Trésors de la Mer (Taipei)

April 29, 2015 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller

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I’m not much of a seafood guy, to be honest — too much trouble getting all that shell off, sorting through bones and putting up with potential skin allergies — so I had never heard of Addiction Aquatic Development, basically a fish market joint owned by the Japanese cuisine juggernaut Mitsui Group.

The website can explain the place better than I can, but essentially they offer many different types of ways you can eat fresh seafood. There’s a supermarket with a lot of sashimi, sushi and bento; a stand-around sushi bar where they make the stuff fresh; a hotpot area; a grill/BBQ section; and a proper restaurant — Trésors de la Mer .

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The view from the second floor of Trésors de la Mer

The restaurant also serves fresh seafood, which you can choose yourself from the tanks and iced section outside the front door.

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They have set specials (in Chinese only) that range from NT$1,280 to NT$2,280 per person (minimum 6 per table), but as I am quite picky with my seafood we decided to order a la carte.

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The seafood is REALLY fresh

The upstairs dining area is spread out but comfortable, and also surprisingly child-friendly.

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It’s all about the food, of course, so let’s check out what we got.

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First up, salmon sashimi. We only got salmon because that’s what we like, but we got half belly and half “normal.” Served on a bed of ice and with fresh lemon pieces, this was an absolute delight.

If you noticed that it is missing wasabi, it is because we have to grind it fresh ourselves.

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You get this plate with trapping holes in it and you have to grind a stick of Japanese horseradish to create the wasabi, which you then scrape to the edges with this wooden brush. It’s a lot of work, but totally worth it, because fresh wasabi is totally different to that processed stuff you mostly get and it’s fabulous.

If you order sushi, they will roll around a sushi cart and make it for you on the spot.

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I ordered a tuna one and it was just OK. Not enough tuna for the amount of rice you get and for the size of the dried seaweed sheet.

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One of the highlights was the prawns, seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic and served with a side of salad drizzled with a vinaigrette dressing. The prawns were just so fresh and succulent and makes you realise that freshness really makes a huge difference.

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To ensure we would we full, we ordered a stir-fry seafood and chicken udon. Also very good, with a thick but light sauce but not too starchy. The seafood again was fresh and the chicken was surprisingly succulent.

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I love scallops, so we got a couple of skewers of grilled scallops. It was fresh and flavoursome, though in hindsight seared might have been better because scallops are more awesome when they are raw.

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The biggest surprise of the meal was the fish. It looked small and dry, but boy was it marvellous. With just a dash of salt and lemon, the natural flavours were allowed to shine through, and despite being grilled it was so fresh it almost melts in your mouth with a natural moistness.

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Lastly, you get a plate of fresh fruit — in this case sweet pineapple, bell fruit and guava.

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After sampling the meal at Trésors de la Mer I can definitely understand why Addiction Aquatic is such a popular destination for tourists, especially those from Hong Kong and Japan. If you love seafood, there’s probably no better place to visit in Taipei.

8.5/10

Details

Trésors de la Mer

Website: http://www.addiction.com.tw/lamer/

Address: Level 2, No.20, Aly. 2, Ln. 410, Minzu E. Rd., Zhongshan Dist., Taipei City

Hours: 11:00-24:00 (Addiction Aquatic open 6:00-24:00)

Phone: +886-2-2508-1268

Ita 義塔 (Taipei)

April 15, 2015 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller

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Another day, another Wowprime Group restaurant. Taiwan’s good industry juggernaut has just about tackled everything, from steak to Japanese to Teppanyaki to hotpot. Just as I was wondering when they’d venture into Italian, out comes Ita  (義塔), a new establishment that follows in their predictable but comfortable set course tradition.

As at the date of my visit in March 2015, there was only one store in Taipei, one in Taoyuan and two in Taichung, though if it is successful — and I think it will be — I’m sure the franchise will branch out very quickly.

The decor inside the store is fairly typical of Wowprime restaurants. Comfortable, clean, and probably designed by the same people. It’s a very child-friendly place that has ample baby and child seats for all ages and free soup and bread for the young ones.  They have a semi-open pizza kitchen but we were seated at the other end so we didn’t see them in action.


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Ita belongs to the lower end of Wowprime’s price spectrum. Each set is just NT$380 +10% service charge, and you get bread, salad, soup, a main course, dessert and a beverage. You can also just get a main course without all the extras for NT$280, which is also the price for a fried share plate that contains chicken wings, fish and French fries.

