Saturday, May 30, 2015

revisited/middle eastern: I still strongly recommend SABABA PITA BAR

No. 17, Lane 283, Section 3, Roosevelt Rd
(02) 2363-8009

MRT: Taipower Building or Gongguan


hours: 11:30 AM to 9:30PM



Kid friendliness: kids might like chicken pita and french fries or meatballs

Visit reviewed: 5/21/2015
Previous visit reviewed: 6/6/2007

When craving hummus, baklava or pita sandwiches in Taipei, I've always headed to Sababa, tucked behind one of my favorite Taiwanese shaved ice spots Tai Yi Milk King. Everytime I'm in that area, I notice a bunch of cafes and restaurants I want to try. What's great is that since Taida University is across the street, most of the eateries in the neighborhood are priced to be student friendly, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that Sababa had kept its portions generous while having very budget friendly prices.

Sababa's menu had expanded a lot more than I had remembered, but it had also been years since I had last eaten there. Besides the popular falafel pita and soulvaki pita sandwiches, egyptian cigars and salads, there were also now Mama's meatballs, roasted Iranian chicken plates and crispy fish fillets (which are only at this branch).

Sababa's space is casual, cozy and can get crowded, but service and food can be fairly quick.

Sababa Pita Bar's menu has starters, salads, plates, pitzas and 11 types of pita sandwiches, with plenty of lamb, chicken, beef, fish and vegetarian options from NT$160-410. Combination plates are a good way to go to try different flavors. 

I strongly recommend getting the Plata Sababa  (NT$260) which has hummus, baba ganoush (mashed roasted eggplant), falafels and hard boiled egg, as well as plenty of pita slices to dip and devour. I ended up also getting the Meatballs pita (NT$220) which turned out to be two half pita sandwiches so you could actually share it, if you wanted to try different things. The meatballs were huge and perfectly sauced with a Arabian spiced tomato sauce, but a tad softer than I would have liked, but still very delicious. (Probably better that they were slightly soft than too hard and overdone). The pita didn't fall apart despite holding the juicy contents, and was perfect with a bit of hummus and cheese. I was definitely ambitious when I ordered this for myself, and packed the leftovers to eat for dinner.

Sababa used to have more locations, but the ones at Taipei Main Station and Yong Kang Street closed down and this location in Gongguan has the largest menu. Sababa Bakery Kitchen branch at Heping has a slightly more limited menu than here, but offers half pitas at NT$75-100 and salads, stuffed pitas, platas, shashuskas and baked pitzas NT$100-210 (link to menu here). Or you can look for their stand at the Gongguan night market with 5 pita sandwiches to choose from for NT$75-95 (although if you want meatballs, you'll have to come to this location). It's definitely worth trying and great to know they've maintained the quality over the years, since it's nearly impossible to find delicious Mediterranean eats in Taipei. I'm getting hungry just looking at the photos and it definitely won't be as long until my next visit. 

Sababa Pita Bakery
No. 9, Alley 54, Lane 118, Heping E. Road, Sec. 2

Gongguan Night Market stand
No. 18, Alley 286, Roosevelt Road, Sec. 3

Monday, May 25, 2015

afternoon tea/dessert: MOCKTAIL TEA

at ATT4Fun
No. 12, Songshou Road, 4F
(02) 7745-2168

MRT: Taipei 101


hours: 11AM- 10PM


Kid friendliness: kids will want try the soft serve boba mocktails, but glassware not too kid friendly. probably can ask for extra bowls for sharing.

Visit reviewed: 4/29/2015

Afternoon tea, Taipei style. There's no shortage of dessert/ boba milk tea places in Taipei, let alone at ATT4Fun, where the whole fourth floor is a collection of cafes and dessert shops. Recently on my dessert crawl with Kirbie's Cravings, visiting from San Diego, we stopped at Mocktail Tea. Mocktail has that annoying 1 drink minimum per person, but if you are doing afternoon tea, then it's the price to pay for an air conditioned place to chill for 90 minutes.

