KGB Kiwi Gourmet Burgers (Taipei)

August 26, 2013 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller

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The Specials Board

Burger joints in Taiwan are a dime a dozen, but one that keeps creeping up in recommendations is KGB (an acronym for Kiwi Gourmet Burgers), which as the name suggests was set up by a couple of ex-pats including a Kiwi.

It’s not an easy place to find, tucked away in a tiny alley off Shida Road, a short walk from the Taipower Building MRT station. The restaurant itself is small and cozy but nicely fitted to look like a chic cafe you might find in Sydney’s Newtown.

Fancy ketchup

Fancy ketchup

So what sets KGB burgers apart from the rest? Quality ingredients, apparently. They say the only use the freshest produce along with New Zealand beef and free range chicken, and the burger buns are made fresh to order from special bakers.

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Your meal at KGB involves a few choices. First of all, you pick your patty: beef, chicken or vegetarian. Second, you pick your burger type, and third, you pick your side, be it salad or fries. They also have a range of specialty burgers such as satay, lamb, bacon avocado, aioli (the KGB), and CC Heaven — Camembert with cranberry sauce. For some burgers you can also choose the “slim”, a smaller version of the “regular”. The prices range from about NT$200-260 for a regular, which is only about NT$60-70 more than the slim. In other words, I’d go for the regular every time.

We ended up choosing two burgers — a KGB (which comes with their special ginger lime aioli) and a Satay Chicken Burger. For the sides we got garlic fries and a rocket salad.

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The KGB with Garlic Fries

 

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The Satay Chicken Burger with Rocket Salad

First up, the KGB, served on a fresh bun with tomato, onion, lettuce, cheese, a thick, grilled NZ beef patty and some of that awesome ginger lime aioli. It was excellent, and if it’s not enough flavour for you, there’s always the option to add some ketchup. I wouldn’t say it’s one of the best burgers I’ve had, though it’s definitely one of the better burgers I’ve had in Taiwan. It’s indeed fresh, doesn’t overload on too many things like some of the other Taiwanese burger joints, and the size is manageable (you know it’s not when you struggle to figure out how to take a bite). But if you’re talking aioli on your burger, no burger joint can top Brodburger in Canberra (review here). It’s the best, you hear me? The Best!

The garlic fries were fairly good. Instead of garlic powder or flavouring, KGB offers crunchy fries with herbs and actual chunks of crushed garlic. Unfortunately it doesn’t taste quite as good as it sounds or looks. Not bad, but just not mindblowing.

The Satay Chicken Burger was a little disappointing, mainly because the chicken itself was overdone and not that easy to chew through (the satay sauce was good — thick and flavoursome). I’m not sure if it was a once-off thing or if their chicken is always like that, but if I go again I’m sticking with the beef. The rocket salad was fresh and crispy, but I’m not a big fan of balsamic dressing (though I know I am in the minority).

Perhaps I didn’t have the best first experience there, but I’d be interested in heading back to KGB again to give some of their other burgers a try. I like their style and the effort they put into creating burgers that are fresh, tasty, and with just the right amount of flamboyance.

8/10

Details

KGB Kiwi Gourmet Burgers

Website: http://www.kgbburgers.com/index_en.html

Address: No. 5, Lane 114, Shida Road, Taipei (nearest MRT Taipower Building, green line)

Phone: (02) 2363-6015

Hours: 12pm to 11pm (kitchen closes at 10pm)

2012 Movie Blitz: Part 11

August 26, 2013 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

Safe House (2012)

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Denzel Washington plays an ex-CIA operative who turns rogue and becomes an international criminal who, unsurprisingly,  appears to be more than meets the eye. Ryan Reynolds plays a low-level CIA agent who is tasked with looking after Denzel when the latter is captured and brought to a South African safe house (hence the title. Disaster strikes, and Reynolds is thrust into a dangerous situation in which he must figure out who he can trust in order to discover the truth behind everything.

It’s the type of basic premise we have seen dozens of times before (albeit with slight variations) — where a decent but relatively inexperienced guy out of his depth is paired with a slick professional and there is a big conspiracy waiting to be unveiled (is this considered a huge spoiler?).

I don’t mind these movies per se, but I’m a bit sick of the whole “Denzel is so cool” routine we seem to be getting in just about every film we see him in these days. You know, charismatic, super cool under pressure, extremely gifted in firefights and hand-to-hand combat, acts like he doesn’t give a crap about anything but cares deeply about doing the right thing in accordance with his own principles. As for Reynolds, I’m assuming he just played exactly the same type of character in RIPD (which I haven’t seen yet but will).

Look, Safe House isn’t bad — there’s intensity, action, suspense and a few semi-predictable twists here and there — but there is nothing that makes it memorable or stand out. In fact, I had forgotten a lot of the details and had to give myself a little refresher on YouTube and Wikipedia just to write this review. The performances are solid, but I didn’t like how the action sequences were edited with those quick, choppy cuts that prevent you from seeing exactly what is happening.

On the whole just an OK thriller that fails to live up to its full potential despite Denzel and an all-star cast that also features Vera Farmiga and Brendan Gleeson.