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First up, some bread. Fresh, warm, and with butter. Not bad.

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We ordered both salad options, the cold Caesar, which appears to have no chicken.

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And the warm roasted vegetables.

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This is the corn soup for the kiddies (also an option for the adults). Creamy.

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We also got the pumpkin soup, probably their best soup.

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And the tomato vegetable soup, which was average.

Choosing the main course was very difficult because they have so many options. They have five types of pizza and nine types of pasta/risotto. We were so lost, because everything looked so good in the menu photos, that we even ordered an additional pizza. In the end, we got two pizzas and a pasta.

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The first was the Margherita, with tomato and basil. It looked pretty good and tasted pretty good. Obviously not on par with some of the pizzas I’ve had elsewhere, but for the price it was very good value.

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The second was their only mix-and-match pizza, the half-Hawaiian, half Hakka pork pizza. Pretty good too. The kids liked the Hawaiian. The Hakka pork was a little salty but I think that’s the way it’s meant to be.

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We kind of wanted steak too, so we got the roasted garlic pasta with steak. Surprisingly excellent. The pasta was cooked to perfection and the meat was fairly tender. The sauce that came with it was super.

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This is the beverage. A lemon ice drink. Sweet and sour, just the way I like it.

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As for the dessert, we got the banana chocolate cake.

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And the berry milk pudding. Loved the milk pudding. The banana chocolate was OK.

Overall, a place I can see myself coming back to. It’s not gourmet cuisine but it’s very solid and ranks as one of the above average Wowprime restaurants. The affordable pricing makes it especially attractive. Most of all, it’s the variety in the options of main courses that make me want to come back and try again.

8/10

Details

Ita (義塔)

Website (Chinese): http://www.itahouse.com.tw/index.htm

Address: No. 99, Section 1, Chongqing S Rd, Zhongzheng District, Taipei

Phone: 02-2361-2792

 

The First @ Eslite Spectrum Songyan (Taipei)

April 12, 2015 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller

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It was anniversary time, so we needed somewhere special. My foodie cousin recommended The First, a relatively new restaurant inside the Eslite Spectrum Songyan store that’s been getting rave reviews online. The cuisine has been described as modern French with a distinct Taiwanese influence and flavour. Sounded good to me.

The restaurant is literally among the books on the third floor, not exactly the kind of place you’d expect to find a top notch restaurant with great ambiance and views. The decor, as you can see below, is new, very clean cut and comfortable, and it put me immediately at ease as soon as I walked in.

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The restaurant is also known for its impressive views, including of the under-construction Taipei Dome and the iconic Taipei 101 in the background. Apparently dining by the window at night is particularly awesome, so make sure you reserve a seat early.

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For both lunch and dinner, they serve two set menus, so no a la carte  options, though I understand the chefs can make amendments to the ingredients if there are certain things you don’t eat. On this day in March there was a Menu Prestige (for NT$1,680 +10% service charge) or a Menu Elegance for either NT$900 or NT$1,000 (+10%) depending on your choice of main course. For dinner I understand it’s a choice of a NT$1,600 (+10%) menu or a NT$2,500 (+10%) menu. They also have an afternoon tea which I hear is quite spectacular.

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We initially wanted to get one of each, but on second thought we decided to go all out and get two of the Prestige, which had more courses and seemingly more enticing options.

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First up, the complimentary freshly baked bread with olive oil. I loved this bread, which had a light but sweet lemon tang to it. I was actually tempted to get seconds but decided against it at the last second as I wanted space for the rest of the meal.

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The first appetizer was a chilled oyster dish. The green thing on the bottom of the plate is not sauce but jelly, made from cucumber. It was an interesting dish because I hadn’t had anything like it before, though as I’m not a huge fan of fresh oyster it didn’t do a whole lot for me. I feel like the dish prepared the palette more than anything else.

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Next up, a plate of winter vegetables and wild herbs from local Taiwanese farms. This was also very interesting as the dish was laid out in a way that you would have a different flavour and texture with each bite. There’s that green vegetable meringue which was surprisingly tasty, and from what I remember there were four types of sauces and mayonnaise that made it a bit of an adventure.

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I would have liked a soup of some kind, though the menu instead offered a 65-degree egg with smoked and corned duck, potato and Sakura shrimp. You mix it all together and the result is a warm and flavoursome party in your mouth. Reminded me of those Japanese steamed egg cups.