The signature and most visually striking "drink" is actually a dessert served in a cocktail glass, the signature Pearl Milk Tea Soft Serve Ice Cream (NT$160) so you can see the layers of oolong tea tie guang ying jelly, boba, soft serve and milk tea. It's not even served with a straw- instead it's served with a spoon that doesn't quite easily scoop up through the smaller rimmed opening of the glass. The separate elements aren't too memorable tastewise, but the presentation is key.

There's also fruity teas and sparkling drinks, with flavors like passionfruit and lemon or an odd iced tomato honey tea (I couldn't imagine the taste and didn't give it a try, but the waiter said it's popular). Drinks marked with the crown are house specialties.

There's light cafe fare- quiche and soupy rice dishes- in case you're looking for something savory.

I ended up ordering the iced lemon matcha (NT$140) and I quite liked it. It was frothy from being freshly shaken and stirred, and the matcha worked well with the lemon and sweetness.

The tie guang ying soft serve ice cream NT$130 is easier to eat, served in an open glass and is the same as the pearl milk tea mocktail except it doesn't have the tapioca pearls. 

Personally, I'd prefer the classic Chun Shui Tang at Mitsukoshi A9 for a tall glass of boba milk tea (and fried radish cakes) or Ice Monster for bubble milk tea shaved ice and a side of gooey chewy boba, but Mocktail is less crowded and piles the soft serve ice cream inside, like a Taiwanese root beer float. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

dessert/taipei food trend: GLAM AIR

at Xinyi Mitsukoshi A11
No. 11, Songshou Road
(02) 8780-2334

MRT: Taipei City Hall or Taipei 101

website: Glam Air's FB page $

Kid friendliness: kids will definitely want one.

Visit reviewed: 4/29/2015

Google "cotton candy ice cream" and spheres of sky blue and glowing pink swirled scoops of ice cream show up. (Personally, as a kid, I was more partial to rainbow sherbet kid rather than the sickly sweet cotton candy ice cream, but that's another story)

The first time I ever had actual clouds of cotton candy stacked on top of ice cream was at Coffee Alley in 2011, where it was more of an interactive experience. A small pitcher of espresso is served to pour on top of the cotton candy so that it melted into a caramel coffee sauce over three scoops of vanilla ice cream. I've since spied imitations at a cafe in LA that opened a few years ago.

Then I spotted wisps of cotton candy on soft serve at Honey Creme, which was more known for their honey comb ice cream.

Glam Air takes it one step further, by making the cotton candy into literal eye-candy. Sugar rainbows are molded and stacked high like Taipei 101 and dry ice is added so that each cup has its own special effects of fog drifting out, its own "Glam Air". The visual result is hypnotizing- you can't help but to feel like a kid again,  those times that your parents agreed to buy you cotton candy. The concept is so simple it's brilliant- cashing in on those kid at heart fantasies for NT$150 a cup. 

Glam Air also has soft serve without the cotton candy (NT$110-140)- plain, with caramel, honey, honey comb, chocolate or with fish taiyaki instead of a cone, or as a float with bright hued sodas or shake.  

Everyone taking selfies with their cotton candy ice cream (and not eating it. Lol)

It's amazing to see how crowded it usually is, even on weekday afternoons, especially in comparison to other ice cream shops in the Mitsukoshi malls. One news clip on Glam Air's Facebook page reported a 40 minute wait on weekends. There's a liquid nitrogen ice cream shop in a different building that had no buzz going on. The thing with liquid nitrogen ice cream is that it looks cool when it's being made, but the end result looks just like regular ice cream- while Glam Air's final result is purposely eye catching.

Each Smokie Cloud is made to order. The three tiers of cotton candy tower are made from freshly spun puffs of sugar then molded into doughnut rings to fit around the soft serve. When it's done, a small scoop of dry ice is put in a larger cup and then the smaller cup of soft serve is placed inside and served.

