TJB Dim Sum (Taipei)

April 10, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller

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I tell you what, the Breeze food level on top of Taipei Main Station is a foodies paradise. There are must-haves such as Anzu and Ippudo, and very-nice-to-haves such as Ootoya. The whole floor is full of delights, not just popular restaurants but also themed food courts (eg, traditional Taiwanese cuisine, curry, beef noodles, etc). I’ve been trying them, one by one, and a couple of weeks ago I tried TJB Dim Sum, the dim sum franchise of the TJB (TheJeansBar) chain that also includes the brunch joint TJB Cafe.

We had an opportunity to go for a lunch set, which I would not have minded, but since it doesn’t really you that much money we decided to order a la carte. They serve various stir-fry and soup noodles, rice, BBQ meats, congee, vegetables, bread toasts/buns/sandwiches and dim sims which include spring rolls, turnip cakes, BBQ pork buns, shumai, etc. Set meals that include drinks and buns are available for a bit extra. Here is the full menu.  Price wise you’re looking at a minimum of about NT$150 to NT$300, depending on whether you get a beverage or other snacks.

Plenty of options, but we went with a simple oyster sauce stir-fried noodle with shallots and ginger, a TJB pork chop, BBQ pork and fried egg rice, a TJB pineapple bun with butter, plus a milk tea. We also ordered a BBQ pork bun but they stuffed up the order and took more than half an hour to get it to us, so they took it off the bill in the end.

Here’s what we go in photos.

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How was it? Good! I didn’t expect anything exceptional, so the food was probably better than I expected. The noodles were plain but delicious, and rice was great. The bun was slightly better than average and I’ve had better milk teas. Still, given the other enticing options available on the menu (such as the stir-fried turnip cake) I wouldn’t mind heading back to try the place again.

8/10

Details

TJB Dim Sum (TJB 茶餐室)

Website: http://www.thejeansbar.com.tw/tjbdimsum/  (Facebook page)

Abu’s Authentic Cuisine (Taipei)

April 10, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller

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It was our wedding anniversary, so we decided a special lunch celebration was in order. My wife had been craving the souffle at Abu Brasserie, which has apparently shut down and relocated to north Taipei’s Beitou district, so we chose its more deluxe cousin, Abu’s Authentic Cuisine, located near the big roundabout in the Da’an district.

It’s a relatively small restaurant that’s well-decorated and gives off a cosy, intimate atmosphere. While Abu’s Brasserie features more Italian-influenced cuisine, Abu’s Authentic Cuisine learns closer to French. The dinner menu can apparently be quite pricey (in the vicinity of NT$3000-5000 or more) but the lunch sets are much cheaper and can be as low as NT$1000 (+10%) if you choose the cheapest main course.

Here’s that day’s lunch menu.

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It’s a four-course meal, with salad, a soup, a main course and two desserts, plus tea or coffee. Wanting to try everything, we ordered both salads, though we really wanted the corn soup so we skipped the ox-tongue chicken broth. For the mains, we ordered the steamed truffled beef tenderloin with anchovic garlic sauce, and the potato and duck confit. And since it was our anniversary, they were preparing the souffle especially for us, in addition to one of their usual desserts.

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Before any of our ordered dishes arrived, however, we were treated to some nice tea and a couple of pieces of crispy naan coated with spice powder. It had a great kick and whet the appetite for the magnificent house bread (four types) which I wanted more of but held back because  didn’t want to be too full. The bread also came with butter, olive oil and a tuna dip.

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This first salad is the warm abalone with zucchini, which was sensational. You could tell it was quality abalone and it was cooked to perfection. You didn’t really need much else, but it went well with the vegetables and peppery herb sauce on the side.

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The other salad we got: the wild mushroom, truffle egg and mixed salad. I loved this col salad, which provided a nice contrast to the warm one. The scrambled truffle egg was sublime, and it came with a freshly shaved piece of truffle. The salad itself was also very fresh and topped with a refreshing dressing that wasn’t too heavy or light.

