Monday, February 21, 2011

breakfast/brunch: ESLITE CAFE

at DunHua Eslite
No. 245, DunHua S Road, Sec. 1, 2F
(02) 2775-5977

hours: brunch menu 7:30PM -1:30PM


Kid friendliness: quiet environment in morning, no high chairs spotted

Visit reviewed: 10/8/2010

When I'm jetlagged in LA and wanting an early breakfast at 7am (or earlier), I have a bunch of options to hit up like IHOP. But if you're looking for eggs and bacon or pancakes at an early hour in Taipei, it's a lot harder (apart from pricey hotel breakfasts or McDonalds!)

One peaceful place you can grab your coffee and toast is the Eslite Cafe which has a few breakfast options and opens at 7:30AM. Brunch sets are NT$180-200 and is available daily until 1:30PM. You can also order off their regular menu, as my friend did, getting a sandwich that had way too many sprouts for me and a hot chocolate that probably cost as much as my set.

Instead, I got set A, which has a deceiving picture on the menu, brimming with food. You're only allotted the choice of 2 of the 4 things (bacon, eggs, sausage or potatoes) and 1 choice of bread (bagel, country bread or baguette). After some convincing, the waitress let me trade my starch choice from bread to potatoes.

As you can see it's not really a generous amount, and even worse, the bacon wasn't crispy.

More filling sets are probably the croque monsieur or ham and cheese panini. Overall, the taste was not too bad, but it's most likely that they are just reheating whatever was premade since there isn't really a kitchen in that coffee shop space. But on this early morning, it's a nice space to enjoy an early breakfast and then have an excuse to browse the books afterwards.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Happy Lantern Festival! taiwanese: I still strongly recommend TAI YI MILK KING

Who eats shaved ice during the winter time?

I do!

Especially when my sister is in town for a short visit and we gotta hit up all my favorite eats, which definitely includes Tai Yi Milk King. It's also great to go when it's wintertime because then you don't have to duke it out for a seat.

To warm up, get a bowl of tang yuan as well, which you can get with either hot red bean, rice wine or sweet peanut soup.

The sesame oozing out of the chewy tang yuan is a perfect bite, just in time for the Lantern Festival.

Or get some tang yuan to go to make at home and then join the crowds at SYS Memorial Hall to check out the Year of the Rabbit lanterns.

No. 82, Xin Sheng S. Road, Sec. 3
(across the street from the main entrance of Tai Da)
(02) 2362-3712

MRT: Gongguan

previous review: 5/2007

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

CLOSED! japanese/sushi: i strongly recommend SUMI SUSHI

CLOSED! a/o 12/2014... new version reopened as IZUMI BY SUMI 3/2015

No. 17, Lane 248, ZhongXiao E. Rd, Sec. 4
(02) 8771 – 9986

MOVED April 2014 to Ximending
No. 17, Lane 53, Hankou St. Sec 2
(02) 2361-5550

MRT: SYS Memorial Hall

website: mostly Chinese

hours: 11:30AM- 2:30PM / 5:30PM - 9:30PM


Kid friendliness: sushi bar seating only, very tight space

Visit reviewed: 11/5/2010 & 11/9/2010

There's plenty of sushi bars in Taipei, but if you're looking for the kind of heaping rolls with drizzled in eel sauce or deep fried, then you have to look a little harder. I've had some miserable and some not so bad and some great, but none like my favorite roll place in LA that has so many crazy combos of huge rolls for great prices.

I first heard about Sumi Sushi when my friend M said her friend S said they had the best spider roll. The same week, another friend posted some drool worthy pictures on her Facebook and I couldn't wait to give it a try.

It's not too far from the also newly opened Macho Tacos and Toasteria on Lane 248, a little over two blocks away from ZhongXiao, and has a nice bright blue sign in English to spot.

Inside is quite tiny- just a sushi bar with about 14-16 seats, depending on how squished everyone needs to be. I had made a reservation for our group of 5 and after we were eating for about 20-30 minutes the rest of the counter was filled with a reservation of 8 people, so a few walk-in customers were turned away.

The English and Chinese menu offers a few appetizers and dons (rice bowls with sashimi or eel), as well as nigiri and sashimi, but we are here for the rolls! Sumi Sushi was opened by a Taiwanese couple who had moved back from Canada after living there for around 20 years and missed the rolls that they could find there. So it's great that I could order the rolls in English because I'm not sure if I could figure out all the rolls names in Chinese.