2.75 stars out of 5

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

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I swear I still intend to get to the acclaimed book on which this film is based, written by Stephen Chbosky. I’ve heard so many people rave on about the book that it would be an injustice for me to ignore it. Interestingly, the film version is directed by the author, who wrote the screenplay as well. Usually it’s a recipe for disaster to place so much of a story in the hands of a single person, but in this case it was complete justified because The Perks of Being a Wallflower turned out to be one of the best coming-of-age movies I’ve seen in a long time.

Charlie, played by Percy Jackson‘s Logan Lerman, is a high school freshman dealing with a traumatic loss from the year before. Shy and withdrawn, he is a wallflower, someone who observes but is never really part of the story — until he meets step-siblings Sam and Patrick, played by Emma Watson (Harry Potter) and Ezra Miller (We Need to Talk About Kevin), who accept him as part of their group.

Without going into too much more detail, this is a story about the loss of innocence, friendship, falling in love, loyalty, betrayal, and all those things many of us go through as we grow into adults. With full control over the material, Chbosky delivers an extremely genuine and heartfelt story told through a sensitive and delicate lens that I’m sure will be easy for many teens to relate to and conjure up a deep sense of nostalgia in adults. It’s hard to explain except to say that I connected with this film more than I thought I would and that I fully believed in the story from start to finish. Yes it is sentimental in parts but not overly so.

I’m astounded that Chbosky has only previously directed one other film, in 1995. The tone and atmosphere he creates in The Perks of Being a Wallflower is masterful and reflects just how in command of the material he is. He must also be credited for eliciting the best performances I have ever seen from Logan Lerman and Emma Watson. Let’s face it, Percy Jackson and The Three Musketeers are not the best films for a thespian to show off their acting talents, but Lerman is unbelievably believable as the mild-mannered Charlie who is immediately likable but is also clearly holding onto something that prevents him from opening up. Your heart goes out to him. The only complaints could be that he is not quite young-looking enough to pull off a freshman or that he is too good looking to play such a loner.

As for Emma Watson, wow. I always thought she was the most talented out of the Harry Potter trio, but here she completely sheds the shackles of Hermoine and gives us the best performance of her career. The same can be said for Ezra Miller, whom I thought would forever be trapped in my nightmares as the horrific Kevin (from We Need to Talk About Kevin, one of the best movies of 2011). Here he is a completely different character as the giddy and affable Patrick and totally made me forget that he butchered a bunch of kids in his previous role.

In some ways, The Perks of Being a Wallflower might oversimplify or even glamorize some difficult issues in adolescent life, but for me it’s a small flaw in an otherwise brilliant motion picture.

4.5 stars out of 5

PS: I’m almost doing The Perks of Being a Wallflower a disservice by reviewing it as part of a four-film movie blitz, because it deserves a solo review of its own. But I am lazy and I can’t be bothered.

Deadfall (2012)

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A stylish crime drama of intersecting subplots that feels strangely complicated but is actually very straightforward.

Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde play a pair of siblings on the run after a casino heist has gone horribly wrong. For some reason they must split up so they could reach their goal of making it across the Canadian border under blizzard conditions, kicking off a string of violent events and coincidences that eventually all comes to a head in a climatic flurry. The film is powered by an A-list cast that also features Charlie Hunnam (Pacific Rim), Kate Mara (House of Cards), Kris Krisofferson, Treat Williams and Sissy Spacek.

I found Deadfall a difficult film to grasp because it seems to be moving along confidently, taking the audience in several directions seemingly without aim, but there is actually an underlying strategy all along to pull all the strands together by the end. But at the end of it all, I said to myself, “Is that it?” Despite the intrigue, I was left wondering what the fuss was all about.

That said, I was engaged and kept wondering what was going on through the majority of the 94-minute running time. I suppose you could call it dark, character-driven film, but then again I didn’t really care for any of the characters. Could it be described as a B-grade movie masquerading as an A-grade movie because of its sound technical efficiency and the super cast? I dunno. I can’t decide whether I liked the film, disliked the film, or if I am just indifferent about it. Meh.

2.5 stars out of 5

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012)

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Every now and then comes along a really interesting idea for a movie and the execution is nearly good enough to pull it off, but for whatever reason just doesn’t quite get there. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, starring Steve Carrell and Keira Knightley, is such a film. It starts off brilliantly and has its fair share of genuine laughs and oddly comical moments all the way through, but unfortunately it loses steam halfway through and drifts towards a rather disappointing final act.

The film starts off with the announcement that the world, as we know it, is coming to an end. A giant asteroid is coming to Earth and there’s no Bruce Willis to save us. With just three weeks until impact, the world is understandably flipped into chaos (with drugs and suicides and looting and guilt-free sex dominating), but at the same time there are many lost and lonely individuals out there who have no idea how they are going to spend the last few days of their lives. Steve Carrell, whose wife leaves him in the opening scene, is one of them, until he meets Knightley, who had just broken up with her boyfriend and has no chance to see her family in England one last time.