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The corn soup with crab was a revelation. It’s the best corn soup I’ve ever had, and I’ve had thousands (OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but I’ve had a lot). You don’t usually associate fine dining with corn soup, and to be honest, I didn’t think they could make it particularly different. But whatever they put into this one, it did the trick. It had the right consistency and wasn’t watery but didn’t feel like it was filled with starch either. The flavour really penetrated through the entire soup, which was also at the right temperature (often places serve soups too cold). Best of all were the pieces of fresh crab meat — not the canned or fake stuff you tend to get at Chinese restaurants. Unbelievable stuff.

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The first main course, the steamed truffled beef tenderloin, was superb. The size doesn’t look substantial (it didn’t need to be) but the meat is deceptively thick. You get one piece where you just enjoy the natural flavours of the beef, and another one that comes with a sauce. There’s also a bit of extra condiment on the side plus some sea salt/pepper, so you can really get a different experience with each bite.

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The second main is the potato and duck confit. It’s quite similar to many other French duck confits in that it has an extremely crispy and slightly salty outer shell with soft, juicy duck meat inside. But I liked this one a little more than the duck confit we got from Abu Brasserie because of the rocket on top and the fact that it wasn’t quite as salty on the outside. It also didn’t feel like it was dripping with oil, so it didn’t come across as a super heavy dish.

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And of course, after the terrific meal we were treated to what we were promised, the souffle. It came beautifully decorated with candles and flowers, and we could not wait to dig in. Here’s a piece.

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The fluffy texture, the cream, the strawberries — it was perfection.

The desserts were finished, however, as they soon served a second dessert, a simple yet delicious peach with a biscuit and creme, plus some dried apricots. 

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And there was tea and coffee as well. I got myself a cappuccino. The rock sugar was a nice touch.

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In all, a fantastic lunch, good service, and great atmosphere. The particular waiter we had that day was probably new and perhaps somewhat nervous (and/or mentally challenged), but apart from that there’s not much else to fault with the experience.

9.5/10

Details

Abu’s Authentic Cuisine

Address: No. 28 Siwei Rd, Da’an district, Taipei (nearest MRT: Da’an, Zhongxiao Fuxing, Zhongxiao Dunhua)

Phone: +886 2 2707 0699

Hours: 12:00 – 2:30 pm, 6:00 – 9:30 pm

Abu

Hsiao Tong Yi Steak House (Taipei)

April 2, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller

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It was a special occasion, so we decided to go to a famous restaurant in Taipei’s Songshan district called Hsiao Tong Yi Steak House (小統一牛排館). You can kind of tell from the name that it’s probably been around for a while, and that’s certainly the case as the place has been serving top quality steaks to customers for decades and is well known among Taipei’s older generations.

The restaurant is fairly big. It’s dimly lit and the decor is old, as are the waitresses, so it definitely has a more of a traditional feel to it.

The menu is quite extensive, with a large selection of steaks and seafood. Most people opt for the set meals, which include a dip, house bread, a soup, a main course and a dessert. It’s a fairly standard thing for steakhouses these days. Price-wise we’re talking about NT$1000 a head, minimum, plus a 10% service charge. As I understand it they also have cheaper business lunch menu and special set courses for special occasions such as Valentine’s and Christmas.

The lighting isn’t very good and I resorted to using to different iPhones (those short-lifed batteries!) so I apologise if the photos are crap (I already tried to fix the exposure a little).

First up, which I didn’t bother photographing, was some carrot, celery and cucumber sticks and a thousand island dip. It wasn’t bad, I suppose, but a pretty no-frills starter for what is a relatively pricey meal.

Next, some house bread rolls and garlic bread, which came with a cheese spread that had a bit of an unusual taste. There is also regular butter if you ask for it. None of the bread stood out as being anything special.

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Then came the soup. We had a choice of corn soup, seafood soup, onion soup and borscht. If you pay an extra NT$50 you can add a baked pastry to the top. We tried the corn, seafood and onion. The corn was regular, the seafood underwhelming and the onion was decent.

