Friday, January 22, 2016

japanese/hotpot: i recommend HELLO KITTY SHABU

No. 17, Alley 27, Lane 216, ZhongXiao E.   Rd, Sec. 4

MRT: Zhongxiao/ Dunhua

website: Hello Kitty Shabu FB page

hours: 11:30AM - 10PM

$$ (about NT$500-700 per person)

Kid friendliness: booster seats available

Visit reviewed: 2/20/2016

Before my childhood friend Jenny even got to Taipei, she messaged me from LA, "Can we go to Hello Kitty Shabu?" And being the good host, friend and curious food blogger, I said, "Of course!" A reservation and few days later, we found ourselves wandering the alleys near Zhongxiao near Lane 216 looking for it.

Once you get closer, the glow of Hello Kitty's face beckons and a lifesized Hello Kitty greets you at the door, ready for selfies (also in that alley, NCIS Sushi, Hoshina udon and a new branch of dessert spot Monteur Cafe).

The inside decor seems to be casual Japanese, with lots of small tables for individual hotpot and a side area with tatami-style, lower seating for bigger groups. 

Reservations at Hello Kitty Shabu Shabu are limited to one and half hours, and when we arrived at 5:17pm, we were a little late. In Taipei, busy restaurants will usually tell you, you have a ten minute grace period before you potentially lose your table, i.e. If people are waiting there. Sometimes the restaurant will call you, or if you call them sometimes they'll be nice enough to hold it for you. I didn't call and they didn't call us, so when we told them our reservation was for 5pm, the girl told us we were late and it seemed like she was going to tell us we lost the table. But since the restaurant wasn't full and there weren't people in line, I emphasized that my friend had flown all the way from LA to eat Hello Kitty hotpot, and after some discussion between her and another server, they directed us to a small table in the back. 

Tables for four are divided with a removable divider, which is smart for the restaurant but crowded for us. Even though no one sat next to us, you can see there isn't a lot of space, so you have to do some Tetris-like maneuvering to make everything fit with your hotpot, once your veggies, meat and steamed egg comes. 

Hello Kitty Shabu offers individual yuan yang hotspots, so you pick two broths out of four choices- regular kombu, pork bone broth, tomato or Mala. Then you choose your meat- there's three kinds of beef or pork available or chicken or seafood. Then you pick noodles or Hello Kitty shaped rice. Everyone gets their own veggies and fish cakes, and additional hello kitty-fied fish cakes are available to add on. 

There's also fried shrimp, chicken and croquettes to order on the side, and a colorful drink menu. 

Once you've ordered, let the photo ops begin!! (Haha the only reason you're here right?) The servers asked us if we were done taking photos before whisking away the bow adorned wooden lids.

Complimentary pre-meal amuse bouche- I think it was konjac- but I found it inedible and tasteless.. 

I ended up choosing the pork broth and tomato. Next time I would skip tomato (it intensified when cooking) and choose the plainer kombu or go for spicy Mala. 

Additional fish cakes we added filled with mentaiko. You can also pick cheese filled. (NT$160 for 2)

The vegetables are quite bountiful- with chinese cabbage, cabbage, various mushrooms, corn, one piece of pumpkin, broccoli, taro and some tofu skin and fish cake.. And then topped with a Hello Kitty thing-- we think it was some sort of tofu soy thing with the HK face burned in, which actually gave it a smoky burned flavor that was kind of unpleasant. But oh, it makes for a cute photo. Lol. 

See how we barely managed to fit everything on the table, and it fits just so. I got the beef (NT$550) which wasn't as tender as the short rib (NT$650).

I loved this little apple bowl and cover with the spoon. I would maybe buy a set if they sold them there. The steamed egg inside was decent too. 

Of course most of you know how Shabu works, but in case you don't, you basically cook the meats and veggies in the hotpot until it's to your liking. You can dip in the sesame or soy sauce, but pork broth was actually quite flavorful already. 

Lots of chopped veggies at the bottom of the large bowl. Sometimes restaurants cheat and it's actually empty or raised inside, but I was pleasantly surprised to find plenty. 

Cooking and eating.. As for the mysterious Hello Kitty faced tofu, it was a spongy, mysterious bite and tasted a bit burnt from what I'm guessing is the char from imprinting the face onto the tofu. I took one bite and wasn't sure if I wanted to take another. 

Dessert at the end included in the set are a few bite sized, brown sugar mochi..

