Thursday, December 27, 2012

mall/chinese: i still strongly recommend TAIPEI 101

Happy holidays from Taipei! 

If you haven't been to Taipei 101 food court recently you might be surprised to find a sleeker, glossier version since a remodel a few months ago. I definitely was- all the signage has been streamlined and made shiny, there's glassware chandeliers hanging above the new black and gold seating. 

i was so surprised to see the revamp
There's a few new Japanese restaurants with its own seating in the corner near KFC where the pho and Indian place used to be. Things have been moved around a little, including the do hua shop Xiao Nan Men to the back and the addition of a new Hi Sushi and Baskin Robbins and Laetitia. Subway is gone. I guess it's appropriate as 2013 is almost here- out with the old, in with the new.

i thought my fave taiwanese dessert was gone, but it's just relocated in the back

I hope everyone has a happy and healthy new year. With all the craziness happiening recently and even though it might not feel like Christmas in Taipei, use the holidays to connect with those you care about, spread a little holiday cheer and kindness, hug your loved ones and yes, treat yourself to some good food.

i love that even Din Tai Fung is getting in on the holiday spirit, making its xiao long bao mascot even cuter.

Monday, December 17, 2012

CLOSED baking/classes: i recommend BAKE IT YOURSELF

No. 24 ChangAn W. Rd, 中山區長安西路 24 號
(02) 5811-8003

(edited 8/2016 CLOSED. you know it wasn't a good sign when they started to carry less and less perishables and things that differentiated themselves from other shops. I guess just not enough demand to sustain this shop at these prices)

MRT: Taipei Main Station

hours: 11AM - 7:30PM, Closed Sundays


Kid friendliness: lots of supplies for baking with kids, for kids

Visit reviewed: 11/1/2012

Where does one find baking supplies in Taipei? Before Bake It Yourself opened, I tried looking for baking supplies at Ikea, City Super, Jason's, Working House, Carrefour, Muji, Pantry Magic, and the Taipei International Baking Show to relative degrees of succcess. 

Even finding things like a basic cupcake pan was difficult. You can find different things in different areas, but there's no one stop shop that you'd be able to find what you could easily pick up at Target or on Amazon in the states. Until now...

Opened over a month ago, Bake It Yourself stocks pretty much anything you would need from a Wilton store. Now if you're looking for sprinkles, fondant, frosting, baking pans, or anything related to cakes, cupcakes or baking, you should be able to find it here. Just in time for holiday baking! 

Browsing the selection at BIY might be an overwhelming, but welcome sight for those who've been lugging back cupcake carriers from the states (like me) or have been wanting to experiment with things like colored fondant. The space is more practical than cute, but is very organized and easy to browse.

Just a few hundred fancy cupcake liners to choose from for birthday parties... 

A rainbow of sprinkles...

There's even a good selection of candy melts colors and lollipop sticks to make cake pops (or candy) which are slowly making their way to Taipei. I've been eyeing these since seeing Bakerella's cake pop masterpieces so many years ago.

The range of colors for gel frostings and royal icing frosting has definitely been a challenge to find before in Taipei. It's slightly pricey, but not too much more than what you'd pay in the states at the market. I actually picked one of these up and it's cool that you can attach the icing tip directly to the bottle for a no-mess project.

All the sugar cake toppers were very cute and it's crazy how varied they were.. Do people need fish and butterfly toppers? 

My favorites were these cupcakes...

Downstairs, Bake It Yourself had the basic pans- cookie, cupcakes, brownies, bundt- as well as more elaborate ones that had shapes to eventually mold or frost to your fancy. Star, heart, flower, square, round, even ice cream and popsicle shaped. There's also plenty of tools like spatulas and other baking utensils, like a cake leveler, (which I was almost tempted to get except that I've only made a whole layered cake once and so don't really need one.)


These days, not only do you have to bake it yourself, there's also choices of how to transport and display your goodies too. Cupcake stands, cupcake carriers, cake pop stands, wedding cake toppers. 

For hard core decorators, there's even a Rolling Caddy with compartments for icing tips and tools.

You might spy the classroom space and oven for Wilton classes for decorating (and learning how to use all the stuff they sell). They have schedules available at the store and on their website, and classes are available in both Chinese and English.

Another thing I was tempted to get... do I really need a Cake Turntable

Hope this post will help some of you that have been wanting to bake for the holidays in Taipei! If there's other good places to find baking supplies, please share!

Don't forget to vote for your favorite Taipei restaurants in this year's Readers' Choice Poll! Voting ends this week- December 20th!