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The salad was next. It was pre-prepared and had lettuce, cucumber, tomato, carrot and sultanas. The dressing was thick and creamy and reminded me of thousand island but wasn’t quite the same. I didn’t mind it, but it was another unimaginative appetizer.

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Finally, the main courses arrived. The first one here is a steak with a fish fillet.

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The next photo is of the highly recommended steak with abalone.

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The one below is what I ordered, the Kobe “fatless” steak.

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For the steaks you have an option of either mushroom or black pepper sauce. I chose the mushroom but also sampled the black pepper, which was quite spicey and suitable for those with strong tastes.

I will speak for the Kobe “fatless” steak I got and admit it was a very high quality steak — extremely soft and flavoursome, even without the mushroom sauce I added on top. It came at medium, though with the hotplate below if could soon become well done if you take too long.

I thought my steak was the nicest. The others were a little chewier but also quite good, and the abalone was somewhat overcooked, making it tougher to sink my teeth into it. The fish was nothing to write home about.

Last, but not least, the dessert, which was a caramel pudding with a slice of watermelon.

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The overall experience was not bad, and the steaks were indeed wonderful, but the other things that came in the set meal lacked freshness and innovation. While newer competitors like Wang Steak are coming up with creative dishes, comfortable modern decor and ridiculously well-trained staff, Hsiao Tong Yi feels sadly stuck in the past. If you’re after a good steak, then sure, it’s a good choice, though it you are after a total package experience then there are definitely plenty of more exciting options available.

7.5/10

Details

Hsiao Tong Yi Steak House (小統一牛排館)

Address: No. 174 Jiankang Road, Songshan district, Taipei (nearest MRT is Songshan Airport or Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, but it’s a fair distance if travelling by foot)

Phone: +886 2 2760 8027 ‎

Hours: 11:00 am – 2:00 pm, 5:00 – 9:00 pm

Sabrina House (Taipei)

March 19, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller

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So I’m trawling through Taiwan’s plethora of food blogs to find a place for my weekly lunch outing and I stumble across Sabrina House (紗汀娜好食), about a 10-minute walk from the Minquan West Road MRT station. These brunch/lunch/dinner cafes are a dime a dozen in Taipei, so I wasn’t expecting much, but in the end I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by what Sabrina House has to offer.

Even though it has three floors, Sabrina House is a really popular place, so if you want to make sure you get a seat you better book in advance, especially if you are going on the weekend. We were seated on the third floor and spent an inordinate amount of time going through the extensive menu, which offers way too many enticing dishes for indecisive people.

Here’s a sample of some of the pages I snapped:

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As you can see, the range they have is ridiculous. They have a lunch special that comes with a soup and an unlimited refill drink, which is pretty good if you want something from that menu but to be honest I don’t think you save all that much. Apart from the lunch specials they have an extensive brunch menu with many traditional options, sandwiches and burgers and a whole stack of main courses, pastas and risottos, some of which are standard and others a little unusual. On top of that there are heaps of salads, appetizers and desserts (including waffles), and even a kids menu as well. It’s the kind of place you can go back to five times and not order the same thing once.

We didn’t want to go overboard that day so we went with a brunch selection — the Roast Beef Benedict — and the recommended pasta — Capellini with Scallop and Dijon sauce. I love Dijon, so we had to go with that. For one of the dishes we went with a lunch set, so we also got a fairly decent cream corn soup and bread, plus a soft drink. They have a minimum order of a drink per person, but if you get a set meal you won’t have to get an extra drink. Price-wise you’re probably looking at NT$250-$45 per head, depending on what you order and if you go for dessert.

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Cream corn soup with ham and croutons

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Roast Beef Benedict

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Capellini with Scallop and Dijon sauce

The Roast Beef Benedict was much better than I expected because most benedicts I’ve had in Taiwan have been rather subpar. The muffin base was fluffy and the beef itself packed a great flavour and went well with the egg. The hollandaise sauce could have been a little more authentic, but the wedges and tangy salad dressing made up for it.

As for the pasta,  it would have been nice to get a little more than just the one scallop, and the pasta itself was slightly overcooked (a little soft), but the dijon sauce itself was absolutely amazing. It’s like nothing I’ve tried before and I’m sure I’ll be back to try it again.

