Grandma Nitti’s Kitchen (Taipei)

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

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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

Italian cuisine at Diamond Tony’s (Taipei)

August 16, 2013 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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Another day, another Italian restaurant. This time, we tackled Diamond Tony’s, one of those seemingly high class joints with three locations, snazzy decor and an assortment of Taiwan-modified Italian appetizers, pastas, seafood and steaks.

Diamond Tony has store locations at Dazhi, Taipei 101 and Ren’ai Road (a short walk from Zhongxiao Xinsheng MRT station), and all three have similar but slightly different menus dominated by lunch and dinner sets at prices that are not cheap but reasonable. On this day, we went to the last one on the list, their Ren’ai store, situated on the second floor of a building that looks classy but a little on the old side.

You can check out the menus online here (the Ren Ai store menu is the one on the left). We went with a lunch set, offered between 11:30am-2:30pm. The price of your set depends on the price of the main course, and some of the appetizers require a surcharge. All meals come with homemade garlic bread with fresh crab meat cream sauce, soup, coffee and dessert.

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The scrumptious homemade garlic bread with crab meat cream sauce

The meal got off to a wonderful start with the homemade garlic bread, which is made to look like a traditional Taiwanese pancake, with a crispy outer shell and a soft and is soft, hot and fluffy on the inside. The garlic flavour is not too strong, which is good, but what makes it so awesome is the crab meat cream sauce which you dip the bread in. I just couldn’t stop dipping and eating.

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Soup of the day with half a crispy bread

Next up, the soup, which was mushroom with some special spices (I think there was also peppercorn or something) and pepper. There was also a nice big crouton they threw in there that went well with the creamy flavour.

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Roasted pumpkin and smoked duck breast salad

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Pan seared duck foie gras

We went with the two duck themed appetizers above, the duck salad and duck foie gras (extra NT$300 charge), which were both excellent. The salad was crisp with a tangy and fruity vinaigrette dressing, which provided a refreshing contrast to the meaty taste of the tender duck breast. The foie gras of course is not top quality, but it was good enough, especially with the accompanying fruits and berries giving it a sweet and sour kick.

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Prawn ravioli with ricotta cheese and spinach

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Spaghetti carbonara

For the mains, we got prawn ravioli and a spaghetti carbonara. Unfortunately, they were disappointing, by far the most disappointing dishes of the meal. The ravioli, in particular, was not quite what we expected. It was way too big and not hot enough, and the sauce lacked flavour. The carbonara, on the other hand, was too creamy, and coupled with the cheese and bacon it became extremely heavy. So thumbs down for the main courses.

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Chocolate brownie cake with choc macaron

We were hoping the meal could be redeemed with the dessert, but alas, it was not great either. Pretty standard stuff, a chocolate brownie cake, with a blueberry and a chocolate macaron on top. The macaron was nice, but the rest of it was forgettable.

So, the garlic bread and the starters were fantastic, but the mains and dessert weren’t very good, meaning Diamond Tony’s kind of evened itself out. It could very well be that we simply didn’t order their best dishes, so I will give them some benefit of the doubt. That said, with so many alternatives available, it’s hard envisioning us returning to Diamond Tony’s again.

7/10

Details

Diamond Tony’s (隨意鳥地方義大利餐廳) (Ren’ai Store)

Website: http://www.diamond-tony.com.tw/

Address: 2F, No. 89, Section 2, Ren’ai Rd, Zhongzheng District, Taipei (MRT Zhongxiao Xinsheng)

Phone: (02)8101-8268

Hours: 11:30-14:30、17:30-21:30

La Maison de la Truffe (Taipei)

August 11, 2013 in Food, Reviews, Taiwan, Travel

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Back when we had a little more money (before baby no. 2 came along) we visited La Maison de la Truffe, a famous French truffle restaurant in Paris that somehow opened a chain in Taipei on Dunhua South Road adjacent to the Dunhua SOGO department store.

I really like truffles, and this place is supposed to have the best, imported from France, and with none of that low-quality imitation crap from China — or so our waiter tells us.

La Maison de la Truffe is situated underground and it’s huge, but because of the high prices (from NT$1,000-NT$4000 a head) the place was rather empty during weekday lunch, with only three or four other tables, two of which had local celebrities. So you know it’s that kind of place.

We started off with some house bread with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, which is pretty standard these days. The bread might have been a little overcooked, and you can probably tell from the photo below that the crust was a little hard. But the high quality olive oil and balsamic went well with it nonetheless.

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Next up, the appetizers. We got three. A corn chip salad and a tangy creamy dressing, a duck pate with green salad, and a scampi plus scallop with grapefruit and roe. All three were excellent. The duck pate was exquisite and I loved the mix of the grapefruit and seafood.