I know by posting this, I'm perpetuating the hype, but dang it if it isn't pretty. It's only a matter of time we see a copycat in the states. I know some of you will go and get one just for the photo ops and it won't even matter how it tastes! Isn't that crazy? Thanks Kirbie's Cravings for the excuse to finally try one during our Xinyi dessert crawl.

Glam Air is one of those businesses that succeeds in the age of social media- you see it online, you try it once for your own post/selfie, but unfortunately it doesn't taste very good.  It's much prettier than it tastes. The cotton candy tasted like cotton candy and I found the soft serve overly sweet, but in the end, most people won't care. We'll have gotten our sugar high and photos and Instagram likes and endorphins from the rainbow hued memories of being a kid again.

Monday, May 11, 2015

burgers/new in town: CALIBURGER

No. 7, Alley 7, Lane 205,ZhongXiao E. Road, Sec. 4

MRT: ZhongXiao/DunHua

website: Caliburger's FB page


$$ (NT$275+ per person)

Kid friendliness: yes

Visit reviewed: 4/11/2015

To the casual burger fan, Caliburger would appear to be very close to In N Out- the style of the burger, the fries, the dousing of thousand island dressing and cheese and onions, the palm trees and cherry red trays. But to those who grew up on In N Out, it might not satisfy completely- it might just make you long a little more for the real thing. 

Caliburger took over the space from the previous Sanrio Cafe Kiko's Diner and kept most of the same seating format- except that it tore down the front register and moved it in front of the semi open kitchen. I went during its soft opening, when they were still training the staff and working out the flow in the kitchen, so our burgers took quite a long time. Thanks Caliburger for the sneak peek and the tasting- I know things will run smoother as your team gets more experience.

Though my meal was comped, the Cali Combos were slightly more expensive than I expected- NT$275 for a Caliburger (that's a cheeseburger), fries and drink, while a Calidouble combo bumps you up to NT$345. The burger alone costs NT$175 and the Calidouble is NT$245. Usually when I'm in LA at In N Out, I get just the burger and fries which according to current prices is US$2.10 and US$1.60, let's say with tax is around US$4. I think lower prices for a better-than-fast-food meal is one the things that makes In-N-Out a favorite in the states, besides its taste. With so many burger places now (and NT$80 bentos) in Taipei, Caliburger will need to keep its prices competitive. Even BLT Burger has already closed. Anyone else remember Burger Stop? They tried to bring double stack burger combos to Taipei for under NT$200.

I'd never heard of Caliburger until In-N-Out did its one day pop up in Taipei (confirmed to be really In-N-Out via twitter), and I did research on what other pop ups they were doing outside of the US and why. Part of it is to protect their trademark which Caliburger stepped on when it marketed itself as having "double doubles"  and "animal style fries" when they opened its first store in Shanghai in 2012. The similarities to In-N-Out were not an accident- Caliburger's chef de cuisine Jonathan Wong was a manager at In-N-Out in Northern California and has said that "the model was In-N-Out."  In-N-Out caught wind and sued, and the case was settled out of court with an undisclosed agreement. Since then, Caliburger has added shops in Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Manila, Dubai, Bahrain, with locations set to open in DC, London, Stockholm and In-N-Out territory, Los Angeles.

So is it worth trying? I always think it's worth trying on your own, since everyone has different tastes, but I wouldn't wait in a long line for it. Whether or not you love it, I think will depends on how hardcore you are.

I thought the fries were spot on (especially knowing how hard it is to get fries that also look like In N Out's with Taiwan potatoes, having seen and eaten fresh cut fries at Burger and Co and Lobster Bar that were sweeter and browner). Personally I liked the plain fries over the animal style, excuse me, wild style fries, but I don't love Animal style fries to begin with. Too much going on with the thousand island dressing, grilled onions and cheese- I'd prefer it on the burger. 

