Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Best Xiao Long Bao 小籠包 around Yongkang St., Taipei other than Ding Tai Fung.

I really don't get it. I really don't! I don't get why so many people line up to eat at Ding Tai Fung 鼎泰豐. I guess it is good when you try soup dumplings for the first time, but it comes at a price. At 20NT ($0.66 USD) a piece, you can be trying other places around their flagship branch at Yongkang St. My friends, and I went to five different soup dumpling shops and ranked them based on overall taste.


1st Place

盛園絲瓜小籠湯包 Sheng Yuan Si Gua XLB
Address: 106台北市大安區杭州南路二段25巷1號1樓

2nd / 3rd Place
好公道金雞園 Hao Gong Dao Dian
Address: 106台北市大安區永康街28-1號

鼎泰豐 Ding Tai Fung
(Google Fu skills, you can find one near you)

4th Place
 高記 Kao Chi
(Google Fu skills, you can find one near you)

5th Place 
杭州小籠湯包 Hangzhou Xiaolong Tang Bao
Address: Are you sure you want to go here?

Last place: 杭州小籠湯包 Hangzhou Xiaolong Tang Bao
When we got to this place, there was a serious crowd (see the picture below). TripAdvisor says that this restaurant is #30 out of all the restaurants listed in Taipei.

So... let's do some Taiwanese food math

 line + great internet rating of 4.5 = THIS MUST BE THE BEST THING EVER!

Unfortunately, the xlb here fall short of spectacular. Actually, it was probably one of the worst xlb I have ever tasted. It was just so full of green onion and ginger flavor that it overwhelmed the soup and meat taste. In addition, they were smaller than the other places we tried. This is the second time that I have been here, and I thought the first time was a fluke. With this being the second time, it was definitely not a fluke. Hangzhou XLB, you disappoint me. I really don't get why you have such a high rating. Maybe people mistake it for the number one spot on our list, which is just next door and hidden.

4th Place: 高記 Kao Chi 

Cool takeout bag

There was an awkward two stuck together

Kao Chi has been competing with its neighbor Ding Tai Fung for quite awhile. With them being next to each other, it is hard for Kao Chi to not have any business because they just take the overflow from Ding Tai Fung. Compared to the other places we tried, these were quite greasy, like a mouthful of oil (too much), and the meat texture was like mush (ew...). Aside from that, it still tasted fine for a xlb. The wrapper was very thin and well made. In comparison to other places, this is only 4th place. I would say go to try it if you don't feel like walking more than 100 meters from the MRT station.

2nd/3rd Place: 好公道金雞園 Hao Gong Dao Dian 

I would never have known this place existed as a full service restaurant. The first floor looks like a take out dumpling shop. Little did I know that there was an upstairs that had many tables in traditional Taiwanese fashion (comes with yelling aunties that only speak Taiwanese and Mandarin).

These xlb perhaps have the best value for their taste out of all these restaurants. Each xlb only cost 11.25 NT, which is almost half the price of Ding Tai Fung. If you are craving xlb and just want them en mass, come here. The xlb wrappers were slightly thick, but the filling and soup had just the right proportion and flavor.

2nd/3rd Place: 鼎泰豐 Ding Tai Fung 

The famous xlb place that all tourists must go to is only 2nd/3rd place. What a surprise! Not really ... I remember Ding Tai Fung used to be good before they started expanding to many regions of the world. This time around, the soup dumplings lacked flavor even though everything else was spot on with the meat texture, soup, and wrapper. This is also the most expensive out of all these soup dumplings. I would only recommend this place if you were to take a high maintenance person who wants the service with a side of food.

1st Place: 盛園絲瓜小籠湯包 Sheng Yuan Si Gua XLB

This place's xlb is perhaps the best that I have ever had. The wrapper was pretty thin, the soup to meat ratio was just right, and the flavor made a memorable impact. There was a nice balance to this soup dumpling that left me with a great feeling that I would definitely keep coming back to this place. Ignore the reviews on Google. There are many bad reviews, which leaves it at a 3.6 out of 5 on Google. I assure you that you will have a pleasant experience there if you go during peak hours. (The one time I went when they were about to close, and the dumplings seemed like they wrapped up the scrap). From the other, many times that I have gone, the soup dumplings were excellent.T

So, when you decide to get soup dumplings near Yongkang St. Remember, you have other choices aside from Ding Tai Fung.