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The first of the main dishes was the Cherry Valley duck, which was amazingly soft and juicy. Probably my fave dish of the meal thanks to the sauce and kumquat jam that came with it and the creamy barley risotto beneath.

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The other main course was the fish with Hakka pork and mushrooms. This reminded me a lot of Tetsuya’s signature fish dish because the skin on top is so perfectly crispy and the fish itself is moist and kind of melts in your mouth. Loved this one too, and the fact that it’s not too big so you end up stuffing your face.

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Lastly, the dessert, which says “TERAmisu” on the menu. It’s basically a twist on the traditional tiramisu as it separates the components and infuses the ingredients with tea. It result is a collection of cremes and ice creams along with an assortment of thin chocolate pieces, sauces, powder and rice crisps. Very creative and tasty dish.

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And of course, some tea to finish things off. The best part is that you can go wander around in the book store immediately after while you digest.

On the whole, a splendid dining experience. There are probably better places in strictly in terms of taste, but The First also offers a nice blend of creativity, ambiance, setting and views. Just a very relaxing and comfortable place to eat.

8.5/10

Details

The First

Website: http://www.eslitegourmet.com.tw/Store/Space.aspx?sid=A043 or http://artevent.eslite.com/product-page-694

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Restaurant-the-first/544540242262086?fref=ts

Phone: 02-66365888#1515 / 02-66389888

Address: Eslite Songyan Spectrum, No. 88, Yanchang Rd., Xinyi Dist, Taipei

Hours: 11am-10pm

Welkin Hot Pot (天鼎) (Taipei)

March 10, 2015 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller

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So we’ve been hearing rave reviews about this place called Welkin, a relatively new hotpot place, which has two stores in Taipei and one in Kaohsiung. The group also has a Hokkaido BBQ restaurant called Duomo, also in Taipei.

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The first thing I will say about the place is that it is very nice. Swanky. Very different to your typical cheap and dirty hotpot place in Taipei. Despite how it looks, however, Welkin is still all-you-can-eat, which is what Taiwanese people love because they think they’re getting great value for money.

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The branch we went to on Anhe road recent just completed renovations and expanded their store two twice its previous size. Business must be good, even though I heard the restaurant was embroiled in that embarrassing oil scandal last year. I’m sure they sorted that mess out and their suppliers are qualified now.

To be honest, I’m not 100% sure how the menu works at Welkin. There are menus and all, but you’re better off getting a waiter to explain it to you. In short, they offer two set courses, each coming with a regular hotpot and a steam pot, which is supposed to be quite healthy as you steam all the food and allow the fat and oils to drip down below.

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There are two types of sets, a NT$798/person set, which comes with crab and an assortment of all-you-can-eat meats (beef, pork, chicken, etc) and processed hotpot products, plus a salad bar where you can get extra stuff as well as salads and fruit. The NT$998 is basically the same except there is an additional seafood platter. Of course, there is the customary 10% service charge on top. Children under 100cm are free, and it’s half price between 100cm-140cm. Anything above that is full price.

All sets come with unlimited soft drinks and beer, as well as a large handmade dessert to share. From what I understand, if you have four people or more in your group you can upgrade your crab to lobster for free, which is what we did.

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Before you start eating anything, they bring up this bowl of lettuce leaves for you to wrap the meats, a cool sugar cane drink that is very light and only a little sweet, great for cleansing the palette. Everyone also gets three sauces in a little tray. From left to right: a wine-based sweet sauce, a tangy lemony sauce and a thick sesame sauce. They each go well with different things, but my favourite had to be the sesame. I can’t get enough of that stuff.

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First up, a light seafood soup. Not a lot of flavour but it gently preps your belly for what’s to come.

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Here’s the lobster we upgraded to. As you can see, fresh lobster, some prawns and plenty of fresh vegetables. The white dish on top is a creamy sauce that goes well with the lobster.

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The meats are also presented well. Here’s the beef, which came with a kiwi sauce we picked (you get a choice of three). Sublime.

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A hand roll with fish roe and pork floss.

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Pork slices (yet to be cooked) with soy and butter.

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And here it is cooked.

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Seafood platter, with fish, prawns and scallop (uncooked)

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Cooked.

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The rest of the steamed meats (pre-cooked).

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After that we got the hotpot rolling, and you can throw in whatever you want.