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I can’t believe we had three appetizers and then ordered some soup as well. We got a pumpkin soup with shaved truffle, which was fresh and infused with that beautiful truffle scent, and tomato seafood bisque, which had a sour tang that contrasted well against the sweet pumpkin.

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For the main courses, we went with a classic — truffle risotto. The alternative was a truffle tagliatelle, but since we had a truffle pasta recently we decided to go with the risotto. And it was spectacular, unlike any other so-called truffle risottos I’ve had before. The truffle smell was amazing, and it penetrated through the entire risotto. The fresh truffle flakes on top were amazing. It doesn’t look great but it was one heck of a dish.

The second main we got was red wine steak with truffle fries, roasted vegetables and garlic. The steak was pretty good, but I’ll admit it was the truffle fries that enticed me the most.

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Lastly, the desserts.

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I had a bit of truffle overload by the end of the huge meal, which is both a good and bad thing. Good because the truffle at La Maison de la Truffe is truly wonderful, but bad because there can be too much of a good thing. If you are a truffle aficionado, then this place would be heaven, though if you don’t really get why truffle is so great then you could end up disappointed.

I wouldn’t call myself a truffle lover, but I do enjoy some truffles every now and then. So while I had a great time at La Maison de la Truffe it’s not the kind of place I would return to regularly.

9/10

Details

La Maison de la Truffe

Address: B1, No. 246, Dunhua South Rd, Sec 1, Taipei City (nearest MRT Zhongxiao Dunhua)

Phone: (02) 2778-7955

Hours: lunch 11:30am-2pm, dinner 5:30pm-10pm; afternoon tea 2pm-5:30pm

Official website: http://www.maison-de-la-truffe.com/

Incredible foie gras at Le Monde d’ Ulysse (Hong Kong)

August 3, 2013 in Food, Hong Kong, Reviews, Travel

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It seems my food posts are a little backed up too.

Last year I was in Hong Kong to celebrate my wife’s birthday, and a friend recommended Le Monde d’ Ulysse, a best-kept-secret-type French restaurant that specializes in foie gras, or goose liver. I won’t profess to be a French cuisine connoisseur or a regular sampler of this delicacy, but I have had a few in my time and believe I can tell the good foie gras from the average from the bad. And Le Monde d’ Ulysse’s foie gras is one of the best I’ve ever had.

Located in an alleyway in Central, Le Monde d’ Ulysse is a tiny little restaurant (20 seats max) best known for its spectacular foie gras and fresh oysters. The store is owned and operated by a couple who have lived in France for years and insist on only using the best and freshest produce. They have apparently been asked by hotels and businessmen interested in franchising the store but refused on the grounds that it would compromise the quality of the cuisine.

The store’s ambiance is therefore not one of a high class French restaurant — it has more of a family feel — but the service is top notch and they have no problem patiently describing each item on the menu items to clueless patrons like myself. The price is also very reasonable for what you get — from memory it’s about HK$300-400 (AU$43-58) per person for 3-4 courses. I hear lunch sets are around half that price.

And the food. Wow, the food.

To start off we got two soups — an oyster and mushroom — and both came with fresh bread. Both were incredible — full and flavoursome with a natural taste and not too heavy. The bread was also nice and fluffy.

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Oyster Soup

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Mushroom Soup

Next came the main courses.

We got a pan-fried foie gras, of course, which came with an assortment of different condiments to spice up the flavours a little bit. But to be honest this foie gras was perfect as it was and didn’t even need anything else. Pan-fried to perfection, the outside was slightly crispy and the inside melts in your mouth. The mix of textures was amazing.

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Best foie gras ever?

The second main was a pan-fried duck confit with mushrooms and potato. The duck still had its crispy skin on and it was a little on the oily side (as confit is cooked with the duck’s own fat), but the meat inside was so soft and succulent that it almost tasted like chicken. Not a lot of sauces with this one as the natural flavour of the duck with some salt was good enough.

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Duck confit

The mains looked too good to pass up, so we ended up getting a third main, a lamb cutlet. No complaints here as the lamb was extremely juicy and tender. Another dish that really brought out the essence of the main ingredient without a lot of fancy condiments or complimentary sides.

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Lamb cutlet

For dessert, we got a free birthday chocolate cake, a mango sorbet and a strawberry creme brûlée. I wouldn’t say dessert is their biggest forte but it was still really really good.

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Free birthday cake!

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Mango sorbet

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Strawberry creme brûlée

In all it was simply a fantastic meal highlighted by some of the best foie gras I’ve ever tasted. A tasty, friendly and scrumptious experience.