While there aren't many pictures of the rolls on the menu, you can check them out along the wall, though they are identified only by their Chinese name. This lead me to quiz the chef about a lot of the rolls (What is a Sumi roll? What is a Volcano roll? What is an Alaska roll?) to which he patiently and cheerfully answered.

You can also give him a budget and let him put together a menu for you, and let him know what you like and don't like. It's a good way to sample things, but if you know what you like and don't like, then you might be better off ordering ala carte.

Some of my favorite rolls at Sumi were the dragon roll (NT$200) which is a California roll topped with unagi,

the spider roll (NT$300) which features deep fried soft shell crab (I could probably devour a whole roll by myself),

and the dynamite roll which has tempura shrimp, avocado and cucumber (NT$130). Dynamite rolls that I'm used to come covered with special sauce and then are baked, but Sumi Sushi's version doesn't, so don't get confused there.

I was bummed that the spicy tuna roll (NT$160) was all spiciness and no sweetness. The best spicy tuna I've found in Taipei so far is either the rolls from A Plus or the appetizers at Dozo.

I know it won't matter to some, but I felt that the rolls that were bigger in size were a better value, since most of the rolls were along the same prices. So I wasn't crazy about the bite size Philadelphia(NT$180) featuring salmon and cream cheese, or scallop rolls (NT$200) either. I wanted more mega monster rolls, but instead many of the rolls were more dainty and not filling. I also wanted more eel sauce than the sushi came with, so next time I'll ask for more since the spicy sauces on the side didn't do it for me.

The appetizers are worth ordering if you want something other than rolls- the chicken chop (NT$100) had a simple, but nicely grilled flavor and texture.

And the grilled ika (NT$80), or squid, was fresh and chewy without being tough.

The miso soup(NT$20) and salad(NT$50) came at the end of the meal, and both were on the sweet side. The miso was so sweet that I couldn't finish it, but the dressing for the shredded cabbage echoed the miso, carrot and sesame dressing that I've had at Blue Marlin in LA.

Sumi Sushi should continue to have good word of mouth with its affordable prices and relaxed sushi bar setting. I was wavering between a 'recommend' and a 'strongly recommend' and decided to give them a 'strongly' since I've gotten sushi to-go on more than one occasion since my first visit a few months ago when I'm craving last minute rolls. Too bad they don't deliver- that would be awesome.

It's fascinating to me how various pockets of Taipei are becoming "restaurant rows" for international eateries- since every lane and alley is pretty much a restaurant row- but I'm talking about places like Lane 248 that has grilled cheese sandwiches, pizza, sushi rolls and fish tacos in the same area, as well as Lane 280 off of Guangfu which has the new Italian restaurant Osteria by Angie, Ari Korean tofu (both of which reviews are coming!), the new branch of 15 Pizza and the new branch of Wendel's a block away. Any other "restaurant rows" that I should explore?

Monday, February 14, 2011

my kitchen: red velvet cupcakes

Happy Valentine's Day!

Giving some lovin' to myself with my favorite red velvet with cream cheese frosting. Not from scratch, but homemade, tasty and sparkly (thanks to my sister who couldn't resist bringing me pink sprinkles from LA).

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

snapshot/snack: i strongly recommend macadamia nougats from HOTEL ROYAL TAIPEI

The combination of a little bit of writer's block, lots of relatives & holiday busy-ness, and a big (non-blog) project has made it hard lately to blog as often as last year, but I'm trying to get back to putting words to the screen (and getting the results of the 2010 Best of Taipei Readers' Favorites posted!).

Until then, here's a snapshot of some macadamia nougat candies that I received as a gift (Thanks P!) that I can't stop eating. They are dangerously addictive, chewy and sweet. The first day I received them I might have eaten three of them in one sitting. Ok, maybe more like five. Definitely won't help the new year resolutions.

If you've never had a nougat, it's sort of like a caramel or taffy but not as sticky. Think Baby Ruth without the chocolate. And this is the first time I've had them with macadamia nuts which totally compliments the creamy texture with the nutty bite. I usually never buy nougats because I've had some peanut candies that were too sticky or hard, but I'll have to resist buying more of these in the future because if they're in the house, I'll eat them!

Happy Chinese New Year everyone!

