anyday.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

my kitchen: chocolate cupcakes

I have yet to find any cupcakes in Taipei that I like better than the ones that come out of my own oven. Granted it's from a box and frosted out of a can, but I love playing with piping the frosting and making it look fancy. It's actually super easy to do once you have the right tools (I picked up a Wilton 12 Piece Cupcake Decorating Set from City Super at Fuxing Sogo). Look at the difference almost four years makes- my cupcakes from 2006.

Next time I might try sprinkling a teeny bit of sea salt on top and seeing if it tastes as good as sea salt chocolate bars.

Monday, April 19, 2010

mall/foodcourt: i recommend BELLAVITA

No. 28, Song Ren Road

MRT stop: Taipei City Hall

website: Chinese only (there is an English option on the front page, but is not clickable yet)


Kid friendliness: posher than most food courts, no high chairs spotted

Visit reviewed: 2/26/2010

Since 101 sprung up in 2004, a forest of shopping malls have proliferated in its shadow in the Xinyi area. I moved back to Taipei about the same time, so I have witnessed the changes and growth in the area. There's Warner/Viewshow Theaters, NY NY, Shin Kong Mitsukoshi x4, Eslite Bookstore, and most recently, Bellavita.

Said to be inspired by the European architecture and style while the founders were visiting Milan, Bellavita is striking from the inside as well with its grand skylight dome overhead.

Where there are malls, there are mall food courts. And as Bellavita is the fanciest mall to spring up, so is its food court- it's so fancy, it's not even called a food court.

Instead it's dubbed a gourmet food hall- it includes an oyster bar, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Fat Angelo's, Habibi Cafe, Cosmopolitan Steak and Grill, patisserie Sadaharu AOKI, gelato, a vegetarian deli and more.

Unlike a typical food court, where you order and get your food and sit in a common area with your dining companions, this one is more like mini restaurants on one floor.
There's no plastic bowls of unagi-dons here.

At 11:30am, we circled around a couple times in virtual emptiness. Did people not know there was a food court open here yet? Was this a bad sign, we thought?

At first glance, you'd have to pick the same cuisine as your friends (which defeats one of the advantages of the diversity of a food court). But if you want hummus and they want sashimi, then go to We Share Everything. Disguised as a restaurant complete with a menu, it's actually the common area for the food hall. You can sit down, order from the extensive menu that includes most of the dining areas in the hall and have a waiter fetch and serve your food for a service fee instead of bringing back the tray yourself. Were you ever annoyed that you didn't get water at a food court? Then you'll be happily at home here where water is poured in glasses for you.

I ordered hummus and moussaka from Habibi and my friends ordered a sashimi bowl and noodles.

At first glance, I was a little miffed at the size of my hummus for the price (NT$200). Sababa had spoiled me, I suppose. The hummus was creamy though it lacked a slight sweetness and the pita was airy and warm.

Then came my moussaka with eggplant (NT$380)- the first and only time I had eaten it was in Chicago about 10 years ago. I don't know what compelled me to order it over the recommended grilled chicken skewers. I guess I wanted to really test Habibi Cafe and see if it was going to be good.

Unfortunately, it wasn't what I remembered. I was expecting more of an eggplant lasagna, but this seemed more like a shepherd's pie, with lots of mashed potatoes atop and minced lamb underneath. I barely found any eggplant and it was kind of lukewarm and greasy. Even though I shared, my friends politely said no after one bite and we probably left about 2/3 of the dish on the plate.

Even more unfortunately, the waiter didn't really care either as when we asked him to take the plate away and said that it wasn't good, he didn't really respond.

Luckily, my friend's bowl of lu shi mian pork noodles (NT$210) were delicious with springy, chubby noodles and tender pork.

My friend who ordered the sashimi bowl (NT$980) and I were still hungry after our orders that we ordered another bowl of noodles to share. She didn't like how most of the pieces of sashimi still had skin on them and some of the fresh didn't seem optimally fresh. She would have been better off with a lunch set from Ton 28 or elsewhere.

Isn't it funny that you can travel the world in a gourmet food court, but the most delicious thing is still a bowl of noodles?

Definitely expensive mistakes for lunch, but there's definitely a lot more to explore.

There's sweets galore for the dessert lovers- gelato, chocolates, macarons, cakes and breads.

I recommend the olive foccacia from Elite Bakery and the chocolate with sea salt bar from Cacao et Chocolat. A bar of chocolate for NT$400- extravagant I know, but a good gift for the chocolate lover in your life. (Ask for a sample to make sure you get the right one!)

Even more decadent and insane to imagine is this gold cake at Elite Bakery- that sells for NT$4800 (about US$150). The entire chocolate cake is covered in gold leaf foil.

I can't imagine the look of shock and confusion that crossed my face when I saw the cake and the ridiculous price tag. Who buys that kind of cake for that kind of price? And what happens when no one buys it for that day? It makes the NT$700 cakes seem like a steal at that point.

But I suppose that's the fun in exploring Bellavita- it doesn't cost anything to browse the pretty things in the pretty atmosphere. When it first opened, there were tons of couples taking photos in front of the fountains at the entrance. Even the shops inside are yet to be fully opened, and those that are there I'd only window shop.

Luckily there are other delicious meals to be found elsewhere in Bellavita- there are quite a few restaurant/bars on the other floors- Ton 28, Haleakala, Beata te, Salon & L'Atelier Robuchon and a3 bar.

The first time I got excited about Bellavita was when I heard it was going to be home to the first Michelin starred chef restaurant in Taiwan- L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon. And though I haven't been yet to try the 8 course NT$6000 (or 4 course NT$2600 for lunch) gastronomic heaven meal, I've been saving up a visit for a special occasion. Before that I might visit the more casual Salon de The de Robuchon.

So that's a quick walk through the beautiful life that is Bellavita. Though it took me a few months to visit Bellavita, I did some catching up the last month, so I'll have some more posts coming up the next few weeks showing Haleakala and patisserie Sadaharu AOKI in their own posts.