For dessert, we got the tiramisu, which according to food blogs was highly recommended. I really enjoyed it but my wife thought it was average. It had several layers of mascarpone and bread, which I found interesting, and the creamy sauce and chocolate powder on top was great.

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Tiramisu

On the whole, a top notch experience. With so many things to choose from on the menu, and with each looking so tasty, I’m sure I’ll be back.

9/10

Details

Sabrina House (紗汀娜好食)

Address: No. 1-5, Lane 182, Section 2 Zhongshan North Road, Zhongshan District, Taipei (nearest MRT Minquan West Road or Zhongshang Junior High School Station)

Phone: +886 2 2593 1001

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

Hours: 11am-10pm

Sabrina

VVG Bistro (Taipei)

February 26, 2014 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller

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The VVG in VVG Bistro stands for very very good, and so it was necessary for me to confirm this. Located a short walk from the Zhongxiao Dunhua MRT station, VVG Bistro is just one of several joints in the VVG franchise (the others include the nearby VVG Table, as well as VVG BonBon and VVG Something). This one serves Western fusion with a French influence — main courses such as roast chicken, roast pork, grilled fish and sirloin steak, an assortment of casseroles, about eight types of creative pastas and a selection of salads and sandwiches. They also serve snacks such as french fries with white truffle oil, hot chicken wings and cheese platters.

The look of the restaurant is very bistro-like, with one outdoor table out front, a few sofa seats and a couple of tables, with an open kitchen where chefs are either busy cutting up vegetables or cooking on the hot stoves. The desserts are on display in a glass cabinet so you can check it out for yourself before making a selection.

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Price-wise it’s reasonable but relatively expensive, with the mains costing around NT$500, the casseroles NT$680, and the pastas and salads averaging around NT$400 each. The desserts are not cheap either, with the cheapest, the apple cinnamon roll, priced at NT$120 and cakes at NT$220 each. The chocolate fondant, which takes 30 minutes to prepare, is NT$280.

Anyway, we ended up going with recommendations from the waitress, who suggested a chicken stew casserole over the roast thyme-mustard chicken because it was more unusual, and the scallop and mushroom linguine with fried garlic and mentaiko (Japanese marinated cod roe sauce).

The casserole required a 20-minute wait, so in the meantime we were served some house bread with basil pesto (which came free
with the casserole). Noice.
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Next came the pasta, which was surprisingly good. It was a very Japanese-y dish, as the mentaiko sauce was tangy and had that roe texture to it and the scallops went well with the al dente linguine. I hadn’t anything quite like it before and I enjoyed it a lot.

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Then eventually the casserole came, along with a pumpkin soup and a salad. The soup was thick and creamy, and the pasta was fresh and served with a dressing that had a real zing to it. The casserole itself didn’t feel very heavy. The chicken was soft and juicy and the vegetables it was cooked with (a lot of onions, carrots and red peppers) provided a nice mix of flavours. And it smelled really good.

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Lastly, the dessert. We agonized over the chocolate fondant, but ended up going with what looked like a safe bet — the caramel cheese cake with kosher salt and caramel sauce. It was a rich cheese cake that didn’t taste too sweet because of the salt, and the added whipped cream on top with a dash of caramel sauce really hit the spot.

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On the whole, I’d say VVG Bistro is a nice place for a casual gathering with friends, as the setting is comfortable and meal selections are quite interesting and not what you would find elsewhere. That said, the food wasn’t extraordinary, nor was it very very good, though I admit it was pretty good. Taking into account the price, however, it might not be a place I’d go back to again in a hurry.

8/10

Details

VVG Bistro (好樣)

Blog: http://vvgvvg.blogspot.tw/ (Chinese)

Address: 20, Alley 40, Lane 181, Zhongxiao E Rd, Sec 4 (nearest MRT Zhongxiao Dunhua)

Phone: (02) 8773 3533

Hours: 12pm-11pm Weekdays, 11am-11pm Weekends

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