April 29, 2011

Korean Beef Rice Soup

There are lots of cheap tours to Korea but I've never been particularly tempted to visit. But then work required a quick trip it's always exciting to go to a country for the first time for a bumpkin like me. The limited time, the required business meetings, and not being in Seoul meant that I won't be playing typical-tourist. Which was fine because I can do that on my own time anyway. Our Korean branch person handled the arrangements and drove me around, and even took me around the Korean Folk Village for a little cultural education.

Our hosts were kind enough to take care of dinner. No pictures there, sorry. Even my obsessive picture-taking hits its limits when it's my livelihood on the line. But the day after was free until my afternoon flight. So we checked out of the hotel and had time for a leisurely breakfast. Passed by plenty of nice coffee shops and diners, but my co-worker was determined to take me some place more authentically Korean. Ended up in a clean, well-lit, generically-casual restaurant that could be serving anything the world over. Except in this case it was serving traditional style Korean soup dishes. Couldn't read the Hangul menu, so I went with co-worker's recommendation for the beef-rice soup. Slices of beef, slow-cooked gelatinous tendons, and mushrooms immersed in a rich ox-bone broth, opaque and milky-white. Dried red plum and a little ginseng comes from traditional medicine and keeps the dish from being too heavy. The elements are familiar to Chinese palate but just different enough to be interesting. All in an iron bowl that kept the soup piping hot the entire time.

Of course there's the obligatory kimchee on the side. Entire heads of pickled cabbage that you pluck out of the bin and cut up yourself with the scissors and tongs present at each table. I wouldn't normally eat so spicy in the morning, but a little zing was the perfect counterpoint for the main dish. Not so surprising that a classic Korean meal goes well with kimchee.

Hearty Korean Breakfast

Additional Information
Posted by mikewang at 08:00 AM

April 10, 2011

PHAT Burger

Burgers had always been available in Taipei, but more as an afterthought in American-style restaurant menus, there as a checklist item. But now there are more and more dedicated burger joints scattered around Taipei's more fashionable districts. With the opening of the Songshan Cultural Park, the alleys behind the former UDN building, between SYT Memorial Hall and Taipei City Hall, has seen an invasion of little restaurants and cafes in the formerly residential niche. Phat Burger was one of the early arrivals. And it quickly made a name for itself amongst the Net-foodies with its insistence of local, never-frozen beef, cooked to retain as much meaty juices as possible.

Was by myself at home one day so a quick burger-lunch was just the ticket. Good thing I was a single that could squeeze into the counter space, as the relatively small restaurant was packed with couples and groups. Decided to go for the all-out beef coma and ordered a double-cheeseburger with ridiculously stacked patties that overflowed with savory juices as soon as I took a bite, garnished with a couple slices of thick-cut bacon on top. Not usually a big fan of raw onion but the tang was needed in this case to cut the grease a little bit. Thank goodness for the all-you-can-drink soda. I was looking forward to root beer but they were out so I had to settle for Coke Zero. The squirting juices on my hands were fun at first, but it congealed into caked grease as it cooled, and it took some serious handwashing with extra soapage to get the oily slick off my hands. At least it means some of the fat didn't end up in my system. The portion of fries was on the small side, but that's no big deal when I'm already filled up on beef (and bacon).

Another weekend found me alone at home again and I wandered over to Phat Burger once again. Wanted to try something different but weren't impressed by the gimmicky burgers like the peanut butter or the Mexican. Ended up with a Thai chicken sandwich. The chicken filet was competently grilled and the the sweet-and-sour Thai glaze was OK, but I really should've stuck to the beef.

Props to the bun, too, which held up surprisingly well under the soaking until the bitter end when I finally had to resort to knife-and-fork.

Phat Burger Phat (Chicken) Burger

Additional Information
Posted by mikewang at 01:15 PM

April 04, 2011


Wife's uncles may not read the hipster foodie blogs, but they're out and about quite a bit and they know what's up. So when one of them invites everyone for a big family meal you know it'll be good. Located in an older part of town and not particular convenient by MRT, the parking was a pain but there's valet service available. The room was jam-packed, mostly with big, round family-style tables, every one filled with extended families. The noises were off the charts, ranging from crying babies to boisterous toasts to just loud conversation. Definitely not a place for an intimate meal, but would make for a great scene to help define the term "熱鬧".

First came the sashimi, thick slabs of raw fish sliced without mercy. The busy sushi station more resembled a field-surgery station hacking away. You won't find this amount of fresh fish flesh on the plate for love or money in Japan, though.