Here's a breakdown of the score sheet:


Friday, April 24, 2015

CaliBurger Taipei Taiwan - Review

OH YAY! Another burger place has arrived in Taipei (As if there aren't enough burger places in Taiwan). Most of them are horrible! But ... there is hope. I think, or so I thought.

An In n Out Chinese knock off has invaded Taiwan called CaliBurger. Here's their Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/caliburgertaiwan?fref=ts. From their menu, it looks like they have the same items as the popular chain, In n Out. If CaliBurger has the same concept as In n Out, they SHOULD taste just as good, right?

CaliBurger's ridiculous prices. 225 NT (7 USD) for a double patty.
(Sorry this place is not worth my DSLR)

Wrong! It is perhaps one of the worst burger that I've had in Taiwan and that is telling you something. I am not being bias because they tried to copy In n Out (I gave a fair review to Juanita Burrito and Taco, which is a rip off of Chipotle).

About the service speed:

It's supposed to be a fast casual restaurant, but they need to work on their coordination and teamwork. I saw one, just one hostess taking names down and showing people to their seats. That is fine, but she was also wiping down the tables and putting away trays that people didn't put away themselves (for people paying such a price for a burger, I bet Taiwanese people expect the restaurant to clean up and not bus trays to throw away like McDonalds or MOS). There were other staff members standing around the floor, but they were just standing there, while there were empty seats and a backed up line of people waiting to get seated. You guys could at least help that poor hostess wipe down tables, while she showed people to their tables.

About the kitchen:

I witnessed a kitchen nightmare. There were enough people back there to operate a fine dining restaurant. There is one rule in the kitchen, and that is if you are standing around, you clean or make yourself useful. I had the urge to jump in the back and ask them WHAT THE BLOODY HELL ARE YOU DOING? The efficiency was just not there yet. As you see below, the guy in the black was trying to shoulder the load of cooking all the burger patties. He was also speaking to everyone in English. Why English? You are in Taiwan! Speak Chinese or Taiwanese or else you will not communicate well with the team! I saw that some of the workers were puzzled with what he wants because he was talking to them in English. Another thing that I noticed was the inefficiency of assembling a burger. They had one person attempted to fold the shape to hold a burger, then pick up the burger that was assembled on a bare countertop and be finicky with their hands trying to mold the paper around the burger. There are a lot faster ways to wrap a burger! Also, their prep station looked like a mess. I saw one of the staff members wipe the burger assembly counter with a cloth and shake it over the trashcan, fold it, and throw it on to another countertop. I do not want to know where that towel has been and hopefully it was quickly washed or sanitized later.

It's probably because I have worked in a kitchen to notice all these small details, but come on... sanitation, efficiency are key to a successful kitchen operation. I hope they can improve upon this aspect.

There's SIX people in the open kitchen, while more are in the back.
The guys to the right were seen as not doing anything.
The guy in the black is their lead cook, by all means not close to chef level. 

Now on to the important part ... the food.
Our "lovely" order, 2 CALIDOUBLES,
1 CALIBURGER, special fries


The meat was absolutely dry as the bread and unevenly seasoned. http://city543.com/taipei/2015/04/20/7-reasons-why-caliburger-is-way-better-than-mcdonalds/. I'm calling city543 out on this because it tastes like a McDonald's burger, but McDonald's burgers have an even distribution of seasoning and sauce AND only costs 90 NT. How does one wring out MOST of the moisture out of a burger patty? Any guesses? Here's a few things that cause a burger patty to be dry.

1. Overworking the meat. From their Facebook posts, it looks like they take pre-ground (correct me if I'm wrong) beef from the suppliers, then roll it into a ball and then compress it some more. The meat, from what I see from their Facebook post, does not look like it has been well ground. This may have been a result of grinding the meat when the grinder blades are too warm, which reduces the meat into mush.