No. 37, ZhongShan N. Rd, Sec 2
(02) 2542-3266

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

snapshot/dessert: i recommend canales from POZZO BAKERY

The first time I had a canele was a few months ago at an event. The caterer had a limited supply, so he cut each tiny canele into 4-6 pieces. The bite of crispy, carmelized shell and custard flavored, moist interior had me hooked.

So when I spotted these babies at Pozzo Bakery at San Want Hotel while picking up their garlic bread and walnut and cheese bread (their number one sellers for a good reason), I had to get a couple.

The outside is rock hard and needs a knife to break in and the flavor is very sweet and addicting. If you weren't familiar with a canele, you might think at first glance it's chocolate flavored because of the brown coloring, but there is none. It's almost echoes the eggy sweet flavors and textures of a perfect french toast- as a canele is made with egg yolks, sugar and milk, with touches of vanilla and rum.

Pick up a couple an make your own afternoon tea or dinnertime dessert plate.

POZZO BAKERY at San Want Hotel
172 ZhongXiao E Rd, Sec 4
(02) 2772-2121 ext. 2126

MRT: Zhongxiao/DunHua

open daily: 7AM- 10PM

Last reviewed- 9/28/2006

Monday, January 17, 2011

hotpot/late night: i recommend SHIMIN DA DAO SHUA SHUA GUO

No. 50, Yanji St.
(02) 2577-8747

MRT: Zhongxiao/DunHua or SYS Memorial Hall

hours: 5PM- 5AM


Kid friendliness: individual hotpots embedded in table;

Visit reviewed: 12/11/2010 (all photos with iphone4)

There's something to be said about a place that has a half hour wait at 11pm. Granted, we were a large group of 10 people, but it's impressive that this two-floor hotpot place seems to be a hotspot for those wanting a late night meal. Shimin Da Dao Shua Shua Guo is on the corner of Civic Blvd (or Shimin Da Dao) and Yanji Street, with an electric blue neon sign highlighting its entrance (and weirdly, the other hotpot place across the street is nearly empty).

Each person gets their own hotpot, a plate of veggies (with tofu, corn, mushrooms, fishcake and lots of cabbage) and a moment to look at the paper menu for meat options- the cheapest being choice pork at NT$280 to the most expensive-Kobe beef at NT$1880, or nearly US$60. There's also vegetarian and seafood options, like tilapia or scallop & prawns, as well as ala carte add on items (which is in Chinese only on the menu) like this make-your-own fish ball paste..

I decide on the prime pork (NT$320) which is tender enough, though I did enjoy the bite of my friend's boneless short rib. After ordering, the server will bring you the dipping soy sauce, which you can request to be spicy or not, as well as rice, vermicelli or noodles. My other friend ordered the snowy tender pork, and I didn't think it was considerably better than the prime pork even though it was more expensive.

It was my first time having midnight hotpot and hopefully not my last... it's great to have good friends to drag out my homebody self and the meal isn't too heavy that you'll regret it the next morning.

Complimentary sweet red bean soup to finish off the meal.

As we leave, the place is still full (with a few tables with kids!) and the taxis line up outside to offer up rides to take us home. It's pretty insane that they are open until 5AM, but I guess you'll know where to go the next time a late night craving for kobe beef hits you.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

CLOSED! chinese: i strongly recommend SHANGHAI FANS

a/o 4/2011 CLOSED!

No. 3, Xinyi Road, Sec. 3
(02) 2707-5027

MRT: DaAn or ZhongXiao/Xinsheng

hours: 11:30AM -2PM; 5PM-9PM


Kid friendliness: high chairs available

Visit reviewed: 6/5/2010

Shanghai Fans is a solid alternative to the nearby original location of the crazily popular Din Tai Fung, especially for those with large groups or families with three floors of seating and private rooms available upstairs. Like any good Chinese restaurant, it has a huge extensive menu barely covered by what was ordered in this dinner, but unfortunately, the menu is only in Chinese with few pictures, so you should bring a Chinese reader with you.

The restaurant has that old school feeling and the prices are very reasonable for the family style portions. My aunt usually does all the ordering, and many of these dishes are featured on their "Top 10" dishes menu. That's usually my problem in taking so long to blog about Chinese restaurants- they don't have an English menu, someone else is ordering and I'm too busy chowing down to figure out what is what since everything tastes good.