新東南海鮮餐廳 First Comes The Sashimi Busy Sushi Station

But the sashimi was just the appetizer. The centerpiece is the pomfret rice noodle soup 鯧魚米粉湯. The flat, rectangular white fish used to be a home-cooking staple, but it's become increasingly rare and pricey over the years. The fish is cut into pieces and deep fried before being cooked with stock and lots of trimmings like scallions and shitake mushrooms, which infuses the absorbent noodles with lots of flavor. The fish is in the soup bones and all, so one does have to be careful during slurping to avoid the finer spines that lurk within.

Whoa That's Some Long Noodles 佛跳牆

We already had way too much food and the pot-ful of good stuff in the 佛跳牆 was just way over the top. Ended up taking most of that home with us, as we concentrated our efforts on the seafood dishes that wouldn't keep, like the Sichuan-style chili-fish-head, the collagenous flesh moderating the spiciness of the chopped peppers. The fine-dining pricing combined with night-market atmosphere might be disorienting for foreigners. But fresh seafood in great portions served up fast and hot, without hipster pretentions. Exactly the way the Taiwanese like it. No wonder it's so popular with the local crowd.

Additional Information
Posted by mikewang at 12:30 PM

April 03, 2011

Pizza Olmo

Hidden in a little community in Sanchih, the sprawling restaurant (converted from an abandoned vacation home) serves up wood-baked pizzas and a variety of pastas. The oven and the pizza station is located front and center right behind the entrance, the centerpiece of the restaurant. Each room of the converted house was decorated with bold, distinctive colors. We were stuck in a dim, blue-painted room at first but when we saw another party leave we moved to a window-side table and that was much better. We brought some strawberries from home which went nicely with the chocolate cake dessert.

Pizza Olmo Entrance Olmo's Wood-Fired Oven Bring Him Back In Shelled Walls

The wood-fired pizza oven also gets put to good slow-roasting the German-style pig knuckles, slowly rendering out the fat but retaining the juices. Plenty of pickles, sauerkraut, and sausages came alongside. Good thing we had a big group to share.

Olmo - German Pig Knuckle

Straightforward pastas, a pesto sauce with lots of shrimps, calamari rings, etc. Now we always order a red-sauce pasta for the kid, too, and he always enjoys the change of pace from the home-cooking. It was nice to see the pizzas being made and cooked right there, but the pies themselves were pretty average.

Olmo - Seafood Pesto Pasta Chicken Marinara Pasta & Pizzas

So the food was good enough, but it's really the location in the sea-side artist village that is the main draw. Reservations would be strongly recommended since it's quite a drive to get out there from Taipei. It would be amazing in good weather, unfortunately it was cold and drizzling so we couldn't really take the time to explore the other galleries and cafes. Instead we headed down the coast-side highway to 三芝小豬 for some of their famous cheesecakes instead. The kid approved of our itinerary.


Additional Information
Posted by mikewang at 02:00 PM

March 26, 2011

總督西餐廳 Viceroy Restaurant

Auntie invited everyone to dinner to celebrate her son's grad. school acceptance. The old-school steak-house has occupied its now-prime location right on Zhongxiao E. Rd. for over 30 years.

The Steak Giver Salad At Viceroy Steak

The all-you-can-eat salad and dessert bar is a key component of the Taiwanese steak-house. The desserts were a bit pedestrian, but the kid didn't mind as long as the puddings kept coming. The salad bar had enough circulation to insure the freshness of the lettuces, et al. Although there's always quite a rush for the good stuff like smoked salmon and the shrimps.

We stuck to the dinner sets which offered various cuts of steaks and seafoods in combination. Not quite a full surf & turf but a tasty combo nonetheless. The beef came with the inevitable pepper sauce but the meat itself was good enough without drowning it in sauce. The seafood medley was stir-fried with a bit of XO sauce for a bit of spicy zing. Auntie's son ordered a pricier rib-eye which came sizzling on an iron pan and showed that they can turn out a serious steak, if one ponies up for it.

Can't really judge these sort of restaurants against modern Western restaurants since the food has evolved to its own category, like Japanese yoshoku cuisine. Though hardly fashionable it's still pretty good food on its own merits, give or take the steak sauces. Now that Fine Herbs has closed it's probably the best option of its kind nearby.

Short Rib & Stir-Fried Seafood Mmm.… Cheesy Fish

Additional Information
Posted by mikewang at 06:30 PM