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.