I thought the Caliburger was good, the meat, the veggies, the sauce, except I really disliked the bun. The bun was too sweet for me, but it might not be a deal breaker to some. Hopefully they'll keep working on it and make it less sweet. Note you can also ask to have your onions grilled for your burger instead of raw. The beef patty is made from Australian beef. 

I found myself comparing the Caliburger to Burger and Co, my current fave for American style burgers, or to those from the newly opened gastropub Bing. I'd say those are my two go-to places for burgers these days, unless I'm watching a movie and grabbing a Whopper. Burger and Co recently also opened a second shop in Tianmu I'm looking forward to checking out. 

If you're really hungry, you can get the Calidouble (NT$345). If I go back, I'd give this a try and maybe order a milkshake. If you're drooling over these pics, give it try and let me know what you think. I know some of you will be very excited to have a place like Caliburger in Taipei.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

desserts/cupcakes: i strongly recommend THE CUPCAKE SHOP





Kid friendliness: kids will love the designs and taste

Visit reviewed: 5/7/2014 & 6/3/2014 & 10/31/2014 & 4/29/2015


Usually when I eat a cupcake or cookie from somewhere in Taipei, I think to myself, I could make this better myself at home. I know some of you have thought the same thing. There are of course a few exceptions to this rule, and now there is a new find that definitely blows it out of the water.  Last year, a friend brought over some cupcakes to a lunch and I couldn't stop eating them and I've ordered them a number of times since!

Not only do The Cupcake Shop's cupcakes taste delicious, they are also so pretty and fun. Roz, who is the Cupcake Shop's baker and master cupcake artist, does an amazing job with the frosting and detailed pictures. A quick browse through their Facebook page and website showed everything from Superhero logos to Olaf from Frozen to Despicable Me Minions to just fun glittery pink and pastel cupcakes. The Cupcake Shop offers the rare combination of frosting that tastes as good as it looks.

The cupcakes are quite moist since they are made to order and there are quite a number of flavors to choose from. My favorites are red velvet, strawberry, carrot cake and chocolate. In the strawberry, you can actually taste real strawberries, it's not just bright pink cake. There's also other flavors like Oreo, lemon blueberry, pumpkin, mocha, banana and vanilla bean.

Cupcakes come in regular and mini sizes, and the minimum order is 6 cupcakes for regular (NT$550) and 12 cupcakes for minis (NT$460). Added decorations for the frosting will have an additional extra fee (usually a few hundred NT). It's best to order the cupcakes at least 3 days in advance via email or telephone (and Grace and Roz both communicate in English), or you can browse their website for more photos and descriptions. Cupcake Shop doesn't have a physical store, so you arrange pick up with them, usually near Taipei City Hall MRT. The cupcakes come in easy to carry boxes and are taped down so they don't slide and mess up the decorations. Just be sure to open the box carefully and keep away from curious little hands until they are ready.


I finally remembered to take a photo of one of the cupcake's inside before devouring the whole thing. This is dark chocolate with buttercream frosting. Yummmmm.

I asked for a Hawaiian theme for a friend's birthday, and this is one of the boxes we got. I loved the sand effect Roz made with cookie crumbs. My friend loved it. You can totally discuss with them what your ideas are and what you are looking for. I even asked if they could make a pineapple flavor cupcake, and Roz said she would try.

These are from a Halloween special with pumpkin cupcakes the Cupcake Shop did last Halloween. I loved the scared orange Olaf. Haha. And I loved the pumpkin flavor with the cream cheese frosting.

Of course if you are going to make cupcakes yourself, it would be a lot cheaper. But the quality of the Cupcake Shop's decorated cupcakes is worth splurging on for a special occasion. They definitely taste better than a few birthday cakes I've had at other people's parties, where you ooh and aah for the photo op, but nobody ends up eats the cake. These cupcakes on the other hand, will disappear quickly, and your friends will be asking where you got them and ordering them for their own parties. You might be able to squeeze in your order for Mother's Day!