2. Overcooking. This is probably the culprit. For such a thin patty to get a nice sear, the grill temperature needs to be super hot. It did look like it was taking awhile for the patty to get a nice sear. Sorry to the cook in the back, but you might need to work a bit more on your technique.

3. Not enough fat content. They probably (just assuming) got the generic ground beef from a Taiwanese beef distributer of Australian beef. There is no way of telling what they grind, and it does not seem like the burgers have enough fat content as In n Out's burgers.

The burger did not have a good ratio of vegetables, meat, and bread. The bread was very stale tasting. This is probably caused by Taiwan's environment, leaving burger buns on the griddle too long (drying out), and not enough burger grease on the buns (come on! grease = flavor, but that was lacking in these burgers). There was also way too much vegetables in the burger that it overpowered the sauce.


Meh... nuff said. They were a soggy mess. Flavor was sort of there though.

I appreciate how CaliBurger is trying to be local and sustainable, but come on ... you can only be that once you figure out how to properly use these products and know how your beef is processed.

From someone who has eaten at various burger establishments in California, sorry, but CaliBurger does not make the cut as a good tasting burger. Stop branding yourselves as a Californian burger because there are various types of burgers in California. My friends, who also dined with me, also agree that this is nowhere close to In n Out. "I left feeling hungry because the burger was so (*does flippy hand motions) small" ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ - Iris.

What does that even mean? "Californians invented the concept of lifestyle".
Umm... not true. I would think that various cultures have their own concept of lifestyle. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

RAW - Chef Andre Chiang's new restaurant

No.301, Le Qun 3rd Road, Taipei City, Taiwan

On Saturday, I was lucky to snag a reservation for Andre Chiang's new restaurant RAW in Taipei. In order to get a reservation, you need to reserve 2 weeks in advance online at www.raw.com.tw. Using some computer magic, I got a reservation for Saturday's.

Service and Ambiance: 8.0/10 - very good, but some things can be worked on

Going into the restaurant, I had very high expectations, and I was not disappointed. The restaurant had a nice atmosphere that felt homey and cozy. The wooden tables, open kitchen, and the lack of white linen and set tableware made the place a no fuss restaurant. In Taiwan, I really don't like the overly polite service and bowing, and RAW had none of that.

One of the greatest things about Chef Andre is he greets all the guests and personally explains some of the dishes. It's like having friends cook and serve food from their home.

The only thing I had problems with is the service is that the waiters and waitresses served food too fast. I would still be working on a dish, then another dish would appear in front of me. I felt a bit rushed in the beginning because dishes kept coming one after another without a gap in between.

Food: 8.2/10
 Menu:  1850 NT 

Bread. 9.0/10

Bread made from buckwheat - 150 NT

Buckwheat butter

When the waitress come by and explained the menu, she asked us if we wanted to add bread to our meal. I would definitely recommend getting the bread.

The bread has a nice crust, aroma, and soft fluffy interior, though I do prefer my bread to be higher hydration, but that's just my personal preference. The butter is whipped French butter with toasted buckwheat and cocoa on top. The nice crunch from the buckwheat definitely made the bread memorable.

Asparagus, Broccoli, and Burnt Miso - 9.0/10 Brings back childhood memories. Yum

This was a great way to start the meal. This was a cold dish that was served immediately just a few minutes after we sat down. The flavors were quite refreshing. It kind of tasted like broccoli casserole that I'd get at those holiday parties back in America, which brought back a few memories of going to so and so's xmas party, and there would always be a casserole dish with breadcrumbs.

The proportion of broccoli, asparagus, and miso was quite perfect as there was a perfect amount with each bite. The asparagus was perfectly cooked, fresh, and did not have that bad asparagus aftertaste that I would usually get from eating it. There are very few restaurants that I've been to in Taiwan that can make asparagus feel like it was alive.

Carbonated Grapes with Mint 8.0/10 Fizzy poppy goodness! Too much mint :(.