Seeking a Friend could be described as a road trip comedy-drama, but it’s really a fascinating imagining of how the world would react if everyone thought they had just days to live. Would you keep working in your job because you have nothing else better to do? Or would you stay with family and go have beach BBQs all day? Or will you go crazy and break every law you can think of, just for the sake of it? A lot of the things depicted in this film, as random and outrageous and hilarious as they are, strangely ring true. I laughed often and hard, especially early on.

I’ve never been a big fan of either Carrell or Knightley, so I was shocked to discover that I really liked both of them in this. Despite the age gap (51 to 28), they had a comfortable rapport and a sweetness to them, and the resulting banter was sharp and clicking.

However, perhaps feeling like it cannot be a pure comedy with no emotion (given it is the end of the world, after all), the film starts to become more personal and begins venturing into light melodrama, regretfully sucking out its earlier charm. The closer it got to the end, the more flat and uninteresting things got. Some of the attempts are indeed poignant, but frankly I just wanted more laughs.

3.5 stars out of 5

Grandma Nitti’s Kitchen (Taipei)

August 26, 2013 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller

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We had a rare Saturday morning off and decided to wander Taipei’s chic Shida area for a nice cafe or restaurant to enjoy a leisurely brunch or lunch. We ended up wandering around aimlessly to Grandma Nitti’s, apparently a popular joint for locals I remember vaguely from recommendations I read up on the web a while back.

It was too hot outside to keep wandering, so we went inside and waited for a table (not too bad, about 15 minutes). I thought the place looked pretty tiny from the outside, but as it turned out there was a whole second floor as well. It was packde out anyway.

The interior (on both floors) looks pretty average, with standard wooden tables and a few decorations covering the peeling and stained white walls. But at least there was air conditioning and fans spinning away.

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We got a seat on the second floor and flipped through the extensive menu, which is one of the most volume-heavy of any restaurant I have ever been to. Seriously, they had everything, from all day breakfast and brunch (including pancakes and waffles) to salads and soups, quesadillas, sandwiches, burgers, subs, pizzas, pastas, dessert, assorted beverages and more. Many of these dishes also have minor variations, so there are choices within choices to be made.

They also have weekly brunch specials that looked like way too much food. I only took a photo of the all day breakfast page of the menu because there was just too much stuff. The prices were around NT$200-300 per dish.

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I grew somewhat sceptical of the place early on because there was just too much variety on the menu, leading me to suspect that perhaps they would be more into quantity than quality. It was also extremely difficult to choose what to order (even with the recommendations with Grandma Nitti’s head next to them), so my advice is to have roughly some idea of what you would like before you go there.

In the end, we went with an Eggs Benedict (with smoked salmon) and a Lasagna. Sounds boring but trust me when I say a lot of time and effort went into these selections. Just missing the cut were a Philly steak burger and some wild pasta I can’t remember.

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The Eggs Benedict came with a drink, which I turned into a traditional lemonade — that was a little too watered down for my liking. The famous breakfast dish itself was disappointing because it wasn’t a “real” Eggs Benedict. This was two poached eggs (one was runny, the other was fully cooked) sitting on top of some runny Hollandaise sauce, and a hard English muffin sliced in half on the side, plus a hash brown and some smoked salmon with onions and capers. I tried putting the contents into the muffin but it was a fruitless venture because the muffin was practically inedible. I still ate most of it though, topped up with tomato sauce to give it more flavour.

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The Lasagna was OK. I’m not picky about my lasagnas and this one had some tasty meat sauce and enough of a bite to make it interesting, but the edges were either too fully baked or not baked well enough, resulting in a strange chewy texture that made it feel like it was lacking in freshness. I ate most of it too, nonetheless.

The Lasagna was upgraded to a set (for an extra NT$100) to include a drink and dessert of the day, which was their signature chocolate brownie cake. This, I must admit, was pretty good. The cake came to us warm, with warmish melted chocolate on top. The cake itself was soft and moist but not too sweet.

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The service was also a little problematic at times. They were undoubtedly very busy, which may have led the orders to be messed up a couple of times (we had asked for no ice in the iced coffee), though in general the staff were friendly and willing to help.

The total cost of the meal, including the 10% surcharge, came to just under NT$800. To be honest I wasn’t totally satisfied with the experience and don’t get why the place is so popular and packed with people on a regular basis. We even spotted a Japanese couple with two young kids who followed a guide book all the way there, reflecting its reputation and popularity.

Perhaps we ordered the wrong mains (even though they were both “recommended” menu items), but apart from the cake the food was neither particularly tasty nor refined. It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great either, just acceptable — a little rough around the edges, so to speak, and felt somewhat processed, which might explain why they were able to serve us so quickly despite the small kitchen and large crowds.

6.5/10

PS: I hear they have a second store nearby, on Xinhai Road

Details

Grandma Nitti’s Kitchen (中西美食)

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/grandmanittiskitchen

Address: No. 8, Lane 93, Shida Rd., Taipei, Taiwan (nearest MRT is Guting or Taipower Building Station)

Phone: (02) 2369-9751

Hours: Monday-Saturday 10pm-11pm, Sunday 10am-10pm