10/10

Details

Le Monde d’ Ulysse

Address: G/F 9 Gage Street, Central, Hong Kong

Phone: +852 2526 2621

Hours: 12pm-2pm, 7pm-11pm

Open Rice website: http://www.openrice.com/english/restaurant/sr2.htm?shopid=11229

Kobe Steak at Royal Mouriya (Kobe)

April 9, 2013 in Food, Japan, Reviews, Travel

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Royal Mouriya in Kobe

Mention  “Kobe” and the first words that pops into my mind are “steak” (followed by “yummy”) and “Bryant” (followed by “dickhead”). So when I had a chance to take a brief detour to Kobe during my recent trip to Kyoto (about an hour on the JR), I did not miss the opportunity to sample some fine Kobe steak.

You can have Kobe steak all over Japan (and the world), but there’s nothing quite like trying the beef at the place after which it is named. There are loads of Kobe steak restaurants in Kobe, and few are as famous as the legendary teppanyaki restaurant Mouriya, which has a history of more than 120 years.

Mouriya has three restaurants along one street near Sannomiya station, and we chose to go to the Royal Mouriya. They are all pretty similar, and according to the waitress, have only slight menu variations.

At Royal Mouriya, we sat along a teppanyaki bench where the chef would cook the meal fresh, right in front of you. Don’t worry about getting your clothes smelly though — they have some magical machine that seems to suck all the smoke away.

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A little dark, but the ambiance is great

The menu offers a range of set meals that offers salad, soup, cooked vegetables, rice, a beverage and dessert around your choice of steak. You can go with a cheaper lunch special that includes a lower quality steak that costs around 4,000 yen to 5,000 yen, or you can choose something more spectacular that will set you back more than 10,000 yen. As I understand it, dinner costs more and can go as high as 16,000 yen or more per person.

We ended up going with two mid-range sets between about 7,000 yen and 9,000 yen. One was a sirloin and the other was a rib roast, the two types with the most fat (and hence tenderness). The fillet and the rump tend to be a little tougher to chew, but still much softer and juicier than your regular steak.

I will let the photos do the talking from here. As the chef cooked the steak in three batches (to ensure they were fresh and hot when served), the plate doesn’t look quite as appetizing as it should be. But trust me, it’s awesome.

We started off with some corn potage

We started off with some corn potage

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Each meal comes with a range of condiments, from simple salt and pepper to roasted garlic and wasabi

Chef dude working his magic

Chef dude working his magic

This is the beef we ordered -- before it is cooked, of course

This is the beef we ordered — before it is cooked, of course

The first set of beef

The first set of Kobe steak

The full set, including rice and salad

The full set, including rice, salad and two dipping sauces

Here's the second set of steak

Here’s the second set of steak

Chef dude prepares some bean sprouts and vegies

Chef dude prepares some bean sprouts and vegies

Voila!

Voila!

Last but not least, dessert -- mango sorbet

Last but not least, dessert — mango sorbet

Now for the verdict. As a teppanyaki joint, Royal Mouriya is not extraordinary, as the things offered as part of the set meal are pretty much standard for teppanyaki restaurants these days. While the salad was big and fresh and the soup was very good, neither were really exceptional. The dessert was also quite underwhelming.

That said, the restaurant is famous because of its Kobe steak, and that’s what ultimately makes Royal Mouriya a standout. Their beef is every bit as good as advertised — soft, juicy, succulent, and full of flavour even without any condiments. Sliced into many thin pieces and served in batches, it feels like you are getting your money’s worth; plus you can sample the beef in many different ways.

For instance, the chef recommended first eating a slice plain, then another with just salt, before trying the sauces. In the end, I was dipping the beef all over the place, but my favourite was probably the miso-type sauce plus a dash of wasabi and a piece of roasted garlic. It was insanely good.

So on the whole, I’d still recommend Royal Mouriya (or any of the Mouriya restaurants for that matter) because you are guaranteed a quality meal and some of the best beef you are likely to ever have. The next time I go to Kobe, however, I will definitely try a different joint so I could compare.

9/10

Details

Royal Mouriya (ロイヤル モーリヤ)

Website (with English; all Mouriya restaurants): http://www.mouriya.co.jp/indexp.html

Address: 1-9-9 Kitanagasadori, Chuo Ward, Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture (short walk from Sannomiya Hankyu/JR/Hanshin station; map and directions available on website)

Phone: +81 78-321-1328

Hours: 11:30am-9pm

Booking is recommended (can be done online through official website)

Note: the Mouriya Head Restaurant and the Sannomiya Restaurant are both on the same street.

 
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