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Some of the stuff we got from the all-you-can-eat salad bar. Apart from the seafood platter stuff and the lobster/crab you can also get as much extra meat or prawns, etc as you want as well. Just have to tell the waiters. I heard that the waiters might be deliberately slow in bringing out the food so you can’t eat as much, but on this Friday night they were packed out as usual (the newly renovated section was completed but not yet open to the public) and I found the service to be quite fast.

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Lastly, when all is done, they bring on the dessert. I don’t know if it changes, but on this night we got an awesome honey toast. Marshmallows, ice cream, chocolate sauce, fruit and wafers — doesn’t get much better than that!

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Strangely, even though it was all-you-can-eat, I didn’t feel that stuffed after the meal. Neither did other members of my family. I think it had something to do with the steaming of the food, which made it a lot lighter than hotpots and BBQs. The price was decent — NT$1098 (including surcharge) per person for the deluxe meal — but you can save a lot of money if you buy a book of 13 vouchers for NT$10,000. That works out to be NT$769 per person (no need to pay surcharge).

Nice ambiance, good service. The quality of the food is better than expected consider it is all-you-can-eat, and there’s quite a good variety to choose from. Not the type of place I’d go back to regularly, but definitely a good experience if you are celebrating a special occasion.

8.5/10

Details

Welkin (天鼎)

Address: Level B1, No. 191, Sec 2, Anhe Road, Da’an district, Taipei (nearest MRT Liuzhangli)

Phone: (02)2733-7000

Website: http://www.dadido.com.tw/index.html (Chinese only)

Hours: 11:30am-10pm

Shaffer’s Kitchen (Taipei)

February 25, 2015 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller

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Taipei locals have been raving about Shaffer’s Kitchen for a couple of years. Opened by a Taiwanese woman looking for something to do after moving back from the United States with her American husband, the restaurant is known for her home-style cooking with a gourmet touch. Think of kind of stuff the contestants of My Kitchen Rules like to make. (For a more detailed history, check out this post from Taiwan Xifu)

Reservations are highly recommended. We went for lunch just before Valentine’s Day, and the place appears to be particularly popular with local workers because of their affordable business lunch set. Intent on something more special, we asked for the regular menu instead. And here it is.

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Since it was (almost) Valentine’s Day, they were also nice enough to give us this home-made, hand-made cookie.

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We ordered way too much stuff for ordinary humans to consume. We started off with some marvellous home-made bread. The long slices are infused with olive oil and herbs, while the round buns are hot and fluffy on the inside. A great way to kick off the meal ahead.

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The soup of the day was carrot (I know it looks like pumpkin), and it had both a nice flavour and consistency.

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We ordered one of the special starters (on the blackboard in the back), roasted eggplant with pine nuts on toast. This one had a lot of Balsamic on it, which was a little too much for me, though there’s no denying that it’s a fine conceptual creation.

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The other starter we got was from the menu, the goose liver pate. This was very fragrant and would have been a good order had I not already devoured so much bread.

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Yes, we got another starter, the salmon crepe roll, which came stuffed with salmon and creme cheese, with fish roe on top. This was my favourite starter. Small but delicate and delicious.

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After the glut of starters, we had barely any room to fit the two mains, the first of which was the duck breast with red wine berry reduction.

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I loved this duck breast and the sauce that came with it. The duck was seared to perfection, with a crispy skin on the edge and soft flesh beneath. The sauce was tangy and sweet, and thankfully there was plenty of it.

The other main was the famed balsamic roast chicken. Just look at it.

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As I said before, I’m not the biggest fan of balsamic, but in the right doses it can be sublime. They got it right with this chicken, with the sweet and sour flavours penetrating deep into the skin without being too pungent or overpowering.

We really wanted to get some dessert was well (there is a wine-pear dessert that’s supposed to be awesome) but we were too stuffed to dare.

So on the whole, Shaffer’s Kitchen lives up to the hype. Good food, friendly atmosphere and hospital service at reasonable prices. It’s not Michelin-star cuisine, but as far as classy, home-style Western cooking goes, this is about as good as it gets.

8/10

Details

Shaffer’s Kitchen (雪飛詩歐廚)

Address: No. 9, Lane 42, Yixian Road, Xinyi District, Taipei City

Phone: (o2) 8789 4088

Website: http://shafferskitchen.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ShaffersKitchen

Opening Hours: Tue – Fri 11:30pm – 9:30pm; Sat – Sun 11:00am – 9:30pm (Closed Mondays)

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