Katsusei (勝勢) (Taipei)

February 1, 2015 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller

 

 

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Move over Anzu, there’s a new tonkatsu king in town.

For years, I have been convinced that Anzu (杏子) offers the best katsu in Taiwan, though recently I have heard murmurs that the quality of their food has declined significantly. At the same time, a new juggernaut, Katsusei (勝勢), is said to have emerged in Taipei’s Xinyi district at Breeze’s new Songgao store.

As it turns out, the two restaurants are owned by the same chain, so that explains a lot, but in any case I still had to check it out for myself.

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Apparently the place gets packed out early, so we arrived just after the clock struck 11am to ensure a seat. By noon there was a line forming outside.

Judging from the menu, the special is this kurobuta (black pork). They even have a super black one unique to Breeze that uses black crumbs. The other special is the Australian rib eye beef steak katsu.

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For those into seafood, they also have this massive tiger prawn katsu and Hiroshima oyster katsu, as depicted below.

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Other options in on the menu include regular tonkatsu, chicken rolls, steak and hot pots, as well as special lunch bentos.

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We ended up going with a kurobuta katsu (fillet) and a regular hire katsu (loin). With one of the orders we paid a bit extra for a set that includes a beverage and a choice of dessert.

Katsusei‘s sauces and condiments are very similar to Anzu‘s. They have this little tub of pickles which are really nice, plus all-you-can-eat rice and cabbage salad. The two salad dressings are sesame and shiso , and the two katsu sauces are sweet and spicy. As with most katsu restaurants these days you get a bowl of sesame to grind and mix with the sauces.

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The katsu was, as expected, sublime. Definitely as good as Anzu was in its heyday, perhaps even better. The regular pork loin katsu below arrived first, and it was extremely soft and tender. When you add that tiny dash of hot mustard on the side to go with the sauce and rice, the mix of flavours and textures is simply unbeatable.

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The kurobuta katus came second and it was also very good for a fillet katsu — which typically have more “bite” than the pork loin. No complaints though about the flavour, the juiciness of the pork itself and the crunchiness of the crumb coating. The miso soup and pickled sides were cherries on top of a very satisfying meal.

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Lastly, as part of the meal set, an orange juice (not freshly squeezed though) and a surprisingly nice cheese cake.

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My only gripe was that the cake came with a fork that was very difficult to use as it would splinter the cake into tiny pieces. Price-wise, it was very reasonable,  just a shade under NT$900 for two people.

Overall, one of the best if not the best katsu restaurants I’ve sampled in Taiwan. Katsusei is the real deal, and fans of Anzu should do themselves a favour and try this place out.

10/10

Details

Katsusei (勝勢)

Address: Level B2, Breeze Songgao, No. 16 Songgao Road, Xinyi District, Taipei (nearest MRT Taipei City Hall / Taipei 101 World Trade Center)

Phone: (02) 2722-0128

Hours: Sun-Wed 11:00-21:30; Thurs-Sat 11:00-22:00

Movie Review: Big Hero 6 (2014)

January 31, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

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Big Hero 6 is the kind of animated film I would have thought was the best thing ever when I was a kid. Kid geniuses, cool superpowers and a cute robot friend to boot, it’s every little boy’s dream come true. I admit I had a great time with it as an adult too despite its fairly straight-forward sci-fi action premise, conventional plot and Avengers team concept (not surprising because it’s loosely based on a Marvel comics series of the same name).

Set in the fictional hybrid city of San Fransokyo (even though the Japanese aspects remind me more of Osaka), Big Hero Six is all about the conveniently named Hiro, a 14-year-old genius who loves to design fighting robots and using his 3D printer to turn them into reality. Without giving away too much plot, let’s just say Hiro designs something really cool that ends up being utilised by a masked villain for evil purposes, and it is up to him and his team of five very clever friends to save the day.

Big Hero 6 does not break any new ground, but it’s a strong effort by Disney that ticks all the right boxes. The visuals are colourful and easy on the eyes; the characters are affable and have plenty of heart; the action is exciting and creative; and the innovation — in particular the designs of the robots and their abilities — is very impressive. None of these things would matter very much if the film doesn’t have heart, but fortunately it does thanks to the strong development of Hiro’s journey.