Monday, December 10, 2012

japanese/sushi: i recommend NCIS SUSHI

No. 4, Lane 216, Alley 27, ZhongXiao E. Rd, Sec. 4 
(02) 2721-6952 

MRT: Zhongxiao/Dunhua

website: NCIS FB page

hours: 11:30AM - 9:30AM

$$ (about NT$400-500/person)

Kid friendliness: no high chairs available. many non-raw options available

Visit reviewed: 9/26/2012

Finding dreamy sashimi in Taipei is no problem, but finding those mega rolls like I used to devour from California Roll Factory back in the states is more of a challenge. When I first moved back, I craved spicy tuna piled atop crispy rice, and crab, tempura salmon, avocado rolls wrapped in soy paper with the contents so full, they would almost fall out if you didn't stuff the whole thing in your mouth.  So when I first started hearing from friends that I had to try NCIS, or Nor Cal Inspired Sushi opened by a guy from Northern California, I was excited.

I first heard about NCIS over a year ago, when it was in the Shida night market, but I heard it was only open at night and quite tiny, so I didn't get a chance to try it. But when NCIS moved east to a bigger joint near Lane 216 and Zhongxiao East Road, it was time to check it out.

The long space is filled with two rolls of seating, one for couples and the other group so tables that can be pushed together for larger groups. There's also sushi bar style seating in the back, if you want to be able to spy the rolls being made while you eat.

The English and Chinese menu is expansive with lots of creative "rollz" including hand rolls, vegetarian rolls, and rolls with fun names like BMW, Toyota, Sofa King Bomb, or Puff Daddy, as well as appetizers, "old school nigiri" and "not so japanese fusion dishes". There's a lot to choose from, so everyone can even non-sashimi eaters can enjoy, and prices are very reasonable for rolls from NT$75 - NT$300.

If you're looking for some unusual rolls, look for MacNugget (comes with chicken nuggets), Mr. Sho (comes with onion rings and french fries) or Taiwan's Largest roll for NT$2500 which is comped if you can finish it in 45 minutes! There's also over 10 vegetarian rolls available, as well as vegan sashimi, which was the big draw for my friend who recommended it to me first.

The unagi bowl is surprisingly full for the price, with thin slices generously covering the rice. The eel is tender and covered with the right amount of sauce.

We start off with the Tunalicious (NT$270) and Marilyn Monroll (NT$220), which come with a nice 8 pieces per roll. 

The Tunalicious has spicy tuna and cucumber inside and more spicy tuna and sauce atop, and is more spicy than sweet. I prefer the Marilyn Monroll which has tempura shrimp and crab inside and scallop and avocado atop with bit of masago. While the pieces are not as big as I'd hoped, there are a lot of pieces for the price.

Admiring the decor while waiting for my other friend to arrive. NCIS could be a fun place for date night, or night out, with the 90s R and B blasting on the the speaker.

We ask the waiter what the sign is for, since it looks like a Wheel of Fortune game for free sushi, and he responds it's for birthday customers. My friend's birthday was actually that day (for real!), but he then mutters something like, oh, it's not really available yet. We are the only customers there and he doesn't let us try the wheel? Kind of puts a bummer on the experience. 

We then try the BMW (NT$250) which is quite similiar to the Marilyn Monroll, but swaps out the scallops for salmon. 

I also enjoyed the Spicy Ji Jimmy (NT$250) which comes topped with unagi and avocado and filled with spicy tuna and fried shrimp.

The eel is sliced pretty thinly, but not too much that you don't get the flavor. However, the use of the same sauces in the rolls end up making the rolls all meld into one memory. That sometimes happens at most roll places though, since there's only so many ingredients that you're working with and we are ordering variations of the same thing. 

My least favorite roll that day was the Pony A Gogo (NT$250), or the soft shell crab roll, which is usually a must order for me. When it came, the size was good, but the yellow avocado wasn't a good sign. One bite proved right- it was bitter and hard, probably not ripe yet and definitely not a Haas avocado. We asked the waiter to try it and after some friendly back and forth, he offered to give a discount on the roll.  For me, using Taiwan avocados isn't a deal breaker, but it definitely reminds me that I'm not in Cali.

All in all, NCIS is a good place to have in the rolodex (or HungryinTaipei app) and is one of those places you root for to thrive in Taipei. Its new location is actually not too far from Sumi Sushi, the other roll place in town where there will be the most comparisons. For the soft shell crab roll and scallops, I'll still go to Sumi Sushi. But the roomier digs and better prices are a draw to try NCIS again, especially with a big group. 
Don't forget to vote for your favorite Taipei restaurants in this year's Readers' Choice Poll! If you like NCIS, you can vote for it for best sushi, or best japanese, or best new restaurant in 2012.