Liang Ban Jia Korean BBQ (Taipei)

August 16, 2015 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller

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We were itching for some Korean food, and one of the recommendations from the internets is Liang Ban Jia (兩班家), a Korean BBQ restaurant situated on Level 6 of the A9 Shin Kong Mitsukoshi department store in Taipei’s Xinyi District.

The place is apparently packed during peak hours, but we went early for Friday lunch and managed to snag a seat.

As with most department store restaurants in Taipei, the decor is top notch and the atmosphere very comfortable. The service is of course also excellent. They apparently have this special ventilation system that absorbs all the smoke and fumes from the BBQ plates so your clothes won’t get all stinky.

They have a couple of lunch sets, one at NT$980 per head and one at NT$780 per head. The annoying thing is that if you have only two people both of you have to get the same set, so you can’t say have one person order a set and the other order a la carte.

The good thing about getting a set is that you get more value for your money, especially since you get unlimited side dishes (such as kimchi and other pickled vegetables), but the bad thing is that your selection is set and you can’t order the things you like. You can, however, order one set of sides for NT$80.

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The a la carte menu

In hindsight we probably should have gotten the set, but because we wanted specific things the sets didn’t have, like bibimbap and seafood pancake, we ended up ordering a la carte.

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No stinky clothes with this grill

We couldn’t come to a Korean BBQ without getting some BBQ, so we ordered the TORO pork, the cheapest item on the menu at NT$240 for eight slices.

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The waiters help you cook the meat, and they even use scissors to trim off the darkened edges. Apparently they don’t always do that if the restaurant is super busy, but they did so on this day.

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See the sauces at the bottom of the above photo? The one on the left is the Korean chili bean sauce, which is not that spicy but fantastic with just about anything. The one on the right is a lemony soy sauce which gives the meat a nice kick.

That said, the TORO meat was not great. Kinda tasted very porky and chewy. No wonder it was so cheap.

The other meat we got was spicy chicken.

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This took ages to cook. Needed a lot of patience. And the finished product was rather spicy. Unexpectedly spicy. Also not the greatest of choices (NT$280) but the beef was so expensive it would have made getting a la carte a rip off.

Next up, a spicy kimchi seafood soup.

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Lots of stuff inside and they cook it right in front of you on a separate portable gas stove. The soup was nice but it was super spicy. Like numbingly spicy.

They also cook the bibimbap in front of you too, and ask how spicy you want it and how well-done you prefer it.

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I have to say I really liked the bibimbap. I had to add some of that extra chili bean sauce but once I did it was excellent. Cooked to perfection and lots of great flavours. I wish I could have had more.

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Last, but not least, the good old seafood pancake.


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I also really liked this as it was thick and fluffy (some seafood pancakes are thin and crispy) and had solid fillings. The sauce was also sour and tangy, which went really well with it.

It was too much and we couldn’t finish everything, so we ended up taking a few pieces of seafood pancake back. We were also not close to finishing the soup. In hindsight, it probably would have been sufficient to skip the soup and the TORO pork, and perhaps upgrade the chicken to a better beef.

In sum, Liang Ban Jia is a perfectly solid Korean restaurant, but at NT$800-1000 per head it is a lot more expensive than similar quality restaurants elsewhere.

HOWEVER, I recently went back and tried out a different branch, at Shin Kong’s Tiemu store, and tried out one of the sets. It was a lot better, mostly because the quality of the meats were on a completely different level. So I’m revising my rating to give it a bump up.

8/10

Details

Liang Ban Jia (兩班家)

Address:  Level 6, Shin Kong Mitsukoshi A9, No. 9, Song Shou Road, Xinyi District, Taipei (nearest MRT Taipei City Hall/Taipei 101)

Phone: (02) 2720-1980

Hours: 11am-2:30pm, 5pm-9:30pm

Ben Cuisine (犇和牛館) (Taipei)

August 13, 2015 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller

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Groupon has some amazing deals, and one that recently caught our eye was this amazing 71% off “Michelin” feast offered by Ben Cuisine, a Taiwanese restaurant group specializing in teppanyaki and Japanese seafood. They have three restaurants all located next to each other in an alley off Anhe Road in Taipei’s Da’An district, and the offer is for their smallest one, their “Wagyu” shop with just a dozen or so seats.

I admit I was sceptical because, according to Groupon, the original value of the two-person deal is NT$6805, but they were giving it to people for NT$1980, or just NT$990 per person. So either the restaurant is feeling really generous or they are in trouble and are full of shit. But hey, it worked, because we bought it along with a lot of other people. Given that the deal is only available during lunch, reservations need to be made early to ensure a seat.

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The menu looked impressive on paper, so I was eager to find out just how good this “Michelin” feast is. By the way, I have doubts it’s even legal to use “Michelin” in promoting their restaurant because it doesn’t have any Michelin stars or chefs that once earned a Michelin star.

First up, French bread while I forgot to take a photo of. Basically just a typical bun with some olive oil dip.

Next, two appetizers. The first is a prime sirloin beef roll with truffle salad. It sounds awesome, but looks like this. It was pretty average, to be honest. The meat was not very tender and the flavours were too familiar.

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The other appetizer, a crispy pan-fried shrimp with salad. Not particularly memorable.

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Then it was time for a soup. You could choose a shrimp bisque or a clear seafood soup, and we both went for the former. The bisque looked good enough but was very average. There was just something missing.

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Next up, an entree before the main. We each got a serving of this Spanish Wagyu tapas with a crab “gnocchi” (really a pancake). The beef was fine and I liked the crab pancake, but the pastry wrapping the beef didn’t taste very fresh. I did like the red curry sauce on the side though.

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Then, it was time for the main courses, of which there were two. First, the prime sirloin with roasted garlic. It looked okay but I’ve had much much better steak. Wasn’t too bad with the onion garnish.