If you’ve seen the trailer or the posters you’ll know there’s a very adorable white inflatable robot called Baymax, which is a health care assistant designed by Hiro’s brother Tadashi. It’s totally deliberate, but Baymax succeeds in supplying the film with ample cuteness and humour. You know that’s what he’s designed to make audiences feel but you can’t help but fall in love with him.

Big Hero 6 is up for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars next month and I’ll probably be rooting for it to win. It’s not super hilarious like the snubbed Lego Movie, it’s not super cute and moving like Up, and it’s certainly not on the level of Toy Story, which is all of those things and more — but Big Hero 6 succeeds as a fun, entertaining and pretty animated film that audiences of all ages will enjoy.

3.75 stars out of 5

 

Movie Review: Stand By Me Doraemon (2014)

January 30, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

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Doraemon was probably the first manga and anime I was exposed to as a child, so it made sense for me to choose Stand By Me Doraemon — the first 3D computer animated Doraemon feature — as my three-year-old son’s first cinematic experience.

It’s a good choice, because unlike other Doraemon feature films that depict standalone adventures, Stand By Me Doraemon is an origins story that takes us right back to the beginning and features some of Doraemon’s best known gadgets. While there are original elements, many of the subplots, including the ending, are borrowed directly from the manga/anime, though due to time constraints some classic chapters were condensed into montages.

For those who don’t already know the story, it’s about a loser kid named Nobita who is in the very bottom percentile in terms of both intellectual and athletic ability. To change his fortunes, Nobita’s great-great-great-grandson from the 22nd century sends him Doraemon, a lovable robot cat with a pocket full of handy futuristic gadgets. With Doraemon’s help, Nobita sets out to alter his future and win the affections of Shizuka, the perfect girl-next-door, while also fending off his friends, the bully Gian and the show-off Suneo.

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It’s a good-looking movie, with smooth 3D computer animation that pays homage to the simplicity of the original anime. As such, there aren’t many eye-popping images, though old fans should be content with the faithful transition from 2D hand-drawn animation to 3D CGI.

As a cynical adult, I have a few problems with the story’s logic and its underlying messages, some of which could be construed as shallow. As a kid, however, all I cared about was how cool Doraemon’s gadgets are and how much I wish I had them, so I’m not too concerned about my son being led astray.

Ultimately, notwithstanding the complexity of all the time travelling, Stand By Me Doraemon is a story that’s easy to follow and like if you enjoy rooting for the underdog. I don’t know if it’s the nostalgia flooding back, but I was actually very moved by the movie in the end. The final message teaching kids to be independent and that having a kind heart is the best attribute of all is something even adults can appreciate.

My son loved the experience and I had a pretty good time too. We’re already counting down the days until the next Doraemon feature.

3.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Imitation Game (2014)

January 29, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

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You know what’s awesome? Watching a movie you expect to be very good, and then having those expectations shattered because it’s even better than you thought it would be. That’s essentially what happened when I watched The Imitation Game, the amazing true story about how British prodigy Alan Turing cracked the Nazi’s “unbreakable” Enigma code during the Second World War.

I had heard mostly rave reviews about the film, especially after it received eight nominations at next month’s Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor for Benedict Cumberbatch. Usually when a film is overhyped, the ensuing viewing experience will inevitably turn into (at least) a mild disappointment. Case in point: 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, another British flick that received overwhelming praise but put me into one of the best sleeps I’ve had in years.

And so I was shocked that discover that The Imitation Game is the real deal. The film had it all — a riveting “true story” premise, a fascinating central character, stylish execution, wonderful performances and plenty of excitement and thrills. And to top it off it wasn’t “too British” at all.

The story is clearly and cleverly told through three time periods — in 1951, when police start probing into Turing’s life after an alleged break-in at his house; in the early 1940s, when Turing is hired by the British government to crack the Enigma code used by Nazis to encrypt their messages; and during Turing’s school years, when we learn how his genius is also his curse. I was really impressed by how each time period served a distinct purpose, both in terms of plot and characterisation, and how everything would come together for viewers in the end like solving a giant puzzle, much like how Turing cracks the code in the film.