Chef Andre came around our table at this point and explained that the grapes were like the marble soda that you would get at the convenient stores or night market in Taiwan. It was quite delicious and refreshing, but I wish they had served us four grapes instead of three that way my girlfriend and I would both get two grapes. I did have a problem with there being too many springs of mint since I don't like excess garnish on the plate.

Cobia, Citrus, Daikon - 8.0/10 Pretty good and refreshing

Another refreshing dish to start the meal. This fish is definitely Taiwanese, as 80% of marine cages in the country are dedicated to raising Cobia. The citrus and individual fruit pulp blended nicely with the fish, though I thought there could be more citrus flavor. There was also a nice texture from the daikon and sago (西米露), which is mainly used for dessert in Taiwan. Using sago added another enjoyable and interesting dimension to this dish.

Ajo Blanco, Cauliflower, Squid - 6.5 Above average but a bit meh.

For this dish, it was a nice play on Ajo Blanco. They had liquid nitrogen milk and thinly sliced cauliflower with squid. There was also almond milk and coconut flakes. It was a nice hot and cold balance and acted as a transition point from the cold to the hot dishes. Even though the squid was perfectly cooked, it did not go well with the other components. I could either taste squid or almond, but never both together. The squid seemed to overpower the almond flavor and because the squid was hot and almond was cold, the squid would have a stronger flavor.

Paella, Prawns, Piquillos - 6.0 Almost average, some things did not belong

At first, this dish looks pretty with a nice contrast of colors, but the flavors were not there. I understand that the paella is from the crispy rice on the shrimp's head, and there's a light spice from the sauce underneath the shrimp, but the dish lacked balance and depth. The shrimp lacked sweetness and saffron sauce was overpowered by the spiciness from the sauce underneath the shrimp. There was also black olive powder, which did I could not taste and felt that it did not contribute to the dish. Also, some of the vegetable components were all over the place.

Mushroom, Mushroom, Mushroom 8.5/10 Noms, very mushroomy, full umami!

There are so many mushroom flavors in this dish. Along with the flavorful mushroom broth, there's a low temperature poached egg hidden underneath the watercress and mushrooms. It has been awhile since I have had good mushroom soup. There was a right amount of saltiness to bring out the earthiness of the mushrooms.  I just think the egg could be a little bit more runny. The texture of the egg yolk left a weird feeling on my mouth and teeth. Other than that, the dish was quite delicious.

Short Rib, XO, Baguette - 10/10 - Perfect (A rare rating I give out)

This is one of those dishes that is stuck in my memory. I rarely give 10/10 on reviews, and I can't find anything wrong with this dish. The beef was cooked perfectly (also my favorite cut of meat done sous vide). It had a nice crust from the sear. The sauce was unique and had a slight miso, umami component to it. There's also a parsley puree that played nicely with the baguette puree and was a nice play on garlic bread. The slight acidity from the pickled onion (or some vegetable from the allum family?). The proportion of beef to sauce to leek was perfect. I could finish everything without any excess puree, sauce, or side component left over. I could eat this over and over again without getting tired of it.

Chocolate, Mochi, Burnt Butter - 8.5/10  Like a Snicker's Bar!

This is definitely a deconstructed Snicker's bar. There was a nuttiness from the brown butter, some toffee component, nogurt that was imitated by the mochi, and chocolate. If there had bad been more chocolate, I would have picked up the bowl and drank it. The only thing that I wish was done better was the mochi. The texture was slightly odd and left a weird grittiness in my mouth.

Coffee - 10/10 Aeropress 220NT

The coffee was brewed to my liking, but I don't drink much coffee so I can't really judge good coffee aside from this tasted very good.

Gingerbeer, Mint, Cucumber - 8.0/10 Refreshing and cool 320 NT

This was quite refreshing after such a nice meal. I was quite disappointed that there wasn't ginger beer in this, which was stated on the menu. Instead, it was ginger ale, which is why I give this a 8.0 instead of a 10/10.