All in all, it wasn't a bad meal as shabu spots go. Would I recommend it? Sure, I'd come back with other Hello Kitty loving friends- I like how they give you a lot of veggies, broth options and steamed egg on the side. And if you're a Hello Kitty fan, then you kind of have to experience it for yourself. It's not as bling and overly cute like Hello Kitty Sweets (now Hello Kitty Kitchen) so now Hello Kitty fans have two places to choose from, three if you count Hello Kitty Bubble, four, if you count the Hello Kitty food souvenir shop next to Ice Monster I have to write up. I was surprised to see an older couple next to us eating (and chilling) who didn't appear to be Kitty fans, but maybe they just liked the food. Also there were empty seats in the restaurant during our hour and half so maybe they save spots for walk ins. It will be interesting to see if Hello Kitty Shabu becomes popular- on one hand, Taiwanese people love hotpot, especially in the winter time. On the other hand, because they loved hotpot, the hotpot game in Taipei is fierce- there's super cheap version and fancy, luxe versions, spicy mala, all you can eat, vegetarian only, herbal broth, the list goes on and on, and now, you can add Hello Kitty Shabu to it. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

taiwanese: i still strongly recommend SHIN YEH

112 Zhong Xiao E Road, Sec 4, 2FL 

MRT: ZhongXiao/DunHua


hours: 11 am-3:30pm, 5-10:30 pm


Kid friendliness: high chairs and kids dining ware available. lots of kid friendly dishes and kids will enjoy the chewy almond tofu

Visit reviewed: 12/1/2015
Previous visits reviewed: 8/2008 & 9/2006

Din Tai Fung might be the most popular restaurant in Taipei for tourists, but if you have a Taiwanese relative visiting, it's very likely you'll end up at Shin Yeh, as I did with during my last lunch with my aunt visiting from NY. A perfect choice for those looking to try family style classic Taiwanese dishes in a modern, comfortable setting, I've taken many a group of friends from the states who dug the stir fried vermicelli, the soupy loofah squash with clams and the upscale version of the street snacks guabao and run bing. Even with just the three of us (and my grandma doesn't even eat that much), we ended up with a table full of my Googoo's favorite dishes and a bagful of leftovers she could enjoy for a midnight snack. If you want to go all out and fancy, Shin Yeh has a branch on the 85th floor of Taipei 101. Shin Yeh 101 has set menus and window seats for a premium to dine with bird's eye view of Taipei (though I prefer their ala carte menu over their sets).

Stir fried noodles with seafood (NT$195)

Wok seared pork liver with coriander (NT$280) 

Crispy fried fresh oysters dip (NT$300) salt and peppa dip!

Sauteed shrimp with pineapple (NT$395)

Fresh spring roll filled with cabbage, bean sprouts and grand? ground peanuts (NT$160)

Deep fried pork roulade with coriander (NT$185)

Original Branch 
No. 34-1, ShuangCheng Street 
(02) 2596-3255 
Hours: 11 am-1 am 

NanXi Branch 
No. 12, NanJing West Road, 8F 
(02) 2523-6757 
Hours: 11 am-9:30 pm 

Shin Yeh 101 
No. 7, XinYi Road, Sec. 5, 85F
(02) 8101-0185 

Xinyi Mitsukoshi A9 
No. 9, Songshou Rd., 8 Fl 
(02) 8786-1234 

No. 21-2 Shuangcheng Street 
(02) 2592-5966

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

afternoon tea/taipei cafe: i strongly recommend CAFE DE RIZ CAFE

No. 9, Lane 119, Heping E. Rd, Sec. 3

MRT: Liuzhangli

website: Cafe De Riz Coffee Shop's FB page

Hours: 11AM - 7PM 

Kid friendliness: no high chairs spotted, some room for strollers, but it is a smaller space

Visit reviewed: 9/15/2015

Not to be confused with Cafe de Riz's other location on Anhe Road (which used to serve mainly chirashis and seafood rice bowls), this Cafe de Riz is a coffee shop/cafe serving dessert for the eyes and mouth. I was invited to a blogger tasting, where they introduced their new collaboration with French pastry chef Roumanille Yann (previously at three michelin starred Pierre Gagnaire and Dalloyau in Paris).  

I don't know if it was the sugar high or the plating or the French accent, but I felt a tiny bit transported away from Taipei. My favorite  plate included the delicious and delicate butter cookies, caramels and meringues for their new signature sweets (NT$150). Taste from light to dark. Loved this. 

Let's imagine we are in France for a few hours, and eat meringues, caramels, sable, guimauve and gateau au citron. 

Caramels and chocolate biscuits made from Marou chocolates, made from Vietnamese cocoa. Marshmallow with shiso. 

Lemon pound cake (NT$150) 

Hojicha creme brûlée (NT$180)  not as photogenic, but still very delightful

Ahh love natural lighting for photographs!

Chocolate tart (NT$160) 

Onigiri lunch sets are also available for a light lunch (which I'll have to come back to try!), or packaged biscuits and cakes would make great hostess gifts. If you're lucky, they might have cinnamon rolls in stock. Thanks @cafederiz for the tasting and for the delicious treats!