I had fears that the movie would be flat despite its premise because, let’s face it, watching people sit around trying to crack a code on screen could be kinda boring. This was one of the fatal flaws of one of Cumberbatch’s other “true story” films, 2013’s The Fifth Estate. Cumberbatch was great as Julian Assange, but none of the films’ digital wizardry could make typing on keyboards and online chats feel exciting.

The masterful script by Graham Moore and the crafty delivery by Norwegian director Morten Tyldum avoid such pitfalls by explaining just enough for audiences to understand the task at hand but without losing them through over-complicating things. They fill the movie with constant sources of tension, from Turing’s tenuous relationships with his colleagues and his superiors in the British government to the moral quandaries of war and hiding his deep dark secret. There’s even a Russian spy in there to keep things interesting, and it also helps that there is actually a big physical machine with gears and the whole shebang that churns through the code combinations as we wait with eager anticipation.

Cumberbatch deserves the acclaim for his portrayal of Turing, and I would not be at all upset if he takes home the Best Actor gong next month. Thanks to Cumberbatch’s performance, The Imitation Game is as much a biographical character study of Turing as it is a film about breaking a Nazi code. Not very many actors could have done what he did, and that’s to make audiences not just sympathise with the tragic character, but root for an arrogant, socially inept loner who challenged the Enigma code more for ego than to save lives. And yet Cumberbatch manages to win us over very early on with his charm and witty delivery.

Kiera Knightley, who earned a Best Supporting Actress nod as Turing’s colleague Joan Clarke, is also very good, as is the rest of a quality ensemble cast featuring the likes of Matthew Goode, Mark Strong and Tywin Lannister himself, Charles Dance.

I can’t think of anything negative to say about this movie. Award bait or not, The Imitation Game is an instant classic that tells an important story about a forgotten hero but doesn’t forget to educate us, excite us and captivate us along the way. Hands down one of the best movies of 2014.

5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)

January 28, 2015 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

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I must admit I was not all that enthused about seeing The Hundred-Foot Journey, even though it’s supposedly a comedy about an Indian restaurant opening next to a Michelin-starred one in France. And being the pig I am, that should have made it a must-see. The poster, however, just made it look…boring, and it didn’t help that it had Helen Mirren acting all Queen-like on it.

Anyway, I ended up watching the movie on my flight back to Sydney because I had more or less seen everything else on offer. The premise is better thought-through than I imagined: an Indian family that ran a restaurant in Mumbai is forced the leave India for the UK due to civil unrest, and then relocates to France because English vegetables suck. They eventually settle near the village Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val and decide to open a loud Indian restaurant in the abandoned building across the road from an upscale French restaurant owned by Helen Mirren (who plays an English-speaking woman with a French accent), sparking a competitive “war” between the two sides. I don’t want to give too much more of the plot away, though I will say I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that there’s a lot more to the story than this initial chapter.

It’s never a bad thing to have Helen Mirren in any film, and she is as brilliant as you would expect as the seemingly stuck up Madame Mallory. Indian-American actor Manish Dayal plays the central character, the culinarily gifted Hassan, with veteran Om Puri playing his traditional yet feisty father. French actress Charlotte Le Bon plays the attractive sous chef at the French restaurant who develops a friendship with Hassan, though I found the chemistry between them to be somewhat lacking.

The weird thing is that while the film turned out very similar to what I had expected, I actually ended up quite liking it.  Not that I would have minded, but the film is nowhere near the food porn that Jon Favreau’s Chef is because it’s all about the characters and their respective journeys. It’s mildly amusing but not super funny. And the romance(s) isn’t a central focus of the film, so it’s never given proper attention.

It’s really a mish-mash of several ideas that can’t really decide what it wants to be (as reflected in at least two direction changes in the plot), and yet the final product is undeniably likable. The food is nice, the story is pleasant and the characters are affable. Nothing about it will blow you away, but it’ll more than do the trick if you’re simply after a feel-good experience. If we’re comparing it to cuisine, The One-Hundred Foot Journey is no Michelin star banquet, but it’s a lovely and warm home-cooked meal some might find just as enjoyable.

3.5 stars out of 5

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