Overall, I will be back here in February and maybe the holiday menu, which is 5200 NT. This is perhaps my favorite restaurant in Taiwan, and the best meal that I've ever had in Taiwan. I'm glad Chef Andre has come to Taiwan and set such a high standard and benchmark for good food. I hope to see many restaurants follow RAW's example in the future. A restaurant does not need foie gras, truffles, caviar, etc. to make great food. You just need technique, good ingredients, and innovation to make great food.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Le Mout, Taichung, Taiwan No.24 2014 Asia's Best Restaurant Part 1

Seems like I haven't posted here in awhile because I have been busy cooking a professional kitchen now. I only post if I encounter something interesting. Today was that interesting encounter. I went to a restaurant that is featured on Asia's Best Restaurants (http://www.theworlds50best.com/asia/en/asias-50-best-restaurants/2130/le-mout-restaurant.html). From out of the thousands of restaurants (maybe millions), these are the top 50. I expect that No. 24 be top notch, no room for error, and the attention to detail flawless, but unfortunately Chef Chen hasn't reached that perfection.

I'll briefly talk about the service and environment because I mainly focus on the food. The service was just ok. Just ok ... the waiter staff that served us went on a 3 to 4 minute monologue about what is in each dish with some pauses and umms like he or she forgot what each dish had. In addition, everyone looked like zombies. There wasn't liveliness in their service.

As for the table setting, there was an expectation for flawless set linens, but there were a few wrinkles in our table. I found some calcium deposit on the wine glass, which means they didn't properly clean their wine glasses.

Service (5/10) Just average.

Now on to the food.
Rated 5.2/10 Just Average

There were two menus available during lunch. One was the Classic Menu (4500 NT), which consisted of French classical dishes (as so said by the waiter). The other is The Tasting of Le Mout (3500 NT), which uses local Taiwanese ingredients to define Le Mout's cuisine.

I'll start with the classic menu.

Both menus have this aperitif

The first is a mini pizza, which consists of a mini pita filled with some creamy cheese sauce. The other is a tomato water jelly sphere with overcooked crab meat. I quite enjoyed the mini pizza and would eat lots of those for a snack. 6/10 Slightly above average. Would be a 8/10 if the jelly sphere didn't have overcooked crab.

I found it weird that they served the bread while we were eating or amuse bouche. I usually have restaurants serve the bread after they collected the dishes for the amuse. Anyways, this was some pretty good sour dough bread and butter.  7/10 Above Average

This is the second amuse, which was an egg custard with marsala wine, dehydrated lemon and potato (they sandwiched two potatoes in between a lemon). The wine sauce was way too sweet for my taste, which overpowered the egg and dehydrated items.  3/10 Below Average

Oyster and Pearls. I can see that Chef Chen did parody to Thomas Keller's Oyster and Pearls. In Keller's version, he uses tapioca pearls and caviar with a buttery sabayon sauce. In Chen's version, she uses large boba tapioca pearls that's hidden beneath lemon butter sabayon. An interesting dish that was pretty well balanced and uses something Taiwanese (boba). 7/10 Pretty good. Side note ... there was a tiny drop of sauce on the side of the plate, someone hasn't been checking the plates for cleanliness before serving.

(sorry, I finished this dish without taking a picture of the consomme)

Slow Cooked Beef Tongue with corn consomme, almond tofu, and dehydrated beef tongue jerky.
I quite enjoyed this dish. It is perhaps the best thing at that I've eaten at this restaurant. The tongue was cooked sous vide for 12 hours, but I found the consomme to be lacking in depth. 8/10 Good.

Poularde Farcie with Black Truffle, Baby Cabbage "Au Vin Jaune".
Oh god, I don't know where to start on how many things are wrong with this dish. They basically messed up a sous vide chicken by rolling it into a roulade with both dark and white meat and then probably sous vide it for more than an hour and holding it at the pass. By sous viding different cuts of chicken at the same temperature for a long time will cause some of the white meat to turn mushy. Also just taking the chicken out of a sous vide bag and just serving it is not good because the chicken is cold once it gets served to the customer. The truffle sauce was way too overpowering that I could only eat one or two bites of the chicken before becoming tired of the dish. 3/10 Below Average.  

One cool thing is the waitress let us choose knives to use with our next dish.