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The other was the pan fried chicken on top of creamy mashed potato. This turned out to be my favourite dish of the lot. The crispy chicken skin was prepared nicely and the mash was sublime. Unfortunately the chef out a little too much salt on the skin.

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After the mains they moved us to a small room for dessert. It was not the most comfortable of settings (you can see it along the back wall from the top photo), and the dessert was awful — soggy, cold, pre-prepared crepes and fruit. I don’t know when they prepared it but it was obvious they had just to take it out of the fridge. The post-meal beverage (coffee, tea, etc) was also just average.

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In all, it’s hard to imagine this meal being worth NT$980 a head, let alone NT$3402.5 per person. Strictly speaking it was not terrible, but when you charge a premium and put “Michelin” in the title you’re raising expectations pretty high. The truth is you can get better teppanyaki in a better setting in plenty of other places for that price range.

6.5/10

PS: The restaurant has apparently “extended” the Groupon deal.

Details

Ben Cuisine (Wagyu) (犇和牛館)

Website: http://www.bencuisine.com/

Address: No. 4-1, Lane 102, Section 1 Anhe Road, Da’An District, Taipei (nearest MRT Xinyi Anhe, exit 1)

Phone: (02) 2703 2296

Hours: Monday-Sunday (11:30-14:30, 17:30-22:30)

‘No Menu’ Teppanyaki at Shen Yen (Yilan)

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

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We went to Yilan on a family vacation a couple of months ago (yes, this is how far behind I am) and, of course, planned the entire trip around what restaurants we were going to eat at. After some research, we put Shen Yen (饗宴), a no-menu teppanyaki restaurant, at the top of the list.

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As with most restaurants in the countryside, Shen Yen doesn’t look particularly extravagant from the outside or the inside. In Taiwan, the decor would indicate a mid-range restaurant, though in Yilan it’s one of the most expensive places you can visit.

They have two levels but there aren’t that many seats, so reservations are a must. Everyone is seated around the teppanyaki grill for the main meal, which has more dishes than I can count, and will be moved to a separate table seating area for the dessert.

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While there is no menu you choose your sets by price range, which go from NT$1600 to NT$1800 to NT$2000. I don’t exactly know the difference, but I was told that the higher the price the better quality the ingredients. Given that this was likely once in a lifetime, we went all out with the $2000 set.

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Everyone gets one of these triple sauce trays — a tangy soy-based dressing, onion garnish and pickled vegies. They go well either by themselves or with any of the meats dishes.

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Interestingly, the first dish is fruit with some nuts. Chinese restaurants usually serve fruit at the end, but I didn’t mind trying some of the Yilan fruit produce to kick things off. It’s supposed to be good for digestion. Taiwanese fruit is the best. The best.

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Next up, some sashimi. The first was extremely fresh. The wasabi is also freshly made and is supposed to be from Taiwan’s famed Alishan.

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We also got some of these cold cut bamboo shoots — proud local produce — along with some fish roe. Very refreshing.

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Next up, the first hot dish, fresh prawns. The chef even taught us how to peel them. Massive and juicy, and the natural flavours alone were sufficient.

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The chef then began preparing scallops and meats.

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I love scallops. This was perhaps a little too well done for my liking but it’s easy to tell how fresh it is.

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This was one of my favourites, a cheese roll with fish inside. The Parmesan was really crispy and flavoursome and the fish inside was only seared, not full cooked. My kids loved it.

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This is one of Yilan’s most popular dishes, the cherry duck. It wasn’t as mindblowing as the cherry duck I had the last time I was in Yilan but it was still pretty good.

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Beef fillets. Steak is always good, and it was interesting getting a different type of experience with each bite by mixing the cubes with fried garlic, sea salt, black pepper and white pepper.

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Abalone. Fresh from the tank.

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This one was incredible. Basically a beef dumping with foie gras inside. The juices just explode in your mouth.

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This was a tangy, saucy, slightly spicy creation with lots of mushrooms. Reminded me kung pao chicken. I haven’t seen this one in a lot of other food blogs, so perhaps it’s a seasonal inclusion.

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Lobster with sea urchin sauce. If you’ve had sea urchin sauce before you’ll know it’s very sweet, and when you squeeze some lemon on top it’s just divine. There wasn’t as much lobster meat as I had expected though.

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A simple grilled dish with salt and pepper. It’s good for what it is.

We moved to the table section for the last few dishes. This is a baby dried shrimp fried rice.

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And this is a very exquisite seafood soup with lots of goodies inside.

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Lastly we were treated to beverages (tea, coffee, juice, etc) and this slightly underwhelming chestnut cake. I was looking forward to something more chocolaty, personally. Shame we didn’t have more choice for this one.

As you can imagine, we were absolutely stuffed after this meal. The servings were not big, but when there are so many dishes they add up. By the end I was overflowing. So basically what I’m saying is that you probably don’t need to get the NT$2000 set. Judging from other food blogs it seems you more or less get the same things as the cheaper sets expect they tack on a few additional dishes. I don’t think it’s worth it.

In all, Shen Yen was a solid experience, but it’s not a place I’d be rushing back to if I were in Yilan again. For the same price you could get a much more comfortable experience in Taipei, though I understand the appeal of Shen Yen is that you get a lot of local produce that’s extremely fresh, and the enjoyment comes from the natural flavours more than any culinary additions. As a bit of a picky eater, I’m also not a huge fan of the no menu idea because it limits your options.

7.5/10

PS: Look for the photo of Jay Chou near the toilets.

Details

Shen Yen Teppenyaki (饗宴食坊)

Address: No. 326, Hebin Rd, Luodong Township, Yilan County

Phone: 03-965-7998

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

 

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