The Crab roe tofu pot has a creamy, sweet flavor along with the silky tofu. I love this over a bowl of rice.

Make yourself a little pork belly sandwich with the sesame buns and braised Dongpo Pork. You can see the fat glistening off the pork belly and also on your lips when you're done devouring it.

The pan fried spring onion pancakes here are fat and twisty, with the spring onions stuffed inside, which may turn off some who don't like the strong scallion texture and flavor.

At Shanghai Fans, the xiao long bao is more of a side dish than the main event, but still satisfies. Those more adventurous can also try the si gua xiao long bao or loofah and shrimp.

Huge pot of Corn and egg soup so everyone can have a bowl or two.

Other dishes I've had before that I recommend ordering are the Shanghainese Pork Ham and Pork soup which has a milky white broth that beats any ramen broth I've had before, the cabbage and peanut slaw, and red bean paste in sesame pastry dessert. Or you can have a bowl of the sweet green mung bean soup.

Chinese food is such ubiquitous thing in the US, but it's sort of stereotyped and simplified along the lines of dishes expected from a take-out menu- beef and broccoli, chow mein, egg rolls, kung pao chicken or even more Americanized, orange chicken (which I admit, I grew up on and like to eat sometimes). But in reality, Chinese food is so diverse and more than what's offered at Panda Express the same way that American food is more than what's sold at McD's. And there's so many great Chinese restaurants in Taipei that I've eaten at- it's been great having this blog to learn more about what is from where, and I'll try my best to keep figuring out the best way to capture and articulate and share my experiences here.

Monday, January 10, 2011

my kitchen: cookie brownies from a box

Cookie brownies are for those with a serious sweet tooth, as the combination of the two is a bit over the top for me, even with a glass of milk.

If you can't find this box and want to try it, just scoop spoonfuls of your favorite chocolate chip cookie dough onto your favorite brownie recipe and you can achieve the same effect.

Monday, January 03, 2011

brunch/afternoon tea: i strongly recommend waffles at ARIEL LE CAFE

No.1, Cheng De Road, Sec. 1
(02) 2552-5269

MRT: Taipei Main Station


hours: 11AM - 9:30PM


Kid friendliness: no high chairs spotted. open cafe area in middle of mall

Visit reviewed: 12/11/2010 (photos by iphone 4G and Canon s90)

I have been on a search for a great waffle for brunch in Taipei ever since I've moved back- as I'm sure many of you have as well. The problems encountered in Taipei- too cakey, too dry, not crispy enough, available only for afternoon tea, too much hype, or too weird (with tuna?!). I think I finally might have found a contender that you fellow waffle lovers can try- and in one of the most random places, a cafe on the 2nd floor of the new-ish Q Square shopping center.

At first glance, I wasn't sure if I was at the right place, until I saw the sign above the kitchen which is across from the entrance/seating area which overlooks the lower floors of the mall. The airy space is a good place for people watching and has some interesting design, including the chandelier made out of coffee cups.

I was afraid after seeing the waffles at the other table that they were going to be cakey, but when they finally arrived to my table, the banana chocolate waffles (NT$160) were lighter than they looked with a touch of crispiness and dusting of powdered sugar. I wasn't disappointed for once and could eat two of the huge slices. I was a little surprised that they served the bananas and sauce on the side, but nothing a little elbow grease couldn't fix. After digging in, I found a scoop of vanilla ice cream underneath the bananas. I was tempted to ask for extra sauce or syrup, but didn't- don't know if they would charge you if you did. Other waffle options on the menu include plain, strawberry, tuna or ice cream.

Be forewarned that they have a policy on the menu, that one drink is required to be ordered per person sitting and the handmade coffees/teas/juices are NT$120-180, as well as a 90 minute time limit for seating, probably for those busy afternoon tea hours. The guy who seated us told us that my friend and i each had to order a drink, but when I couldn't decide, the second server said it was ok since I ordered waffles.

When I went at noon, there were plenty of tables, but after I came back from lunch upstairs, the place was bustling at around 2:30pm. Our waffle took at least 10-15 minutes to come to our table, so I imagine the wait could be longer during busy hours. Other brunch/afternoon tea options on the English and Chinese menu are desserts cakes (on display in the entrance area), quiches, scones and chocolate molten cake. You can also check out their desserts at their patisserie in the food court on B3.