Angus Cap with Crispy Brisket, Carmaelized Milk Skin, Scallion Cream, and Jus Tranche with a side of foie gras.
My friend got this dish and just thought it was ok and the scallion cream's consistency was too much.

I got Pigeon in Oreintal Fragrance, Black Truffle Ragout and Mustard Green. This dish could have been great, but it was way tooo salty. I couldn't taste anything but salt. Also the foie gras was just foie gras with nothing special. 2.5/10 Below Average to almost not edible.

Eclair de Bleu d'Auvergne, Sweet Bordelaise Sauce and Hazzlenut Butter (yes they misspelled Hazelnut on their menu). I like this dish, but it was a balance between sweet, sour and salty. A bit too salty for me though. 6/10 slightly above average.

Riz au Lait, Citrus Orange Blossom Milk Foam.
This chocolate orange dish looks pretty, but it did not deliver because there were too many components that didn't flow together. Also, they did a bad job making the chocolate spheres. When I tried to crack the top to reveal the orange sherbet inside (I think but there were some tiny ice crystals inside the mixture, which probably shouldn't belong there), the sphere just sheared perfectly in half as if they didn't connect the hemispheres nicely.  5/10 Average

More about the other menu in my next post.   

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Rabbit Rabbit

My girlfriend and I were wandering around Taipei looking for Sunday brunch. It so happens that we stumbled upon a nifty little shop called Rabbit Rabbit. What type of name is rabbit rabbit? I was expecting them to serve rabbit stuffed with rabbit... but since we were looking for brunch, this is the place to go.

From their website:



Rabbit Rabbit
Rating: Will go again for brunch (means it's good and I only rate food)
Price: Look to bring 300NT to be safe. 

We stopped by this place at around 10:50 (they open at 11 am). Soon, there was a line of around 15 people behind us. We figured that this place is pretty popular especially with the "young people".   

Cute little logo they have.

Their menu has a variety of several types of poached eggs + (something you will typically find at brunch with poached egg) + English muffin. Of course, brunch has to have some egg related products such as, omelettes and scrambled mash up of whatever fattiness you can add to an egg (bacon, cheese, bacon fat). With all these breakfast items, you can choose to have white or wheat toast, sausage, ham, or bacon, crisscross fries or potato wedges, fresh fruit (they mean a banana with chocolate syrup on it), and fresh juice (lemon limeade?).

Brunch = Breakfast + Lunch. For their lunch portion, they offer burgers, which looks pretty good, and I will have to try it next time. With every burger, one can choose onion rings or fries. I forgot what else they have, but I will go back to get their burgers next time for a quest to find the best burger in Taipei.
Black Coffee

Time to actually talk about how the food tastes ...
The first items to come out was their coffee. I have to say that their coffee is just alright. I mean for a brunch place, the coffee was pretty good. It was definitely way better than coffee you find at Denny's or Ihop. 
Mashed Potato Omelette

 She ordered a mashed potato, cheese omelette, which was a pretty good combination. Everything was pretty well balanced and a typical brunch meal. The egg was fluffy and they did not make mashed goo for the mashed potatoes. I gotta say ... well done!  I was a bit disappointed to find that fresh fruit meant bananas with chocolate syrup. When I think of fresh fruit for brunch, I think of grapes, honeydew, cantaloupes, watermelon, apples , etc... Come on we are in Taiwan! There must be better fruit than just a banana for brunch! 

Scrambled Bacon and Cheese


Meanwhile ... after a bit ... I got my bacon, cheese, egg scramble.   Now in Taiwan, you can never expect too much for bacon. This word can also refer to ham or Canadian bacon. They actually had bacon!! The only problem I had with it was that it was not crisp. 

Another thing, I was not expecting the sausage to actually be a chicken breakfast sausage. Props to them for making an actual breakfast sausage instead of some weird Asian rip off. Overall, the meal was well-balanced. They even had Tabasco sauce, which is good with everything.   Lastly, the toast was well... typical Taiwanese toast, which is always absolutely delicious. You don't even need to put butter on it! 

I think I will come back here again for brunch in a month or so after I finish devouring the whole area of brunch places.